Whenever I could tune-in from my rural location to the then MMM FM back in the late nineteen-eighties, I used to listen to The Metal Show hosted by Mal. As a kid of around thirteen, I’d listen to Mal announce gigs, remember the venues, and being too young and too far away, harbour fantasies about going to “one of those gigs Mal promoted”. Hell, I even worked the Adelaide scene of my imagination into some fiction writing that my year nine English teacher took considerable exception to. Years later, by the time I got to Adelaide, and was old enough, Mal had moved on and MMM had become DDD Radio.
Wind forward to the now, and in more recent years Mal has returned to the station for a show every now and then, last year announcing on-air that Soilwork would be playing The Gov while touring to promote their The Ride Majestic. I didn’t mind Soilwork; I had a mate interested enough to still have a thirteen-odd year-old Figure Number Five t-shirt; a plan basically wrote itself.
After said mate travelled down from Mildura, and after a few drinks at different bars, we found ourselves in The Gov’s beer garden listening to Se Bon Ki Ra. Coming as a bit of a surprise, not being mentioned at the point of ticket sale, they were lined-up before Aversions Crown who’d themselves been announced earlier as Soilwork’s supporting act. I’ve only ever heard Se Bon Ki Ra’s work as studio material played on DDD Radio, and while I’ve liked what I’ve heard, I haven’t payed that much interest until now. Se Bon Ki Ra are awesome live. I can’t remember half of what my mate and I dissected out in the beer garden, possibly on account of the Coopers sparkling ales were were pouring down ourselves, but timing on the drums and the vocal range on show both featured in our commentary. I’m going to have to pay better attention to these guys in future.
My friend would have said more himself later on, when asked whether he liked the show by Ben, Se Bon Ki Ra’s bassist, only my friend was a bit taken aback by the urinary setting of the conversation. Bass players are a funny sort.
It was around the end of Se Bon Ki Ra’s set, and the beginning of Aversions Crown’s, that I finally met Mal of Metal Show fame. He was wearing a Mercenary t-shirt for the third of three “M”s. We got a little talking in, in-between the music and him snapping his camera closer to the action, although most of what I remember for my part is mostly laughter and inebriation.
Aversions Crown had the bar set high for them in following Se Bon Ki Ra. My friend and I found ourselves commenting on the volume of the drums (a fun thing in and of itself when the blast beats hit) which came off in parts as drowning out the rest of the band members. Nothing though, could fully quench the ultra-guttural growls of Melbourne’s Mark Poida, who stepped in to replace Colin Jeffs on vocals last year. I’m not much of a deathcore person myself, or even much of a “core” person in general, but I may end up making an exception for these Brisbane-based monsters. I’ve grabbed Tyrant off the shelves which I’m still giving a belt every now and then, and their cover art being what it usually is – i.e. scary-awesome – I’ll probably have to wait for their Erebus to get a physical release before grabbing that too.
Following eventually, after what was possibly a slightly longish sound check, was Soilwork.
Get on to Google Play, or whatever else and have a listen to their work. Whether they’re your thing or not, what you won’t be able to tell me is that these guys aren’t as technical-as-all-fuck; high precision that couldn’t get much higher if it found Dave Mustaine’s long-lost stash and snorted it through the woodwind section of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m arguing this based just on Soilwork’s studio material. But Soilwork on stage?
I’ve got to ask; do these guys ever make mistakes playing live? I’m not sure I’ve ever been to such a fine-tuned performance. I may have been a tad drunk, and yes, I’m not a muso, but I’m not entirely unable to spot a botch, and I didn’t notice a single one. This, despite material that is obviously not easy to play.
But don’t let me give you the impression that Soilwork are merely just technical virtuosos, or cold-hearted perfectionists, either. Björn Strid’s interaction with the crowd was at turns gracious, good humoured, and energetic, the band following through in the same spirit. There was every sign these masters of the stage were perfectly in-touch with the crowd’s mood, culture and blood alcohol level, working these elements and others into a keenly measured metal alchemy. There was more than just tight instrumentation and vocals going on, and you could feel the rest of the crowd knew it too.
Soilwork peppered their set of new material with divergences to points throughout a large back catalogue, which judging by the responses of die-hard fans who know that back catalogue better than me, was executed with deft timing and chemistry. Eventually, after the first stage exit of the night, a chant of “one more song” cued the band to come back to play several – a premeditated response, no doubt. The band knew perfectly well what it was doing, bringing the audience to new heights before the night’s true end.
After watching the band working its way back stage – seeing them choose not to ignore audience members as they went – and opting not to try skiing on the beer-inundated floor, the gig was over. Stumbling back to the CBD to contend with lock-out laws, late-night food, beer selections and taxis, the time taken by multiple encores having locked us out of public transport back to my part of town, I was forced to realise that previously, I’d really been depriving myself, gig-wise. After years of complaining about auto-tune and lip-synching, you can forget that some artists are even better live than in the studio – stage and the social environment being things you just can’t replicate at home, subject to crafting through a whole raft of other skills.
I may not have the health or the time to see gigs as much as I’d like anymore, decrepit and aging thing that I am, but I’ll be keeping an eye open for more, and making a commitment not to take live music quite so much for granted in future. I’ve got Soilwork and their co-conspirators to thank for the lesson, and of course, Mal too.