WORDS BY LEWIS ALLAN AND KELSEY TREVAN
Australia held its inaugural Download Festival at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse, and the UK-based festival brought the weather with it. Melbournians and visitors were treated to a rain-soaked setting through a morning and early afternoon deluge, but that didn’t deter punters committed to a full day of rock, punk and Metal.
One of the earliest bands of the day and a late addition to the line-up, Melbourne’s own High Tension were met with a cadre of committed fans as they played into the rain from the Red stage. High Tension were immediately set apart from the pack by vocalist Karina Utomo, who provided a worthy appetiser to Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz with her fearsome screams. Rarely did a clean vocal line emerge from the disarmingly physically small frontwoman, amongst a set of what could perhaps be described as Blackened Stoner Metal. Matt Weston’s bassline drove much of the band’s groove, while Mike Deslandes carried forth a catchy and accessible sound on guitar. They were backed by drummer Lauren Hammel, who impressively matched Utomo’s power and fury throughout.
First up on the Black Stage was Melbourne’s own Ocean Grove. It didn’t seem to matter that the crowd were completely sodden, they were out in force, and they were loud. There were definite influences of Download headliners KoRn and Limp Bizkit in this 5 piece who seem to defy any genre. It only took two tracks before the crowd were chanting for a member of the band to do a ‘shooey’ – an Australian phenomenon where beer is drunk from a shoe – and when a runner was thrown on stage guitarist Jimmy Hall was more than happy to oblige. Fittingly, the song played before the shooey was ‘Beers’. There wasn’t really a quiet moment from the crowd during Ocean Grove’s set and they definitely ended the day as hometown heroes.
Immediately after, over on the Red Stage we had Sydney’s own Northlane. The five piece from Sydney have a huge following around the country and the Melbourne crowd were out in force. Northlane have a great history with Australia and it’s crowds and have also picked up a coveted ARIA Award for their music and it’s easy to see why. They’re loud, crisp and cohesive and they sounded amazing on stage yesterday. The crowd were loving it and for as much as vocalist Marcus Bridge gave them, they gave it back tenfold. Sadly, the band announced that these run of Australian shows will be their last for the foreseeable future but we wish them luck with whatever the future holds!
Though the sodden crowd were relatively subdued during High Tension’s set, that was all set to change when Tasmania’s most brutal, Psycroptic, hit the Dogtooth stage. With the rain having eased off a little, the commanding and charismatic frontman Jason Peppiatt easily got the crowd moving to some early afternoon Death Metal. Only three songs into the set, the crowd split for the entire width of the stage to create a devastating wall of death, and circle pits abounded for the duration of the set. One of the great highlights however was the guest appearance of Lochlan Watt singing alongside Peppiatt for one song, known to punters from triple j’s The Racket.
Next up back over on the Black Stage was Of Mice & Men, with their first Australian appearance since the departure of front-man Austin Carlile due to his ongoing battle with Marfan Syndrome. Since 2017 bassist Aaron Pauley has taken over the lead vocals with guitarist Alan Ashby joining him on backing vocals and helping to provide the unclean vocals. The four piece from California thrilled the crowd with a mix of songs off their new album ‘Defy,’ and older songs. There wasn’t really a moment of calm during the set and Ashby showed off his guitar skills with impressive solos on several occasions. Along with drummer Tino Arteaga and guitarist Phil Manansala the four piece kept the energy up throughout the set and we hope they come back to give us more than just a taste somewhere in the near future.
A return to the Red stage hailed the entry of Sabaton, the military history-themed Power Metal band from Sweden. Always expected to be a highlight of the festival, Sabaton did not disappoint as they launched into their powerhouse of a set with fan favourite Ghost Division. The band were likewise not disappointed with the crowd, with frontman Joakim Broden and mastermind Par Sundstrom unable to keep the amazed smiles from the faces at the continual chanting of the band’s name between every song. It was an emotional set for fans who had been waiting five years for Sabaton to return to Australia, but the perfect moment was reached when the first rays of sun for the day appeared during Sabaton’s tribute to Australia’s fallen World War I heroes, Cliffs of Gallipoli. The band’s on-stage antics were also in fine form, with Broden at one point tackled to the ground and practically tea-bagged by guitarist Chris Rorland.
Immediately following on the Black stage were the unique French Progressive Death Metal quartet Gojira, who provided one of the most visually impressive shows of the festival with plenty of smoke and pyro accompanying their deeply heavy music. Gojira’s approach includes an almost Industrial beat and slightly distorted vocal approach that ensured frontman Joe Duplantier’s command over the crowd, while bassist Jean-Michel Labadie clearly exalted in his seismic rumble just about set to bring down the entire festival ground. Arguably the most technical band on the line-up, Gojira provided a flawless set that was sure to have been a real treat for the fellow musicians in the audience, as well as punters into the extreme end of the Progressive spectrum.
Back on the Red stage, Sweden was back in the spotlight with Amon Amarth weaving their tales of Viking glory. It must be said that Amon Amarth’s pit was absolutely insane from the get-go, with circle pits spontaneously appearing at seemingly random locations and moments throughout the set. It was a struggle to keep one’s feet as Amon Amarth played a carefully curated set from across a range of albums, including Wanderer and Raise your Horns from the latest release ‘Jomsviking,’ and classics such as Twilight of the Thunder God, As Loke Falls and crowd favourite Guardians of Asgaard. Of course, during Raise your Horns a literal drinking horn was raised by frontman Johan Hegg, who shared several toasts with the enthusiastic crowd.
At a completely different end of the Progressive spectrum, Mastodon took to the Black stage with Troy Sanders’ powerful and compelling voice ringing out across the racecourse. Just as impressive on vocals was Brann Dailor, particularly as he kept up his fantastic performance while also drumming, always an incredible feat. Mastodon played the first of the longer sets of the late afternoon, giving them plenty of room to breathe and time for variety in the set. This also led to some variability in performance, as there seemed to be some loss of tightness around the middle of the set. This was quickly rectified however, and the band soon landed a powerful finish.
Back on the Red Stage another band that haven’t been to Australia in a very long time, despite one of it’s members living here, are the pop-punks legends from Baltimore, Good Charlotte. Whilst Download is known as a heavier music festival, there were a few more pop-punk/punk rock artists there yesterday that included Good Charlotte. Benji and Joel Madden, along with drummer Dean Butterworth, guitarist Billy Martin and bassist Paul Thomas thrilled the pop punk kids with a lot of their old hits including The Anthem, Girls & Boys, and Lifestyles Of The Rich And The Famous, as well as newer tracks like Dancefloor Anthem, and Life Changes. Joel Madden did say that they would be back next year, so I in particular am definitely looking forward to their return, and to hearing them play more of the tracks off their new album.
Immediately following Good Charlotte over on the Black Stage was Limp Bizkit. Fred Durst and Co have been wowing crowds since the 1990s with their Nu Metal style and their Download performance was no exception. Durst gave security a run for their money when he headed out into the crowd for part of the set but still put up a great show. Despite a member of the crowd taking a swing at Durst he took it in his stride and shrugged it off. They also brought a fan up from the crowd to do a cover of George Michael’s ‘Faith.’ and then later in the set covered Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ The highlight of their set in my opinion was hearing them play old classic songs like Rollin’ and Break Stuff and despite his age, Durst has still got it and was extremely energetic and animated during the set.
Next up on the Red Stage was the rap rock supergroup, Prophets of Rage. The band was formed in 2016 and consists of three members of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, and Tom Morello, two members of Public Enemy, rapper Chuck D and DJ Lord, and rapper B-Real of Cypress Hill. It was the supergroup first appearance in Australia but the strong crowd was loving it. As it started to get dark the lighting provided a new feel and increased the atmosphere of the band’s performance. Tom Morello was his usual amazing self and hasn’t lost his touch and showed off his insane guitar skills throughout. The set was mostly of cover songs from the collective members discography, as well as a cover of Jump Around that has the whole crowd moving. They closed their set with Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade and Killing In The Name Of and every single person in the crowd was singing along. Here’s hoping we get a Prophets of Rage Tour sometime soon in Australia because last nights taster was not enough to satisfy the craving for seeing such a great band perform.
The atmosphere was ripe for destruction as Swedish melodic Death Metal masters Arch Enemy closed the Dogtooth stage, a perfect tableau as a gap opened in the night time clouds to reveal the shining half-moon. Frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz put on an unbelievably energetic physical performance as she covered every inch of the stage, while never missing a harshly growled beat. Meanwhile, the crowd was treated to guitarist Jeff Loomis’ first performance in Australia since Nevermore’s 2006 tour, and he showed that he was incontrovertibly the perfect fit to play alongside his virtuosic partner in guitar, founding member Michael Amott. Drummer Daniel Erlandsson likewise never disappoints, while bassist Sharlee D’angelo kept up seemingly effortlessly with his lead counterparts. Arch Enemy closed the stage on a high note with Nemesis, the crowd backing them and the festival with the chant, “One for all, all for one, we are one, nemesis!”
Finally on the Black Stage we had our headliners KoRn. These Nu Metal legends have also been wowing crowds since the 1990s and it seemed as if every punter in attendance was there to catch their amazing set. Music legend and vocalist Jonathan Davis along with his band members Fieldy on bass, Munky on rhythm guitar, Head on lead guitar and backing vocals and drummer Ray Luzier put on an amazing show. The rain held out for the entirety of the bands set but even if it was raining, I don’t think it would have deterred anyone from having a good time. You’d be hard pressed to find a band that is as loved as KoRn and the energy from the crowd was electric. They played all the classics that had everyone singing along and even played an encore. Davis played the whole set in a floral skirt and looked amazing.
Overall, the day was a complete success and showed that even though it’s been a few years since the people of Melbourne have had a Metal festival, they still know how to rock out and hard. The future is looking up for Australian festivals and we’re looking forward to a return of Download next year!