Live Reviews : Against The Grain 5 – 19/09/2009
Against The Grain 5
w/ Alchemist, Mournful Congregation, The Amenta, Captain Cleanoff, Double Dragon, Alarum, LORD, Truth Corroded, Skintilla, Lynchmada, Claim the Throne, Bhelliom, Empyrean, Separatist, ‘neath, Gallows for Grace, Se Bon Ki Ra, In Death, Octanic, Taunt and Arcadia
Fowlers Live, Adelaide – 19th September 2009
An Adelaide metal institution, Against the Grain Festival entered its fifth year, and boasted an embarrassment of riches with such bands as Alchemist, Mournful Congregation and The Amenta headlining the 21 band line-up. Being my first visit Beneath the City of Churches, I was somewhat unsure what to expect from the day’s events. Surely I thought, a running order with such class should gather a congregation of multiple hundreds, and on slapping an overage ‘beer pass’ on my wrist and entering the venue, my expectations were realised.
At an early 11:30am, locals Arcadia opened the day with a set of modern fusion of heavy metal and hardcore. Despite a few early technical issues with the mix, the bands set was well received by the 100 or so in attendance early, with a number of extra keen metal heads getting into the head banging spirit right from the get go. Fellow South Australian’s Taunt were up next, and true to their influences gave a good set’s worth of American styled Thrash/Death metal that was well received by the numerous head swirling supporters at front of pit.
A quick merch delivery back to the hostel saw me miss the first half of Industrial heavy/power metal band Octanic, however what I did see from the band’s energetic stage presence marked them as a highly professional outfit, if not one playing to my personal musical preferences. The first interstate band was up next, with In Death getting the Queensland invasion underway. Given, like a number of bands, it was their first visit to Adelaide, the early crowd watching their set was fairly sparse, but built up during their fast paced set. Unsure on its title, but the last track the band played with its experimental sounding riffs set it apart from the rest of their New Wave of American Death Metal material.
Continuing the stylistic theme was a name I’ve seen a lot on the net in the past year or so, Se Bon Ki Ra. Hitting up the Derringer stage, the very Machine Head looking front man of the band had the crowd worked up in no time, and with their tight musicianship were one of the early highlights of this epic fest. An unexpected delight to finish their set was a cover of the Pantera classic Fucking Hostile, of which the crowd happily joined in with the vital lyrics. Perth’s Gallows For Grace seem to have built a small following within the Adelaide scene with the bands appearance at ATG4, and will have only built on this base with a technically delightful 20 minutes of death metal. While their live mix, along with a number of bands throughout the day suffered, the hair of the crowd still got involved, with front man Bleak enticing extra bodily movement.
Providing a change towards a darker atmospheric sound Brisbane’s ‘neath were another band on debut in Adelaide. Playing tracks off both their releases, the band quickly impressed the growing crowd with their powerful progressive death metal stylings. Highlight of their set, as with both previous times I have seen the band in Melbourne, was the fantastic The Spider’s Sleep, from the album of the same name. Judging from comments throughout the day, it shouldn’t be too long before ‘neath grace an Adelaide venue once more.
Another interstate band that benefitted from previous journeys to the state was Tasmanian’s Separatist. Such do I rate this band, another from what could easily be the best breeding ground for Australian death metal, I rated their 2008 release The Motionless Apocalypse as my best Australia album of the year. Unfortunately however on this day, the band suffered – at least from my position in the room – from probably the worst mixing issues for the day. With a new album in the works, be sure to look out for these guys again soon! Black metal band Empyrean were yet another band making their debut in Adelaide, and yet another band well received by the Metal populace. The 6 piece punched through their short set comprised mainly by tracks off their 2008 release Quietus.
Gathering the largest crowd so far during the day, the first international band ever to appear at Against the Grain festival was Singapore’s Bhelliom. Heavily decked out in Truth Corroded/Frankenbok merch, the band suitably powered through 20 minutes of thrash/death metal. Whether it was the ‘novelty’ factor of an international band, or more likely through genuine appreciation of the music and on stage energy, the band received a rousing response from the crowd, with many thrashing heads and metal horns on show.
Arriving on their longboat made out of cans, presumably to make good use of the 5c refund available in the Southern state, Perth Viking metallers Claim the Throne followed up Bhelliom’s set with such bravado, ‘jiggability’ and humour that almost instantly they were everyone’s favourite new band. Arriving with free biscuits and covered in blood, the quintet provided the battle cries and beer funnel, and requested naught but “more courage in the foldback!” The highlight of the set however was the highly enjoyable new track Set Sail on Ale, of which they suitably adapted to pay homage to the marvellous brew that is Coopers Pale Ale!
Time for a quick meal break, however given the very short time between sets, and an over ambitious walk from Fowlers to Rundle Mall in 10 minutes, I ended up missing the next two bands, Lynchmada and the late inclusion Skintilla. However, I did make it back in time to catch local favourites Truth Corroded and their unrelenting Thrash. Stand out moments during their set were the tracks Decimate and When God is Murder, both from their recent full length Upon the Warlords Crawl. Continuing the momentum, albeit with a change of style, Sydney’s LORD impressed yet again, delivering 30 minutes of classic heavy metal material. Quite a humorous moment in their set, when bassist Andy jumped into the pit, then struggled to make his way directly back up – all while continuing to play in time!
After the late withdrawal of Ne Obliviscaris to the disappointment of many Adelaide fans, Alarum was left as the only Victorian band on the festival line-up. And the jazz/death metal fusionists did my home state extremely proud with yet another stellar performance of their forward thinking music. Making their first appearance in Adelaide since 2005, the band played songs such as Remote Viewing and Woven Imbalance from Eventuality, and a number of new songs from their forthcoming album Natural Causes. With one of the best mixes of the night, the crowd was appreciative of not only their high musicianship, but also some of the temporary song titles named after various nationwide liquor stores!
After missing the band at least three times in Melbourne, I finally had the chance to see Double Dragon live, and it was worth the wait with the band devastating the hordes with an inspired performance of their small but popular catalogue. Highlights were Beneath the City of Churches, and the final song in which the band invited most of the pit on stage! The first straight out grind band of the day kicked off on the DB Magazine stage, with Captain Cleanoff’s tunes creating the 3rd small but intense circle pit of the day. While grind isn’t particularly my favourite genre of music, I do quite enjoy a good live performance and the very popular CC boys presented a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.
Thanks to a bad live experience in the past, The Amenta was a band I was half planning to take a beer break during. However, thank fuck I didn’t because this band right here were my number one of what was an amazing day. Making his live debut with the band, new vocalist Kain (also in WA’s Malignant Monster) was exceedingly impressive with a powerful voice that belies his somewhat delicate frame. As if morphed into a combination of The Joker and Sweeney Todd, his stage presence was immense and took the band to the next level. They mainly played racks off nOn, with Junky, Slave and Whore all making an appearance, before they finished off with the amazing Erebus from the Occasus album.
Having seen Mournful Congregation earlier in the year, I must admit I wasn’t keen at all on seeing them again. Doom metal, from my point of view, is best left to a dark bedroom with your headphones cranked up to 11. Having said that, the band has got my respect given the amount of people they had watching their droning minimalist music – the exact opposite of Captain Cleanoff earlier that evening. And finally, after 11+ hours of live music, it was left to Canberra’s Alchemist to finish the festival off. A popular headliner, the progressive quartet weaved a selection of their discography, with the highlight no doubt the epic Chinese Whispers – one of the greatest Australian heavy metal songs. By this point however I was becoming physically drained – in part due to excess Coopers Pale Ale, but mainly thanks to the class line-up of quality Australian metal talent.
The organisers of Against the Grain – Jason, Lee and Truth Inc. Records – deserve a great deal of credit and thanks for producing such an amazing line-up and the faultless running of the event. Aside from the venues slightly below standard PA, a few minor complaints regarding facilities for U18 attendees, the festival practically went off without a hitch.
Here’s to ATG6 in 2010, and the continued success of Australian heavy metal. And to finish off with a quote from Claim the Throne – “to those who didn’t come because they wasted their money on a Soundwave ticket….Fuck You!”
Review by Brendan Amos
Photos by Jess Day