Alpha Wolf’s Sabian Lynch on the Australian metal community and thinking outside the box in the time of COVID-19.

“It’s actually funny. I was super prepared!” Sabian Lynch laughs over the Zoom call. The guitarist and lyrical writer has long been known for wearing a black facial mask when performing as part of Alpha Wolf, a five-piece metalcore band from Tasmania and Melbourne. But he describes seeing people in his small Tasmanian community wearing their homemade masks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic as weird and ironic to see “so close to home.”

“We’re announcing tours that we don’t know are even going to happen. And it feels disingenuous.”

Sabian is pensive over an online call as he describes how his band’s first and long-awaited tour of the United States was cut short after five performances. “We were joking between ourselves: ‘Play it like it’s your last show!’” He then recalls how another crew member appeared backstage to let them know that it most likely would be the last show. Thirty shows were planned for Alpha Wolf during their time in the US, over the course of which Sabian hoped to finally break through into international popularity.

Check out Alpha Wolf’s clip for ‘Sub-Zero’

This would have Alpha Wolf join the ranks of bands such as Parkway Drive and Northlane who have found critical acclaim representing the “blossoming” Australian metal scene overseas.

But the loss of live performance opportunities only scratches the surface of the impact that COVID-19 restrictions have had for artists in the Australian metal scene. Joshua “Redbeard” Merriel, Manager of Grayscale records and host of Triple J’s Short.Fast.Loud program, explains release schedules have complicated how each of the acts signed to his record label can work in isolation.

“Some of the bands were in the right spot,” he says. “For smaller bands, it’s a good thing to keep the singles coming out and keep that conversation [about their music] going.”

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But for other bands signed to Grayscale Records, including Alpha Wolf, the isolation process has not been so conducive. When asked if he has been writing new material for release during the wait for restrictions to relax, Sabian expresses concern. He cites fear of undermining the success of their upcoming album.

“People might randomly enjoy [a newly written single] and share that more than the album we’ve spent an entire year on.”

Alpha Wolf’s upcoming LP and national tour were cancelled before they could be announced. This decision was made following nationwide restrictions on public gatherings in response to COVID-19.

“We’ve put years’ worth of work into the album, and we want to release it the best way possible, playing shows straight off the bat [while] everyone’s talking about it… It was going to set us up for the next three years.”

Self-managed and up-and-coming band Emotion Killer, headed by front man Shannon Loch, similarly had to postpone the release of their Tragic Life in a Modern World EP and accompanying tour. He describes the experience of cancelling shows as frustrating.

“We’ve been working for months to try and secure these dates because it’s very hard,” he says. “When you’re a small band at our level and [you] want to put on a national tour, you have to convince the venues.”

Joshua Merriel says that the lockdown has “forced creatives to think outside the box and do things that they might not have done before.” With a background in graphic design, Sabian has done just this. He has spent his time at home since returning from America designing merchandise and branding for Alpha Wolf. He adds jokingly, “I haven’t seen a friend for a month. I’ve only seen my partner and Woolworths!”

“Metal has always come from the underdogs. The guys that got bullied, shit like that. And we’re singing about that for those types of people.”

But much the same as creators, fans in the Australian metal community are also struggling without the presence of live music. Joshua Merriel describes the metal scene as unique in comparison to other music communities in Australia. “It’s catharsis for the most part” and “people from the outside, that’s the thing they miss. They see [metal] as a really dark thing and a depressing thing, like: ‘Oh, this is what’s depressing the kids.’”

Later, Joshua adds, “there is a really tight knit and ‘watch out for each other’ community here”.

Sabian attributes the uniqueness of metal to both the catharsis of the music, as well as the genre’s willingness to address deeply personal and often uncomfortable topics that mainstream records wouldn’t. “We’re not trying to censor ourselves or anything,” he explains.

Sabian’s lyrics are all but censored. He describes those he wrote for Alpha Wolf’s 2019 Fault EP as representative of him feeling lost in direction and unsuccessful. Expanding on their inspiration, he adds, “I had a lot of passing of family members and friends and stuff like that. So at that present time, it was pretty dark for me, personally. But as time goes on, you know, all wounds heal”.

Check out Alpha Wolf’s clip for ‘Black Mamba’:

Describing Alpha Wolf’s previous work, including their 2017 album, Mono, Joshua Merriel describes Sabian’s lyrics as maintaining “a terrifying amount of honesty.”

He suggests Sabian “didn’t have the shiniest of upbringings,” and “you can hear that in a lot of bands’ lyrics when there is actually someone who has experienced real things like that.”

“You look at them with a light of: ‘Oh, this is real, and you experienced this. This isn’t a character that you’re playing. This isn’t a story you’re trying to write. This is your life. Yeah, there is a lot of genuineness.”

Reflecting on his first time writing lyrics that touched on deeply personal subjects, “going to play those songs live, in front of people personally affected by those events… was daunting.” Sabian goes on to describe the positive reception those early songs received.

“Those people then love those songs, and they’re true supporters. They come to every single show when we’re in their city and stuff like that. And it’s been really helpful, I guess, and then having fans reach out constantly. They’ve had their own stories, and stuff they can relate to, and they find our band and absolutely love us for us.” He rounds out his recollection by labelling the whole process as “healing.”

Sabian explains how people often reach out to bands in the metal scene from dark places in their lives.

“Some fans especially, you always see their names pop up, you know, across my social media” but is diverted upon recalling a specific follower. “I reached out to him, and that in itself made his day and his week… as simple as an ‘I hope you’re okay’ from me.”

He trails off before humbly adding, “I’m just your average bored guy at home, so I’ll reply to everyone.”

When asked what he’s most looking forward to doing once restrictions start to relax, Sabian answers, “I’m very keen to play shows again.” But he feels that the live music scene will not immediately return to the state it was in before the era of social distancing.

“I think it’s going to be pretty weird for a while. I think it’s going to be a new world, once it’s all blown over. Everyone will be that tiny bit more cautious.”

For a community united by the cathartic release of lyrics such as those written by Sabian Lynch, a return to normalcy is awaited with bated breath.