Friday, the first day:
After leaving home early, car-pooling our three-man team, stocking up on essentials at the Tarwin Lower IGA (water, baby wipes, etc.) and looking like a bunch of tourists in the process, we finally arrived at The Gathering after 1pm. A good hour or so later of getting our passes, parking, finding a nice spot to set up shop for the weekend – right near the main entrance because we’re living in 3019 – multiple trips to the car, and finally erecting our humble tent abodes, it was almost 2:30pm. And we were already growing weary under the bright sun. Oh boy, this was gonna be a long three days with 30+ bands.
This also meant that we’d now missed first-day openers, Melbourne alternative-rockers Better Half (we’re sure they were good), as well as Gippsland metalcore locals Ocean Sleeper (we’re sure they weren’t). Catching the very end of Drown This City’s set, a band who we wouldn’t be surprised to see drop a new EP in 2019 on a new label (our money is on UNFD), we mozied on over to the VIP bar area to find some shade and settle in for Dream State. Coming all the way from the U.K., Dream State brought their mixture of melodic hardcore, pop-punk and post-hardcore in hard for the small, but dedicated fan-base that had amassed down the front. Performing material from 2018’s ‘Recovery‘ EP – notable mentions being ‘White Lies‘ and ‘New Waves‘ – the band kept up their energy nicely despite the heat and their early-day billing. Especially from vocalist Charlotte Gilpin, who moved up and down the stage’s edge with real presence, getting onto the barrier for every second song and giving it her all in the singing and screaming departments. For these guys and gal to play their furthermost gig from home to date, to come halfway around the world for their first ever Australian show, they handled themselves more than well enough.
The last time that Hand Of Mercy played a show was actually back in January 2016, for Strike Hard Festival in Sydney. Two years on from that last performance, you wouldn’t really know that they’d been out of the game for that long from this solid Unify set alone. For they were as tough sounding and as musically lean as ever. Minus the occasionally slightly sloppy drum part early on, the group played well, almost as if they’d never once left us. With vocalist Scott Bird still being a good frontman and strong live vocalist, making great use of the site’s large stage, he commanded mosh pits and crowd involvement. Coming back for a one-off, reunion set for Unify 2019, Hand Of Mercy pulled the day’s first big crowd, ensuring that the four-piece themselves – rounded out by bassist Michael Dawson, drummer CJ Mackinnon, and guitarist Adam Mclean – and fans alike could come out of mosh retirement together.
It was lovely to see that so many people still cared about this band; that they still cared deeply about their songs; more than happy to show the band some love under the sweltering sun. As for the actual songs, it was a good mix of all of the Sydney hardcore bands releases. Meaning we got oldies like ‘GTFO!‘, ‘Chump‘, and ‘Mr Nasty Time‘, to more recent numbers like ‘Absence Makes The Heart Go Wander‘, ‘Desperate Measures‘, and ‘Rumble in the Grundle‘, the latter of which kicked off this very special set. When Scott stated they’d “110% never play another show again“, we believe him. Their time in the sun is done now, and this was just a brief glimpse of light shining up over the mountain tops once more. So we soaked up this band for one final time live as they ended with the best closing song they have to their name, ‘Last Lights‘. Thank you so much for all of the great tunes and memories over the years, Hand Of Mercy. See you around.
Plenty of bands cop flak for starting off as a heavier metalcore band, before in time becoming much more focused on singing, electronic elements, and poppier sounds. Yet we feel the real success of The Plot In You’s most recent work is found in that while they’ve brought in more synths and alt-pop vibes, they haven’t entirely forgotten the stacked guitars nor the screaming, displaying liberal use of breakdowns too. As such, 2018’s ‘Dispose‘ is like the best of both worlds, and it’s this stylistic dynamic that translates so goddamn well into the live environment. As the American band are just so in-control live and so enthralling in the flesh, with tight performances, smooth backing tracks for the synths, and having a great aurora surrounding them. From the hugeness of ‘Feel Nothing‘ and ‘Not Just Breathing‘, the atmosphere around ‘Rigged‘, to the coolness and character of ‘Disposable Fix‘, The Plot In You quite simply crushed it with honesty and passion. We caught the band on their last Aussie run with Polaris in 2018, and they impressed us greatly. But this criminally short-lived set was next level stuff. That studio polish isn’t just for show, people, it’s the real deal when the group step out on stage too. For one, what you hear frontman Landon Tewers sing and scream on their newest record, that’s exactly how he sounds live – no bullshit here. Someone get this band on a headline tour out here pronto!
Dream On Dreamer have been around for what feels like fucking yonks now, but they don’t sound at all tired or jaded just yet. Armed with Zachary Britt’s great set of pipes, a set that mixed both new and old songs (‘Downfall‘ got more than a few punters moving), and reigning black confetti around everyone at the stage area, the group put on an immense set. However, it was about this time that we needed a proper food break, adhere to nature’s calling, and a quick trip back to our tents. After all, we wanted to be aptly prepared for the sheer sensory overload of the next band.
While we aren’t the biggest fans of Crossfaith on-record (though, Alex did really enjoy newest LP, ‘Ex_Machina‘), we knew well enough in advance that their set would be a big highlight of Unify 2019. Call it a hunch or educated guess, but we could feel it in our gut that the Japanese band would be an absolute feast for the ears and eyes. And god, we do love it when we’re right! As they were just so much fun. To say that Crossfaith were one of the best-in-show for day #1 would be a gross understatement. The group basically threw one big cyber-metal party, and everyone on-site was invited to participate.
For one, Crossfaith had some of the best stage production of the entire event. With well-timed air-canons, hair-burning pyrotechnics, slick on-screen visuals, and with all six members being all smiles and bringing high energy levels, their set was so engaging to watch. Hyping up the crowd from the very moment they set foot on-stage, Crossfaith were firing on all cylinders. Following the intro track from their new album, the band launching into the massive ‘Catastrophe‘ created a huge bounce, one that pulled our interest in hook, line and sinker. From there the savage and deathcore-esque cut, ‘The Perfect Nightmare‘, tore Unify a new one and had fans losing their collective marbles.
Speaking both to the love this band’s cultivated here and to the friendly atmosphere that Unify creates, when the band experienced some technical issues halfway through, a portion of the audience started up an en-mass rowing pit. Much to the amusement of Kenta and co., seemingly thankful for the distraction, as the singer yelled encouragement in time with the crowd’s rowing movements. Crossfaith seemed appreciative for the small slice of comedy, but before we knew it, they were kicking back into high gear with ‘Freedom‘. For those who know that song well, it was anyone’s guess who would do Rou Reynolds‘ guest feature section in the middle eight. Turns out, Luke Holmes from Ocean Grove filled that spot out, giving his international UNFD pals a helping hand as he channelled the cadence and flow of the Enter Shikari frontman very nicely.
A big part of why we loved this late-arvo set was down to the demeanour and personality of each member and each part of the stage they commanded. For one, at the back left, keyboardist, backing vocalist and hype-man Terufumi Tamano stomped around and climbed over everything bar the actual side stages where the PA was being flown. Special mention has to go out to bassist Hiroki Ikegawa – the dude was just all smiles, all of the time. Out of all the people who performed on that stage for day one, Hiroki looked like he was the happiest and most stoked to be there, performing to us Aussies and forgetting about everything else going on his life and the world right now. That’s what we love to see. Elsewhere, drummer Tatsuya Amano was brimming with excitement and energy, playing off the ebb and flow of the set; dropping in accented hits and beats between songs to keep things moving and not leaving any awkward silences. He also gave a short and snappy drum-solo, and far more bands need to implement drum solos into their sets, that’s all we’ll say.
Ending with ‘Monolith‘ and ‘Leviathan‘, this Crossfaith set was a compelling performance. It was a real show through and through, with great showmanship on display. This shit rocked our socks off, quite frankly. It was by far one of the most entertaining half-hour sets of the festival, one that saw the Japanese synth-metal six-piece leaving it all on the stage for all to see. Come back soon, Crossfaith. We will be eagerly waiting for their return after this.
Ocean Grove’s evening set was always going to be a bittersweet moment, given that vocalist Luke Holmes and guitarist Jimmy Hall would be departing the outfit following this Unify appearance. But the introduction to their half-hour set still caught us well and truly off guard. As a beautiful video montage played out on-screen, showing Luke and Jimmy’s time in the band over the years, hauntingly set to the minimal, atmospheric song that was used to reveal the line-up news. Goddamn, we’re not crying, we swear! While this wasn’t quite the best Ocean Grove set we’ve seen – very fond memories of their 2016 Equinox tour under Northlane and In Hearts Wake, as well as their Download Melbourne 2018 set spring to mind instantly – it sure was their biggest. Drawing perhaps the largest crowd of the day and showing off some eye-brow removing pyro and momentous amounts of confetti to cement their rise, Ocean Grove feel and move like the giant festival act they clearly want to be. (Even some of the security guards near us came over to film their set better. That’s how you know you’ve made it as a band, when the staff need a memory to look back on). And if this is where future goals for music and their trajectory are aimed at, we feel they’re more than on the right path.
Strangely, with the obvious exception of the banging ‘Lights On Kind Of Lover‘, there weren’t any songs from ‘Black Label‘; a killer, formative EP that really helped OG plant the foothold that’d allow them to launch off with ‘The Rhapsody Tapes‘. No ‘Backbone‘, no ‘B.L.U.D.‘, no ‘I Told You To Smile‘ – nada. While beggars cannot be choosers, the set was heavily predicated upon songs driven by bassist/singer Dale Tanner, mostly seeing content performed from their debut LP, as well as new single, ‘Glass Gloss‘. Given the importance of this show for their line-up and the current chapter they were now closing, the absence of certain older songs felt a little odd. Then again, there’s only so much you can pack into 30 or so minutes. And it was still a fiery half-hour regardless, as songs like ‘Beers‘, ‘Thunderdome‘, ‘Stratosphere Love‘, and ‘Intimate Alien‘ rocked the Unify crowd back and forth.
To put our tin-foil hats on for a second, we wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Luke and/or Jimmy work with the band again behind-the-scenes or in the studio for new music down the road. We also wouldn’t be shocked to see either one return to the Odd World Collective in some way, shape or form. Perhaps returning under different monikers? Of course, no matter what happens, we’re still sad to see both Luke and Jimmy leave. We sincerely wish both parties the absolute best in whatever future endeavours they undertake! It’ll be very interesting to see how OG handle their next steps, given that they’re about to tour Australia with Hands Like Houses soon. All in due time.
From all of the coverage we saw for Unify 2018, there seemed to be endless praise for Hellions‘ moment in the spotlight. Perhaps we’d set the bar too high or maybe been given unrealistic expectations, but their nighttime set just didn’t feel like the awe-inspiring circus we’d heard about from our peers. A set that also featured one of the boxiest, worst sounding snare drums of the festival too. (Something that would pervade deep into day two as well, sadly). However, just because something isn’t perfect or life-changing doesn’t mean that it suddenly isn’t good or without merit, as Hellions still put on a solid show, all things considered.
Hellions guitarist/singer Matt Gravolin is definitely growing well as a singer when it comes to performing live, and that’s great to see. As for the other big part of this band’s vocal dynamic, Dre Faivre, his pitched screamed and rapped yells are infinitely better than any of his singing sections, and he knows it. Hence why he sticks to his main style live and on-record, and also why he makes for a good frontman too; playing directly into the role that he owns so well. Although, we did notice Dre missed quite a few words across numerous songs. While we’re unsure if he was out of breath or dealing with a faulty mic, it was hard to not notice these gaps in the lyrics. Still, the anthemic ‘24‘, the masterful ‘X (Mwah)‘, the ginormous ‘Thresher‘, and ‘Quality Of Life‘ all went down a real treat, injecting a long and hot day with some cool, positive vibes. Other newer cuts like ‘Smile‘, ‘Blueberry‘, and the funky ‘Get Up!‘ sounded decent live too. Though, one great inclusion was their riffy, bouncy self-titled track, which was our personal highlight of the band’s set; a trail-blazing hardcore track that should be downright illegal it’s that much fun. We’re so glad to see that it still gets love in their live shows now, two album cycles later. Chuch!
Look, In Hearts Wake were kinda bogus. Their set felt like watching a loved one slip slowly into a coma. For one, the band’s tour surrounding the festival with Alpha Wolf and Drown This City had real intrigue, as it was a 14-song set vetted by fans, a great and involving idea. However, that’s not really what we at Unify received due to time constraints. Instead, we got the most ham-fisted set full of ‘Ark‘ and ‘Skydancer‘ tracks, easily some of their weakest songs. No ‘Traveller (The Fool)‘ and no ‘The Night Is For Hunting‘ – damn. Sure, the bouncy and Halo-sample referencing ‘Survival (The Chariot)’ was thrown in to make everyone think they got what they wanted, but that couldn’t keep us from thinking: “what the hell happened to this band?”
We remember seeing IHW on the ‘Earthwalker‘ tour back in 2014 and thinking how brilliant they were at the time. Both as songwriters and as performers. Whilst we’re sure they’re good guys, this set was lacking the soul they used to bring. The vocals felt half-arsed from both Jake and bassist/clean singer Kyle Erich and the instrumentals, whilst tightly played, were just more low-end riffage in a weekend filled with low-end riffage. It’s sad that a once good band seems to have lost what made them good; their passion. Perhaps internally within the group, they’re actually still passionate, but we’re just telling you what we felt and heard on the night. If you don’t like us saying that, then you’re reading the wrong review.
One (unintentionally) hilarious moment was when frontman Jake Taylor asked the crowd to surf him over to FOH tent (front of house), so that he could grab a flag of some description and then ride back with it to the stage. Simple enough, sure. But the flag which was brought out into the middle of the crowd anyway, so he might as well have not even bothered with the whole damn charade. And then the vocalist fell right off the inflatable boat too. Heaven fucking help us. This just took up time that could’ve been used to play another song, something everyone was strapped for given these short set times.
On a little side note, Jake also mentioned that at Unify, there was 10,000 people here. While the event apparently sold out, there definitely wasn’t 10K people at this event, let alone wathcing IHW’s set.
Perhaps the weirdest moment was when Jake spent WAY too long looking for a girl in the crowd by the name of Ainsley, all for her to whisper into his microphone a marriage proposal to her partner once found. While her beloved thankfully said yes (yay), we also couldn’t help but think: “PUT THE MIC CLOSER TO HER MAN“. It was all very cute and very sweet, albeit a little drawn out. In dedication to the newly engaged lovers, the band actually performed ‘Wildflower’, a bit of a deep cut by their standards today. If you’re unsure on In Hearts Wake canon, let’s bring you up to speed. One of the band’s best tracks from their earlier discography, ‘Wildflower‘ is a slower, delicate yet emotionally powerful ballad about a young woman who tragically dies far too young from cancer. The song’s great, we’ve seen it performed amazingly so back in the day, it puts a lump in your throat, and it was the best of the lot because it finally felt like the band were giving it their all. But, is it just us or does dedicating a song about a young woman Jake knew who passed away under terrible circumstances to a newly engaged couple feel a little… off? It certainly did at the time and still does after the fact. Well, we just hope Ainsley and her newly engaged partner enjoyed it. It was for them more than anyone else.
What Karnivool lacked in physicality and movement, they more than made up for with musical precision. Ian Kenny’s impeccable voice, Jon Stockman’s killer bass tone, a great light show, and a gripping atmosphere – everything about their time with us was in wonderful harmony. Starting out with the fittingly titled ‘Goliath‘, the band’s set was exactly that: enormous! Performing a variety of tracks off of their three records – 2005’s ‘Themata‘, 2009’s ‘Sound Awake‘ (blimey, has it been ten years already?), and 2013’s ‘Asymmetry‘ – the mighty Perth prog-rock crew held Unify in the palm of their hands. Ending with the seismic ‘New Day‘, Karnivool’s set was air-fucking-tight. If 2019 is the year we’ll see the release of their long-awaited fourth LP, this showed that Karnivool haven’t lost their knack in the slightest. Fingers crossed.
We adore Underoath more than most bands on this planet, but we have to admit that their headline set wasn’t the be-all, end-all headline slot it should’ve been. Right out of the gate, their set suffered heavy mixing issues. Opener ‘On My Teeth‘ had only some drums and bits of Spencer Chamberlain’s vocals cutting through, with the electronics and samples loudly overbearing everything else. Yet neither Tim McTague’s or James Smith’s guitars nor any of Grant Brandell’s bass could be distinguished at first. Not a great start. We over-heard a lady near our campsite later on exclaiming that “the mix was so shit, I walked out. I’d never thought I’d leave an Underoath show early“. Ooft! While things did improve somewhat as ‘On My Teeth‘ progressed and their set went on, some of these instrumental lapses still occurred and it was evident this was taking the wind out of the band’s sails. Still, Underoath are professionals who have been around the world and back in their time, and they powered through it as best they could, jumping around the stage with as much gusto as they could given the less than stellar circumstances. Namely drummer Aaron Gillespie and keyboardist/sampler Christopher Dudley doing their best and trying to have some real fun.
Mix issues aside, there were also sadly some noticeable gaps in the gathered crowd. Whether a 1am start was too late a time slot for some given there was a whole other day of music to get through, or because Underoath doesn’t feel like the top band for a festival like Unify, it’s hard to tell. That being said, there was still a rabid fan-base in attendance, ourselves included, all packed in close and just stoked to appreciate the Floridian band in their element. Sing-alongs were still aplenty, with the “drowning in my sleep” choral section being spectacular live during ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door‘ and crowd movement spiking right as the tape-real sample of ‘In Regards To Myself‘ kicked-in.
Sprinkling in newer tracks amongst a wave of old bangers – ‘Young & Aspiring‘, ‘Reinventing Your Exit‘, ‘A Boy Brushed Red Living In Black And White‘ and the crunchy, menacing ‘Desperate Times, Desperate Measures‘ – Underoath pulled together a solid setlist. Yet it was one that also felt demoralising for the group in some ways. At one point, Spencer proclaimed “we’re gonna play a new song now“, which received a really stunted response from the crowd. After a brief pause, he then added, “but we’ll play an old song afterwards“, which then got a rampant cheer. As big fans of 2018’s ‘Erase Me‘, that was just depressing to see. We cannot imagine how that makes the band feel either.
Speaking of that album, the Deftones-esque and noise-rock-suited ‘No Frame‘ was just sublime, and thankfully not marred by any technical difficulties either. A godsend at that point time. Other fresher cuts like ‘Rapture‘ and ‘ihateit‘ sounded good live, showing that regardless of the change in sound, Underoath knows how to write well with the stage squarely in mind. Although, one heart-skipping highlight of this early morning set came when they went back to 2008’s ‘Lost In The Sound Of Separation‘, to perform a track they haven’t dusted off in almost a decade: ‘Too Bright To See, Too Loud To Hear‘. Mother of god! This piece isn’t just one of the best cuts from their sixth LP, it’s basically a heavenly rapture in musical form. It felt like such a special moment in time, suspended in air by the sheer dynamic weight of this lyrically questioning track. A wonderful, bright section of a not-so-bright set.
Capping things out by ending with the seminal ‘Writing On The Walls‘, it was clear this show had drained Spencer. Losing much of his energy during this final track and leaving the stage quickly afterwards, it felt like he and Underoath had been rushed on-stage, only to be rushed off-stage in less than an hour and a dozen songs later. 30+ hours of travelling just for this? It seemed to bother the members too. They did their best to upkeep spirits, between songs and during the actual performances, but the situation seemed to have taken a toll. While it was great to witness an Underoath show, we can’t look past the technical issues nor the soured mood of the set. We hope their flights back home were peaceful, at least. Hopefully, there’s smoother sailing the next time they come back, whenever that may be.
And with that, that was the end of day one for Unify Gathering 2019. While we’ve not seen a band finish their set after 2am at a festival before, one thing was clear: this was a LONG fucking day for everyone involved. Maybe too long for most. (A second annex stage or something of the sort wouldn’t have gone amiss this year). Tired, sore and a little sunburnt, we slowly clambered back to our awaiting tents, all so that we could get some shut eye and do it all again tomorrow at 10am. Fuck.
Saturday, day two:
The start of day two definitely had a “too early for this shit” vibe from the second we arose under the watchful eye of the nearby Gippsland area wind farm. Thankfully, with some cooler winds sweeping over and soothing us, that early start didn’t affect the well-deserving Triple J Unearthed winners, Pridelands, nor the sizeable crowd who’d left the safety of their tents to catch them. Though it was hard-going trying to get anyone to jump and move around this early, the Melbourne act brought some real energy and heaviness on all fronts to the morning’s proceedings, kicking out the best jams from their 2018 self-released EP, ‘Any Colour You Desire‘. A rather solid little release that’s since taken them to a new level in the local scene and taken them around the country. And so this set saw them racing through some of said EP’s best cuts; the title track, ‘Boys‘, ‘Black Lung‘, and ‘Machina‘ Well done, lads, not a bad set at all.
In a style shift that would define day two of Unify Gathering 2019, we went from metalcore and post-hardcore to catchy pop-rock with Yours Truly hitting the stage. The newly-signed UNFD act do experience some really solid numbers online for their music, but that didn’t really translate into crowd numbers and involvement on the actual day. They still have a while to go, of course, and that being said, the quartet seemed to be really enjoying themselves regardless of that fact. But to be brutally honest, we don’t think Australia needs any more pop-punk bands like this. We’re already at peak capacity in this tired, cluttered genre as it is.
Straight up, Falcifer fucking demolished the midday hours of Unify’s second day, with some of the biggest breakdowns, tightest drumming, and heaviest riffs of the festival. Vocalist Stephanie Jane Marlow stalked the stage like a predator about to devour wounded prey. With one of the heaviest growls of the festival, she put half of the blokes on this line-up to shame with her impressive, indomitable vocals. Despite the overly calm response the band got – very little movement from the gathered horde was offered when they were told to pick shit up and move – there was just something to Falcifer’s performance that made it damned hard to look away and not take notice. We actually overheard the vocalist mention to some mates later on at the bar that she felt her performance was shit and that the crowd was hard to work with, but we think Stephanie and Falcifer did more than fine with what they were given. Moving forward, all that Adelaide’s finest need now is a solid single or new EP that’s not too samey, and 2019 will be shaping up for them as the rest of Australia starts to take notice.
We’ve seen Gravemind play really well before, but we’ve also seen them play simply okay shows too. But this was hands down the best Gravemind show to date – period. As we mentioned in our most anticipated Unify acts list last week, if Gravemind played their cards right and their songs even better, we’d get a great show that would hopefully propel them fast and heavily into the rest of 2019. Well, that’s exactly what they did! Blowing After Touch’s set before them right out of the water, and in starting things with ‘Echo’, the Melbourne extreme act surged through ‘The Death Of Teyolia’, the one-two punch of ‘Deadspace’ and ‘Anaesthesia’ (a duo that lands just as hard live as it does on ‘The Deathgate’ EP), and newest single ‘Lifelike’. At all times, the Melbourne deathcore act were on-point. Everything was lethal, perfectly in-sync. And you just know that they worked hard to prepare for this Unify set. Also, it’s rare that you see a deathcore band with their lyric video playing behind them, showing newcomers what’s going on in their song(s) lyrically and thematically – very cool.
With guitarist Michael Petritsch now providing backing screams, their live sound fills out better. This means vocalist Dylan Gillsons isn’t missing any lyrics, and gives him more breathing room, not relying on any backing tracks for added vocals either. Along with the inclusion of a fill-in bassist, this was a great addition to their live show. Also on vocals, the frontman’s technique was consistent and he handled the tasteful, emotive pitched-screamed “Mother, don’t you blame yourself” section in ‘Lifelike’ beautifully. Proof that Gravemind can pull off more melodic dynamics when it comes down to it live. It was also just so wholesome to see a band whose members have frequented Unify in the past as punters, but who were now playing on that very stage, getting a great response from the crowd and just nailing it. These guys worked damned hard to get here and they came fully prepared to lay down the gauntlet. 2019 will be their year, we’re damn well sure of it.
Despite a briefly botched intro to the powerhouse ‘Death Before Disco‘, once guitarist Xavier Santilli’s opening riff took off properly, Pagan were fully underway with their cultish sermon and nothing could stop their wrecking path. Donned in white clothing, the band delivered a blackened rock’n’roll sound that was as blistering as the sun above. Simply put, Pagan instantly became one of our favourite acts of Unify’s 2019 instalment. During biting cuts like ‘Imitate Me‘, it was crystal clear to us that this band is one of the most exciting up-and-coming live acts in Australia currently. It’s a free-for-all frenzy when they play, and the crowd ate it all up lovingly.
Vocalist Nikki Brumen is just a great performer, first and foremost. Wildly screaming her head off (sometimes a little too harshly), utilising much of the stage, recreating the choreography from the ‘Silver’ video during said song’s performance, to even spilling red wine over herself. She’s just a woman possessed! All fittingly adding to the grim and somewhat theatrical nature of their set as well. Nikki is just so vulgar in her presence and language, and so decidedly herself in her honest on-stage persona that it’s just captivating to experience. The vocalist also threw some shade over Michael Crafter for his piss poor comments about women at Unify with the following jab: “Come have a glass of red wine with us later on… unless I’m being fingered in a tent”. Fucking hilarious. Those around us all looked around wide-eyed and laughed, mouthing “holy shit” at one another’s direction. We’re also glad someone made mention of that bollocks at Unify 2019 too.
What we love most about Pagan is that what you see is exactly what you get. Listening to 2018’s ‘Black Wash’ LP or any other song, you see it live and you realise it sounds spot-on. There’s no dishonesty in their musical performances: not in the vocals, riffs, lyrics, or the rhythm section. It’s all real: the crazed energy, the human mistakes, and the musical peaks too. If you don’t go see them on tour in April, you need your fuckin’ head checked ASAP. We love Pagan and we hope you do too.
Thornhill are one of the youngest and hottest UNFD acts right now, and the fact they pulled a great turnout for their mid-arvo set is proof of their sharp rise lately. They had plenty of mates and fans out in force for this set, and you could tell it warmed each members hearts to this kind of support. Despite Jacob Charlton’s vocals being a little low in the mix at times, it was also clear his singing had improved too. He’s still got a way to go, but he has the right attitude and every time we see Thorny live, they just get a little better, a little tighter. Sometimes, that makes all of the difference. Though drummer Ben Maida was really in the zone the whole way through, keeping everyone else in check and pumping out tight beats. They’re a young band with a long way to go but it’s not at all a race. That being said, to say they didn’t have any strength behind their performances would be a flat-out lie on our part. As the likes of ‘Sunflower‘, ‘Reptile‘, ‘Lavender‘ and ‘Limbo‘ all sounded super-charged. Also, they had a visual backdrop made of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game footage and that’s a win in our book!
With a full-length album on their hands, Thornhill could very well blow up even more so. They already had Unify Gathering defeated, so what else is next?
Similar to Dream On Dreamer, Perth’s Saviour have been around for a little while and are also no strangers to the Unify stage. Ripping through their most usual repertoire – ‘Unstoppable‘ and ‘The Quiet Calm‘, as well as latest single, ‘Never Sleep‘ – Saviour got a warm welcome from the many gathered. Even after a mic stuff-up when the band first took the stage, making things somewhat anticlimactic, couldn’t damper the fans excitement. The group’s mid-tempo, breakdown-laden metalcore sound is incredibly well-balanced on-record, where every element, instrument and dynamic shift cuts through clearly. Yet that sound, vocals and all, didn’t fully translate through on the day, with some things getting kinda lost and almost like the band were just pushing through the set until the end, going through the motions. Of course, no Saviour setlist is complete without ‘Jaded‘, and it was the real highlight of their moment in the sun, taking things on home to conclude matters. Oh, and that “click click BOOM” pit-call is still fucking sick live. We don’t care what anyone else has to say about it.
It was perhaps a blessing that Harm’s Way had barely 30 full minutes to work with, as their meaty hardcore shtick would’ve definitely become too repetitive by then. Even so, their showcasing of predominately ‘Post Human’ material was so sick, and above all else, fucking heavy. ‘Human Carrying Capacity’, ‘Dead Space’, ‘Become A Machine’, ‘Temptation‘, and ‘Last Man’ were utterly monstrous. The Chicago crew were running on a deadly, honed point throughout, with tectonic drums and landsliding riffs that whipped up some hectic mosh down in the thick of it. Much like Falcifer before them in the day, there was little talking to be done, instead letting the music speak for them. We sure ain’t complaining, though. Their set was tough as nails, hardcore carbs for bulkers and cutters alike, and the fact that ‘Become A Machine‘ is just breakdown after breakdown and never once feels cheap is an achievement unto itself. Load the fuck up, pals.
‘Vicious Pleasure‘ has done a lot of great things for the five men who created it – Endless Heights. The band pulled in a surprisingly large crowd for their afternoon set, and they made bloody sure to give all those who had come on down a fucking good show to leave with in their minds. Focusing on their killer 2018 LP, Endless Heights exploded with ‘You Coward‘, ‘Drain‘ and even more moodier, ethereal tracks like ‘Paralyse‘ and ‘Come A Little Closer‘. Soft or heavy, Endless Heights brought the heat more so than the day’s actual temperature. On that idea of being ‘heavy’, though, while you wouldn’t really label this Sydney act as such, their latest record has some hefty low-end to it, and that sonic weight slammed into view here. It made us so happy to see so many coming out to show the band some love, and knowing the words to all of the songs. For a band who was on the very brink before ‘Vicious Pleasure‘ dropped, we’re truly hoping that the success and love given during this LP’s cycle has reinvigorated their interests in touring and musical expression. Cause god knows they’re fuckin’ good at it!
You know, we were genuinely wondering if anyone was going to scale the stage’s side steelworks. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that the sole culprit would be the ever-cheeky Clowns frontman himself, Stevie Williams. The quintet pieced together a fast and furious melodic punk rock setlist, one that rarely slowed down. Before ending with the slick punk rock rager that is ‘Destroy The Evidence‘ – for our money, probably the best Clowns song around – the band did make mention of a new album having just being finished and giving us taste of a new unreleased track. While it sounded just like Clowns, it also sounded good, and it’s no doubt going to allow for more live punk rock shenanigans in the future come release.
Elsewhere, on the punk front was Brisbane’s WAAX, who we caught live at Good Things just last month. And they were just as good here in Tarwin Meadows, as they were at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse. Slicing through ‘This Everything‘, ‘I For An Eye‘, ‘Wild & Weak‘ and ‘Same Same‘ – so pretty much banger after banger – the band didn’t feel out of place at all on this line-up. After two kick-ass, well-received EPs having given them their current status, WAAX also informed everyone that their new album would arrive in 2019. Coupled with the announcement was also the performance of a new track titled ‘Fade‘, which in usual WAAX fashion, sounded fucking fierce. We can’t wait for this album nor get enough if this band live.
After Citizen burst through a well-rounded and relaxing set that felt way too short (‘In The Middle Of It All‘ was huge), it was time for everyone to loosen right up. To no one’s surprise, Turnstile had the perfect songs primed and ready to do just that. The funky, 90s-loving Baltimore act grooved insanely hard with songs like ‘Real Thing’, ‘Generator’, ‘Drop’, ‘Bomb’, and ‘Moon’. It was a colourful, hardcore disco; one that was near impossible to not get into, whether head-banging or flying over the heads of people down the front. (We caught John from Trophy Eyes flying over the barrier at one point too, legend). Turnstile pretty much didn’t stop moving and rocking out until the last note rung out. It was pure adrenaline throughout, with vocalist Brendan Yates jumping around the stage and getting some real air, whilst bassist Franz Lyons often looked like he was wrestling with his bass in order to get the damned flailing thing under control. Their set was just vibe central; bounce city. Just a communal space for fun to thrive and where everyone could just get down. However, it was a little underwhelming given what it could’ve been, and that’s bonkers live videos like this and this. A Turnstile show with a much smaller photo pit or even no barrier is where the band’s live shows truly shine, where shit really gets turned up to ten and where the crowd and band become one. Which just wasn’t quite the case here. Oh well, maybe next time? Still, it was non-stop feeling all the way through.
Hey, you know what makes sense? Trophy Eyes kicking off their Unify set with a nifty little cover of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. Not just because everyone knows the song, not just because it’s a safe bet for a good time at a festival, but because it also bleeds nicely into the sound and tone of the material from ‘The American Dream’ LP. On that note, said material like ‘You Can Count On Me’, ‘More Like You’, ‘Friday Forever’, and ‘Something Bigger Than This’ all became dance-able hits that got people’s lungs giving out as they sung and their feet boogieing along. The only song not culled from their latest body of work was the resonating fan-fave, ‘Chlorine’. It showed that the band haven’t completely forgotten their past, but also that John Floreani can still scream fiercely; he just doesn’t want to much anymore and feels far more comfortable singing for these songs. And that’s fine by us!
Across every portion of their set, Trophy Eyes sounded absolutely confident, completely sure of themselves and that’s a sentiment of self-belief they extended to the congregation gathered before them. With mass amounts of confetti explosions and erupting, iris-searing pyro, this was them hitting the big leagues; a level of success that the Aussie band seem to be honing and capturing very well lately. This felt like a proper festival showcasing, something Trophy Eyes seem to be more than comfortable with. Onward and upwards, as they say.
State Champs hit Unify in all of their pop-punk glory, and any doubts that this crowd of rootin’ and tootin’ metal heads might be less receptive were immediately squashed. The words to ‘Elevated’ filled out this dry ass paddock hole as the crowd sung along to every word and finger pointed their hearts out. The quintet were in Australia for just this one half-hour set and they made the absolute most of it. ‘All You Are Is History’ went off with its heavier-tinged riffs sending people into a frenzy because after twelve hours of breakdowns they still weren’t satisfied. ‘Secrets’ was easily the set highlight, for the band and for everyone else, what with it being their biggest song next to opener ‘Elevated’. The chorus was one of the largest in sound and singalong power of the whole festival, no easy feat when billed alongside Taking Back Sunday, Underoath and Trophy Eyes. ‘Dead and Gone’ served as the closer, and whilst we’ve felt like the only people who knew that particular record, the crowd knew the words and learned them quickly enough to shout along in glorious harmony. We also resonated with the lyric “I wanna get some fucking sleep again”, as those minimum six hours sleep we all got was really starting to hit us hard.
State Champs are clearly a band that can cross genre divides with ease. Whether they’re opening for 5 Seconds of Summer or performing at a mostly heavy music crowd, they don’t break a sweat. They play their songs so well it’s almost to a fault. It’s safe in the sense that you know you’re going to get a near-perfect rendition of their recorded songs, yet if they didn’t craft such infectious ear worms and provocative riffs it might get stale.
It’s no secret that we here at KYS fucking love this next band. Every Time I Die’s chaotic brand of hardcore infused with Southern swagger ticks all of our boxes. The energy that their music brings forth, both on the record and on stages like this, is unmatched by most other bands going right now. (Never forget The Chariot and Letlive). On this night and bathed in smoke, the Buffalo act, who even have an official day named after them in their hometown, brought all of that skill, energy and fun all the way Down Under. Warming us up from the cold night changeover, and acting as one of the Australian exclusives for the festival, this was forty rollicking minutes of nothing but pure, unhinged hardcore filth. In short, we loved every second of every minute of their set. Biased much? Yeah, probably. But when a band is this good, you just gotta call it how it is.
The ‘Hot Damn!‘-era classic, ‘Floater’ got the crowd spinning around in the largest circles pits of the fest, and had people flying right over the barricade. Whereas the always-rowdy ‘We’rewolf’ was the nostalgia hit of the whole night. Keith Buckley’s piercing screams and swooning vocals made us weak at the knees, also nailing one of their few genuine “singalongs” moments with: “you don’t live ‘til you’re ready to die”. Hearing that being sung at the top of people’s lungs as flailing bodies moved the middle section and crowd surfers crushed those below? Wicked. Although, it was a little hard to get into ‘Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space‘, a song’s whose vocal hook is “I want to be dead with my friends“, given that meters from us, a young woman had just suddenly collapsed and was being carried out by paramedics. (We sincerely hope that young lady is doing okay now and that she’s since made a full recovery!)
This midnight showing from the American hardcore act was a great example of how you put together a festival set. You cram it full of songs that you know your fans love and respect. As this whole setlist was comprised of all instantly recognisable and instantly infectious fan-fave tunes, superbly covering the wide spectrum of ETID’s career. From huge, darkly melodic choruses that even your mum might not mind to the downright disgusting hardcore sounds that make your youth pastor pray for you at night. It was the best of both worlds and Every Time I Die were one of the best bands at the festival’s fifth year. Most likely why Unify had them come back around again since their 2017 set.
Apparently Keith was talking with the crowd between songs but we had little idea what that could be due to the incessant chants of “SHOOOEEEY” being screamed down the front next to our ears. Whilst he eventually saved that indulgence later in the set, the chants at one point made him stop talking and irk his way into introducing the next song. To that, we say: grow the fuck up. Asking a band like ETID to do this lacks all schadenfreude because OF COURSE these loud, partying Texas hardcore-heroes will indulge you, wipe their mouths, and keep going with ease. The band to get a shoey from would be less abrasive out-of-towners like State Champs or Underoath. Also, you’re all living in the past. The sockie is where it’s at in 2019. Same concept as a shoey, just with a sock. Only cowards will pass it up.
Regardless of shouted drunken slurs, ETID ended things on a series of high notes that prove why this band have still got it: on both the record and the stage. Ending with choice, back-to-back ‘Low Teen‘ cuts like ‘Thirst‘, ‘The Coin Has A Say’, ‘It Remembers’ and ‘Map Change’, all to glorious reception from the crowd, this is music that makes you want to scream and hit shit. The latter, the speechless and powerful ‘Map Change‘, has since become synonymous with the twilight moments of any current ETID set. It’s end seeing brothers Jordan and Keith remain on stage as their bandmates retired, with the guitarist keeping the song’s riff going for the outro, so Keith could hauntingly serenade us one last time: “I’ve weighed down the earth/No use trying to save it“. Stunning.
Sound tracking our youth and whatever age we may now be, as forever entertaining singer Adam Lazzara put it, Taking Back Sunday took everyone back to 2002 as they performed ‘Tell All Your Friends‘ in full. If we were to pick a top three of Taking Back Sunday’s discography, ‘Tell All Your Friends‘ wouldn’t make the cut. It’s an album that definitely sounds youthful; it’s their first record and was written when they were all just barely out of their teens. Yet their debut album has persevered throughout the years, due to great songs like ‘Timberwolves at New Jersey‘, ‘You’re So Last Summer‘ and of course, ‘Cute Without The E (Cut From The Team)‘. In this manner, for Unify, it was the album played front to back in chronological order. There was no playfulness with this approach – like how Bloc Party preformed ‘Silent Alarm‘ backwards on their recent Australian tour, nor was ‘Cute Without The E‘ saved for the album’s end – but it all still worked well. Simplest is often best. While this did mean some of their set’s buzz was lost during the deeper cuts – like during ‘The Blue Channel‘, ‘Head Club‘, ‘Ghost Man On Third‘, and ‘Great Romances Of The 20th Century‘ – it was a great performance of an important album for TBS: their debut. Plus, some of these songs, like the urgent opener ‘You Know How I Do‘, haven’t been played in who knows how many years. And we aren’t taking that opportunity for granted.
What struck us the most here was just how well this album sounded live. Some people will try and tell you that Adam cannot hit the high notes of this record, but those people are wrong and silly. The very same goes for guitarist John Nolan, whose screaming and vocal interplay with Adam was as crisp as ever. The best version of ‘Tell All Your Friends‘ that we’ve ever heard was this complete performance of it. The band are much older now, but also much better musicians and these 17-year-old songs sounded infinitely better because of that experience. Yet it is a little odd that this record was selected, and not some kind of greatest hits set, especially as rhythm guitarist Eddie Reyes (who was apart of TAYF) is no longer in the band. As Adam once mentioned during their set, “when they asked us to play Unify, they asked if we could play our first album, and we said “…alright”“. Yep, a reluctant “yeah, sure thing” in order to do the festival was what we figured had happened. After all, we know that TBS themselves don’t overly care for their first record these days yet still cash in on it hard. Which is a little weird and disingenuous to us. While it was fantastic to see them live, even in this setting, we couldn’t shake that from our heads while watching the world-class rock band indulge grown-up emo kids across the Unify grounds.
Of course, this headline set wasn’t just for their first album to hog up all of the spotlight. For a brief encore performance, we got something new, something old, and something just right. First off, ‘You Can’t Come Back‘ (from 2016’s ‘Tidal Wave‘) chilled everyone out, then the absolute jam that is ‘A Decade Under The Influence‘ took us back to aggressive, 2004 finger-pointing melo-drama. At this stage, we probably don’t even have to tell you that they ended with ‘MakeDamnSure‘. They did, but anyone who has ever seen TBS before or even remotely been a fan of them in their time knows that fact. And it was brilliant! You cannot change our minds that that’s one of the best songs they’ve ever written. To end a TBS show without ‘MakeDamnSure‘ would be to short change everyone. What a song, what a fucking band.
The General Takeaway:
Putting everything together and doing the math, Unify Gathering 2019 was a good time, it was a lot of fun, and we’re glad we went. That much cannot be understated. However, not all of the publicity of the event was positive upon its first line-up announcement and in the months leading up to the big weekend. So it’ll be interesting to see whether the event becomes re-branded as a “heavy music gathering” in 2020 and how the bands booked may or may not change in style and their demographics from this iteration. As much as we love Underoath and Taking Back Sunday, they do seem like odd fits, especially from how the festival first started and has since grown.
The single stage set-up isn’t bad, and we totally understand the organisers not wanting to build a bigger stage and split it down the middle to make two a la Soundwave, thus potentially splitting audiences in half. But this meant that the set changeovers between bands were half an hour by the second half of Saturday, blowing out the length of the event even further. Things were already ending at 2am each night, which is a bit much. There’s a reason everyone talks about how tired they are following the Unify Gathering weekend, and this year’s schedule exacerbated that for us and our many friends who attended. That being said, the new ground site is better laid out, offering much more shade for punters. Plus, it’s great to see the festival make it to it’s fifth year, as there’s no other multi-day, camping festival for this lane way of alternative/heavy music in Australia right now.
The Sunday acoustic sessions have been a staple of Unify for a couple years now, but to be honest, there’s little reason to stick around once that Sunday morning sun rises and the 8am carpark restriction lifts. That’s when it’s time to pack-up, go the fuck home, and hug your pets. We do think it was great that the festival was offering gender and mental health panels on Saturday as well. While the former panel was no doubt a PR move given the heat that Ocean Grove’s Dale Tanner found himself in back in 2018 (who was a guest for said panel), they are welcome topical discussions. More-so, they also add something extra to do during the day other than sleep in your tent, drink till your blind, and see bands; lacking boutique elements that we hope to see Unify add and improve upon moving forward.