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Album Reviews : Dead Kelly – Sons of the Southern Cross

By on March 20, 2014

Australia, I think we need to have a talk. Just what is this obsession you seem to have with glorifying your worst possible traits? Granted, this is a nation of laconic and easy-going values, as well as, historically speaking, a distinct origin, all the while possessing a patriotic and fierce, if not rebellious, spirit. Yes, these are things to take pride in, but I draw the line at narcissistic jingoism. This where Dead Kelly comes in: a band with nothing more pressing on their mind than the exaltation of Australian peculiarity.

Dead Kelly exploded onto the music scene almost out of nowhere, instantly gained a following and seemingly disappeared just as quickly. Their immediate popularity really comes as no surprise (to me, at least) when you consider not what they play but more what they symbolize. Australia is naught if not a nation of symbols after all. All one needs to do in order to understand where this band is coming from is look at their website. I will forego expounding up on the content of the aforementioned site here, as I am unsure as to whether I would be able to abscond with such level of gratuitous profanity; let’s just say that it is all you really need to know about the band here.

Sons of The Southern Cross is, without putting too fine a point on it, a very Australian album. To elaborate, it is a work of crass and soaring contradictions that certainly has appeal, possesses questionable depth, and has intriguing character. I realize I am not doing too good a job trying to sum this album, and this band, up; but this I attribute to my lack of getting it. As I mentioned before, Australia has engendered certain values in its people; where we characterize ourselves as a hard working people, capable of great agency and industry, yet willing to play it off as no big deal; there is a sense of humour that Australians have about themselves that undermines that sensibility but allows the work to speak for itself. It is with that in mind that Dead Kelly’s album cannot be called “Good” in a common sense.

Metal is the kind of music that is capable of sustaining both the ridiculous and the divine; it is also, like Australia, able to make fun of its self whilst keeping a serious mean. There are bands that can sing about dragons and unicorns completely straight-faced and still find the humour in something as mundane as driving a car. Metal lends itself well to a multitude of ideas, and the execution of these ideas can be amazing, given the right intent. Again speaking historically, Australia began as penal colony for Imperial Britain, to whit the dregs of that society had to band together against their nearly omnipresent yet conspicuously absent jailers, the harsh and punishing environment and, more often than not, one another. It is a concept that couples well the aggression and effrontery that is Heavy Metal’s trademark; yes, they go well together, but it presents to problem of too much of a good thing. If I might indulge in a bit of simile, it is like a bag of Jaffas; Chocolate and Orange go together undeniably well, but whilst you start out completely enjoying yourself you find that, after finishing your bag of Jaffas, that you feel quite sick. That is what this album is like.

Musically Sons of The Southern Cross is incredibly impressive. Relentless and crushing rhythms, intricate melodies and some brilliant song structure, all flawlessly produced and executed. On that merit alone you can have my recommendation, but the problem (for me, at least) is that it cannot seem to separate itself from the terse values and subject matter. I suppose you could argue that this kind of cohesion is a positive, as it shows commitment to their ideals; and I would agree if only they followed through on those values.

Taking the title track into consideration, there are intermittent bouts of slang thrown in over the top of the music; it is purely referential and not with the intent of parody, and it only serves to make me question the point of having used it at all. Parody can be funny, but when all you are doing is just bringing individual facets of a culture to attention I don’t think you are quite ready to attempt humour. The only reason I can think of for this to exist is for yet another ‘Straya, c**t meme, and do we really need a band to become the embodiment of such a thing?

Blind, antagonistic and arrogant nationalism aside, the biggest problem I have with the album is the complete and total deadpan severity of their delivery. By all appearances the songs take themselves far too seriously, which just feels like a giant misstep considering the subject matter and the incredible proficiency on display by the band. I mean, how can you create a song entitled Red Torana and actually try to add some pathos to it?

The album, as a whole, seems to be the very quintessence of Ochre Australian culture in the sense that it proudly denounces any kind of significance. The work is not profound, or bears any inherent worth, in the slightest; yet it tries to add a higher level of denotation and consequence, and all but falls short. If this album were a person, it is exactly the kind of person who wears a wife beater, has a Southern Cross tattoo, none of their own original teeth and flagrantly denounces anything that tries to imply meaning, as if meaning makes something less meaningful. (If you take my meaning)

Which is a real shame, since there is a lot going on here musically, and it is treated with irreverence, almost disdain. I get that you can’t expect much in the way of seriousness with song titles the likes of Yeah, Nah It’s all Good, but it is almost like there is a complete denial of flippancy. I realize I am going in circles here, but the contrary nature of the work is too much to overlook. From the first song What Bushrangers are Doing Now, where it seems all but a protest against imperial oppression, to The Diggers where it glorifies war, despite the fact Australia has never really served in a war of self-interest but under the order of England, seems completely jarring and confounding. I will be blunt here, but I would swear that this album was trying to insult the intelligence of the listener. Proclaiming brotherhood in battle is one thing, but under the rule of the people you had only, just recently denounced? It makes me wonder if the band knows anything about the history of the country they are singing about. Guys, we won the Eureka Rebellion, Australia is no longer under the martial authority of Britain and Ned Kelly was a murderous thief, not the Bogan Robin Hood you would like to pretend he is.

I found this album a laborious task to listen to. On musical merits alone there is some real sparks of brilliance, but it is let down by overall theme and presentation. If there was even a hint of irony or humour to the works then I might have found myself more partial to it, but it is nothing more than angry, semi-impotent bleating and admiration for a component of culture that, by its own nature, doesn’t take itself too seriously to begin with. It is like getting Josh Rogan to play General Custer in a serious dramatic reenactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Band: Dead Kelly
Album: Sons of the Southern Cross
Year: 2014
Genre: Groove metal
Label: Unsigned
Origin: Yandina, QLD
www.deadkelly.net (go there to download this album for free!)

Track listing:
1. What Bushrangers Are Doing Now
2. Sons of the Southern Cross
3. New World Slaughter
4. The Diggers
5. The King Is Dead
6. Red Torana
7. 4561
8. Bindies
9. Yeah Nah, It’s All Good
10. In The Shame of God
11. Dead Kelly Anthem (We Are Australian)

About

Hailing from parts unknown (actually, it’s Melbourne), Tristan is a freelance writer and lover of metal, with a special place in his heart for Power and Folk metal. After playing in a number of local Melbourne metal bands, and completing his Bachelor of Arts, Tristan focuses his attention to the pursuit of writing, practicing the Liechtenauer School of swordsmanship, dabbling in Cosplay and reciting Babylon 5 quotes; in addition to hunting for a publisher for his novel. Until then, he enjoys metal, writing about metal and convincing people around his office that he is immortal and has lived for 3,000 years. (So far only the chick in HR is buying it)