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Live Reviews : Download Festival @ Parramatta Park, Sydney 09/03/2019

By on March 10, 2019

Images: Dakota Gordon
Words: Ben Hillier

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Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the first annual Download Festival at Parramatta Park in Sydney. While the festival ran in Melbourne last year (and has run around the world for some time now), 2019 marks the first time Sydney has hosted the festival. With an awesome-looking roster of bands, I was quite keen to get in and hear some heavy music. The festival organisers made things as easy as possible: while the gates opened a touch late (owing, I believe, to the need for meticulous compliance with the new NSW festival laws), everyone was in quickly, much quicker than I remember from previous festivals like Soundwave. All the essentials of an Aussie festival were provided – free water, sunscreen and even some plastic ponchos for the brief rain that popped up through the day.

I kicked off my day with some fellow Taswegians in the black metal band Ruins. Seeing Dave Haley on drums is always a treat and Ruins all delivered a heavy, intense set. I was especially impressed with the vocals that were delivered with uncompromising fury live, backed up by a very strong mix and pounding guitars. I had to cut my time with Ruins a tad short to get to the next stage. Luckily, this meant I caught the end of Voyager’s set. The Perth prog metal band delivered an equally heavy sound with singer Danny Estrin hitting every note of the highs and lows alongside Simone Dow’s shredding lead guitar work. The sound was again, excellent, a pretty good achievement for the first two bands on each pair of stages.

Kiwi thrashers Alien Weaponry followed up next, delivering an energetic set. For a three-piece they made a huge sound, adding a new flavour through their use of Maori lyrics alongside the English, augmenting the heavy rhythms well. Aussie metalcore act Polaris then demanded everyone’s attention with an opening salvo of drums tearing into ‘Casualty’. The mix here was a little hollow at first, a bit of a drop in intensity from the earlier bands, but Polaris kept the crowd engaged through a strong performance and great crowd interactions. A Sydney-based band, you could tell that Polaris was stoked to have such a great crowd in their hometown and their enthusiasm pushed the crowd to really get into their set. Rounding out this section was the other Tasmanian band on the bill – Luca Brasi. While Download is perhaps not the festival I’d book them for, the band played an excellent set, providing a nice change of pace and a bit of variety. Heading back to the other stages, I caught the end of War on Women, delivering a mixture of intense hardcore punk riffing capped off by the catchy vocals of singer Shawna Potter, resulting in quite a cool mix of sounds. Following up was Aussie extreme metal act High Tension, delivering sludgy riffs topped with an almost black metal howl from singer Karina Utomo. This was a truly excellent set, all members of the band were performing at the top of their game and Utomo’s range of vocals were all executed effortlessly alongside her massive stage presence. The crowd seemed to agree, with everyone getting very involved in their set.

After a brief break to munch some food down, I checked in with Aussie punk rockers Frenzal Rhomb. This was clearly one of the more popular sets of the day, drawing a massive crowd so early in the day. Frenzal kept the spirit of Ozzy Osbourne alive at Download, in lieu of an actual appearance owing to his unfortunate sickness, bookending their set with covers of ‘Crazy Train’ and ‘War Pigs’. Clearly old hats at live music in Australia, Frenzal kept the crowd engaged and excited throughout their funny and well-executed set. Up next was American hardcore act Code Orange, who were unfortunately hampered by a less-than-stellar mix. The scooped mid-range resulted in the band sound a bit weak and lacking much of the punch that other acts had, though drummer Jami Morgan killed it on both drums and vocals. Converge continued the American hardcore theme, delivering a stronger set with a much-improved mix. The crowd responded in kind, getting a decent circle pit going while the band moved from strength to strength with each song heavier and ‘headbangier’ than the next. Ducking back over to the main stage I caught the latter half of Anthrax’s set from up the back of an absolutely packed stage (even the police officers supervising the event were taking photos!) Anthrax looked to be having the time of their lives, delivering an excellent set to a hyped-up crowd, with guitarist Scott Ian sporting a permanent grin. Following Anthrax were Aussie metalcore act The Amity Affliction, who started their set with a literal bang, making the best use of the stage’s smoke and fire equipment. I’m the first to admit that this style of metalcore isn’t really my thing, but even I found myself singing along with some of the choruses; certain the huge crowd of diehard fans surrounding the stage seemed to be loving their set.

Back to the side stages, Twelve Foot Ninja delivered some engaging, if a bit off-kilter, Aussie groove metal. Funny, engaging, and super high-energy, the crowd responded extremely well, chanting ‘turn it up!’ after the first song. At this point, I was sadly required by my schedule to leave Twelve Foot Ninja behind and head off to Devilskin. While I was initially planning to quickly write my piece on them and head back, I was captivated by an absolutely fantastic set delivered by Devilskin. Straddling the line between hard rock and alternative metal, the band had a phenomenal stage presence, with singer Jennie Skulander running around, climbing the stage, and frequently jumping into the crowd, all while seamlessly changing from soaring rock vocals to guttural growls. The rest of the band executed their parts flawlessly, with bassist Paul Martin playing occasional riffs upside down while guitarist Tony Vincent didn’t miss a note of his blistering solos. The crowd loved their set and the interaction, and it was certainly the highlight of my day at the festival. Following up Devilskin were the Aussie deathcore icons Thy Art is Murder. Another large crowd rewarded with a great set, we saw a circle pit running around the mixing tent, having a great time. A solid sound and a well-received set overall for Thy Art.

This led into the series of headlining acts to round out the evening. Alice in Chains kicked things off, delivering a strong set to an adoring crowd. While I personally felt they were another drop in intensity compared to the other acts, the crowd lapped up the set, with the closing song ‘Rooster’ being especially well received. Next up was Judas Priest, proving that they’ve still got what it takes to crush it fifty years after their original formation in 1969. Firepower’ was an excellent opener, with Rob Halford still hitting every high-pitched wail, cloaked in a leather greatcoat looking like a biker-wizard cross. Likewise, guitarist Richie Faulkner still shreds, ripping solo after solo flawlessly. One gets the sense that Priest still loves what they do and feel privileged to be able to bring their music around the world. There was a good variety in the setlist, with the modern songs standing up just as well as the classics. Halford sat astride a giant Harley toward the end of the set, rounding things out with classics like ‘Hell Bent for Leather’, ‘Painkiller’, ‘Hellion/Electric Eye’ (my personal favourite song of theirs), and the crowd highlight ‘Breaking the Law’.

The crowd knew what was coming next, and chants for ‘Slayer!’ began almost as soon as Judas Priest had ended their set. With the slow, atmospheric opening leading to ‘Repentless’, Slayer certainly know how to make an entrance, with a ripping opening salvo of songs so intense that singer Tom Araya had to catch his breath for a moment after the third song! This didn’t stop either the band or the crowd from getting fully into things though, with Gary Holt and Kerry King delivering pummelling riffs and soaring leads. At this point, I headed over to briefly catch Ghost’s set on the side stages. Initially, I was surprised by how huge a crowd was here, but Ghost has an equally passionate fanbase as Slayer do, all of whom were here to see their favourite band.

From the first note, the crowd were going wild and Ghost delivered a strong set of opening songs with very engaging stage design and presence. For me though, I was keen to catch the end of Slayer’s set, and I got back just in time for their set of classic songs. ‘South of Heaven’ began the final set of songs, with the crowd roaring their approval at the twisted opening riff. Atmosphere came to the fore again as this transitioned into the crowd favourite ‘Raining Blood’. Here the band flexed their showmanship, repeating the opening drum beats over and over as the crowd got steadily more excited before launching into the famous opening riff. ‘Angel of Death’ closed out their set, with Araya hitting the famed opening scream perfectly. Lingering for several minutes after the final notes rang out, the band appeared unwilling to end their final Sydney show, making sure to soak up the crowd and the vibe of the festival as long as they could. With an emotional farewell from Araya, Download Sydney drew to a close for this year.

About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.