There really is a point to be made about the power of metal; such is its force that it can reach the furthest, most isolated parts of the planet, even Australia’s dead centre. In that sense, metal is much more akin to gravity than it is to any other genre of music – it’s all around us, but chances are you never notice it until you need it (and by that time, you’re very glad it exists). The fact that metal would reach a place as isolated as Santa Teresa, in the heart of Australia, is a feat in and of itself, but what’s even more awe-inspiring is that it arrived unstepped on, remaining in its purest form. It wasn’t just through the lens AC/DC or Iron Maiden that the good people of Santa Teresa heard metal, but through a broad scope that allowed homegrown metalheads Southeast Desert Metal to intertwine their take on the genre with their identity.
And that’s perhaps the first takeaway from Desert Metal Dreaming, the recently released documentary on the band and their origin story which is now streaming on ABC iview following a successful debut at the Darwin International Film Festival earlier this year. While at the core of it, Southeast Desert Metal are the epitome of incredible metal talent –characterising their sound with big riffs, powerful vocals and songwriting that hooks into the delicate sensibilities buried deep within – it’s their stories that make them unlike anything else on Earth, stories that have been told for more than 60,000 years but heard by so few.
Desert Metal Dreaming takes us deep into the home and hearts of Southeast Desert Metal, introducing us to the band, including vocalist Chris Wallace, a softly spoken man of few words that land both powerfully and deliberately (quite a removal from his booming on-stage persona), and his Aunty Kathleen Wallace, whose influence as a traditional storyteller simply cannot be overstated.
It’s these stories passed down to the younger Wallace that have been filling bars, clubs, and festivals all over the world as the main tenets behind Southeast Desert Metal’s music. Stories of history, culture, and not just surviving but thriving, have since been immortalised in the band’s short but effective two-album back catalogue, featuring their 2015 self-titled debut and 2018’s Break The Silence. And while Southeast Desert Metal turned away from the common metal lyrical tropes of glorifying drugtaking and drinking in excess, these are nonetheless key parts of their story, given that the band was started as a way to deter Wallace and those around him away from the aforementioned vices.
Southeast Desert Metal is by design a beacon; of storytelling, of hope, of authentic, face-melting metal, and Desert Metal Dreaming does a thorough job at illuminating this. That is to say that Southeast Desert Metal represents more than just a band; instead acting as a body of work angled towards the custodianship of the history of those who came thousands of years before us. If we can’t listen to these important stories now, passed down with reverence but translated for a new generation through amp stacks the size of garden sheds, it won’t just be to the detriment of the Arrernte culture – it will be a loss for all of us.
Desert Metal Dreaming is streaming here on ABC iview.
Southeast Desert Metal will be performing at Blacken Open Air Festival 2021.
Blacken Open Air 2021
Friday, 30th July to Monday, 2nd August
N’Dhala Gorge, Northern Territory
Tickets: Blacken Open Air