Australian Heavy Music photo

The History Of Australian Heavy Music In 31 Essential Tracks

From AC/DC to Parkway Drive to High Tension to Gravemind, the story of Australian heavy music is one of constant reinvention and global success. Words by Bianca Davino

By Bianca Davino, 4/9/2019

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If you have yet to be woken by the sound of hell-summoning growls, self-help melodies, and guitar-wizardry that will blow our the back of your skull, you might not know that the Australian heavy music scene is currently thriving.

Since the early ’70s, Australians have flocked to the anarchy incited by loud, distorted guitars. Existing at an underground level for the better part of two decades, by the early 2000s Australian heavy music had transformed and evolved into what we know as “the scene” today.

“The scene” is a broad term; not defined by one particular sound, it’s a subculture of like-minded bands and fans who are connected by an ethos of community, friendship and commitment. These days, this scene is a force to be reckoned with — Unify Gathering is a dominant festival force, triple j worships metalcore, and insanely trendy merch drops sell-out faster than a Supreme capsule.

Whether it’s technical death metal, anthemic metalcore or floor-punching hardcore, there are a dizzying array of sub-genres that have taken a seat in the heavy music family. Over the course of 31 songs, we’ll be taking a dive into how Australian heavy music — spanning extreme metal and hardcore — grew from the small and cult-ish following in the ’70s to the ’90s to the flourishing scene we know today.

A note: while pop punk has always been closely associated with the Australian heavy music, we’ve already jumped into the history here.

#1. AC/DC — ‘Long Way To the Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll)’ (1973)

It’d be criminal to kick off any list about Australian heavy music without including AC/DC.

The rock-dogs established the country’s need for hard rock that was as reckless as it was relentless. Unmatched in its influence, ‘Long Way To The Top’ is a classic — and the first marker in a long-standing heavy music history.

#2. Nothing Sacred — ‘Deathwish’ (1985)

Taking cues from NWBHM (new wave of British heavy metal) bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, Nothing Sacred were one of the first Australian acts to delve into the world of thrash and speed metal, and ‘Deathwish’ is consequently strewn with theatrical vocals and shred-lord guitars.

While drop-B guitar tunings and Kemper soundscapes were non-existent in 1985, we wouldn’t have metalcore or deathcore as we know it today without early purveyors of extremity like Nothing Sacred.

#3. Armoured Angel — ‘Madame Guillotine’ (1989)

Hailing from Canberra, Armoured Angel pushed the boundaries of thrash metal early on, becoming one of the earliest ever acts to perform what we know today as ‘death metal’.

1989’s ‘Madame Guillotine’ is a gruesome, evocative take on the genre, bleeding with brutality. Hearing the latest UNFD label offering on the radio sandwiched between The Rubens and Vera Blue isn’t out of the norm these days, but back when Armoured Angel were around, metal in Australia occupied a very underground realm.

The band were grassroots pioneers, founding Metal For The Brain Festival and building a cult following that saw them tour with the likes of Morbid Angel and Carcass, before they eventually made their way onto the Big Day Out stage in 1993.

#4. Damaged — ‘Nails’ (1993)

You could quite easily declare Melbourne’s Damaged as Australia’s most brutal band of all time.

The Ballarat outfit bought deathgrind down under with a sound so ignorantly convoluted it managed to excite even the most hell-bent traditionalists — 1993’s ‘Nails’ is a perfect summation of their explosive sound.

Drummer Matt “Skitz” Sanders has remained a champion of Australian extreme metal, having played in bands like King Parrot, Blood Duster and more.

#5. Nitocris — ‘Anger’ (1994)

Nitocris were one of the country’s founding members of the “grot-grrrl” scene — the Australian equivalent the ’90s “riot grrrl” movement. Although later on, the band opted for a more pop-driven radio rock sound, Nitocris initially made their mark as a bona-fide heavy rock outfit.

1994’s ‘Anger’ is a sludgy slow-burner that recalls the likes of Pantera and Soundgarden as much as it does Bikini Kill and L7, featuring dissonant hard rock riffage and powerful riot grrl vocals.

Calling it a day in 2001, the band often caught the attention of Channel V and stormed the stages of the Big Day Out multiple times, marking their history as a unique entity in Australia’s heavy music history.

#6. Toe To Toe — ‘For Life’ (1999)

Formed by Resist Records founder Scotty Mac in 1992, Toe To Toe are one of the most important fixtures in Australian hardcore.

Inspired by classic acts like Agnostic Front, Bad Brains and Sick Of It All, Toe To Toe’s fervent anti-racist stance saw them lead a scene founded upon positivity and inclusion alongside other influential acts like Mindsnare, Ceasefire, Arms Reach, and Found My Direction.

‘For Life’ is a quintessential, post-hardcore track that encourages the listener to shoot for the moon.

#7. Sunk Loto — ‘Everything Everyway’ (2003)

Alternative and nu-metal dominated the hallowed stages of the Big Day Out during the late ’90s and early ’00s, with acts like Korn, Slipknot and Marilyn Manson satiating the cynical hungers of the sun-stroke ridden Australian youth.

But at first, the genre didn’t have much to show for locally. Formed during nu metal’s prime years, Sunk Loto burst out the gates in a haze of down-tuned funk bass pop, off-kilter melodies and all-encompassing riffage. The track ‘Everything Everyway’ combines the smooth melodicism of Incubus, the warm colours of a Deftones chord progression, and the meandering whispers of Tool.

Disbanding in 2007 after two studio albums, it’s fair to say Unify Gathering punters who were too young to experience their Rage play hey-day would lap up their alt-metal sound in light of the recent triumphant nu-metal revival.

#8. The Butterfly Effect — ‘One Second Of Insanity’ (2003)

Full of ’00s action movie energy, PRS guitar worship, and a vocal performance that strikes the perfect balance between Layne Stanley’s gruffness and Jonathan Davis’ mad men-esque rambling, The Butterfly Effect’s ‘One Second of Insanity’ is a heavy music classic.

The band were one of the first genuinely heavy leaning local acts embraced by triple j, with 2003’s Begins Here debuting at #24 on the ARIA charts, going on to receive Gold status.

‘One Second of Insanity’s’ heavy yet accessible sound sowed the seeds that allowed for Parkway Drive and I Killed The Prom Queen to dominate shortly after (albeit with something a little more brutal) as well breed a local interest in alt-metal that has served acts like Twelve Foot Ninja and Dead Letter Circus well.

#9. Karnivool — ‘Themata’ (2005)

Western Australia’s resident prog-demons Karnivool have yielded one of the most impressive and longstanding careers in Australian heavy music. With an eccentric sound and image, Australia’s answer to Tool developed a cult following years before releasing their influential debut Themata in 2005.

Coming through at the tail end of nu-metal’s dominance, Themata’s title track features a sprawling instrumental that ebbs and flows in myriad directions before exploding into a triumphant, oozing sonic oasis.

#10. I Killed The Prom Queen — ‘Sharks In Your Mouth’ (2006)

I Killed The Prom Queen were the first band to capitalise on the early ’00s metalcore boom, birthing a community that has spawned what most closely mirrors “the scene” as we know it today.

Combining the sounds of stadium-sized European melodical death metal and Massachusetts hardcore — wrapped in the distinctive ethos of to the Australian scene — the band created a sound that was equal parts shreddy and bombastic. Produced by Fredik Nordstrum (who’d previously worked with metal royalty like In Flames and At The Gates), ‘Sharks In Your Mouth’ encompassed all things pure metal, complete with horror movie lyrics.

Spawning Deez Nuts and Confession, Prom Queen were essential figures in creating a community for Australians who were craving their own version of the US’ Warped Tour/ Taste of Chaos scene.

#11. Carpathian — ‘Who The Fuck Taught You Snaps’ (2006)

Another core band in the Australian hardcore canon, Carpathian were integral in defining the identity of the scene in the 2000s.

Alongside Break Even, Miles Away and I Killed The Prom Queen, the band helped popularise the ‘Massachusetts hardcore’ (Have Heart, American Nightmare) sound in Australia, putting their own unique spin on the sub-genre in the process. ‘Who The Fuck Taught You Snaps’ is a prime example — it’s a lesson in breakdown excellence, and how to craft punchy phrases out of screamed vocals.

The band went on to have their very own taste of mainstream success in 2009 with Isolation, which debuted at #19 on the ARIA charts.

#12. Parkway Drive — ‘Carrion’ (2007)

Parkway Drive are Australia’s hallmark heavy music export. Almost 20 years on, their transformation from Byron Bay surfers with a taste for mosh-fuelled adventure to bona-fide, pyrotechnic-slinging European festival headliners is still stunning.

‘Carrion’ remains a staple in the Australian heavy music canon. Bookending the band’s stint as local heroes before they were propelled to international stardom, it combines the brutality of early-2000s metalcore — à la Killswitch Engage and Lamb Of God — with the distinct sound of Australian hardcore.

#13. Deez Nuts — ‘Stay True’ (2008)

There’s something totally loveable about Deez Nutz. The party punks have been a staple of the scene for over ten years now, constantly drilling an ethos founded on brotherhood and unparalleled fun.

2008’s ‘Stay True’ is packed with old-school hardcore riffage and rapped vocals — it’s fair to say without the garishness of Deez Nuts, the scene wouldn’t be as open to Ocean Grove referencing Limp Bizkit as a primary influence in 2016.

Lyrics like “stage dives, and high fives, that’s what I’m in this for” reminded us that it’s okay to not take everything so seriously — fun should always be at the forefront of heavy music, after all.

#14. The Red Shore — ‘The Garden of Impurity’ (2008)

Hailing from Geelong, The Red Shore were one of the first Australian acts to champion technical deathcore. Released through legendary US label Rise Records, ‘The Garden Of Impurity’ is a delectable death metal feast.

The success of album Unconsecrated saw the band tour internationally with the likes of Bring Me The Horizon, The Acacia Strain and more, creating a solid interest in the country’s most extreme output and paving the way for Make Them Suffer and Thy Art Is Murder to come through shortly after.

#15. Break Even — ‘October 27th’ (2009)

Born from the fertile soil of Perth’s music scene, Break Even were a torchbearer for Australian hardcore in the ’00s. With heavy associations with seminal acts like Miles Away, the band released a string of influential records throughout the decade, carrying on the DIY, community based spirit of acts like Mindsnare and Toe To Toe.

2009’s The Bright Side showcased a shift to a more melodic hardcore sound, reminiscent of “The Wave” occurring over in the US at the same time with acts ike La Dispute, Touche Amore and Defeater.

‘October 27th’ is a gut-wrenching anthem of hope and heartbreak that still holds up to this day.

#16. The Amity Affliction — ‘Youngbloods’ (2010)

This 2010 track from The Amity Affliction is a mission statement for the entire scene: friendship, and a mutual, desperate search for the light at the end of a tunnel.

With soaring leads and trade off vocals between Joel Birch and Ahren Stringer, it’s equal parts sentimental and brash, showcasing the band’s knack for crafting hook-laden post-hardcore that captured their audience’s desire for a sense of community.

Amity were one of the first Australian bands that managed to replicate the magic of acts like Alexisonfire and Atreyu — incorporating heavy and pop elements that welcomed in a whole new audience, and ultimately expanded the heavy music scene. Love them or loathe them, with a stack of accolades, broken records, and continual sold out tours, The Amity Affliction are one of the most critical acts in the history of Australian heavy music.

#17. Make Them Suffer — ‘Widower’ (2012)

Boiling with a shapeshifting fury, Make Them Suffer continue to prove themselves as one of the most surprising players in the country.

Finding a comfortable home in the UNFD family, the band seasoned their brutal metalcore offerings with notes of symphonic and atmospheric black metal influences — present in spades on their single ‘Widower’ off 2012’s Neverbloom, which continues to be an underrated gem.

#18. Thy Art Is Murder — ‘Reign Of Darkness’ (2012)

Divisive by nature, Thy Art Is Murder have impacted on Australian heavy music like few others. Whilst Blacktown’s Masonic Hall was well acquainted with the sounds of hardcore and easy-core pop-punk, Thy Art set out to bring the shrieking sounds of Carnifex and Whitechapel to kids who were hungry for something that’d truly shock their grandparents.

Off 2012’s aptly titled Hate, ‘Reign Of Darkness’ pushes each instrument to the limit, from CJ McMahon’s fear-inducing vocals to the swell of the dissonant guitars.

Hate put Australian deathcore on the map internationally. It also debuted at #35 on the ARIA Charts, making Thy Art the first extreme metal band ever to break the top 40. In doing so, they set a new standard for heaviness with a sound that genuinely strikes fear into the heart of the listener. A decade on from their formation, they’re still bloody exciting.

#19. Northlane — ‘Quantum Flux’ (2013)

In 2013, metalcore was undergoing a renaissance. Shifting away from the hairspray-drenched cornballs of the MySpace era, acts like Architects, Bring Me The Horizon and The Devil Wears Prada were pushing the genre into new territory. On ‘Quantum Flux’, Northlane distilled a growing obsession with djent into an aggressive and welcoming package.

Northlane were catapulted to new levels of uncharted success, establishing the dominance of the label UNFD as heavy music leaders. Singularity is a defining album for many heavy music fans, and its influence is clearly present in the sound of acts like Thornhill, Diamond Construct, and Gravemind, as well as internationals like Silent Planet, Lotus Eater and more.

Their most recent release Alien debuted at #3 on the ARIA charts, marking their 4th entrance into the top 10.

#20. In Hearts Wake — ‘Earthwalker’ (2014)

Byron Bay’s In Hearts Wake are a mainstay in the Australian scene. In 2014, after a few years of hype, they crashed through the gates with ‘Earthwalker’, a straight-up metalcore slapper. Refining the sing-scream formula, ‘Earthwalker’s environmentally conscious lyrics and groove-laden riffs struck a chord with metalcore lovers.

The concept album of the same name debuted at #5 on the ARIA Charts, and was eventually revealed to be the first part of a double album released by surprise a year later.

#21. High Tension — ‘Bully’ (2015)

Melbourne bred High Tension have been brutal favourites for quite some time now. Released in 2015, ‘Bully’ is a ruthless slow burn.

Frontwoman Karina Utomo’s blood-curdling vocal delivery is unparalleled, and the track’s noise-punk instrumentation positioned them as one of the most off-kilter players in the game.

#22. Hellions — ‘Thresher’ (2016)

Sydney’s Hellions are one our most unique heavy music exports. Born out the ruins of local favourites The Bride and Heroes For Hire, the band found a sweet spot in the middle of melodic hardcore, punk, and alt-rock.

While 2016’s Opera Oblivia experimented with classic rock flavours, single ‘Thresher’ erupted in a theatrical haze. Transcending the tight grips of hardcore, ’Thresher’ encapsulates the band’s wide reaching influences — from lyrics that take notes from classic literature to frontman Dre’s signature funk-tinged raps, it’ll live on in the hearts of Unify Gathering dwellers as a signifier of youth forever.

#23. Trophy Eyes — ‘Chlorine’ (2016)

Trophy Eyes are currently revelling in glory, and rightfully so. After years of slogging it out in the hardcore scene, spinning angst-ridden tales of growing up, the powerful band have transformed into a bona-fide headlining rock act.

In 2016, ‘Chlorine’ was the bridge between sweaty hardcore and the festival main stages they’ve now become acquainted with. The track takes the grungey musings of Title Fight and Basement and fuses it with anthemic alt-rock sensibilities, creating a bleary-eyed, heart wrenching affair.

With the lyrics ‘I’m still breathing’ currently inked across the limbs of countless fans, the track’s release was a defining moment for the band.

#24. Ocean Grove — ‘Lights On Kind Of Lover’ (2016)

Melbourne’s Ocean Grove have been leading the Australian nu-metal revival since it began midway through the last decade.

‘Lights On Kind Of Lover’ is a throwback, with zany lyrics, crazed riffage, and DJ scratches with enough Monster Energy power to transport the listener directly into the mind of a JNCO-pant wearing teen midway through their first ever Ozzfest experience.

Since the track’s release, the band dropped majorly successful and #5 ARIA chart debut The Rhaposdy Tapes in early 2017, which further explored their experimental sound and birthed a slew of imitators including Dregg, Apate and Skorched.

#25. Polaris — ‘The Remedy’ (2017)

Sydney’s Polaris are one of the major players of Australian heavy music. Their ethos is unpretentious and all inclusive, and the band are relentless in their pursuit to take on the world with a flurry of universal metalcore anthems.

Off 2017’s The Mortal Coil, ‘The Remedy’ is, in so many ways, the perfect metalcore song. Driven by a pummelling, sticky riff and rounded off in a huge, hook-laden chorus, it’s made for a sweaty festival stage.

Additionally, by incorporating the catchiness of The Amity Affliction, the call to arms heaviness of Parkway Drive, and the technicality of Northlane, ‘The Remedy’ manages to capture the pivotal pieces of our heavy music scene.

#26. Justice For The Damned — ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’ (2017)

Combining the ferocity of deathcore with the swagger of straight-up metal, Sydney’s Justice For The Damned are at the forefront of the crew of bands currently reinventing Australian hardcore.

Featured on their excellent debut LP of the same name, ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’ is propelled by blast-beasts, driving grooves and pure brutal energy. Moving from the sweaty confines of Blacktown’s Masonic Hall to touring the world, Justice For The Damned are cementing themselves as new leaders of the scene.

#27. Pagan — ‘Death Before Disco’ (2018)

First winning over crowds at Unify Gathering 2017, party punks Pagan draw from a pool of influences that most metalcore kids may not be acquainted with — but since the release of 2018’s Black Wash, they’ve had the entire scene wrapped around their finger.

‘Death Before Disco’’s frenetic, classic rock riffage wouldn’t feel out of place on a Motorhead record; riddled in theatrics with lyrics that ponder evil superstitions, it’s lifted into the stratosphere by singer Nikki Brumen’s screams.

#28. Outright — ‘Holler’ (2018)

Featured on their ferocious 2018 EP of the same name, Outright’s ‘Holler’ captures the sound of ’00s favourites like Comeback Kid and Have Heart, and twists in the dissonance of metalcore greats like Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan.

“Foot steps. Heavy breath. Side eye. Watching me walk by. Move close. Hide most. Slide behind. I’m blind and confined,” sings Jelena Goluza, pondering the gross imbalance of power that leads to sexual assault. It’s an important message for a scene which has traditionally celebrated machismo and exclusivity — despite promoting an inclusive ethos.

Having since found a home on the stages of UNIFY Gathering and Download Festival, Outright’s crossover into the wider heavy music audience is invigorating to witness. Their no-holds-barred take on topics like domestic violence and sexism make them one of the most important bands in the scene.

#29. Alpha Wolf — ‘Black Mamba’ (2019)

Having kicked around in the scene for some time now, 2019 has seen Melbourne’s Alpha Wolf rise to the top of the heavy music pack both locally and internationally. Their debut LP Mono planted them at the centre of the nu-metal revival, while 2019’s Fault saw them flex their experimental muscles.

‘Black Mamba’ takes the heaviness of beatdown and rolls it into machine-grade riffs that are as heavy as they are catchy. It’s the result of tracks like this that the outfit caught the attention of international metal heavyweight Sharptone Records.

#30. Caged Existence — ‘Liar’s Tongue’ 2019

Having just wrapped their debut European tour with current genre kings Knocked Loose, Caged Existence are leading a local wave of socially and politically informed hardcore acts, alongside the likes of Crave Death, Cast Down, and Breath Through.

Drawing from the brutality of ’90s metallic hardcore staples like Disembodied and Earth Crisis, Caged Existence forcefully confront each listener with stinging, vivid imagery — and 2019’s ‘Liar’s Tongue’ is a sharp, punishing journey through the depths of rage and frustration.

It’s an epic bookend to a decade of Australian heavy music excellence, nodding positively to what the future may hold.

#31. Gravemind — ‘Phantom Pain’ (2019)

Gravemind are 2019’s breakout heavy success story. Their debut album, released via Greyscale Records Conduit, erupted, debuting with a #30 spot on the ARIA Charts — an incredible feet for a band who’ve built their reputation on relentless touring and word-of-mouth hype.

With a hefty dose of video game imagery, a spoken word interlude, and sci-fi style electronics, ‘Phantom Pain’ is a walloping of total mechanical takeover. Lead by djent-inspired riffs that elicit total impending doom and a searing, emotive vocal performance, the track celebrates the past, present and future of the very best of Australian heavy music.

Bianca Davino is a writer and critic based in Sydney. Follow her on Twitter

Photo Credits: Angus Young licensed through English Wikipedia under the Creative Commons 3.0 Unported license. Parkway Drive and High Tension images supplied. 

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