The Last Martyr: ‘I'm Not Sure Of The Science Behind How Australians Got To This Tall Poppy Mindset’

29 June 2023 | 2:27 pm | Mary Varvaris
Originally Appeared In

“It never occurs to you that you can do something until you see someone else doing it.”

The Last Martyr

The Last Martyr (Credit: Martin Wood)

Melbourne's chaotic metalcore outfit The Last Martyr is celebrating a milestone year in music. Last month, the band dropped what’s possibly their poppiest single to date – with some screams littered throughout – in Comedy/Tragedy.

They were preparing to launch the track at Unify: Off The Record in Adelaide, but that didn’t happen due to technical reasons. That didn’t stop The Last Martyr from inserting their latest number into recent setlists.

Aside from the new single and performing at Unify in Adelaide, The Last Martyr had the opportunity of a lifetime presented to them earlier this year when they supported Story Of The Year on their Melbourne and Sydney Knotfest sideshows in March.

In the last year alone, they’ve ticked numerous achievements off their list, opening for other heavy legends, including Black Veil Brides, Dayseeker, Paledusk, and Aussie nu-metal icons Sunk Loto. The Last Martyr also played UNIFY Forever, Halloween Hysteria Festival, BIGSOUND 2022, Froth & Fury Fest, and headlined Bonez Alternative Queer Party all in the last twelve months. It’s been a whirlwind time that vocalist Monica Strut is still taking stock of.

Catching up on Zoom on a weeknight, Strut is animated, passionate and cheerful when discussing The Last Martyr – Strut, Ben Rodgers (guitar), Ricky Andres (bass and beats) and Vin Krishnan (drums) – even when things outside of her control, like technical issues, got in the way of what could’ve been an iconic moment at Unify.

Strut has a magnetic stage presence, pulling fans new and older to the band’s set instantly. Last month, she joined RedHook at Melbourne’s Corner Hotel for a raucous rendition of Imposter (originally featuring Yours Truly), and she owned the stage as much as RedHook’s Emmy Mack.

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While The Last Martyr didn’t perform Comedy/Tragedy at Unify, fans have heard it live at a couple of recent shows. “I think we played it for the first time when we supported Story Of The Year earlier this year – actually, I think we may have played it once before that at an all-ages show because we had the longest set we've ever played,” she says. “Funnily enough, we couldn't play it at Unify because our rig was set up differently than usual.

“We had some technical issues; we’re about 95% sure it wasn't our fault. But, there's also the chance that it could be our fault,” she laughs, “So, we're not going to blame anyone.” The band had to cut a couple of songs as they were running out of time due to combatting the technical difficulties. “We only played for 15 minutes, which was such a bummer. But it was probably the best 15 minutes we've ever played.”

So, this year’s Unify experience wasn’t all bad and even resulted in another collaboration. Adelaide’s Hindley Street Music Hall was treated to Strut joining Brisbane melodic hardcore outfit Wildheart for an epic take on Goanna’s Solid Rock.

On Wildheart’s cover of Solid Rock, they retain the core structure of the original while putting their heavy spin on it. Hearing a song I’ve known for my whole life performed by a hardcore band led by a First Nations singer made it even more powerful – Strut agrees. In a recent interview, drummer Andrew Cooke told Kill Your Stereo, “We were really lucky to get Amariah [Cook] from Future Static singing in the chorus as well. We really wanted that nod to the original with a female vocalist and Russell [Smith] on didgeridoo.”

Strut shares that the performance was “very emotive” for several reasons. She explains, “For one thing, it's a song that I grew up with. 

"It's a song that was playing at pubs when I was younger, and I think that Wildheart’s version of it stays true to the original in a lot of ways, but with a modern metalcore spin, and I really, really liked the arrangement of it.

“But also, the message of the song, and to be onstage and being privileged enough to perform with Axel [Best], who was just performing the song with such conviction… that was very, very powerful. I felt quite a responsibility to do a good job, especially on that song which has a lot of meaning for the band.”

One of Strut’s favourite things about being in a band, aside from working with a band like Wildheart, is having the opportunity to hang out with numerous artists across the country who she wouldn’t usually see due to living interstate. Since moving to Melbourne in 2017, Strut has made music her ultimate goal.

The Last Martyr formed in 2019, developing their sound and undeniable chemistry to create cathartic metalcore bangers. Exploding with a vengeance in 2021 with Hindsight, the band earned triple j rotation, the coveted Unearthed feature artist spot and established their unique blend of nu-metal and heavy rock. Hindsight rounded the year out with triple j’s Lochlan Watt selecting it as his favourite track uploaded to Unearthed in 2021.

They followed the track with Afterglow and unleashed the excellent Purgatory EP before dropping Sugar last year. Every The Last Martyr song somehow flows into the next, no matter the different melodic sensibilities and influences as diverse as hardcore and trap music. Each release led to the confidence showcased in the sarcastic Comedy/Tragedy, a song that’s “angry and just a little unhinged,” according to Strut.

“So many of us wear a mask or play a character in our everyday lives, and in a lot of ways, it helps us,” Strut explained about the song last month. “The song is written from the perspective of being aware that something is wrong but not wanting to admit it yet.”

Talking about Comedy/Tragedy now, Strut says the band’s new song made her think about her own masks some more. “I feel like we become different versions of ourselves in different situations. That doesn't necessarily mean we’re being inauthentic; it just means that maybe we hide away certain parts of ourselves,” she adds. “But if we do that for too long, and the parts that we hide become a larger percentage, then we're living incongruently with who we truly are.

Strut continues, “I don't know if the song has necessarily helped me get rid of masks; it's just helped me think about that concept a lot more. I'm someone who, it's a high priority for me to live authentically.” Recalling her first full-time job, a very corporate role in the arts, Strut felt like she had to put on a persona and dress a certain way to be accepted. “Being the young one in the office, working a nine-to-five lifestyle, that's not suitable for everyone. It definitely wasn't suitable for me,” she admits.

“I hope that Comedy/Tragedy makes people think about what masks they are wearing and how they can work towards lessening how much of their true selves they hide from the world. As we were talking about at the start, visibility is the most important thing when it comes to inspiring others. And I just think that the more authentic everyone can be, the more we can lock into our gifts and the better off the world will be.”

Strut has found a new sense of authenticity in practising and developing her screamed vocals. “As a front person, I'm getting more and more confident interacting with an audience and just testing them and testing the waters,” she says.

“For the longest time, I didn't really feel the need or the interest in adding screams to my repertoire as a vocalist,” Strut declares, “I think that a big part of that was I didn't necessarily have women in heavy music who did scream to inspire me or to look up to. Even though I've always loved metalcore and I've always loved bands that balance cleans and screams, there were only really male vocalists to look up to. It wasn't until I got into Butcher Babies that I saw women who looked like me.”

Having never been goth and seeing most women in heavy music fronting symphonic metal bands (or playing the keyboard), Strut wasn’t sure what she could offer as someone with hardcore and metal music backgrounds.

“It wasn't until seeing them [Butcher Babies] that I thought I’d been singing for nearly 15 years or something at that point; I felt like I needed to add another colour to the palette of being a vocalist,” Strut continues. Learning to scream has been a challenge, “but it has really instilled in me how important representation is within the heavy music scene because it never occurs to you that you can do something until you see someone else doing it.”

Now, women are thriving in the Australian heavy music scene, making some of the catchiest tunes of the last decade. Whether you’re spinning The Last Martyr, RedHook, Yours Truly, Stand Atlantic, Teenage Joans or Teen Jesus & The Jean Teasers (and more), you’re supporting one of the most exciting music scenes in the world.

Strut and RedHook’s Emmy Mack have known each other for over a decade and, for the longest time, felt like they were the only women in Sydney on similar paths within the music industry, establishing themselves as singers and media figures.

“Watching your friends succeed and achieve their dreams is the best feeling, especially when you've been there, and you've seen the blood, sweat and tears that go into it that no one else sees,” Strut says, feeling pride for her mates. “I’m really happy whenever I see bands like RedHook and Yours Truly, who have been around for a little while now, have more success, land higher on festival bills, and do amazing international tours.

“I love seeing any Australian band succeed because I feel like there's a lot of obstacles that especially Australians have to face, which is unique to us. But it's gratifying, especially when it's musicians from diverse backgrounds and women. I feel like it's my success as well.”

Those uniquely Australian struggles start but don’t end with distance and travel. “Having to travel ten hours city to city is normal for us,” Strut says, “but we forget that even the cities we're travelling to have a significantly smaller population than a city in the States, the UK, or Europe. And the fact that we can't hit a market as hard with one show as other countries and continents is detrimental to the speed of our growth.”

Due to those factors, Strut observes Australian bands relying on online spaces to progress, building a presence that can help them before they even hit the road. “Although we're seeing this interesting thing because fewer international artists are touring Australia at this time, we're seeing more bands hit the rural towns. Ten years ago, touring rurally was a lot more common.

“I remember bands going to Dubbo and Orange and Bendigo and playing wherever and putting together their own little tours, and then that kind of died down a bit. And now we're seeing a resurgence because if you don't create your own opportunities, you'll just wait around forever. So, it's really nice to see bands being proactive in that regard.”

Another uniquely Australian problem is the cultural issue of tall-poppy syndrome, which any fan of Australian music is likely familiar with at this stage. In Strut’s view, we’ve instilled a cultural belief that tells creative people, “Don't be too successful, or else people will think you're full of yourself.” She believes that mindset might come from insecurity, “Or a need for everyone to be on this working class, even playing field or something. I'm not sure of the exact science behind how Australians got to this tall poppy mindset.

“Whereas I feel like in places like America, people are always striving to be number one; they're always striving to be the best,” she adds, “And that doesn't mean that doesn't exist here; it's just that sometimes, we try and humble each other too much. And I think that's dangerous when fostering a creative music scene.”

The singer can reveal that The Last Martyr will head into the studio in a couple of months: “We've got a couple of singles that we've held onto, and we're going back into the studio to record an EP,” Strut shares. “Let's drop that nugget in there [laughs]; just follow our socials. We love sharing the journey.

Comedy/Tragedy is out now. Sign up to the band’s website and follow their socials here.