It hit me like a speeding truck
Sound like I had never heard
Heavy Metal loud and fast
A Stone was cast.
Cast The First Stone. M.S.
What I heard that night in the club in St. Kilda was beyond what I had heard before. It was guitar driven like the music of the bands we’d been setting up for, but it was harder. It was loud, it was fast and above all the power was addictive. I thought the music I had been listening to was powerfully additive, but for me what was coming out of the PA system that night was all that and more.
In 1985 Thrash Metal was in its infancy, there was a few bands in America starting to make waves and they were known collectively as the Big 4 of thrash. I’d read about them but had no idea what their music was about, we didn’t really need to know because we had our own scene, well that was our thought. But in Melbourne that scene was huge, and little did the likes of me know that it was growing day by day because of heavy metal and it’s various genres, genres which became subcultures.
Heavy metal was an extension of what our pub rocking bands were doing, in fact those heavy metal acts that toured Australia from the mid 70’s until the late 80’s were often astounded by how powerful and addictive our pub rock really was. On more than a few tours our local rock bands blew touring heavy metals bands off the stage only to then be removed from the tour because they were more popular than the touring band.
As the bands that toured got heavier and pushed more boundaries and tape trading between countries became a real thing bands all over the country, but especially in Melbourne, embraced the harder and faster sound. Thrash metal became the genre of music for those who wanted to push the boundaries and just like for many their parents who rebelled with Elvis Presley a large portion of 80’s kids rebelled with thrash metal. And when I heard Harden Steel come onto that stage and twang their first few notes on the guitar I quickly became one of those kids.
Just like the night I stood outside the pub and listen to Cold Chisel for the first time, where I was so mesmerised by what I was hearing I had to seek it out, the same thing happened in Melbourne with Hardened Steel. There was bodies flying all over the venue as guys in leather jackets were psychically picked up by other punters and thrown. There was also what I would later find out was called a pit, where fans on the floor in front of the stage opened up to a huge circle, the largest circle the floor would allow, then they would all bounce around in a huge circle until the lead singer told them to “GO” and they would all run full speed at each other and collide in the middle. The gigs I was used to might have had violence, but this was controlled violence that the crowd seemed to enjoy.
I simply could not believe the power the band had over the crowd. I’d seen the likes of Jimmy Barnes, lead singer of Cold Chisel, talk the crowd into fighting, right before he jumped in and helped out. But the guys from Hardened Steel weren’t running a fight, people weren’t coming up with black eyes and blood, they were enjoying themselves.
When Thrash Attack took the stage the songs were even faster and harder and the already primed crowd became even more excited. How these four guys with a few instruments were able to drive the crowd frenzied like they did was beyond me. I barely understood a word from any song for the whole night, each word was spat with a venom like speed that words seemed to blend together.
To say I was hooked on what I had heard was a massive understatement, without consciously knowing it I had found my new drug. When the house lights came up, the capacity of the venue almost halved within minutes and I was left standing near the speaker stack staring at the stage full of roadies, or crew, just like I was. I knew I looked out of place standing where I was, being only sixteen in an over eighteen’s venue, so I did the only think I could think of.
Now I probably could have walked out with a bunch of other guys and even if I was caught they couldn’t have done much more to me than kick me out, which was where I was headed anyway. But instead I seeked my refuge where I did any gig if I saw the cops in the venue or if the bouncers were doing ID checks. I went backstage.
The first person I ran into back stage was the same security guard who let me in the door, when he saw me he shook his head as if to suggest I shouldn’t have been were I was, then he thrust his arm in the direction of rear of stage where the other roadies were.
When I stepped into the band room, sort of by mistake, but I didn’t tell them that, if they were surprised to see me they didn’t show it. Instead they showed me to a seat and offered me a bourbon and coke. It wasn’t my usual brand but I accepted graciously and for the next two hours I sat there as if I was part of the band.
I would dearly have loved to got into a discussion about how they guitarists played like they did, how they hit the notes they did and how they got so damn fast. But here is a little advice for young players, if you do get the chance to go back stage at a gig, don’t ask such things. The band no more want to spend their cool down time teaching you guitar than you want to stick your head in a trash compactor.