Anger can be a real weapon in music and High Tension wield it very well.
The last time we had new material from Melbourne’s High Tension was way back in 2015 with their aggressive and gritty LP, ‘Bully‘. But this week the much-lauded local band returned with a brooding and savage new single entitled ‘Ghost To Ghost‘, easily one of their strongest and fiercest cuts.
Following the release of ‘Bully‘, the band’s then-new members, guitarist Mike Deslandes (who produced, engineered and mixed this new track) and drummer Lauren Hammel brought in new discussions and directions for the group. According to High Tension themselves, the larger scope, darker tone and far more blackened sound of this latest single have “become the band’s new blueprint”, which makes me very excited for their next album. (Fingers crossed for a 2018 release if we’re lucky enough).
Like most of this quartet’s music, it’s the vocal and lyrical punch in their songs that helps to bring it all together. For ‘Ghost To Ghost‘, it’s a furious tale of historical violence, uncovering and establishing the truth, acknowledging past horrors, and on holding those accountable for their unspeakable actions. It’s also a biting exploration of vocalist Karina Utomo’s own family and historical trauma, with the vocalist herself describing the song’s theme and intention as:
“Last year I connected with other Indonesians whose families were implicated in the anti-communist purge, even at present, systemic silencing has stopped people from sharing their stories and spreading truth surrounding that era, they described their daily story telling as “dari hantu ke hantu” or “from ghost to ghost” and I felt like this was what I have been trying to attempt for the past decade.“
So, for those unaware of the Indonesian anti-communist purge that Utomo mentioned there, please pull up a chair because here’s some history for ya.
With the brewing global hysteria regarding the threat of communism back in the 1960s, there was a widespread series of horrible mass-killings – often dubbed as the above ‘anti-communist purge’ – that occurred across Indonesia (then one of the worlds largest communist nations behind China and the Soviet Union). These massacres and mass civil unrest occurred over the course of many months between 1965 and 1966, which saw communist sympathizers, ethnic Chinese, alleged leftists and various others targeted and killed, often at the instigation of armed forces, the government and various Muslim groups at the time. Estimates put the period’s total death toll of this black smear upon Indonesia’s history between 500,000 to over one million, with some more recent estimates going as high as say two to even three million.
Of course, as thousands of recently declassified cables have since revealed, the CIA and the U.S. government had detailed knowledge of this all unfolding over in Indonesia. Which wouldn’t be the first time they had a hand in such events or at least knew of these awful things yet did nothing about it either.
One of the largest atrocities of the 20th century first began as an anti-communist purge following a highly controversial coup attempt by the 30 September Movement. Through this started the elimination of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) as a proper political force, and from those national upheavals led to the fall of President Sukarno and the commencement of General Suharto’s three-decade authoritarian reign. Despite the 1998 downfall of the Suharto government that helped usher in democracy, it has still apparently failed to stop the impunity of the perpetrators of these massacres.
In a statement given to The Guardian in 2017, these “…mass killings of 1965-66 are among the world’s worst crimes against humanity and our country’s darkest secret,” said Veronica Koman, an Indonesian human rights lawyer. “The 1965-66 survivors are all very old now, and I’m afraid that they will not see justice before they die”, she adds.
Even sadder, as I personally understand it from my own cursory research, much of this tragedy is/was skipped over by Indonesian schooling and history texts due to it being suppressed by the regime at the time. Not only that but due to the sheer weight and seriousness of it, there’s an air around this event of it being some sort of national taboo that’s frowned upon in being spoken about publicly. Which all kinds of fucked up.
Now, I definitely wasn’t aware of this abhorrent mid-20th-century incidents until I heard this new High Tension song and it was all quite interesting yet very depressing to read up on. (Read more about the topic here and if you’re further interested, the award-winning sister documentaries from Joshua Oppenheimer, The Act Of Killing and The Look Of Silence, go even deeper into the matter).
History lessons aside, though, that can be the real beauty of hardcore: being informative to the listener whilst also having the song be its own personal piece. And while this track isn’t solely about those mass killings and perhaps more to do with how it’s now treated/viewed and the fallout of it still being felt, the education of it all is still arguably the best quality about High Tension’s music and ‘Ghost To Ghost‘.
Check out the new music video for ‘Ghost To Ghost‘ below, directed by the band’s bassist/The Nation Blue member, Matt Weston.
The band are also playing Download Festival Melbourne on Saturday, March 24th.