Category Archives: Tour stories

Post-Touring Health, an Infected Ball, Death of a Dream pt.Whatever

I found touring was not particularly good for my health. The blame, were it to be apportioned, lay equally with myself and the touring lifestyle. I know guys who managed to fit in jogs on tour, or go vego, or swear off alcohol. I was not one of them. I didn’t actually believe it was possible to do such things on the road until I saw others do it. You have to be quite driven, or be in a band who’s happy to tolerate your crazy ‘health’ thing.

“Whaddaya mean this isn’t good enough to eat? ROCK-STAR”

A band has to accommodate someone if they want to tour healthy. It wasn’t like we could all go our separate ways and head out for jogs, or have multiple food stops so someone could pop into Wholefoods and get their essential organic whatever. In Berzerker’s case, everyone else ate burgers and drank. The masks made our already energetic shows fucking ridiculously draining to play and quite often we’d come off stage, squeeze our t-shirts out, and fall over. We’d also drive and manage ourselves on tour. If we were exceptionally luxurious, we’d get one extra guy on board to help out with the driving and merch table. A few guys came on tour as ‘tour managers’. The only time I remember one making a true difference was when ex-Akercocke bassist Pete Theobalds came onto a UK tour for fun, and found himself stepping into the breach when the tour manager went AWOL.

What am I getting at? We were in a constant state of exhaustion. The rare sleep we experienced would be fragmented, brief, and without any sort of rhythm whatsoever. Our bodies would be pushed to the limit each night. Instead of recharging on soups, water, salads, we’d be getting by on beer stolen from the venue and the Wendys $1 menu. Then we’d shake dozens of sweaty hands after gigs and catch whatever the hell was going around. If you’re in an international touring band? NO HANDSHAKES. Go for fist-bumps, Japanese bowing, or ceremonial head-butts, just no handshakes. We tried using disinfectant hand lotion when we’d get in the van. It doesn’t work, you’d still get some fierce flu that would batter your frail foreign body. When you caught the inevitable illness, there was no recovery time. You had to get on with driving, playing, loading in and out, and the merch desk.

                               “It puts the lotion on the skin or else it gets the lurgy”

I live pretty healthily these days, but I’m prone to illnesses. I can basically split my life into two periods, pre-2002 and post 2004. When I was younger, I was superhealthy and unstoppable. Then I did a big block of touring and….now I’m not quite so unstoppable.

There was a big touring block where I caught the flu. Then I got conjunctivitis, and we were too busy to go get it treated for three days or so. I remember feeling like I had some grit in my eye after a gig in Chicago. I managed to grab some sleep, and the pillow was glued to my face when I woke up. My face oozed crust. You know in the movie ‘Aliens’ when they find those people who are cocooned to the walls with that gluey alien spaff? It was 100% like that. The James Cameron connection continued when Napalm Death said I looked like the Terminator due to my red glowing eye, and Nile started calling me ‘Pinky’. When I finally had the eye treated I had to buy some sprays and disinfect the entire motorhome we were travelling in, from stern to bow. My chin was starting to react from getting bashed nightly into a germy microphone and was breaking out in weird pustules. Every gig when I grazed the mic for the first time it would send a bolt of lightning through my face, which would go hot, then numb. A week or so later was the unbelievable stress of our drummer breaking his foot – we had to keep touring in order to make it out of the country – and that was followed by me getting a horrible case of sunburn in Miami when I passed out in a park.

Then we popped over to Europe to tour for a month straight in a bus with dirty bunk beds, and an exhaust outlet leading into the lower lounge.

When I arrived back in Australia, I slept for a week straight. I found it hard to have conversations with people at first; I was used to holding court and strangers shutting up when I spoke. I had absolutely zero interest in hearing about how someone’s day at work was, and couldn’t relate to normal everyday things. I felt like I had done the most amazing thing ever, and planned to organize my tour diaries and notes and write a kickass book about being in a band. I felt no-one could possibly top some of the stories I had to tell. Anyway, once I’d had a few months of regular sleep and meals and started work again, my body came out of hiding and got really fucking weird on me.

My eye – the one that was affected by conjunctivitis – would swell right up and go red. Then just as I’d be prepping to get an ambulance, it’d suddenly go back down. Or I’d wake up and there’d be a chunky discharge all over my face from my coy and slightly pink eyeball. Then I started getting mystery lumps bulging out of my head which would vanish within 48 hours. I caught a series of colds. Crops of mystery zits would come and go. My dick started leaking. I went fuck this, and headed to the doctor for an explanation.

Although I headed to my usual health clinic, my doctor this time was an unsmiling woman I’d never spoken to before. I explained all my symptoms to her miserable face and she asked me if I’d had any “changes in lifestyle recently”. I went uh, I’ve been on the road travelling with a band overseas for a few months, and….

“Oh, it’s probably VD” she said. Then the evil bitch gave me the most comprehensive STD test I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience, and sent me on my way with “we’ll have your results in three or four days”. Australian healthcare can vacillate unpredictably from fabulous to hopeless, hey. I went to sleep that night packing shit, thinking of some uncomfortable conversations with previous partners I had ahead of me.

I woke up the next day and I wasn’t quite right. It felt like I had a mild fever. I went to work anyway, trooper that I am, and made it to the afternoon. I went to the loo sometime after lunch and when I had a pee it looked like milkshake. I kind of watched in disbelief as the sediment hit the water and slid to the bottom of the bowl. I left work for the day, headed home, had some panadol and went to bed early. I was starting to feel like shit.

I woke up just after midnight. My left ball was aching. I suspected I had somehow trapped it between my legs in my sleep and then done somersaults or something. I found with a bit more panadol and some maneuvering, I was able to get back to sleep.

I woke up in the morning completely fucked. My crotch throbbed like someone was tapping my left ‘nad with a hammer. I was feverish. I stumbled to the toilet and pissed out a gallon of thick milkshake. The pain was quite something. I called the doctor’s clinic and asked if they had my results yet. They said no. I described my symptoms to them and there was a pause. Could I come in immediately? I said yes, and phoned a friend of mine called Steve who was flexible enough to give me a lift.

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I limped into the surgery. I told them what was happening again, and they performed a quick examination. There was a brief wait and then they came straight back: Could I pop into a clinic around the corner and get an ultrasound scan of my bits done? There’d be someone waiting for me. I said yes, and hobbled back out to where Steve was waiting. The pain seemed to have actually increased in the space of twenty minutes. He gave me a lift to the ultrasound clinic. Every time the car went over a speed bump or pothole, I whimpered.

To any women reading this, testicle pain requires description: It’s like the nerve ganglion for your balls is connected to one’s kidneys, or liver. So when pain is experienced in your jewels, it gets a x2 multiplier effect that is shared between a few other vital organs. The usual reaction to such pain is immediate and uncontrollable vomiting. On this day, the only thing stopping me from puking everywhere in crotch-agony was the steady slow incremental increase in throbbing.

Steve dropped me off at the ultrasound place, laughing his head off at me gingerly limping along. I crab-walked in a wide stance, like a cowboy or a disgraced US senator. I was immediately received by the clinic, who lubed my nuts up and ran a scan over them. The swelling was profound. I was half expecting the nurse to cry out “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” Instead, she informed me that I had scrotal epididymitis, and that a hospital bed and doctor was waiting for me at another location, and was some available to drive me there immediately or could they call me an ambulance? I passed on the ambulance, got the details, eased myself slowwwwwwwly back into the car with Steve, and we headed to the hospital.

The hospital didn’t fuck around. I was straight into a hospital gown, had a bag full of antibiotics rammed into my arm via drip, and wheeled into a room shared with one other person, an old fella who didn’t say much. A doctor explained that if left untreated for another day or two, I could have lost my balls. To this day, if I’m run-down and tired or the weather is changing, I get that dull throb in my left kidney. The nurse told me that I’d be here for three days or so then departed. All I had on me was my mobile phone. I had left home in a bit of a rush. Steve had already returned to work. I felt like shit, and wondered how I was going to pass the next few days.

I received a phone call. It was from my health clinic. They were happy to inform me that my test results for STDs had all come back negative. I was like, you sure? I’m banged up in hospital right now with a stiff case of scrotal epididymitis, a case so nasty you’d swear I caught it screwing trash-cans. They went, guess it’s bacterial then. Toodaloo! As I say, the post-touring body does some weird shit when getting back to the normal world.

Anyway, that chat lifted my spirits. I was no longer going to have call people and give the better-go-get-checked speech, thank god. I started calling around my friends, seeing if I could get any visitors. I may have received a few people but one stands out: my good mate David Cohen who, understanding my needs, brought me a book to read, Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ by Neil Strauss. And as my body recovered its health, it was my dream of writing a book about my touring stories that died instead of my balls. The whole basis of writing my stories was how ridiculous and full-on and dramatic they were, or so I thought. But when I read about Vince Neil eating a martini glass, or killing people in a drunken car crash, or Nikki Sixx overdosing on smack then coming back from the dead to shoot some more junk like an opiate-fuelled zombie, I gave up. I was an amateur. There was no way I could compete with this. How can you? Anything I’d done, they’d done a million times bigger and crazier, to the horizon of death and beyond.

You win, you magnificent bastards

                                                    You win, you magnificent bastards

I kind of wish I could go back to my younger self, and explain that stories aren’t just about how big and fucked-up you can be. They can also be about connection, explaining things in a way that people can relate to. In fact, that may be the secret to most art. There will always be a place for the Titians and Rembrandts, the Dahls and Strausses, the Beethovens with the big notes and a shock-and-awe impact, but sometimes people merely want something that makes them feel less alone. McDonalds may one day release the book on making hamburgers and it’d be some wild burger shit in there, but I’d be more interested in the small book done by the Burger Theory food-truck that I see around the corner from me occasionally. People want connection and as much as they may crave escape, they also crave the occasional reassurance of reality.

Two more anecdotes, then I’ll let you go.

When I broke up with a long term relationship in England and was prepping to dive back into dating, my first step was to go do an STD test and get my licence to thrill. The doctor I ended up with was a Romanian woman who handed me a questionnaire to fill out. It was pretty comprehensive, not only about sexual history but also about any trauma your bits may have suffered in the past. When she saw that I had experienced a case of scrotal epididymitis, her face lit up like she had discovered a unicorn. Apparently she had heard about it before but never met anyone who had it, and she peppered me with a million questions. She genuinely looked so happy. I think I made her day.

And now, the second anecdote:

When I was released from hospital after my three days of antibiotics, I was still slightly achy-breaky but well on the mend. I arrived home around midday, and turned on the computer to catch up with whatever had been happening in the world. Heads-up, what I’m about to tell you is rather gnarly. If you’re eating breakfast, or have a mild constitution, are a family member, or merely think of me as a good pure lovely person, then perhaps finish this article here. If you’re the kind of dude who read my story about lacquering Devin Townsend’s hair and loved it, then proceed.

So here I was, at home by myself and at that point it had been about a week since I had any ‘relief’, so with a live computer and internet connection I took care of that shit. However….the end result was, shall we say, unpredictable. You know when you catch a nasty chest-cold, and the infection passes and you start coughing up thick chunks of green and brown crap? That, my friends, is exactly what I ejaculated. It was like a Predator had bled into a bowl of flour and chicken eggs, and whisked that to satisfaction.

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Flunkies, and Putting Stickers on AC/DC’s Tourbus

We woke up in a splitter van in a supermarket car-park somewhere in Cleveland. I think it was Cleveland, it could have been any one of those mashed-potato central-east states in the USA. There were six of us in the van. The van was jammed full of us, merchandise boxes of clothes and stickers and Berzerker CDs, our smell, and our rubbish. The drummer was a particularly filthy specimen, as drummers are wont to be. He had taken to draping his sweat-drenched unwashed gig top over a seat he’d marked as ‘his’ in the van. The stench was incredible. It smelled like someone had murdered a pig and then left it in a hot sauna for a month. No-one really wanted his seat, not after he’d let his miasma soak into it.

I hadn’t really been sleeping much in the previous weeks. I had taken to sitting in the front passenger seat. Although we agreed pre-tour to move around all the time, you end up claiming seats as your own after a week or two. I think it comes from living in such close quarters. The borders of privacy get pushed back so far that you start claiming turf and ownership, no matter how small and petty the object of that may be. So the front seat by that point was ‘mine’. I had a good view of the USA as we drove straight past all the lovely bits straight to the ghettos where our gigs invariably were. I could talk to the driver – a huge Puerto-Rican called Tito – which wasn’t necessarily pleasant but was often interesting, and made for a nice change-up from the bitching coming from some of our session musicians. I could hear the stereo clearly, and bands such as At the Drive-In and Deftones were being forever linked up in my mind with travelling the US. I could be alone, or as alone as you can be in a splitter van of six people. But the downside of the front seat was that you couldn’t stretch out and it was almost impossible to fall asleep in it. Somehow that night, I had managed to actually get some sleep. Not much, but enough to keep me going for a another few days.

So we woke up. It was a bright sunny day. The car park was completely empty except for us and an enormous black bus parked only one hundred metres away. We all goggled at it. It was a sky-liner, a touring bus. We saw the words AC/DC on the side of it. Jesus Christ, it was the AC/DC tour-bus. We remembered seeing billboards advertising their show in Cleveland, same day as ours. Then we saw Angus Young’s name down the side, with the words ‘On Tour Now’ and the website address for the ‘Angus Army’. Fuck…the entire bus was just for Angus Young. The bus was so big it looked like it ejaculated splitter vans. To be a touring band and have your own sky-liner is pretty damn luxurious. For each member to have their own personalised sky-liner was beyond ridiculous. The difference between us and them couldn’t have been greater.

 

ape-monolith

“Lads, we’ll be there one day. It might take another 100,000 years though”

 

Yet when we thought about it, there were actually similarities between us. We were the first Australian heavy metal band since AC/DC to do a full tour of the USA. One or two others had popped over for a show or two, but no-one else had actually done a tour tour. To add to the similarities, we had a session guitarist called Mark Evans. Their 1975 album “High Voltage” was released the day before I was born. Shit, we were practically brothers!

The course of action was obvious. We grabbed a handful of t-shirts and hoodies, some CDs, some stickers and headed over to the bus. We had images in our heads of Angus skipping up and down the front of the stage doing his mental-drooling-schoolboy act wearing a Berzerker t-shirt. Our CDs were insanely heavy, our stickers were insanely strong. Seriously, the stickers were industrial strength. Luke and I had put them on road cases and they were impossible to remove. They were possibly the only things still holding my cases together. I had tried removing one from my guitar case once, and it had ripped a hole in the side.

We arrived at the bus and knocked on the door. After a minute, the door opened. The smell of clean fresh vehicle and leather seating flooded out and we were met at the stairwell by a short, fat, bleach-blonde American bus driver. We explained to him that we were an Australian metal band on tour in the US, come to this very bus to pay homage to our forbears, and that we had brought gifts of music and song and stickers and shit, and could he please do us the honour of passing these on to Angus? Furthermore, was Angus home and could we have a chat? We were all Australian after, and we could enjoy ourselves some antipodean repartee and a breakfast beer.

“Fuck off” said the bus driver, and closed the door in our faces.

It took a further minute or so for our enthusiasm to finally deflate. We hadn’t expected to get on that bus. What we had expected was for the bus driver to say a couple words explaining Angus’s unavailability, accept our stuff, and probably chuck it in a bin, or better yet leave it on a table for a few hours before chucking it in a bin. We knew the only way Angus Young would wear our shirt is if he woke up, realised the only clothing he had was his sweat-soaked tour shirt that was beginning to get that dead-pig-tour smell, somehow didn’t have another shirt to hand, and threw on the nearest clean clothing out of desperation. We knew that. But we also knew that if you play enough long shots, one of them might eventually come through. I was a small-town Aussie boy on a tour in the US with my Earache band, after all. Anything can happen.

We wandered around the outside of the bus and ended up at its hindquarters. There was a fetching photo of Angus looking demented on the back of it. We wondered if he was asleep up top. The back of a sky-liner is the obvious place to put the bedroom if you’re kitting it out for one person. We thought about banging on the back window but knew no good would come of it. Then we realised what we were holding.

The course of action was obvious.

I put a sticker down on the bumper bar and pressed it good and proper, no loose edges. That one sticker was going to take someone a lot of time to get off. I put another sticker on the back picture. Then another. And then the other guys grabbed some, and we stickered the shit out of the back of that beautiful custom sky-liner. Getting them off would require hours and hours of elbow grease or a professional service and would likely damage the surfaces they were on. Some might have called it vandalism. We saw it as the gift that kept giving.

 

acdc

I always preferred Slayer anyway, you midget

 

******

Silly bus driver. He just created so much extra work for himself by lacking some basic manners. I’d come across this shit time after time after time in the music industry. You get flunkies who have bigger attitudes than the bands that they’re working for. Angus Young, by all accounts, is an absolutely lovely guy. Almost every band I’ve come across are decent dudes who are more often than not lovely and polite. But on occasion the drivers, roadies, tour managers, and support staff can be such dicks. It’s almost like they absorb any residual ego which would normally attach itself to an artist. And every time one of these guys acts like a shit to someone, they tarnish the reputation of who they work for. Given the choice, I prefer the pleasure of tarnishing my own reputation myself.

I remember being on the way to a European festival in a van with some of the guys from Mithras and Pain and one of the guitar techs for Opeth. We had all been picked up from the airport. The tech’s self-regard was so enormous, there was barely room for the rest of us in the van. I think it was one of the Mithras guys who later showed me a clip on YouTube. It was Opeth live onstage somewhere. They were mid-song, and Mikael’s guitar had cut out. In the middle of it was the very same guitar tech, running around trying to get it all working again. It took minutes and minutes for him to get it going, while the band tried to jam and banter and do anything to fill in the silence. It was excruciating.

We laughed and laughed and laughed.

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Getting a guitar smashed over my head

In Berzerker, we knew the importance of stunts.

You want to create a name for yourselves, and you don’t want people to walk away from your show bored to death by another four guys in black t-shirts making a bunch of noise. Metal bands know this. All the old legends had their stunts: Deicide would dress up in spikes and dump bags of entrails over the audience; Slayer had their nail armbands; Morbid Angel would self harm and bleed everywhere; Hawkwind would take massive amounts of drugs almost as performance art; KISS would fuck half the crowd. We’d really prefer people to like us for us, to understand the multilayered musical genius we bring to them, to connect with our music on such a profound spiritual level that all frivolity is rendered unnecessary. But that’d never happen, which is why I planned to have a guitar smashed over my head at a show in Dandenong Town Hall.

Berzerker_Live_I

Stand back, sensitive genius musicians at work

It was some gig around 2001, with Frankenbok and Blood Duster. The Alarum guys were in our lineup and we were still friendly with the ‘Bok. Samantha and Sarah from the previous blog entry had organized the show for a high-school communications project, I think. I don’t know. I forget exactly how the idea of the guitar-smashery came about. I may have mentioned how metal it’d be to see someone kick through a gig after getting a guitar broken over their head, and Frankenbok’s Aaron was like, I’ve got a spare acoustic I’ve been meaning to ditch, we can use that!

We spent some time preparing. Wooden acoustic guitars are surprisingly robust. We sawed through the weak points on the neck and the body. The idea was that when I got hit with the guitar, it would shatter into spectacular photogenic pieces. We decided that the techno-break during ‘Burnt’ would be the best time to do the deed. It was the bit of the song that normally entailed some manner of hijinx. Aaron would ‘sneak’ up behind me, smash the guitar over me, I’d aim a kick at him and chase him offstage. Too easy.

Something I kind of remember from before the gig – I was getting a late lunch at the KFC in Dandenong, close to the Town Hall, and I saw a dude making some scantily clad girls walk around the block. I was watching it for a while until I finally clocked what I was seeing. I disliked Dandenong for quite a while afterwards, a rough lawless place where hookers ambulated betwixt Town Hall and fast-food joints, and that dislike lasted right up until the night I partied with Skinless at ‘The Block’ in Baltimore. That night kinda reset my dodginess bar a bit.

So, the gig. We’re bashing our horrifying music out at a million miles an hour. Kids seemed into it. I had learned from earlier gigs to put a head-towel on so my that my mask wouldn’t move around, and my face was blacked-up like Al Jolson so none of my skin was visible to anyone. We’d also begun our lifelong romance with the smoke machine and strobe lighting. We used to rehearse with them going. We’d mask up, go into the rehearsal room in Luke’s house – which was a converted bedroom – turn the smoke machine and the strobe on, and rehearse for forty minutes. It seemed to affect us all in different ways. I remember I’d end up hallucinating a white horse galloping in the top right hand corner of my vision from the third song onwards.  When I saw the album cover to Deftone’s “White Pony” for the first time, I nearly started flashing back.

BUSHFIRES TASMANIA

Pictured: Berzerker gig circa 2001

We hit the assigned bit of ‘Burnt’ and I ripped my guitar off and stalked to the front of the stage. Then I realized I had a problem. My mask had no peripheral vision and we’d pumped heaps of smoke into the place, so I couldn’t even see the drum riser. I had no idea where Aaron was, or which direction he was coming from. There was just too much smoke. I had assumed that I’d be able to spot him coming from the corner of my eye and brace myself. You can handle some big hits just as long as you see them coming. But all I could see was smoke, and the other band members getting the fuck out of the way. When the guitar hit me, I was totally unprepared.

The guitar broke halfway across my shoulders and half on the back of my head. It didn’t splinter and shatter. It kind of just crumpled in half. I had that where-am-I feeling for a moment, then spun around. I could see Aaron scampering off the stage. I lost it for a second and swung a serious kick his way – which missed by a mile – then realized my mouth was wet. I spat on the stage and it was dark. When the show finished and I got my mask off, I had a look in the mirror and worked out what happened. I had chomped into my lip, and it bled everywhere.

It could have been worse. When I was a kid at boarding school, we had to do a task called ‘axesplit’ where we started the term off by riding a ute into the bush, about an hour away from school. We’d find stacks of logs and would reduce them to size by driving wedges into the cracks and bashing them with sledgehammers. Then we’d load the wood into the back the ute. I was lifting a piece with another guy, and a student teacher came up behind us unannounced and hefted the log up and over. I wasn’t prepared for the help and the log smacked me in the face on the way past, driving my front teeth through the inside of my mouth and out the base of my lip. We were too far out in the bush to leave straight away and couldn’t spare the vehicle so we kept working for another hour, then headed back. The matron did a shit job sewing my lip back up so whenever I drank anything, it would dribble out of my face. She also tied the stitches in a bow and cut the ends off, so it looked like I had a spider on my mouth. I was called ‘Spiderman’ for the rest of the year. An Austrian guy tried to hit the ‘spider’ off my mouth a few weeks later when I was skiing.

Anyway that was it for the show, the only other bit of it I remember is Tony from Blood Duster saying to Samantha “hey Sam…you’re eighteen now, yeah?” We headed back to Luke’s place for post-gig celebrations, but I didn’t feel like celebrating when we got there. I had a massive headache and it was getting worse by the minute. I had some Panadol but they didn’t seem to be doing anything. Occasionally I get those headaches where they just seem impervious to everything. Some of the girls recommended pinching the fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and my forefinger, which stopped a tiny bit of the throbbing. It was still pretty bad though. I had another fistful of Panadol and ended up going outside to the pool in the backyard. I lay on the side and dipped my head in the water which seemed to ease the pain off a bit. It was a warm night, and the concrete by the pool was still toasty. I feel asleep with my head in the water.

I woke up slowly the next day. Someone was licking my face and my mouth. The sun was nice and warm, and the pain was gone. I kept my eyes closed. It was a bright day. The playful licking continued and I giggled a bit. I thought yeah, this is how gigs are supposed to end.

I opened my eyes. Luke’s small mangy dog was macking me, it was nearly midday, and I was sunburned.

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First Berzerker Show

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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.

The Rizzo seen here in its natural habitat

The Rizzo seen here in its natural habitat

 

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.

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Slow Boat to Ireland

“The ferry to Ireland has been cancelled. We can’t make the show.”

It was raining. Berzerker was doing a UK tour in 2006 with Norwegian band Miksha, UK metallers Nekkrosis, and German DJ Bazooka, when we were told that we couldn’t play Ireland. This news was met with half déjà vu, half despair; déjà vu because we’d been booked to play Ireland three times previously and the gig got cancelled EVERY time, and despair because we were certain that THIS WAS THE TIME we were going to play there.

 

Black-Cat-500x500

This guy, on a treadmill in front of us, pausing occasionally to smash mirrors.

 

 

We were despairing extra-hard because the tour so far had been, as usual, a shambles. We were breaking in a new tour manager called Nobby Styles*, who ended up running off owing about four thousand pounds or so after the tour. I spoke to him on the phone post-tour and he was actually like yep-yep-yep, the-money’s-coming-I’m-good-for-it before moving to Italy, changing his phone number, and disappearing forever. I guess he had to do a runner, because the shows were so poorly booked that we’d only get about thirty people to each one. He must have lost so much money. I’m looking at some of the towns and places we played at on this tour….Rushden….Pontypridd….Weston-Super-on-Mare…

The tour nearly ended in Weston-Super-on-Mare when all the bands headed out after the show to see what nightlife existed in the town. Almost everyone had long hair and goatees and were wearing metal shirts. They walked down the road and turned the corner, and right outside a strip club were about sixty chavs all beating the shit out of each other in the street . The chavs all stopped mid-punch and turned to stare at the alternative types with long hair who had just materialized at the end of the road. Then they started coming for them. The guys ran back to the garage where our nightliner bus was parked, pulled the door down, and locked themselves in.

 

Weston Super Mare Pier Burning

Renowned landmark Weston Super-On-Mare Pier, built 1904. I’m honestly surprised it survived as long as it did.

 

 

This is why we were looking forward to Ireland. People we’d met on tour were hostile. The shows had been poorly attended. I’d already fired one of the crew. Fans were getting used to seeing us in England and weren’t turning up in the numbers they did previously. We felt bad for the opening bands who were buy-ons (they paid us to come on tour) and we knew that the Ireland show would be different. We hadn’t been there before, and we knew that we’d get crowds of people all keen to see us play Dublin for the first time. Plus Luke was dead set on going to Ireland come rain, hail, or Ragnarök because of his heritage – “Kenny”.

The weather gods had something else in mind. There was a hurricane laying down some freak weather between the UK and Ireland and the seas were reportedly enormous. Did you know they get hurricanes out that way? You better believe it. There is genuine big-wave surfing off the coast off Ireland. Billabong – the surf company – do an annual XXL video compilation of the biggest waves and biggest wipeouts from around the world, and Ireland has featured on there a few times. We had just played Bolton and the idea was to make for the nearest ferry, take the two-hour trip, get to the venue, and have a relaxing day in Dublin before throwing down. Our local ferry had cancelled though, as had every other ferry on the west coast of the UK. And how long were they cancelled for? Oh, about twenty-four hours…..just long enough for us to miss the Dublin gig.

We were rather upset. We were upset long and loud, and at various people. Absolutely every last soul on that doomed bus understood that we really, REALLY wanted to play the gig. And it was under those conditions that our bus driver Mike** said to us – how badly do you want to play Ireland?

We’ve had many drivers over the years, ranging from inoffensive to the downright incompetent. Mike was the best one by far. He was a lovely guy, fully professional, and understood what a jerry-rigged clusterfuck tours could be. He always made sure that out of the numerous worries you were dealing with, the bus wasn’t one of them. He’s Old School Music Business. He knows how to get shit done. We said to Mike, we REALLY want to play Ireland. If there’s a way to do it, let’s hear it. And Mike said, we can do it but it involves sneaking you in. And it’ll cost 200 pounds. After a short discussion amongst ourselves we said let’s do it.

There was one remaining ferry service on the west coast going to Ireland. Mike put the pedal to the metal and we headed there. Rain was pounding down. We were quiet in the bus. There was an air of Are We Really Doing This? The timing to make the show was brisk under the original plan. Under the new plan, I had no idea how we were going to do it. We were in Mikes’ hands. We arrived at the ferry just before departure, drove into the hold, then boarded it. The ferry left the docks a few minutes later.

All the bands gathered in the lounge on the upper decks where there was a bar with an awesome panoramic view of the sea and an assload of rain. It was hard to tell if there was more water above or below us. We all settled down with some pints and that lovely feeling of comfort you get when you’re somewhere warm and its horrible outside. The weather was astonishingly shit. The elements were hammering down and the ferry slowly made its way from harbor to the channel. Mike was sitting with us as well. This boat ride would normally take a couple of hours, but today it would take ten. When I asked Mike why, he said that it would be dangerous for it to go faster. At this point the upper bar was full of passengers.

We were outside of the harbor and in the Irish Sea when the fun started. The waves were big, and increased quickly in size the further we travelled. People started having problems staying on their feet. The nose of the ferry would climb up the face and we’d reach a moment of equilibrium at the top, before a three to four-second free fall back down the other side. Sometimes the boat would land right in the face of another mammoth oncoming wave. The wave would fly over the nose and hammer into the windows of the upper decks with a force that made people jerk back involuntarily. It was a fantastic spectacle. On the big hits, you could hear the ferry make a strange groaning sound as if the entire structure was being tested down to the last rivet. I have sailed near the infamous Bass Strait, and had a memorable trip in Greece as a child when I sailed with my family during a storm in the Sporades. I had never seen seas like this before.

 

 

posi2

It felt like, oh I don’t know….being on a toy ship getting tossed around in a bath tub

 

 

This was enjoyable for a good ten minutes or so. Then the rollercoaster drops started affecting people. Someone in the lounge vomited and managed to get it in a bin. But that was the trigger. From that moment the other passengers didn’t feel quite right and began filtering back to their cabins. Our little Poseidon’s Adventure was starting to get out of control. The drops became longer, and the hits were harder. My girlfriend at the time was on the tour and starting to feel a bit crook, so Mike offered us a spare cabin that came with the ferry booking. We headed back to that.

It was like a plague had hit the boat. People were swaying and bumping into the walls. There were random piles of spew hither and thither. Other people were lying on the ground in corridors: lying down was the only solution to sea sickness, or at least the only thing that made it manageable. Such was the onset that people weren’t even bothering to get back to their rooms before dropping in the nearest convenient spot. I was doing alright. We had nearly made it back to the cabin and had one staircase left to go. We arrived at the bottom of it just as a lone small girl appeared at the top. Without warning, the little gorgon bent over and projectile vomited all the way down the stairs. I went WOAH and stepped to one side and it spattered past me. Then the smell hit my nostrils and suddenly it became a rush to get up them stairs, get into the cabin, and lie down. I recovered after a while and had a shower, lurching and crashing about the cubicle before sleeping the rest of the way.

 

vomit

Pre-gig preparation, done incorrectly

 

 

When the death-ship pulled into Ireland, I went back up to the lounge. The aftermath kind of reminded me of that scene from Stand By Me, the one where Lardass gets his revenge by spewing on everyone. The lounge was empty except for Miksha. The Norwegians had stayed at the bar drinking for the entire trip and looked none the worse for wear, and were now ready to make land and pillage and loot. We all got into the bus, and were given instructions by Mike: He would not be the one taking us to the gig. He would be driving us to a far corner of the ferry lot. There, we would take the minimum required equipment and our merch boxes, meet a driver Mike had organized for us, and climb into the back of a van with no windows. We would sit quietly and not talk until we arrived at the venue. Mike would exit through customs with the bus the official way, and meet us after the show. It appeared we were getting smuggled into the country, and THAT is how we were to make the gig on time.

Everything happened just as Mike planned it. When the bus stopped, we tiptoed off, grabbed our stuff, and squeezed into the back of the van. We were sitting on boxes of shirts, guitar heads, each other. It swiftly became hot and airless. It was most uncomfortable, especially the feeling that we were in Ireland illegally, in the back of a pitch black van, and we had no idea who the driver was or where he was taking us. I also had no idea what would happen if we were caught. I assumed jail was a possibility, and fines were a certainty. I guess we really wanted to play Ireland after all.

We arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. The security were a bunch of unhelpful bastards. It’s a shame that in a country renowned for the friendliness of its people, I met dickheads right off the bat. We double-timed our gear in, ran it straight up onto stage, and got the venue ready to go. We literally threw our merch up onto the wall, soundchecked the first guys -no time for us to line check – threw the doors open and the first band started playing. We’d done it! We’d survived and made it to Ireland! We were in Dublin about to play our first Irish show ever! We looked around and checked out the venue.

It was near empty. About twenty paying people turned up.

We were tempted to sob into our Guinness right there and then, but at least the Berzerker came out of it okay by the end of the night. Each person who turned up spent an average of 100 euros on our merchandise. The venue had great lights and a projector with a big screen backdrop so we all downloaded our logos, projected them onto the wall, and came out if it with some sick photos. So there’s something. I know bands say it doesn’t matter if only one person shows up, they came to see you so PLAY WITH YOUR HEART. Maybe when you’re starting out, okay. But the audience attendance is a measure of two things: whether you’re on the way up or down, and whether you’ve found a promoter you can work with again. Only a few years before, we could turn up anywhere and people would flock to us and lose their shit and promoters would battle to get our gig. Here, all we were good for were autographs and the whole night said to us you’ve hit the ceiling. This far, and no further. The promoters cut our gig short because they’d double booked us with a reggae night. There were hundreds of people waiting to get in. We double-timed our equipment back out after the show to the curses of the venue security.

We were smuggled back out of the country. We stayed on the bus in the vehicle bay on the ferry, swaying quietly in our bunks.

*****

I have a dream that recurs, but very rarely. I think I’ve only had it three times or so in my life. In the dream, there’s a huge wave. It’s as high as an office block, maybe higher. The wave is right in front of me and it’s about to destroy everything. I can see the moment its mass launches the lip, and the lip starts coming down…tons and tons of water. Then I realize that there’s all the time in the world, and I can walk through the wave. I part it like cellophane curtains and there’s a stage behind it. I walk to the stage door and I exit.

* His real name
** Not his real name

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recording the vocals for ‘Pain’

A lot of the stories I write for this blog are funny. This isn’t one of them.

Back in 2000 or so I was recording on the debut Berzerker album. I did guitar and bass. For those who know the story, Ed and Jay were brought in while I was off on holidays to re-record one side of the guitar because Luke wanted two different guitar tones on the album. I was also doing vocals for the debut, the deep vocals. I had absolutely no technique whatsoever. I’d simply try to go as mental as possible. It was all about doing a passionate performance, trying to tap a bunch of savagery and pain, and blurting it out into the microphone with as much evil as I could muster. These days everyone has a good grasp of phrasing, pitching, and so on, but there were no Melissa Cross training videos back then so we just went for it.

One of the songs on the debut album was called ‘Pain’. The lyrics were about a news story Luke had read where a woman working on a farm got her hair caught in some machinery. The machine didn’t simply rip her hair out, scalp her, or pull her into the machinery. The machine pulled off her face AND her scalp AND her hair, almost like an obstinate glove being yanked off. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she was conscious throughout the ordeal. This blew our minds. We couldn’t comprehend that much pain, what it would be like.

I think sometimes about the fascination I have for dark and terrible events. I know such a fascination is weird to a lot of people. To me, it always seemed astonishing that we have life and sentience but also these frail bodies that can have the most terrible things inflicted on them, and that there’s no-one to step in and make those terrible things stop – to hit rewind, to make pain go away, to say “sorry, you get another go, don’t worry”. People are fragile and life is fragile, and to me and others it’s really clear how close these terrible events are…a twist of the steering wheel, the wrong bottle from the laundry, just walking along without even not really looking, and suddenly either your life is gone or you are crippled with pain. I’d explore these outcomes in my mind, or read about ones that had happened, and I’d keep turning it over and over like a puzzle I couldn’t quite work out: how did people experience these things, how would I handle it, how could such things happen. Normal people who don’t think on these things seem to get along in a happy little bubble oblivious to everything, and I wondered how they did that as well.

I always worked a corporate job while doing Berzerker. On the days I had to record, I would be in Melbourne’s city center in my suit and tie with a work bag and a guitar case. At the end of the day I would walk to the train station in Spencer Street and get a train out to Nunawading, then walk a few kilometres to Luke’s place. Then we’d record guitar, or vocals, or sometimes I’d even just fall asleep while Luke played with his various application plug-ins or screamed at Windows to start working.

I forget which year this was in, I suspect it was back in 2000. Australia had some qualifying match to play for the World Cup and the match itself was in Melbourne so there were quite a few people about in town. We were playing Iraq, I think. I’m not sure. I walked down Flinders Lane to Spencer Street and then headed up the street to the station. When I was almost at the station, I noticed some strange things.

The first thing I saw was vomit on the pavement. There were various patches of it. It seemed that a few different people had been vomiting, because the patches were different colours. These patches stretched up the footpath a bit. I saw a few people sitting down crying. Then I realized that a few people were hugging. I mention these things and it takes a few seconds to read, but it felt like I was blundering around for a minute or so, being slow on the uptake. The last thing I noticed was that most of the people were looking out at the road. I turned around and looked at the road.

What struck me was how normal everything was trying to be. The sun was shining, people were walking around on the other pavements, the traffic lights were changing. There was a tram that had parked in the middle of the road however. That wasn’t normal. A car was parked jaggedly across the tracks in front of it, that wasn’t normal either. Each detail I saw, my brain tried framing it as something explainable – maybe there is a tram stop at that point, maybe that car is meant to be there. I saw the tram driver sitting down on the steps of his tram with his head in his hands. Then I saw police cars parked on the road. Finally, I saw the body on the road with the blanket over it.

That wasn’t the worst part. There was a pool of blood underneath the body and one hand was out from underneath the blanket. It was a woman, and the bit of visible dress meant that she was probably elderly. That wasn’t the worst part either. That all kind of made sense. The part which really stuck with me was when I noticed another blanket about ten metres away and it was over a much smaller shape, something long and thin. The blanket didn’t cover all of it. I saw a leg in a stocking with a shoe on the end of it, and more blood.

And in one flash, everything that had happened came together in my mind. An elderly woman had been crossing the road and didn’t notice a tram turning into the street. The tram driver didn’t see her either. She was hit by the uncaring tram and dragged for around fifty metres. A motorist saw it, and thinking quickly sped in front of the tram and parked on the tracks. By the time they stopped the tram and fetched the woman out from underneath it, her leg had already come off and if she wasn’t dead then, she was dead shortly after. This had happened minutes before I turned up.

I spoke to some of the people there who had seen it, and it turns out it happened that way. I looked for a bit but didn’t want to idle around being a vulture at a scene like that, so I headed up to the station. That’s when I experienced a moment of real horror; as I approached the entrance tunnel, I heard a lot of children’s voices. I realized that school had been let out, and that school groups were probably on their way to the World Cup qualifier match right now. Very soon, lots of kids would come up the tunnel, turn the corner, and see a dismembered old lady on the road. I ran to the guards at the entrance to get them to close it and reroute people to the other exits.

I arrived out at Nunawading a little later than normal that night. I took my tie off, told Luke what I had seen, then did the vocals for ‘Pain’. There were lots of computer problems while recording that first album, and we actually lost a lot of the vocal takes at various stages. The vocals from that night weren’t lost however, and made it onto the album.

Earache Christmas Party 2002

The Berzerker headlined the Earache Christmas Party in 2002. True to form, we acted like dicks. Here’s what I remember.

We were at the end of our first UK tour, and we looked and smelled like homeless bums who had stolen a bunch of music equipment. The tour was closing out with a headline appearance at the annual Earache Christmas Party in their hometown of Nottingham. The venue for the party was Rock City. We were actually really excited about the gig for about ten minutes or so until someone told us that we weren’t actually playing on the main stage. We were to be playing in a small side-room instead.

 

venue

“Merry Christmas! ….just load straight in, fellas”

 

There was one glorious feature of that tour: it was sponsored by Jagermeister. Countless cases of Jagermeister had been crammed into the back of the tour bus along with promotional Jagermeister t-shirts which we plundered in lieu of doing laundry. Every night started off with two ginormous bottles of Jagermeister that we were supposed share around with people. Naturally we shared it primarily amongst ourselves. This proved to be a wise investment on Jagermeister’s part because I’ve been addicted to the filthy stuff ever since, and they have more than made their money back from me alone. In true touring style venues would only give us a little water and no juice or soft drink so everyone ended up subsisting on the Jager. We had Earache’s previous PR chick Jo to thank for the hook-up, so I ensured that she was thanked. Then her replacement Sara came up to have a word with us.

Sara is a small alternative chick with short hair who wears a beanie most of the time. She took us aside to share some DO’s and DON’Ts with us. I only remember one of them, and that was because it seemed so completely ridiculous: basically, she told us not to terrorize Cult of Luna. They’re a Swedish alt-rock metal slow-song bunch of boys who were on before us that night. Apparently they were afraid of us. Well not so much us, the masks. Sara specifically forbade us from scaring them while we were wearing the masks. I thought she was joking. We’d just finished a US tour playing to thousands of people, none of whom seemed the least bit frightened. But she was dead-set finger-wagging serious. We nodded expressionlessly while I made a mental note to storm the stage wearing my mask during their set and try and bite as many of them as possible.

 

ssscary

Don’t be scared, homie

 

We had to get masked up early in the afternoon as it turned out. Metal Hammer had sent a photographer to take shots of us both as the band and individually. The shots were done in the main room of Rock City and took around an hour all up. I forget exactly how it happened, but we decided to remain masked-up and creep around Rock City with the photographer following us, getting some action shots of us ‘interacting with the environment’. The first thing we did was hunt down Sara. We found her in the small side-room that the gig was going to be in. She was standing up on a bench near the wall putting up posters. We swarmed her and lifted her above our rubbery fanged heads and ran around going GRAAAAAH. She screamed uncontrollably. We were pleased.

Our next target didn’t go so well. Luke and I spotted Digby Pearson in the foyer of the venue, and the cameraman suggested that we grab Dig and do the same thing to him. Dig had cameras and handheld videos hanging around his neck and in his coat pockets. There were a few people around. The Metal Hammer photographer got in position. For those not in the know, Digby (aka Dig) is the head of Earache Records and was putting the on the party at his own personal expense. Luke and I split up and started circling him, getting closer. I really don’t know what our plan was now I think of it. Maybe wrestle him, take him down, and whoever had the best position could try and fit the top half of his head in the mouth of their mask and make it look like we were eating his brains. Dig saw us circling him and kind of smiled and went “what’s going on here?” We lunged in. Luke went for the top half, I went for his legs. The photographer got in close and started snapping.

Dig fucking lost it. The first thing I realized was that he was not going down. He was fighting like his life depended on it. I became aware that he was quite a bit heavier than me and bucking wildly. Luke backed off and I felt some seriously heavy punches whistle past my face. When you can wear a few inches of latex around your head but still feel the proximity of fisticuffs, you know they’re not fucking around. I stepped back. Dig was red faced and furious and ready to kick some ass. Luke and the photographer went running off to the main room giggling like schoolboys and I raced after them.

 

digby

Looks like Bambi.
Fights like Rambo.

 

We convened there. Dig ran in after us, came straight up to me, and got right in my face and started yelling.

“You think that’s fucking funny do you? You try that on me again you little cunt, and I’ll FUCKING KILL YOU”

I was concerned. For all intents and purposes, this guy was our boss – buying our flights, paying bills, and responsible for our career. I’m not sure what response we were expecting from our half-hearted mugging attempt, but this wasn’t it.

Dig raced after the photographer next. “Give me that fucking film!”
The photographer, who was a credit to his profession, replied “Who the fuck are you?”
“The guy paying your fucking bills!” Dig snapped.

At this point Luke stepped in and they all moved to the other side of the room for a chat. I watched the back and forth go for a while and couldn’t really make out what was going on. Whatever Luke said seemed to calm everything down a bit, cause after a few minutes there was the metal handshake and Dig walked away a bit calmer than he’d arrived. Once he was downstairs Luke turned to me and started pissing himself laughing.

“HAHAHAHAHAHA! Ahhhhahahaha wasn’t that the FUNNIEST thing you’ve ever seen? HAHAHAHAHAH”

I was like, I don’t know. We’d made a sport of hassling Dig and ripping on him ever since we’d started with the label…but this felt like we’d pushed it too far. Or had we?

“What just happened?” I said.

“Ah, he said he was worried because he had lots of expensive camera equipment on him and stuff, and he was thought it was going to get broken when we went after him. Or something like that.” Luke said dismissively. “He wanted those photos deleted as well, once they were gone he calmed down a bit.”

The photographer came over and smirked. “Didn’t get all of them, though”. He showed us a few snaps of us brawling with our record label manager on the floor.

The rest of the show got blurry. I started necking little minibar bottles of Jagermeister that were floating around, breaking my rule of no-preshow-drinks. At the insistence of Labrat’s Martin Ives, I watched Cult of Luna (maskless). He proclaimed their songs to be like “ten-minute long orgasms”, leading me to deduce that he had the libido of a Galapagos turtle on sedatives. That was back in the day where I had zero tolerance for any slow metal.

Luke absolutely loathed Cult of Luna. The label had organized cameramen to film our show for the upcoming ‘Principles and Practices of The Berzerker’ DVD, and the venue had some stupid British curfew rule where they’d ring the bell, turn the lights on, and kick everyone out. Bands had to be punctual. We didn’t want our live performance for the DVD to cut out halfway through with the lights getting turned on and some muppet ringing a bell. Cult of Luna not only played overtime – understandable, seeing as though they play at 20bpm – but did one of those rockstar endings where they make a great big wall of noise and feedback, put their instruments down while still plugged in, and walked off. Yes, bravo guys. We waited for them to come back and pack up, but they didn’t reappear. Luke stormed backstage to find them and tell them to get rid of their stuff so we could set up, but they’d vanished. Eventually he found them out the back of the venue and screamed at them to clear their shit off.

I remember nearly getting into a fistfight with some guy backstage, who thought it would be cute to grab at my mask pre-show and twist it around. That kind of thing happened a bit in the UK. I remember our first Leeds show, I was setting my equipment up pre-gig kneeling down at the front of the stage with my in-ear monitors dangling. I was trying to get everything ready as quick as possible with everyone in front of me yelling and trying to get my attention. One of the kids thought he’d do that by grabbing my in-ears and yanking them. The in-ears cost over $200 and I had one set to keep me going for the entire tour. I grabbed his hand, twisted it, and tried to break his fingers. He slipped his hand away quickly and stepped back with a smile that said, I know, I went too far.

We played our show, and it was the one that ended up on the DVD. I suckled on a full bottle of vodka for the entire gig, you can see that sucker just get drained on the recording. I was hammered. I remember walking on the bar playing my bass. I remember telling the cameraman to get out of the way before ‘Monogrind’, and kicking the security barrier into the front row as violently as I could. I can’t remember much else. That is the only time I’ve ever done a show drunk.

Afterwards, I found Dig and made my peace with him. We posed for a photo with him getting me in a headlock. I figured we were square. I had a chat with Rob or Dan from Earache, and they mentioned Mick Kenney from Anaal Nathrakh was at the party. I went squeeeee and demanded we be introduced. I had heard ‘The Codex Necro” a few months previously and thought “at last…..we have some competition!” Retrospect is hilarious, isn’t it? I had a chat with Mick where he talked about what necro really was.

I woke up the next day with a huge hangover. It was the end of tour and we had a month’s break before the next tour in the US. Matt, the guitarist, was asleep nearby. I woke him up to get my belt back off him (we were sharing one between us), then got the tour manager Baz to give me a lift to the airport. I missed my flight to Amsterdam and was 40 kg over the baggage limit. I threw a tantrum – a shamelessly rock-star huge ego shouty tantrum – and a lovely attendant booked me a cheap seat on the next flight and waived the excess as long as I could get it down to only 20kg over the limit. I dragged my bag over to a bin. I was travelling with a cricket bag at the time. I opened it up and threw away ten kilos worth of CDs and t-shirts that people had given me, dressed up in the rest and stuffed my pockets with everything that was heavy, then got on a plane out of there.

 

*postscript: Luke contacted me to chastise me for not going in harder against Cult of Luna. “I hate those little fucking Swedish bastards!” he cried. “What are they called again? Cunt of Luna? I want to smash their faces. You’re going soft in your old age.”

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Three Death Threats

scarface-10733

It was 2001 and we were preparing for the first Berzerker tour of the United States.

The lineup was Luke, myself, and three guys from a Melbourne band called Alarum: Matt, Evans, and Palf. They played drums, guitar, and bass respectively. I was on guitar and vocals, Luke was doing vocals and keyboards/samples. The Alarum guys were first-class musicians, and their band is supremely technical. Musically, they were overqualified for our caveman-style brutality.

However we weren’t after the most technical players. We were after the most brutal ones, the people who didn’t recognise limits and wanted to rabidly smash out songs with overwhelming insanity, not finesse. And the drummer Matt definitely fell into the latter category. He’d play drums holding his sticks with a jazz grip which restricted his ability to play blastbeats. He couldn’t blast above 260 bpm and he definitely couldn’t do a gravity blast, at least back then.

Additionally, the Alarum guys were good friends but a bit of a closed shop. If ever there were band issues then they’d step down from being one-for-all-and-all-for-one bandmates in this together, us versus the world, blah blah blah, to being three session musicians who didn’t have a stake in the band’s future. We thought this would work well at first – you can just tell session musicians what to do, and they’ll do it….right? Wrong. These guys took some managing. And fair enough, they were doing us a favour. No-one else was clamouring at that point to jump aboard the Good Ship Berzerker and travel the world with us. We were an unknown factor. They had their own band which would always be a priority and in their view, we were lucky to get them and the commitment that they could spare.

We didn’t have time to waste in those days. So while we were all rehearsing up for the US tour, Luke and I were already sniffing out other drummers for future touring and recording. The idea was that we’d continue trying to assemble a band committed to Berzerker above everything else. We had already burned our way through a lot of the local talent. Some guy called Russell talked about how amazing he was on drums….but could never make a rehearsal. We dubbed him ‘Russell the Love Muscle’. We’d used Matt Rizzo from Blood Duster for our opening gig but he didn’t want to risk losing his job at the four’n’twenty pie factory by touring overseas. Plus he kept on turning up late to rehearsal for stuff like accidentally leaving his wallet on the train. Then there was some crazy guy who played an electronic kit for a band with the tasteful name ‘Sufferkunt’, who turned out to be way too mental to do anything with.

We even had the pleasure of rehearsing with Psycroptic’s Dave Haley. He turned up to rehearsal and seamlessly blasted his way through the set. It was like a dream. It was like going from driving a car with three flat wheels to one with four new tyres and a brand new engine. And he was the nicest, loveliest dude ever, with his head screwed on extremely straight. He wanted so badly to come on tour – we were supporting Dying Fetus back when Kevin Talley played with them, and he loved both the band and Kevin’s drumming. But he couldn’t do it. The tour and the commitment we demanded clashed with Psycroptic’s gigs (*note: I spoke to Luke – he reminded me that Dave’s actual reason was that he was still at university and was committed to finishing it).  I tried to change his mind by saying “Kevin Talley Kevin Talley Kevin Talley” over and over again, but much as he wanted the gig, he wouldn’t do it. I was like, your loss. This is your one chance to tour the US, it’s not going to come around again.

Ha.

We found a potential new drummer about a month out from tour. The guy was called Mick and he played for a band with the excruciating name ‘Cybergrind’. We turned up to rehearsal to check out his fastest blasts, and he absolutely drilled the kit. His feet blurred, and although his hands weren’t perfect they had great potential. We learned one or two songs, had a bit of a chat. It looked like he could commit to gigs, touring, and recording. We were like, damn, if only we’d found you six months ago then we could have taken you out to this US this time around. We gave him a few more songs to learn and organised to rehearse again in a week’s time.

A week went by. We were rehearsing regularly with the Alarum guys and making preparations to head off overseas. Promotion for the US tour had stepped up. I had the new experience of reading about us online. We were anonymous, barely anyone had seen our show, and we had this reputation as the craziest band ever already. Emails were coming in from the label, booking agent, tour managers, magazines. We went and had our second rehearsal with Mick. This time around, he sucked. His feet were all over the place, his hands were uninspiring. It didn’t look like he’d actually learned more material since the last time we’d caught up. He made some excuses, I forget what….it was a busy week at work, or he was out late the night before or something.

I think we gave him our pump-up talk. We said that the drumming he’d done the week before was some of the fastest we’d seen, that there were tours and recording for Earache records at stake, but he was going to have to work at it. He had to become consistent. He reaffirmed he was fully interested. We laid down the iron rule: he wasn’t to tell anyone he was rehearsing with Berzerker. We were anonymous. No-one outside of the band and a small circle of friends knew who we were. No-one was to know if he was drumming for us. And especially now, he wasn’t to say a word to anyone – we didn’t want the label or promoters getting nervy hearing that we were breaking in a new drummer this close to tour. We’d get back to him on when the next rehearsal was. He apologised for his efforts, and that’s how we left it.

The next day I started getting phone calls. The calls were from friends in the metal scene throughout Melbourne. “Who’s your new drummer?” they asked.

Eh?

Their stories were all the same, and they went like this: there was a gig by a band called Hellspawn at the Arthouse the previous night. A renowned drummer, Matt ‘Skitz’ Sanders, was doing vocals for them. The guy was the number one drummer for metal in Australia at that point. His work with Damaged was groundbreaking, intricate, and extreme. The guy is a nutcase. That night during the performance he was swallowing tattoo ink and vomiting it back up. Mick, the drummer we’d been rehearsing with, attended this gig. It seems that Mick got drunk. Mick loudly told everyone he was the fastest drummer ever. Mick told everyone that he had a new gig. Mick announced that this new gig was with Berzerker, who were faster than everyone else. Mick said he was going on tour with them. Mick nearly got into a punch-on with Skitz when Mick told him that he was a faster drummer than him.

skitz

…crush your idols? Or molest them in the moshpit?
I forget which one

We had a rehearsal with the Alarum guys that night. There was a deliciously uncomfortable moment when Matt straight-out asked us “So, I hear that Mick’s the new drummer, and that he’s going on tour with you?” We were like, what, where’d you hear that? The Alarum guys said EVERYONE knows.

That did it for me. I called Mick that night.

“G’day Mick. Sam from Berzerker here.”
“Hey, how are you doing?”
“I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”
“What? Why -”
“You were at the Arthouse gig last night? The one with Hellspawn?”
“Yeah?”
“Telling everyone you’re the new Berzerker drummer?”
“No! I haven’t told anyone!”
“Telling everyone you’re the fastest drummer ever?”
“No, I never said that! Someone’s bullshitting you. Who’s telling you that?”
“And you didn’t nearly get into a punch-on with Skitz because you said you were a faster drummer than him?”
“Someone’s pulling your leg”
“So why have I received half a dozen calls from people telling me all this stuff?”
“Well I didn’t say anything”
“Not just one person: HEAPS of people are telling me you said this”
“I…I don’t know why they’re saying….”
“And do you know what I had to do tonight? I had to explain to Matt that you weren’t our new drummer, and that you’re not replacing him on tour!”
“Ah, really?…”

“Let me tell you something. You’re a good drummer, but your hands aren’t there. You’re not consistent and you need more practice. You’re not the fastest out there. Not yet. And right now, we have a tour of the US starting in a few weeks. It has taken a day, and all of Melbourne suddenly thinks we have a new drummer. What happens if our label hears this? Or the booking agent? What if they think that we can’t even keep a band together leading up to a tour? Our first overseas tour ever? They’re spending thousands getting us over there, what if they pull the plug because they think we’re about to disintegrate on the eve of our first real chance? Because I tell you right now mate, we’ve worked hard to get this tour, we’d do anything to play it, and if our band got dropped because someone couldn’t keep his mouth shut then I’d fucking kill him. You understand?”

We didn’t rehearse with Mick again.

***

les grossman

We played a gig in Manchester in 2003, covered over here.

After the show, I was packing up and I heard Luke scream “SAM!!!” at the top of his voice. I dropped everything and followed him out the front of the venue. There was some middle-aged guy selling bootleg Berzerker Tour t-shirts for 5 pounds out the front, undercutting us by a large margin.

The poor bastard found himself confronted by two demented sweaty running-makeup Australians stinking of metal and hate. Luke was like, what are you selling here? The bootlegger guy’s like, shirts, I’m allowed to do this. Luke’s like oh yeah, where’d you get permission? I was walking in circles around him, waiting for him to make a break for it so I could tackle him and start beating him. He knew it too. I wanted to kill him. Luke talked to him while I muttered at him in a low voice how we were going to do him. He was scared, and we could all smell it.

The guy said, I got permission from your record label. Luke said, who gave you permission at the label? What’s his name? The guy went, Scott. I laughed. There was no Scott at the label.  Not in the UK, not in the US. The guy showed Luke a piece of paper that was the supposed ‘permission’ from the label. I stopped uttering death and evil and said, well our label always gives us free merch, so you don’t mind if we take some samples do you? The guy said sure, go ahead. I grabbed all of the shirts and started handing them out to the other bands and crew. The guy went, hold on a second and tried to stop me. There was a tug-of-war with the goods. The guy kept trying to grab the t-shirts back off me, going “this is my living!”

And that was the moment Luke exploded. He got right in the guy’s face and screamed at the top of his voice “THIS IS MY LIFE”. Everyone from the show was out the front watching. I was still handing out the shirts. The fella snatched up his bag and made a run for it. We followed him for ten minutes or so. He eventually got away down an alley, and we realised that if we chased him any further there was no guarantee we’d know how to get back to the venue.

When we arrived back at the tourbus, everyone was wearing a bootlegged Berzerker t-shirt.

***

1863171478-Malcolm_Tucker

I was on the phone with Dougie, who was asking me for money.

He had been on tour with us as our soundman with Berzerker in 2006. At least, he had been for a couple of days. We were in Leeds just after the tour started and we were getting ready to go on. I was in the toilet having a pre-gig wee up at the trough when suddenly Dougie came sprinting around the corner. He leaned over the urinal right next to me, whimpered “oh god” in the most pitiful voice, then started violently throwing up.

Well there goes the soundman for this gig, I thought. Dougie crawled over to an empty toilet stall and disappeared in there. I asked through the door if he was alright , if he’d be mixing the show, but didn’t get an answer.

I left the toilets and found Baz the ‘tour manager’. I include the apostrophes because he was the tour manager in name only. He could barely manage dick. Akercocke’s Pete Theobalds was roadying for us that tour and basically ended up being our defacto tour manager.  I told Baz that Dougie was sick in a stall and looking in bad shape, and that he might want to go check on him. I forget what we did that night for mixing, but we ended up using support band RSJ’s soundguy for the remainder of the shows. Dougie was destroyed by some vicious bug that laid him out for the rest of the tour. We detoured and dropped Dougie off at his house within twenty-four hours so we didn’t have him festering in the motorhome.

Now the tour was over and he was on the phone asking to be paid soundguy fees for all the shows he was absent for. I was explaining that we’d already paid a soundguy, and that although it was unfortunate that he had become ill, that we couldn’t pay him for not doing his job. We weren’t some corporation with a ‘sick pay’ arrangement, this was the music fucking industry. If you don’t turn up and do your thing, you don’t get paid. That’s why musicians will play with the flu, diarrhea, broken feet. That’s why I had a vomit bin next to my bass cab at Jaxx in 2002. You don’t play, you don’t get paid. And we weren’t about to extend that courtesy to someone who had mixed two shows out of twelve before leaving us high and dry. And how did he get my fucking phone number anyway?!

Dougie explained Baz had given it to him. As soon as I heard that, I started grinding my teeth: Baz had taken us back to Nottingham halfway through the tour to collect some equipment and have a sleep in his flat. At some point, he’d tried driving the motorhome without retracting the stairs and they’d smashed against a light pole. Now they wouldn’t retract. We got under there with spanners and hammers and went at it but they were stuffed. All the local garages wouldn’t be able to fix it for days. We needed to leave within the next twelve hours to make the next show. We couldn’t drive anywhere with these broken stairs hanging out the side. So the decision was made to cut the stairs off. When the motorhome was returned to the hire place, they billed Baz over 600 quid for the stairs. He asked us for money. We were like, you wrecked ’em, you pay for ’em. Baz had been to jail for a previous tour, where an unpaid parking fine bounced from band, to label, to bus company, to Baz, and he’d obviously decided that was going to be the last time he was left holding the can. So now he was forwarding all payment queries directly to us. And he’d taken some pre-tour money Luke had advanced and was supposed to receive back, and used that for the stairs and a two-week holiday.  He had long since stopped taking my phone calls.

And now Dougie was begging me for money? I was furious.

“Oh, so you’re speaking to Baz are you? He speaks to YOU, does he? I thought he was unavailable? This fucking guy is holding out on us, taking our money for doing fuck all work on tour, now he sends me another guy who did fuck all work on tour for some more money! Well if you’re talking to him you can fucking tell him, he owes us money and if he doesn’t want to pay us, well fine, but if he comes down to the south of England with another one of his piece of shit tours, then I’m waiting for him and he’s a dead man.”

Baz never paid us that outstanding money.

***

Threats are an expression of powerlessness made by people who feel either scared, insulted, or that they’re losing control. That requires a measure of cowardice or vanity. I think of that last story with Baz. I was ready to run over him with a bus for the matter of a thousand quid or so. But the funny thing was, we’d absolutely rinsed it that tour. We’d made heaps of money and all in the space of a few weeks. Sure, Baz had been the world’s most hopeless tour manager, but we received both the shows and the majority of the fees we’d been promised. We should have been ecstatic. I couldn’t enjoy it though. I was too vain, thinking ‘who is this guy to fuck us over like that?’

Threats are made by weak and small people, who have let their emotions go to their heads. People who mean business tend not to bother with them. If the matter is out of their control, they ignore their vexation and move on. If someone needs crushing then they don’t forewarn anyone, they get on with it.

Spoken threats take on a life their own. I look back at the ones I made and can only thank god that no-one pushed back, and I didn’t have to choose between cowardice, or pride and its consequences. Not everyone has been so lucky.

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Horrifying Flyer

This article is a tad NSFW
Please do not read if you have delicate sensibilities

Berzerker did a gig back in 2001 at the Tote with Bowelmouth, Resistica, and FMC….a band whose initials stood for ‘Filthy Maggoty Cunt’. There’s always got to be one, eh?

I don’t remember much about the gig except for the low turnout and FMC doing a song called ‘Arse Maggot’. Tote shows were like rehearsals to us. We had our eyes on playing overseas and used Australia’s isolation from the rest of the world to try to work the kinks out of our gig before touring. Funnily enough, we’d actually rehearse at the Tote as well as perform there – the band room could be hired as a rehearsal room during the day and it was cheaper than a normal rehearsal centre. We’d been using the Dane Centre, or something like that previously…a grim, dingy place favored by metal bands and run by a guy who was physically and spiritually like the Nazi leader in The Blues Brothers.

 

The Dane Centre or Wrigley Fields....I honestly can't remember

The Dane Centre or Wrigley Field….
I honestly can’t remember

 

I think it cost fifty bucks to rehearse there but only twenty at the Tote. Plus we could practice on a stage, get the hang of the PA and mixing board, and practice playing to the occasional drunks who’d wander in to see what the ruckus was. They weren’t too different from our usual audience. Oh, plus we could buy drinks at the bar after rehearsal, something that you couldn’t do at a normal rehearsal centre. I remember we had just finished rehearsing when we were told that we’d scored a booking agent in the US, and I bought everyone a rum and coke to celebrate.

This story isn’t about the show or rehearsals. It’s about the lead-up to the show and the flyers we made for it. See, we were going for the reputation of the world’s most extreme band and FMC were gunning for the reputation as the world’s most disgusting. The singer was one of those post-G.G.Allin types who’d do anything to cross the line with the audience. I’d heard a rumor he’d done a gig smeared in excrement. At the time, I had a reputation for leaping offstage and assaulting the crowd or running off into the street and into traffic all masked-up mid-gig. And I haven’t even mentioned one of the support bands, Bowelmouth, who had songs like ‘Mexican Facewash’ and ‘Spacedocking’*. So we needed a flyer that reflected the range of dynamic artistic possibilities represented by our show. Something strong and visceral and muscular, like the music.

 

spacedocking

Sorry China, but I suspect Japan beat you to this many, many years ago

 

I don’t know who came up with the flyer but it was a beauty. There’s absolutely no delicate way of describing it: the picture was of a japanese woman lying on her back in a bathtub, naked except for a pair of stockings. Her legs were raised back over her head and she had received an enema of what appeared to be custard, which she expelled in a big looping parabola into her own face. The photo was taken just at the moment it was splashing into her mouth and appeared to contain a fair portion of excrement. Some colour posters were made and a truckload of black and white flyers were created for everyone to hand out. Luke uploaded the poster design to the Berzerker website, which earned me a rebuke from my dad who unfortunately saw the new poster design before I did. I received a phone call from him where he mentioned he’d seen it and “it lowers the tone of your band and website greatly”. Doesn’t matter how big you think your band is, you get a call like that from your father and you feel five again.

We did what we could to alert the entire city of Melbourne to our upcoming gig. Posters were plastered everywhere, and removed shortly afterwards by a combination of disgusted private citizens and councils. We took heaps of flyers and left them in shops and handed them out to people. This was before we realised that posters and flyers don’t work for bringing people to your shows. It’s a costly and high-intensity effort that reaps next to no results. It might go down a little better these days since almost no-one does it anymore. It might even go better if you don’t have one of the world’s most revolting images as artwork **. But it’s time and money wasted that should be spent on mailing lists, press releases to metal media, or buying ad space in local street press.

 

bribery

Or other things

 

So one night after rehearsal I was on my way home. I’d usually go straight from work to rehearsal and I’d be wearing my work suit. I’d turn up, lose the tie, untuck the shirt, and go for it. This particular rehearsal had been at Luke’s place in an outer suburb. I lived in the city. It was late by the time my train arrived back in town and I couldn’t be bothered lugging my work case and bass to a tram, so I treated myself to a taxi outside Flinders Street station. There was a large queue waiting for the cabs, mostly people dressed nicely. I guessed that there’d been a show at the nearby Arts Centre and it had probably just let out. I kind of fit in…by then my shirt was tucked back in, my jacket was back on, my tie was done up, and the death-metal insanity had left my system. I could now pass as a ‘normal’ again. I got closer to the front of the queue. I was looking around kind of aimlessly while waiting and noticed there was an older gentleman with a lady standing behind me. There was something kind of familiar about him. I did a second take and he noticed and said ‘Hello’. I said ‘Good Evening’ and then realised who it was.

It was the Honorable Barry Jones. For anyone who is neither Australian nor of my particular vintage, the first page of his Wikipedia entry reads: “Barry Owen Jones… is an Australian polymath: writer, lawyer, social activist, quiz champion and former politician. He campaigned against the death penalty throughout the 1960s, particularly against the execution of Ronald Ryan, and remains against capital punishment. He is on the National Trust’s list of Australian Living Treasures.”

He was regularly on both TV and radio either in debates or discussions and he looks like an eternally respectable wise old man, which he basically is. He’d usually be brought in when a show required someone with authority to NOT talk like a moron. The dude has a ton of awards and commendations to his name. He even has Antarctic territory and marsupials named after him for god’s sake. His intellect and recall are so fierce that I dread him reading this anecdote then contacting me to correct the details.

After the brief pleasantry-swap, I turned back around to face the front of the queue and thought, gee, Barry Jones. The person ahead of me got in a cab and I was now at the front of the queue. I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked back around. The lady with Barry congratulated me on my performance, said it was beautiful. I thought eh? for half a second then realised – they must have seen a band or orchestra play at the Arts Centre and assumed I was one of the performers! Cool.

“Oh, thankyou very much” I replied. It seemed simple enough to just go with it. My cab was pulling up. I didn’t want to correct them or get into an explanation of where I’d been or anything. The moment before I climbed into the cab I remembered that I had a bag full of flyers for the upcoming Berzerker gig with FMC in my work case, freshly collected from Luke’s place that night. Hundreds of the evil things, sitting in my bag. I took two out.

“If you’re interested in seeing me play again, feel free to attend this upcoming show” I said, and handed them both a flyer. They smiled and thanked me. Bless. I jumped into the cab and gave my home address. As we pulled away, I sneaked a look out the window. They were both turning the flyer around this way and that, trying to work out what was happening in the picture.

*One of the highlights of my life was telling the members of Bowelmouth what ‘spacedocking‘ meant, and having them turn it into a song. I’m credited on one of their CDs as ‘Lord Denim’. 

** Want to know what the picture was on the front of the flyer? It’s the first picture at this link…..but think twice before looking. May God have mercy on your soul.

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Headline Berzerker European Tour 2003

I did my first – and last – headline tour of Europe with Berzerker in 2003.

This came at the end of six months or so of dragging our song-and-dance show around the world through numerous stressful incidents, crashes, death threats, and last-minute bandmate replacements. I therefore wasn’t able to enjoy the occasion as much as I might have. I was exhausted, I wanted to go home, and I had already decided to leave the band as a full-time occupation.

I considered the band to be my full-time job from joining in 1999 through to 2003. I guess you can say I went ‘part-time’ until 2008. Although I was working corporate jobs during that time, I’d quit them to go on tour and turn down various offers to go full-time. Music was my priority. I’ve got no regrets, but I certainly wonder what might have been if I’d followed a few of them up. I always thought we’d break through with Berzerker and turn it into the kind of big band we’d make a full-time living from, but by 2003 that illusion had vanished. I had seen enough to know it wasn’t going to happen.

Our label did not have the business nous to push us in the brave new digital age, and seemed to want to ignore us and their grind roots in favour of more indie bands. They no longer thought of themselves as a metal label. Any money made by the band went straight back into the band, there was almost no percentage finding its way back to our pockets.  We had ignored the rule of small business: pay yourself first, everyone else later. We were masked and anonymous, so we weren’t getting appreciation or fame or credit for our work. I remember Devin Townsend remarking what a good job Luke did writing the guitar for ‘Dissimulate’ and I was like, dude, Matt and I wrote almost all the riffs on that except for ‘Last Mistake’. Devin stared at me silently and his facial expressions said it all: they went from incomprehension, to disgust, then pity.

And lastly, we’d played with the big extreme bands who’d ‘made it’ and it looked like the shittest lifestyle ever to me. Everyone lived on fast food and beer. No-one was making much money. They were mostly miserable. Legends like Napalm Death were in share-houses and had day jobs to go back to when they were off tour. People weren’t heading off on ski-holidays or for degustation dinners between tours, they were heading back to their blue-collar job and saving money to do another tour. Sure, bands like Immolation had their shit together enough to make some decent paydays on national tours, but even they were back to work when the tour was done. And there was never a point where tours ran smoothly without the need for screaming at people, threatening others, and rolling with the various scams and fuckups that the industry would throw at you.

I clearly remember when Matt and I told Luke we were done touring. We were halfway through the US tour of 2003 and Luke asked if we were up for doing an Arch Enemy national support tour back in the US after the European tour was done. He’d been asking us repeatedly, and we’d put off answering. Eventually I bit the bullet and said, no, the european tour will be it for me. Matt broke off from one of his vast silent staring-at-nothing moments to add that he was finished as well. I half expected Luke to blow up but he took it pretty well.

So when it came time for the European headline tour, I knew it was probably going to be my last ever full overseas tour. The tour was organised by Earache Records to showcase us and two other Earache bands, Corporation 187 and December. At first this sounded like a good idea: cut out the lying cheating booking agents and tour managers, and run everything directly between the label and the bands. Naturally, the tour turned out to be a pile of shit. In what has to be the most stunningly trusting move in music industry history, the promoters for each venue were paid and provided promotional materials in advance. This resulted in absolutely no promotion being done and all the promotional materials getting binned. In one or two cases, the gigs were cancelled and the promoter tried their luck at holding onto the money. Additionally, the posters were done with the trendy new Earache logo and were fluorescent pink-orange in colour so they looked like they were advertising a happy-trance danceparty.

We arrived the day before tour and stayed with the Earache Press Chick from the time. I had been sunburned the day before in Miami and I was already starting to blister and peel and look fucking horrifying. I was actually looking forward to hiding away in the mask for once. I remember we chatted in the kitchen for a bit. Matt Zane and his band Society One had just done a show at Download where he was suspended via back piercings for the entire set, and I thought it was the maddest thing I’d ever seen.  I remember wondering why on earth Earache weren’t giving them a huge push and putting them upfront on the website and everything. They were obviously the best new prospect the label had going at the time. The band gave one more album to Earache and left the label just over a year later.

The Earache Press Chick asked us and the other bands to keep a tour diary, so the label could keep doing press updates with various diary excerpts during the tour. It sounded like a good idea. When it became apparent mid-tour that these diary pieces represented more promotional effort than the promoters themselves were making, we became less enthused. I kept writing it anyway as my bile needed to spill out somewhere, and just recently I found it on an old hard-drive that decided to start working again. Here it is below, with updates where I expand and digress on anything that needs expanding.

EUROPEAN TOUR W/ CORPORATION 187 and DECEMBER

(Original entries in italics)
* note: the original entries remain unchanged except for selective changing of ‘the Berzerker’ to Luke. We were anonymous in those days. Those entries have been updated to avoid confusion.

28 feb Rio, Bradford, UKwe were extremely nervous about this gig as it was Ryan’s first show drumming for us. He had only flown in earlier in the day, and we were unsure whether or not he would make it through customs seeing as though he didn’t have a visa like the rest of us. Hell, he only got his passport the day before…true Berzerker drummer style! (note – Gary, the usual drummer, left applying for his US visa so late back in Australia that I had to enter the US embassy after hours with the assistance of a friendly embassy staff member to pick up his passport…the day before catching our planes to the US). Fortunately, things went off without too many problems and we were able to relax and get in the groove of pounding out a show.

Rio, Bradford, UK is a fucking toilet. I remember looking at the parking lot outside the venue and reflecting that I’d seen cleaner garbage dumps. I also remember an overwhelming sense of relief due to Ryan not only making it into the UK but also us being able to play the set without a significant car-crash moment. We had to sneak him in separately to us and bring his sticks, kicks, and cymbals in ourselves as he didn’t have a visa. If he wasn’t allowed in the country, we had no backup plan.

01 mar Corporation, Sheffield, UK. – this place was always good for partying afterwards but kind of shonky for gigs as it doesn’t hold too many people. This show had all the usual hijinx – spraying water on the crowd, kicking bottles down the side staircase, balancing precariously on top of the PA, etc, followed by everyone running around the club getting ludicrously drunk afterwards.

The first time we played this venue we became pathetically excited by the masses of kids crowding outside the place. We thought everyone was here to see us kick ass and do our thing. No such luck. The venue is a big multi-story nightclub with a tiny music venue tacked onto the side of it and everyone was waiting for the club to open, not to see us. The venue fit about eighty people, tops.

Somebody kick Baby Jane out of the way and let’s get this gig started”

02 mar The Old Angel, Nottingham, UK. – I reckon this would be one of our most intense gigs. The venue was utterly tiny and only fit about 60 people, half of which were Earache staff and other bands. The other half of the crowd were total psychos. During the gig we had a hardcore snuff movie playing on a screen above the stage (I remember telling the person in charge of visuals to start the video at the part “where the pig is getting blowtorched”). The pit went nuts, and there was this large skinhead lunatic who was screaming for us to punch him in the face. I belted him a few times before the vocalist started kicking me to make me stop…which nearly led to an onstage melee, as my bloodlust was up a bit. I remember looking at Dig and the Earache staff standing up the back while all this was going on. The look on Dig’s face said “Only five more days now until they get out of my country…”

I’ve covered this gig before.

03 mar Cathouse, GlasgowWe always love playing Glasgow, cool promoters, bands and clubs. Only problem was this place had no lift and the stage was at the top of a staircase so we had to carry everything up which took the wind out of us a bit. Watched Co-Exist open up the night’s proceedings, and wondered how on earth no-one has signed them yet. They had a guy filling in for lead vocals tonight because the usual vocalist was in hospital, punctured lung I think. The start of the gig wasn’t too flash for me – the bass cut out halfway through the opening track (‘Principles’ I think). When the song finished I had to hold the bass up in the air and punch the back of it a few times, then it came good for the rest of the gig. The pick-up’s battery was a bit loose or something. Otherwise, a good gig. Usual crazy Glaswegian crowd.

This is the night where we nearly killed our friend Nails.

I always loved Glasgow. Kelvin, the promoter, was one of the few good guys out there who actually did his job. And it was such a pleasure to see Co-Exist in full force on their home turf. They had the kind of raw energy that reminded me of Australia’s Damaged, back in their glory days.

04 mar Bierkeller, Manchester, UK. – I think we were the first gig here since the place got renovated. Backstage was full of inflatable sex-sheep and pigs from the lederhosen oompah-night which happens here every Saturday. The hard-nut kids here were full-on fans, and wanted to talk so much I nearly ran out of voice before the gig started. It was a hard gig for me: my inear monitors were cutting in and out, I still had pickup battery problems, and I lost a knob and tuning peg from my bass. OK gig though. We had an inflatable sex-sheep sacrifice afterwards to bring fortune on the tour, and it was one of those rare nights we got a shower as well.

I’m not lying, there were actually sex-toy inflatable farm animals with orifices that you could fully Do It with lying in packets stacked in the backstage area. We drew a chalk pentagram in the middle of the dancefloor, inflated a sheep, said some incantations (stolen from Nocturnus lyrics), and then I plunged a knife into it. The bastard didn’t deflate easily however. It was built to withstand repeated jabbing from sharp objects.

We also tangled with a bootlegger selling cut-price shitty homemade Berzerker shirts out the front. I’ll expand on that incident in another post sometime. In a nutshell, we confiscated his merch and handed it out to everyone on tour. In lieu of laundry, we’d just grab a fresh bootleg shirt and put that on instead.

The only other incident was the promoter/venue owner’s chick seemed to be a bit keen on me. She was pretty cute but I was making sure nothing happened – despite being in full tour-pirate mode, burning a promoter in such a way seemed a bad move at the time. Anyway she followed me into the bus lounge at the end of the night, and Luke screamed at me thinking I had lured her onto there to drag into my bunk for some loving. Normally a correct assumption, but not that night.

05 mar Bierkeller, Bristol, UK. – A bloke around the corner of the venue managed to do what none of the roadies and techies on the Nile/Napalm Death tour could do: he fixed my monitors. Now I get foldback in both ears when I play and the world is sweet again. A couple of friends met me at the gig which was a really good surprise, but not as many people turned up to the show as when we first played here. It is becoming apparent there has been no promotion done at all for this tour. All I remember from the gig is my microphone repeatedly falling out of the stand, especially during ‘Burnt’ which is one of my favourite songs vocally.

One of the friends who turned up to meet me was the girl who became my girlfriend for a number of years. We had met the year before at the Bristol Bierkeller, so it was good to catch up at the same place again. Apparently I looked like hammered shit at the time and she nearly had second thoughts about having anything to do with me. I was peeling from my Miami sunburn, was covered in crappy mask makeup, and had strange zits growing on my face from the mask and microphones.

toxic

Everyone was already a little unsettled with the label by this point. They had a couple of guys running an Earache merchandise stall travelling with us for the length of the tour where they were selling Earache merch. They were also selling the CDs of the bands on tour, at prices that forced us to reduce ours. The bands weren’t happy about this at all.

06 mar The Garage, London, UK. – great gig at a top venue, run by an aussie chick who doesn’t take any shit from anyone. All bands were in top form. Mark (December’s) vocals sometimes sound like two people have been rolled into the same body. We caught up with the Labrat guys who created their usual ruckus. Sarah, the press rep from Earache, has instructed us all to keep a tour diary so they can put it on the Earache website. I think our enthusiasm towards that will reflect the enthusiasm promoters and Earache have shown in promoting this tour. The crowd was loud as hell when we got on tonight. I had some troubles with my mask; ever since I lost my head towel in the US on the last tour, my stand-in tea towel hasn’t been staying on my head properly which means my mask moves around and I can’t headbang as much. Did a stage-dive during the last song, was promptly ejected back up on stage by a freaked-out front row. Had a very drunken channel crossing this evening.

You read that correctly: I wrapped a towel around my head before each Berzerker performance in order to make my already-sizeable head large enough to keep the mask in place. Insert your own racial stereotype here…

…or Total Recall reference, I don’t mind

07 mar Bareog, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.small venue, not many people. My sister and her husband turned up to the show, so at last my family members get to see me do my thing. The show went alright except for some sort of mixer/drum problem which saw us take a 5 minute break midset. It’s always uncomfortable having to wander around up the front of stage while the guys wrestle with the machinery. I tried to kick a guy in the head later in the show but my heart wasn’t really in it. A couple of aussies came up to say hi afterwards which was cool.

This venue was a converted toilet block. The toilet theme continued that night, as the one on the bus was getting pretty full. When we lifted the lid to pee, you could see the piss-table floating just where the toilet exited into the tanks. There was a moratorium on flushing or having a shit on the bus. I noticed there was a foul odour in the air when I brought my sister and her husband onboard. I remember thinking how they were the cleanest nicest-smelling people I’d seen for days.

8 mar Lintfabriek, Kontich, Belgium. – this venue was great, it had beds, bunks, showers and awesome food, loads of pastries. I was tripped out by some parents attending the gig with their 11 year old DAUGHTER standing in front of me for the show. At the end of Pure Hatred I’ve been getting in the habit of grabbing the mike stand and taking it right down for the final ‘yaaaaaaaaahh’, and doing the Elvis into the front row. I did that this time and missed taking the girl’s eye out by about 10cm. Her folks were nice. Nearly fell on the drumkit when jumping off the PA.

What kind of parents take their eleven year old daughter to a Berzerker gig?! How can this kid rebel when she grows up? Actually, this is ten years ago, now she’d be twenty-one. I’d be interested to see if she’s either gone extreme-beyond-all-extreme, or is now into crochet and chamber music.

berzerker fan

Just chuck him right into the moshpit

09 mar 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands. – really nice town, this one. We all went sightseeing for a while which we haven’t really had the chance to do for a while. The venue was especially impressive, as was the backstage area. I haven’t been fed this well for months. Although we were playing the small room we got a decent turnout and the crowd were pretty nuts which is always fun to play for. The mask is giving my chin some sort of problem though, same as the previous tour. Wherever the mike touches my chin, huge pustules erupt making it look like I have oral VD. I have taken to sticking gaffa tape over my face to try and minimise microphone contact, and look pretty weird before shows with my head towel, face paint and gaffa tape plastered around my head. Luke lost his jacket and pocket organiser tonight, which is a medium-sized disaster. Turned the cargo hold of the bus upside down but it wasn’t in there.

I guess this is starting to show what a band’s true priorities are when they’re in full touring mode: good food, and a nice backstage with showers.

10 mar OFF – running amok in frankfurt. – Lovely town. We parked  smack-bang in the middle of a big city square right outside tomorrow’s venue, and it must have given everyone a rude shock when all us smelly, squinty-eyed metalheads poured out the side of the bus. The day ended with everyone shitfaced in the venue. December’s drummer came back from some adventure with his own crap dried on the leg of his jeans. Noticed that not one poster advertising the gig is up anywhere.

The tour toilet by now had sloshed over the rim a few times when taking hard corners.

11 mar Nachtleben, Frankfurt, GermanyWhat an anticlimax to the previous day’s partying. Twenty to thirty people showed up. I tried to put Corporation 187’s drummer off his gig by leaning into his line of sight in the backstage area and flashing moons. Our gig sucked as Ryan had misplaced the click/sample track discs that we use to do our show so we got about 3/4s of the way through before we stopped. I heard Luke yelling at him around the drums and wondered how many times I had witnessed that scene before. We managed to finish the tracks minus clicks, I remember Painless was one of them. Fortunately Ryan’s playing was fairly tight after all the practice with the click tracks. I hear rumour that Earache paid the promoters a promotional budget as well as sending them posters to put up. At almost every place the promotional budget seems to have disappeared and there are a big pile of untouched gig posters in the bandroom.

I clearly remember that happening with this place. We all turned up pre-gig, and dropped our stuff off onstage and in the bandroom. I think it was Corporation 187’s drummer who said “hey – check this out”. Underneath a table in the backstage was a big envelope with heaps of the gay fluoro gig posters still in it. We counted them, and only three or four had been removed: the ones stuck throughout the venue.
12 mar Marx, Hamburg, Germany. – a pretty depressing day. The venue was some ugly piece of shit place without a lift at the top of 10 flights of stairs, and it was too far away from the rest of town for us to do any real sightseeing before the show. I think about 10 people turned up. I remember looking at the gig listings on the venue’s board and posters, and even when I looked at this date I could barely see our gig advertised. Even worse, I think someone from Metal Hammer Germany came to see the show. We gave it our all but Christ, we just wish the promoters and label would do the same. Luke screamed at Ryan over his playing after the show which makes this tour an unhappier place to be. Even worse, the cranky old Northerner bus driver is now talking a load of shit and getting everyone who should know better to pressure Baz (tour manager) into finishing this tour early. The bus driver doesn’t want to do the drive from Copenhagen to Glachau, and suddenly decided to inform Baz that to do that drive we’d have to fly in another bus driver to share the driving with him, citing union regulations. Because Baz then took the precaution of checking with labels and bands, this fucking driver (in between eating all our food) is saying to each band that the tour is going to get worse, less and less people are going to come to our shows, we should cancel or our reputations will be stained, etc etc. I spent the evening going from person to person explaining how no-ones reputation will be ruined and trying to convince then to stay on the tour. Hey, I just want to go to Zurich is all! Anyway, the show at Glachau got cancelled and suddenly the bus driver’s overwhelming urge to make everyone mutiny disappeared. How strange. We went to the red light district later. Corporation 187 bought dildos and riding crops.

This seems to happen a lot in the music industry: you get ancillary staff like drivers or roadies who are so incredibly up themselves. They go on about how without them, the tour wouldn’t happen. Memo to any of you shmucks reading this: if Motorhead roll into town and the driver or roadie can’t do his job, THEY get replaced by some other mug who can. Motorhead cannot be replaced but you can certainly replace some muppet driver. Not to say that they’re not appreciated for the job that they do. But the poster says who everyone is paying to come and see and here’s the tip: it ain’t the prick driving the bus.

The incident with Luke and Ryan deserves a mention. Ryan was making more and more mistakes each night, he actually managed to defy the laws of touring by getting worse not better. Luke expected him to be able to do single-handed blasts by then. Ryan couldn’t. He wouldn’t try. Luke sat down at the kit, did a 300-something bpm blast while screaming at him, then threw all Ryan’s song notes all over the floor. This evening was about the closest these two came to blows.

Oh, and when we were in the redlight district we tried to pool the day’s PDs and draw straws to see who could get the money and treat themselves to a hooker. It was a good idea but all of December backed out and the money fell short of the objective. These girls wouldn’t haggle either and I’m reasonably sure when they saw the state of us they probably doubled their price.

13 mar Loppen, Copenhagen, Denmark. had a nice ferry trip across to Denmark, then I slept until we arrived in Copenhagen. The club is in an area of town known as Christiania, which is a lake and parkland which has been seized by hippies and has seceded from civilized society. I think they only have 10 laws for this area and two of them are no cops and no cameras. Ni-ice! I woke up while we were driving down the dirt roads leading into the place, and saw little kids running alongside the bus and for a moment I thought we were in Kingston Town. The club was a groovy big wooden venue and some champ had sketched the cover of ‘Dissimulate’ on a blackboard out the front. About 100 metres from the club were the hash markets selling the finest tar from around the globe. The show was OK but again not too many people – about seventy or so. Some dude headbanging up the front got a knock or something, and bled all over my set list. No, I didn’t do it. I didn’t want to leave Copenhagen.

It was so funny. I had no idea what Christiania was about. I was soundchecking when one of the roadies ran in breathlessly going “Sam! SAAAAAAAM! Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod, you’ve got to see this….”

He walked me 50 metres down the road and we turned a corner. I saw all the market tents. I walked up to the first one. It had a trestle table with bricks of hash on it and a set of scales. A customer was sizing up different hash blocks and pointed at one of them. The stall-owner took the brick, got a hammer and chisel, and freaking CHISELLED off a hunk of hash as big as my fist. He put it on the scales, adjusted the weights, and looked at the customer questioningly. The customer gave him the thumbs up.

The remaining diary notes probably represent the only remaining bits of this tour any of us can remember.

14 mar Alte Spinnerei, Glauchau, Germany.this show didn’t happen due to cancellation caused by ill bands, and the aforementioned 11th hour demand from fool busdrivers and touring companies that we foot the bill for flying busdrivers in. We went to Berlin instead. Most of the guys ended up going out clubbing, but I was absolutely exhausted and ended up going to bed early on the bus. My lower lip has broken out in mask related pustules again. The tourbus stinks of piss and is utterly filthy. My head hurts. I think I’ve run out of puff. I wish I was one of these musicians that plays moderate speed metal, and stays in the one spot for the entire gig and never headbangs. No I don’t.

By this day, I was officially broken.

15 mar East Club, Bischofswerda, Germany. – success! We got 80 people or so to this show! The club was this groovy, grim, dark place that was smack-bang in the middle of what I call ‘vampire country’. The merch guy Greg revealed a talent for Cartman impressions during the microphone soundcheck. Glory – this place has heaps of food, a tv room and rooms with beds for sleeping. That’s all I care about right now, food and sleep. I’m sure the gig went well, but screwed if I can remember any details from it. Ryan has started screwing up a couple of the songs, like playing ‘Disregard’ for too long. We all stop playing and moving, except for this American on the drums grinding away. I think he stopped caring somewhere around Hamburg. When the place closed up for the night, we found a couple of people hiding under the front desk. I think they missed their train back home and didn’t want to have to spend the night sitting on the platform at the train station in vampire country.

Bat country? That's for skirts

Bat country? That’s for pussies

16 mar Knaack-Klub, Berlin, Germany. – I understand now why Dillinger Escape Plan cut their European tour short. We keep hearing about how well we’re doing in Germany and then we do a gig like this in a place like Berlin and we get a crowd of 40 or so people…aw, screw it. I met a couple of guys from a local thrash band afterwards who had been watching me play closely for the entire evening. Their english wasn’t that flash but we still had a chat and they seemed impressed by the gig so I guess that’s something. I’d love to come back and visit Germany off-tour and check it out and catch up with people, go clubbing and hitting all the tourist spots. I think it might have been today that I walked into a newsagent and read every single metal magazine on the shelf. Not one of them had an ad for our tour, or anything about it. Needless to say, Earache aren’t getting sent tour diaries.

It’s funny. When people over the years heard I played in a metal band they were all like “dude, you REALLY need to play Germany! They love metal there! Metal bands do really well!”

No, actually they don’t. It’s the same random spread of successful bands as you get in other countries. And people would get confused looks on their faces when they realised my world touring actually MEANT world touring. These would be the same people who were like, you in a band? My neighbor used to manage some local band who did well in our little local town, maybe they can manage you! And we’d be like, dude, I don’t even know where to start explaining this to you.

17 mar Black Pes Club, Prague, Czech Republicwe got turned back at the border here. The promoter secured visas for everyone, except the Australians: us, in other words. I can’t believe it, they were even going to let the Americans in, just not us! That idiot promoter, that absolutely incompetent little third-world fool. I think he did it on purpose, when we suggested he fax through details to the nearest town with a consulate in it so we could have a fighting chance of making the gig he immediately insisted we cancel instead. Probably has his little promoter advance from the label and has decided to keep it as it probably means millions in whatever pathetic currency he’ll exchange it for. Fuck the music industry, there is shit like this everywhere and from the promoter and touring company side of things this has been just another ill-planned ill-promoted piece of shit tour. Our spirits are at an all time low. We have all heard how Prague is the pornstar capital of the world, and we have heard about their bars with cannabis infused vodka and absinthe and we were all looking heaps forward to going there. The Earache press broad has flown in especially for the gig just to find it ain’t happening. If she does her job correctly, then the body of the promoter won’t be found for at least another two months. All music industry maggot leech scum bastards want shooting. We drove to some remote shopping mall in Germany and went bowling.

I was pretty upset when I wrote this diary entry. We REALLY wanted to play in Prague. I notice I verge on outright xenophobia in this post, so my apologies to the Czechs and the Yanks. I had this exchange with the tour manager at the border:

“Can’t we sneak in? Can’t we beg the guards to let us through? Shit, doesn’t bribery work in this part of the world?”

“Sam, they’ve got machine guns”

18 mar New Backstage Club, Munchen, Germany.a great club area, but I just don’t care anymore. Neither did the tiny crowd by the look of them. They just stood around with their arms crossed looking teutonic and unsatisfied much to the annoyance of December. I grabbed posters during our gig and threw them at the crowd like scrunched up baseballs, just wish I had a cigarette lighter on me so I could put more of a scare in them. Dickhead bus driver sat backstage eating all the food, again, talking shit to everyone about how we have to stay in Germany on our day off because Switzerland is “so fookin’ expensive”. Some cool dude let me try mint-flavoured snortable tobacco. Earache sent an email through to all the bands trying to keep our spirits up which we all pinned to the drinks refrigerator and laughed at. A friend from back in Oz was supposed to catch up with me at this gig and she didn’t show. When I finally got onto her, she said she was tired from work and went to bed early that night – like it’s every day I come touring through Germany with my band. Whatever. We have talked Baz into taking us to Garmish-Partenkirchen tomorrow. The place is an awesome ski resort and there is still plenty of snow around. I’ll whip out the credit card and treat myself to a ski in Germany, something I have wanted to do all my life.

I guess by now that it was apparent that the inflatable sex-sheep sacrifice from Bristol wasn’t working.

19 mar OFFI was the first person to wake up, and the bus was moving : a bad sign. We were supposed to park at the lifts at the ski resort overnight so we could wake up and go skiing immediately. I went up front to the driver and asked him where he was going. He said we were going to Switzerland. I asked why we weren’t going to the ski resort, and he mumbled some bullshit about Baz not asking him in the correct manner, and that it would take too long to get up the mountain, and that he tried to wake Baz to discuss it with him, and all sorts of other lies. This useless git was swearing black and blue yesterday that there was no way he’d go to Switzerland today, all of a sudden we had to get there urgently and at top speed? He keeps saying that without him, the almighty bus driver, the tour wouldn’t happen. Oh well, tough shit, Luke woke up and immediately screamed at the top of his voice “WHERE’S THE FUCKING SNOW?!!!!!!” then ranted right in the bastard’s face for a full half hour. For once I was happy to see him scream at someone. Fuck this bussie, and fuck the touring company too…what are they called, Frontier Touring or something? Adam? Well screw the lot of them, these losers are off my Christmas card list. On the Swiss border we laid all the merchandise out on a grassy oval and took our pick of the goodies, just in case customs decided to charge us on potential profit. We were limited to 10 items each but I went way over my limit and stocked up on shirts, jeans, cds…all the things I won’t be able to afford for the next 8 months while I try and pay off the cost of touring. Baz retrieved this shocker of a day by getting the bus to park in a nice alpine town with an awesome water park. Luke, Jay (the drummer from December), and myself were the only ones to go to the park and we had a ball. I was nearly killed on one of the waterslides. I went down riding a rubber tube and went sideways over a drop then banged my head on a corner and fell off, bleeding from the nose. Jay from December came banging around the corner and cleaned me up, then Luke came flying right over the top of us. The last thing I saw was his feet going right over Jay and coming straight at my face.We got stern words from the Swiss attendant at the bottom of the slide. We had so much fun at this place, we were like giggling kids and all the stress of the past couple of weeks disappeared.

On a brutal death metal tour for the world-famous grind label Earache Records, our favourite bit was playing on the waterslides in Switzerland.

Picking the merch was a close second though. It felt like heavy-metal Christmas. By the time I loaded the merch back in my luggage – which was under the mattress of my bunk – there was almost no room for me to squeeze in. My bunk was like those ‘hug-boxes’ that they make for autistic children who can’t handle being touched. I hang a lot of shit on Earache but I’ll say this, they were super generous when it came to giving their bands free merch.

20 mar Dynamo Club, Zurich, Switzerland. – my last show with Berzerker. We were fed like kings and I squeezed some sightseeing in around Zurich which has to be the most beautiful town I have been to. There was a big anti-war protest march which I infiltrated with merchman Ben and filmed some interviews with the young peaceniks. When I got back someone had blown up my compressor and the venue was getting it fixed. It’s not a Berzerker show if some equipment doesn’t blow up or malfunction, and I guess it was the 8 track and drum trigger’s night off. I had a couple of friends I met in Amsterdam on my Christmas break turn up which was great, it’s just nice to hang with non-music industry people sometimes. When December played we turned the smoke machines around and blew fog into their brains, and we tried to tackle the guitarists of Corporation 187 while they were playing. Their singer used his remote mike to play pranks on us during our set, yodelling over the PA during Burnt. I went supernuts for the gig and when the set was finished Luke jumped onto the drum kit and we tried out another couple of tracks, I think February was one of them. It was a bit of a mess, but what the hey. I think I fell backwards over the foldback and off the stage on the last song. I still can’t work out how I didn’t get injured. Luke and I were shellshocked after the gig…all those shows…we were just sitting around going “That’s it. That’s it. It’s over”. I went out the front of the venue and had a drink by the river. I thought about jumping in it for a while. I have no idea what I’m going to do next.

When that show ended and my friends left, we sat in the bar part of the venue and started drinking. Luke and I shook hands, looked at each other and went “We made it. We did it”. I drank some more and thought about all the touring we’d done, the shows, the places we’d been to. Eventually I got up and went outside. The club was on a river. I walked a hundred meters down along the river or so until I was sure I was by myself, then burst into tears. We arrived home a week later.

It was not my last Berzerker tour.

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