Australian Metal Music: Identities, Scenes, and Cultures

Cover of Australian Metal Music: Identities, Scenes, and Cultures


Table of contents

(12 chapters)

This chapter serves as the introduction to the edited collection, calling into focus the diverse ways in which ‘Australia’ is asserted in the spaces, scenes and practices of Australian heavy metal. This chapter responds to earlier quandaries in the sparse research on Australian metal which question if there is anything definitively ‘Australian’ about the characteristics, themes and narratives demonstrated within Australian heavy metal scenes. In response to this challenge, the author uses this chapter to establish critical foundations for addressing how Australianness has been represented ‘Downunderground’ (Phillipov, 2008, p. 215) – historically, musically and geographically, as work in this collection affirms. This introduction foregrounds the concerns of the edited collection at large, which addresses how national identity has been imagined and constructed in ways which can at once celebrate problematic patriarchal nationalist symbolism, yet also call into focus the resistant and subversive ways in which metal scenes have deconstructed, critiqued and renegotiated the parameters of what it means to be ‘Australian’. This chapter asserts that any interrogation of the ‘Australianness’ of Australian metal must problematise the notion of a singularly ‘Australian’ identity in the first instance. Here the author argues that ‘Australian metal’ as a consolidated signifier must be problematised to instead come to an understanding of the multisited ways in which ‘Australianness’ is experienced within scenes. In doing so the author establishes the critical trajectories for the edited collection at large – to track the genealogies of Australian metal as a component in a wider global scene, and consider the plurality of its contemporary manifestations.

Part I: Australian Metal Identities: Masculine Genealogies and Trajectories


The key characteristics that eventually came to be considered to be Australian ‘heavy metal’ emerged between 1965 and 1973. These include distortion, power, intensity, extremity, loudness and aggression. This exploration of the origins of heavy metal in Australia focusses on the key acts which provided its domestic musical foundations, and investigates how the music was informed by its early, alcohol-fuelled early audiences, sites of performance, media and record shops. Melbourne-based rock guitar hero Lobby Loyde’s classical music influence and technological innovations were important catalysts in the ‘heaviness’ that would typify Australian proto-metal in the 1960s. By the early 1970s, loud and heavy rock was firmly established as a driving force of the emerging pub rock scene. Extreme volume heavy rock was taken to the masses was Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs in the early 1970s whose triumphant headline performance at the 1972 Sunbury Pop Festival then established them as the most popular band in the nation. These underpinnings were consolidated by three bands: Sydney’s primal heavy prog-rockers Buffalo (Australia’s counterpart to Britain’s Black Sabbath), Loyde’s defiant Coloured Balls and the highly influential AC/DC, who successfully crystallised heavy Australian rock in a global context. This chapter explores how the archaeological foundations for Australian metal are the product of domestic conditions and sensibilities enmeshed in overlapping global trends. In doing so, it also considers how Australian metal is entrenched in localised musical contexts which are subject to the circulation of international flows of music and ideas.


Extreme metal originated in North America and Europe in the late-1980s, but Australia’s adoption of the form followed closely. One of the first Australian extreme metal (AEM) acts was Sadistik Exekution from Sydney, formed in 1985. Sadistik Exekution are notable for combining musical intensity with irreverent humour and parody. They introduced global extreme metal to the trope of the Australian larrikin: a once pejorative characterisation that has become a term of endearment in contemporary Australian culture, describing a defiant and jocular personality. This trope is evident in Sadistik Exekution’s work, but it has since proliferated more broadly throughout AEM, exemplified by more recent bands like Blood Duster and King Parrot. Their music, too, is inarguably intense and provocative, but is simultaneously mocking of the solemnity of its scene and lineage. This chapter will examine how bands like Sadistik Exekution, Blood Duster and King Parrot, through their public personas and musical and paramusical texts, have subverted extreme metal coding, thereby uncovering a uniquely Australian trajectory in extreme metal style and history.


Masculinity and heavy metal share a clear and well-documented relationship, with many of the key texts on metal centering around its representation of gender (Walser, 1993; Weinstein, 1991). Less discussed is masculinity in Australian metal, as Australian metal itself remains underrepresented in scholarly research. In this chapter we discuss the music, media and image of Parkway Drive – a popular metalcore band from Byron Bay, Australia – via a reading of two of the band’s feature-length rockumentary films. We draw on concepts and theories of gender (Butler, 2006), and public image (Leonard, 2007), as well as studies of Australian masculinity, specifically those pertaining to mateship, surfing, and adventurousness. As the metalcore subgenre has not been widely studied, this approach provides a basis for understanding the subgenre as well as its relationship to gender, commercial success, and Australian heavy metal, focussing on the decidedly Anglo-Australian representation of masculinity performed by Parkway Drive. We argue that the band typifies a distinctly Australian type of hegemonic masculinity, one that draws on discussion of Australian identity, beach culture and surfing. We further examine the band’s use of ‘rockumentary’ tropes to build their public image and to tighten affective bonds with viewers.

Part II: Australian Metal Scenes in the East and West


In this chapter, the author considers how Melbourne’s grindcore metal scene produces itself as coherent, authentic and masculine through the discursive positioning of Sydney’s scene as lacking, inauthentic and feminine and/or homosexual. The way Melbourne scene-members talk about Sydney in ethnographic interviews and online, indicates how Melbourne’s grindcore scene identity rests on a particular striving towards – and fantasy of – a bounded, comprehensible masculine identity anchored in Symbolic/linguistic signifiers of homophobia. Building on my previous research on Melbourne’s scene, the author utilises a Lacanian perspective to argue that the masculinist talk of Melbournians works as a response to the affective experience of enjoying grindcore music. Here, the author departs from my earlier work, where the author used Deleuzian/Massumian understandings of affect to suggest that affect works to construct community belonging in grindcore scenes (2014). Instead, the author uses Lacan’s approach to affect to suggest that Melbourne grindcore fans construct their identity via furiously producing a fantasy of Sydney fans as ‘Other’. They Symbolically construct Sydney as a ‘cultural wasteland’ populated by ‘poofter[s]’ (Melbourne Grind Syndicate, 2016) who are imagined, and positioned as, inauthentic due to their affective enthusiasm for grindcore. Here, affect works to exclude and Other grindcore fans rather than as a force for collectivity.


This chapter is an examination of the contribution of female musicianship to the Perth metal scene, particularly in relation to the positioning of women in frontier mythology and the ways in which we might read the gothic sublime in terms of women’s experiences. While it has been recognised that Australian metal music, in general, is tied to the colonial frontier narrative, Perth’s isolation produces a particular kind of frontier narrative which can be read in relation to the gothic sublime. In this chapter, the author examines three Perth metal bands which comprise female members: Claim the Throne (featuring Jess Millea on keys and vocals), Sanzu (featuring Fatima Curley on bass) and Deadspace (featuring Shelby Jansen on bass and vocals). The author will argue that there is a motif running through Perth bands that comprise female musicians that is tied to their positioning in the Western frontier narrative and its production in relation to the gothic sublime. To do so presents one kind of way to conceptualise a metal scene on the ‘Western Front’. The author emphasises that this is not a totalising conceptualisation, rather, it is one way to suggest how context might shape women’s experiences and, perhaps more importantly for this argument, the way in which women women’s experiences and historicity in relation to the legacy of ‘frontierswomen’ inflect metal music in this scene.

Part III: Cultures of Resistance in Australian Metal


This chapter explores the theoretical foundations of Hazeen, a Muslim blackened death metal band formed in 2015 by the authors - Safdar Ahmed on guitar and vocals, and Can Yalcinkaya on the drums and darbuka. It provides insights into the musical and performative practices of our band that are informed by traditions of black and death metal, but which also re-interpret them through an engagement with anti-fascist, anti-Islamophobic politics as well as Sufi/batini elements. Hazeen responds to a rising tide of Islamophobia in Australia, using our lyrics and performances to attack racist stereotyping and the dehumanisation of Muslims. In our performances, we dress in black, Islamic attire and apply ‘corpse paint’ to become the much feared ‘other’ of the post-9/11 world - the monstrous, rabid, zombie-like Muslim that has haunted the right wing/conservative imagination in the West. Our lyrics address such issues as the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, halal food conspiracies, orientalism and the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’. This chapter presents a critical exegesis of Hazeen’s output in the form of live gigs, art performances and studio recordings. It seeks to identify Hazeen’s place within the broader Australian metal scene, posing questions of authenticity and how metal enables us to question hegemonic notions of identity. Hazeen’s use of art spaces as venues of performance and involvement in the indie/zine community highlights an unconventional position within the local metal scene.


Heavy metal music has had a long relationship with environmental and ecological concerns, one that can be traced as far back as Black Sabbath’s ‘Into the Void’ (1971). Academic work has, however, been slow to recognise the entanglements of metal, environment and ecology in either the global or an Australian context. More recently, however, popular music scholars have begun to acknowledge how the sonic anger of black, death and other genres of extreme metal might be an appropriate medium for social and environmental commentary and protest (Lucas, 2015, p. 555). Therefore, according to Wiebe-Taylor (2009), metal’s ‘darker side is not simply about shock tactics and sensory overload…’, because, ‘metal also makes use of its harsh lyrics, sounds and visual imagery to express critical concerns about human behaviour and decision making and anxieties about the future’ (p. 89). Taking an ecocritical approach, this chapter will map and analyse the environmental concerns and ecological anxieties of Australian metal across a range of different bands and metal genres, as they emerge through three ‘dead-end’ discourses-misanthrophism, apocalypticism, Romanticism – which offer little or no hope of survival.

Cover of Australian Metal Music: Identities, Scenes, and Cultures
Publication date
Book series
Emerald Studies in Metal Music and Culture
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited