I’m having serious problems writing at the moment. Not writer’s block or anything like that. I feel slightly brain-damaged. I can’t tell if it’s winter blues, or if years of headbanging at 300bpm have finally caught up with you. I mean me. Never underestimate the ill-effects of headbanging. I’d walk offstage having headbanged my way through a set, and I’d be kind of hazy for the next twelve hours. It was only years later when I’d taken up kickboxing and got smacked in the face repeatedly that I learned what that feeling was: mild brain damage. It just took three attempts to spell ‘brain’ correctly. Anyway.
Our first ever gig as a band was at the Croydon All-Day All-Ages Metalfest back in either 1999 or 2000. There’s that malfunctioning brain again. It was definitely 2000. The gig was held in a community hall way out in the outer suburb of Croydon, Melbourne. This was when our band was a patchwork of members from elsewhere; me, Luke, the guys from Alarum, Matt Rizzo ex-Bloodduster/King Parrot on drums. I was doing guitars and deep vocals at that stage. Our rehearsals were barely adequate. We’d rehearse at the Dane Centre, which meant that I’d rehearse at the Dane Centre and a random combination of the other band members would turn up. It was tough in those early days. Although we were signed to Earache Records, we were unproven, and our band seemed to be a bit of a joke even to half the people in it. It wasn’t until we’d toured overseas and the second album was on its way that we got people as super-serious about it as Luke and myself.
Two things stood out from these rehearsals: that Matt was a constant source of unintended comedy and that we really weren’t ready to play live. I remember one rehearsal which was just Matt and me. He turned up over half an hour late, cause he’d left his wallet on the train. Then he spent the next hour bitching about everything. I think we made it through the set once, with pauses for him to point out how stupid he thought the songs were.
Another classic was when we were trying to get him to play ‘Reality’ at speed with blastbeats. He was slowing down sections. He was adamant he couldn’t do it. We were like, yes you can. He was like, it’s impossible. We were like, NOTHING’S impossible. That was our motto back then, “nothing’s impossible”. Then he lost his shit and was like, you can’t be serious, you want me to play like this….and he played a ten-second burst of ‘Reality’ at perfect speed, absolutely beautifully. And we were like YES! JUST LIKE THAT!
“WELL I CAN’T DO THAT!” he replied, and threw his sticks at us.
At that stage, we had our first gig booked for the Croydon Metalfest and I had the crook feeling you get in the guts when you have a show coming up and it just stinks of car-crash. Salvation came from an unexpected corner though. One day, Matt’s girlfriend turned up twenty minutes before the rehearsal finished and watched for a couple of songs. The difference in Matt’s playing was electric. The playing was spot-on and aggressive. The fills had extra flourish. The BPM was dramatically engorged. Afterwards, we casually enquired if the girlfriend was coming to the show. She was. We were more relaxed after that.
As it turned out, we were the opening band for the festival. On the one hand, we were a bit like WTF – we were one of two bands who was signed to an international label playing the entire day, and they were chucking us on as openers. On the other hand, I was like phew – we would get the gig done and dusted first out of everyone, and if it turned out to be a big upended bucket of fuck-up then it wouldn’t be to a full crowd and we could slink away anonymously. We were the openers, and some mates of ours were the big-draw headlining bands: The Wolves and Frankenbok. They were the big two Melbourne metal bands on the make at the time. Jason and Ed from The Wolves had helped out with guitars on our first album, Aaron from Frankenbok had just got back from the States and was super-helpful with the finer points of getting a band together, so it was like a gig with good mates. I remember Jason had put the scares in me at some point with the remark “are you sure you want to do guitar and vocals at the same time? It’s fucking hard, dude”. I’m not sure if he just mentioned it for my sake, or if it was one of those casual psych-outs like that one Schwarzenegger laid on that dude in ‘Pumping Iron’. I wasn’t sure, but I was going to do it anyway.
A quick side-story with Aaron: we hung out with him heaps during the writing and recording of the first album. He’d seen the masks, knew everything we were about, saw the potential of having a faceless anonymous super-brutal ubergroup playing ridiculously heavy gigs. We’d recorded the debut, done the photoshoots and artwork, and submitted it all to the label. It was like a 3-4 month production wait until the album came out. One day we were in the car with Aaron, driving around Prahran, and I clearly remember him saying: “I heard some band from the US the other day…..pretty heavy group, but really catchy. They use samples too! Their frontman sings as well as doing the heavy vocals, there’s like nine of them in the band….oh, and they wear masks as well”. A few weeks later, Slipknot broke big worldwide. Our album came out a couple of months too late, and we were forever known by the general metal community as the ‘Slipknot-clones’.
We turned up at the gig and put our stuff backstage. I admit, there are definite advantages to being the opening band. Quite often you get a decent soundcheck. You get in before everyone else and get to stash your stuff in a space, before backstage becomes a clusterfuck. If you turn up early, you get to take your time preparing for the gig and take to the stage in a state of readiness, not breathless HURRY-HURRY-HURRY-GO. And once your gig is out of the way, you can enjoy the rest of the festival. You can hang with people, get drunk, go AWOL. You can enjoy the weird vibe that’s backstage, that mix of nervousness and expectation. Something strange happens to me whenever I’m backstage these days though. As soon as I get a whiff of that vibe I fall asleep. I totally cosy up into a corner – usually on top of a case of water, a chair, and the edge of an amp – and sleep until twenty minutes before I’m on. I’ve no idea why.
We blacked out our eyes and mouths and masked up. My stomach gurgled while I did it. Putting the mask on was like climbing up a diving tower, kind of that feeling of now there’s no going back. Matt didn’t wear a mask, he found it tricky enough to drum the stuff without a mask on. He just blacked up his head and face. If this filmclip is anything to go by, he’s still in the habit of doing it. We went onstage, grabbed our gear, and went for it.
I don’t remember much from this show. I remember how painfully light it was – it was like midday or something. I do remember jumping offstage during ‘Burnt’ and running around the floor. It was a basketball court. I remember maybe slapping the back of Jason’s head on my way back to stage, and missing the first few bars when we came back in after the ‘techno’ bit. Someone in the front row punched me as I was climbing back on stage, my first taste of gig violence. I remember trying to headbang like a prick, and realizing during ‘February’ that my mask had moved around so much that I was looking at my guitar through my mouth-hole. People seemed to dig it though. When we were backstage afterwards there was a feeling of “holy shit, we actually did it”. There were mistakes, and pauses between the songs, but we’d got through without having to stop and start over. I was covered in sweat and runny black makeup, an experience I was to become very familiar with. I was still shaking with adrenaline. I remember going to McDonalds with Luke for a victory lunch, walking in looking like a total mess, everyone staring, and not caring in the slightest.
We went back to the festival for the rest of the day. I remember Steve Rowe from Mortification being around, and me being like oh wow. He was walking with a cane, this was a year or two after he had chemo treatment. I was wandering to the small room stage to see some other band later on. There was a bit of a queue to get in. Someone nudged me out of the way and cut in front of me. It was Steve. I decided I didn’t like him anymore.
I befriended two metal chicks who were still at school and best friends with each other – Sarah Lim and Sam Elise. Astonishingly, I’ve remained in loose contact with both all these years later. They’ve even come on tour with us. Sarah plays with a band called ‘Electrik Dynamite’ and is now the heavy-gigging band chick. They do a black metal band together called ‘WifeSlaughter’ which is so black they haven’t even rehearsed, recorded, or performed. Both girls have just been over in Europe terrorizing the summer festival circuit. I met some chump called ‘Pantaloons’ or something, who drum-teched for us a little bit then stiffed us when we got back from playing our first US tour.
I saw Frankenbok and The Wolves play. They absolutely killed it. Their shows were smooth and effortless and entertaining and professional. All I saw when I watched their gig was the huge amount of work required to catch up to them. I was already making a list in my head of what we needed to do:
– Find some way to get the mask to stay in place on my head. I ended up wearing a towel wrapped around my head, which bulked my melon head enough to keep the mask from flapping around.
– Foldback. Most of the time, we couldn’t hear what we were playing. All I could hear was myself panting. I was thinking maybe I needed ear-holes, or a dedicated foldback guy. About a year later Luke created click-tracks and got us wearing in-ear monitors which tightened things right up.
– Get rid of that daylight. We started developing an affinity for smoke machines.
– Find a new drummer. See: every other story on this blog
That night everyone went back to Frankenbok’s pad in Yarraville to party. The Wolves guys were there, the Truth Corroded dudes were there, I think they were staying at the house. Everyone got pretty battered. There was a video on in the lounge room showing some documentary on Earache Records. I remember us sitting in the kitchen while dudes started organizing a road-trip gig to Adelaide. Jason and Tamer were talking about organizing a van, Ed was sorting out the gig details with one of the Corroded guys, Aaron was sussing out if it’d be too soon for Frankenbok to head back over. People had beers in their hand but they were all business. Everyone was crunching the deal on where they could stay, who could loan them a kit, which promoter to speak to. It was slowly, finally dawning on me that this was the life that I was choosing. I felt the nerves that I’d had earlier that day magnified a hundred times over. I realized that for these guys, today was just another gig in a series of hundreds. Almost everyone was in their early twenties, but I was thinking these are MEN. There was something eternal about the way that these guys hit the road to conquer, and just rolled up their sleeves and laid their hands on everything they needed to get their mission done. They were like Romans claiming new territory, or pioneers laying rail into the Wild West. There was a feeling that we were doing something very real, that what we were doing actually meant something.
Two years later we had toured the US, the Wolves were soon to split, and Frankenbok no longer spoke to us. We played the ‘Chaos in Croydon’ Festival again. This time we weren’t opening. That’s another story.