After the long wait, all the buzz & all the hype, the big day came yesterday as history was made with the first ever Download Festival Melbourne successfully going ahead with plenty of happy punters & some great live acts. Full review & pics below!
It didn’t hit me as I caught the train down into Melbourne. It still didn’t hit me as I caught the Metro train over to Flemington Racecourse. Yet somewhere between walking down from the station to the festival grounds in the cold rain and picking up my guest pass, it suddenly hit me: “Alex, you colossal dickhead, a beanie and jacket would not have gone amiss for today“.
I’ve had friends who attended Download overseas last year, and they all mentioned how much of the festival became a giant mud trough of rain, dirt and bodies. And it seemed like the shitty English weather had followed the festival all the way to over to Australia for the first couple hours of the day too. But that didn’t diminish people’s spirits. If anything, it was all just part of the experience. (There was even a sign held up during Ocean Grove’s set that read, “I’m so wet right now“. You and me both, random stranger, you and me both).
Now, you’ll probably see articles titled “X best moments from Download” or “the winners and losers of Download” crop up this week but I think most will agree the best moment of anyone’s day was finding a tent that sold those surprisingly decent raincoat ponchos for a measly $5 that organisers probably bought in bulk for not even half the price. So, from me personally, thank you to the Rare Records tent. For not only selling some cool vinyl but also selling my best friend of the day: a giant white waterproof poncho that kept me drier than Steven Wright’s comedy.
Passing by Melbourne’s vicious High Tension opening up the main stage and with vocalist Karina Utomo sounding as evil as ever behind the mic, I made my way over to the Dogtooth stage to see local Triple J Unearthed winners Cast Down do their thing. Blending heavy riffs, frenetic metallic hardcore and sample-heavy industrial metal, these guys have a very cool sound going for themselves.
Even with the rain and barely 200 people watching on, they still managed to get a few of their mates out to mosh hard in the pouring rain for what was a massive-sounding set sonically. (Just in general, Download’s live mixing across all four stages was really good). Wrapping up a short but sweet set with their most recent single ‘Leatherman’, these five guys are on the up right now in the local hardcore scene and they more than deserved this opening spot based off their performance here alone.
Five or so years ago, I was watching Ocean Grove play small local venues to even smaller local crowds. Now, in 2018, they were playing on the main stage at the inaugural Download Festival Melbourne to a well-gathered crowd; solidly ripping through the wicked material from their banging 2017 debut LP, ‘The Rhapsody Tapes’. Even with the rain coming down, ‘Lights On Kind Of Lover’ got a great reaction, toilet paper was hurled around by band and crowd alike for ‘Slow Soap Soak’, OG-themed beach balls bounced all over, mass sing-alongs were had for ‘The Wrong Way’, and mosh pits erupted for the slapping set closer that was the bouncy ‘Stratosphere Love’. It was really great to see OG crushing goals like this confidently so and for their upward trajectory of late showing zero signs of slowing down.
All I can say negatively about their set is that 2018 will hopefully be the year that the now-obligatory shoey finally fuckin’ dies.
Ocean Grove was but one of a back-to-back UNFD double whammy on the Red and Black main stages, with Sydney’s Northlane up next, playing a final set before they take time off from touring for some well-deserved R&R.
Storming right out of the gates with the go-to fan-favourite ‘Quantum Flux’, the much-loved prog-metalcore locals covered all angles of their career; grabbing recent songs like ‘Rot’, ‘Obelisk’, and ‘Citizen’, to heading right back to pre-Marcus Bridge era and crushing through the likes of the classic ‘Dispossession’ and the underrated gem that is ‘Worldeater’. As per usual from Northlane, the band were air-tight in terms of sound and performances. Bassist Alex Milovic’s animated stage movements and giraffe-like headbanging was always an eye stealer, and Marcus’s voice was on-point – both scream and clean singing alike. That being said, this was really an expected set list for Northlane and I felt like if I hadn’t seen them play, would I have missed out on anything that special? The honest to god answer there is ‘nah man’.
After bailing on Of Mice & Men as they played their god-awful metalcore cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ because I don’t fuck with that cover or that band at all, I passed by Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s set. And all I can say is: please listen to this band! They’re just a really solid, upbeat punk rock Fat Wreck Chords group and more people need to check them out ASAP. The all-girl quartet were smiles all around up on stage, were a lot of fun to watch and even had a decent-sized crowd watching on too, which was so great to see for a smaller act on a bill stacked of massive rock and metal bands.
We now arrive at the one band I was the most stoked to see all day: Nails. After waiting years to see them live in Australia, Nails were finally here and they fucking killed it! Their set was the soundtrack to pure violence, starting off in a brutal and pummeling fashion with ‘Life Is A Death Sentence’ and ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’. From here, the four-piece slammed through material spanning 2016’s fantastic LP, ‘You Will Never Be One Of Us’, as well as 2010’s cult-like ‘Unsilent Death’ and 2013’s ‘Abandon All Life‘. With the exception of Korn, Nails broke the record for most songs crammed into a set at Download, racing through a whole host of tracks that spanned their whole career, with cuts like ‘Savage Intolerance’ and ‘Suffering Soul’ being strong highlights. And you can bet that the pits down the front of the crowd were full of punters going totally apeshit. Indomitable frontman Todd “I wanna see you fucking slam” Jones’ gravely death metal-like growls were as confronting as you could bloody get. Plus, drummer Taylor Young is a real beast behind the kit, with his decimating double-kick work and his punchy, pinging snare hits sharply cutting through the immense low end, growled vocals and HM-2 guitars.
All around, the band’s performances were lethal, the crowd was ecstatic, and they played a great set list of material too. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for anything better and these dudes delivered fully. Please come back soon, Nails, we’ll all be waiting.
After this brutal showing of savage hardcore, I went for a walk to stretch my legs and soon found myself watching on as Gojira crushed the main stage with their brand of molten death metal. Well, in more ways than one, as the French band’s production was metaphorically and literally lit. I mean, just look at this fucking sick photo that Owen snapped up of the band’s pyro in-action:
Anyway, back on the Dogtooth stage, things went from savage hardcore straight to poppy metalcore as we transitioned from Nails wicked set to a showing from Issues.
This set was going to be a really interesting one, as it would be one of the band’s first ever shows as a four-piece and them now playing without former screamer, Michael Bohn. But as the sun came out from behind the clouds and as the band kicked shit off with ‘Coma’ and ‘Blue Wall’, most of my worries were immediately dashed. Issues sounded tight, had good energy, Tyler Carter’s cleans were pristine, and the screamed sections of their songs were delegated out to both guitarist AJ Bends and bassist Skyler Acord. As it turns out, the pair both saved these songs from coming off half-baked and made them even heavier in the process. Sadly, the utter jam that was and is ‘The Realest’ will never be the same again live, as Tyler’s screams/rapping just isn’t as strong as Michael’s once was and it felt sorely lacking live. Still, this set was a lot better than I ever thought it’d be given their circumstances. That, and Issues didn’t have a fucking abysmal mix like the last time they played in Melbourne with A Day To Remember and Tonight Alive back in 2016. And I think we can all really get behind that fact.
While waiting to catch up with a mate who had flown in from out of state, I stopped to see Amon Amarth and sweet hammer of Thor, they were incredible! Their thundering display of melodic Viking death metal was massive, drawing thousands to watch on at the main stage. As the band swung their way through killer songs like the mammoth ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ (2008 called in and I’m so stoked it did), ‘The Destroyer Of The Universe’, and ‘Deceiver Of The Gods’, I realised that I really need to listen to Amon Amarth more than just my cursory listens over the years.
Not long afterwards, watching on from my cosy spot at the main stage’s VIP Bar (because I’m truly privileged scum) and after having consumed some rather decent kimchi chips, 13-year-old me lost his utter shit as Good Charlotte took to the main stage and opened with ‘The Anthem’. Only to then make their way through a solid set that was near-exclusively composed of earlier – read: better – material from ‘The Young & The Hopeless‘ and their self-titled album. Which means means that oldies like ‘Story Of My Old Man’, ‘My Bloody Valentine’, ‘Riot Girl’, ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous‘ and ‘Little Things’ all got a mention, as well as a couple cuts from 2007’s ‘Good Morning Revival’: ‘The River’ and of course, ‘Dance Floor Anthem (I Don’t Wanna Be In Love)’.
So, you have Good Charlotte playing heaps of throwback pop-punk tunes on the main stage at Download Melbourne as the afternoon comes to a close, sandwiched right between the techy, heavy goodness of Mastodon and the wild, nostalgic nu-metal of Limp Bizkit. And you’re goddamn fucking right it worked! No doubt, these dudes were cashing right in on the deep nostalgia of their older work and of their fan base with a set like that, but you know what? I’m honestly okay with it.
One of the most hyped sets of the days was easily Limp Bizkit. As the infamous/famous group – now back with DJ Lethal – hit the stage as Fred Durst announced “Ladies and gentleman, introducing…” for the start of ‘Hot Dog’, the electricity amongst the crowd was truly palpable.
During their hour-long set, Limp Bizkit pumped out ‘Rollin’’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Livin’ It Up’, ‘Eat You Alive’ ‘My Way’, and ‘Take A Look Around’ as the set closer. (No ‘Nookie’, ‘Full Nelson’ nor ‘Counterfeit’? That’s a paddlin’, son.) The band’s rock solid drummer John Otto grooved effortlessly throughout these songs; Wes Borland proved why he is still one of metal’s most influential and most important guitarists, and their fill-in bassist Tsuzumi Okai – one-half of the Okai sisters – was a perfect fit for the band’s style and was a sheer joy to watch. The crowd just ate every bit of it up hungrily, with both younger and older fans going absolutely bonkers for these songs like it was 1999 all over again, with the very ground shaking from the bounce. Especially so when Durst would climb down into the crowd to get amongst the shit-losing fans.
Two clear highlights of their set was a full performance of their George Michaels cover, ‘Faith’, which saw an eager, die-hard fan from the crowd performing on-stage with the group who looked like he was having the time of his life! Another was how Borland started up the massive opening pit riff of ‘Break Stuff’ on repeat, as Download became “one of those days” and as the song kicked in, it was utter insanity. (Also, as per Durst’s own words early on in their set, “we’re not allowed to play ‘Break Stuff’”, I highly doubt they were told they couldn’t play that track. That’s more old mate just probably messing with the crowd because he simply could).
Limp Bizkit’s set was definitely a whole lot of fun to watch and experience, but it was also a bit of a mess at various points too. For instance, the band did a weird stop-start of ‘Faith’ early before moving onto another song as a tease. Borland took the vocal lead on a brief cover of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that just wasted time and at one point, I swear they threw in a randomly short rendition of Ministry’s ‘Thieves’, but all time that could have been better spent playing actual Limp Bizkit songs. Even to the ways in which Durst would just do/say whatever he wanted and take his sweet time getting down to actually playing. While I don’t think these were super egregious or deal-breaking things, as it’s all just part-in-parcel for Limp Bizkit these days, it was frustrating knowing the sheer hype and love they had right before them yet also knowing they could’ve easily filled these moments out with plenty more fan-fave tunes. Was still good, mind you.
Straight up, Prophets Of Rage’s 2017 debut album was one of the worst records from last year, and no, you cannot change my mind. But whenever I say that, most people argue that I need to see them live to “get it”. And I’ll happily admit that after seeing them live on the day, I enjoyed their live show far more than I ever did listening to their subpar 2016 EP and the aforementioned bollocks that was their first LP. While there was a bit of a lull from the high energy of Limp Bizkit’s set just mere minutes beforehand, Prophets did put on a decent display of politically driven rock music and it was also very cool to see three-fourths of Rage live in the flesh.
Yet here’s the thing about Prophets Of Rage: no one paid the $169 plus booking fee entry price to see motherfucking ‘Hail to the Chief’ live. No, people came out to see them play older Rage, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill songs! Which was clearly evident when they played their original songs such as ‘Hail To The Chief’ and ‘Livin’ On The 110’ and absolutely pathetic whimpers of a cheer went up from the crowd for both. But when the group dived back into well-known covers of songs like ‘Testify’, ‘Take the Power Back’, ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’ and ‘Bullet In The Head’, the crowd roared in excitement and got right into it. As someone who loves Rage Against The Machine, these covers were great to witness live. Even though it’s just never going to be the same, especially when I hear B-Real’s attempted screams that have got nothing on Zach de la Rocha’s driving and genuinely rage-filled vocals.
Of course, due to the supergroup pedigree of Prophets, they crossed all areas of each member’s career. Ergo, at one point they gave us “hip-hop time”, which featured a medley of both Public Enemy and Cypress Hill material, spanning ‘Hand on the Pump’, ‘Can’t Truss It’, ‘Insane in the Brain’, ‘Bring the Noise’, ‘I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That’, ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’, as well as ‘Jump Around’. (And the lofty smell of weed amongst the crowd became even stronger during this part of the set).
Inarguably, the standout moment of their entire hour showing was when DJ Lord, B-Real and Chuck D left the stage so the Rage members could remain for a moving instrumental of Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’. This was a genuinely touching tribute to the late great Chris Cornell in which the crowd filled in for the deceased singer’s vocals. I’m not the biggest fan of Audioslave but this was a surreal moment in time and one that clearly meant so much to Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk just as it did to the countless fans in attendance. Ending with ‘Bulls On Parade’ – even with some pink noise suddenly cutting through the PA and hindering the song’s baller outro – and the one and only ‘Killing In The Name’, Prophets did impress a stark detractor such as myself. But I sure ain’t rushing out to listen to them on-record ever again.
As Korn came out to what was by far the fucking crowd of the day and launched into ‘Rotting In Vain’, I trotted over to see Arch Enemy play as Korn had a 90-minute set ahead of them and because I love Arch Enemy’s older records. Though, I kinda wish I hadn’t left the main stage area in retrospect.
First off, Alissa White-Gluz’s vocals sounded great, proving why she’s easily one of the most consistent metal vocalists around, and the dual melodic death metal guitars leads of Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis were as clear, as clean, and as sharp as you’d expect from such veteran players. All of which was backed up by an impressive and dazzling light show no less. However, while newer Arch Enemy songs like ‘The Eagle Flies Alone‘ and ‘As The Pages Burn‘ were delivered well live, there just wasn’t much happening to keep me fully invested in sticking around for the rest of their set. Especially with the Swedish metal band’s forced crowd interaction of “Sydney was loud but we’ve been told that you guys are louder” BS that just feels so phoned-in nowadays. Moments like that, along with Alissa leaving the stage on and off during guitar solos and the longer instrumental passages only to suddenly run back out when her vocals were about to start, were also un-engaging to watch too.
So much so that when I came back to the main stage to see Korn and found Jonathan Davis in a kilt doing a Scottish bagpipe solo as the band transitioned back into their nu-metal sound and he started scatting away, I felt like I’d made the right choice in coming back over. As for Davis and his vocals – from his rapping, singing, scatting and his screaming – were all fine for the most part, but there were also some rough parts there too. But let’s be honest, the guy has been inconsistent for a few years now so I wasn’t shocked. Though, I will say that their drummer Ray Luzier is a god behind the kit and he most certainly leaves David Silveria’s playing for dead!
The legendary act had a stacked setlist prepared, featuring ‘Insane’, ‘Black Is The Soul’, ‘Falling Away From Me’, ‘Here To Stay’, ‘Got The Life’, ‘Somebody Someone’, ‘4 U’, and even a quick Queen cover during ‘Coming Undone’. The stage production itself was massive and rightfully so – they’re the headlining act of the day. Plus, these guys know exactly how to create a strong atmosphere with their light show, stage presence and backing tracks to help fill out the gaps between songs, hence why they’re at this staggering point in their career right now. But it still didn’t quite feel like the be-all-end-all closing set of an epic festival that it was intended for. Maybe because of the long day and fatigue had set in, I’m not quite sure, but this was somewhat rectified when Korn ended with the obligatory but nonetheless nu-metal classics of ‘Blind’ and ‘Freak On A Leash’, getting everyone singing/dancing/moshing along to two of their most adored songs.
As Korn wound their set down by getting the crowd to sing happy birthday to their sound guy Marco, as NOFX closed out the Avalanche Stage, as I saw a handful of people filming shit through their bloody iPads, and as I saw a dishevelled-looking lady eating a flower from the garden nearby, I knew that it was time for me to leave.
Months before I’d even set foot on the festival grounds for Download’s Australian debut, I’d heard that it’d sold well but also heard that it had sold poorly. Then, just a few weeks out a friend who was doing media on the day mentioned that they’d sold well over 20,000 tickets and weren’t that far off from selling out. From walking around the festival all day, I’d say the first ever Melbourne Download experience definitely sold very well and did so much better than any naysayers predicted. While there was no coveted red “sold out” banner admonished on the promo art for the fest by the time punters entered the racecourse, this was a fucking universe away from a Vans Warped Tour Canberra situation. Things ran smoothly and on time, the food was your usual high festival-prices but it was actually good, and with the exception of the cloakroom being a mess at the end of the night, the whole event went off without a hitch too.
The last time that I was personally at this particular venue was for Soundwave 2014 and while I don’t think that Download Australia will ever become quite like Soundwave once was, there’s so much potential for this venture to grow and expand from here on in. For one thing that struck me multiple times throughout this long but good day was just how great it was to have a major, heavy music orientated festival hitting Melbourne once again; filling out heavy music lovers calendar with a festival to hopefully now look forward to each year. I don’t know about you all, but I’m more than ready for Download Festival Melbourne 2019!
All photo credit goes to our main man, Owen Jones (Digital Beard Photography). You’re the best mate!