Rohan Buntine is one very busy man. He co-hosts the radio show ‘Heavy Decibels’ and plays in a two-piece metal band called Battlegrave. We had a chat and got some background on the band and the current state of Australian Metal.
Hey Rohan! Can you tell us about your radio show ‘Heavy Decibels’ on 88.3 Southern FM?
Absolutely! The Heavy Decibels Radio Show is a 2 hour weekly radio show from 8 -10pm Thursday nights on the community station 88.3 Southern FM, based in the bay side Melbourne suburb of Brighton.
The show focuses on all forms of Heavy Music from Grunge and Garage Rock right through to the most extreme sub-genres like Black Metal, Death Metal and Grind and covering everything in between. My partner in crime/co-host Frank Descalco has been steering the Heavy Decibels ship for the best part of 10 years now and I joined him on the show as a permanent guest host in February of 2018. After that we really hit it off when I myself was a guest when my Thrash project ‘Battlegrave’ launched its debut EP in mid-2017.
The special thing about our show is that we focus on an Aussie heavy artist every week which we call our ‘feature artist’. We play 3 tracks off our feature artist’s latest release and give their music, their socials, their upcoming shows and where people can buy their music and merch a real pump. We want to do everything we can on the show to try and assist the incredible talent we have emerging in our country and being another avenue into people’s ears. We have just this year had bands like Requiem, Espionage, Depravity, As I Destruct, The Elk Collective, Primitive and many more as feature artists and this is the part of the show I enjoy most – exposing and supporting our local talent!
I also really enjoy doing the show because Frank is a huge Rock, 80s Heavy Metal and Prog Rock fan and I am a big Thrash, Death and Black Metal guy, so we bounce off each other really well and provide different insights into our own preferred sides of metal, whilst always trying to keep the show light hearted and even a little stupid. Plus, live radio is a stack of fun and a great way to escape reality once a week and just spin great tunes.
Seeing as you listen to a lot metal for the show, what do you think about the current state of the Australian metal scene?
As I touched on in the last question, I think the state of the heavy music scene in Australia currently is astounding. I honestly believe that it is the healthiest I have ever seen it in the 20 odd years that I have been following it and attending shows.
I was a little country town metal kid that caught the train to Melbourne for a really golden period of Australian metal in the late 90’s and early 2000’s to see bands like Abramelin, Frankenbok, Devolved, Hobbs Angel of Death, Gospel of the Horns, Blood Duster a young Psycroptic etc. that I discovered on ‘The 3 Hours of Power’ & ‘Full Metal Racket’ radio shows with Costa and later Andrew Haug, that was an amazing time for Australian metal. But I truly don’t remember a time ever being as good as it is right now!
The sheer amount of bands there are to see on any given weekend now blows me away. We are talking about absolute world class talent as well in every single sub-genre of our great metal tree. We aren’t making up the numbers in Australia, we are regularly contributing some of the best heavy albums of the year globally, every year!
Just last year Melbourne’s own Harlott released ‘Extinction’ on the Metal Blade label and I have seen various articles from publications all over the world that named it in their top 10 albums of the year and one even gave it the coveted number 1 spot! Another example is the late 2017 release by Blackhelm from Melbourne\Geelong who released their ‘Grand Ruinous II’ EP and that immediately went into my list of top ever Australian releases. They have an album still to come in 2018 and I am licking my lips at the thought of how huge that album is going to be!
Some people like to scoff at the ability of bands to quickly write and release music now due to the power of the programs available, questioning their actual talent etc. but I take the totally opposite opinion on this. If it is helping more kids to write and release amazing music, then how can it be a bad thing?! Bring it on, I say!
If you want any further proof of the strength of the scene currently, I’d recommend going and talking to an engineer in Melbourne or any of the major cities around the country. Go and see Chris Themelco at Monolith Studios, talk to Roman Koester at Complex Studios, message Mike Trubetskov at EOL Studios or drop in and see Joel Taylor at The Black Lodge, I’d just about bet they’d all agree with me. We are in a golden age right now and it’s only just beginning!
Not only do you play great tracks on the radio, you also play in a great band! Can you tell us about Battlegrave? What your position in the band is, when it began etc.
Thanks so much for the positive feedback on the band!
Battlegrave is pretty well the result of two lifelong metalheads and great friends putting our minds together to create an aggressive Thrash sound to honour our favourite bands and albums, like Demolition Hammer, Morbid Saint, Slayer, Sepultura, Sodom, Vader, Behemoth and some modern bands like Power Trip and Nails. We just wanted it to be fast and aggressive, but still maintain a huge element of metal groove which has been lost a little in recent times.
I had never done anything musically before, but Clint was a well-established bass player that had been in successful bands like Picture The End and Death Audio before having a few years out of the scene and music in general to focus on his career and having a family. We were always close mates and I knew he had been jamming a lot on guitar etc. and he was getting back into the old harder edged Thrash stuff and had started writing a few riffs. Eventually in late 2016 Clint asked me if I’d like to do vocals on a new project with him and I literally laughed in his face! I had never even tried to do vocals, but he was dead set that I was so passionate about metal and understood what made a good song well enough to be able to do it. So with that I started practicing in the car 6 days a week for 7 months until I found a vocal tone and developed my chords to the point I could actually form a vicious vocal, but still be able to annunciate with some clarity, and the rest went from there.
Originally it was only ever supposed to be one song which was ‘Mortar Fire’, but we got some great feedback from that demo track and it sort of inspired us to keep writing until we had a handful of tracks written which ended up becoming the ‘To Hell With War’ EP from 2017. That EP had a full war focus, particularly from an Australian view point and delved into topics like the rich and powerful that control soldiers like puppets in needless wars based on greed, the difficult issue of PTSD in returned soldiers and how we don’t do enough to support them and the story of the Anzacs who we owe everything to as a nation.
The EP featured just Clint (all strings) and I (vocals and lyrics) with a guest solo from Clint’s friend Dave Hateley and a drum machine performance (and some great song arrangement help) from our dear friend and ex Red Shore and Samsara drummer Tim Shearman.
It was well received and well-reviewed so we fairly quickly decided to write a full length album which releases in late November this year (2018) titled ‘Relics of a Dead Earth’. We have poured our hearts and souls into this album and have enlisted the services of the freak drummer Kevin Talley (Suffocation, Dying Fetus, Chimaira, Hate Eternal amongst others) to play drums on the album and he has done a phenomenal job. Now we just cannot wait to release it!
The first single from the album entitled ‘Betray Your Beliefs’ is live now on our YouTube channel and can be accessed through our Facebook page!
Can you tell us about the recording process of your upcoming release? And maybe highlight some of the gear you used?
We had done 6 odd months of pre-production and writing with our friend Tim Shearman at his little home studio before we went into the studio to record the album. The demo riffs were all pieced together between September of 2017 and February of 2018 and sent over to Kevin in the US where he wrote (except for two tracks which were written on a drum machine by Tim and recorded in studio by Kevin) and recorded the drum tracks and sent them back to us one at a time. That was super handy knowing that whatever we got back from him was a finished product. The drums were done and it was a huge thing to not have to worry about in studio for us. As we’d get those drum tracks back with the demo guitars I would then take those songs and listen to them in the car for a day or two until I had developed clear patterns in my head of where I wanted vocals. Then I’d sit in a little café near my house with books spread out across tables on various themes from Witches and fairy tales, to video game mythology, movies and even some made up stories and concepts in my head and write the lyrics to fit to the patterns that I had envisioned. Once that was done we virtually had full songs and it was time to book into the studio to record it all.
We recorded ‘Relics of a Dead Earth’ with Roman Koester at Complex Studios between April and June of this year (2018). I was really sick with a cold at the time and was panicked about the vocal duties and drinking chamomile tea nonstop for 2 full days as Clint absolutely smashed through the guitars and bass. That was plenty enough time to panic myself half to death while Roman continued to remind me that I sucked anyway and if I just kept doing bad takes, he could mix them all into a single good one. Haha! It was really fun and a very relaxing environment to be honest. Not to mention Roman is super easy to work with as an engineer and considers all ideas and never gets flustered.
It was excellent to have Jake Weber and Andrew Hudson of Harlott in the studio as well for a day. Jake is a total machine and played leads on 5 songs on the album, all of which he wrote with two weeks’ notice after arriving home from Harlott’s month long European tour and Andrew did vocals on a track which brought it a whole new level of grit that only he can deliver. It is also those two and Clint with me doing the group chants on one of the tracks on the album. It was really cool to watch two professionals of their caliber work in a studio environment and we both learned a lot from having them there.
In terms of gear, we recorded the album with an ESP Guitar through a MESA triple rectifier head and a MESA oversized straight and then into Protools. I also used an Shure SM7B Mic for the vocals. If none of that makes sense, blame Roman. That’s what he told me because I don’t speak engineer and I cut a stack of his ramblings out, Haha!
We decided not to go for a sonically massive and modern metal sound on the album. Roman embraced and nailed the brief which was a new style for him and was to capture a fairly stripped back, abrasive, distorted, raw & aggressive style of production. This was a very purposeful move and we hope people will embrace it! It goes straight for the throat and makes the listening experience a super vicious one that embraces a treble driven hostile sound.
What’s next for you on Heavy Decibels and in Battlegrave?
No bloody idea on either front! Haha.
Heavy Decibels is a great fun weekly release and I will probably keep doing the show until they take my door key off me and refuse to let me back. It is just awesome to have that as a release from the pressures of life each week. If you are going to be stuck with a weekly commitment, a weekly metal radio show certainly isn’t a bad one to have!
In terms of the band, who knows from here. Our full focus was writing the best album we could and trying to get it in as many ears as possible. Once it releases in late November I guess we’ll have a little break and reflect on all the work that has gone into its creation and then we’ll chat about where it goes next. Do we figure out whether we have the time to look to put together a live line up and rehearse the songs? Maybe. But currently we are incredibly busy people already outside of the band and if that were to happen, it would be a little way off.
It is also an expensive business as a 2 piece band getting an album recorded, mixed, mastered, music videos made, CD’s printed, merchandise created, streaming platform services paid for, press kits made etc. It just never seems to stop burning a hole in your pocket. So we need a little time to rebuild our banks again as well! Lucky we do it for the love of it and not for the money, hey! Haha.
Clint is a machine though, he’s already back in a studio laying his new riffs down every week so that he doesn’t forget them. So I guess as long as he keeps writing and laying down material, the likelihood is strong that we will be producing more music down the line at some stage.