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Live Reviews : Download Festival @ Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne 11/03/2019

By on March 12, 2019

Images: Rebecca Houlden
Words: Matt Barton

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People of Australia have been screaming for Download Festival to come down under for many years and, last year, it finally did. Now in its second year, the festival also hit Sydney for the first time. Melbourne’s leg takes place on Labour Day, and the weather is absolutely perfect for a music festival – fine, sunny, and no chance of rain.

The fantastic thing about Download (and like Soundwave used to do) is the way it gets not only great international bands but great Australian bands too. And all various sub-genres of rock, punk, and metal. As Rise Against frontman Tim McIIrath would go on to say, where else could you find Behemoth and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on the same lineup?

It’s hard to believe that Perth progressive metallers Voyager is celebrating twenty years as a band this year. That isn’t mentioned at their performance today, however, as they kick things off on one of the main stages (the Red stage). A fairly decent crowd has turned out early to catch the five-piece as they power through their set, and even include a new track called Brightstar.

New Years Day kick things off in the only stage with any sort of shade – the Avalanche Stage; which is in a massive tent. The tent is fairly packed as frontwoman Ash Costello takes a moment to thank all those who support women in hard rock and metal. Having never listened to the band before I wasn’t sure what to expect but as they play through tracks including Epidemic and new song Skeletons from their forthcoming new album Unbreakable, the band can add one more fan to their list.

Over on the Dogtooth Stage, Hobart’s own Ruins are performing their brand of black metal, and Triple J Unearthed winner Windwaker kick things off on the Ascension stage. It doesn’t take long to realise exactly why this band won their spot to play at Download.

I Prevail are a band a lot of people have been keenly waiting for a return of after their massive sold out tour in 2017. Kicking things off with Bow Down, it’s quickly obvious that, like at their last shows, this is a band to watch. The way they absolutely exploded onto the scene a few years ago, some thought they’d be a flash-in-a-pan band, but their new songs (of which they played a few) and their live performances prove that is not the case as they continue to go from strength to strength.

After the disappointing (but somewhat inevitable) news that Ozzy Osbourne had pulled out as headliner due to illness and Slayer moving up to the headlining spot, it was Aussie hard rockers Airbourne that were added just a few weeks ago. But you wouldn’t know that based on the size of their crowd. Easily the biggest so far as they launch into opener Ready To Rock; a song which also serves as somewhat of a precursor to the band’s performance. High octane rock n roll. It brings back memories of those classics by AC/DC or Guns N Roses. Frontman Joel O’Keeffe barely stops moving; constantly roaming the stage. This is rock at its finest.

Just months after letlive announced they had broken up, Fever 333 was born, featuring their vocalist Jason Butler. The band is a mix between rapcore/metal and hardcore punk and their high energy performance is fantastic to watch as they play through tracks from their debut album Strength in Numb333rs.

Unsurprisingly, one of the world’s leading black metal bands, Behemoth, have drawn a massive crowd on the Red Stage. The Polish metal giants have been together almost thirty years now and it shows as they play through their 45 minute set. Moving back over to the Ascension stage, Newcastle alt-rockers Eat Your Heart Out are performing a super catchy set to a small but enthusiastic crowd. Singer Caitlin Henry has a fantastic voice. They quickly become a highlight of the day.

Everyone loves a cover song, right? Well clearly San Francisco’s Me First and the Gimme Gimmes think so as they’ve been successfully putting their unique punk spin on an array of tracks since the mid-nineties. Opening today with Cher’s Believe, they then launch into Heart of Glass by Blondie. The Gimmes are an incredibly fun band to watch as they do covers of songs from a variety of genres including pop, rock, punk, and even country.

The members of Anthrax may all mostly be in their fifties, but that doesn’t stop them thrashing out harder than bands half their age or less. Frontman Joey Belladonna works the crowd perfectly as they perform a multitude of their hits on the Black Stage (the other main stage) over nearly an hour. Meanwhile, Brisbane death metallers Aversions Crown are absolutely smashing it on the Ascension Stage that even includes a circle pit around the sound desk/tent.

I manage to catch the first few tracks of The Amity Affliction’s set. The Australian metal giants play through Ivy (Doomsday), This Could Be Heartbreak and Bring The Weather With Me before I move over to the Dogtooth Stage to catch one of Australia’s favourite punk bands, Frenzal Rhomb. As they play through songs like 5000 Cigarettes and Fuck My School Reunion you can’t help but enjoy their music. The band doesn’t take themselves seriously, and clearly really enjoy what they do.

Rise Against get the first hour set of the day and the crowd soaks up every minute of songs like Give It All, Drones, and classics like Prayer of the Refugee. War on Women singer Shawna Potter even joins them for a cover of Black Flag’s Rise Above. When it all comes to an end with Saviour, many want more. An hour just doesn’t seem like enough.

Pennywise formed in the year I was born but, like Anthrax earlier, they don’t let age stop them. After twelve studio albums and constantly travelling the world, they show no signs of slowing down. And with a packed Avalanche Stage, it’s clear their fans still love what they do.

Fresh off supporting Slash, New Zealand’s Devilskin quickly show why they should be much bigger than what they are in Australia. Roaring guitar riffs, belting drums, and the incredible vocal stylings of Jennie Skulander, this is a band that you need to see live if given the chance. The crowd today may be small, but they are incredibly enthusiastic, and the band soaks up every second of it, clearly having a lot of fun on stage.

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since Sum 41 were last in Australia, but as they kick things off with The Hell Song, any hard feelings by fans are quickly forgiven as they sing along loudly. Deryck Whibley is a fantastic frontman and knows how to work crowds perfectly by getting them to sing along loudly, and even encouraging circle pits. The band’s hour-long set seems to go past way too quickly as they play many favourites including We’re All To Blame, Walking Disaster, and Fat Lip. They even include partial covers of We Will Rock You and Another Brick In The Wall. With the promise to return once their new album is complete, Still Waiting brings it all to an end.

Back at the Dogtooth Stage, alternative metal band Twelve Foot Ninja play to a somewhat disappointedly small crowd. Especially considering they’re in their hometown. But that, of course, doesn’t stop them from powering through a strong set which, like many others, is over too fast.

At the start of 2018, thrash metal titans Slayer shocked many be announcing they would be breaking up. Not before, however, one last tour. And with the announcement of Ozzy Osbourne no longer headlining, it meant that Slayer could perform a 90 minute set to give their Australian fans one last chance to catch as many of their favourites as possible. There is fire aplenty as Slayer play one classic after another. Just before 9 pm, however, some people start to wander off towards the Avalanche Stage and, before Ghost even hit the stage, the tent has filled up and is overflowing. The band’s “new” vocalist Cardinal Copia (Tobias Forge) enthrals fans, demanding the attention of all within listening distance. It’s not hard to see why this band just seem to get bigger and bigger with each new release.

It’s hard to believe that the day is nearly over; it seems like it only just begun. But here it is, the last band of the night – Halestorm. With Ghost and Slayer playing at the same time, the crowd isn’t exactly huge, but what they get is easily one of the performances of the day. Lzzy Hale’s vocals are something that need to be heard in person to believe. The power and raw emotion is just incredible. This is a band that is on the absolute top of their game. And as they play through tracks like Black Vultures, Amen and I Am The Fire you just can’t look away. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you play hard rock music.

Suddenly the day is over. My first Download, and the second year overall, comes to an end. There were many highlights (Halestorm, Sum 41 and I Prevail – just to name a few) and no obvious lowlights (always a plus). And as the crowd starts to pile out of Flemington Racecourse, many, I’m sure, start thinking about their wish list for Download 2020.

About

Matt Barton loves all things rock and metal. Everyone from Slipknot to The Living End. He enjoys going to gigs and discovering new music. Matt also writes for Heavy Mag and is currently attempting to write his debut novel.