7) Strapping Young Lad – The New Black
Canadians SYL put the heavy in heavy metal. They occupy a special place in my heart following their 1997 all ages gig at Melbourne’s Hi-Fi Bar, which ranks as one of my favourite gigs. It got even more awesomer when that gig, as well as the “piss heads” over-18 gig on the night before, was turned into a live EP. I’m sure if you listen closely to the crowd noises you’ll hear a muffled voice shouting “Oooooooooooooooh yeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh aaaaggggggg my back!” as I attempted my first and last ever stage dive.
It totally wasn't like this at all.For whatever reason I kind of lost track of SYL and main man Devin Townsend’s bazillion other side projects after that but I must say I was delighted when I “re-discovered” him when I came across The New Black from 2006 in a JB Hi-Fi discount bin.
The tour was in support of SYL’s angst-ridden City album which I seem to recall kind of stormed out of nowhere with its vague wisps of industrial music and white hot intensity. It’s an album that somehow manages to sound immensely heavy without coming off as unnecessarily extreme or over the top for the sake of extremeness.
It may not have the cold neon blue teen angst that I’ll always associate with ‘City’ but it’s got the heavyness and some brilliant tongue in cheek moments to match. This is an intense album, that totally rocks out and which is made even more enjoyable by the fact that it doesn’t take itself painfully seriously. Check out tracks like You Suck and Far Beyond Metal to see what I mean.6) Daft Punk – Homework
Released in 1996, this is a definitive moment in “French house” or “Euro disco” or “repetitive bleep noises” or whatever you want to call it. It had no bearing on anything I was into back then but it’s another JB Hi-Fi discount bin item that probably feels like it deserved a couple of listens.
I heard an unconfirmed story that Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter (whose surname sounds like a German precision hi-fi company) spent something like a week perfecting a three second hook for one song. Whether this is true or not, either way the result of this extraordinary production effort is a minimal, bleeping, grating and yet somehow insidiously catchy electronic album about which your mates and parents will say (to quote a friend here) “I could have made that.” But seriously, apart from the battle robot space costumes, you know that, deep down in your heart, you are but like a rat to the piper of Hamelin once confronted by the ridiculously catchy strains of ‘Da Funk’.
5) Danzig – Dirty Black Summer
Former Misfits frontman turned blues metal master, Glenn Danzig, is like a hybrid between an undead Elvis Presley and Jim Morrison if he was more of a headbanger. His first three or four albums rocked but then he lost the plot a bit and started making dubious industrial music. Sadly he was never as good when he returned to rocking blues metal. That, and he also epitomises small-man syndrome and is something of a douche.
‘Dirty Black Summer’ was the lead single from the ‘Danzig III: How The Gods Kill’ album. Glenn manages to appear shirtless in almost every promo photo for this album, and the one before that too, and the one before that too (hell, the previous album, ‘Danzig II: Lucifuge’, is my favourite of all time, even if the artwork is a close-up of an occult cross… resting on Glenn’s manly naked hairy chest.
The music from the ‘Danzig III’ era has special significance for me because I remember it being played an awful lot by my older sister when I was like 11. I recently dug out ‘Dirty Black Summer’ after years in storage and after one play it all came flooding back… the seemingly unnecessary minute of silence at the start of the song… the rather memorable but eventually jarring lead riff… the black and white mid 90s video clip … and yes, he’s missing his shirt in this video too. In fact, he’s got his shirt on and off at the same time!
4) The Anti-Nowhere League – Best Of
Filthy, in your face bri’ish punk rockers who put the “cunt” into “you’re a dirty cuntfaced cuntfucking cuntfucker fucking cunt.” They’re best known for their 1981 song ‘So What’ which contained such fabulous lyrics as “I fucked a sheep / I fucked a goat / I rammed my cock right down its throat” and “I’ve had crabs / I’ve had lice / I’ve had the clap and that ain’t nice”. For some strange reason, English authorities, using harsh Obscene Publications laws, seized copies of this song after it came out in 1981.
But apart from ‘So What’, which years later enjoyed further exposure thanks to Metallica covering it, The Anti-Nowhere League produced a stack of other rockin’ punk tracks with brilliant titles like 'I Hate People', 'Rocker' (“The clothes that I wear / are the colour of my hair / I’m a rocker”), and one of my favourites… 'Woman' a song that espouses the joys of marriage and companionship like nothing else. Seriously, listen to this heartfelt ballad. This is getting played at my wedding (yeah sorry about the lousy fan vid).
3) Lordi – Hard Rock Hallelulja (from the European song contest)
Everyone has a guilty pleasure and Eurovision song contest is one of the few I’ll admit to without killing you in your sleep later. Everyone knows this annual circus show as a celebration of outrageous campyness and awesomely bad pop schmaltz, but once in a blue moon, Eurovision produces something brilliant.
In 2006 it was Greece's turn to host Eurovision and poor old Finnland, which hadn’t won a top spot in like 800 years, had as its entrant an obscure band called Lordi.
But not just any band. Lordi was a waning hard rock /cheesier heavy metal outfit with a gravelly-voiced vocalist who, along with the rest of the band, took to the stage in absurd latex horror masks and ridiculous gridiron battle orc giant spiked shoulder pad monster costumes. Seriously, check out the video! You'd be hard pressed to imagine something more diametrically opposed to everything Eurovision had ever stood for, right down to lead singer “Mr Lordi” who wielded a battle axe for a microphone.
During the lead up to the finals, Lordi were ridiculed by horrified onlookers who feared that such a bizarre act would result in Finland not only losing (which was kind of expected at the time) but actually taking out the humiliating last spot. Greek religious figures demanded that Lordi be banned from the contest and there was even a goddamned personal appeal to the Finnish Prime Minister, urging him to intervene.
So what happened? Well not only did Lordi storm through the finals with a huge score, they ended up winning the contest… by the largest friggin’ margin ever recorded up until that point in the whole goddamn history of Eurovision!
Seriously, a bunch of guys in monster costumes singing about the Arockalypse – with, and I’d really like to emphasise this… a lead singer wielding a battle axe for a microphone – took out pole position in the same cheesy pop contest that had previously spawned Abba.
The Rock Gods were proud that day – especially when these costumed freaks accepted their flowers and trophies and inadvertently got monster dirt on the glitzy TV presenters who dared go in for a hug and kiss.
2) Beastie Boys – Intergalactic
Back in the 90s, community radio stations like 106.7 PBS FM were for many people a genuine (and often the only) source of alternative or underground music. A 56k internet dialup connection was fast, kids would chat on a thing called ICQ rather than Facebook or Gchat, and it would be several years before pedo bear reared his handsome face.
This Beastie Boys single was released at the latter part of this period, when as a pimply teenager I did my community service (the “good” kind where your school forces you to help old ladies or disabled children for two weeks) at PBS FM. My day began with a tour by one of the station managers, a hip hop enthusiast called Nick Tripp. He showed me around the building, demonstrated production techniques, and got me to help record a cart promo (i.e. 30 second pre-recorded announcements that would promote the station – this was before MP3s), for which he sampled part of this newly-released Beastie Boys single.
The coolest part, however, was when he pulled an LP from his record crate – I distinctly remember it consisted entirely of crackly spoken word recordings from the Salvation Army – and gave me a hands-on turntablism DJ demonstration.
Then a hot girl walked into the building and since she obviously needed the “grand tour” I was left for like an hour by myself, cutting between ‘Intergalactic’ by the Beastie Boys and helping the homeless at Christmas time. I wish I’d recorded it.
I rediscovered this single last week when I paid $1.99 for it at an op shop. That’s cheaper than iTunes you know. So check this track out if you’ve never heard it, and try and tell me you don’t love that cheesy vocoder. Oh, and the video clip is loads of fun with its take on Japanese monster films.
1) Destroyer 666 – Unchain The Wolves
Unchain The Wolves by Destroyer 666 is one of my top five favourite releases of all time that I’m currently reliving after I thought I’d lost my copy when in fact I’d leant it to a mate (for like four years). Which just proves that re-discovering CDs you thought you’d lost is just like buying it new, but even more awesomer because there’s no risk of unexpected disappointment.
Destroyer 666 are Australia’s most successful extreme metal export, playing a growly brand of ‘blackened thrash’ as it’s called that has evolved over several albums. They recently toured Australia after a 10 year absence and they retain a global following, much of it derived from the 1997 release of Unchain The Wolves.
I had the incredible privilege of seeing Destroyer when I was 15 (at an 18+ gig), at a time when I knew every word and every riff from this album – backwards.
This came about after main man Keith Warslut – yes, that really is his stage name – and a bloke from a supporting band were guests on a community radio heavy metal show called The Hard Report, hosted on RRR 102.7FM. They were nominally there to promote the imminent gig but effectively spent their air time talking shit and swearing liberally. I recorded this interview on tape and the most "memorable" moment was when the announcer, clearly trying to keep his cool in the presence of these two (possibly drunk) headbangers, asked Keith what the wolf on the album cover symbolised to him. Snapping out of the stupor, he cooly replied that it represented “Strength and independence. Spirit of the white man” (more on this below) – which was promptly followed by an agonizing pause, before the announcer nervously laughed that he wasn’t quite sure what was meant by that.
So I went to the gig, sat in a corner when bands weren't playing, and to this day I can’t recall ever suffering from a more severe case of extreme headbanging-induced whiplash. No shit, I couldn’t hold my head up for three days.
But this brings me to another point about this band, and that is that, for all their music awesomeness and thrashing headbanging glory, they also appear to be major douche bags. This is evident in, for example, the hand-written letters that I received from Keith after I’d written to the band, heavy metal fan club style. I’ve still got them somewhere, and while it was totally awesome to get personal correspondence, the bit where he mentions the virtues of the white man or how Pauline Hanson is a “media heretic” were a little bit dubious. The music is also filled with thinly veiled lyrical references to “certain” beliefs which at one time attracted the ire of Jewish groups. There’s even an apocryphal tale of Keith allegedly getting seven shades of shit kicked out of him, or so the story goes, after he allegedly approached an American death metal band and apparently asked why they’ve got "a nigger playing with them". Members of Destroyer have also recorded music or otherwise been associated with bands that are less guarded about their political beliefs. Vomitor was one of them, which they brought with them on their 2010 Australian tour. I like to consider myself fairly open-minded about extreme music, and in many years of seeing live bands I’ve never really understood why people throw bottles at bands. Then I saw Vomitor and I finally understood what brought on this urge. And so on and so on.
Incidentally, Richard Wagner, who gets regular air time on tweed jacket-wearing classical music radio stations, was rabidly anti-Semitic, which just goes to show that while you may think that some music is awesome, you may not necessarily think the same about the people making it.
Unchain The Wolves came out in the same year that Strapping Young Lad played Melbourne. Aside from the dubious lyrics and the sheer dumbassery of its creators at the time, it is in my view, the most perfect album in this genre that I’ve ever heard. It has the intensity, it has the epicness, and it's got the balance right. It's an irresistible album that needs to be heard in full to be fully appreciated, and which urges you to listen to it again and again and again. Check it out.