Elm Street – Metal Is Always the WayTuesday, 14th November 2023
Photo: Peter Coulson
First becoming aware of this Australian band through an opening slot appearance on a Skull Fist North American tour back in 2015, Elm Street are back again for their third full-length album with The Great Tribulation. Purveyors of a classic heavy metal sound with elements of power and thrash in play, the quartet pull from influences all across the global spectrum to create material that can be epic and musicianship-oriented one moment, then straight-ahead, focused, and anthem leaning the next. We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Ben Batres to bring us up to date on some early childhood memories in music discovering Metallica and Iron Maiden – the formation of Elm Street, the work behind the new record, single/video selections, what moving to the UK did for the band’s career in his twenties, thoughts on the Australian/global metal scene, North American tour memories, and hopes for the future when it comes to touring.
Dead Rhetoric: Take us back to your earliest memories surrounding music in childhood. At what point did you start discovering/loving heavier forms of music – and eventually pick up an instrument/singing to perform in your own bands?
Ben Batres: The earliest memory was walking into a CD shop – back when you could only get CD’s as there was no streaming – there was a stand-up little box, tapes everywhere that were for sale at $9.99. I was a kid, in grade six, and I picked out these two tapes that were taped together. It was Garage Inc. from Metallica – and I’d never heard of Metallica before. I told my mother I really wanted that one, she suggested some other albums, and on the way home we put the first tape in. It was crazy, and my mom was wondering if this was the right purchase for her child. My first introduction to heavy music. Since then, I fell in love with it. I got Reload next, and then my best friend Aaron (Adie) who is the lead guitarist for Elm Street, I showed him that tape and we grew up on loving that classic heavy metal music.
We sort of started tape and CD trading; we were in high school. Aaron and I met the drummer Tomislav (Perkovic) in high school, when we transitioned into that. We were in class one day, and we talked about Metallica. He had Cunning Stunts on VHS; we didn’t know what it was – he let us borrow that. He gave me another VHS tape of Iron Maiden – Rock in Rio. He brought a CD compilation of songs over my house – Manowar, Hammerfall, a lot of power metal bands. Stratovarius, and other European power metal that was underground. We decided then to form a band and call ourselves Heavy Metal Warriors. None of us knew how to play an instrument. Aaron’s dad was a guitar teacher, so I started learning guitar with his dad. I decided from there to also sing, and that’s how we went on. The first song we ever performed was “For Whom the Bell Tolls” from Metallica at a school festival that we signed up for.
Dead Rhetoric: The Great Tribulation is the third and latest Elm Street studio album. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this set of material – and were there any specific reasons for the seven-year gap between full-length records, outside of the pandemic?
Batres: The writing process was great. It was tough, because during the pandemic we were separated. We are in Melbourne, Australia – and we were the longest city in the world that was the most locked down. We couldn’t go into a studio, we couldn’t visit each other at home, we couldn’t go outside of a five-kilometer radius for quite a few months. Which was tough when we needed to reconnect with our families, but the good thing is we got to share music in other ways. Sending each other links, refining things – we were really ready to record the album in 2020. Between 2020-2022, we were in and out of studios. We didn’t know how long things would be shut down, so we would get in for a day, but couldn’t get into studios sometimes for six months. We have always been perfectionists with each of our releases. There’s a long gap between Barbed Wire Metal our debut and the second album Knock ‘Em Out…with a Metal Fist from 2016. That’s because we take pride in everything that we release. We want it to almost be perfect. At that point in time, the best thing we can release out to the world.
There were a lot of demos, and it led to a lot of long songs – the opening song for instance is over eleven minutes long. Not because we wanted to add and add, but because it’s a bit of a journey. That was cool as a writing period, we got to refine everything – and I think it shows in the final product.
Dead Rhetoric: You made a bold choice for an opening track with the eleven-minute plus epic song “Seven Sirens”. How did this song come together and was it a long, ever-evolving process to develop all the parts, especially the melodies, harmonies, hooks, and transitions?
Batres: It was. This song we actually wrote at the end of the Barbed Wire Metal writing sessions. This is almost sixteen, seventeen years old – the majority of the song was written back then. But we knew it would have to be the opening track of an album. We are old school lovers – nowadays you can listen to a single and there’s no journey. We have had epics before, and we knew this needed to be the opening song. We added some orchestration, piano, synths, throughout the song which was cool. With Nick joining the band back in 2015, he added his little flavor. He’s more of a punk bass player, old school and straight to the point, so he got to bring some of his points. It’s very power metal influenced, Keeper of the Seven Keys– Helloween style of metal. I never listen to that song and think ‘next’ even half way through.
Dead Rhetoric: Infamous metal cover artist Andreas Marschall did the cover art for the new record. What was the process like working with him, and do you feel that standout art is important in the current metal scene compared to the work of artists in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s?
Batres: Yeah, he was great. We’ve been so lucky to work with some of the best artists in the metal artwork scene. We’ve worked with Ed Repka, the late Ken Kelly who worked on the second record, and now Andreas. We sort of gave him a concept but then he put his own twist into the concept. We are huge power metal fans, and Blind Guardian is one of those exports, he did all those classic albums. He delivered, it’s a bit of a dark theme and he put that into play when it came to the artwork.
Back in our days, we only really discovered music through the artwork. I would have never listened to Iron Maiden, unless it was for that artwork. Especially when you have limited cash as kids, we would walk in and see Live After Death or Brave New World, I would pick those up if the album cover was cool. For us, it’s important to have that visual aspect, and I see a lot of bands still doing this. Especially with vinyl being more popular these days, you want that big artwork piece, it still drives me to listen to music these days.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it difficult to decide which singles to premiere from the record?
Batres: It was, but we figured we could grab the listeners and their attention spans quicker with the two or three-minute songs on the album. Every other song, you are in for six-minutes or above. We want to get people to get into the sound that they are going to hear, and if you get the album, you will get more than that. There’s a lot of dynamics to the album, that’s for sure.
Dead Rhetoric: How did you gain the opportunity to have your music featured in the 2015 New Zealand horror/comedy film Deathgasm?
Batres: That was a riot. We got an email from an independent director, he said he loved our music, he’s in New Zealand, which is a good connection to us in Australia. He was making a budget film, he wanted to feature two of our songs and we said sure. Unless you are Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings director out of New Zealand, who really has a name out there? It was made, he reached out to us a few months after saying they were doing a premiere in Melbourne, did we want to come out? We said sure – we walked the red carpet; what movie is this? We sat down, and it was amazing. Who would have thought that this movie would have such a cult following. I think it even surprised Jason the director, the success it became. For us, it gave our music a reliving. “Metal Is the Way”, the last song on our debut album and the first song we ever wrote together, we thought it would never be a huge hit, and that’s the song that probably has the most streams for us. In that awesome scene when he’s on a hill playing the lead guitar, he shouts out ‘Metal is the Way’. I think they have a Kickstarter campaign on the way for Deathgasm 2, which is pretty cool.
Dead Rhetoric: Early on in the band’s career, you made a bold decision to move to Europe for a little while to push the band. What circumstances took place, and what were you able to learn with Elm Street through that move?
Batres: We are lucky enough to do that because as Australians we can move over to the UK and still be working for a number of years. We went in our early twenties, and if we wanted to quickly continue and be a band, we realized that we had to move out of Australia, as we are just too far away from the rest of the world. Let’s just move to the UK, gain some money any way we can, and be close to Europe. We were able to do that, we signed with Massacre Records at the same time, did a few tours and got a decent push. It was amazing, we got to see places we thought we would never get to see, all for the love of heavy metal. Still to this day, it’s nothing that I would ever take back. It was a struggle financially, and personally it was tough being away from family and friends for the first time. We had each other though, which was awesome. It was a great experience.
Dead Rhetoric: What was it like for the band to tour North America back in early 2015 with Skull Fist and Night Demon? What were some of the highlights and key takeaways from that tour?
Batres: Dream come true. We were Skull Fist fans before that tour, so just playing with them was awesome. Playing in some cities like New York, places like Providence, RI – I only knew of Providence from the movie Dumb and Dumber. And to go into places like that and be part of the culture. We are huge sport fans, huge metal fans, being in places where the NBA and the NFL was born was just awesome. We drove in a van and played from place to place. The fans still to this day still message us from seeing us on that tour. It brings back a lot of memories. It was the first time we had driven in snow as well. I wouldn’t take it back even though it was the wintertime. I’m sure it would be even more fun to tour there in the summertime.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing Elm Street in trying to establish more of a following and presence in the scene, not just across Australia but also on a global scale?
Batres: I think it’s the ability to tour and deal with some of that backlog COVID gave. A lot of those bigger bands are continuing to start their tours at the moment, it’s hard to squeeze in a band of our size on a tour that we can make it financially viable and get our music out there at the same time. We have invested a lot of our time and a lot of our money, and nothing that we would ever take back. Concerts and tours are so high now – Anthrax has had to cancel tours, and if a band like that had to do this because of costs, what does it mean for a band like us?
Thankfully we’ve got the internet, and things are more accessible to people these days. These video clips, we can release albums, people can stream it, at the end of the day that’s what matters for us. We create the music that we love that we want to put down, and people can listen to it.
Dead Rhetoric: Being from America, there’s a strong impression that there’s a growing scene and a lot of talent coming from Australia in the metal arena these days. Are you impressed with how bands like Orbit Culture are breaking worldwide?
Batres: For sure, and I think it’s related to the internet, streaming. A lot of bands still release stuff independently in Australia, because they don’t have the ability to tour as often. There are so many great bands out here, some you may never hear in your life because they are local. It’s impressive, I grew up with bands like Dungeon and Mortal Sin, thrash and power metal bands. We are now playing with some of those past members. Vanishing Point is one of my favorite bands, ever. Black Majesty, I remember as a fifteen-year-old going to a local gig when Silent Company the album came out. Very strong scene here in Australia.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel about the state of heavy metal currently? What excites you most about the bands, the fans, the venues, the festivals – and what changes (if any) would you like to see implemented for the greater good of all parties involved?
Batres: I think what excites me is the quality out there. Especially live shows. It surprises me when you see bands these days and they are using so many backing tracks. Are there playing instruments, are they miming, things like that. Bands still play live; the quality of live shows is amazing. You can really get creative with the live shows. You can see things like the Power Trip festival with AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, those quality of live shows they are starting to embrace technology a little bit. Iron Maiden just used to have backdrops – now they use these LED screens, which is cool. It makes them relevant to these times.
Heavy metal, we love the live show. It’s always going to be about hearing this live. The quality is continuing to increase in that area. Hopefully the world will continue to give the smaller bands a shot as well. That’s always great to see.
Dead Rhetoric: What are three albums that have helped shape your outlook and passion for heavy metal the most personally – and what’s your favorite concert memory, purely taking in a show as a fan – plus what made that show so special to you?
Batres: Brave New World – Iron Maiden has to be there. Those are some of the first songs I learned how to play on the guitar. Any Manowar album was a huge influence. And some of those power metal albums by Hammerfall and Blind Guardian really shaped the style of metal we play. Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys, Time of the Oath, catchy choruses that shaped us.
Concert memories – my first one was Kiss – Rock the Nation tour back in 2004. That is really because it’s such a stage show – my brother took me to that show because I was so young. He wasn’t even into heavy metal or hard rock, and he loved it. I’m a massive Kiss fan, seeing that in person, and after watching videos it was amazing.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies, activities, and passions you like to pursue away from music when you have the free time to do so?
Batres: I really love to exercise. Boxing and getting out in nature, loving what’s out there. We have a lot of beaches and awesome forests in Australia to explore. Any time we can do that, connecting with family and friends. Our circle is always passionate about music.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon for activities related to Elm Street over the next year or so? Are you hopeful to get another release on the market (either an EP or full-length) quicker than the long gap between these last two albums?
Batres: For sure. We’ve already started to plan the writing process for a new album. Not forced, everything has to be relevant to where the band is at that point, you know. We write organically, chasing shows to get the most out of this album. Playing the same songs over a long period of time, we want to discover what our live show will be. Take it over to Europe and the states. I love connecting with people at the merch stand, more of that for sure.