Grindin’ and Thrashin': The Story Behind 80s Sydney Zine Death Rites

Bang your head to some old and rare demo tapes that the zine has uploaded online.

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19 October 2016, 2:46am

In the late 80s and early 90s skateboarding was heavily indebted to thrash metal. Decks and merch were covered in skulls and bleeding eye sockets, Suicidal Tendencies had released "Possessed To Skate", and Venom blasted on the 1984 Let it Bleed video. It was skate rock or die.

In Sydney, Shawn Yates and his high school friends were shredding rails and head banging to bands such as Death, Nihilist, Morbid, Nocturnus, and Autopsy. From late 1998 to 1991 Yates published Death Rites, a zine and tape trading label that covered metal and crossover thrash from around the world. 

Put together by letter writing and tape trading an issue could take up to a year to complete but in a time before the internet zines like Death Rites acted as a community for like minded metal heads to share music and info. It was like a Soundcloud page that took six months to load.

Though the zine has long finished, in recent years Death Rites has become a small clothing line, (featuring original art by UK artist French) that pays tribute to that heavy era of metal and skating. 

Yates has recently published many of the hard to find demos on the Death Rites online. So you can now watch old skate videos with the sound down and thrash to Demolition Hammer, Slaughter Lord, and Cremator's Evil Brew.

We recently had a chat with Shawn to find out more about the zine and the demos.

Noisey: How did the zine begin? 
Shawn Yates: It was all done through letter writing and post. You'd reach out to a band or a band would write you with their demo. Band interviews were sent via mail and a month or so later the answers would appear in your post box. Sometimes a lot longer… 

The zine ran band interviews and features, demo and record reviews, and scene reports. It was heavily based on death metal, thrash/crossover and grindcore coming up in the late 80s. We ran stuff on many bands including Nocturnus, Benediction, Morbid, OxLxD, Autopsy, Nihilist, Righteous Pigs, Mayhem, E.N.T, Soothsayer, Bloodcum, Sindrome, too many to list/remember. 

How many issues did you do?
I made and released two issues and kind a half a third issue that was never published. It was obviously super lo-fi by today's standards. The zine was typed on A4 sheets on my mum's typewriter then laid out and glued onto a folded A3 booklet which was then photocopied at my parent's work. Any spare space on a page you'd draw something or stick a zine or band flyer. Each issue took 6-12 months due to how long it took corresponding via mail.

Most of the bands and other tape traders found you from classified ads in bigger magazines like Metal Forces or other zines and fanzine review sections. Metal Forces had a 'Penbangers' section where you'd list your favourites bands and address. People would read these ads and write you to trade tapes/correspond.

This was before the internet and soudcloud and zip files. Bands would send you physical tapes to your PO Box?
Tape trading was basically the analog version of file sharing. A trader list would detail all the tapes someone had for trade -  Band name,  type of tape: demo, live recording,  duration and grading of recording. You'd select the titles that would fit onto a 60 or 90-minute blank cassette and return it.  The songs would be dubbed onto a cassette and sent back to you with a list of tracks they wanted recorded. 

The designs are often crude and hand drawn. Would  you get suss if a demo looked a bit too pro?
So many of the demos were through tape trading so you might not have ever seen the original version. There were definitely bands that sent proper band bios, studio recorded demos, had management etc.. Demolition Hammer sticks out as sending super pro studio recorded tapes with artwork, band pictures and press. Some bands self released their LP's or EP's also. 

Mostly though the demo's were pretty crude tape dubs, recorded on 4 track mixers or worse and very DIY. 

A lot of the art was were themed around skulls, death and nuclear war.
Yeah. Many thrash bands from that era dealt with social and political themes as did a lot of the early grindcore bands. Many of the first and second wave death metal bands either pushed more gore based imagery  – Repulsion, Autopsy, Death or anti-religious/occult type art from bands like Morbid Angel and Deicide. I was into bands like Nocturnus and Bolt Thrower use of fantasy/sci-fi imagery also. All the art for Death Rites today kinda works off these ideas. 

Where did the demos come from? 

You'd get mail from Eastern Bloc Europe, South America, Japan  – all over. Inmates in jail a couple times. Many zines ran 'scene reports' where you could read about a particular city or country scene.  Most of the zines due to geography would feature local bands. For example - F.E.T.U zine (Far East Thrashcore Union) out of Japan really pushed a lot of local bands from their scene – Casbah, Outrage, Raging Fury, Systematic Death etc… Pre internet this was really one of the only ways you could hear about these different local scenes and bands.

What was the local scene like at the time?
In Sydney a lot centred around Utopia Records and Waterfront Records for more punk and hardcore. Both sold the zine.  Mortal Sin were big. Armoured Angel from Canberra would come up to play. A bunch of the Waterfront Records bands would play underage shows - Massappeal, Hellmenn, Hard Ons, Spunk Bubbles. Melbourne and Perth had rad scenes for metal also. 
Locally I was really into Massappeal and then Sadistik Execution as I got more into extreme stuff. They were big in the tape trade scene and highly regarded overseas.

At the time skateboarding was big into speed metal and punk.
Thrasher magazine was really important (and hard to get back then) – it had record reviews, band adverts and most importantly Pushead's ​ Puszone section where he'd write about bands and releases. I remember reading Puszone then going out and buying my first Suicidal Tendencies' Join The Army. The following week I bought the first Excel tape Split Image and Exodus' Bonded by Blood. From there I'd basically try and buy as many releases as I could afford. Thrasher's Skate Rock tape series was also really influential. 

Did you have a favourite video?
My favourite from that era – Santa Cruz's 'Wheels Of Fire' and 'Streets Of Fire' didn't so much feature metal but more punk/hardcore that I was also getting into – Firehose, Eight Dayz A Week, JFA, Minutemen, Blast.

What about a fave demo? 
The first two Nihilist tapes – Premature Autopsy and Only Shreds Remain. Nihilist went on to become Entombed. Being a big Danny Lilker/Nuclear Assault fan the first Brutal Truth demo. Morbid – December Moon demo. Anything coming out of Florida. Though I didn't own an original copy the first Death demo is so brutal, maybe that one. That demo and their first album were very influential for me and really pushed me deeper into that scene.


Where are the demos now? Some of them must be valuable.
I have managed to keep a bunch over the years. Many are long gone.  Also many were tape trader dubs not originals. I'm told some are worth a bit now but to be honest I'm not really across what they're worth. Maybe the Nihilist or Entombed. I do keep an eye out for zines from that era online – they go for big dollars now.

Images: Death Rites