First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry was already jam-packed when I arrived mid-opening set for Alien Weaponry’s sold out show. The Entry isn’t large, with full capacity of 190 according to the Fire Marshall. Compared to other sold out shows, this felt extra-sold out tonight. That’s how it should be for what Revolver Magazine describes as “one of the most exciting young metal bands in the world right now.” When they say “young”, they mean they are all still in their teens and the youngest band ever signed to the Napalm Record label. When they say “in the world”, they are including Waipu, New Zealand, which is on the other side of the world , some 9,000 miles away from Minneapolis.
The opening band resides a bit closer to the Entry as it was the veteran Minneapolis metal band Blackbird Bridge. Their mission is to connect people that appreciate loud, aggressive, heavy original music. Mission accomplished, as they plugged in their metal machine and kept it churning for their full set and had the crowd pulsing. They call their fan base Flocknation, and many were there supporting their band. Their flock should be growing, with many just discovering that a quality metal band resides here in the Twin Cities. Bearded singer and bassist Blake Hurlbert was dressed for success in a black suit and tie, but had to be sweltering on stage with his shaved head and face shiny with sweat. He used staccato vocals on “Black Door” and some occasional growls and screams on others. But their music is about cycling the repetitive grooves and riffs that is the lifeblood of heavy metal music. Leading that charge was guitarist Mike Bahauddin, who also provided vocals on some songs. Drummer Troy Thomas was also an integral part of the performance getting a workout in behind the kit. They concluded their show with “Crooked Finger”, another song I recognized. Minneapolis metal fans, make sure to watch for upcoming performances by Blackbird Bridge.
Drummer Henry de Jong’s forceful haka announced the beginning of Alien Weaponry’s performance at the sold out Entry. What is haka you ask? The haka is a ceremonial dance or challenge performed in the Maori culture before battle or to recognize important moments. The band ‘s sees many similarities in their music to the brutal, angry tenor of haka in describing stories of great courage or loss, so this the perfect way to start the show, like warriors before battle.
The 19-year-old elder member of the band was sporting a new look with a shorter haircut and beard. He was soon joined by the two 17-year-olds the make up the rest of AW for opening song “PC Bro”. Younger brother Lewis emerged shirtless but wearing a large necklace and guitar. Tall, long-haired bass player Ethan Trembath was the largest guy on stage and joined in the haka. He joined the band after meeting Lewis at circus school when they were both only ten years old. Story has it he was the only one of their friends with arms long enough to reach the frets at the end of the bass so was asked to join. But Henry, Lewis, and Ethan have now grown into young men during their European and North American tours. Having played the famous European metal festivals, Wacken Open Air and Bloodstock Open Air, they have made themselves known to the metal community.
Before moving on to the show, here are some answers to other questions you might have about the band. How did they get their name? From the movie District 9 which involved lots of alien weaponry that the boys thought was cool. What is the language they use in many of their songs and why? Many of their songs use the Te Reo Maori language that is the native language of New Zealand. The de Jong brothers are of Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Raukawa tribal decent. They attended a full immersion Maori language school where they learned even more stories of New Zealand history. Having stopped using Maori much after leaving the school, they began incorporating it into their music after seeing another band use it in a band contest. It has been a way for them to get back to speaking the language and also show pride in their native heritage. With recent census figures showing only 21 per cent of Maori speak their own language, they hope their music can encourage young New Zealanders to discover the language and keep it alive. That’s a real concern, as according to the United Nations, nearly half of the six thousand world-wide languages are on the brink of disappearing. Final question, what does the title of their album Tu mean? It’s an abbreviation for Tumatauenga, who is the Maori god of war. Their tour uses this full name and you will hear it often in their lyrics as they like to write songs about legendary wars and battles learned in stories told to them by their father.
The band also like to write about other things that are personal to them such as in that opener “PC Bro”, which is one of their older songs. It was a great opener, bringing instant head banging to the crowd and soon after some moshing. The band says the mosh pit always appears at their shows. In the tight quarters of the Entry, if you were on the main floor you were part of it, whether you liked it or not. Fans sang along to the repeating ending chorus, “Your life is a lie, …”.
Their second song, “Holding My Breath”, was about anxiety and Lewis’ personal experience when it kept him from leaving his room. You may recognize it for their video which shows a nude woman on the ground illustrating this mental state. It starts with some heavy guitar riffs then faster verse followed with the slower chorus that later transitioned into, “Opening my eyes worse than death. Why I keep holding my breath.” Next, Lewis told the crowd before their third song, “This song is about my anger problems.” It was “Rage – It Takes Over Again”. Henry’s heavy drumming was instrumental in this song and key throughout the set.
“Te Ara” was the first song tonight referencing their heritage, and fitting as the term translates to “pathway” but Te Ara also is the title of an internet encyclopedia established in 2001 by the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The song begins with some recorded Maori dialogue that translates largely into an instrumental song with a very catchy primary riff which repeats, strengthens, and builds. Lewis played much of the song at the front edge of the stage for fans to watch close and personal. Vocals were only the Maori chanting at the very end.
Lewis said they would play some old shit next and dedicated “Hypocrite” to a former teacher. Not the song most teachers would aspire to have dedicated to them from a topical standpoint but perhaps could be proud of such a powerful rocker was written about him. The de Jong boys learned to love this genre of music at an early age, listening with their father to the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, and Pantera. They also list Lamb of God, System of a Down, and Rage Against the Machine as some of their favorites. You hear these influences in their sound and they make sure to keep their music not only rhythmic but also melodic. It’s great that Lewis actually sings, yells, and chants rather than just growls like some other indistinguishable bands.
“Urutaa” was next and it translates to “plague or outbreak”. The song is about an incident in the early 1800’s when a European Captain’s pocket watch was dropped into the Whangaroa Harbor and locals blamed the cursed object for causing an epidemic that followed. The band has said it’s also about the misunderstandings that continue to plague us today. If you jumped on the bandwagon during the early The Zego Sessions EP days, you may know this as the first song released for Tu. Some of the song is in English and some in Maori along with the distinctive riff and “Urutaa, Urutaa!” With the infusion of culture and metal the band hopes closet New Zealand metal fans will feel comfortable to openly enjoy this style of music perhaps frowned upon by their culture in the past.
“Nobody Here” and “The Things That You Know” are two of my favorite Alien Weaponry songs and the band played these back-to-back. “Nobody Here” is about Facebook and their design to addict people to their screen time. It finished with the crowd singing along “Everyone’s watching, but there’s nobody here.” “The Things That You Know” slower rhythm induces swaying and again singing with the band to the all-English lyrics of this one, especially after it seems to conclude and then the band continued playing.
Next the young frontman told us, “We have some new shit for you. It’s so new it hasn’t been released yet.” The song is called “Blinded”. It included a super-heavy bass line by Ethan and was the loudest song played yet. Lewis and Ethan teamed to sing some parts together. If this is any sign of new music to come from the trio, it should be great. While “Blinded” was brand spanking new, “Ahi Ka” was also very new, having been just release in early May on the Adult Swim compilation, Metal Swim 2. This song tells the story of the Auckland city council electing to burn down a Maori village ahead of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II and the decades long battle to reclaim the land.
“Are you ready for some heavy shit?” asked Lewis leading into “Kai Tangata” which is about war parties being dedicated to Tumatauenga, the god of war. This may be the video you know best by Alien Weaponry with its depiction of a tribal battle. Following this, Lewis told us, “Minnesota, you are awesome! Can we get a picture with you? Horns up!” Following selfie time, “Whispers” began with a long recorded British interview about colonization and how New Zealand’s stone age benefited from the innovations introduced to it. This song includes some sweeter, higher singing but has these stinging lyrics, “The government’s words/Are like whispers in our ears/Telling us lies/ To hide away our fears.” After the song, Lewis said some common New Zealand phrase and received a response from just one person in the crowd, thus identifying just one New Zealander in the house, who Lewis asked applause for.
The song “Raupatu” describes yet another awful event in New Zealand history. This time it’s about an 1863 law that empowered the government to take several million acres of land away from the Maori people. Fans new this song well and boisterously sang along to the closing chorus. “Thank you for making this amazing and selling out the place. Would you like one more song?” asked Lewis. “This one is about our great-great-great grandfather whose name was Te Ahoaho.” They played “Ru Ana Te Whenua”, which translates to “The Trembling Earth” and tells the story of how their ancestor lost his life as the Maori warriors fought to defend their fort from a large British army.
“Minnesota, you’ve been amazing. We’ll be back out in ten minutes to meet you.” Many stayed after to get items signed, meet the band, and take photos with them. That’s always a special treat for music fans and likely won’t be possible as Alien Weaponry continues to grow their world-wide following. I enjoyed my crash course in New Zealand and Maori history and my thrash course in Alien Weaponry’s red-hot NZ metal.
PC Bro/ Holding My Breath / Rage – It Takes Over Again / Te Ara / Hypocrite / Urutaa / Nobody Here / The Things That You Know / Blinded / Ahi Ka / Kai Tangata / Whispers / Raupatu / Ru Ana Te Whenua.