Blacken Open Air Festival brings metal to Central Australia with first-ever international act

The peaceful valleys of Central Australia’s East McDonnell ranges are normally filled with the sounds of native birds and rickety caravans.

Key points:

  • Hundreds of metal heads are in Central Australia for the return of Blacken Open Air 
  • It was cancelled last year due to COVID-19 lockdowns 
  • The festival has its first international act, Revocation

But this weekend, those sounds will be replaced by guttural growls and guitar solos, with the return of one of Australia’s most unique festivals, Blacken Open Air.

More than 1000 so-called metal heads will gather on Arrente country for three nights of heavy music, coming together to mosh, rock and let their (black) hair down.

One of them is local, Julian Liam Miller, who usually changes the music in his car if he’s driving with friends.

He knows the unique riffs of a deathcore metal band aren’t for most.

“Growing up here, being Aboriginal … a lot my friends are into Afro-American culture,” he said.

“Everyone thinks that metal heads are some big rough gruff bastards, who’ll knock your block off. But I got dragged into it because everyone is so loving.

“The moment I heard a song by Iron Maiden, it was one of those metal songs I sat down and listened to.”

Organisers were forced to pull the pin on the event last year just 10 days prior, after the majority of the line-up were forced into snap COVID-19 lockdowns across Victoria and NSW.

The festival’s organiser is a man known only as “Pirate”, who also runs Alice Springs record label The Black Wreath.

“It’s about the experience and the coming together of people who are like minded to do something that’s powerful,” he said.

“It’ll stay with them forever.”

A place to be yourself

Touted as one of the most central locations in Australia, Blacken has become a meeting spot for metalheads across the country.

Julian Miller said it was great to know everyone was coming together for the same reason.

“It’s great that people get to see my land, see my heritage … people are coming from all over the world for this,” he said.

“Massive tents, skulls and bones, black wreaths everywhere, rolling hills in the background play into the theme of epiceness of metal.

“The music echoes off the hills.”

The festival takes place at the Ross River Resort, about one hour east of Alice Springs, and this year has its first ever international act, Revocation.

Boasting its first-ever international act Revocation, the festival will take place at the Ross River Resort, one hour east of Alice Springs.

Camaraderie in the mosh

Arms flailing, legs pulsing and bodies moving as one.

From an outsider’s perspective the “mosh pit” would be a heartless blood bath.

But as Anthony Whitening describes, it’s a kindred community taking part in therapeutic adrenaline rush.

“There’s an unwritten rule in a mosh pit, if someone falls over, we stop, we pick them up and we keep going,” he said.

“It’s a chance to completely lose yourself, just let the energy of the music take over your body.”

Mr Whitening has seen the festival grow from a small concert at the local RSL into its current state as an outdoor 3-day festival.

“With the amount of open space around Alice Springs we always wanted an outdoor festival, and here we are,” he said.

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