The Last Martyr keep listeners on their toes with new EP ‘Purgatory’

Vocalist Monica Strut talks the Melbourne band’s cohesion concerns, “intangible” chemistry and why pop-punk isn’t for her

Today (December 10), Naarm/Melbourne heavy act The Last Martyr release their new EP ‘Purgatory’. Doused in ’90s nu-metal nostalgia with touches of electronic, trap and emo influences, this five-track project is filled with gut-punch riffs, powerful vocals and propulsive blast beats.

Most of the EP was produced throughout the pandemic over Zoom with Chris Lalic, an engineer for heavy acts like To Octavia and drummer for Windwaker. “One of our intentions was to keep the listening guessing what’s coming next,” lead vocalist Monica Strut tells NME.

And indeed, each song has its own unique fingerprint: High-octane single ‘Hindsight’ champions inventive industrial riffs while Strut’s voice moves seamlessly from clean melodies to spiralling screams. On the second verse of ‘Out of Time’, a swift, intricate vocal run shows an artist willing to push herself.

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The members of The Last Martyr – Strut, Ben Rodgers (guitar), Ricky Andres (bass and beats) and Vin Krishnan (drums) – have all held long stints in other heavy bands. They have rock-solid chemistry, which is obvious from the set they played for Metal Injection – a feat considering they’ve spent 262 cumulative days in lockdown since the pandemic began last year, having performed with their current lineup only a handful of times.

Next year they’ll play the festivals UNIFY Gathering, Uncaged Festival and Halloween Hysteria III, with more shows to be announced soon.

Strut spoke with NME about living in limbo throughout the pandemic, her early heavy influences, and how playing metal music balances out her “happy-go-lucky, optimistic” temperament.

The EP ‘Purgatory’ is about feeling stuck in limbo. Was that feeling caused by the pandemic, or are there more layers to it?

“A lot of it was to do with the pandemic. We were really hoping that 2020 would be a year where we could get out there and play a lot more shows, and release singles quite frequently. Of course, that plan went right out the window. Being based in Melbourne, we had the harshest restrictions in the whole country. It was definitely this oppressive feeling that I don’t think any of us have really felt before – not even being able to go outside of the house without police patrolling the streets, making sure that we weren’t out past curfew.

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“‘Out of Time’ is also a very vulnerable song about this fear of getting older, and there are certain pressures being a woman in the music industry [around] being youthful. I was definitely putting myself under a lot of pressure.”

In ‘Out of Time’, there’s an interesting combination of genres going on. The guitar intro’s rhythm sounds dancey, but then it merges with nu-metal. Who wrote that part?

“That was Ben, the guitarist. We wanted a palate cleanser on the EP, and that intro, because it is very dancey and very pop, did the job.”

I imagine it was quite difficult to blend those sounds – it adds variety to the EP.

“One of the concerns that we had, because there are a lot of different parts in the song, was: is this going to sound cohesive? Is it going to sound like us? And Chris Lalic, the producer, was so good at assuring that no matter what we do, it’s always going to sound like us because it’s my voice on there and it’s Ben’s guitar tone.”

Metal needs real rhythmic skill. Your set on Metal Injection shows that, even though you’ve all been in lockdown, you’re in real sync when you perform. How have you all refined your sense of rhythm and timing over the years?

“That’s a really interesting question, because with this particular lineup we have only played a grand total of three or four shows together due to the lockdowns. I think one of the biggest things was rehearsing as if we were playing a show, as opposed to just standing around facing each other in a room sort of thing. [Chemistry between bandmates] is something that’s kind of intangible and that you can’t really explain sometimes.”

What drew you to heavy music?

“My brother was probably the person that introduced me to heavy music, but at the time, it was more so commercial acts, like Linkin Park and Evanescence. Then when I was a teenager, I had a friend who was super into ’80s rock, like Guns N’ Roses and Mötley Crüe. I became so obsessed with ’80s glam, but, at the same time, all the local shows were hardcore, emo and screamo bands – MySpace-era stuff. So I was this weird glam-emo hybrid.”

When I was growing up in Nowra and moving through heavier scenes, I struggled with how the line-ups tended to over-represent white cis dudes. What was your experience? Did that ever impact you when you were younger?

“I always felt like an outsider, but I was, for some reason, of the mindset that: ‘Yeah, sometimes it’s harder to be an outsider, but it’s also what makes me different.’ Obviously, I’ve experienced things like sexism, and I can see the industry making more effort to be more inclusive. I never really took it to heart when I was younger.

“One of the hardest parts was probably when I was in my last band, back in Sydney. We were a metalcore band, very much Escape the Fate and Avenged Sevenfold-sounding. But I felt like a lot of the venues that we wanted to play didn’t really know what to do with us, because the only other bands that had a female fronting them, or a non-cis male member in them, were all like, pop-punk bands.

“And I don’t really like pop-punk. I don’t listen to it. It’s just like, not my personal jam [laughs]. I was never someone that dressed in jeans and Converse and a band tee.”

I’m glad you’ve found your people, and that you didn’t have to step out of your genre.

“Yeah, pop-punk is just too happy for me. I’m a very happy-go-lucky, optimistic person. But I need the heaviness in my music to balance it all out.”

The Last Martyr’s ‘Purgatory’ is out now

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