My timing for arriving in Australia to see my sister and a friend has been excellent as in the first week I managed to get to two gigs, the first of which was Sanzu (also reviewed by yours truly) and this one which was an 11 band festival. I wasn’t aware initially that this was a benefit gig for the homeless in Melbourne through the Metal For Melbourne banner which was not only a metal festival in the 1980s but also a record store that single-handedly started and advanced the metal scene run by a lady called Greta I believe. With that in mind and the fact that people have missed the Metal For Melbourne event this fest was arranged as a one off linking the benefit aspect with bands that were around back in the 1980s and only from Melbourne. Added to that all the bands played for free plus the venue staff worked for free in aid of the homeless in Melbourne which I thought was terrific and typical of the metal community not just in Australia but of metal fans in general across the world whose generosity seems to show no limits.

This event was sold out and I was lucky to get a ticket with it selling out not long after my sister acquired tickets for us. The 11 band line up was varied, with the core of bands being predominantly heavy metal based spliced together by more extreme proponents that included thrash, death and hardcore. Arriving at the venue and struggling to get parked the queue was already considerable as I got my wrist stamp and ventured inside. There is always something exciting about new venues and as I got inside I was greeted with a large number of punters already inside downing various Australian beers which I must admit I have found a challenge to enjoy. The venue itself had two stages operating; the main stage at the front of the room and a smaller stage at the back with bands alternating between the two with a 15 minute break in between each set and thankfully the whole venue had air conditioning. The variation in clientele was excellent to see as young thrashers mixed with old crusty ones, alongside veteran hardcore and death metal fans and rounded out by rafts of heavy metal fans of various ages. No band was given special priority as each was given a 30 minute set with no extensions though some played for a shorter time

My first mission on entry was to get a festival shirt and judging by the number of people that had pre-orders I was worried that I wouldn’t get one and if you’re a hardened metal veteran a festival shirt for a one off gig like this is like a badge of honour, but also to show off of course when I returned home to the UK.

Events like this are about posterity and whilst some of the bands weren’t particularly pleasing to my ears the crowd lapped up every second of it and were fully immersed into the whole metal brethren attitude. As an all dayer the start time was relatively late but the finish time was after midnight as Persecution, due on at half four, started at 4.20. The crowd loved their thrash metal as the singer pulled off every metal pose possible whilst the rest shredded their way through a slicing speed metal aura bolstered by some fine thrash riffs typified by the track “Relentless Slaughter” which did exactly that.

Hitting the smaller stage bang on time was Ion Drive an act from the 80s that had a couple of releases in 1984 and are apparently still active. The three piece outfit knocked out a set of strait laced heavy metal tunes that whilst a little repetitive and predictable overall were completely appreciated by all as every band had a big crowd irrespective of style which is not always the case at gigs like this where people can be quite fickle about what they watch.

Far more up my street was veteran thrashers Renegade whose early proto thrash was blended with the fast end of heavy metal. I did expect more vibrancy from the drummer whose style was minimal but acceptable as the guitarists pulled out some fine riffs that surged into the crowd as I expected a pit but didn’t get one. Ëxecutioner” from the bands demo in 1985 leaned heavily towards straight metal and whilst by today’s standards the music was a little dated it was still a very good set.

Stirring things up brilliantly were hardcore stalwarts Depression fronted by the hilarious Smeer whose wit and barracking had the place guffawing at times as he was equally barracked with jibes. I was listening to this band whilst at University in the 80s and their second album was a regular in my cassette Walkman (remember those) on journeys to and from University. The three piece hardcore act played a short but incendiary set with some excellent catchy riffs backed up by some pulsing bass work and workmanlike drumming. Smeer was only too pleased to tell us he was 60 and that he’s been doing this for 30 years, more than that actually, as we got the first pit of the day much to the bemusement of some of the older rockers who quickly stepped aside. The short set was packed with songs and you can’t argue with a song like “Copper Chopper” as a song about a fly was aired complete with buzzing sound effects by Smeer at its end. As the last song was announced, which was “Out Of Touch”, the crowd moaned catalysing a tirade by Smeer telling them he’d kick their arses if they don’t shut up. As it turns out it was the last song but was a great end and set people’s faces alight with smiles as they wandered off to ready for the next act.

It was not possible to follow Depression as Bengal Tigers had that unenviable task and I was completely unfamiliar with the bands material but the band was popular as their singer pulled off plenty of clichéd poses during a set peppered with hard rock riffs and catchy choruses. The vocalist had swathes of stage presence dominating the stage as the musicians unleashed one riff after another blending AC/DC styled riffing into their set with originality and fervour.

Bengal Tigers acted like a stop-gap between Depression and the ferocious entity called Abramelin whose performance was nothing short of thermonuclear in intensity. They had a large crowd as plenty in the venue were sporting their shirts as the band started up with no warning and initially I thought they were checking the sound only to realise they were half way through their first song. Quite why I have not latched onto this band is baffling as they were one of the most intense and explosive death metal acts I have ever watched, fronted by a vocalist whose vocals were terrifying with a guttural roar better than most and without the aid of cupping the mic. The drumming was like artillery fire as the twin guitars flawlessly coupled jaw dropping tempo shifts to insane speeds via the drums and guitar work. Songs like “Spiritual Justice” and the epic “Human Abattoir” were pulverising as the crowd was awash with divers and surfers as one cheeky lass stole a kiss off the singer. This was one of the best death metal performances I’ve ever witnessed (and I’ve been to a lot) especially their drummer who was breathtakingly fast. Sonic detonation of the finest and most damaging quality.

I missed the start of Nothing Sacred on the main stage plainly down to not paying attention to the time and sitting in the bar area. Returning to the gig room I walked into a new song being played called “Flamethrower” as the contrast with Abramelin was very stark indeed. The bands brand of melodic thrash had a US power metal vibe with speedy riffs interlinking with a more restrained power metal base. The dynamics of their songs was good, as each ploughed its way through various tempo changes and bolstered by a fine vocalist who held his notes well and had a good range. I’d be fibbing if I said their show was excellent as whilst the band put on a good show the music overall was a little pedestrian but like every other band on the day they had a large gathering of people all too eager to absorb their metal wares.

I was severely disappointed with Mass Confusion as the guys were decked out in shirts carrying the bands name with drummer having Mass on his and the other three having Con Fus and Ion on theirs. I missed the start of this band too as the venue was heaving around the smaller stage making it difficult to gain a decent viewing point so I stood at the back. They were probably one of the weakest bands of the day but like all before them it didn’t matter one iota to the crowd. The bands songs were decent enough but the execution was not, with the vocals being overly strained to the point of cringeworthy and before I could write any further damaging words I retreated to the bar again.

It appears that Taramis were one of those cult heavy metal outfits that fans long to see and if the numbers attending last year’s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal event in Sheffield are anything to go by then that cult status is set for a long life. There was plenty of merch available for Taramis and I was hoping I’d like their stuff enough to buy something, but alas I was foiled as the bands turgid performance lacked clarity and cohesion. Musically I enjoyed what they played but the vocals, not for the first time during this gig, were the weakest point. The bass player was playing his last song during the set due to a serious injury to his hand and was rapturously applauded for his efforts. Some guests were wheeled out during their set who were unfamiliar to me but not the crowd. I tried desperately to enjoy Taramis but sadly I struggled and whilst the music was competent overall I was left feeling a little dejected.

Originally I thought this was a ten band festival only to see that an eleventh Tyrus had been added under Hobbs Angel Of Death unless I was looking at the wrong flyer online. I was very curious about this band and on stage I realised that the band had Peter Hobbs fronting them as they played a super short set of less than 15 minutes of excellent thrash metal. Opener “Possessor” was venomous, exuding a savage ferocity via some speed metal riffing that I am a total sucker for. “Marie Antoinette”, originally on the second Hobbs’ Angel Of Death demo floored the crowd with a steady build up sequence towards the inevitable speed injection to great effect which promptly ended their set.

Closing the festival was Hobbs’ Angel Of Death a thrash act that many thrashers will be familiar with as this was my first time seeing the band as I’ve never had the opportunity to catch them previously. However before the band played the audience was reminded that the gig was a benefit show for homeless in case they didn’t know and that the bands and venue staff played or worked for free was greeted with a cheer as he promptly stated that if you’re a metal head and didn’t attend this show then you’re a fuck head, was also cheered but as the event was sold out I’m sure some metal heads didn’t get the chance. Fronting the closing band was Peter Hobbs who was ably backed by a set of guys who turned the songs into sonic napalm at times as the band hit the stage to Peter snorting ‘come on you fuckers’ at the crowd. I’ll admit my familiarity with the bands material is less than average as the opener was blast beat infested as the drums were incredibly loud even at the back. “House Of Death” followed as the full throttle riffing had a particularly vicious tone that I have always liked. The band wasn’t the most animated on stage but the sheer vitriol emanating from the guitar work and drums was bombarding at times as “Son Of God” from last years “Heaven Bled” album was unleashed at an unrelenting speed via the snare blasting which I felt was a little overstated but added considerable power and fury to the songs overall. I love riff breaks with accompanying cymbal smashes as the tempo surges were adorned with them during the set creating a Bay Area style. With time pushing past midnight my energy reserves were depleting and with the prospective long journey home looming (90 minutes, short in Australian terms though) I decided to leave after the next song which was “Heaven Bled” that started almost like a death metal tune, with some hefty riffing and rolling double kick. The tracks constant fluidity enabled it to maintain a high level of intensity though the blast insertion wasn’t needed as the song was violent as it stood. I left the gig via the merch to pick up a poster and had thoroughly enjoyed the whole day with a crowd that was at total ease with the different genres and stood by every band resolutely even though some chose to inhabit the bar or use the roof top terrace for socialising and that is what music is about, the bringing together of like-minded individuals to let their hair down and enjoy themselves and it appeared everyone did. I was extremely pleased and honoured to have been able to attend the Metal For Melbourne Festival 2017 and maybe it will get a rejuvenation in future years.

(Review by Martin Harris)