Written by: Robert Percy Edited by: Natalya Davies Updated: 21 March 2019
Australia has its unique things that everyone knows about. Summer temperatures at Christmas. A myriad of animals that could either kill you, make your life a living hell or both. The Irwins (RIP Steve, stingrays are evil). The Wiggles. Neighbours. Home and Away. The hilariously overpowered muscle cars and Utes that were produced up until very recently by the local divisions of Ford and General Motors. The sleeper hit reality show Instant Hotel (which is going to be co-presented by none other than Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen in its second season). But what a lot of people should know about Australia is that it has provided a hotbed of great musical talent across multiple genres for the last decade or so.
With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a little list, in no particular order and with no genre limitations, of some fantastic Australian artists and bands that you should definitely get to know…
These 90s revivalists from Melbourne have been making a huge scene ever since they first emerged near the beginning of the decade and are set to become a force to be reckoned with on the international touring circuit by the end of it. Whilst initially having a twin vocal setup with Luke Holmes providing hardcore influenced screams and yells and Dale Tanner (who was also the band’s bass player) providing a cleaner vocal style, at the beginning of 2019 Holmes departed and Dale switched to being the band’s singular front-man, his bass duties being taken over by newcomer Twiggy Hunter.
Whereas their earlier material was much more rooted in the heavier end of things, their newest material delves into an altogether more experimental territory. Their latest single “Ask For The Anthem” delves into some seriously funky sounds and quasi-rap vocals that wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic RHCP album. The band also have a reputation for creating low budget, off-kilter and brilliant music videos; it’s one of the things that really sets them apart from the rest. “The Rhapsody Tapes” was highly critically acclaimed and with the return of nu-metal and the sounds of the 90s as the 2020s come into view, expect these guys to go right to the top of the tree pretty damn fast.
Another Melbourne-based artist, rapper and singer Illy (born Alasdair Murray) might be the most well known of the artists I’m including on his home turf. He’s collaborated with some well-known names including Anne-Marie, Jenna McDougall of Tonight Alive, Ahren Stringer of The Amity Affliction and Thomas Jules of Rudimental to name just four.
He has also won two ARIA awards (the Australian equivalent of a Grammy or a Brit) and been nominated for several others. Yet, weirdly, he doesn’t seem to have much of a foothold in popularity outside of Australia. Originally a member of rap collective Crooked Eye, he went solo in 2009 and since then has released four albums, with a fifth due for release this year. If you love hip-hop artists who have an ear for melody as well as bars, you’ll love this guy.
Perth’s Voyager have been plying their trade in one form or another since the late 90s. They sit firmly within the ‘ProgPower’ end of heavy metal. Shredding guitars (provided by the twin axe attack of Scott Kay and Simone Dow), “djent-y” rhythms and lush synthesized soundscapes are the foundations of the Voyager sound. This is accompanied by the rich crooning baritone of German-born multilingual (who includes written sections of lyrics in German and Russian in some songs) vocalist and keyboardist Daniel Estrin, his vocal stylings bearing more than a passing nod to Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran and the sadly departed Peter Steele of Type O Negative (“Iron Dream”,from their album “The Meaning of I”, was written in tribute to Steele). The end result is a gloriously epic mash-up of cheesy 80s choruses, big modern riffs, power metal keyboards and prog sensibilities that anyone who dips their toes into any of those worlds will love.
This feisty pop-punk group from Sydney have really started to gain some big momentum in the last year. With a sound not too dissimilar to the early years of Tonight Alive, they’ve managed to create big rock songs that are catchier than a virus. Vocalist Mikaila Delgado has a fantastic tone with just the right amount of edge and their material sounds slick enough to sound right at home on the radio (in fact, I actually heard “Circles” on Jack Saunders’ late-night BBC Radio One show not long ago!).
The video for “Circles” is fantastic too, with its liberal amounts of meta humour (the sets and cameras are clearly on show). Pop-punk has not only stayed the course since the 90s but has become very popular again too in recent years. If Yours Truly play their cards right, they could be big contenders in a scene filled with (unfortunately) just as much controversy as it has solid and slick bands.
Another Sydney act, Polaris bring a brand of heavy yet catchy metalcore that tips its hat in the general direction of Architects, Erra and Parkway Drive. Front-man Jamie Hails and bassist Jake Steinhauser deliver a twin vocal attack that covers everything from metalcore screams and gritty melodies (performed by Jamie) to big, pop-influenced melodies (performed by Jake) while the music alternates in kind between massive riffs, huge choruses, ambient soundscapes and crushing breakdowns.
They’ve had an incredible last couple of years, the highlights of which include performing in huge venues in their native Australia and overseas in support of Architects, Parkway Drive and their hometown compatriots Northlane. They also signed record deals with Resist Records in Australia and Sharptone Records (also home to Don Broco, Loathe, Holding Absence and Emmure to name just a few) in the US, UK and Europe. If epic metalcore with choruses you can belt out at the top of your voice is your bag, you’d be crazy to pass these guys by.
After splitting from the instrumental duo Halcyon to forge his own path, Plini began to blaze a trail as one of the front runners of a new generation of guitar-centric instrumental music. He has evolved from the low budget but charming jazz fusion influenced efforts of his first EP “Other Things”, where he performed and programmed most of the instruments himself. Going on to release his epic prog debut album “Handmade Cities” with assistance from Simon Grove of The Helix Nebula on bass and session musician and music teacher Troy Wright on drums. And now, his latest EP “Sunhead”, which features John Waugh, The 1975’s saxophonist of choice, and the ridiculously skilled Canadian keyboardist Anomalie as guest musicians.
Not a bad CV for somebody who’s only been carving his own path in music since the start of the 2010s! Plini’s guitar stylings are both technically and melodically satisfying, with many nods to great rock instrumentalists such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, as well as fusion masters like Allan Holdsworth and Al Di Meola. As well as this, his music is fantastic in a live setting, where he recruits whoever of his friends are available to deliver a free flowing and fantastically performed set of his material (with maybe a few surprises too along the way!). Plini looks set to become one of the next big instrumental guitar heroes and, from the way things are going, he could be touring all around the world every year for the next few decades.
With their mad, off the wall music videos packed full of skits, in-jokes and scenarios that range from the whimsical to the downright disturbing (including one where they turned a fat basement-dwelling internet troll into sausages), you’d think that Melbourne’s resident musical ninjas were a pretty eccentric bunch. You’d be right and then some.
As per a one time popular internet meme, somebody somewhere must have told them they could play any style of music… so they played all of them. Twelve Foot Ninja take heavy influence from Mike Patton’s various musical escapades, the popular rock, metal, reggae and jazz fusion acts of the mid 90s-early 00s era, which is all aided by the crazy (and criminally underrated) tuning-changing and guitar and amp emulation technology of Line 6’s Variax system. They effortlessly switch between punishing Sevendust and Meshuggah-style riffs in super low tunings to delicate acoustic passages, choppy jazz funk with more than a passing nod to Jamiroquai, dancehall beats and even the odd bit of Latin American stylings thrown in just for good measure.
The source of this glorious genre roulette? The band’s leader, session guitarist Steve “Stevic” Mackay, who has built on his experience of doing everything from playing with Delta Goodrem (no really, he did!) to doing shreddy solos for the soundtrack of a series of Power Rangers (I’m not lying… he really did this!) to create intricate yet catchy multi- genre compositions. He even wrote the band’s mythology, a story about… you guessed it… a ninja who can become twelve feet tall (it was published as a comic, if you’re ever interested in reading it). On top of all of this is Kin Etik’s soulful baritone, which covers all bases from crooning to delicate falsetto and topping it off with some incredibly powerful screams. If you’re a fan of any of the more rock and metal oriented end of Mike Patton’s work such as Faith No More, Mr. Bungle and Tomahawk, Twelve Foot Ninja will definitely appeal to you.
There was one point where it looked like Dead Letter Circus’ socially conscious progressive rock, fronted by the distinctive high tenor of Kim Benzie, mixed with electronic sensibilities could reach the big time internationally. They even had what could almost be considered a viral hit when they attempted to do a soft acoustic/electronic version of the Rage Against The Machine classic “Killing In The Name Of” for the popular Australian radio station Triple J’s “Like A Version” sessions, which was met with as much bewilderment as there was praise.
Then they seemingly dropped off the radar following a bit of a bad time with label support outside of their native soil. However, they have carried on creating and evolving their music away from the wider world popularity they once had. Maybe one day soon they’ll return to their previous international breakout stardom? One can only hope.
Perhaps the dark and creepy atmospheric track “Silence”, a post-mortem musing by Benzie about a man who sexually abused children, has a fairly heavy significance in 2019 with the various allegations surrounding musicians now coming out. Regardless, even though they are clearly one of the underdogs now outside of their native country, Dead Letter Circus are a band who have the potential to be truly timeless.
Originally a part of the “djent” movement, Melbourne prog rockers Circles decided to retool and rebrand after losing their long time front-man. Moving to a four piece, with guitarist Ben Rechter stepping up to the microphone to handle lead vocals as well, the band embraced a more rough and ready sound that may be very far removed from how they originally started out, yet they still retain a lot of their original charm. A big change of sound can be a very risky decision but they seem to have pulled it off very well and with new label and management deals signed that include the US, UK and Europe, be prepared to see a lot more of them within the next few years.
What do you get when you combine the huge riffs of “djent” with the fast-paced rap of Tech N9ne and Busta Rhymes and the songwriting sensibilities of P.O.D.? You get Sydney natives DVSR.
The enormous, super down-tuned guitars provided by guitarist and main songwriter Andrew Stevens are some of the beefiest you can hear this side of a Meshuggah album. Andrew “Anti-Matter” Youkhana, on the other hand, is quite possibly one of the best rappers in the game right now, combining both incredible lyricism covering everything from personal to political topics and the ability to switch it up into hyper speed (I’d LOVE to hear him do a Fire In The Booth, he’d absolutely kill it).
It’s very easy to compare DVSR to British favourites Hacktivist due to their similarities with combining “djent-y” guitars with rap vocals, but to do so is honestly somewhat ignorant – both bands are from totally different countries where both the rap and metal scenes have different sounds and different influences. The band recently played their first show outside of Australia at 2018’s UK Tech Metal Festival and hopefully, with the release of the follow-up to 2017’s “Therapy”, they’ll be venturing internationally a lot more.
Stand Atlantic have been gaining a lot of hype since the release of their debut album “Skinny Dipping” last year and for very good reason. The Sydney natives have a knack for creating beautiful, catchy and emotionally charged rock music. Guitarist and vocalist Bonnie Fraser is an incredible lyricist as well as being a fantastic singer and songwriter; she’s able to hit you right in the feels with a single line (“Toothpick” very much comes to mind here). They’re already booking up tours all over the world and winning over audiences everywhere they go, so if things go to plan, they’re destined for huge levels of success and maybe even a lot of mainstream attention.
These instrumental progressive metal wizards, the lineup of which includes regular Plini collaborators Simon Grove and Jake Howsam Lowe, are quickly becoming a regular staple amongst those who like the technically minded end of heavy music. They specialise in well written yet incredibly virtuosic music and are also more than willing to reach slightly outside the box for inspiration – they have even done a prog metal re-interpretation of Jon Gomm’s viral hit “Passionflower”.
The Helix Nebula currently only have one EP (released in 2014), but a full album is on its way, albeit an album that has had an incredibly long gestation period because all four members have been very busy with other projects. Regardless, it should be absolutely mind- blowing when it does see the light of day.
If you thought Twelve Foot Ninja were weird… you ain’t seen nothing yet until you listen to I, Valiance.
The Melbourne-based five piece combine the deathcore stylings of bands like Thy Art Is Murder with blaring synths, dissonant guitar leads, trap influenced beats, trippy atmospheres, blasts of circus music and some of the most ridiculous screamed vocals you will ever hear this side of a Mayhem album.
Originally fronted by Aversions Crown vocalist Mark Poida (a legend in his own right in the deathcore scene thanks to the absolutely insane noises that he’s able to create), they went through multiple prospective front-men after he parted ways with them to focus on his new band before settling on their equally mental current front-man, Terrence Kilner. Mark did however return as a guest vocalist on the heavily rap-influenced “Three Daggers”. They have been in the process of gradually releasing a full album’s worth of music in a series of EPs, two of which were released last year, and hopefully a third will be in our ears very soon.
Do you like deathcore? Do you like aliens? Do you like vocals that sound like aliens? If the answer is yes to all three, Aversions Crown is the band for you. Featuring ex-I, Valiance vocalist Mark Poida and an H.P. Lovecraft-style mythology revolving around warmongering, genocidal aliens wreaking havoc upon the earth, Aversions Crown specialise in bombastic soundscapes, blast beats and some of the heaviest breakdowns you’ll ever hear. Buster Oldenholm, the brainchild of Swedish masters of brutality Humanity’s Last Breath, had a huge hand in the production of their latest album “Xenocide” and it really shows; it’s loud, proud and not for the faint-hearted.
2019 looks to be a breakout year for Melbourne alt-rockers The Beautiful Monument. Sporting an all-female lineup and an arsenal of huge tunes from their 2017 debut “I’m The Sin” and their brand new single “Deceiver” and having already toured with Tonight Alive, they look and sound more than ready to take on the world stage. They cite A Day To Remember and The Ghost Inside as huge influences on their sound so if you’re a fan of either of those bands, you’ll definitely enjoy this breath of fresh air in the more melodic and pop-punk influenced end of heavy music.