Old touring pals from way back and Greyscale Records label mates Alpha Wolf and Justice For The Damned have joined forces for the ‘Survival Of The Riffest’ tour. Bringing together heavy music’s finest over six dates, we caught the tour at the all ages show at Mooroolbark Community Centre.

Opening procedings was Caged Existence. The Melbourne band have gained a lot of attention over the last 6 months (at least), earning support slots for bands such as Antagonist A.D., Endless Heights, and Deez Nuts. They’ve also continued to keep busy releasing music, dropping The Body Prison: Cantos last month. If these things aren’t impressive enough, they’re already off to a solid start for 2019: Caged Existence will play at the AM/PM pre-Unify Gathering event, and have been announced as supporting US heavyweights Stick To Your Guns, TERROR, and Harms Way early in the new year.

The band’s stage presence is fierce, and Mooroolbark was no exception. Stalking the stage, frontwoman Steffanie Adele is unwavering in her sharing lyrical themes of bitter distaste for humanity. Unaffected by anything around her, she gets the job done and owns the stage, whether skipping freely or striding purposefully across the stage.

The fierceness comes across instrumentally as well as visually, with slow builds akin to deliberately combing over grotesque bones. Shifting tempo on a whim, Caged Existence holds focus through moments of punishing high pace, blunt force attacks, or pace that’s so slowed down that it’s agonising. Everyone around me was mesmerised the entire set (which also included Belle Haven‘s Christopher Vernon filling in on guitar). Feedback squeals with relentless stepping down riffs ground this set to a halt slowly and deliciously, making for a drawing and incredible experience.

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Diamond Construct followed and made it abundantly clear that they were not content whatsoever with a complacent audience. Frontman Kynan Groundwater was demanding for all of us to move forward and be part of this thing with the band, unafraid to keep intimidating eye contact with us until we complied. The Taree based band are fellow Greyscale Records ‘siblings’ of Alpha and JFTD too; with their signing to the Melbourne based label announced with the release of “Submerged”.

Though ridiculous drumming and blistering rawness featured in the set, songs like “Paradox” crafted their own journey of sorts by combining dreamier instrumental sections and ethereal vocals with the heaviness. It was a ‘dance’ of us getting hooked in and allowed to get lost in the soundscapes, before angular guitars and alarmist riffs amped us up into a bouncing entity. “The Omega Project” was another instance of pummeling ridiculousness and guitar neck fingers flying while the fog-lit crowd bounced along.

We must have done a good enough job of being up front and attentive, because “That’s the fucking shiiiit” was Kynan’s response to the crowd activity in front of him. Diamond Construct shared a new song “Say It To My Face”(?), which vibed as them being angry spokespeople on behalf of those that face doubt. Looking forward to hearing this in the new year sometime! Newie “Submerged” was the big finish for Diamond Construct’s set, coming across as a favourite courtesy of its circle pit, and the fact it had the entire room bouncing along with its urgent pace and plunging sense of overwhelm.

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DREGG then leapt out of the gate with “Weirdo”, dressed in their full garb. [If you want to understand more about the DREGG culture and ideas that drive the band, THIS is a good place to begin.] With the crowd already warmed up and ready to go, it was a pleasure watching frontman Chris Mackertich bounce and dance around the stage, with a ‘come as you are’ vibe emanating from the band as a unit.

Darting from song to song without pause and sharing music from 2016 to present (including “Sorry Daddy” and “Goof Troop”), the five piece brought a mammoth sound and blazing riffs, and vibed as being on stage for a good time, not a long time. Cursive fluidly rambling rap rhythms married with metal hugeness and formed an intense stage presence with a LOT going on. But I’ve come to expect this from DREGG!

Vicious and moshy, raunchy pit calls before drops into fierceness kept us all on our toes. And it wouldn’t be a DREGG set without Chris sharing a slice of his perspective of life; reminding us of the power we have in all of our separate parts and within us as a whole. The set ended with the Melbourne band’s newest song “RETURN OF THE DREGG” (which I can no longer hear without thinking of a Nissan Micra…). With pride in uniqueness and doing it their own way on stage, this vibe seemed to be echoed by everyone singing it with them. It felt like a great place to end the whirlwind set.

“I’ll be a DREGG till I’m dead”

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Sydney heavies Justice For The Damned had “Please Don’t Leave Me” as their opening number, instantly having them feel too big for the stage as well as the room – potentially threatening to blow the doors off this suburban community hall. No nonsense frontman Bobak Rafiee was present, commanding, and controlling, ready to direct this event.

With their music seemingly designed for moshing/thrashing, this is exactly what happened. The room opened up for zig zagging two-steps (and even cartwheels), and naturally this open space was a breeding ground for circle pits, and letting loose with arms and legs going everywhere. Though there were plenty of gaps in the crowd, people still did their best to get up on shoulders or stage dive.

The drumming was off the charts insane (with “Dragged Through The Dirt” as one example), with piercing cymbal attacks providing the only sharpness to break through the otherwise solid wall of sound.  It’s tough to put into words the punishing heaviness that unfolded in front of us that seemed to be further multiplied by the intensity of flashing columns of light.

With gratitude toward ‘the future of music’, Bobak gave a nod to the supporters of all age gigs and those who took advantage of the gig. There were definitely young fans learning the ropes at the show! It was a good feeling to see everyone present and getting into this – all of us celebrating heavy music together.

“No Brother, No Friend” continued the metallic intensity of the set and pulled my focus toward the impressive guitar work of Nick Adams. Diving into his craft emotively, it was a pleasure to watch him go at it. Finishing strong and intimidating, Justice For The Damned stood staring out at us. What a set!

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Their freshly released single “No Name” is where Alpha Wolf began their set. This offered up a slamming and fiery start which drew people in from the corridors. Ripping out familiar singles from Mono made it easy to join in with the Melbourne band; soaking up their breakdowns, watching frontman Lochie Keogh in action, as well as singing and screaming along with the band (“I’M SORRY IT’S LONELY SPENDING YOUR TIME WITH ME”).

Though I adore Mono (released last year), I couldn’t help think while watching the set that Alpha are thoroughly ready to shed some of their earlier skin to evolve into what they intend to be now with Lochie – who is more than just a replacement frontman but a band member bringing his own unique vibe to the band’s identity and feel. I’m very keen to see what this new configuration blooms into with further releases, hopefully more strongly solidifying their identity and loosening ties to their previous incarnation.

Once Scottie Simpson had rescued himself from an unfortunately timed guitar issue, it was “Failvre” that hit us, with thunderous drums, leering and sliding riff savagery, and bass distortion off the charts. This lonely anthem of hecticness rolled forward into “Golden Fate; Gut Ache”, with John Arnold’s clean vocals on the choruses standing out to me.

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The quintet then rumbled into “Devon Street” which I don’t think I’ve ever heard them play live before. The dense piece of music ripped into two-step territory and featured an amusing pit call of “KILL!”.

A breathless Lochie shouted out the bands on the bill with them, before bursting into “No. 2”. This featured a circle pit and then a wall of death (which seems to be a regular event at this venue!) on “Eyes visualise ruining a fucking home”. The looming and doomy “Golden Fate; Water Break” came off cleanly and strongly.

It was great to see Alpha Wolf play “Black Mamba” to finish on a high and in strength, and the song seemed to also boost the energy of the band. Lochie played with the appreciative crowd, changing “Fuck that” to “Two step”. The tension was thoroughly and deliberately built with the “Not enough, never was, never will be” being a siren’s call for losing our shit.

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Bring on 2019 for Alpha Wolf when they hit Europe for the first time!

[Photos by Rowan Donohue]
Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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