The Australian metal scene over the last five to ten years has gone through an amazing growth spurt. The amount of young talent that has seen the light of day has really put our country on the Heavy Metal World Map. A number of Australian metal outfits have toured Europe, Asia and the USA and have secured distribution deals across all continents. I have been following the metal scene, both locally and abroad, for over thirty years and so I am not stating all of this lightly, or without some authority.
So where does the Melbourne based Elm Street, fit in to this picture? Well My first encounter with these guys was in support of Iced Earth in Sydney, on the Plagues of Babylon tour in 2011. This tour for Elm Street was on the back of a string of dates with Iced Earth in Europe, and at this time they were promoting their debut album, Barbed Wire Metal, released through the European label Massacre (2011). At this stage they were very young, a little green, but extremely hungry and very tight. I bought their debut album that night on the strength of their performance and was instantly a fan. Barbed Wire Metal is heavy, raw, but balanced with melody and a clear and unpretentious complexity. Lyrically it is straight forward, sincere and heavy metal escapism. It was such a well-balanced and solid debut. My next encounter was in support of Coroner, on their debut tour in 2014, and then the Kreator Death Angel co-headliner tour. By this stage, Elm Street had taken their performance, presence and proficiency to a new level. They exuded an air of confidence that was beyond their age, backed up by their collective abilities and tightness.
Elm Street’s latest album, Knock Em Out…With a Metal Fist, released last month has been receiving rave reviews; check out the wallofsound.org review . This second album was showcased in short by the Heart Racer ep released independently by the band last year featuring three tracks – ‘Heart Racer’, ‘Next in Line’ and ‘Will it Take a Lifetime’. To support Knock Em Out…With a Metal Fist the band are currently embarking on a national tour playing a number of dates Australia wide. I was Fortunate to catch up with Ben Batres (vocals/guitar) in Newcastle on Saturday the 9th July, before their headlining show, to ask a few questions and check out the gig.
Ben, how has the new album Knock Em Out…With a Metal Fist been received?
Really good actually, especially in Australia which is surprising for us. We haven’t had a proper release in Australia which is a little frustrating, it being easier to release an album overseas than in your own country. It is distributed through Massacre in Europe and Firestarter in Australia. The hard work and dedication has really stated to pay off and people are really listening and enjoying what they are hearing which is great. Hopefully we are starting to plant that seed and help us launch a career and keep on doing what we are doing currently.
How do you see the album, what does it mean to Elm Street five years after the release of your debut album?
It is more of a personal album. The first album is literally the first eight songs that we had ever written as musicians. We started this band around playing metal, an extension of the bands and scene we love. And so the next ten songs we have ever written is Knock ‘Em Out…With a Metal Fist. So for us it is a more mature album. We have had years now playing together and have travelled overseas as a band or a group of people. We have grown a lot and so more of the topics lyrically are about our life situations, things we have shared and things that we have supported each other through personally. The second album focusses more on us and it is a deeper album in what we have to say. And I think we will get that across in the music.
For me it is the song writing as everyone was on top of their game. My favourite guitarist is Aaron (Adie, Elm Street) as he inspires me to be better all the time. Tom has taken his drumming to the next level. The song writing blew us away and at the end we still pinch ourselves believing that it is what we created. Another thing would be the production because we worked again with Ermin Hamidovic and he has progressed his career and now working with other musicians internationally. For us to see him grow as a local producer and now work on international releases it is awesome. We are so proud of the sound of the album and it can stand up strongly against any metal release today so that means a lot as it needs to, to be competitive.
Was this album approached differently to Barbed Wire Metal?
I guess so we have matured as a team but at the same time we wanted to release something world class, as I said you can put this album near other international albums it stand up. So with the song writing we went in to the studio and wanted to write something that meant something to us and we are more mature about how we approach writing and create something that is world class. So I guess it was the same approach with a different and attitude and really understanding.
You have built a solid support base in Australia over quite a short period of time, what do you put this down to?
Hard work! For a lot of people it may be considered short but we have been playing since we were sixteen like ten years ago. We have built our show since then and we have played wherever we can and we didn’t care who it was in front of. Its just years and years of playing live and the main thing is we are still finding it exciting to play new venues and cities. If you want something to go far you have to push it hard and not to be put off by other things around you and we hare hoping that the new album will help us get to the next level we need to reach.
You have embarked on a number of overseas tours in the last few years, how have they been? Is there one that stands out for you?
It has been amazing and we started this because we wanted to play live and on as big stages as possible. So to play in Europe and the US was something that we have always wanted to do and dreamt about. I guess it was the Iced Earth tour in Europe though, as we are big fans and we were playing on a big stage and we learnt so much from them as a band, so yeah that was pretty special.
What is the game plan for Elm Street? Do you have a roadmap for the future or do you guys take things as they come?
We say yes to every opportunity, we don’t say no. But I guess to succeed in anything you need to have a long term goal and in an industry that is quickly changing and competitive you have to have that. With all of our albums we always look for the next step and now it is to get on the big festivals in Europe. Now we can present our new product to the new promoters and showcase us to a bigger audience. We want to gain other experience and have something to write about and move on to the next album. So yes we have goals and we take all opportunities that are presented before us.
Interview by Mark Snedden