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Live Reviews : Download Festival Melbourne 2018

By on March 25, 2018

Images: Rebecca Houlden
Words: Andrew McKaysmith

Click here to view the full gallery of Download Festival Melbourne 2018.

Download made it to Australia on a wet Melbourne morning ushering what many hope is the promise of a permanent fixture on the annual calendar. Informed debate surrounds the long-term success of such a concept in Australia given the demise of one of the globes foremost festivals in Soundwave. One can be certain given the enthusiastic response of punters to the Australian Download concept, that rock and metal will always be given an opportunity to thrive in the live festival arena.

Set times by bands came and went per the Download app’s proclaimed performance schedule. Food was readily available via a plethora of vendors selling all manner of cuisine. The lines for alcoholic beverages will always be long and cumbersome however the upside is that very few punters were visibly inebriated as the day wore on. Ushers, security and retail staff were obliging and courteous as far as I experienced throughout the day.

The merchandise tent procured a fortune for the organisers as fans wanted to grab a memento, queues were long throughout the day; I noticed that a lot of merch had sold out by the time Limp Bizkit appeared. The distance between stages was short and gave one an opportunity to browse the market stalls and consider the performance they had witnessed or were about to see. Toilets abound and were as clean as could be hoped for given the occasion. Finally; As an out of towner I had no trouble finding the venue, receiving answers to questions when I felt the need to ask and transportation was regular and organised.

The biggest disappointment? The sound quality emanating from the “Red” stage was appalling. It took until Prophets of Rage headlined the stage at 7:30PM for it to be rectified. Sabaton, Amon Amarth and Good Charlotte sounded like a wet blanket. No offence to the bands as they were admirable performers, but at this level organisers need to troubleshoot early and fix whatever problems plague a mix.

Arriving in time to catch Chase Atlantic’s frontman proclaim his delight in freely expressing the word c%*t now that the band were back in Australia after a jaunt in the USA, the band set the tone early with a display of musicianship enhancing their urban/ groove/ rock aesthetic.

On the “Red” stage, Northlane actually had a decent quality sound to complement their brand of metalcore. The guitarist playing the tobacco sunburst Stratocaster copy presented one of the most unique get-ups of the day… looking more like a Dr. Who villain from the bizarre early 90’s series. It was hard not to notice that the peroxided Northlane front man is a genuine rock star when given the opportunity in front of such a large yet responsive audience.

Back to the Dogtooth stage, Psycroptic sound checked to a lot more people than maybe even they anticipated. Ean Redman, Brisbane’s alpha and omega of extreme metal sound has long held these blokes in high regard and when the band got going they showed why. It was fast, brutal and intently vicious. Easily the most extreme band I witnessed throughout the day and their guitarist wins the honorary ‘Trey Azagthoth’ shredder award due to his accomplished performance.

Walking to the undercover “Avalanche” stage I didn’t actually check who was playing. Bad Cop/ Bad Cop were on stage and the little that I managed to catch was seriously great stuff. Three-part female vocals when done well are an aural delight, the ladies in the band produced pop-punk smothered in these delightful harmonies… I can absolutely see why organisers booked the band. The ladies were the early front runner for performance of the day.

On the “Black” stage Of Mice & Men are, if anything else, seasoned professionals at both the live performance and festival arena. Tino Arteaga’s percussive performance ripped as the band tore through a set that you didn’t have to be familiar with to enjoy. A great performance from the bassist/ vocalist to compliment Arteaga’s groove.

I caught up with two festival attendees at this point and asked them their thoughts on the festival. Ryan and Meaghan, a brother/ sister pair from Geelong were looking forward to seeing Korn, Limp Bizkit, Gojira and Sabaton. Their thoughts on the event thus far were positive bar the early rain and drizzle.

Ok so it was from here that things got interesting. Sabaton played the “Red” stage to a crowd that ‘got’ their shtick. Pulling as many theatrical tricks as they could muster the band tore through a set of combat themed power metal, but the sound was flat and lifeless. Not the bands fault. No idea what the guitarist was doing when he was sitting on the vocalist however the band never stopped putting on as much of a show as they could manage.

Gorjira were the first band to offer a performance that upped the intensity to near 9/10. The “Black” stage wasn’t plagued by the same sound issues as the “Red” stage however the drums and percussion sound was so damn loud it felt as though Gorjira’s front man was fighting to cut through… thus delivering an intense performance. Granted, the stage sound is vastly different to FOH but one can’t help but notice these things.

Back on the dreaded “Red” stage, Amon Amarth’s sound was improved when compared to Sabaton but really, when considering the intricacies of both bands, the sound quality really does need to be better so as to highlight the detail in both outfits considerable performance. Regardless, clichés abound… hellacious Viking roars, ominous posturing and burly men traipsed the stage. The audience was by now nearing capacity so the band themselves must have sensed the occasion and duly delivered.

Mastadon has become a symbol of hope for many metal fans as the band blend prog sensibility with brutal metal intensity. Standing at the VIP bar, catching sight of the vast crowd heaving as the band offer an energetic set, there were many Mastadon t-shirt wearers in the audience. It was at this point in the day that the crowd spilled well past the sound-tent to the asphalt track. How the band capture their dynamism for the big stage is notable and fans today were enthusiastic for their brand of metal alchemy.

Over on “Red” again… Good Charlotte start with a banger. “The Anthem” opened the set and too many mouths to count sang along with the Madden brothers. The band don’t really need the two guitars, so it was interesting to see that set up in flight. The bass drum sound seemed to be caught in a card box at the back of the venue. Joel Madden is a born performer so his constant running back and forth was well timed to bring a rise from attendee’s, this was enough to cover the problems with the sound.

Suicidal Tendencies could pull as many fans to the “Avalanche” stage as they did from Limp Bizkit’s performance on the “Black” stage says nothing about any potential for the bands to overlap a fan base. They are put simply, legends of punk/ metal. But for many it was the first of a few contentious decisions on who to watch given the concurrent performance schedule. Cyco Mike and crew bought the band back to 1980 (according to the front man himself) offering the hardcore punk your mother warned you about. If Mike ever needs a second career he should consider motivational speaking such is the tone of much of his between-song banter.

Walking out to catch Limp Bizkit on the “Black” stage, one could feel the anticipation for the performance. Like Good Charlotte’s performance it was evident many in the crowd were appreciative of Durst and co’s presence. There was a thankful lack of bro-boys aping the early 2000’s in the crowd and the band themselves are to be commended for genuine concern toward punter safety. Durst thought someone had fallen over (or lost their underwear according to Durst?!) so he bought the set to a hush. Turns out a hardy wheelchair bound soul was in the pit, thus receiving an invitation to join the band on stage.

Limp Bizkit’s set had all the fan treats one could ask for during an hour-long performance. Guitarist Wes Borland looked like a ‘gotta light?’ ghoul from the recent Twin Peaks franchise; DJ Lethal is back and delivered the goods from atop a podium; didn’t catch the name of the bassist who has replaced Sam Rivers but you’d hardly notice his omission due to her excellence and Durst… he looked gaunt compared to years past, it wasn’t until he mentioned veganism that his appearance now made sense.

King Parrot’s brutal grinding punk has been Australia’s resounding musical success story of recent years. The “Dogtooth” stage is by now inaccessible so many stand well past the asphalt boundary to catch the bands set… Youngy menaced the stage spitting a diatribe past band members to the crowd. Lots of energy in this performance so it was wonderful to see the band bring the atmosphere of a small inner-city club to a bigger stage. The sound was loud! Youngy’s vocal hysterics are a sound I won’t forget anytime soon!

Depending on your vintage, Prophets of Rage offer spirited socially aware rap-metal or they are the collective that performs Rage Against The Machine material under another name. I’m in the latter so it was great to see Brad Wilk and Timmy Commerford onstage together. Guitarist Tom Morello is a classic rock fan, if his performance pays homage to Kiss and Led Zeppelin it’s his playing that is noted for innovative sounds and note placement. He manages to combine both on a big stage with ease. Two members of Public Enemy and B-Real from Cypress Hill round out the line up; having never seen RATM I can’t compare the two performances, but this Download appearance was on point. The bands appearance was sparked by a scratching air raid siren and then closed by “Killing In The Name Of…”. Original cuts by the new collective sat easily alongside RATM classics.

The walk over to the “Dogtooth” stage would demonstrate any unruly behaviour. The festival is nearing its conclusion and punters have had at least eight hours to lose their inhibitions… I can only offer my experience as I observed many polite attendee’s standing in queue’s waiting for food, recalling episodes from throughout the day and walking patiently between stages. Good on ya!

Now it was time for Alissa White-Gluz and the musicians in Arch Enemy to close out the “Dogtooth” stage.

White-Gluz is a special performer. Darting across the stage and looking like an ethereal sprite sent from Valhalla to entertain the hordes, she put on what could be described as the performance of the festival. The sound momentarily peaked at the beginning of the set, bringing to life the tremendous guitar work of Messer’s Ammot and Loomis. The baying crowd were there in force so I suggest this is one performance Arch Enemy will not soon forget.

We have arrived at the finale… the premiere attraction… Korn.

As soon as Prophets of Rage finished, organisers allowed for a moment so the crowd could switch their attention from “Red” to “Black”. Purple lighting lifted the “Black” stage before the band exploded with a familiar opening cut (couldn’t recall the name) as Korn took charge of the final hour and a half of the festival.

Musically it was tight. Real tight. Korn produce banger after banger. I asked the gent standing next to me, way back as we were beyond the merch tent such was the volume of the crowd in attendance what he thought of Korn’s performance. Headline worthy was the response, I could not disagree.

Jonathan Davis may not be the most obvious front man on the bill, but he is a vocalist prepared to allow his considerable rage and frustration channel through his performance. Ray Luzier, David Lee Roth’s former drummer and percussionist would give any musician confidence, so it was down to Luzier hammering home the gigantic riffs in the Korn catalogue that bade a fitting cap to a wonderful day of rock and metal.

There you have it. Congratulations to the bands, fans and the organisers for participating in a wonderful event. The sound issues on the “Red” stage notwithstanding and few grumbles I overheard from punters about the cost and value of some ‘’premium package’ tickets (all of which can be remedied for next year’s event if it goes ahead), one could not have asked or expected more from the day than what was delivered.

About

Andrew is a musician who has spent many years performing on the stages of the pubs and clubs of QLD. A devotee of the broad church that is rock, punk, funk, jazz and of course all genres of metal... he now shares his enthusiasm via a burgeoning pursuit of music journalism. Follow him on twitter @i_c_e_man