For those that weren't around for it, it can be hard to explain just how big Allegiance were in the early 1990's. A handful of demos and some blistering live shows allowed the band to dominate locally, whilst winning the 1992 Yamaha Rock competition got them flown to Melbourne to showcase their Bay Area thrash sound interstate. The band kept gigging and making waves, playing the 1993 Big Day Out festival and contributing tracks to several compilation CDs got international interest in the form of Rob Halford (at the time taking a break from Judas Priest and touring with scrappy B-level commercial thrashers, Fight).
Ahead of the release of their debut album Destitution (stylised as D.e.s.t.i.t.u.t.i.o.n. on the CD but, for the sake of sanity, we'll leave out the full stops), the band supported Fight in early 1994. With Halford talking them up in international interviews, his management company at the time (EMAS) reportedly working out a deal and the support of a rabid fanbase, Allegiance were at a fever pitch and Destitution did not disappoint.
The albums 12 tracks showcased heavy, yet fairly accessible thrash metal. Tracks such as Chaos Dies, Hate Frenzy and the classic Torn Between Two Worlds were live favourites and could have been great singles, if the climate for thrash metal was no so hostile at the time. Allegiance also had two feet forward in terms of heaviness; underrated album tracks such as Path Of Lies and Downward Spiral showcasing a bit of variety with vocalist Conrad Higson death growling and the band speeding up a bit.
Destitution shot to the number one position on the Perth ARIA chart and the band were off and running, eager to play and with a fire in their bellies. The album got them local and national support slots with most the of 'upper-tier' international metal bands that toured Australia from 1994-1997: Sepultura, Machine Head, Slayer and they even shared stages with Mudhoney and The Beastie Boys. Watching them absolutely wipe the floor with a drunk and disinterested Pantera was a revelation for 14-year-old me.
The band was the complete package. They had the songs and the command of the stage; seeing Higson stand behind lead guitarist Tony Campo and play the solo on the neck whilst Campo picked. They never had a 'deer in the headlights' moment. It almost became a joke that whenever an upper-tier band would tour Australia that 'of course' Allegiance would be the support band (until that honour went to Pathogen in 1997).
Anticipation for the second album was high and the wait between '94 and '96 felt like forever. Allegiance never stopped, constantly touring and writing (a live album was released in 1995), but there seemed to be a bit of a shift in what was happening in metal. Between 1994 and 1996, albums such as Fear Factory's seminal classic Demanufacture, At The Gates's Slaughter Of The Soul, Meshuggah's Destroy Erase Improve and Neurosis' Through Silver In Blood amongst others were blowing peoples minds and pushed metal in all kinds of different directions. Locally, bands such as iNFeCTeD, Downer, Non Intentional Lifeform and Pathogen were all making new and interesting heavy music too. The new album had a lot to live up to.
Ultimately when Skinman was unleashed in 1996, it seemed to get some initial buzz (placing 11 on the local ARIA chart) then fizzled out. The album's title was a reference to a deceased friend of the band and the weird album art did them no favours, but the music is really what let them down: 10 tracks of commercial thrash that tries to be modern but ultimately fails. It's a strange album; I can't quite articulate the reasons why. It lacks the polish of Destitution and, whilst it doesn't sound like a rehearsal room demo, it does sound off. Perhaps the drums were recorded separately to the rest of the album?
Tracks such as Face Reality and Give Yourself (which was allegedly going to be a single with a video being shot) sound like rejected off-cuts from the debut and album closer Hands Of Fate tries to be Cemetery Gates (Pantera) but sounds more like Ugly Kid Joe. There are a few moments that shine, such as Scorn and live favourite Time To React. Overall, it sounds like a band which has one-foot moving in one direction whilst the other either stands still or moves backwards.
The band fizzled away sometime in 1997. Halford's promise of helping the band out internationally never came to fruition and bassist Dave Harrison left or was fired, depending on who you ask. The band seemed to be just on the cusp of breaking through to an international audience, but never got the attention they deserved. It was a damn shame; Allegiance were not just one of the best bands from Perth, they were (for a time) the best band in Australia.
Harrison played with trad/power metallers Black Steel for a spell and now runs the online Heavy Metal Merchant shop. Campo lives in London and now occasionally works as a guitar-tech for touring bands. The rest of the band seemed to bow out of music altogether, which is a shame considering the level of talent they had. At their peak, Allegiance could regularly pack 300-1000 people to a local gig and that is a hard feat for many international bands to do these days. This Interview with Loud Mag has some fairly interesting stories about the cycle of the band and a few poignant quotes: "Most people in the industry I found seemed quite shallow and no lasting friendships were formed. I had more friends in local Perth bands than the greater touring community."
And: "The usual story, just stagnation, not going to the next level and people not seeing eye to eye. We were all still in our 20s and had been going since teenagers."
Allegiance reformed a few times for a few 'one-off' reunion shows in the early 2000's, even supporting KISS in 2004 and, although well received, the gigs seemed to be a chance to give fans a proper send-off. Members of the band were interviewed for the documentary Metal Down Under: A History Of Australian Heavy Metal (2014) and perhaps this got more people interested in a re-visiting of this album.
The reissue of Destitution through E.V.P Records is long overdue, having been out of print for sometime and online sellers charging a hefty sum for secondhand copies, and the remaster is great. Everything louder and clearer. The booklet contains a whole bunch of old photos and gig flyers and the CD version comes with a bonus dvd from 1996 I believe, which is possibly the video from the Time To React.....Live session recorded for Triple J. This should be a treat for sure.
Scott Bishop is a regular host on RTR FM 92.1's Critical Mass, which airs every Wednesday from 9PM (GMT+8) in Perth, Australia.