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Twelve Foot Ninja

Twelve Foot Ninja: Masterminds of their own creative universe

For over a decade, Twelve Foot Ninja have been the quiet achievers of the Australian metal scene.

Racking up extensive coverage on the coveted US rock radio circuit, selling out shows on both sides of the Atlantic, and scoring themselves a slot at Download Festival (the UK edition no less), the Melbournian genre-benders have accumulated a resume matched by only a smattering of home-grown contemporaries.

Of course, it takes something special to traverse continental boundaries in the heavy music world – and in the case of Twelve Foot, their newest attempt at this brief is Vengeance, their third full-length that includes a companion novel (Wyvern and the Wolf) and a graphic novel of the same name. Throw into that a collection of songs that promises their trademark metal fury with the hookiness of AC/DC and you have an album rollout that matches the epic concepts of the prog lords from the ’70s.  

“Jim Carrey talks about how he’s been playing a character of Jim Carrey his whole life. It’s the same with people in bands, we sort of wanted to think, ‘What world is that role part of?‘ and expand on it with other art,” says guitarist Steve Mackay regarding the absurd amount of content being rolled out by the group.

“The Twelve Foot concept started way back in ‘07, so there was always that plan to create story-driven content, but it was a matter of working out what medium to use to execute.. There have been multiple iterations of how to get it across, and finally we settled on this idea of the epic novel, with the music – two ways of telling the similar story of the Twelve Foot Ninja.”

It’s no surprise, given the scope of material being produced, that this was all part of the original plan when the band first began. As Mackay reveals, there was even talk of an animated series about the Twelve Foot Ninja at one point, with the ‘steam-punk meets samurai’ concept slipping into meetings in Hollywood.

“Early on I’d written with my wife this novella – six chapters of this tale with a story arc, key protagonists – we looked at doing an episodic animated series. I even went to LA and was talking to companies about getting it off the ground, but there wasn’t really a market for it, because this story is actually quite serious…despite the fact that we usually hang shit on everything!” 

Written by author Nicholas Snelling, companion edition Wyvern and the Wolf is the first novel in an installment of books known as The Tale of the Twelve Foot Ninja, marking a major expansion of what Mackay refers to as the creative universe that the band inhabits.

“The music has always existed in parallel with this wider story. It’s meant to have a ‘multiple branches of reality’ vibe. We’re people that play the music, but the songs themselves touch on different aspects of it.

“At the same time, this album was the first time that we created music that was more indicative of what’s going on in the real world at the moment. We branched out from the Twelve Foot story because now it’s more represented in the writing.”

While the conceptual side of Twelve Foot Ninja is stronger than ever, the music itself feels far more focused, with many of the quirks and oddities of their back catalogue reigned in somewhat to showcase a heavier, more impressionable sound.

“I don’t mean to cast aspersions on other bands, but a lot of heavy music is about how technical the riffs are, not the song itself,” says Mackay. “We wanted to avoid being clever for the sake of it, and be cool with doing some simple stuff, not feel a sense of if it’s not challenging, it’s bad.

“Technical as hell crazy shit…musicians might appreciate it. But we wanted to make that transition from the chin-stroking cognitive response to the more evocative immediate response…and the novelty wears off of trying to play really technical music!”

If taster singles ‘Start the Fire’ and ‘Long Way Home’ are anything to go by, Vengeance certainly promises to be a focused, excitable record – one that is no doubt tailor-made for big sing-a-longs in concert halls around the world.

“We’re gonna helicopter in a titanium Twelve Foot Ninja to every show, he’ll shoot fireworks out of his eyeballs. We’ve learnt how to levitate over lockdown, so we’ll bring that in too,” promises Mackay.

Given the creative ambition of Mackay and co. we’re not prepared to write those final comments off just yet.

Vengeance drops October 15th. It’ll be worth paying a visit to your local bookstore too.