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When the righteous shout, “death to the freaks,” the freaks gather at Knotfest. They gather and have a bloody great time revelling in their derangement.
Drifting through Knotfest as every black-shirted shouty music enthusiast in Melbourne did, we’re greeted with every pillar of our culture. Knotfest is the World Expo of everything dangerous, scary, and downright exhilarating. Some of us expected a lanky top-hatted twirly moustache guy to announce every weird and wonderful thing that was happening like we were in an open-air psycho circus.
“Roll up, roll up! See the incredible chainsaw-wielding juggler! Will they be carving up incredible feats, or their actual feet? In the squared circle, we have Burlysaurus taking on the squirrelly Mouth from the South – his Lariat-Jurassic Punch combo sends his opponents into the stone age!” Nope, no such luck. If that guy was indeed real, he should have been shrieking “Two stages only! No clashes!” at the top of his nicotine-scarred lungs. If those masks on Slipknot were actually washed once in a while, I’d kiss all their faces. Bless you, Slipknot. Er, by Satan of course.
Cloudy with a chance of rain, this was the first Aussie festival in many not to require multiple lathers of sunscreen and a dermatologist’s appointment on standby. I soon learn this is perfect weather for Malevolence, who are from the UK and therefore always miserable. They receive a healthy audience for their fist-throwdown brand of ‘ardcore which is admirable. For them.
We also surmise Void of Vision, pleather-clad Nosferatu/Smashing Pumpkins enthusiasts, are also masters of the dark arts of mesmerism. Possible Machina-era Billy Corgan clone Jack Bergin got the crowd jumping, quite literally. One of their more abrasive metalcore tunes was called “DOMINATRIX.” And no one was surprised.
Helloween Hysteria alumni Alpha Wolf burst on to stage and are quick off the mark at throwing solid, stone-bound riffs at us and we’re eternally grateful. “Do you motherfuckers know what time it is?” No Lochie, I haven’t even looked at my watch yet. I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball.
Hard-caw merchants Knocked Loose are the first band to drop a sonic boom on us, creating space for their cavernous breakdowns and scrappy fighting tunes for hanging around abandoned buildings in. A long-haired “Weird Al” impersonator wearing a Metallica-inspired Beethoven t-shirt is coloured unimpressed, however. This is not indicative of the general mood of everyone else.
Backed by a giant poster with the simple print of Spiritbox on, we are led correctly to believe that the band Spiritbox is on next. Within minutes, to our many cheers, Spiritbox arrive. Singer Courtney LaPlante arrives in orange hoodie and shorts, which is the most relaxed looking and authentic feeling outfit of the entire day. Some well deserved melody is served up on Circle With Me, as well as LaPlante’s sensual croon permeating robotic headbanger Yellowjackets. A dose of femininity was exactly what we needed at this point. The undeniable highlight of Holy Roller sees the attended off their feet, just as the first plumes of weed hung thick in the air.
Story of the Year are your emo-pop-punk adjacent happy band of the evening, and their ilk was kind of getting long in the tooth for anyone above the age of 25. Some light drizzle appeared as they chugged out their more Metallica-worshipping tracks (a friend asked, “Is this a cover of Battery?) Recommended if you like hanging out with your dad.
Finally, die Europäisch Metall gruppen gekommt. In Flames arrived with explosions in the air and new track The Great Deceiver, which is a great title for it. For a second, we almost believe its from their golden period of the late 90s and early 2000s. They breeze into synth-stabbed Cloud Connected and deep cut Behind Space, because some in the pit weren’t even born when that track dropped all the way back in ’99. Anders Friden, wearing a fucking hat for some reason and sounding like he’s enjoyed a few too many $15 Ned’s Whisky and Drys, apologises for bringing the “Swedish” weather of drizzle and darkness. “Do you like the Clayman album?” he posits. Does the pope shit in the woods? They pull out Only For The Weak. One to really stomp to. A fresh out the gym Slipknot bro wearing chains and obnoxious sunglasses says, “This is literally my favourite song.” I don’t doubt it. They play two more new cuts that have a certain roots-bound respectability about them, like they’re effected by a halo, if you will. An impressive set. But then again, they had to follow Amon Amarth.
Amon Amarth were flanked by two towering stone Norse berserkers, their drumkit serving as the bow of their sturdy raiding ship. Now graying but none less ferocious Johan Hegg appears, cannonballing into Guardians of Asgard, the fist-pumpiest track of the day so far. Do not underestimate the power of this Swedish viking battlestation; even Cyberpunk 2077 extras were raising horns in fealty to Oden. Battle lines were certain and drawn for The Great Heathen Army, to which our windswept battle commander gave out the order for a row pit. That means dropping to the floor and rowing back and forth. This may have been disguised as a cardio workout. “That’s the biggest fucking row pit I’ve ever seen,” he lied. Battles raged on in the circle pit as we Raise the Shield Wall, cardboard blades and axes flailing above bobbing heads. Mjolnir was shining bright and his drinking horn held aloft closing out the set with the always favourite Twilight of the Thunder God. If you never catch Amon Amarth, you are denying yourself something special.
Can you believe we’re half way there? Cyber-metalcore aficionados Northlane are the first to incorporate abstract visuals into their set, which further emphasises the fact that singer Marcus Bridge seems to have walked straight off the set of the new Dune films. Does he think he is the Kwisatz Haderach? I don’t doubt it. They were tight and unified, and delivered a crowd-pleasing set that ran the gamut. Can’t really fault them there.
Trivum dominated the twilight hours, shouting their arguments for being one of the best live acts in metaldom. Matt Heafy had his horns raised, tongue out, and smile stretched across his face. It was one of unrestrained joy. Funnily enough Rain and Amongst the Shadows and Stone fell along with the real rain and clouds. Down from the Sky from their breakout Shogun album captivated the Aussie metal scene and went down a real treat. The entire band, Heafy especially, were in joyful, grateful, centred unison. We witnessed the most charismatic frontman will a ten thousand strong legion to his Tokugawa-like command by final song Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr and we couldn’t be happier. Happiness, yes. Remember happiness? The most boring yet satisfying state of being.
The mighty Megadeth weren’t BSing around diving right into the iconic “aliens are real, wink wink” dual-shred thrash attack Hangar 18. Frontman Dave Mustaine is pushing 60, has survived hand surgery, and throat cancer – if we begrudge him for any of those, we are assholes. Yes, he’s always sounded like a strangled cat. No, he can’t hit the notes as well as he used to – with his voice, that is. On the guitar, he’s faultless. Dread and the Fugitive Mind is first in our axe masterclass, Brazilian wunderkind Kiko Laureiro carving up lead breaks for us to chew on. Thanking us all for our support during his surgeries, Dave blessed crowd surfers amid Angry Again, disappearing briefly to return with a jacket on. He was feeling nippy. Bless.
Dystopia took the chill from the air as Kiko tore us up – Tornado of Souls was the only slip-up, for the unholy trinity of Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells, and the mighty Holy Wars rounded out a blistering set. They’ve been great, and they’ve also been Megadeth.
Oh dear, we’re at the business end already. Parkway Drive. The plucky Byron boys that took on the world and won. Winston McCall is steadfast with a single purpose. He’s also possibly channelling Freddie Mercury at Live Aid clad in white vest and slacks. Nevertheless, he issues the order: “up! up! jump!” As dusk canopies the sky, explosions of spontaneous moshing for favourite Carrion light up the night. Songs like Vice Grip was another hooning headbanger and there wasn’t one motionless head in the entire place. Typhoon-level pits made landfall as Winston changed the lyrics in Dedicated from 12 to 20 years, in commemoration of their two-decade anniversary.
Before long, the stage goes black. Then, red. In among it all, a small string orchestra takes positions among the battlements for Shadow Boxing, with McCall finally shedding his vest for bare skin. Flames licked at the lips of the stage for the remainder of the set, pyro blasting through pylons and blasting our faces with radiant heat. “This is iconic,” McCall says in disbelief. It’s so earnest you may as well believe him. Metalheads may scoff when hearing a mere hardcore band is invited to some of the biggest festivals in the world, but Parkway Drive’s pomp and theatre are a sight to behold. Their chops are on point, their songs near-unforgettable. Parkway Drive is a force to be reckoned with – ignore it at your peril.
The moment had arrived. Slipknot, draping the stage in their logo are the masters of whipping crowds into a frenzy. First, as crimson lights peeked through their name, we hear For Those About To Rock We Salute You, and 50s rock n’ roller Billie Jo Spears rendition of Get Behind Me Satan and Push – 133 looping “satan” until the screen fell and the chaos began. Absolute chaos. Clown dressed in vestments and carrying an animatronic head in sync to Corey Taylor’s opening salvo Disasterpiece, we got pyro and analog horror visuals as backup, but nothing quite on the scale of Parkway Drive. I suppose if your name is on the festival, what other pretentions do you want – or need? Slipknot unadorned are a sight and sound to behold in and of themselves. Wait and Bleed had the maggots racing for the front, stopped only by a writhing mass before them. If you weren’t early, you were shit out of luck. Corey called for security – though it wasn’t evident if he was breaking kayfabe or not (later, a bloke climbed a pylon and organisers threatened to send us to our rooms if he didn’t climb down.) A monstrous swelling of support came in Sulfur, lights blazing brilliant blue and yellow.
The Dying Song, The Heretic Anthem and Psychosocial saw percussionists hang from their barrels and more returns of severed heads and other paraphernalia. Pyro shot into the dark of night, orange glinting from eyes pointed in one single direction. Teasing us with one more song – Duality seguing into Custer and then off-popping Spit it Out, some were left wondering if they’d return. That they did – for People = Shit and the culmination of Slipknot if you’ll ever hear it: Surfacing. Like an image of a trapped animal gnashing teeth and being carved into with a rusty nail, Surfacing was the ultimate Slipknot had to offer, in every meaning of the word.
It was classic Slipknot through and through – though more refined. Boilersuits traded in for three-piece suits, rubber masks now custom made with real nine-inch-nails spiked through or vermillion coloured and gleaming. The sunken holes for eyes in Corey’s skull mask led us down an uncanny valley of unease; and that was what this entire festival was about. The entire movement they almost single-handedly created back in the late 90s, when the moral panic about Satanism and video nasties were at their peak. These eight men, save for their fallen and erstwhile comrades (RIP Paul Gray), gave the “weird” kids a home and a place – albeit one that lay in our hearts and minds – of safety and community. DJ Starscream scratching out unearthly sounds amid barreling guitars were soundtracks to our difficult adolescences, and it made it all just a tad bit better. Made that tiny sliver easier knowing there were friends out there who felt the same, who accepted us, who loved us. When Corey spoke of family, it’s easy to wave him away and think he’s taking the piss out of The Fast and the Furious. No. Pay closer attention. He and Slipknot bound together something that stirred inside every one of us who stood on that paddock, in awe of what was transpiring. For eight hours, the freaks held court for once. We survived, we thrived, and we made this our own.
The pulse of the maggots is real; all you have to do is believe.