Wildheart Sacred Ground Solid Rock Unify Off The Record Interview

8 June 2023 | 4:17 pm | Mary Varvaris
Originally Appeared In

"It's almost like, if you have that platform, you have a responsibility to use it for that messaging.”


Wildheart (Source: Supplied)

Brisbane outfit Wildheart have been addressing injustices facing Indigenous people and the biases towards these communities from law enforcement and the Australian government for years.

Kill Your Stereo has been across the impressive melodic hardcore band since the release of their debut EP, A Thousand Days, in March 2015, but they truly made a mark with their reintroduction in July 2018 with their single and EP, We Are.

We Are is an uplifting and hopeful metalcore/melodic hardcore anthem full of spacious melodies, passionate vocals, and aggressive riffs. It served not only as a fresher, larger re-introduction to the sound and intent of Wildheart's music but also their lyrical passions as well, taking aim at humanity both behind and in front of the world's deepest suffering.

In October 2019, they released the furious Rising Tide, tackling a subject matter Wildheart are likely exhausted and despondent about by this point. On Rising Tide, the band resembled a powder keg of rage and indignation ready to explode at the powers that directly or indirectly allow the mistreatment and (preventable) deaths of Indigenous people within the system. 

In late April, Wildheart put out a two-song release: Sacred Ground / Solid Rock. Now, to Australian fans who grew up loving the song Solid Rock by Geelong band Goanna, the name of Wildheart’s latest song looks awfully familiar, and they know it. 

They were inspired by that iconic chorus: "You're standin' on solid rock/You're standin' on sacred ground/You're livin' on borrowed time/And the winds of change/Are blowin' down the line," and knew they had a song to work with. And hey, why not record their first-ever cover?

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“I think we always wanted to do a cover,” Wildheart vocalist Axel Best says over Zoom after a long day at his day job. “And, unfortunately, Comeback Kid stole our first option, Beds Are Burning [by Midnight Oil]. We wanted to cover that, but they did it first. So, we had to find another one.

“Now, I think Solid Rock was the perfect song to cover – it sort of ties in with our new song; or original song, anyway – but we had a connection with Russell Smith, the didgeridoo player, so it just seemed right.”

Best insists that the original song is so good that Wildheart didn't want to take away too much from the song: “It could have been really easy to ruin,” he laughs. “I think we were doing too much with the first few versions. And we were just like, ‘Hey, let's strip it back. Let's follow the song’. Like, the riffs are good, the lyrics are good; let's just keep it how it is and make it heavy.”

On Wildheart’s cover of Solid Rock, they retain the core structure of the original, while putting their own heavy spin on it. Hearing a song that I’ve known for my whole life performed by a hardcore band led by a First Nations singer made it even more powerful – maybe the palpable rage of still having these conversations that Solid Rock initially explored in 1982 makes it a natural hardcore classic.

Drummer Andrew Cooke concurs, “[Solid Rock] lends itself well to transforming into a hardcore anthem. The structure of the song, all the parts just worked.

“Initially, when writing it, we were kind of like, ‘What do we want it to look like? What are the guitars gonna sound like?’ Like Axel said with the Comeback Kid cover and being so inspired by that version, and being the first time Wildheart’s done a recorded cover – I believe we’ve only played covers live a handful of times – I’m really happy with how it came out.

“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 on didgeridoo.”

On Friday, 26 May, Wildheart were joined by The Last Martyr’s Monica Strut on stage and together, they took on Solid Rock for the Adelaide UNIFY: Off The Record audience.

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, 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.”

It’s a responsibility Best feels too – not just with performing Solid Rock, but as one of the few Indigenous people in heavy music. A proud Yugambeh man, Best adds, “I feel like I've got to use my platform to raise all these issues that are in happening in Australia at the moment. I think that's always on our minds.

“I mean, I'd love to write songs about breakups and love,” Best continues, “But if Indigenous deaths in custody are still happening, we're going to keep writing about that. As long as our lands are being used for mining, we're still going to write about it. Until those issues are solved, I think people still need to talk about it.”

Cooke acknowledges the obligation of “Trying to use our platform to amplify Axel’s voice and First Nations voices and some of the struggles that they are facing,” and explains, “At the end of the day, I'm just the drummer in the band, but I feel like we kind of have a platform with our music and our live performance.

“It would be a shame not to use that. It's almost like, if you have that platform, you have a responsibility to use it for that messaging.”

With Sacred Ground / Solid Rock, Best has found a sort of catharsis. Every time he plays the songs live, he sheds another emotion and even finds some positivity: “When people come up [in music], especially people who are also Indigenous, then they don't feel so alone in the scene.

“That’s really nice for me because there aren't many Indigenous people who are in the hardcore or metal scene. Growing up, for me, I did feel a little bit alienated in that sense of, ‘How come none of my brothers and sisters are here as well’?”

In September, Wildheart proved what’s possible for Indigenous kids dreaming of ripping shit up on a hardcore stage once again when they took home the Gold Coast Music Award for Release Of The Year (for their debut album, Global Crisis).

“This is actually a funny story,” Cooke begins. Wildheart were nominated for multiple awards and were asked to perform a song to open the awards. “We thought, ‘Yeah, that sounds great’. When we got up on stage, we were like, ‘Oh, people are going to be seated. Is this gonna be awkward?’

“But we just went out and belted it and everyone loved it. But then, we were told to wait in the wing of the stage, like when the curtains closed, and we weren't allowed to leave and go back to the crowd or anything. 

"Little did we know that we had won Release Of The Year.” Best thought that keeping them away from the audience meant the band was in trouble (“I was just warming up the crowd and kicked over the mic stand [laughs], so I felt we were getting reprimanded”), when he couldn’t be further from the truth.

Cooke states about their win, “We felt very proud and very supported. It was awesome to be recognised for all the hard work that went into that record because we weren't sure whether to release a record – it was around the end in quotation marks of COVID.

“A lot of our peers stopped playing shows and stopped recording music and just waited. But we hit a point where we were like, ‘We believe in the songs, and we have good stuff here. Let's go and do it.’

“And I didn't know putting a record out at the end of the pandemic would do anything, but to be nominated and then named Release Of The Year? Yeah, it was a really rewarding experience.”

The tracks Sacred Ground / Solid Rock are out now. You can keep up with Wildheart on their website.