Until recently you were involved in the Australian black metal band Elkenwood, releasing a single and an EP. Explain why they decided to call it a day?
Elkenwood was the brainchild of Gareth Graham (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Nichola Williams (guitar), and I joined on a couple of years after they started the project as sort of a long-term hired gun. I can’t really speak for everyone, but I think that by 2019 some of us were feeling ready to move on creatively. Gareth was starting a new solo project and the following year he moved to a town several hours north of Brisbane, Alex (bass) had his own full-time band going on called Borodino, Amanda (violin) had moved to South Korea for work, and I too was planning to move overseas the following year (which didn’t happen, no thanks to COVID…). The last show Elkenwood did before the band went on ice was supporting Ensiferum from Finland in early 2019.
After the COVID-19 restrictions eased and live shows were allowed to happen again, Nicola, Gareth and I caught up for a drink and we talked about how Elkenwood felt “unfinished”. We decided it’d be best to just tie the band up with one final show for our fans and friends, and Amanda was back in the country to join us which was excellent. The gig went well and our fans were very glad to see us play again, even if it was for the last time.
Was the feeling of playing your final show as Elkenwood cathartic? How would you describe the vibes between band and audience?
I’d say so. It was that feeling of closure and finality I think we felt the band really needed. We played at an abandoned bowling club in Brisbane; it was DIY as all hell, and there was a sense of intimacy between the band and the fans. The atmosphere was great.
Do you prefer playing DIY shows over those organized by labels or distributors considering your connection with fans? Which option is more advantageous?
I enjoy both. I’ve had the opportunity to play some larger events with bigger bands, which are a nice treat for when your band gets to play them. However, when playing those shows it’s obvious from the stage who’s really come to see who. Over the years I’ve come to really enjoy the smaller DIY shows. There’s just an energy there that you can’t get anywhere else.
Are copies of Elkenwood's single and EP still available? Do you regret that the band didn’t get to keep recording and expanding their fan base?
We sold the last few copies of the EP at the farewell show, but it’s still available digitally. It’s a shame we never got to record any further material, but I think Gareth might be repurposing some ideas for his Jimmy Orion project. You might have to ask him.
How does streaming your final EP help to spread Elkenwood's name overseas?
That one I’m not sure about. You might have to ask the other members. We did get some great reviews from some overseas zines in Europe (and one from the US called Asphyxium Zine) which was really cool.
Looking back, do you think Elkenwood was part of a journey to grow creatively? How soon after Elkenwood’s disbanding did you seek new bands?
I think so. I was playing in several bands in Brisbane at the time which were all learning experiences both creatively and professionally. Some of the bands I was playing in were either a “bit of fun” or had varying degrees of success. However, around the time Elkenwood went on hiatus in 2019 I was also feeling a bit burnt out. Everyone has bad experiences in their creative career, and I was experiencing a lot of them at once. Someone would start a new project, invite me to play drums for them, we’d start playing shows, but then suddenly something would happen which would kill the project. It was such a recurring thing. I decided if I was going to do another music project again, I wasn’t going to just join another band but start one of my own.
Did you work with other bands around the same time as Elkenwood?
I was playing drums for a grindcore band called Decapitated Mum who were a lot of fun to play with, and a thrash band called Spektre. Both bands pretty much ended when COVID happened. Ben, the singer of D-Mum moved to Adelaide and the other members kind of went their separate ways. Like I mentioned before, there were a few other projects I was involved in that either ended prematurely or just fell apart due to… let’s just say “reasons”. Around the same time I was in Elkenwood I was putting together ideas for my own personal project. During COVID, after Elkenwood was put on hold and all the other bands I was in fell apart, I decided it was time to commit to my own project and get something happening with that, and this is what eventually became Idle Ruin.
How do you manage to find time to work with so many bands? Where can we find material from the bands you’ve worked with?
There’s a running joke that you could stop a town’s music scene by killing off their drummers. Elkenwood and D-Mum played very sporadically and I was playing Spektre gigs while Elkenwood were on hiatus, so the time management wasn’t a big deal. At the moment, my time is dedicated only to my project Idle Ruin and another death metal band called Bone Marrow. At the moment, you can find Idle Ruin’s and Bone Marrow’s EPs on Bandcamp and Spotify. Elkenwood, Decapitated Mum and Malakyte (thrash metal band) also have their recordings on Bandcamp.
How well is the underground metal scene in Australia doing these days?
The quality of the music that’s been coming out in the last few years has been great, but as for live music is going, we’re struggling. COVID has put capacity restrictions on venues, blocked international and even interstate tours. A lot of musicians and industry people who do this as a full-time career have been hit very hard.
Several years ago, you were publishing The Fallout Magazine to inform people about Australian metal. Would you consider restarting it?
I guess I kind of repurposed that into what became the documentary web series my friend Chalky Hill, Scott MacMahon and I put together a few years ago called “Thrash or Fuck Off”. In my old zine I occasionally wrote articles about a nearly-forgotten Australian metal band from the early 80s, or wrote pieces about the early days of my hometown’s metal scene. I had intended on doing more articles on the history of Australian metal but they never eventuated. With the web series however, we got the chance to tell the story about the golden years of Australian heavy metal in a format that was a bit more immersive and with a wider distribution to more people.
Who do you remember covering as a writer and zine editor? Why did it fall through?
I had been doing it for about seven years and it was becoming more difficult and more expensive to keep going. I was writing for a few other online metal webzines and was putting more time and energy into drumming. It was a fun time though. It was certainly a privilege getting to interview people from bands that I admired like Judas Priest, Helloween and Death Angel. What I really enjoyed the most about the zine was talking to those older Australian metal bands from the 80s I mentioned earlier. There wasn’t a whole lot of documentation about the Australian scene at the time (it was 2007), so it was an interesting insight into how things were back then compared to how they are now. Whoever I’d call to interview would be surprised that some kid twenty or so years younger than them had taken an interest in their band! One of the bands Nothing Sacred even wrote back later to tell me that their interview had inspired them to reform, which was a nice surprise!
How many episodes of “Thrash or Fuck Off” are available for viewing? Are there plans to work on additional episodes?
We produced six episodes, which can now be viewed online and on TV through the Roku channel OSI74 (shameless plug – go check it out!). We had planned to do eight but after the sixth episode we felt the story had reached its natural conclusion. We may do more if we can come up with a good narrative, but for now the series is done.
How extensive is your coverage of Australian metal in the series?
Originally the web series was intended as just a showcase of Australian thrash bands in response to documentaries like “Murder in the Front Row” and “Get Thrashed”. There was one scene in “Get Thrashed” where a guy is talking about thrash metal emerging in different parts of the world, and he says something like “There’s a band from Australia called Mortal Sin… I mean, Australia?!” We felt we had to answer to that!
However, the further we went down the rabbit hole of interviewing bands the more we realized how integral the Australian thrash scene really was to us. During the 1970s, Australia had a lot of pub rock bands that sounded like AC/DC or Led Zeppelin. Heavy metal as we understand it within the current context didn’t really hit its stride in Australia until the 1980s when the local speed and thrash metal bands emerged like Nothing Sacred, Renegade, Mass Confusion and Tyrus (their frontman Peter Hobbs later started Hobbs’ Angel of Death). It was around this same time when Australia’s metal scene developed infrastructurally with the first dedicated Australian heavy metal record stores, promoters, festivals, record labels and the first time an overseas metal band came to Australia and conversely, the first time Australian metal bands toured overseas (Mortal Sin).
We got to look at how much of a lasting foundational impact the 1980s extreme metal scene had on developing Australian metal as a whole and how it opened our gates to the rest of the world. We also got to look at the profound influence some of our early extreme metal bands from the mid-80s had on the Scandinavian scene (Slaughter Lord and Sadistik Exekution). The last episode we did showed the re-emergence of the older bands from the early years, as well as the current generation of Australian thrash bands.
How did you, Chalky Hill and Scott MacMahon expect “Thrash or Fuck Off” to be received? Was its reception what you hoped it would be?
We didn’t really know what to expect, honestly. When the episodes were released, we did get quite a lot of help from all the bands we interviewed, who shared it from their respective Facebook pages. When Mortal Sin shared Episode 2 from their page, it went viral. We still get messages from people saying how much they enjoy the series and how it’s brought back good memories. We’re very happy with the end result.
Did you think of doing other underground music documentaries after "Thrash or Fuck Off"?
We did have an idea on making another documentary about the divergence of death metal in Australia during the 1990s, but we ended up using those ideas into an episode of “Thrash or Fuck Off” instead.
How much did Hobbs’ Angel of Death place Australian metal on the world map?
Hobbs Angel of Death were one of the first Australian metal bands to be signed to a major label overseas and they still have quite a strong cult following. If you go online and look at some of the top 100 thrash metal albums of all time lists, you’ll see his album is on there. When Hobbs’ Angel of Death reformed in the 2000s, they went and played numerous festivals over in Europe including Wacken Open Air. I can imagine those shows would have gone off.
I heard Hobbs’ Angel of Death’s frontman Peter Hobbs recently passed away; how deeply was his passing felt?
Peter Hobbs’ passing was felt by a lot of people, especially the metalheads in Melbourne where he was originally from. Everyone was talking about it for a while. We had tried to get Pete on our web series but his health was not the greatest when we asked him for an interview, and ultimately it didn’t happen. About a month after Pete’s passing a tribute show was put together in Melbourne in his honour with some of his mates covering songs from his back catalogues of Tyrus and Angel of Death.
How much material has been released by Idle Ruin? Who in the band did you work with previously?
Our guitarist Kaleb played one show with Decapitated Mum as a fill-in. We both found out we were into the same sort of music and had had similar experiences with previous bands. Chalky Hill (one of the producers of the web series) also helped us out on bass for a few shows. Our current bass player Tim is from Kaustic Attack and Wartooth, and we’d always talked about doing a project together for several years. So far, Idle Ruin has released a self-titled MCD which has just been re-released on tape by Life After Death. An extended version with extra tracks will soon be released on vinyl in the new year.
Was Idle Ruin’s debut MCD first released independently? What made you decide to re-release it and how did you hook up with Life After Death for distribution?
We released it independently just to see how it would be received. We ended up selling out of our first press within a few months, and it got some great reviews. We managed to get distribution in other areas of the world, including Japan, Europe and South America and while we were hitting up distros in the US we came across Life After Death who offered to re-release it on tape. We’d heard about Life After Death through two US bands we got in contact with, Pagan Impaler and To the Dogs, who recommended them. Eric who runs the label, really knows his extreme metal and has done a great job.
In what publications was Idle Ruin's MCD reviewed? Any quotes that stood out?
It was reviewed on a lot of the underground metal blogs, like Skull Fracturing Metal, Metal Noise etc. I think my favourite quote from one of the reviews was from Skull Fracturing Metal, who called our EP closer track “Gods of Glass”; “Immolation if they were a thrash metal band”. The three of us laughed out loud at that remark. There was another reviewer who claimed how much he enjoyed our EP that he wanted to punch his fists through a concrete wall. I hope he’s healing fine.
What labels or distros were distributing the MCD in Japan, Europe and South America?
We sent copies of the CD to Dying Victims Productions in Germany, RockStakk Records in Japan, and Suicide Records in Chile. We basically just contacted all the distros that we trusted and seemed legit, and RockStakk had previously distributed Malakyte’s album in the past. The EP sold out very quickly in Japan and Chile. They love the Aussie stuff.
How many songs were included on your MCD and what is the title?
It’s a self-titled four-song EP, though we’ve added some extra bonus tracks on the upcoming vinyl. Opening song “Whipped to Death” is about people who take advantage of your goodwill, draining you to the point there’s nothing left of you. “Spiritual Contagion” was written at the beginning of the pandemic, all about religious people who believed their god would protect them from the virus only to end up dying from that very same virus. “The Devil’s Trade” is from a piece of local folklore about a haunted building in Brisbane; workers who didn’t remove their wedding rings upon entering the building would apparently lose their lives. “Gods of Glass” is just a standard middle finger toward narcissists and other fuckheads who are nothing but hot air.
How much effort has Eric put into promoting Idle Ruin since signing to Life After Death?
Eric has helped push the tape to a lot of listeners in the US and I believe he’s also had it distributed in other parts of the world, too. Like I said before, Eric really knows his extreme metal and we couldn’t be happier with his efforts.
In light of the ongoing pandemic in Australia, how do you plan to continue Idle Ruin?
We will persevere! We recently had our East Coast shows cancelled thanks to Omicron, but we’ll focus our efforts on writing our full-length. We’re currently working on new show dates for Melbourne and Sydney.
Would you consider getting involved with other bands or are Bone Marrow and Idle Ruin enough for you? Can we expect new material in the near future?
Those two bands are enough for me! Bone Marrow are writing material currently and hopefully we’ll get into the studio soon enough. Idle Ruin should have another recording out this year, and we’re aiming to start recording again for our full-length in May.
Besides the bands we discussed, who else from Australia is currently worth niticing?
Kaleb has his own project called When Death Replaces Life who released an EP in 2019, and he’s got some new material on the way. Brendan Auld, who recorded our MCD is involved in a number of projects including Resin Tomb, Feculent (a band he’s doing with Kaleb), Descent and Snorlax. Some great Australian bands I can recommend from over the last few years include Shatter Brain, Vexation, Odius, Pustilence, In Malice’s Wake and Earth Rot.
Do you have final acknowledgements or shout-outs you'd like to extend before singing off?
I want to give a shout-out to Lobo at OSI74, Pip at Black Blood Audio, and of course you David for all your support with my projects over the years! Thanks for the interview.