The history of Australian metal in 10 songs

To treat a UK in the grip of winter to a searing blast of Aussie sunshine, Hammer has assembled a chronological rundown of ten exceptional tunes from the shores of Oz that made the rest of the world sit up and take notice and shit the bed, cobber. Strewth!

Buffalo – I’m A Skirt Lifter, Not A Shirt Raiser (1974)

Displaying the kind of tongue-in-cheek, anti-PC macho braggadocio that would come to define Australian rock (also evident on the dodgy cover photo), Sydney’s fabulous Buffalo were already onto their heavyweight third album, 1974's Only Want You For Your Body, when they unleashed their signature tune, this irresistibly rugged, headbanging caveman classic with plainly comical lyrics extolling the band’s rapacious heterosexuality.

AC/DC – Let There Be Rock (1977)

On their fourth album’s compulsive, heads-down juggernaut of a title track, Australia’s greatest band not only cemented their own implacable prowess and global stature, but by mischievously presenting a narrative of rock’s short history as a tale of Biblical importance, Let There Be Rock provided an energising stimulus for headbangers worldwide, helping spawn new waves of heavy metal in the late ‘70s.

Slaughter Lord – Legion (1986)

Later covered by At The Gates, Legion is perhaps the most assertive and focused of all Slaughter Lord’s barbarically brilliant 1986 demo Taste Of Blood. The four-piece imploded before they could record an album, but earned kudos from the global tape-trading underground as the only Australian band taking thrash to bestial new levels of black death extremity – and having a ball doing it: “It was that magic time that all thrash heads from that time pine for,” says drummer Steve Hughes. “Not to be boastful, but it was just a really amazing and magical time.”

Mortal Sin – I Am Immortal (1989)

One of the last great thrash metal anthems of the 1980s, I Am Immortal boasted exactly the sort of rampaging mega-chorus that major label Parlophone were presumably hoping for when they snapped up the Sydney thrashers, hoping to bag the new Metallica. It didn’t quite work out that way, and the band dissolved five years later, but this was a highly memorable single (and accompanying live video) that pricked up the ears of thrashers worldwide.

diSEMBOWELMENT – The Tree Of Life And Death (1993)

Kicking off like the sort of cryptic raging death/grind that you’d expect from their name, Melbourne’s quirkily-typeset diSEMBOWELMENT soon send the terrified listener spinning into orbit with dissonant headache drones and weird alien frequencies, before crashing headfirst into a sprawling labyrinth of devastating, funereal sludge doom. Originally appearing on the Aussie's 1993 album Transcendence Into The Peripheral, Lee Dorrian later used the title of this spellbinding ten-minute opener on Cathedral’s Garden Of Unearthly Delights album.

Deströyer 666 – I Am The Wargod (Ode To The Battle Slain) (2000)

From the hushed subtleties of its darkly beautiful intro, I Am The Wargod is a comprehensive masterpiece of blackened thrashing death metal, shot through with clattering bursts of white-hot speed, haunting atmospheric melodies, inventive technical flamboyance and a deliriously satisfying chorus. Formed in 1994 by Bestial Warlust axe-devastator KK Warslut, D666 remain a world-class riot of bloody leather and spikes.

Alchemist – Solarburn (2003)

Eclectic space cadets from the suburbs of Perth, on the compulsive Solarburn Alchemist give Fear Factory a run for their money in Killing Joke-infused sheet metal riffing. Taken from the punningly-titled album Austral Alien, this dense nugget of amber nectar also bears elements of shimmering psychedelic groove, co-existing with dissonant noise-rock guitars, deadpan gothic vocals and animal yells. Deftly melding sounds and vibes with brains, soul and guts, Alchemist are one of the most distinguished and hard-working bands down under.

Thy Art Is Murder – Laceration Penetration (2010)

With the sickening hacking, slashing and crunching of the opening guitar chords and an archetypal ‘typewriter falling down the stairs’ drum barrage, New South Wales' TAIM  proved with their debut album, The Adversary, that they were more destined to cause a mighty stink on the world deathcore stage; though there’s not much ‘core’ about this brutally out-of-order, Suffocation-tinged hammer to the brain.

Parkway Drive – Sleepwalker (2010)

Instantly distinguished by what is surely the Byron Bay boys’ niftiest riff, Deep Blue highlight Sleepwalker confidently swings between scampering tech-chops, discreet bursts of blastbeat and ‘phat’ lurching grooves like Korn if they’d grown up on Iron Maiden and Cannibal Corpse, before ascending to the sublime with the tasteful melodic solo towards the end.

Portal – Curtain (2013)

The enigmatic demons in Brisbane’s mercurial Portal have been chucking bloody chunks of apocalyptic death metal into infernal realms of nightmarish abstraction for over 15 years, but with 2013’s Vexovoid they streamlined and crystallised their unorthodox, wildly divisive approach, even providing this classy video in homage to the silent horror of the ‘20s.

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.