Metal scene report: Australia

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When I was a kid, Australia scared the hell out of me. The cliché-riddled pictures painted by movies and television depicted it as an island where Mother Nature had gone batshit crazy and was out for blood. Populated by crocodiles, poisonous snakes, and spiders, surrounded by an ocean teeming with man-eating sharks – this wasn’t a country, it was a fucking death trap. The Land Down Under was about as frightening and alien a place as could be to a boy growing up in Central Iowa.

In the early ’00s, I started digging into the Australian metal scene and was terrified all over again. Bands like Deströyer 666 and Fuck… I’m Dead were as brutal and violent as my childhood memories of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Australian bands were loud, chaotic, ugly, and savage: the very definition of violent extremity. From Hobbs’ Angel of Death to Sadistik Exekution to Vomitor, the country has established a metallic legacy characterized by a tenacious DIY work ethic and a desire to run over or through any obstacle that gets in the way.

But for all the time I spent listening to the music, the inner workings of the Australian scene were still a mystery to me. What factors caused it to develop in such a unique way? Is it everything it’s cracked up to be? Where did it come from, and where is it going? What difficulties do the musicians face, living and working in such an isolated country? The only way to truly learn about this largely unheralded scene was to contact a few of its luminaries and get answers straight from the crocodile’s maw.

— Josh Haun

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THE PARTICIPANTS

Decaylust
guitar, vocals/Denouncement Pyre, vocals/Hunter’s Moon, live guitar/Nocturnal Graves

Marcus Hellkunt
drums/Vomitor, drums/Gospel of the Horns, ex-Bestial Warlust

Ian Belshaw
bass/Trench Hell, ex-Shackles

Ben Wrecker
drums/Hotel Wrecking City Traders, owner of Bro Fidelity Records

Glenn Destruktor
guitar, vocals/Destruktor

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What characteristics make Australian metal unique?

Decaylust

Early on, I would say it was the ferocious and bestial styles that made bands appealing to the overseas maniacs. In recent years, I’m not really sure. There are a few quality bands, but also some I don’t really care for.

Marcus Hellkunt

Alcoholic fuelled heavy motherfucking satanik death metal rock filth!!!!!

Ian Belshaw

I don’t think Australian heavy metal in general is unique, but the war metal/black/thrash bands either grew up together or grew up watching each other play. The typical Australian culture (by no means predominant these days) of drinking beer, driving V8 cars, eating meat, listening to AC/DC, and watching sport breeds an uncompromising heavy metal individual who would rather listen to Sodom than Nightwish. These are the characters that drive the bands you refer to, and it’s this uncompromising attitude that may be seen to make their music unique.

Ben Wrecker

The DIY ethic runs very strong here, and also a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities that make up bands. This is a very diverse society, and the music reflects this. There are also very Australian sounding bands as well as bands that sound like they were from other countries, but for the most part the beauty is in the variety and the sort of “Aussie Battler” mentality that nothing’s supposed to be that easy.

Glenn Destruktor

The fact that most of our killer bands can not be pigeonholed as a particular style, and the fact that gothic/dramatic/image-based shit does not get any respect amongst most metalheads. These bands should stop playing with metal bands. They should fuck off to some theatre, and torture someone other than metalheads with their wimpy gothic fashion shit!!!

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Sadistik Exekution

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Who are the pioneering bands of Australian metal? What was it about them that inspired you?

Decaylust

Well, the history of the underground scene here is widely known. I guess some of the earlier bands that made a real mark beyond our shores include Sadistik Exekution, Corpse Molestation, Bestial Warlust, Mortal Sin, Armoured Angel, Hobbs Angel of Death, a few others also. Of course there were some death and thrash bands that pre-dated some of these, but they were known on a lesser scale and still some are very obscure.

I wouldn’t say any of these necessarily inspired us to play music, as our motivation comes from a source that is entirely different. Perhaps they opened the door for other Australian bands to gain a following outside of this country, which isn’t a bad thing.

Marcus Hellkunt

Slaughter Lord, Mass Confusion, Depression, Bestial Warlust, Deströyer 666, Armoured Angel. All brutal and heavy as fuck!!!

Ian Belshaw

Taipan, Hobbs’ Angel of Death, Slaughter Lord, Sadistik Exekution, Armoured Angel, Bestial Warlust, Disembowelment, to name a few. As a kid growing up, I was particularly inspired by Sadistik Exekution and Armoured Angel – Sadistik being the local maniacs who sounded like no one else and had a cult following throughout the world, Armoured because they had their own distinct style that was dark as sin and heavy metal to the bone. Both were at the forefront of the local scene when I was growing up.

Ben Wrecker

We grew up outside of Australia, so our contact with the early bands was little to none. However bands such as Abramelin and Thumlock stood out. Both very different sides of the spectrum, but each amazing in their own right.

Glenn Destruktor

Australia had a great hard rock scene with bands such as AC/DC, The Angels, Rose Tattoo, and so on. But as far as the extreme metal side of things is concerned, bands such as Sadistik Exekution, Mortal Sin, Hobbs Angel of Death and Slaughterlord led the way in the mid-late 80’s. The early 90’s saw bands such as Corpse Molestation/Bestial Warlust, Entasis, Armoured Angel, Anatomy, Cruciform, and Hecatomb rise before bands like Deströyer 666, Abyssic Hate, Spear of Longinus, Abominator, Gospel of the Horns, Nazxul, and others took things further.

I took no more inspiration from these bands than from elsewhere. I was isolated from the scene early on, and discovered my own path, which revolved around my appreciation of death, black and doom metal from different points of the globe. Maybe this is no different to other maniacs from Australia. The main similarity between a lot of the good Aussie bands is that they can not be pigeonholed as death, black or thrash metal, but somewhere between all of it. I had started the band before I had gotten very involved with the underground, and discovering it as I did was more an inspiration. It made the whole thing real to me, not this over-publicized, glamorized commercial shit, but real humans, creating the truest, purest forms of metal known to man.

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Bestial Warlust – “Bestial Warlust”

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Is there one predominant metal subgenre that epitomizes the scene?

Decaylust

Most seem to identify the scene by the ferocity of older bands like Sadistik Exekution and Bestial Warlust. The whole war metal tag that gets thrust upon most bands would be the most common reference. Many miss the mark by tagging every band since with the same label. It’s become such a generalization that I think it misrepresents most bands. Death Metal appears to be on the forefront at the moment. You can see now there are a few newer bands emerging that are delving into this down-tuned “obscure & twisted” sort of style that has become popular due to a few overseas bands leading the way. I don’t think there is one style that should sum it up though; every band should pursue their art regardless of what’s happening around them.

Marcus Hellkunt

The death/thrash metal scene in Australia, for sure, and the average metal head that’s into the classics…Slayer, Metallica, Priest, Maiden, Mötley Crüe, Motörhead, etc., etc.

Ian Belshaw

Of course people will associate Australia with war metal, or nowadays with “black/thrash”. If foreigners want to call this “the Australian sound”, then so be it. Just keep in mind that only a handful of bands in Australia ever played that sort of music, amongst hundreds of heavy, death, grind, black, and thrash metal acts, many of them clones of the latest European or American trend.

Ben Wrecker

Melbourne’s always had what seems to be called a “stoner” scene. Theres a very healthy and growing noise and experimental scene growing, as there is with the more traditional and black sides of metal. I think Australians are really supportive of homegrown bands, and it’s a good place to be if you are into playing lots of shows in lots of different places to different crowds.

Glenn Destruktor

As stated, part of our recognition of our scene is for the reason that most killer bands cannot be strictly described as thrash, doom, black, or death metal. Most bands would utilize some elements from two or three different subgenres. At on time, it was called “war metal”, but I don’t think there were enough chaotic, violent bands from Australia to really warrant a “war metal” scene. Fact is, a lot of the true maniacs in Australia are not restricted to being a pure death metal fan. Many accept black metal, thrash, doom, classic metal, and even some grind as great metal, regardless of “style”. It’s not as clear-cut as, say, the Tampa scene, which was clearly death metal, or Norway, or [Sweden]. There was no access to this shit but imports until 1990 or so, which meant a lot of us were a little more open-minded to extreme metal than some other scenes worldwide. With the Internet and shit, it is more diverse, and more crap is accessible, and more bands are popping up via bedroom recordings and shit. Eventually, there will be no particular scenes from everywhere, as everything will sound the fucking same. [Ed. note: That has already happened.]

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Gospel of the Horns

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Is your music at all influenced by your heritage and/or surroundings?

Decaylust

Not really. The main influence for creating this music is irrespective of our location. Music is influenced mainly by the energy and spirit that resides within its creator, which in our case does not have its basis in our everyday surroundings.

Marcus Hellkunt

Definitely in the death metal scene. It has its own fast, brutally aggressive style, which is recognized in Europe, South America, US, NZ, Asia etc.

Bestial Warlust termed it “war metal”. Vomitor is along that line, but more classic death metal, likened to Morbid Angel/Sodom. Gospel of the Horns have our own nasty brand of black thrash with a demonic, patriotic twist.

Ian Belshaw

Yes, it definitely was. Whether we liked it or not, Shackles was influenced by bands like Deströyer 666, Gospel of the Horns, and Grenade, who we watched live and associated with on a regular basis. Add to that the pioneering Australian bands mentioned earlier, who inspired by their great music rather than their pioneering nature. Australians have traditionally had a fairly staunch, uncompromising nature, and I think this has flowed into the way our music – right back to AC/DC, Buffalo, and Rose Tattoo – has been performed.

Ben Wrecker

Yeah, we (HWCT) have lived all over the place – Australia, Asia, the UK, the USA, Canada etc… So all of these cultures and cities, towns, villages, and metropolises that we’ve had the fortune of spending time in have shaped the way we see ourselves fitting in (or not). I don’t think the heritage of Australia has really played any great part in our sound. We are an instrumental band, so we rely on sounds and textures to get our moods and themes across.

Glenn Destruktor

No.

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Trench Hell – “Southern Cross Ripper”

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Do you think the Australian metal scene gets the recognition it deserves on an international level?

Decaylust

I think it does. There has always been a lot of interest in what Australian bands are doing, and from all impressions the Europeans especially really worship the old Australian bands. I think it’s fairly easy for a band to promote themselves overseas, get onto an international label, or to have their music distributed, and from there the interest just seems to grow.

Marcus Hellkunt

I think so, depending on what style of metal you like. The death metal, black metal, thrash metal scenes, [and] bands like Portal, Blood Duster, D666, Psycroptic, Naxzul, The Bezerker, Sadistik Exekution, amongst others, have all proven to be popular both at home and internationally. There are fucking tons of metal bands in Australia. Because there is a decent scene here, a lot of metal bands from around the globe come over to gig.

Ian Belshaw

Given our geographical isolation, which is always an impediment to touring, I think the Australian heavy metal scene does get the recognition it deserves internationally. It probably didn’t in the early ’90s, but these days many underground fans around the globe are aware of bands such as Trench Hell, Gospel of the Horns, Vomitor, Cauldron Black Ram, Nocturnal Graves, and more. If people are not familiar with them, it’s not for lack of opportunity or exposure.

Ben Wrecker

Yes and no. I think there are some amazing bands out here, and bands are increasingly more often going on tour overseas and playing in Europe, Asia, and the USA. I think the standards are fairly high here, and it makes the bands challenging and exciting to hear and see live.

Glenn Destruktor

I may be biased, but there are many good bands from Australia, and per capita, we crush most!! Our scene has had a reputation for many years, but it never realized its full potential. Gospel [of the Horns] reformed a little late, Bestial Warlust broke up, Deströyer 666 lessened the extremity, Sadistik Exekution became reclusive, bands broke up, and that was it. We continue to have a reputation, but it is not like it was back in the mid-’90s. The black metal explosion was dying, death metal was dead, people were looking for something more attacking, and Brazil delivered somewhat, but Australia just never quite got the same recognition. Maybe Australia was just a little too disconnected with the rest of the world. Fuck recognition, anyway, gay-arse bands get recognition for being technical wizards that play boring, wanky music. A great country does not make a great band!! Great metal comes from all parts of the globe.

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Hotel Wrecking City Traders

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From afar, your country appears to have tons of interesting bands. Is the scene really as amazing as it seems?

Decaylust

I can see how those from overseas have a great impression of metal from Australia, but I think when you live here, it’s a little different. Most of the killer bands do not play live, or only rarely when they do. I go to maybe 2-3 shows a year, and especially the last few years there has been very few active bands that have interested me. There are some good recordings coming out, though, and the flow seems to be fairly constant.

Marcus Hellkunt

Yes, there are always gigs on in Brisbane and Melbourne every weekend. Sydney’s OK. Adelaide, Perth, and Tassie are a little slower.

Ian Belshaw

To be honest, probably not. Definitely not these days. There are tons of un-interesting bands in Australia. The good thing is that only the interesting ones tend to become known to outsiders, as they are the ones doing something different to what can be heard from somewhere else. And despite the amount of killer bands lurking in the underground, very few of them play live on a regular basis (if at all) due to the small scene and large physical scale of this nation.

Ben Wrecker

Yes, it is. The sheer volume of bands per capita here is insane, especially in Melbourne where we live. Sometimes it can be a little too expansive, and you have to pick and choose what shows you are gonna see, and which ones you will have to miss out on. Same goes for playing shows. You can if you want to (and believe me we have) play every weekend in a multitude of venues. Pubs, clubs, house shows, warehouses, DIY art spaces, you name it, we have it here. Ultimately, it seems to increase the variety and diversity amongst all the bands in the city and around the rest of the country.

Glenn Destruktor

It is steady, but nothing spectacular. Gigs are regular, but killer lineups are not so frequent. As a social thing, I’m sure there is enough going on to keep them satisfied, but as far as quality gigs, they are not so common. It seems our scene is not as good as you imagine it, but it is by no means fucked! Fuck all distros, fuck all good promoters, fuck all zines, but still, the scene has been similar for the last few years, and will never be what it was during the late-80’s through to mid-90’s.

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Denouncement Pyre – Album Teaser

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Does your band get much support locally?

Decaylust

Actually, we receive little support or interest from Australia. I would still consider Denouncement Pyre to be a relatively unknown band within this country. Most of the interest and support comes from overseas – places like USA, Europe (France, Germany), Asia, and the UK. I was surprised during my travels through Europe last year how many people knew the band and were into it. Also, from the mail I receive, it seems to come from everywhere but Australia. Whether this will change in the future, I really don’t know, and to be honest, it isn’t very important.

Marcus Hellkunt

Yes. Both Gospel of the Horns and Vomitor get good crowds at most gigs.

Ian Belshaw

Shackles was quite well supported locally, keeping in mind that the amount of support a band receives is generally dependent on the amount of effort they put into pushing their product. We were content with being a force in the underground, rather than aiming for high profile international support slots or deals with more mainstream labels.

Ben Wrecker

We get a moderate level of support, I guess. It’s definitely grown since we started playing, and we are getting invited to open up for international touring bands a lot more now, which is always fun. I think bands can get lost in the sea of many, though, a lot of the time, too. There’s only so much room for coverage, and like anywhere, trends prevail and bands sometimes get awkwardly lumped together and talked about as some sort of micro-scene. But I very much enjoy being based in Melbourne, as there are shows on every night of the week, and you could live in far worse places, for sure.

Glenn Destruktor

There is some support, but not a lot. We rarely have shit turnouts to gigs, but as far as distribution is concerned, we have fuck all. We are in very few shops in Australia, and in essence, we are still buried deep in the underground. No endorsements, no management, no distribution license, just the support of some maniacs and others involved in the scene. We don’t get much support from promoters, though. Don’t get me wrong, though, we don’t really seek this stuff, and will leave that to those that get gratification from being the biggest band. We stand the test of time, we have our legions, which grows day by day. One day it may came to an end, and I can look back [and] say I’ve had some good times, I’ve stuck through the good and the bad, I’ve achieved some killer things, and become even less significant than I am now, knowing I did not bow to demands. We kept it real, honest, and satisfied the hunger of many a metalhead worldwide for at least a few minutes of their life. Maybe we will grow from here. Whatever, really. It is not good or bad, it just is.

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Do you ever feel isolated from the rest of the international metal scene? How does this affect you/your band?

Decaylust

With the ease of technology now, the world has become a smaller place so it’s not hard to stay up to date with everything, if one chooses. The biggest problem with being this isolated is that is limits touring capabilities. It’s very expensive to get a 3 or 4 piece band to Europe or the States for tours, and there aren’t many major cities in Australian where a band can play. It also costs a lot to send releases and merch overseas. Postage is a real killer, but that seems to be fairly common in most countries.

Marcus Hellkunt

I definitely feel isolated when I have to be on a fucking plane for 20 god damned hours. This affects us as we all have to drink shitloads of piss and take heaps of drugs to tolerate each other for this long.

Ian Belshaw

The only isolation is in terms of live shows. Other than that, there is no impediment to promoting an Australian band in this day and age or getting signed to an overseas label. In fact, with people out there especially interested in what comes out of Australia, it can actually be an advantage to hail from here. The only other impact is higher postage costs when you are promoting your music internationally, though for many bands the Internet has made that easier these days, anyway.

Ben Wrecker

Touring overseas is an expensive proposition, and one that only a small amount of bands actually mange to pull off. We’ve been entertaining the prospect of touring Europe this year, and it looks like it’s gonna be put off ’til mid-next year due to financial restraints and our desire to put out another couple of records before we do. Running Bro Fidelity Records, mailorder prices seem expensive when people from the USA or Europe want to order our releases. I make the prices as cheap as I possibly can, but postage is usually around 60% extra [more] than the actual price of the records themselves. I think that is probably the biggest difficulty. But people still order, and we sell records all over the place. I think it’s just something you have to deal with purely down to the geographical side of things.

Glenn Destruktor

Surely these days I feel isolated. We should have toured Europe and other places by now, but playing this sort of music, and living as far away as we do certainly makes things harder than if I lived in the vicinity of Europe or North and South America. I guess it makes it more satisfying when we reach places such as those mentioned, but to do it live would certainly give me some satisfaction that can’t be obtained somehow else. It would be a special moment in my life to do these things. Hopefully this can be done in the next couple of years. I won’t regret many things in life, but I would regret it if I did not do something about doing something like a small European tour. I don’t think I could do a lot more with a band like Destruktor, than to play some successful shows in Europe! I think with a lot less distance between continents, we could have some more impact worldwide, but then again, we may have been seen as outdated and boring to all the modern metalheads worldwide. I guess I’ll never know.

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Destruktor – “Violence Unseen”

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Has technology/social networking/etc. made it easier for you to spread the word?

Decaylust

I guess it has made it easier for both bands and fans. From a band point of view, the best advantage is contact with the label surrounding a release and getting everything organized. The problem is it’s perhaps too easy, and every mongoloid with an instrument know has the ease of uploading their “music” and can use this platform to promote their rubbish. I don’t really care either way. You can still sort the false from the genuine. It’s as much a fashionable thing to use these sites as it is to be against them.

Marcus Hellkunt

Yes…hail the Internet!!! Hail MySpace!!!!

Ian Belshaw

Of course it has. Geographical distance is nothing when the Internet is concerned. We in Shackles were initially reluctant to get a MySpace page, but once we did, we found it to make things much easier. It is also much quicker to email labels/distros/zines or other bands than writing a letter and waiting for a reply. Society is very impatient these days – they want information immediately, put on a plate in front of them, or not at all. You can fight it all you want, but at the end of the day you’ll be limiting the scope of your band in the process.

Ben Wrecker

Yeah, the Internet’s been both a positive and a negative thing. Essentially now everyone’s got a level platform for making people aware of their band or label, and whilst that’s also a positive thing, it also really makes it hard to stand out amongst the crowd. Bro Fidelity is a very niche-based label. It isn’t meant to be a huge money earner. It’s done for the love of the music and the desire to expose it to a broader amount of people in other countries, and nowadays it’s all independently focused, and less physical records are being sold because of downloading, etc.

I think it’s great to be able to make a record with a guy like Gary Arce (Yawning Man/Ten East), which Hotel Wrecking City Traders recently have done. It started off when HWCT got to open up for Ten East in Melbourne, and then via the Internet we’ve recorded a record together in Melbourne [and] California, and I think that’s a really remarkable thing. Bands are doing split releases with bands from overseas more than ever, and it’s a cool way to expose bands to each other’s respective necks of the woods and make the connections between bands that may have never really had the opportunity to do so in the days of tape trading and limited run print zines.

On the flipside, I hold that era of discovering music very close to my heart because it was so much harder to discover bands, and when you did, it was like you’d uncovered something you could share with your friends, and it was a sort of nerdy club of music-obsessed people sharing their new discoveries. It’s no different these days, but people are sharing entire hard drives of MP3 formatted music files, and it’s become so much larger in scope. Good music is in the eye of the beholder, so it will always be there and different for everyone. That’s the best part of it.

Glenn Destruktor

I think a lot of our reputation and fan base was established from the mail I used to do many years ago. This shaped the band, no doubt, and everything since has just been an evolution. The Internet has made everything more accessible, but that also means that it is very easy for shitty bands with shitty recording with their shitty songs to spam themselves to make themselves popular, and start their shitty website to show how crap they are to every dickhead that bothers to gives it a listen. I’m proud that Destruktor was established from the old-school way whilst we were in an era of change to the digital, Internet, blah blah world. No doubt this is an easier way to promote the band, but that does not necessarily make it a good thing. It makes it too easy for jobless, trend jumping idiots to call themselves a metalhead, with no idea what the fuck they are on about, no dedication, no life.

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Vomitor

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Are there any obstacles/difficulties you face that you think are particular to your country?

Decaylust

As already mentioned, the biggest obstacle would be the distance from the rest of the world and the way this affects touring overseas.

Marcus Hellkunt

Definitely. Distance, funds, drugs, alcohol, and chicks are all obstacles.

Ian Belshaw

Not really. We all speak English, which is the global heavy metal language. We have a high standard of living, meaning that computer access and the purchasing of musical gear is no obstacle. We’re a lucky country in many ways.

Ben Wrecker

Mainly the size and distance. Bands in Europe can drive the same amount of miles as bands here and play in multiple countries. Australia is so big and the drives much longer, and you get far less venues, let alone countries, for the amount of miles you drive. That always surprises bands when they come from overseas – how long it takes to get around and do shows. But it is a fun country to tour, though, I always enjoy it.

Glenn Destruktor

The distance between here and everywhere else, regardless of [where] internationally. Look at a map of Australia. There are barely five cities in Australia that can consistently gather a semi-reasonable crowd to gigs. It is even shitty to play gigs in different parts of Australia because of the distance between the cities. That is a major reason why we do not play a lot of gigs. No point playing to the same people every fucking month! Lack of good distribution, a sparsely populated land, and distance from overseas would be the biggest issues, I guess. I don’t really think or worry about these things. I just do what I do, however I can, whenever I want, really.

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Hunters Moon – “The Ravens Swoon”

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What bands do you consider to be “the future” of the Australian scene?

Decaylust

I really don’t know. There will always be a handful of good bands and a horde of shit that doesn’t appeal to me on any level.

Marcus Hellkunt

Stormbane and Diabolical Demon Director from Melbourne. Check ‘em out.

Ian Belshaw

Apart from established bands such as Portal, Cauldron Black Ram, Nocturnal Graves, Trench Hell, and Raven Black Night, the likes of Innsmouth, Demons Gate, Hellbringer, Doomed Beast, and Mongrel’s Cross are some to keep an eye on. Not exactly revolutionary, but taking the torch into the future.

Ben Wrecker

Fire Witch, Spider Goat Canyon, Breathing Shrine, Agonhymn are all really exciting and diverse, and their live shows are always killer.

Glenn Destruktor

I don’t see it growing much. I think you will continue to hear of another band popping up that still invoke the spirit of old, and while bands continue to do it, some good bands should continue to arise over the years. I doubt there will be any explosion of Aussie metal, because the scene is more diverse and attracts different crowds. The future of Aussie metal I still like to think is us, along with bands such as Portal, Vomitor, Nocturnal Graves, Denouncement Pyre, Cemetery Urn, Ignivomous, and now a band called Stormbane are now showing some very positive signs. Other bands like Trench Hell, Cauldron Black Ram, and others also continue to fly the flag of the mighty underground.

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