Teen thrashers Alien Weaponry talk indigenous persecution, politics in metal and the heavy music scene down under.
Hop onto any metal forum in 2018 and you’re sure to find dozens (if not more) of comments bemoaning the apparently odious transition of metal into “something political”. Such posters lament the days when metal was only about apolitical niceties, and not confronting abuses of power perpetrated by those in charge. Such posters clearly know nothing about heavy metal. Metal has always been political, with bands across subgenres using their music to convey dissent and social commentary going back to metal’s formation.
Which brings us to Alien Weaponry. If you haven’t encountered this New Zealand thrash metal trio yet, it’s about time you do. Their debut album Tū is a well-developed, complex piece of work that is sure to appeal to thrash and groove listeners everywhere. Breaking from the tired thrash mould of “beer, partying, and keg stands”, Alien Weaponry incorporate their own Māori heritage – frontman Lewis de Jong (15) and his brother, Henry (17) on drums, are of Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Raukawa descent – into their work, with lyrics sung in Te Reo Māori (the language of the Māori people) and songs concerning New Zealand’s colonial abuses of power against the Māori. For indigenous people, burying your head in the sand and hoping for an apolitical existence is simply not an option. Indigenous metal artists take lived experiences of dispossession, oppression, and liberation, and configure them to the music that could convey these experiences well – for Alien Weaponry, that means using the music they love to create awareness of New Zealand’s dark history.
Your music combines traditional Māori language with thrash metal. Like many indigenous peoples, the Māori have experienced oppression, land seizure and dispossession from language and culture, which you discuss in your song ‘Raupatu’. Is it your hope that your music will start conversations about centring indigenous people, both in metal communities and elsewhere?
Henry De Jong: Yes, we definitely put our more political material out there as a way to spark conversations about topics that might not be considered appropriate without the context of music to bring it up. Even though the New Zealand government has paid millions of dollars in compensation to Māori iwi (tribes) whose land was confiscated or taken illegally, that whole period in history – the reasons why the confiscations were wrong, why the compensation is justified, and why money can never truly compensate for the losses – is still not taught about in schools. So as long as it’s still hidden, there is a reason to sing about it. We also hope to gain the interest of people who may be completely unaware of New Zealand’s dark history and inspire people to learn more and inform themselves on it.
People often claim that politics have no place in metal. Since your music centres on the Māori experience and their history with colonialism, it’s probably safe to say that you disavow that notion?
I really don’t understand how anyone could come to that conclusion. There are and have been so many amazing bands who have a large majority of their songs focused on politics and social commentary – Lamb of God, Anthrax, Metallica, Pantera, SOAD and Rage Against The Machine just to name a few. So yeah, I think metal is just about the best genre to make your opinion and stance on social issues and politics heard. All without having to censor or skew things to please your fans or media.
Your music highlights injustices against the Māori people at the hands of the government. Are there any movements or specific grassroots organizations you think your listeners should also be paying attention to?
In New Zealand recently, a petition signed by 68,000 people [now over 71,000] was presented to parliament to strip Sir Bob Jones (a high profile New Zealand businessman) of his knighthood because he wrote a newspaper column suggesting we should have a “Māori Gratitude Day – a public holiday where Māori bring us breakfast in bed or weed our gardens, wash and polish our cars and so on, out of gratitude for existing.” He later claimed it was ‘satire’.
Choose Clean Water NZ is putting pressure on local and national governments to take urgent action on our rivers, lakes and streams, many of which are becoming so polluted they are not safe for swimming or fishing in. This is mainly as a result of farming and industry, for which permits have been given despite the protests of local iwi and other conservation groups.
Overseas, I think the Black Lives Matter protest is highlighting an important issue that needs addressing urgently. The way the Dakota Oil Pipeline was literally bulldozed through is a disgrace.
Your lyrics are sung in both Te Reo Māori and English. What is your songwriting process like?
It’s pretty random, but normally the instrumental part comes out of a jam. Sometimes we’ll already have lyrics or a theme in mind when we write the song; other times we write them later. But the instrumental parts always come first.
What is New Zealand’s metal scene like? Have any local bands inspired your work, and what has been the reaction to your music from New Zealand metalheads?
The band that inspired us to start writing in Te Reo Māori was Strangely Arousing. They won a competition called Smokefree Pacifica Beats with a song they wrote that was half in Te Reo Māori (which was one of the rules of the competition). Even though they are a ska band, we gigged with them a few times and really liked how that song sounded, so we decided to try writing a metal song in Te Reo Māori and entering the same competition, which we ended up winning too.
As far as the New Zealand metal scene goes, every genre is represented, and we often play gigs with each other as there aren’t a huge number of any one genre. We have done gigs with thrash, doom, metalcore, black metal, death metal, melodic and prog/rock bands. We all try to support each other. The other person in the New Zealand metal scene who has been a big influence on us is Paul Martin. He runs a radio show called The Axe Attack that has been going since before we were born, and he is also the bass player for a New Zealand band called Devilskin, who he invited us to open for a few times when we were 12 and 14. He has played our music on his show, and he has always been a great supporter and takes the time to talk and give us all sorts of good advice whenever we see him.
After the release of the new album, what’s next on the horizon? Could a world tour be in the future?
Yes, that’s part of the plan. We currently have shows booked in Australia and Europe, we’re even looking at going over to the USA for some shows as we’ve had an absolutely amazing response from there, people seem to really be loving what we are doing.
Tū is out now on Napalm Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tuyaa Montgomery (@heckhammer)