Dream Theater have been at the top of the game for such a long time …
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
24th March, 2018
If you compared Download to Soundwave that’s a bad thing to do and if you did, you should feel bad. This isn’t your mama’s metal and pony show. This is a whole new animal. A Big Red Dog, as it turns out.
Download was never a given, so people opining that it was a “four year wait” are being disingenuous. Promoters don’t owe us shit, and we should fall to our knees in supplication when they devote even a fraction of a neuron to our insatiable lusts for loudness and sweating. Download was the shareware version of the big dick European festival, even down to the absolute downpour in the first third of the day. If you weren’t covered head to toe in a life-sized condom designed for zero pleasure, you likely had a bad time. But as it turned out, you had to be a born stick in the mud to experience anything else but elation at this, the inaugural Download Festival Australia.
No one was in the mood for Northlane, following Ocean Grove (whom we couldn’t see due to ticketing f-ups.) The people who love Northlane probably hadn’t even arrived yet: they’re too busy waiting in line or waiting for the rain to stop before they left their comfy lounge rooms. I mean, they played okay, but they just aren’t at that crowd-slaying, stadium-crushing level they’re aiming for. Punters soaked to the bone twice over stood around, waiting for someone to say, “Hey guys, you can have fun now.”
Of Mice & Men
This ain’t the Of Mice & Men the kids grew up with. Bassist Aaron Pauley is thrust into the spotlight and we’re all eager to see how he takes the mantle. Even though their newer material strays into “wait this just sounds like Unbreakable” again, the loss of Austin Carlile doesn’t feel as devastating as it did a year ago. That said, there’s only so much stage presence a bassist tackling lead vox can really throw out when he’s forced to be stationary. At least the cleans Pauley’s been honing for years worked for their cover of Pink Floyd’s Money. (Flew over their heads like this second reference: a Great Gig In The Sky. Piper at the Gates Of Dawn! The Wall! Roger Waters lives! —Ed). The Flood kicked the weary into gear; lose the ponchos boys cause there’s no warranty in a circle pit. Sabaton fans couldn’t wait for this bull ish to finally close out but come ON, this is the heaviest they’ve got and you’re still not happy? Whatever, go read up on military history again, ya limey fucks.
The Festival hadn’t started proper before military history, power metal Generals Sabaton rocked up. This was when the Swedes willed the true Euro festival spirit into being. Girls carried atop shoulders, waves of horns thrust back and forth, banter so well rehearsed it looked spontaneous. Voices carried away singer Joakim Broden’s sweeping anthem to a dead Swedish king, Carolus Rex. Yeah, people give a shit about this stuff. Doubly anthemic The Last Stand is the first and last time you’ll ever hear a metal crowd chant “In the name of God!” with utter conviction. So too Cliffs of Gallipoli, a tribute to our brave ANZACs who fought and died for our nation in steel and flame. I’ll say this: you won’t ever hear Advance Australia Fair sung with such gusto.
Trophy Eyes are pretty much the Challenger: within moments of them kicking off after the release of Chemical Miracle, they’ve blown up. Well, a better trajectory is forecast for the Newcastle lads than the ill-fated spacecraft cause singer John Floreani doesn’t even have to sing Counting Sheep. The crowd are more than happy to do his job for him; with all the rainbow coloured hair dotted around singing in unison, it’s like a wholesome emo Coke commercial. Probably for the best because the sound coming from Floreani is absolutely horrendous. By the time their third track rolls around it’s been fixed thank god, and they announce a new album’s in the works so AAAAAAAHHHHHH is the general consensus. New track Hurt has well and truly cemented itself in the setlist as a favourite, which is pretty shocking considering they haven’t even been on home soil since it dropped. Chlorine drops, we sing.
God if this isn’t just mid-afternoon festival set perfection. Gojira are so technically adept that they’re throwing out polyrhythms like they were scarfing down croissants and café au lait. Gojira is at home on the festival stage, even though their mind-twisty Whale metal should send most dudes running for the bar. How can you go wrong with Heaviest Matter of the Universe, riffs bearing down like a massive boot pressing into your face. Or you could enter the maelstrom of L’Enfant Sauvage. Your call, holmes. Plus: BYO flames. Is there anything better? Spoiler: none of the headline acts even bothered with full pyro but Gojira bloody do.
Second up on the Swedish destruction roster, Amon Amarth were a flurry of windmills and Viking tributes in sheer riffpower. As if their command ordered Thor himself to retreat into Asgard, the sun came out and blessed our drenched ponchos. Blistering and pillaging through Twilight Of The Thunder God, singer Johan Hegg swung his giant prop Mjolnir to whoops of adoring cheers. I will not make a definitive statement on here (for legal reasons), but I can’t decide if my neck hurts thanks to whiplash from a pre-Download prang, or intense headbanging inspired by these Norsemen.
Look, Neck Deep are fun but they just don’t have that pop punk familiarity. Proper pop punk should feel like the comforting hug of bargain basement, slightly warm beer as you look around a room full of good mates. Neck Deep feel like you’re in the same room, but the beer is soda water and your mates are the ones you kind of don’t even want to be around but no one else is available. Tracks like December and Can’t Kick Up The Roots have all the elements there but it’s just not doing it for us today. Kids are crowd surfing though and they’re having a ball. Maybe it’s the first pop-punk band they got into but for a day of nostalgia, Neck Deep haven’t captured the edge. First casualty we saw: a dead King Buzzo ringer pissing blood from his nose. In a Neck Deep pit, of all places.
Falling In Reverse
We told a Gunners loving mate he’d probably dig Falling In Reverse. It’s sleaze rock for millennials, right? Big sing-a-long choruses, uncomplicated lyrics, a 34 year old teenager as frontman? Done, son. You must have a heart made out of dogshit if you hate Ronnie Radke. He struts about the stage, the sole actor in a play of his own creation. A sweep of the hand here, a skip and a jump about there; the man is non-stop entertainment. He revelled in the shrieks coming up from the pit—you’d be hard pressed to find a tenor voice in that crowd, let me tell you. I saw some boyfriends throw nervous arms around their girlfriend’s waists, lest they scarper off with Ronnie after the set. I don’t blame them for a second. As for the music … I don’t even know what songs he and FIR played. I don’t even care. The spectacle was more than enough.
Mastodon as the sun fades and blurs into twilight just works. They played the sunset slot at Soundwave and Download organisers again ticked all the boxes. It was also a stark realisation is that Mastodon are no longer the new kids on the block; Troy Sanders’ hair and beard greying, Brent Hinds’ pot belly spreading ever wider. But hey, can they shred? Of course they fucking can. Mastodon don’t fly all over the world to fuck spiders, ja feel?
Oi Mastodon are cool and everything but you know Good Charlotte are playing next right? We don’t want nine minute guitar solos we just wanna DANCE. Yeah metal street cred means nothing to a kid raised by Video Hits pumping Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. ‘Real’ metal fans are walking past and flipping them off but come on, it’s The Anthem: don’t even pretend you’ve NEVER been drunk and sung it. The Madden twins are getting on in years but their tracks don’t exactly require too much effort to pull off. Bizarre collaboration with Avenged Sevenfold The River sees Joel Madden attempting his best M. Shadows impersonation. Yes it’s cool to see their drummer nearly destroy himself with double kicks but when the next three songs are Little Things, Dance Floor Anthem and I Just Wanna Live no one’s saying “I wish they kept playing new material.” Lifestyles arrives with a short burst of rain and that lost irony the bloody Madden brothers are singing about rich wankers? Dissolved like a pile of salt because it’s such a pure time capsule of a time past.
Suicidal Tendencies don’t want to grow up. If they did, they’d lose all credibility. Wearing snapbacks and snarls throughout their criminally short set, they ground through hardcore classics You Can’t Bring Me Down and Subliminal, Mike Muir spitting fire sermons between cuts. “This song is about not being a victim,” he cried. How very last century of you, Mike. It’s hardcore for Gen X types with kids and mortgages. They’re reliving their glory days as kings of the skate park, at least for half an hour. Without them, we’d have no Limp Bizkit, no Ocean Grove. Remember that.
“How was Metallica’s set before, alright?” Aunty Slattz says, shirtless and hirsute as ever. “Thanks for showing up over here, we can tell you right now we’re the only band here that isn’t doing it for the Nookie.” King Parrot and their vicious strain of death/thrash should be bestowed with the highest national honour we have: “Our” King Parrot, like “Our” Dawn Fraser, and “Our” Gough Whitlam. On the fringes, two corpsepainted gentlemen held an in-depth convocation about something or rather, without missing a beat. Even through steel-belted screamer Shit on the Liver, though? Fuck off. “Go Saints!” said Squiz. Fuck oath, son.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, INTRODUCING: THE CHOCOLATE STARFISH. God I love this band. Everything about Limp Bizkit shouldn’t exist. Even when it was popular, they shouldn’t have. Wes Borland is dressed entirely in black (face paint inclusive) so we can hardly even see him against the backdrop. DJ Lethal looks like he’s struggling to spin the decks. Fred Durst is white bearded and red capped in ‘old skeeve at nightclub’ chic. But when that first chainsaw riff thunders out, it all comes together. Limp Bizkit’s modus operandi is “sledgehammer them first, write the lyrics later”. Durst imitating sniffing panties during Eat You Alive is what the new journalists would call P R O B L E M A T I C. (So why mention it, dickhead —Ed.) So oh my sweet jesus, Limp Bizkit are now leading the rock and roll pushback: Zakk Wylde would be SO torn to hear that.
One dude in the crowd asks one of the Hysty crew whether she’ll punch him in the face during Break Stuff. She declines, and he is a full on harassment dick to everyone around him until our mate tells him “just do it yourself dude.” He complies, Durst screams “I JUST MIGHT BREAK YOUR FUCKEN FACE TONIGHT” and the crowd pogos en masse. Even the 45 year olds are bouncing like they don’t have to take the kids to soccer practice tomorrow. It’s messy, it’s dumb and it’s what we needed.
Prophets of Rage
I wanted to hate Prophets Of Rage so much. How dare these self-declared socialists “re-form” as a cash grab? Well, I couldn’t hate them. I couldn’t hate them at all. Chuck D and B-Real are kings of group hip-hop, experts at cutting up verses like pounds of bacon. Exploding into Testify and Take The Power Back, it was like being thrust into the RATM of old, but somehow, renewed. Morello is a force unto himself. Who knew a guitar did all that magical shit? I bet some actual guitarists didn’t even know. However, the shine dulled playing actual Prophets of Rage tracks. Like, how fucking dare they, right? Livin’ on the 110 was as limp-wristed as they come. Morello’s “Fuck Trump” sticker flash while he toothpicked at his axe seemed on the nose, even for a band who’s schtick is sticking it to Republicans. It was as impotent as telling Reagan to go fuck himself. Play the old shit! Anyway, when DJ Muggs, Chuck D, and B-Real sprang into House of Pain’s Jump Around and a few choice selections from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, they rang a bell for a Masterclass in old school hip-hop. The younguns who only ever hear the rap anthems when they’re three pills deep at Rats with their white-bread mates? Even they knew when Morello announced the “most dangerous song” in the catalogue that Killing in the Name deserved some fucken respect. As tears welled in eyes, Tom delivered a prayer for the fallen Chris Cornell. The set was complete: joy, sorrow, laughter, and rage.
Hot Water Music
It was thin on the ground for Hot Water Music’s set, which made it more intimate than the fifteen billion people set in front of the Black and Red main stages. Feet aching, legs feeling like bloodied stumps, the gravelly tones of Chuck Ragan melted away the pain, replacing it with something more existential. Though I only caught a few songs, it was impossible not to fall under their spell, cast by unpretentious, heart-on-the-sleeve punk tunes. Can you guys come back down now, y’hear?
Arch Enemy. The thrash band that thrived during the nu-metal/metalcore wasteland of the early 2000s. Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore, Sanctuary) returning to Aussie soil is cause for celebration enough, let alone with Mike Amott and beautiful screamer Alissa White-Gluz in tow. Even so, with the quality on display at the unofficially official metal stage, Arch Enemy seemed underwhelming in comparison. An hour long set seemed to drag on instead of flash by, unlike the vigorous Arch Enemy of old. Maybe they need to spend a season or two in seconds before they’re called up to the big stage again?
The last time Korn played in this exact location in 2014, they were still lit by the sun and finished at 6:45. Yeah it was fun, but the atmosphere a band like Korn needs really doesn’t gel with the lingering possibility of sunburn. No, they need pure darkness and eerie lighting to really pull their schtick off.
With scraping on concrete, chilling pre-schooler giggles and murky green lights bathing the audience, there’s an electric anticipation. Holy hell, when their bottom end kicks in does it kick in. Say what you want about nu metal but there’s heavy, and then there’s Korn’s low end mix. No one in 1994 could’ve ever possibly anticipated how good this would eventually end up sounding. They’re playing Rotting In Vain from 2016 and it still sounds like (what I imagine) the first time they entered suburban bedrooms at the tail end of the 90’s. Although we young crowd really do take for granted that we have perfect audio clarity in our ears: a scratched CD was all about 80% of this crowd would’ve had to vibe with when they first discovered Korn. Paired with a whip crack snare, god we are getting real angsty white boy. Vocals weren’t the only thing that Jonathan Davis slayed during the set. He’s garbed in his favourite Japanese silk kilt and at one point he’s got his bagpipes out to solo for us. That’s it: there’s no quip because the man is above them at this point. Go on, YOU get on stage and wear it and see how quickly you crumble. Davis cares not for your dated ideals: he is nu metal royalty and you will RESPECT the silk.
Middle fingers are up for Y’all Want A Single and there’s more than enough for the old heads to reminisce with Got The Life and Coming Undone firing off back to back. Honestly there are enough songs that start the same it’s hard to keep track of which we’ve already had. That’s not a problem for the guy next to us who’s clearly up the latest he’s ever been in a decade and his missus has let him off the leash for a night. Speaking of leather, we catch a glimpse of a man totally covered in a bold rainbow jumpsuit save for a black ski mask pinballing around on a leash dragged by a woman in a sexy police outfit. What an absolute crowd that’s shown up for this set. Shoots and Ladders came out the year I was born to show just how far this band have managed to come. They’re headlining over two decades later, so get ready for the “omg I was born in the wrong generation” posts from kids who had their minds blown for the first time during the set.
Thankfully none of that weird Skrillex shit dropped and we’re treated with 4 U and Blind to herald the encore. Freak On A Leash (obviously) caps off the set and jesus are beatboxing gen x-ers a sight to behold. It builds and “GO!” (oh you know the one) is arguably the best breakdown of the whole day.
Presumably finishing 20 minutes early so Davis and Co can get to bed (along with the rest of the older crowd), Download Australia’s first year managed to impress. Stages so close meant that scheduling issues were a breeze, and at points it really did feel like the festivals of days gone by. Give us Unify and Download every year and we might just let the memory of Soundwave finally rest. See you back next year? Here’s hoping.//