When I am interested in something I want to know everything about it. I want to hear stories from people involved, learn about its origins, discover as much as I can about it. This is why I love documentaries. And this is why I when I heard that Nick Calpakdjian was making a documentary about the history of Australian heavy metal, I was instantly interested.
I’m not going to pretend I know everything about metal – Australian or otherwise – but music has always been an interest of mine, which probably started when I was about 10 or so and I would get up early with my sister to watch the metal clips on RAGE. The fact that I don’t know a lot about the roots of Australian metal though, is precisely why I am so interested in this documentary.
Metal Down Under documents Australian heavy metal from its very beginnings in the ’70s to its present state. Complete with over 40 interviews with not just iconic Australian heavy metal musicians, but those working in the industry, sharing stories of how they got in to metal, their observations about the scene – both past and present – great tour and recording stories, and the influence Australian metal has had all over the world. An influence that many probably don’t realise exists.
Noting the best of Australia’s metal from Damaged – whose album Do Not Spit is considered the most intense metal album created – and even today can’t really be beat, to Alchemist who brought melody and keyboard to metal, and Sadistik Exekution – easily the craziest metal band, who were intent on making their shows as much about the music as the visual impact and theatrics. Metal Down Under is as much a history lesson, as a teaching tool for bands. As Andrew Haug states in the documentary, as good as the bands are today, there isn’t the same originality as there once was. Sadistik Exekution’s Dave Slave offers advice to viewers, that as tight as your music may be, you need to be entertaining on stage. You could have the tightest music ever, but you need image. And it’s not just about how you dress. As Dave says, it’s how you come across. You need character, a bit of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of fun.
Australian metal once upon a time was always trying to be different, do the next best thing, and perhaps it’s the saturation of the market, but recent times sees more bands trying to be too much like everyone else. The whole scene, not just bands, but fans too, I think have changed. Bands in the documentary talk about how fans would come to see the support band, how fans would be swayed to go to a concert if their was a favourite Australian band on the bill. Sad thing is, I see less of this attitude. Fans used to be proud to see Aussie bands on stage, and I’m sure lots of fans are still like that, but I don’t get that sense when I’m at gigs. I remember when I saw The Red Paintings live last year I turned to the person I was with and said “man, this is awesome. At the Hi-Fi and three Australian bands!” I thought it was great, and then when I was at Nightwish I overhead some people behind me complaining about support Darker Half. They said something along the lines of: ‘they’re just Australian why are they here?’ I was absolutely shocked by this comment. The fact that they could be so rude was beyond me. Fair enough, maybe they’re not you’re thing, but it’s important to support your own, and I believe that if you are going to a show you are there to see everyone. Maybe you aren’t the biggest fan of the support act, maybe you’ve never heard of them, but it’s not that hard to give them 20 to 30 minutes of your time.
Metal Down Under discusses the perception that international is better. I know all too often I hear people instantly dismiss Australian bands. As Andrew Haug states, people are under the assumption that international bands are bigger than what they really are. People will pay to see an international act because they can see Australian acts whenever they want. What people don’t realise is, is that these bands are probably playing small hometown shows like Australian bands, but overseas they have the opportunity to play bigger festivals, and tours spanning 30 or 40 dates. In Australia 4 or 5 shows is a tour. Australia doesn’t have the “road touring momentum.” Chris Maric brings up the belief many Australians have, that international must be better. It’s obviously not always the case.
Perhaps it’s Australia’s location, or the lack of faith, but bands in Australia just don’t get enough recognition overseas that they deserve – and often even in Australia. Jason Fuller of Blood Duster ensures everyone knows he is in no way saying he likes Psycroptic, but says that until they started touring overseas and got the “tick of approval”, and Australians saw them as being approved of internationally, that’s when Australian fans decided to like them. It’s not that bands shouldn’t strive for world wide success. Of course they should. Australia has so many bands that the world should be aware of. People are just too concerned with international acts, that they often forget what’s right in front of them. The world isn’t going to love what we have, if we don’t show them how great our bands are.
Whether you are a metal head through and through, or maybe you just like a handful of metal bands, Metal Down Under is worth watching. Seeing how the scene evolved, where it’s going and just to open your eyes up to all that is here in our own backyard. One thing Metal Down Under definitely teaches us, is that like all things Australian, our metal scene is about camaraderie, having fun and doing it not necessarily to be rich (but no one would say no to that!) but just doing what you love.
Metal Down Under is set for release on August 22. You can pre-order the DVD now.