The Last Metal Show at the Arthouse - 26 April, 2011 (Melbourne, AU)

The iconic house of metal and punk in Melbourne, the Arthouse closed its doors at the end of April. We headed along to the historic last ever metal show featuring Embodied, Alarum, Earth and many more.

The closure of the Arthouse in Melbourne to metalheads is like the closure of CGBG’s in New York to punk fans. There was nothing that wasn’t quirky about it. The stage sat crookedly to the rest of the venue – there was a pillar stuck straight in the middle of the band room next to the cramped bar; surreal  paintings adorned the walls before they receded into grubby graffiti and stickers posted there by fans that frequented the hall over the past twenty years. But it was to be no more. Once April was over, it would be gone forever. They were literally going to pave punk and metal paradise to put up apartments and a parking lot.

So at 3pm – early enough for one of the Arty’s famed matinee shows, metalheads of all persuasions filed into the Arthouse. “Bloody hell, I hope that free BBQ is on,” one headbanger exclaimed. “I’m bloody hungry.” Most of them were taking the closure with a mixture of reverent nostalgia and somber thoughts – where would they go for gigs now in the city? Sure, there were plenty more venues dotted around the surrounds of Melbourne but what was more iconic than the Arty?

So as sun streamed through the cracks in the black curtains, Embodied took the stage. Playing like Morbid Angel possessed by the spirit of Entombed, they put on a cracking performance that had a few punters rushing down from the BBQ to see their set. Performances for the most part were tight and measured and guitar wizardry that had the hallmarks of Death was on point. Their set ended before the sun even did and as the beer flowed, the stories did too.

The room heated up for the martially inspired In Malice’s Wake as they perched themselves on the stage wearing battle jackets, big riffs and booze. They played furiously and relentlessly, scarcely taking a breather between songs. Thrashing through in the vein of the old Bay Area (not Port Philip – San Francisco) they grinded into the twilight and inspired a reflection of all the great bands that had gone before: Fuck, I’m Dead! and Wolves in the Throne Room - alas tinctured with the sadness of the Arty’s passing. Surprisingly, the Arty’s rig sounded as clear and as bright as ever; ironically finally “getting it right” after so many complaints from fans and bands alike about their system. Eye of the Enemy put on an energetic show too, albeit a bit more staid compared to their predecessors.

Earth looked a bit crowded on stage with a keyboard player crammed into the corner but played admirably despite the space limitations. Their prog metal sound was more attuned to the moroseness coming out of the US than the pomp of the EU or UK sound which the crowd more than lapped up. The bassist looked like a young Marty Friedman – long dark curls from the top that tinted lighter as they approached the ground. At the end of their set, their wearied drummer was heartfelt in his appreciation of all the Arty’s done for the metal scene: “Thanks Arthouse, you fuckin’ rule!” In between the set the Arty’s photographer arrived to take “mugshots” as a farewell.

Alarum were one of the few bands that were around when the Arthouse opened in 1991 – and of course their fond memories were recanted between songs. I like to call Alarum “Cynical” prog – a mesh of the European prog flavor with death metal and jazz fusion. Though not to the rivetheads’ fancy, they still pulled a decent following leaving some in awe of their skills.

Dreadnaught finished off the night, and as their 90s style death/thrash wore on into the unseasonably wintry March, it was becoming starkly apparent that once the last note was played out, we’d be the last witnesses to heavy metal played at the Arthouse. I, for one will mourn its passing. Like almost every metalhead in Melbourne, it’s where I was introduced to live music and where so many metal bands found their legs; Psycroptic, Berserkerfox and the aforementioned Alarum to name just a few. Will something take its place? Inevitably. But will it be as good as the Arthouse? No fucking way.
Pictured: Earth Photo Credit: Sam Hope