HIGH TENSION

High Tension

High Tension vocalist Karina Utomo thinks for a second, then carefully and quietly assesses the band’s third album, Purge.

“This,” she offers, “is the centre of my repressed rage.”

Purge is, not surprisingly, a fierce piece of work, the sound of frustration, fear, disgust, horror, hatred and – yes – rage, spewed up and moulded into the Melbourne quartet’s most extreme statement yet. While tradition would suggest heavy acts only lose their intensity with each record, the opposite is true of High Tension. “This was always the direction we were heading into.” Says Utomo.

The High Tension of 2018, however, is a different beast to the one that released those records thanks to the presence of guitarist and songwriter Mike Deslandes and drummer Lauren Hammel, who both joined after the release of Bully of 2015. (Co-founding bassist Matt Weston completes the line-up). In that regard, Utomo views Purge as a resetting of the High Tension blueprint.

“It was inevitable that we were going to produce a record unlike our previous work; with Lauren and Mike joining the band, our natural response was to reshape our sound.”

It’s a bold move for a band that has started to make waves above the underground. After forming in Melbourne in 2012, High Tension’s debut album, the following year’s Death Beat, was nominated for both AIR and ARIA Awards for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal album, while its follow-up, 2015’s Bully, received widespread critical acclaim including The Age Music Victoria Award for Best Heavy Album and saw the group hit the road in support of acts such as Refused, Laneway Festival national tour and Splendour In The Grass. 

While acknowledging that some of her lyrics touch on themes concerning the impacts of colonialism and oppression, Utomo’s main focus on the record is the anti-communist purge in Indonesia in 1965 and 1966 – during which hundreds of thousands of members of the communist party were slaughtered by the military and Muslim groups under the orders of General Suharto just prior to his seizing power of the country – and the intergenerational trauma that still permeates Indonesian society. “In the past I’ve touched on that theme, but on this album it’s referenced more tirelessly”.

“The reason why I keep writing and referencing this era is because it’s still unresolved, it’s something that’s still in suspense, and there’s still more work to be done,” she adds.

Utomo had to walk a fine line while using the survivors’ stories in her lyrics, ever conscious that “there are still present day implications” for those involved.

With Deslandes engineering and producing the album – bassist Matt Weston directs all the band’s videos, reinforcing the outfit’s DIY ethic – the quartet were able to take their time in the studio. Tracked at Melbourne’s Sing Sing South in May 2017, Utomo worked on vocals with Deslandes over the following months at The Aviary in Abbotsford.

The final product sounds as tormented as the subject matter. While the rapid-fire tempo of the verses in “Ular” is a throwback to each member’s punk roots, the calamitous din of its chorus represents the sound of High Tension now: a black-death-extreme metal hybrid. If there is any respite on the album it comes in the shape of “Surrender”, an atmospheric, ghostly slow burn in which Utomo’s throat shredding vocals are replaced by something far more ethereal.

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RELEASES

PURGE

PURGE (2018)

(COOKING VINYL AUSTRALIA)

DEATH BET

TOOTH & NAIL (2013)

(COOKING VINYL AUSTRALIA)

Bully

BULLY (2015)

(COOKING VINYL AUSTRALIA)