Australian heavy metal

Australian heavy metal music has its roots in both the Australian hard rock and pub rock tradition of the 1970s and the American and British heavy metal scenes. Since the mid-1980s, Australian heavy metal has been particularly influenced by foreign bands, particularly Swedish death metal, American thrash metal and black metal from Norway. Within Australia heavy metal has always remained part of the underground but since the mid-1990s many Australian metal acts have found widespread acceptance in overseas markets, particularly in Europe.


AC/DC is often cited as being Australia's foremost hard rock band. AC/DC's influence on metal is quite clear however, with a style built around a predominately loud, heavy riffing guitar sound. With regard to heavy metal, Sydney band Buffalo could well be considered one of the country's first exponents of the style. Originally formed under the name Head in 1967, Buffalo began playing a very similar style to that of Black Sabbath from 1970. The band was the first non-British act to be signed to Vertigo and released three albums with them between 1972 and 1975 but never found mainstream success in Australia. The group's bass guitarist Peter Wells formed Rose Tattoo in 1976, another band often cited as laying a cornerstone for Australian metal. Like Buffalo, Rose Tattoo's music was ignored by Australian radio while building a strong cult following internationally. Conversely, The Angels always courted commercial success in Australia while finding progress tougher overseas. The Angels were probably closer to metal than Rose Tattoo, with the albums Night Attack, Watch The Red and Two Minute Warning harbouring a distinctly heavy metal sound, yet while all three charted highly (Two Minute Warning peaked at No. 2), none of their singles reached higher than No. 21 ("Stand Up", 1982). The Angels were rarely referred to as a heavy metal band in Australia however, and in the modern context would possibly not now be considered one.

Without support from radio airplay even well-established foreign metal bands found little success on the Australian singles charts until the last half of the 1980s. Albums, significantly those of Iron Maiden, occasionally charted highly however, and Iron Maiden and Utopia Import Records catering for the audience. Utopia was established in 1978 by record collector John Cotter who began trading metal and punk albums that were generally not given release in Australia and by the early 1980s was the country's best known retailer of heavy metal music.

Inspired by the Virgin Soldiers, Prowler (who would soon change their name to Taramis), Black Jack, Wolf, Nothing Sacred, Rosanas Raiders, Axatak, Almost Human, Egypt (later to become Venom, in Sydney), Tyrant and Bengal Tigers.

Bengal Tigers formed in Melbourne in 1979 and by 1982 had been signed to Mushroom Records, releasing an EP called Metal Fetish, although neither this release nor two later singles met with much success. The band released another EP in 1995, entitled Pain Clinic, and an album in 1997, called In the Blood. Saracen was a Perth band that had formed in 1980. When guitarist John Meyer joined Rose Tattoo in 1983, Saracen replaced him with Jamie Page and changed its name to Trilogy, releasing two albums (the second of which was recorded after Meyer returned, and issued under the Saracen name). Axatak, who adopted a leather and hair look similar to the early LA glam metal scene and Taipan also released albums or EPs but all of these were generally passed over by the mainstream Australian music scene. Almost Human was an Adelaide band that formed in the late 1970s playing covers before introducing original material. As one of that city's most prominent heavy bands they supported touring groups like Whitesnake, Sweet, Slade and others and eventually released a self-financed single. Guitarist Chris Tennant went on to achieve some success with The Superjesus during the 1990s and other members went on to play in bands like Heaven and BB Steal.

Other bands were somewhat more successful, though success was fleeting. Boss had formed in Adelaide in 1979 and after moving to Sydney built up a following on the pub circuit, eventually signing to RCA Records for worldwide release in 1983. The album was moderately successful in Europe and the group supported Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister and Dio but disbanded after a US tour, reforming a brief time later under the name BB Steal, a band that still exists to the present time. In Melbourne, BlackJack forming in 1979 and hoisting their jolly roger flag, they released material (on a now defunct label associated with a local metal music shop '83+'85) that showcased a distinctive blend of NWOBHM classical and power metal with undertones of doom metal.

The Melbourne heavy metal scene at this time was still very underground, and was supported by a handful of metal music shows on community radio stations, especially 3PBS and 3RRR. Local announcers included Allan Thomas who hosted the Metal for Melbourne show on 3RRR for a number of years between the mid-1980s and 1990, and was a prominent, influential, and controversial figure in the local metal scene.

Heaven formed in Sydney out of an Adelaide band called Fat Lip in 1980 and became a second-tier attraction in the US on the strength of their second album, touring widely and opening for the likes of Judas Priest, Kiss and Mötley Crüe before eventually imploding in 1985. Vice was a glam metal band from Brisbane who had formed in early 1984. They became one of the city's most prominent acts, releasing an EP and two albums, undertaking interstate tours and also supporting international acts such as Sweet and Stryper.

The Tasmanian scene was non-existent except for one genuine metal act, Tyrant that formed in 1983, releasing a 4-track cassette titled "Never Too Loud" which topped the local metal charts and peaking at No. 7 at Melbourne's Central Station records. Tyrant re-located to Sydney in 1985, quickly establishing themselves and headlining the first Metal Crusade at the Coogee Bay Hotel on a lineup that also included Bengal Tigers, Shy Thunder, Statez and Vice before 1,800 people. Despite good reviews in both RAM and Juke magazines, not to mention a strong fan base, a record deal never eventuated and the group disbanded in late 1986. Over the next decade Tyrant played only a handful of shows, reforming in 1999 and have released 3 albums to date, Freaks Of Nature, Thunder Down Under and Live Bootleg. Tyrant still exists today with singer Neil 'Steel' Wilson being the only original member with a 25th Anniversary CD currently being recorded.

By the mid-1980s, music by American thrash bands like Metallica and Slayer had begun to filter through the local metal community and a group of newer bands started to appear that adopted similar styles. Arguably the earliest of these was Melbourne's Nothing Sacred, although other Melbourne bands like Renegade, Tyrus, Rampage, Mass Confusion, and Slaughter Lord from Sydney would soon also emerge. The most prominent early thrash acts, however, were Sydney's Mortal Sin and Melbourne's Hobbs' Angel of Death. Mortal Sin had been formed in late 1985 by drummer Wayne Campbell and singer Mat Maurer out of a more traditional-styled band called Wizzard and within six months had recorded Mayhemic Destruction. Originally meant as a demo, the group released it as an album in early 1987 and were soon signed internationally to Vertigo, before long becoming Australia's highest-profile metal band by supporting Metallica on a national tour and later heading overseas to tour Europe and the US. Hobbs Angel of Death had begun as a solo project for Tyrus guitarist Peter Hobbs. After recording a series of demos with assistance from members of Nothing Sacred, Hobbs found interest in the project from German label Steamhammer who released the album Hobbs' Angel of Death in 1988. Armoured Angel had formed in Canberra in 1984 and released their debut demo tape Baptism In Blood the following year. Another band, Sadistik Exekution, had formed in Sydney in 1986. Solidifying its line-up by 1989 the group soon became an influence among both the local and foreign underground metal scenes for their chaotic death metal style and nihilistic behaviour.[1]

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