Pic: Don Benson Photography
Any conversation about the Western Australian heavy music scene will always include bands like Allegiance and Black Steel: both pioneers in their field and hugely popular around town and far beyond.
Dave Harrison played bass in both bands, and is reforming Black Steel for a very special headlining performance at Stormrider Festival, being held at Badlands Bar on April 7.
Black Steel released two albums and one EP between 1999 and 2006, as well as supporting the likes of Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Metallica and Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society. Harrison, who also runs successful online store, Heavy Metal Merchants, says that the classic Black Steel line-up – himself, guitarist Jaime Page, vocalist Matt Williams, drummer Damien Petrilli, rounded out with new boy, Silent Knight guitarist Stu McGill – have remained friends since the band went on hiatus, so a reunion was easy to organise.
“It’s pretty easy. I think the music part is probably the easiest part, it’s just getting everyone on the same page at the same time. That’s hard, you know?
“But it’s all happening,” he continues with obvious excitement. “It’s a bit of fun – it’s always been a fun band. There’s no stress or pressure, or anything like that. And the good thing I like with the band is there are a lot of really good players.”
Back in late 2016 there was talk via the band’s social media that there might be some new material forthcoming.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Harrison confirms. “Now everyone’s got their home studios and that makes it easier, so we’ll probably knock out some stuff. We’ve had a few offers to release something over in Europe, and we’ve got some stuff lying around, so we’ll look at that.
“Obviously, Jaime has her solo stuff, Dave is busy, he’s got his stuff, and Matt’s out there doing his gigs. So it’s just a matter of slotting it in.”
It’s an admirably relaxed attitude, but one wonders if Harrison has one eye on what ‘might’ happen, should word get out and Black Steel be offered some festival appearances in Europe or wherever.
“I guess it all comes down to finances,” he admits – and he’s certainly far from the first world-class West Australian musician to be forced to have practical concerns first and foremost.
“It’s all about the feasibility of things, you know? It’s a fun band and we do enjoy it, but grand aspirations? It’s always been like that with Australian bands, of course. The logistics, obviously, in Europe are fantastic: the start-up costs are low, you drive an hour and you’re in other city, there’s a massive, massive population base.
“With Australia we are all scattered out on the edges, so it’s always been a bit of a hurdle. But obviously there are a lot of bands now that have taken the plunge and gotten a lot more exposure. And of course it’s easier to connect now, with the internet – it’s flattened a lot of things as well, as far as people knowing about what we are doing.
“We were around just at the end of the MySpace days, that was the big thing. Now we have social media, home recording, YouTube stars – that whole generation of musicians and shredders on YouTube.
“So – it’s all good. It’s no pressure. We are just out there having a bit of fun. It should be pretty good, too. It’s interesting, as soon as we announced the show, one of our labels in Europe said, ‘hey, we’ll put an EP out’.”
Despite the tyranny of distance that being located in Perth engenders, Black Steel did make an impressive name for themselves in heavy metal circles around the world, especially in Europe, and remain a cult favourite of a lot of people.
“Yeah I think we still have some goodwill there, amongst the die-hard fans it would be popular. We’re not playing fashionable or trendy sort of music, our die-hard fans know what we do ‘cause they’re the audience for it. It’s a bit more of a timeless theme, I guess, rooted in an ‘80s traditional style.
“We would always like to be like the sort of bands we grew up with in the ‘80s – all nice, melodic guitar soloing and musicianship, catchy choruses, and song structure and having a bit of fun and positivity – that’s what it’s about.”
Harrison promises a set list for Stormrider that cherry picks from Black Steel’s entire career.
“Yeah – all the good stuff, the best bits of all of it – the crowd favourite ones that typically people like live. We’re all excited to do it the best way that we can.”
Was the Perth music scene supportive of Black Steel back in the day?
“We used to do okay with our shows. We used to try to have two or three or four bands on the bill. I guess when it comes to metal, Australia is more probably in alignment to the US. I know that from running heavymetalmerchant.com Australia is probably a bit more in alignment with the US market, whereas the European power metal, like Black Steel stuff is not quite as big here. You’ve got bands like Sabaton that were doing 6,000 people in Europe, but over in Australia they would be playing in a little club. That’s not how it would be in Europe.”
Both Allegiance and Black Steel were featured in the recent Metal Down Under documentary, which helped renew interest in both bands.
“Yeah it seems to have. Since you are on Facebook and social media, you see people putting up old things on YouTube – it’s crazy, especially for some of the younger people that weren’t there at the time.
“I think the interesting thing is, you will see these ones that want to see what it was like back in the day. It’s like, ‘oh wow 800 people, and you’d play with different bands and stuff’. I think that those kind of things like the Metal Down Under doco, and all these different social media pages, it’s created more of an awareness, I guess, of the history of the Perth metal and rock scene.”
Black Steel perform at the Stormrider Festival at Badlands Bar on Saturday, April 7, along with Silent Knight, Eyefear (Vic), Bastardizer (NSW), Requiem (Vic) and locals Cold Fate, Death Dependant, Legacy Of Supremacy and Sensimillia. Full details via www.facebook.com/events/1750047145037675/