“What are you doing for the weekend?” someone asked? “I’m going to see some wonderfully disgusting, filthy death metal at a wonderfully, disgusting, filthy venue,” I said.
Ok, so the Bendigo Hotel is actually not bad a venue, and is hardly disgusting and filthy. Indeed, if you’re a live rock music kind of person from Melbourne then you may be acquainted with the toilets just down the road at the famous Tote hotel. Now they’re pretty special!
The Bendigo Hotel is one of those venues that is brilliant by virtue of the fact that it puts on gigs and music that most other venues won’t touch, among them a high proportion of Australian death metal, black metal, punk, and rock gigs — music that gets people running and screaming. Plus, it’s got a nice beer garden.
The occasion to visit the Bendigo Hotel was to see an extreme metal band showcase, featuring two Australian death metal outfits (ok, one was technically blackend thrash for the kvlt purists; hands up all two of you), plus some well known gentlemen from New Zealand.
Altars are a local outfit I don’t know much about. I’d call them an underground Australian death metal act, playing thick, heavy and complex extreme music that Morbid Angel lovers may appreciate.
Denouncement Pyre are another Melbourne band, playing a fierce brand of what some like to refer to as blackened thrash. They’re on the Hells Headbangers record label and heavy metal shop and have a thing for playing tight, heavy, blackened death metal.
Ulcerate were the headliner and are arguably New Zealand’s best known extreme metal band right now. They play complex, technical, dark, thick, oppressive death metal; they have time changes and ever-changing murky guitar riffs; they all have short hair; and they’re on the well-known Relapse Records store and label that provides international distribution. Choice bro!
It all looked like it was going to be a good gig. But first, we had to get there! You see, public transport in Melbourne is fundamentally designed to get people into the city and out again. As we soon discovered — or perhaps we should have known better, seeing as we both live there — travelling through the inner city isn’t quite what as easy.
We had the audacity to visit a friend’s house beforehand in Richmond, which took a train and a tram to get there. From there it was another two trams plus an extensive walk through the back streets of Collingwood. We called it the scenic route. In winter. In the dark. That’s pretty metal, right?
Eventually we got there but before I go any further, I should get one or two things off my chest.
Denouncement Pyre at the Bendigo Hotel (pic: Bed)
Australian death metal
I always say — because it’s something I feel very strongly about — that people get way too obsessed about making it known just how rubbish a certain band was they didn’t like. The mere fact that you were there becomes all the more reason to cry even louder about it, even if the performance wasn’t actually that terrible and merely didn’t knock you off your socks. Indeed, if you want to know what real rubbish sounds like, just glance at this week’s iTunes charts or last year’s most streamed music.
I guess that’s my feeble excuse for disclosing that I didn’t see much of the first band, Altars. The tremendous amount of changing trams, the long walk, and the sheer enthralling scenery of the back street of Collingwood had thoroughly worn me out. I did say the Bendigo Hotel had a nice beer garden.
Denouncement Pyre live was the outfit I was most looking forward to. I could attempt to half-arsedly describe the Denouncement Pyre live set, but you’ve heard similar accounts a million times before, filled with terms like “brutal” and “heavy” and “savage”. It’s far more meaningful if I tell you that one person in our entourage who is not at all into black and death metal — but who still gets out plenty and is into some cool music — made a point of saying how much he liked it. When someone who doesn’t own or wear a bullet belt says how tight your death metal band is, then you’re onto a good thing.
Denouncement Pyre are a band going places – literally. They’re playing Maryland Deathfest 2016. Plus, a cover of Motörhead — Sacrifice near the end was a great way to close proceedings (also, everyone should listen to at least on Motörhead album every day).
My only real complaint was the conduct of one or two punters in the front row. Call me old and cranky, but — now that I’m no longer of that age where I can happily drink and party all night, grab two hours of sleep and still survive a shift at some shitty casual job, and then have enough spark to head out again that night — I’ve also grown noticeably less keen on copping beer showers.
Now, During Denouncement Pyre, there were one or two interesting characters near the front. One chap (not the dude shown below; he was having an awesome time), a rather rough looking gentleman, was clearly and very intensely into the music, which was a good thing. Much rage and blasphemy was evident in him, if the way he invoked the Elder Gods in the sky of the Bendigo Hotel band room ceiling was anything to go by. This too was a good thing.
Not so cool was the fact that all this skyward blaspheming evidently wasn’t enough to appease those dark deities and bring about the desired Apocalyptic Reckoning — those Elder Gods demand more, in this case in the form of a beer sacrifice (maybe he knew that Motörhead track was coming?).
Denouncement Pyre put on a tight set. This guy (not the Beer Blasphemer) in the front was awesomely getting into the drumming.
Entire volumes could be written (and probably have) on correct behaviour at a heavy metal show, be it a pub, a festival or a squat. That unspoken line that dictates when it’s cool to be thrashing like a maniac and when you’re expected to mind your personal space is a silent code that blow-ins, onlookers and other non-metal types find hard to comprehend. Kind of like when foreigners try to comprehend Aussie rules footy.
For the uninitiated, all that good, friendly, violent fun at a heavy metal gig means learning a whole new etiquette, much of which can only be truly understood by being in the thick of it. And while the Rules of Metal abound with oddities, contradictions, and exceptions, the one thing everyone does agree on — whether you’re making a grim statement on the human condition by misanthropically crossing your arms in the front row, or running laps in a circle pit with 400 other human bumper cars — is this simple rule: don’t be a tool!
Now this gentleman wasn’t doing the right thing by his beer. Appearing somewhat tired and emotional, he had his arm outstretched and his beer at the end of it, swaying about, threatening to spill over at any moment. While there are those who may enjoy dousing themselves in beer, I personally prefer to go home dry. There were at least half a dozen of us and we all stepped back, resulting in a subtle but nonetheless unnatural gap near the front of the stage, a gap that should have been filled with banging heads and thrashing hair.
But here’s the odd thing.
As Beer Blasphemer did his thing there was suddenly some unexpected body contact with a fellow innebriator. It was hardly a collision, nor was it that dramatic, but it was definitely a close meeting of personal space.
Beer Blasphemer slowly raised his head and looked menacingly at the other chap.
“Here we go,” I thought, readying myself to retreat from something that looked like it could blow up — whereupon Beer Blasphemer promptly smothered the guy with a glorious man-hug, a warrior embrace that would make a Norse chieftain proud. It happened several times and they all had a great time.
No violence ensued and the Elder Gods were pleased.
All this excitement was getting too much for an oldie like me, so once Denouncement Pyre finished we returned to the beer garden. Eventually I got back to the band room to catch the last three or four tracks of Ulcerate’s tar-like brand of complex, technical death metal.
It’s great to see a death metal band obviously enjoying the music they love. They must have worked hard for it throughout their discography and have some notable recognition by being on the well-known Relapse Records heavy metal record label. They took the time and effort to tour Australia, which cannot be cheap when coming from New Zealand.
I especially liked the ferocious vocals, and the rest of Ulcerate were exceedingly precise. It’s the first time I’ve seen a metal drummer — on a kit that must have occupied half the stage — play live with some large headphones, which, I was told later, was a click-track. His look of concentration could have stunned a small child, and the whole setup suggested that this was someone who was highly dedicated to their craft (although I heard at least one comment of “isn’t that cheating?”).
If only there’d been a momentary lull in the applause and cheering between songs. That way everyone could have heard me yell out “Choice bro!” I’d been hanging out all night to say that but all that crowd approval meant no one would get to hear me do it.
So I enjoyed Ulcerate but I concluded that it wasn’t quit my cup of tea, this dark and heavy music meandering a little too much for my liking. There were nonetheless many in the audience who evidently were far more into this brand of New Zealand death metal than I was.
And yes, I still bought Vermis, the fourth album in the Ulcerate discography, for $20, from the death metal merch table.
Ulcerate live. Yeah, I know it's a rubbish photo. Send me a better pic if you've got one.
There’s an old bit of conventional wisdom that says value equates to a dollar a wear. It’s the same with music, particularly if you collect a lot of physical media like I do.
A dollar a listen per track means a $10 album, once listened to 10 times in full, has paid for itself. This formula is great for a $5 CD, since you can probably bring yourself to listen to something at least five times if you want to be absolutely sure it’s not for you.
However, it can be a problem if you invest in a fancy box set that turns out to be disappointing. Imagine, having to listen to a mediocre album 50+ times just to get your money’s worth!
At the time of publication I’d listened to Vermis about six or so times. This means I’ve got another 14 full listens to go before I get proper value from it.
Maybe by then I will have become a full convert and Ulcerate’s death metal will have become my cup of tea?