A funeral is set to be held as self-proclaimed pioneers of death disco, Pagan, have announced the band has met its untimely end after seven years of touring the world. The band posted an “obituary” to their cult on social media stating that the four-piece “passed away peacefully in their home of Melbourne”, and informed fans that there will be one final ceremony for well wishers to go out and see the groove-laced band one last time.
With a handful of demos, an EP and a critically acclaimed full-length record under their belts, the Aussie quartet accumulated a mass following at a rather rapid pace, with fans being drawn to their mix of heavy riffs blended with disco beats and screeching vocals from Nikki Brumen, all of which proved they really were a unique beast with an exciting future ahead of them. It wasn’t just their recorded material that captured the imagination of their listeners, but also their live show, which was packed full of fun and showed a whole new generation that it is okay to dance at an alternative music show.
It is always sad to hear about a band calling it a day, especially when it seemed like the whole world was at their feet. Pagan ended 2019 having wowed audiences around the world and riding off a huge wave of fandom following the release of debut full-length Black Wash. It may feel like the quartet has come to a premature end, but with the musical talents of Brumen, Xavier Santilli, Dan Bonnici and Matt Morasco it would be no surprise if there are new projects coming off the back of Pagan, with Brumen already lending her distinct vocal style to a range of guest spots.
Even though the band may have come to an end, it is worth noting the impact they have made on the musical landscape in their short-term existence. Formed out of the Melbourne metalcore scene, right off the bat Pagan were a band that were hard to pigeonhole, combining influences from the likes of punk rock, disco, black metal and metalcore. After the release of their first single ‘Heavy Repeater’ the band had already made the ears of many listeners stand on end as it reached number one on Triple J’s punk/metal chart. The 2015 self-titled EP on which the track featured was a raw snapshot into what Pagan were all about.
With Santilli, Bonnici and Morasco having previously played in bands before, it was the introduction of Brumen that was the X-factor for the band’s sound. Her howling vocals walked a tightrope of screamo and black metal, giving Pagan a ferocious snarl which was prevalent in the tantalising fifteen minutes offered up on the four-track EP. Tracks like ‘Stanley’ and ‘Let The Blood Rush’ were in retrospect a little taster of what was to come from the band. Santilli displayed his innate ability to write an incredibly hooky guitar riff and Morasco’s unique drumming style introduced more of a groove to what has become a saturated market in the metalcore world.
Something else that Pagan may not get as much credit for as they deserve is introducing heaviness to a whole new audience. As Pagan began to gain notoriety, their fanbase grew, which meant younger generations were starting to pay attention to them. For all their insatiable rhythms and relentlessly lively songs there is emotion and aggression driving through this band’s material, and on the aforementioned ‘Let The Blood Rush’ the band showcase their first use of the furious drumming style of blastbeats, which is more akin to screamo and grindcore, but by putting it in this unusual blend of music, it was something fresh and blackened for listeners to digest.
It wasn’t just on the musical front where Pagan were pushing boundaries, though. When you think of their name, it conjures up images of satanic rituals, death and skulls. However, the four Aussie’s decided to flip this on its head and brought a brightness to their aesthetic, even performing with a beaming neon pink upside down cross on stage as Brumen danced like no one else was watching, fully embracing her role as vocalist and utilising the stage to act as a conductor and mesmerise her loyal subjects in the Pagan cult.
On record, though, it was the release of Black Wash in 2018 where the band really stamped their mark on the music scene. Opener ‘II Malocchio Si Apre’ murmurs like the start of a sermon before the guitars build with the rumbling snares as Brumen’s scream gets more prominent and aggressive, screaming the words “when you never ever escape” before the listener is transported into the body of the record with the irritatingly infectious riff that kickstarts ‘Death Before Disco’.
Also crucial is the song’s very timely subject matter, as Brumen sings about taking a gaslighting ex to task. It’s an increasingly talked-about issue in today’s day and age, and her words hit hard as a result. Pagan stated in a number of interviews that they wanted their music to empower fans to be themselves, and the band certainly lead by example by being unashamed oddballs in the best way possible. It’s no surprise Black Wash has become an anthem for the outcasts.
Whether it is the shredding riffs, vicious vocals, blasting drums or just the fun upbeat rhythms of songs like ‘Imitate Me’ there is certainly something for everyone in Pagan’s back catalogue. And that is the saddest thing about the departure of this incredible band – they were a band who crossed genres and ignored boundaries, bringing people together and creating their own cult.
Words and pics: Tim Birkbeck
“Alternative subcultures are a place for ‘outsiders’ to run to when they feel alienated from what has historically been defined as mainstream culture, and I can absolutely relate to the feeling of finding something that feels like yours and gives you a sense of belonging, and becoming defensive over it when someone comes in and tries to shake shit up a little. But what you then begin to create is, in essence, a new mainstream that ultimately just ends up alienating a whole new strain of people who become these new outsiders. I think that’s where the four of us have felt we exist for a very long time!” – Dan Bonnici