Heart of Steel: Concert Review

Metal For The Brain

Canberra, Australia / Dec. 2003

Review & photos by Brat

The only annual metal festival in Australia, Metal for the Brain (MFTB), was not borne from capitalism, nor a sense of metal community spirit, but from human compassion. In 1990 the first Metal for the Brain took place. It was a benefit to raise money for a metal-brother beaten so badly outside a Canberra night club, he was left with severe brain damage and totally reliant on his mother's full-time care as compensation was not nearly enough to meet his ongoing costs.

After the disappointing cancellation of last year's festival due to bureaucratic bullshit (this is the only way to describe it), MFTB 2003 promised to be the biggest and best metal festival Australia has ever had.

As I drove the 2.5 hours from Sydney to our nation's capital I was amazed at the idiocy of many motorists who insist on using headlights on open free/highways in broad daylight. I mean really, if you can't see a huge hunk of metal barreling towards you already, I can't see headlights helping. But enough about the idiosyncrasies of Australians.

Moving the festival from its usual October schedule to December, maximising on the end of the school year, coupled with a strong metal line-up made this year the biggest yet. When I bought my ticket three days before the event, over 1100 tickets had already been sold. 1600 was the last estimate I heard at the festival.

Let me set the scene for you. MFTB 2003 was held at the University of Canberra Refectory (big hall). The two main stages stood side by side as you would find at most festivals-Kerrang stage and Triple J stage. A third Utopia Records stage, originally to be an outdoor stage, was moved indoors when initial forecasts read 34°C (94F) with late thunderstorms. Previous years this smaller stage was inaccessible to under 18s as it was on licensed premises, but as promised the stage was open to all ages thanks to the organisers doing some extra work to abide with licensing laws.

The gods of metal smiled upon us and produced a day of soft, constant rain and 23°C (73F).

Metalheads taking a breather and sheltering from the rain


First band on my list was INFERNAL METHOD. At one time this band was considered melodic death metal, but the departure of Andrew Lilley (ex PSI.KORE) removed the melodic component to their music giving a more brutal sound to their tried and true set. Singer, Joss Separovic kept the early audience interested with this energenic stage presence of either headbanging or bending back in a way that would make any limbo dancer proud.



D-NINE is band I knew nothing about before I ventured down to the Utopia stage to take some photos of bands I didn't particularly have an interest in, but thought Metal-rulers would appreciate. What I found, was an awesome 7-piece death metal act (yes, you read correctly-awesome and death metal being used in one sentence by me). With 2 singers, the force was so great I was sorry to tear myself away from this captivating performance, but with bands crossing over, it was time to move on.



DaysendOne of my favourite bands of the day was DAYSEND on the Triple J stage. A band very hard to describe and often accused of being nu-metal (NOT!) they draw comparisons to bands like SOILWORK and "KILLSWITCH ENGAGE (but with a better guitarist)". The quality mix of thrash and melodic death elements with Simon's clean and thrash singing has earned this band supports for THE HAUNTED and STRAPPING YOUNG LAD.

The strength of DAYSEND's music is evident in their ability to fill the Refectory so early in the day. All veterans of the Australian metal scene, no one member dominates this line-up visually or musically. Even the drummer, Wayne, gets his share of limelight at the back of the stage as his powerful beats threaten to break the skins of his kit.




DAYSEND were followed by SAKKUTH on the Kerrang stage who half filled the room with loyal followers, while the rest stood back to take in the metal abuse of this aggressive thrash metal band. At times the sound was so brutal not even my industrial-strength earplugs seemed to alleviate the hurt.


There's one thing to be said about DARK ORDER - they know how to get the crowd vibed up. Never without controversy, Raul (aka Lord Alvarez) worked up the crowd with his views on nu-metal and other topical issues throughout their set. The crowd gave back to the thrash metallers as they performed favourites like War Has Begun. New drummer, Michael McCartney, proved his worth by keeping up with the trashing rhythms of Raul and Zoran proving wrong those ignorant peers who accused him of mediocrity. Noticeably absent was the DARK ORDER call (the one resembling a moose in heat) throughout the set.


For the first time in MFTB history (that I can remember) Stoner rock/metal/whatever-you-want-to-call-it was represented. I know few metal-rulers are into this genre, but so impressive was FORTE, I had to include them in my review. Sure, most stoner music is associated with drab, dull, bottom-ended slow to mid-tempo droll, but this far-northern NSW band (the land of green) had enough energy and charisma to keep the metal audience that wasn't willing the brave the rain entertained. I even noticed some turn right around when they heard the first few bars and give the band a chance. Skychaser, one of the faster, more melodic numbers really impressed me, especially when one of the guitarists fingered these sounds almost like a fast DOORS-inspired Hammond organ arpeggio (at least that's what it sounded like to me). Unfortunately, I was side stage during this song and didn't see which member should have received the credit (sorry). Special mention to Deon, whose drumming was far more powerful than any stoner drummer I remember as he threw the weight of this body behind every double-handed beat. Singer, Andy, with his Chris Cornell-type looks in no way conserved his energy on stage making FORTE an interesting band to watch and listen to.


The one bad thing about moving the Utopia stage indoors was the stage was smaller than what, I believe, the outdoor stage would have been. As GOSPEL OF THE HORNS ripped through their old school thrash classics, the crowd sandwiched itself against the stage. Hair dominated the air as the day's peak period of headbanging took place. When the LA scene was dominating Australia in the early 1990s, GOSPEL OF THE HORNS made a name for themselves and quickly gained recognition in Europe. Nothing I write about their music could do this band justice so I refer you to their official website. I can, however, tell you they finished the set with Gospel of the Horns.


ASTRIAAL - pure awesome black metal and because pictures tell a thousand words, enough said.


The lack of heads pointed toward CONTRIVE on the Utopia stage didn't dampen the spirits of this Sepultura-inspired band. The Melbourne 3 piece has toured solidly since hitting the scene in 2001 earning the band a support slot on the last Sepultura tour. Consistently tight, CONTRIVE proves you don't need 4+ people to give a metal band a big sound. The more CONTRIVE played, the bigger their audience grew. Singer, Paul, thanked the audience for supporting the cause and told them to give themselves a round of applause.


One of the things I love about our metal scene is the support bands give each other. It is especially surprising when you see a member of another band, front-rowing.

I spy with my little eye, the singer of DAYSEND in the front row


DUNGEON almost made me pee my pants! So eager were last year's final band on one of the main stages to play, they came on 5 minutes early depriving me of my extremely-needed toilet break. This was the unofficial first anniversary (2 years officially) for guitarist Stu, who played his first DUNGEON show at MFTB 2001 (2002 was cancelled). To celebrate the occasion DUNGEON performed a new song written by him, The Art of War. I've watched this band for many years and each year, the MFTB 'Dungeon' chants grow louder and louder.


There's just something about Canberra doom band POD PEOPLE that gives me the impression they're taking the piss. Still, this band had a large and loyal crowd headbanging through their set. It was at this time, metal heads began to show signs of exhaustion.


The cherry on the MFTB 2003 sundae was definitely the return of DESTRÖYER 666 to their home soil. The crowd got restless waiting for them to get on stage greeting them with chants of 'Destroyer' as they ripped into the first song of their set, Predator.

I don't remember liking DESTRÖYER 666 each of the few times I've seen them live, but this time they captured my attention. They've either improved 500% or my tastes are much broader now - probably the latter.


ATOMISER was the unfortunate band to draw the short straw and play on the Utopia stage against DESTRÖYER 666, but not everyone was interested in DESTRÖYER 666, it seemed. With new guitarist Rick Withoos (ex-EARTH), ATOMISER didn't let the thin audience affect their performance. Described as a hybrid death-black and thrash band, ATOMISER have carved themselves into Australian metal history since their inception in 1998.


Introducing 3 new songs into their set VANISHING POINT, one of Australia's most under-exposed bands in its home country, ripped through their set of prog/power-inspired metal in front a loyal and surprisingly large audience starving to see this band. As promised the new songs were faster and heavier than their older material. The first new song gave me Sonata Arctica impressions but with the distinct smooth sultry vocals strengths of Silvio. One of the other new songs was much more bombastic, almost swaying towards symphonic metal and a few interesting keyboard samples not previously heard in metal - the work of new keyboardist, Leonard.

As VANISHING POINT began a rearranged introduction to Never Walk Away, a group of people from other bands quickly collected side-stage to watch in amazement the almost inhuman drumming abilities of Jack. It was unfortunate that after 1.5 years since their last performance, we were teased with only 7 songs.


As I prepared for ALCHEMIST to come on, BLOOD DUSTER were finishing their last song on the Kerrang stage. The crowd was being pushed over the rails as the singer launched himself 3-deep into the audience over a 5 ft pit only to be hurled back into his domain by security and tossed back on stage, where he had difficulty remaining on his feet for the end of the song.

Metalheads on their last legs


If there was a book of metal martyrs, ALCHEMIST would be the first Australian band to be written in. As the organisers of MFTB, this band spent all day working, making sure things went to plan, distributing refreshments to bands who had just finished playing, liaising with security and caterers, etc., etc., etc., only to play a tight set of songs from all their albums in the toughest spot of the night - the closing band of the Triple J stage.


The last bands of the night for me wound me down nicely. Playing their gothic with doom overtones music, VIRGIN BLACK were like a mellow version of CRADLE OF FILTH without the screeching. The vocals mainly sung by keyboardist, Rowan, moved from operatic, to clean, to mellow chant-like chords, keeping listeners interested as did the hypnotic guitar ministrations of one of MFTB's few female musicians.


As I move away from the Utopia stage, fathers of Australian metal and old-school thrashers, HOBBS ANGEL OF DEATH, were preparing to close the festival.

Hobbs Angel Of Death prepare backstage to ice the MFTB cake.


Twelve hours and 16 bands later, I was exhausted. I passed on attending the after show party and went back to the motel, removed my war paint, changed into a tent-sized Nightwish tshirt and kicked back with the DARK ORDER camp and nice Belgium beer.

Brat and Lord Alvarez displaying 2 generations of metal-rules t-shirts.


Australia has always been accused of having a weak metal scene, but when you take into consideration that Australia's landmass is equivalent to 98% of USA mainland, but only has a population of 20 million, you can maybe understand how difficult it is for us to get together for such events. The organisational success of MFTB 2003 coupled with the effort of Aussie bands and metalheads traveling from as far as Brisbane, make me proud to an Aussie headbanger.

Most of the bands I have covered here are bands that wouldn't normally be in my listening spectrum, therefore, the details of the performances are thin and I apologise for that. For the complete line-up visit www.metalforthebrain.com which includes links to official band sites where you can obtain detailed information about each band.

All my photos of MFTB 2003 can eventually be seen at www.geocities.com/avantasiavixen Please be patient-I have over 250 photos to upload.