After decades of paying lip service to metal music or ignoring it altogether, the Triple M network launched their digital Hard N Heavy station in August 2019. At first they played Metallica – the only metal band they ever cared about – non-stop as a way to both introduce the channel and promote the band’s upcoming tour, but after that was cancelled the programmer(s) ended that experiment a week or so early and started playing other artists as well.
Like any honeymoon period, things were great at first: no ads, lots of actual metal songs from bands Triple M had never played or supported ever before – Testament, Kreator, Metal Church, Judas Priest, Overkill, Exodus, even Slayer – and a sprinkling of other stuff to keep things interesting. As soon as the network realised they were on a winner though, it suddenly started to turn into the same station as all the others: monolithic five-minute blocks of ads at fifteen to twenty minute intervals, interrupting what now seemed to be heavily-repeated play lists of more recent releases. Seriously, at one point it felt like I was hearing Unforgettable by Godsmack, Inside Out by Five Finger Death Punch and that shitty duet Ozzy did with Elton John every single time I tuned in. In fact, when it comes to Ozzy, I swear that when Under the Graveyard came out, Hard N Heavy actually did play it every two hours.
The question I had to ask myself then was: is Hard N Heavy’s playlist actually that repetitive, or was it my confirmation bias just making me believe that? Also, do they really favour particular artists – and particular songs by those artists – or was that also confirmation bias? In order to find out, I decided to keep track of every artist and every song Hard N Heavy played while working at my delivery job, for a two week period. Each day I entered the data into a spreadsheet containing the artist and song titles and the date and times of day they were played.
The basic results? After 49 hours of music spread across seven days, Triple M Hard N Heavy played 455 songs by 149 artists. That’s averaging 9.2 songs an hour, which isn’t bad when you think about how hard they whack in the ads. Of those 455 songs, 340 of them were unique, meaning 115 of them were songs played at least twice – some, as it turns out, were repeated more often than that. Architects’ recent single Animals aired five times including one day where it was played twice. Strong by Amaranthe and Corey Taylor’s Culture-Head were also played five times, and both Death Diviner by Soilwork and Living the Dream by Five Finger fucking Death Punch were aired four times each over the survey period. Also, Ohms is apparently the only song Deftones have ever released. Only Demon Fire by AC/DC was repeated to the same degree as Animals and Strong, but their other recent singles, Shot in the Dark and Realize, were also played several times each. Triple M obsessing over AC/DC is hardly a surprise though.
Breaking down the artist data, considering Hard N Heavy originally kicked off by playing their stuff 24/7 for three weeks, it was no surprise Metallica far outstripped everyone else by appearing 26 times. The other most-played artists were AC/DC (18 times), Anthrax (14), Iron Maiden (13), Five Finger Death Punch (11), Guns N Roses and Judas Priest (9), Mötley Crüe, Pantera, Motörhead and Megadeth (all 8), then Ozzy, Marilyn Manson, Slayer, W.A.S.P., Korn and Rage Against the Machine (all 7 times) – interestingly, even though most of those artists have deep catalogues going back decades, only Maiden and Ozzy had no repeat plays over the entire survey period: three of Priest’s songs were Screaming for Vengeance and two of the others were Living After Midnight, not a bad selection of songs from a band with albums going back to 1975. In simple terms, out of 455 songs aired, 281 – over 61% – came from only 17 artists, with one band, Metallica, accounting for 5% of all the music played.
The most disappointing and sadly unsurprising statistic I discovered was the lack of Australian artists featured. Out of 149 acts on the list, Hard N Heavy only featured eight Australian bands that weren’t AC/DC: The Poor, The Screaming Jets, Rose Tattoo, Mortal Sin, The Amity Affliction, Parkway Drive, In Hearts Wake and Hands Like Houses. That’s just 5.3% of the artists featured across the survey period. For a station that literally prides itself on supporting Australian music, Hard N Heavy only played 13 songs – 2.8% of the total – by Australian bands in 49 hours of programming, and two of those were songs played more than once: Mortal Sin’s Voyage of the Disturbed (twice) and The Water by Hands Like Houses (three times). I heard plenty of promos for their show on Tuesday nights that plays nothing but new Australian music, so they obviously have enough to fill a one hour show once a week. If they are truly serious about supporting local music, why not add some to the regular playlist instead of banishing it all to a late-night mid-week time slot no one listens to? A new Aussie band just breaking out might not appeal to the advertisers as much as Metallica does, but with Metallica already dominating Hard N Heavy’s airtime with an average of one song every two hours, surely there’s a bit of room for a couple of new local acts now and then? Of the Aussie songs they did play during the survey period, three of them were from the 1980s and two were from the early 90s. That’s hardly supporting the work of new Australian artists.
Overall, it turns out that Hard N Heavy isn’t quite as repetitive as I believed it to be. It’s great to hear a few left-field tracks now and then, like when they played Circle of Tyrants in the early afternoon once, but they certainly have a tendency to over-play particular artists and certain tracks, just like any mainstream radio station. There’s a pretty decent mixture of classics, oldies and newer tunes and they stretch the format enough to include bands like Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Green Day and even Lit, just in case some regular Triple M listeners happen to be tuned in and haven’t heard those bands enough on one of the network’s other rock stations. So if you’re stuck without Spotify, YouTube, iTunes (if you still use that) or your own USB filled with your favourite tunes, Triple M Hard N Heavy might do more than suffice, if you’re not too choosy about hearing a Limp Bizkit song right after something by Opeth or Slayer.
And if you like some Australian crunch in your diet more than every once in a long while, you’ll just have to do without. In that regard, Hard N Heavy really needs to try harder.
If you want to check out the data from my listening survey, it’s here.
Should you want to check out Hard N Heavy for yourself, be my guest.