The Judas Belt is smart, sour, and bruising Australian metal poised to break out to a worldwide audience
The problem the Australian music scene is having of late is that it's being severely misrepresented to the world; with Wolfmother, Jet, and the Vines -- perfectly respectable acts, but also unwilling to push the envelope in any way -- one could be forgiven for thinking that Oz-rock is stuck sucking inspiration from decades gone by. This retro style seems to have proven so popular overseas, in fact, that better, more experimental bands like Karnivool, the Dissociatives, and the Butterfly Effect are largely being ignored. Luckily, however, Australian metal is rightfully starting to gain a foothold in markets abroad, spearheaded by Parkway Drive, Tourettes, and the recently split I Killed the Prom Queen.
Heifer are another contender to add to the growing list. Self-penning their sound as "shavings of metal" (and "high energy"), the band hail from Sydney, and their debut album The Judas Belt, coming off the back of several locally-released EPs, is ten tracks of raw, bludgeoning musique comprised of a very much do-it-yourself attitude. The unit pay tribute in full to prominent modern influences -- Slipknot, Tool, and Helmet, primarily – but add a crunch visibly their own, playing menacing, raw-as-hell riffs only slightly undermined by the bone-dry production... the drums tend to click and rattle thinly instead of crash per se. Giving voice to their madness is the versatile Rob Smith, who pulls out a snarl snotty enough to match the enraged immediacy of by-the-numbers hard rock with ease, yet at the same time chill it with a bitter aftertaste.
To show you they're serious, The Judas Belt starts with a screech and a tight building opening minute into its title track, an ode to a firecracker going off, and doesn't let up from there. It's loud, distorted music played through a very small amp, as evidenced by "Burning Time", where waves of feedback course through the speakers into a throttling mosh groove, or the hypnotic vocal effect of "Drowning in Lies" while licks spiral out underneath, or the lockstep half-thrash of "I Just Wanna Kill You", charmingly written from the viewpoint of a dog gone wild: "Whenever I feel down / Whenever I feel blue / I just remind myself / How much I wanna kill you!" Smith whispers, so disdainfully that the track's steely drum rolls don't even matter.
"Take It All" mixes it up with subdued, almost reflective, Alice in Chains harmonies, while the slamming "Sick of Your Shit" is in possession of a tricky time signature incorporated smartly into its growling, no-frills riff, which progresses like a rollercoaster into a staccato breakdown, and then a closing segment in which it doesn't so much fade out as get choked for breath and suffocated. The re-emerging crowd chant of "Sick! Sick! Sick of your shit! Sick of you!", comes off the most authentic profanity-laden hook of the year. "Sit on the Fence" attacks censorship, right on cue, and with genuine anger to boot. The song is a direct stab at false values in their home country, sung in alternately exasperated and angry measures by Rob Smith.
Let's sing about love
Let's dance around the office
Let's talk about TV reality,
Don't mention the war
Or the blood for oil
Don't sing about the flag
Oh it's ok, it's not ours anyway
And then there's the sing-songy chorus which evens both sides out...
So you just sit on the fence
I think the fence is breaking.
There are parts of The Judas Belt which are probably lacking a little in production, and there's no doubt the lyrics are sometimes weaker than they could be, but that just makes Heifer seem all the more like a band straight out of the garage with a statement they need to make. The album comes with a complimentary DVD that's as grassroots as the CD itself. This is an all-too-formidable beginning for the quintet and gives Aussie rock back its good name and, well, a point. It's just waiting to punch a hole in your skull, so when you listen to it, try it loud.