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Heavy metal has an obsession with the darkest aspects of history. There are endless songs that reference subjects like Nazis and The Holocaust, often reeking of exploitation and provocation without considering the horrific impacts. But Melbourne band High Tension reckon with atrocity on their cathartic and perfect third album Purge.
Purge focuses on the 1965-1966 Indonesian Anti-Communist Purge. Prior to General Suharto seizing power for three decades, he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of communist party members. Its effects are still felt today, where there still isn’t accountability or acknowledgement; so much so that Indonesian-born vocalist Karina Utomo never learned of it until her early 20s.
Utomo’s voice has always been raw, and on Purge she expresses real pain and anguish. On opening track Red White Shame (the colours of the Indonesian flag) she shrieks with rage atop guitarist Matt Deslandes’ textures. To paraphrase Utomo, her voice is like she has “Gargled shards of burning glass”, but her lyrics point to a deeper moral conflict. “If I met you in hell/ Would I join in?” she asks a nameless perpetrator as she describes grisly acts of torture being inflicted upon him, unsure if they deserve same suffering as their victims but certain they don’t deserve forgiveness. The split is heard in the dual vocals, an overpowering howl with a gentle coo floating beneath. One thing is for certain across Purge: Utomo is angry.
One thing is for certain across Purge: Karina Utomo is angry.
Utomo’s anger is matched perfectly by her bandmates’ raging storms of extreme metal. Ghost To Ghost has Utomo demonically howling “We are the voice of the ghosts” as the rhythm stampedes like the marching of the vengeful dead, sounding much more muscular than prior albums. Along with guitar, Deslandes produced and engineered, making Lauren Hammel’s drums sound like a destruction site, and Matt Weston’s bass growl. His versatility also extends to his guitar work, making riffs coil through the hardcore Ular and coating the bilious Veil in black metal textures.
Over the violent musical eruptions, Utomo’s lyrics are poetic and vividly describe horrors. In The Stench she describes soldiers as “Armoured, they shine like cockroaches”, implying they’re filth and disease-ridden to commit these crimes. She also tells of the remains of the dead, some being “Burned, boiled to the bone, merged with the Earth” (Ghost To Ghost) or left in the “Bloody river, bodies in shallow depths” (Ular). But amongst all the destruction comes Surrender, a restrained and pensive moment on the album. As a bass throbs and guitar flickers, Utomo sings in a soothing voice, imploring survivors to “Hold on” for hope will come.
Throughout Purge, Utomo calls for her fellow Indonesians to resist the imposed silence and speak up about the past atrocities. This culminates in the epic riffing of closing track Rise. It opens with the most optimistic lyrics of the album, describing people having their “Conscience, Pried Open” and becoming aware of the “Shames of the past”. Utomo is joined by Deslandes on the towering chorus, the two vocalists sounding powerful together. The purge is still taboo in Indonesia today, but Purge delves deep into that shame and concludes as an endlessly listenable testament to hope.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Rise, Veil, Surrender
STICK THIS NEXT TO: Refused, Fugazi, Converge