When Metallica finally made to Australia for their first time in 1989 local thrash metal crew Mortal Sin joined them all three dates of the tour. Almost 24 years on from that historic debut Mortal Sin frontman Mat Maurer shares his memories of the tour with TOM MANN.
When James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Jason Newsted arrived in Australia for Metallica’s first tour the band already had four albums to their credit - Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and ...And Justice for All - and an army of fans desperate to see them live.
One of those was a 15-year-old streetpress writer, who credits seeing Metallica at Sydney’s Hordern Pavillion in May 1989 as a pivotal moment in his career. His name was AJ Maddah.
“I happened to found a pass on the floor and just went backstage and had a bit of a stroll,” Maddah, the current boss of Soundwave, recounted during an interview at Melbourne’s Face The Music conference last year. “Next thing I know I have Lars Ulrich behind me going, ‘Dude, are you gonna hang out with us or are you just gonna eat all our food?’ I couldn’t answer because I had so much sandwich stuffed down my throat. It was really cool, I got to have a conversation with those guys. It was Lars who said ‘Hey, this [promoting] is what you should do man.’”
Metallica were deep into their punishing “Damaged Justice” world tour which would see them play 222 shows across the globe, but their live show in 1989 was a very different beast from the production we’ll see at Soundwave this week. The band came out dressed in sneakers, tracky-dacks, black t-shirts and played for two hours and 40 minutes including three encores. It might not have a featured coffin-shaped lights or even a snakepit but the crowd didn’t care. Metallica was finally here in Australia, and their fans in Sydney even sparked a minor “riot” to prove it.
“I was looking at the euphoria of everybody around me and I was thinking, ‘I’d like to contribute to this,’” Maddah recalled. “It was just a grand adventure. Everyone was outside the Hordern at midday and there was a camaraderie. It was a community even when the riot police came and roughed a few of us up.”
Things have now come full circle for Maddah, who is bringing Metallica out to headline his festival, along with some 70 other bands. But back in 1989 when Metallica visited Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney for the first time Michael Coppel was the tour promoter and there was just one support act: Mortal Sin.
Now, nearly 24 years on, FL tracked down Mortal Sin frontman Mat Maurer to get his first-hand account of that infamous tour. He spoke to us during some downtime from his dayjob booking crew for the Soundwave tour.
In 2013 we regularly have huge tours and festivals like Soundwave. What was the metal scene like in Australia in 1989?
In 1989 it was nothing like it is today. Not one single major [thrash] tour had come to Australia since the genre’s inception. There was meant to be tours by Anthrax in 1987 (I think) and Megadeth in 1988 but neither came to fruition for whatever reason. The scene in Australia had really picked up big time between 1985 and 1989, possibly one reason why Mortal Sin got big quickly, and the fans here were really hanging for someone to make it over to our shores. We had to have thrash. By the time Metallica had announced their tour, people were ready to rumble that’s for sure.
The tour was promoted by triple j – just after they’d become a national station – what was the radio support for Australian metal like in 1989?
Phhhhfffftt! Radio airplay? Are you fucking kidding? I was actually shocked to hear Metallica’s ‘One’ being played on the radio when the tour had started. I was hopeful that it may have been the start of something and that radio stations had finally woken up to what we had already known, that thrash was king. Sure, softer types of metal like Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard had seen plenty of airtime but thrash never got a thing. I still don’t think any Australian bands have been lucky enough to get some airplay to this day. Thank the unholy one that we now have specialised shows that showcase our music, albeit only a few hours at a time, but we must be grateful for that.
How did you come to be booked for the tour? Mortal Sin often get the credit for being one of the first Australian thrash bands. Was there a lot of competition for the support slot?
I have no idea if there was competition for that support slot, but we were labelmates with Metallica, so had an unfair advantage I guess. It was more or less a given that we would be playing on that tour. I remember having discussions with our label guy Dave Thorne over the phone to England where I was constantly nagging him, “We WILL be playing with Metallica when they come to Australia, WON’T WE?” As far as I was concerned, there was no other option. If we didn’t get that spot, I would have considered it a failure.
Mortal Sin live in 1989:
What were your biggest shows prior to the Metallica tour?
We had pretty much played with all the major Aussie bands up and down the east-coast of Australia and late in 1987 we played the notorious gig at Seven Hills Inn with Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, which was only a small gig at a small venue, but was still an international show nonetheless.
Metallica were already a huge band. Were they still very approachable?
In my eyes Metallica were really big in 1984 when Kill’em All was released here. Each album after that was just more evidence that they would be huge, and it was awesome to watch their rise and rise through the ’90s. During the tour, we were really keen to party with them as we had heard they loved to party, but we hardly saw them at the first shows in Adelaide and Melbourne. It wasn’t until Sydney that we felt we had to do something or we’d never get to meet them. I took a skateboard and a whole bunch of stuff to get signed, so I made sure I caught up with them – if it meant I had to be the total fanboy, then so be it! I never saw Kirk [Hammett] at all the whole tour. I think he spent most of his time with his former wife. I still have a Kill’em All CD cover signed by all of them except Kirk.
Lars Ulrich interview live footage from 1989:
Did you hang out with them away from the shows?
They had a pretty busy media schedule, doing interviews and photo sessions. [ The Ultimate Metallica photographer ] Ross Halfin was here with them documenting the tour, from which a huge story appeared in Hot Metal magazine soon after, but unfortunately we didn’t get to hang with them much until the after tour party, which was pretty cool. We drank Jagermeister all night, and having never drank that stuff before, I got totally smashed.
Mat Maurer and James Hetfield; San Francisco 1990:
What are your memories of each of the guys?
To be honest, it’s one of those things where you are totally awestruck – starstruck – that I can’t really remember my first impressions. I know they were stoked to be here and they were really living the moment. I was going to say the “rockstar life” but I think things were happening so fast with them by this time that they were really just going with the flow. And that flow was travelling at Tsunami speed. We were rising fast as well, but a million miles below these guys.
There was a “riot” at the Sydney show – what memories do you have of that?
We were inside the venue getting ready, setting up our gear and doing soundchecks. We could hear the crowd outside but we didn’t dare go out there. In the old days the Hordern Pavilion was around the other way – the doors were at the opposite end of the building to where they are now, and there used to be roller shutters facing the street. We could hear all the banging on the shutters, but we had no idea what was really happening outside. I remember when the roller doors were opened and the doors to the venue were opened, we were sitting on the front of the stage and there was a mad rush of fans running towards us, to get the best position in front. It scared the shit out of me! Obviously the tension of all those years of missing out on international thrash bands had built so much that fans had reached fever pitch.
News report on the Sydney “riot”:
The Sydney show was the last stop on the tour and we had driven back from Melbourne the previous day. We all got down to the Hordern really early, not just because of the excitement but because we wanted to party, and were hoping we might finally meet up with Hetfield and co. … I can’t really remember if I was nervous before we started. It was our first really big show, so I probably should have been, but most musicians use these experiences to work in their favour, and I tended to do that as well. After all this is what I had been craving all my life – to play in front of big crowds.
We had planned a small surprise at this show as well. We were going to play Anthrax’s ‘Caught in a Mosh’ in our set, so I was looking forward to that, but when it came time to play it, [drummer] Wayne [Campbell] was saying not to play it. We knew it fairly well, but did we know it well enough to pull it off in front of 8500 mad metalheads? I announced the song, much to Wayne’s screams not to, and we started playing it. The crowd went wild when it was announced so there was no stopping it. I’ve got the desk tape of that show and we actually played that song really well, and the rest of our set was pretty tight as well.
Interview with Andrew Daddo and live footage from 1989:
What was Metallica’s show like? Did it live up to the expectation and hype?
They actually had a really great show. The props and production they had was the biggest I had seen, and the hype was very warranted. I know there’ll be people out there saying Metallica is shit now, but if you were at those shows, you fucking loved Metallica to death, and for me, I totally respect them for what they did for metal. It was Metallica who made thrash what it is today full stop. The Justice tour lasted almost three years. This was a band truly in its prime. I’ve seen them on every tour of Australia and the Justice tour was definitely my favourite, not just because I was part of it, but because of the era. 1987-1990 was a period that will be remembered by every thrash fan as the golden years … and if you lived through it and breathed it or even better played through it, it will never be forgotten.
What were the crowds like on the tour?
Fucking amazing! Not just for Metallica, but for us as well. We felt like kings for the 45 minutes that we were on stage. The crowd got behind us like I could never have imagined. Chanting, fist pumping and raising horns like we were somebody else. The intensity in each of the rooms was like every kid meant it. They had a passion for thrash and they were showing their colours. If you didn’t go home bruised and bloodied on those nights, you didn’t earn your colours.
What was the most memorable moment of the tour for you?
Very hard to pick one particular moment, but obviously being onstage fronting Australia’s biggest thrash band, supporting the world’s biggest thrash band in front of the world’s best thrash fans – what can I say to [top] that!
Mat Maurer, Denis “Piggy” D’Amour (Voivod guitarist) and James Hetfield; San Francisco 1990:
Did you stay in contact with the Metallica guys after the tour?
I’ve run into some of the guys several times when they’ve been over here and also over in America. Jason and James came to watch Mortal Sin when we played in San Fransisco in 1990 and hungout backstage with us drinking all our beer. On the 1993 Black Album tour I booked a room at the hotel they were staying in and we ended up hanging out with Jason after the show at the Sebel Hotel in the garden smoking weed, drinking beer and singing songs with him on an acoustic guitar until the wee hours of the morning. I try to stick my nose in whenever I see the guys and say hello, but believe it or not, I’m a naturally shy person so I kind of find it difficult to walk up to any big star and say g’day.
One last question, can you remember how much were tickets on the tour?
Well, my tickets were free. Not sure what everyone else paid, whatever it was it was worth it I’m sure.
Metallica, Mortal Sin tour 1989:
Wednesday, May 3 – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Thursday, May 4 – Festival Hall, Melbourne
Saturday, May 6 – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
Harvester of Sorrow
Eye of the Beholder
Master of Puppets
Seek & Destroy
...And Justice for All
Fade to Black
Last Caress (Misfits cover)
Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover)
Breadfan (Budgie cover)
Soundwave 2013 dates:
Saturday, February 23 – RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane
Sunday, February 24 – Olympic Park, Sydney
Friday, March 1 – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Saturday, March 2 – Bonython Park, Adelaide
Monday, March 4 – Claremont Showground, Perth