Gospel of the Horns
by Niklas Göransson
Desert sands and mourning souls: discussing the sins of youth with Australian chaos bringer Mark Howitzer, founder and frontman of Gospel of the Horns.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, MORTIIS, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.
– Like most who left ol’ Blighty after the Second World War ended, my mum and dad were looking for better opportunities in life than the bleak and dreary future awaiting them in England. The Australian government had a program called the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme – later known as the Ten Pound Poms – which allowed them to escape the post-war austerity of 1950s Britain and take advantage of the warmer climate and outdoor lifestyle of their new home. Once they arrived, my parents ended up in bloody Whyalla of all places!
Whyalla, the epicentre of Australian heavy metal outlawry, has had quite the impact on the country’s underground scene. In Bardo Methodology #1, KK Warslut of DESTRÖYER 666 spoke at length about growing up in the fabled town, as did VOMITOR’s Rob Death Dealer in #3.
– I suppose it was like any working-class town, quite rough at times. My early years of growing up there weren’t all that bad; we had a football club, the beach to go fishing and jetty jumping, and everything else young kids do to keep themselves occupied. However, once I hit my teenage years and discovered metal, things really began to suck – I felt completely isolated from the rest of the world. The next major city, Adelaide, was four hundred kilometres away, which made it a right pain in the arse.
Did you get to see any of the classic metal bands?
– I caught IRON MAIDEN on the Beast on the Road tour in 1982, DEEP PURPLE and MOTÖRHEAD in 1984, and then MAIDEN a second time on their 1985 World Slavery Tour. As a thirteen-year-old in a Levi’s jacket with metal patches, going from headbanging in my room to then seeing these crushing bands perform live was absolutely surreal. I’d leave those venues physically destroyed from the pure energy spewed forth by band and crowd alike. That’s what it’s all about, yeah? There weren’t too many people who listened to heavy metal in our redneck town, so to then be surrounded by three thousand metalheads while banging my head to “Highway Star”, “Iron Fist”, or “22 Acacia Avenue” is something I can’t put into words… memories I shall happily take to my grave.
Aussie rules football was a huge part of Howitzer’s upbringing. To my rather limited understanding, the Australian version is similar to American football – but without protection from head to toe, and no stopping every three seconds.
– No padding needed here mate… hard as iron ore steel! Football is huge in South Australia, Western Australia, and Victoria. When you’re a kid from a country town, you need sports and the opportunity to explore the outdoors. The best times I had playing were as a young lad, and I still have mates today who are from the North Whyalla footy club: Andros, Tony McQueen, Leo Moretti, Ratsy, and Joey. Both Leo and I were die-hard IRON MAIDEN fans; he was also the one who turned me onto the heavier shit. I remember going to their house for the first time and seeing his bedroom – walls covered with posters of KREATOR, CELTIC FROST, VOIVOD, and so on. ‘What the fuck is this?’ He whacked on “Morbid Tales” and I was instantly blown away. Never before had I heard anything like this overwhelming sense of dread and impending doom. My eyes were fully opened to this new subgenre, with its busting tempo changes, riffs played at breakneck speed, and attitudes challenging the norm while pushing the boundaries of extremity. Leo also told me about Metal for Melbourne, a mail-order that had everything! CELTIC FROST, SODOM, DESTRUCTION, BATHORY, and so on.
I’m assuming Whyalla did not see all that much action in terms of underground metal gigs?
– From memory, the first and possibly only extreme metal band to ever hit Whyalla was MORTAL SIN. This would’ve been in ‘89, after they’d toured Australia supporting METALLICA. I think ROSE TATTOO played there a few times in the early 80s, but the ilk of HOBBS’ ANGEL OF DEATH, SLAUGHTER LORD, ACHERON, RENEGADE, and so forth… it was never gonna happen. Your only option was to travel the 1,100 kilometres to Melbourne, unless you were lucky enough that they played in Adelaide. And the only way to get to Adelaide was with the Greyhound bus company, which left Whyalla at 8am and arrived six hours later. It was a nightmare journey: nothing to see along the way but flat, hideous saltbushes.
My research for this article uncovered some hitherto unknown Whyalla metal trivia – DEATHFUKK.
– Ha! DEATHFUKK… that was KK on guitar, Andros on vocals, Pete Adams on bass and me on drums. I believe we did two local shows. I was also in SARCOPHAGUS, a death metal band with Matt from RAZOR OF OCCAM on guitar. We released two demos, “Morbid Procession” in 1991 and “Perverted Bloodlust” the year after. An old tape-trading contact, Tony, who now plays bass in VOMITOR, made the artwork for our second demo. It was nothing to write home about but, hey, we had some fucking wild times. SARCOPHAGUS played a couple of gigs at my football club; we actually managed to pull crowds of several hundred people. The shows were promoted by driving around town and handing out flyers to random pedestrians. It didn’t matter whether it was down by the beach, doing drive-bys, or at a street mall… car window down, arm stuck out and flyers at the ready. ‘Oi, here’s one for ya… see ya there!’
Back then, the entire town was centred around the steelworks – ‘cunt of a place to fucking work’, as Rob of VOMITOR put it.
– There were originally two things on offer in Whyalla: the shipyards and the BHP steelworks, that’s about it. But the shipyards closed down in the 1970s, leaving BHP as the town’s only lifeblood. I began working there in 1988 – day in, day out, surrounded by nothing but glowing red-hot steel. No other option but to keep toiling away until my retiring days… nah, that wasn’t for me. After visiting Europe for the first time, I thought, ‘Fuck this, I’m outta here’, And that’s what I did.
In late 1992, Howitzer embarked on a ten-week-long European trip. He travelled through Sweden, Germany, Holland, Austria, England, and Scotland – all the while catching bands such as ASPHYX, BOLT THROWER, UNLEASHED, DEICIDE, DISHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, and many more.
– The highlight was being at London’s Marquee Club, due to its historical ties to IRON MAIDEN in 1980 and ‘81. The bands performing that night were CANNIBAL CORPSE, ANATHEMA… and CRADLE OF FILTH, playing their first-ever show. They’d jumped in to fill the spot for SARCÓFAGO, who couldn’t make it due to visa problems – which fucking sucked! I’d done some tape-trading with Martin of Swedish death metal band HOUSE OF USHER, so I visited him in Eskilstuna. I stayed for three nights and got to see his band rehearse, which was cool. Wonderful family. While partying in Stockholm, I managed to see FURBOWL live; there was a piss-up at someone’s house afterwards and I found myself boozing with guys from MERCILESS and MORPHEUS… crazy night indeed. For someone visiting from Australia, Stockholm in November was insane. Mega-expensive alcohol prices, seeing snow for the first time, and not having to store your beer in the refrigerator, haha… it was so bloody cold!
After returning from Europe, Howitzer was firmly intent on departing Whyalla with all due haste. He was still a competitive footballer, and, as it turned out, his local club knew a coach in Brisbane who could help him get settled.
– So, in January 1993 – one month after getting back to Australia – I’d left Whyalla and started playing for Ipswich Football Club. The standard was okay, but Brisbane’s footy league was about four divisions down from the AFL. I was there for about a year before I decided to hang up the boots at the ripe old age of twenty-three. Like anything, football requires full dedication and, as things panned out, I’d drifted into a different lifestyle.
A few months after relocating, Howitzer heard that Rob Death Dealer was about to move back to Whyalla. Following two years of heavy-duty metal raging in Melbourne, he was in dire need of a change of scenery. Instead, Rob ended up in Brisbane, sharing a house with Howitzer. With the gift of hindsight, it’s debatable whether this was especially strategic in terms of the latter’s athletic pursuits. However, like any contact sport where practitioners are prone to repeated concussions, a long football carer can result in significant brain deterioration as the athlete ripens in age. Consequently, perhaps one could say that metal revelry protected his cerebral faculties from the dangers of sports.
– Haha! You know what? You might actually be onto something there. I was on the wrong end of a few hard collisions on the field during my playing days. Back in the 80s, the only protection we used was the mouthguard. With lazy elbows, flying knees and bruising shoulders, concussions were common. From memory, I was concussed four times. So, maybe one could say that being exposed to these traits from Aussie rules was beneficial to my longevity in metal. Living with Rob certainly had more in common with beers and tunes than training twice a week. Before long, Galvin – a mate of ours from Whyalla – was also living with us, and to say things got a wee bit wild would be a massive understatement.
In late 1993, Howitzer formed GOSPEL OF THE HORNS. By January 1994, he’d recruited Death Dealer as guitarist and begun working on new material. In September the same year, the band recorded a demo called “The Satanist’s Dream”. Rob mentioned that they’d decided to go for something completely different than the chaos noise that was typical for Australia’s extreme metal output of the time. United in a mutual love for SODOM, Rob’s riffs combined with Howitzer’s MOTÖRHEAD and CELTIC FROST-worshipping percussion boiled down to what the former so eloquently described as the ‘rock and rolly kind of stuff’.
– As massively into BLASPHEMY, BEHERIT and others in this genre as I was, I didn’t think we needed yet another Aussie band going down that road. I wanted a more stripped-down approach, all the while retaining the heaviness and fusion of underground black and thrash. I cannot stress enough the impact FROST’s “Morbid Tales” had on me back then. Songs didn’t need to be played at a hundred miles per hour, or be delivered with technical wizardry. It was always about the attitude and how to execute it… and this resulted in pummelling time-changes and riffs built on ferocity. “The Satanist’s Dream” was exactly what Rob and I envisaged when we started the band. The line-up of this era only performed a single live show – in Brisbane, our hometown at the time. We played all four demo tracks, plus two covers: “Outbreak of Evil” by SODOM and GOATLORD’s “The Fog”.
In April 1995, “The Satanist’s Dream” was subjected to an ill-fated re-release by Italian label Einstand Records. The end result was rather underwhelming, one could say – my personal favourite aspect being the inclusion of line-up photos showing an entirely different band. How such a thing could ever have happened is not entirely clear, but rumour has it that this was the work of a disgruntled former vocalist who had, quite literally, been booted from GOSPEL some time before.
– Ah, yes – Einstand Records, my favourite label. Was it our singer at the time who was knee-deep in this skulduggery? Rob and I thought so, which made our beating of him a month or two prior all the more worthwhile. I mean, holy fuck: every photo in the booklet was of a bunch of guys who looked like surfers from the Gold Coast, I kid you not! I look back now and can have a laugh over it… but, certainly, I was beyond pissed off back when it happened.
By late ’95, after three years in Brisbane, Howitzer had begun entertaining thoughts of settling elsewhere.
– When Rob got married, we had heaps of our Whyalla mates attending the wedding. After all the drinking and festivities died down and everyone had left, I realised how much I missed seeing me old mates. I suppose things weren’t really working for me during this period of my life. Plus, I was never fond of the weather in Brisbane – it’s so bloody humid and clammy. Even during winter you’ll find yourself in shorts by 1pm. So, I had two choices: either move to Melbourne or Adelaide. As history would show, I chose Melbourne. Within one week of making my decision, I was on the bus to my new hometown. It was a hideous journey; I left Brisbane at 5pm Sunday arvo and arrived around 2pm on Tuesday.
Was there a big difference between the two cities from a metalhead perspective?
– No other place in Australia could compete with Melbourne back then: it was an absolute hotbed of metal. Gigs on all the time. Pubs that never closed. If you wanted action, it was always at the ready – any night of the week. And the crowds at shows were always fucking insane. Bands like BESTIAL WARLUST, ACHERON, NECROTOMY, HOBBS’ ANGEL OF DEATH, INCUBUS, SPECTRAL BIRTH, ANATOMY, CORPSE MOLESTATION… need I say any more? I’d put Melbourne crowds up there with the Finnish and Germans. Total maniacs! I have many good memories from Brissy though, that’s for sure.
This was an excerpt from the full article, which is twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #7. The same issue also includes conversations with BLACK WITCHERY, MACABRE OMEN, THORYBOS, ANTEDILUVIAN, ATLANTEAN KODEX, MGŁA, Cold Meat Industry, MORTIIS, MONUMENTUM, WARLOGHE, ORDO TEMPLI AETERNAE LUCIS, and HEXVESSEL.