It’s a fact, so I’ve been told, that all good things have to end some time. And whilst this may indeed be true, it doesn’t make accepting the fact that one of the major landmarks on Australia’s musical landscape is staring down the barrel of its last hurrah this week any easier to accept. Since it’s inception in 1991, Metal for the Brain – a celebration of everything that’s good about ‘extreme music’ – has raised thousands of dollars for the Hurley family (of which more later), raised awareness of brain injury and done much to dispel the image of metal in a country where soap opera teen baddies are still routinely kohled to the eyeballs and sporting a Marilyn Manson longsleeve…
But enough of the whining – the ‘brain was never, is never, about that. During a particularly nasty altercation outside a Canberra nightclub in 1990 local teen Alec Hurley was knocked to the ground trying to break the fight up – he never walked again. The Hurley family were left in dire financial straits as a result of this, so Hurley’s close friend Joel Green, of local death metal heroes Armoured Angel, decided to take matters into his own hands. A benefit show featuring 6 local acts was arranged, and the rest, as they say, is a cliché. Metal for the Brain was born and one of those original half dozen acts, Alchemist, have played every show since. That’s not quite the feat that may sound – it’s much more than that; since in 1996 when Armoured Angel disbanded, they took on the responsibility for organising the whole shebang – by now a ten band extravaganza taking place at ANU – a task they’ve carried out with pride and no little forbearance to this day. The band’s mouthpiece, Adam Agius, looks back at the last decade and a half with pride, and satisfaction in a job well done. “Every year has had its highlights. I’d love as many people as possible to turn up this year and see what it’s all been about, and to remember the festival as a great thing. “
Great indeed. But as one of the few who’ve been to every Brain, which acts have stood out over the last 15 years? ”My fondest memory was the first one at UCU in 2000. VoiVod came out from Canada and headlined, which was awesome; but its impossible for me to remember, or pick out individual acts, when there have been so many great bands…”
This isn’t good enough, old matey – I need names! “OK. (Melbourne extremists) Blood Duster for sure. Frankenbok, Psycroptic, Captain Cleanoff – there’s been some bad ones as well- we had a stinker in’94!”
And what about Canberra’s ‘other’ great metal institution, Pod People? “They rip it up every year”
The man doesn’t lie. It’s ironic that Canberra, the sterile national capital, has spawned two of Australia’s better metal exports of recent times – the godfathers of the local scene Alchemist, and sludge doom behemoths Pod People. After Agius’ somewhat modest summing up of events I decided to allow Pod person extraordinaire and allround top metalhead Josh Nixon a go at summing up his feelings about the whole thing – what’s made MFTB so special over the years?. “The vast majority of festivals or big gigs you go to make promoters extremely wealthy. It is ironic given the stigma around metal that this festival is one of the few that actually gives tangible assistance to a good cause, and the promoters risk the equity on their homes to put it on. It’s nearly all Australian content, more honourable than Homebake and gives more back to charity than Big Day Out, Homebake and Stonefest combined. Metal for the Brain has been a special part of Canberra’s contemporary musical history, and if you have the slightest interest in heavy, original music in this country then come along to the show!”
Spirited words, but sentiments which you’ll find echoed by every band on the bill this year. There’s a ‘gathering of the clans’ feel about MFTB which, on top of the worthy cause at it’s heart makes this festival in particular such a special one. And one that will be difficult to replicate – does Agius think it’s possible that something almost as special could rise from MFTB’s ashes? ”I think something that includes more overseas acts could be viable. Our scene is very international now, with so many Aussie bands touring overseas and also putting out records on good international labels. I think it’s time for somebody to step up to the plate – who knows what will happen?
Not me, that’s for sure, so best not bother dwelling on it. Better to start salivating over the bill of fare being presented for us this Saturday- the psychedelic death of Alchemist, the true metal histrionics of Lord, the melodic, keyboard driven power of Vanishing Point… Crivens, I’m feeling quite sweaty just at the thought of those three acts, but when you throw into the mix the chaotic, retro thrash of Gospel of the Horns, the dirty, driving, rock solid Dreadnought (Wolfmother? Listen, bubba, those losers would fill their major label britches if they had to come up with something as devastating as the ‘dreads Living a Lie), the snub-nosed brutality of Contrive or the downright corpse painted madness of The Furor you realise that you’ve got basically the Alpha to Omega of Australian heavy music on your doorstep all on the one day– but I’ll leave it up to Nixon to sum things up; “Whatever evolves from this needs to address the perception that overseas=better. MFTB has significantly changed that perception, and it’s helped to show that our music is easily on a par, if not superior in some instances, to what’s happening overseas.”
MFTB is all things to all metalheads, so we asked a few of Saturday’s major attractions -Nixon, Jason pc from Melbourne grind maniacs Blood Duster, Jona Weinhofen from event headliners I Killed The Prom Queen, Lord Tim of Lord, Mark Palfreyman from technical deathsters Alarum, guitarist Richie from Dreadnought and everyone from ‘hellbourne’ based thrash maniacs Gospel of the Horns, just what the day means to them…
Metal for the brain is a stone Aussie metal institution – how many times have you been and what, for you, have been the highlights?
Josh Nixon- “I’ve been to them all, and there have been so many highlights – maybe from the very first one when Norro, the singer of a band called Precursor rode onstage on his pushbike and did a mono to kick things off”..
Gospel of the Horns – “We started going in ’93 or ’94. So many bands – but VoiVod, Mortal Sin and Bestial Warlust stand out”.
Mark Palfreyman – “VoiVod headlining. And that night at the Carotel”
The passing of MFTB will leave a massive gap in the metal calendar – Will we ever be able to replace it? Should we even try?
Jonah Weinhofen: “I think there will be many more fests like this. And hopefully someone will be sensible enough to do it for a good cause as well”.
Lord Tim – “I don’t think there will be anything quite like MFTB again. I will miss it”.
Richie – “The thing is, you need loads of great bands and loads of great headbangers to make a great festival. The more you have of each the better. If people got off their arses more often to support Aussie bands we wouldn’t be mourning the passing of something like MFTB”.
And finally, with a no expense spared budget and free reign to put together your dream five band bill, who would you put on?
Mark Palfreyman: “Athiest, Cynic, Death Angel, Allegiance, Mortal Sin
Lord Tim: “Iron Maiden, Blind Guardian, Judas Priest, Metallica (from 15 years ago), Megadeth. Plus Dio and an arse-load of Aussie bands”.
Gospel of the Horns – “Iron Maiden, Sodom, Celtic Frost, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio!”
Jason pc- “Black Sabbath, The Dwarves, Kiss, Carcass and Blood Duster. Then I could hang out with them and ask them annoying questions like ‘what are your influences man?”
Jona Weinhofen – “AC/DC, Psycroptic, Parkway Drive, Flesh Mechanic, I Killed The Prom Queen!”
Adam Agius and Mark Palfrey man went on to form The Levitation Hex, whose second album, Cohesion, will be released in April.