The Scariest Death Metal Band of All Time
From Inside a Dungeon in Sydney, Australia, A Legend Is Born
In 2005 I met Kriss Hades, guitarist for one of the most extreme metal bands in the world, at a Wolf Eyes concert in the Newtown RSL on Enmore Road. Seated in the poker machine area a floor below the music, he and his girlfriend approached my table and asked for a cigarette. Maybe it was a beer. He seemed very drunk, and his girlfriend seemed annoyed. “You know he lives in a dungeon, right?” she blandly offered at one point. I didn’t believe her because I didn’t think dungeons existed anymore. After all, what is a dungeon?
I had heard of Kriss Hades before. Performing as the Reverend Kriss Hades, he occasionally used chainsaws in his solo sets alongside his own custom-designed electric guitars. I never saw those performances, and besides, they couldn’t hold a flame to Justice Yeldham, prolific at the time and known for tearing his mouth to shreds with mic’d windowpanes. In my then-ongoing search for the most extreme music possible, chainsaws didn’t seem impressive, and nor did Kriss Hades in the flesh.
I can’t remember what we discussed, but I remember feeling out of my depth. He was an ageing metal guy, and I had already learned, after many evenings spent drunk at the nearby Town Hall Hotel, that aging metal guys are among the most difficult people to sustain meaningful conversations with. If I had known at the time that Kriss Hades was the former, founding guitarist of Australia’s greatest ever metal group, Sadistik Exekution, then I might have tried a bit harder.
The thing to remember about this mediocre encounter with Kriss Hades is that he was said to live in a dungeon. Today, none of the cool things you learn about bands end up being true. Most bands are made up of pretty regular people. This is especially true in Sydney, where musicians tend to either live in sharehouses or with their parents. It’s hard to live in Sydney and be involved with its music scene, which is why hardly anyone is. Venues for bands of modest reputation are drying up, and dedicating one’s time to music seems increasingly unwise in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
During a regular scouring of the internet for tidbits on Sadistik Exekution, I happened upon a recent interview with Kriss Hades, filmed in his home. It revealed that he does, in fact, live in a dungeon. And not just any dungeon: a putrid, poorly ventilated, cigarette-burnt dungeon, hidden somewhere in a dark corner of Newtown. It looks like a set piece from The Human Centipede. It’s hard to believe this depravity exists in the same city I live in, in an area well and truly gentrified, where six-digit salaries are a must if you hope to stick around.
From today’s vantage point, Sadistik Exekution’s single-minded determination to be extreme seems even more novel than it was in the 90s. Their goal was to be the ugliest, most debased band of all time. The four-piece had its beginnings in the mid-80s, but they didn’t release their first LP, The Magus, until 1991. In an interview with the website Metal As Fuck, vocalist Rokk claimed they had finished the record in 1988 but didn’t have the means to release it until later. “We are not from rich families like some other poofter fukking bands, we are Aussie battlers and on top of that we all have mental problems. Thus everything we ever do is fukked up.”
It’s hard to make this claim with any scientific veracity, but my gut tells me Sadistik Exekution were the heaviest band in the world back then. The Magus wasn’t received rapturously, but it resonated in Europe, where the members of pioneering black metal band Mayhem heard the cheaply recorded, technically-lacking, rote-satanic trebly mess and were smitten enough to create a whole new subgenre of metal. This lead Sadistik Exekution to be dubbed a black metal band and, so incensed by the descriptor, they scrawled a message on the master of their second, self-titled LP. It read: “we are death… fukk you,” referring to their preference to be known as a death metal band. The French label on the receiving end of this master, Osmose Productions, mistook this screed as the title of the album, and history was made. In 1994, We Are Death… Fukk You! was released unto the world.
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Much of Sadistik Exekution’s appeal lies in the way it provides a picture of Sydney that has long been buried. Most of the stories about debaucherous, envelope-pushing Sydney music are firmly trapped in the past—desperate reminders that at one point, this city functioned like a city. People were allowed to play as hard as they worked, in whatever manner they pleased. These days, heavy metal is considered a bit silly by most who would regard themselves smart. If self-designated “smart” people enjoy it, they often do so from a distance, not engaging with the fury and despair, but simply respecting it. Or, if not respecting it, finding the ferocity, the sincerity, ironically amusing.
Sadistik Exekution must have been a very amusing band. Bassist Dave Slave once appeared on Hey Hey’s Red Faces and smashed his bass guitar to shreds. Later he appeared as a gibbering alien in an advertisement for Real McCoy snack foods and, buoyed by this victory, pursued acting. In 2011, drummer Sloth turned up on an episode of Wife Swap Australia. Spend five minutes reading about Sadistik Exekution and you’ll be entertained, if not enchanted. They only wanted to be the most disturbing band. They wore their uneducated, maladjusted, willingly moronic world-view on their sleeves. Visit the regularly updated Sadistik Exekution Facebook page and you’ll be regaled with messages like “FUKKING KILL YOURSELF THIS XMAS – FUKK OFF AND DIE,” or the possibly deserving, “ROKK IS A FUKKING CUNT.”
It appears Sadistik Exekution hasn’t aged a day. While nasty language and hilarious dalliances with mainstream culture aren’t inherently virtuous (nor is their meatheaded, deliberate political incorrectness), it’s hard to fault their dedication to the aurally confrontational. YouTube has a few hilarious, poorly filmed interviews with members of the band, and they’re like a window to another world. It’s hard to imagine Sydney as a place Sadistik Exekution could inhabit. Sadistik Exekution wanted to be the best (or worst) of something. They wanted to be the fastest, ugliest, most disgusting metal band in the world. They influenced other, much more popular bands, to be more ugly and disgusting than they were. They wanted to be singular—and they were—but only for a brief period of time.
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Sydney is fast becoming an extraordinarily difficult city to live in. Petersham, the inner-west suburb Sadistik Exekution once shared a house in during the 90s, has changed dramatically. I paid $360 a month rent in a spacious three-bedroom terrace in 2005 in a household of four people. Today a tiny one-bedroom flat in the suburb costs around $1,800 a month. Petersham isn’t expensive, either—not by Sydney standards.
Yet Sydney’s underground music scene still flourishes in the inner-west—at least, that’s where the gigs are. Nothing about the inner-west seems accommodating to an underground scene: the streets are lined with million-dollar homes and Americana cafés, and the venues as a general rule need to put a stop to music before midnight—even in the industrial blocks of Marrickville. Sydney is a city where everything must be under control. There are rules for everything and they are carefully abided by. Pubs and clubs in Sydney’s King’s Cross are no longer permitted to let people through their doors after 1:30am, and it’s impossible to buy grog after 10pm. Revelers accustomed to partying in the eastern suburbs have migrated to the inner-west, especially Newtown, to dodge these new conditions, leading to threats that the same rules will be enforced in other suburbs. (An element of NIMBYism appears to be at play.) Sydney is a city wondering where to get a drink, where it’s virtually forbidden to dance through the night. Venues like the legendary Annandale Hotel, on loud, restless Parramatta Road, are besieged—and ultimately shut down by noise complaints. There is no chaos. Even the kebab stores reportedly have curfews.
Unless you’ve lived here for a long time or are well-connected, there are few breadcrumb trails leading to the current underground. Once you find it, you’re unlikely to discover something as arrogantly radical as Sadistik Exekution because, in keeping with general trends in underground music, no one really wants to be. The Sydney underground is only radical insofar as it exists, insofar as people dare continue to be a part of it, despite it being a dubious long-term life decision. Yet it comes as a surprise—in a city increasingly hostile to any activity not sponsored by a brand of some sort—that what remains wouldn’t want to kick back as forcefully as it can.
I adore a lot of Sydney’s current underground alumni: the dour post-punk of Orion, the eerie lyricism of Sex Tourists, the theatrical brightness of The Rangoons, the class anxiety of Low Life. People create the music they do for their own reasons, and those reasons don’t need to be explicated or justified to me. Sydney has become a machine geared to smite reprobates and anyone without a gym membership and inherited wealth, yet this reality has been met with little resistance. Certain parts of the underground are aesthetically at odds with this reality, but they don’t sound angry about it. Listening to Sadistik Exekution’s music today, only several blocks away from where they lived 20 years ago, it’s difficult to shrug away the feeling that this is what the city should sound like now. It should sound like a war. It should sound like something that wants to antagonize this condition.
Sadistik Exekution, with their barely accentuated bass lines and reverberated vocals, and the percussion so quick it sounds like a blizzard, sounds like a futile battle. Metal is a very masculine, assertive genre; it always has been. I don’t want a renaissance of flagrantly masculine music and I don’t think others do either. And yet Sadistik Exektution, despite their wholesale subscription to this uber-strength metal doctrine via unrelenting extremity, sounds utterly futile now, like a protest muffled. In 2016, We Are Death … Fukk You! sounds like despair.
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In December, the Greens MP for the seat of Newtown, Jenny Leong, started a Facebook group called Rental Horror Stories as a means to highlight how insufficient renters’ rights are in Sydney and across the nation. Within hours the page attracted dozens of posts an hour, many from tenants in Sydney’s inner-west. Most complained about how their homes were barely livable, about asbestos, about dangerous electrical wiring, about doors a thief could tap open with their pinky, about nosey, condescending landlords. A lot of people posting to Rental Horror Stories—well-adjusted looking people, with still-rampant pro-gay marriage rainbow profile pics and sensible sounding jobs—were living in what amounted to dungeons, sans the cigarette burns and steak knives stabbed into the carpet.
Anyone in ear’s reach of a chardonnay’d boomer knows that Sydney’s music scene was a force to be reckoned with in the 60s and 70s. The 80s and 90s were rich with strange pleasures, both famous and marginalized: the rave scene tapped into a global zeitgeist, while 1980s post-punk labels like M-Squared tapped into more local concerns. Now we have corporately branded music festivals with sniffer dogs and $10 beers (for which you need to collect a wristband), swollen with cheerful zeitgeist-aping bands booked via the same long-incumbent management companies. We have lockout laws, venues that must mute by midnight guarded by bouncers, and virus-like police patrolling unlicensed parties the city over. We come home to dilapidated shitholes, a bucket beneath the ceiling leak. It’s a crappy way to live. The city is not a city; it’s where wealthy people live and do business. That Sydney’s current underground exists at all is a miracle. Sydney is a city of crowded beaches and yuppie bars; anything else cowers in the shadows.
Yet any references to these conditions by functioning artists are purely interpretative. Nothing is explicitly angry, only forlorn or deliberately aloof. Sadistik Exekution sounds like a war waged on sensible people. Sadistik Exektution is frustration so pent up that, upon release, it just sounds like noise—and not the type you sit cross-legged in an art gallery to listen to. Nowadays we’re all living in dungeons, propping up ceilings with extended mop poles. Why doesn’t the city sound as ugly as Sadistik Exekution?
Maybe there is something about Sydney, now, that mutes extremity upon its birth. It’s possible that in 2016, Sydney’s musical counterculture is a spectre, relishing the memory of conditions where strange things can happen. But maybe there needs to be violence again—if only purely gestural, if only as a reflection. It doesn’t have to be the most heavy, but it should be the most something.