There's an audible sense of agony that courses through every second of Purge, the long-awaited third tank of mosh fuel from Melbourne’s premiere pit lords, High Tension. LP number three sees the quartet shed their former skin and burst from the restraints of a simple punk band – notches of death metal, classic thrash and new wave hardcore dance freely over ten dynamic cuts, the whole record seeped in a stark and unforgiving technicality.
“I’ve always wanted the band to be super brutal,” frontwoman Karina Utomo says. “It wasn’t like we went, ‘Oh, we’re going to be a metal band now.’ I feel like this was the path we were always going to explore.”
With that came the catalyst for Utomo upping the ante on her vocal talents. “In the past, I think what’s made it difficult to have High Tension be a brutal band is the fact that I actually have to sing brutally,” she laughs. “A really advantageous thing is that it’s been ten years since my last band, which I would’ve considered to be my first step into the skramz world, and I really needed that time to be able to work on my vocals.”
Utomo’s more callous vocals aren’t the only thing that separates the High Tension of today from the one we last heard on 2015’s Bully. Shortly after that album’s release, the band was shaken up by the impromptu departures of drummer Damian Coward and axeman Ash Pegram. Though their combined melodic spark is sorely missed, the new iteration of High Tension – with Lauren Hammel and Mike Deslandes stepping into Coward and Pegram’s respective shoes – is unquestionably tighter, more concentrated and, of course, merciless.
“Mike has always been in brutally heavy bands, like Coerce and YLVA, so he totally understood that world,” Utomo says. “It’s the same situation for Matt, and even with Hammel – she plays the drums with so much passion, it’s intense. I just feel really lucky that we’re all on the same page. There’s a lot more determination in the choices we’re making in terms of our sound. It’s been an organic process, getting to where we are now, but we also put a lot more consideration into it all. This is the sound of High Tension, no doubt.”
It’s important to note that Purge isn’t just a heavier album due to the sum of its thrash-happy parts. Utomo stresses that every element of High Tension’s soul-crushing narrative comes from the heart and the heart alone, with storytelling an unwanted contraband in the fold of their fury.
“With the kind of music we’re making, if it’s not an authentic feeling of rage that we’re experiencing, it just doesn’t feel right,” she says, pointing to the live set as a realm she wanted to attack harder than ever. “I’ve actually done a lot of work lately in terms of strengthening up my voice – I’ve been doing vocal warmups and I’ve even started personal training, just so I can play these songs with a stronger core and really bring that rage to life. Because a huge part of this band is the very real emotions that I’m feeling, and if I was just trying to produce that because the music called for it, I wouldn’t be doing myself any justice.”
Much of the rage tapped into on Purge comes from Utomo’s own family culture, and her scarred relationship with Indonesian history – namely, the anti-communist purge of 1965 and ’66, during which hundreds of thousands were murdered under the orders of General Suharto, shortly before his reign over the country began. The attack has carried a trauma that still perturbs the Indonesian society of 2018, and as such, Utomo uses Purge as an outlet to wax indignant on the impacts of colonialism and oppression.
“One thing I struggled with in writing this album was accessing that genuine rage and sadness,” Utomo admits. “But when I reflect on that particular era and how it’s impacted present day Indonesia, and what I witnessed and experienced growing up – seeing my city go up in flames in 1998 – it just hits me like a bus. And that’s all intrinsic to Indonesia’s history, and I feel like it’s an unresolved chapter of that. There are present day implications with victims of the anti-communist purge, even though it happened in the ‘60s. So without being too explicit as to why it’s such a personal narrative, having High Tension as a medium to write, research and sing about these things that I otherwise couldn’t bring myself to talk about has been really important.”
Purge is out now via Cooking Vinyl.