Churches Of Steel @ UniBar, Adelaide 21/1/2023

Thousands of kilometres away from the glaring heat and dust of the European open air Metal festivals, Adelaide’s most vibrant subculture is spoilt for choice when it comes to live music with multiple annual Heavy music events on the calendar. Running for it’s sixth year, Churches of Steel has become an institution in the Heavy Metal scene, delivering upcoming local talent, International acts, and this year some legends of homegrown metal coming out of retirement for one epic party. With Almost Human headlining after ten years since their last gig along with Mat Mauer performing classic Aussie thrash Mortal Sin tracks backed by SA owned pub thrash tycoons Hidden Intent, it was an event that brought a multi-generational hoard of heavy music enthusiasts. Like a great big family gathering featuring some pretty rad entertainment in a big open outdoor area where the beer was plenty and chicken nuggets flying out the kitchen, for many of us Adelaide metalheads it was like coming home for 12 hours of celebrating what makes our little music scene so lively.

Kicking off the day were brand new thrasher pups Broken Loose, who have spent the past year making a name for themselves in the local gig circuit covering Metal classics that were written before they were born. It was the perfect start for a showcase of such a diverse stack of bands and an encouraging insight into how Metal is continuing to thrive in future generations. They cheekily asked the heavily denim clad audience if they like Megadeth before covering Peace Sells a bold move and one that definitely paid off. The professionalism and enthusiasm from these lads is impressive and for high school students, they exhibit more talent and drive than I could have ever hoped for at their age.

It’s not every day I see little kids running around (with ear protection) while a giant burly man screams gutterals into a mic, but Churches is no ordinary family friendly music festival. Whyalla legends Shattered Hourglass delivered their special blend of thrash, groove and grindcore to a relaxed and well sunned audience consisting of small children and grandparents alike. Fourteen-year-old (yes. 14) lead guitarist Raiden gave a performance that would make Steve Vai’s jaw drop while his Dad Craig smashed drums. Another group to keep an eye on in the local scene, Shattered Hourglass are a wholesome yet brutal outfit with a tight sound and banging original tracks including latest single THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. Following on were local favourites Skyhammer as more patrons rocked up and settled in for the day. They delivered a high energy set of power melodic metal while vocalist Steve Labardi took his performance down to the audience even taking a moment to hug his tiny adorable daughter. Did I mention this was a family affair?

Nakatomi Plaza were a surprise late addition to the line-up and for good reason- they bombed us with their sudden existence on Boxing Day during a regular Superjases (also Red Skull) gig. Yes, the notorious long running tight knit 3-piece cover band, whom all happen to be called Jason, are now a Heavy Metal originals band. Playing their second ever show, they nailed it which comes as no surprise considering they have been playing together for over ten years. Backed by a tight sound of melodic metal, thrash and heavy rock, Jason Sym Choon, a well-known powerhouse of rock vocal covers, sang some emotive tunes such as Awakening and Voices. Popping their festival cherry early in the game, Nakatomi Plaza have arrived and are ready to take on what is going to be an enormous year for them.

The mixed bag of fun continued with another hectic thrash metal outfit Firing Squad from Rural Victoria, who are no strangers to the brutality of a balls out Metal fest having finished out last year at Hellfest featuring the likes of Psycroptic and Skeletal Remains. Whiskey Harbour toned it down a notch for everyone to catch a breath with their impressive line-up of old school rockers including keys and an electric ukulele, laying down harmonious folky heavy rock tracks before local riff masters Emergency Rule brought it right back up again with their high energy stoner rock, sounding especially fuzzy in the afternoon sun. The crowd amplified for Queensland thrashers Odius and their very envious hair, who managed to prompt a spirited wall of death and improvised crowd surfing. Things then got a bit sexy with Catalano who were kind enough to stop here on their way to Brisbane’s Glamfest with good dose of Hair Metal, proving the genre never goes out of style if you do it well.

Just when I thought I couldn’t name enough metal subgenres in one review, local black metal outfit Diabolic Rites performed a tight brutal set, and one of my personal favourites of the day. With metal royalty Matt “Skitz” Sanders at the drums, they slapped out some delightful tunes such us Necroreich and Raw Black Satanic Attack and left everyone wondering if there was supposed to be a goat sacrifice. The highlight of my day however, was Darker Half hailing from Sydney, who blew me away with their theatrical and sophisticated set of power metal complete with symphonic backing tracks and plenty of prancing and high kicks.

Finally, the man of the hour Mat Mauer of Mortal Sin fame graced the stage to an enthusiastic crowd. Hidden Intent played an impressively precise set of Mortal sin tracks while Mauer teared up the stage with his distinguished vocals to classic tunes such as Women in Leather, Blood Death Hatred and Lebanon while the audience fervidly sang along. Having paved the way for local metal bands here and internationally, Mortal Sin are a prominent fixture in the Australian music landscape and bringing Mauer out to headline Churches of Steel was as poetic as it was successful. Finishing the set with bangers I am Immortal and Mayhemic the crowd were left elated and reminiscing about the good old days.

Finishing the night with a bang and an enormous hour-long set, Almost Human played for the first time in over a decade opening with Break These Walls and Full of Fight proving they still have the same stamina and passion as they did when they started playing local pubs in the 80s. Lead singer Damien Kelly could not get the smile off his face while he interacted to the audience who sang along with him. From baby metal heads with a long, exciting career ahead of them to well-seasoned pioneering pub rockers busting out of retirement with gusto, the day had come full circle. Almost Human went out with Karmakaze having loved every moment being back on the stage.

Exhibiting a massive range of Australian heavy music new and old, Churches of Steel celebrated another successful day this time making music history in the process. Another summer day, another summer festival done and dusted. If it wasn’t marked in your diary this year make sure it’s part of your itinerary for next year and be sure to bring the whole family.

Live Review By Bec Scheucher

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