In my mind there are now three great explorations of Australian Metal. Brian Giffin’s book, THE AUSTRALIAN METAL GUIDE (2002), the 2015 documentary film, METAL DOWN UNDER and now Catherine Hoad’s newly published collection of academic works, AUSTRALIAN METAL MUSIC.
Hoad is a lecturer at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand, and yes I do get the mild irony of the perception of a ‘kiwi’ writing a book about Australian metal, but closer examination shows us that she achieved her PhD from a university in Sydney and serves on the Australian-New Zealand branch of the International Association of Studies of Popular Music.
This nicely appointed 150+ page hard-bound book, is part of the ongoing Emerald Studies in Metal Music and culture series, with support of the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS). In case you haven’t surmised by now, this is a collection of academic papers about, yes, Australian Heavy Metal. It even sports a black cover with skulls, tentacles and some sort of iguana! I feel if more academic tomes had cool covers like this, they would get read more often.
Subtitled, ‘Identities, Scenes and Cultures’, AUSTRALIAN METAL MUSIC is a collection of seven papers each looking at a unique part of that great nations long and proud metal history. Following a brief and insightful introduction by Hoad, we get into the meat of book. As with a number of other academic book reviews I have written, a full analysis of each paper would be a disservice to the reader (and the authors of each paper!) so a brief synopsis of each will have to suffice.
We start, rather logically with a fun and somewhat lighter piece on early Australian proto-Metal. People of a certain age (ie. old, like me) will remember bands like Buffalo, Rose Tattoo, and other familiar names of the early Aussie pub-rock revolution.
The next paper is a paper with some very distinct local aspects the ‘larrikinish’ (a local term to describe a defiant but happy personality) heritage of Australian Extreme Metal where we get to read about bands such as Blood Buster, Sadistik Execution and more.
My least favourite of the collection was the third paper on Parkway Drive who in this writer’s humble opinion barely qualify as music, let alone Heavy Metal. The context is about masculinity in the admittedly huge and popular Australian Metalcore scene, arguably among the world’s strongest with acts such as I Killed The Prom Queen, Daysend and many more achieving a remarkable degree of success internationally, despite the primitive macho posturing.
Chapter Four is an analysis of two regional micro-scenes that seem to be engaged in a long-standing battle, namely the Sydney vs. Melbourne grindcore communities. Much of the scene seems to be divided along political lines and accusations of authenticity, or lack thereof. As is often the case these two groups really just seem to bickering on-line with little substantive differences between the two groups, but as an uninformed outsider, I’m sure there must be more to it than that.
Up next is an interesting piece on women in the Perth Metal scene and parallels to frontierswoman and pioneers. In case we need a quick geography refresher, Perth lies on the West coast, far removed (by only about 4000 km) from the population centres of the East/SW coastal region/cities of Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide. It only makes sense that the isolated Perth scene has a pioneer and frontier mentality, isolated from the rest of that great nation. I can only imagine that most Perth Metal bands don’t tour out East and vice-versa, much like my nation of Canada where Vancouver bands don’t tour the Maritime provinces in the East, it’s just too far away.
‘Creeping Sharia’ is the title of the sixth paper. I think this was perhaps the most interesting to me. It is written by the members of a two-man, muslim, blackened Death Metal band called Hazeen. These two artists, who also incorporate performance art, have adopted anti-islamaphobia themes by utilizing stereotypes of pre-conceived notions of radical islam. Hazeen formed and perform in response to a perceived rising wave of Islamaphobia in Australia. It is a neat concept and although the band is new I’d be curious if they get any traction.
Lastly, there was a paper on Australian Ecometal and admittedly, this was less intriguing to me. However, it is a well-done look at various aspects of how Australian bands present ecological themes within their music.
Karl Spracklen provides a brief afterword in which I fundamentally disagree with his assertions that Metal is not an underground form of music, but that is a debate for another day. Overall, this is a well-researched, well-written collection and undoubtedly a valuable addition to the field. My only regret is that no one opted to write about the massive Australian Power Metal scene, one of the nations strongest scenes and one with deep roots.
On a last note, I’m proud of myself that I wrote an entire review of a book about Australian Metal without once mentioning AC/DC or using the cliche about thunder from down under… Oh wait…dammit…
Critical Introduction: What is ‘Australian’ about Australian Heavy Metal?; Catherine Hoad
PART I: Australian Metal Identities: Masculine Genealogies and Trajectories
Chapter 1. Heavy Metal Kids: A Historiographical Exploration of Australian Proto-heavy Metal in the 1960s-70s; Paul ‘Nazz’ Oldham
Chapter 2. ‘A Blaze in the Northern Suburbs’: Australian Extreme Metal’s Larrikinish Lineage; Sam Vallen
Chapter 3. ‘We’re Just Normal Dudes’: Hegemonic Masculinity, Australian Identity, and Parkway Drive; Samuel Whiting, Paige Klimentou, and Ian Rogers
PART II: Australian Metal Scenes in the East and West
Chapter 4. ‘I Think Sydney’s Pretty Shit’: Melbourne Grindcore Fans and Their Others; Rosemary Overell
Chapter 5. Frontierswomen and the Perth Scene: Female Metal Musicians on the ‘Western Front’ and the Construction of the Gothic Sublime; Laura Glitsos
PART III: Cultures of Resistance in Australian Metal
Chapter 6. Creeping Sharia: An Extreme Response to Islamophobia; Can Yalcinkaya and Safdar Ahmed
Chapter 7. ‘This is the Funeral of the Earth’: The ‘Dead-end’ Environmental Discourses of Australian Ecometal; Ian Collinson
Afterword. Being Metal, Being Australian? Reflections and an Afterword; Karl Spracklen
Appendix A. Seminal Australian Metal Albums: A List by the Contributors
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