Words by Stephen Buckle and Brandon Long
Photos by Anne-Laure Marie
With the main entrance to Parramatta Park slowly filling will eager festival-goers it was also noticeable that the rain was here too. Now if anyone remembers how much came down before gates opened for the debut Download show in Melbourne last year, you’ll know we didn’t want a repeat of it here in Sydney.
Once inside I noticed that the stage setup was very easy to get around so I headed towards the Red Stage for my first of many bands to see; Voyager.
Hailing from Perth, Voyager are no strangers to supporting bigger bands having been the opening act for Deftones, Children Of Bodom and many others. Rolling through their songs with minimal talk, they quickly caught the interest of the crowd as plenty of people were seen head banging. With the overcast weather in play but the rain subsiding, Voyager gave one of their strongest performances to date that I’ve personally witnessed. It’s onwards and upwards for them now.
Once Voyager was done, I quickly made a b-line for the Avalanche stage to witness for the first time in Australia; New Years Day. As soon as I arrived the band had just graced the stage, fronted by female lead singer Ashley Costello. With epic solos and energy, the band connected with the audience on a different level. The band had the crowd chanting “We’re so, we’re so contagious” during one of their songs. Definitely a band that would be welcomed back to Australia with open arms.
Watching from one stage to the other, Slaves UK (not to be confused with Slaves USA) gave us an interesting two piece English punk group with garage attitude. As English as they come they showed that you don’t need a full 4-5 members to make a band. With a drummer/vocalist and a guitarist they opened the pit to their song Fuck the Hi-Hat.
War on Women were up next and boy did these awesome humans from Baltimore bring the thunder to their show – advocating for gay/trans/brown/black rights throughout their performance while also showing their disdain and hatred for their president Trump. The emotion was evidently there while they sung to their Sydney punters, with some singing back.
With the skyrocketing popularity of Fever 333 since its incorporation in late 2017, there was already a lot of people eager to since the first d333monstrations in Australia. Opening with Burn It and We’re Coming In the crowd went into a frenzy. The Grammy-nominated band, having just recently released their first full-length album, ‘Strength in Numb333rs’, along with their EP, ‘Made An America’, performed like crazed prisoners trying to escape. The combined amount of energy and emotion bursting out of Stevie, Jason and Aric shows how much they put into their performances. Closing with Hunting Season, they set the standard for Download Sydney and what was to come for the rest of the day.
After grabbing some food I came back to witness an enormous crowd surrounding the Dogtooth stage, which had our favourite punk rock Aussies Frenzal Rhomb kicking arse. Opening with Bird Attack and scrolling through their 26-year career as a band, they already had the command of Parramatta as a whole, seeing circle pit after circle pit go off.
The crowd may not have been as big for Code Orange but the fans in there were loyal and they ripped through their powerful set and probably took the trophy for the loudest band of the day. Energetic and frantic movements while screaming at the punters faces would’ve certainly made their fans’ day.
Running from the Avalanche stage to the Black stage I was prepared to catch Anthrax rip Sydney a new one. Opening with a little snippet from the opening of Cowboys from Hell by Pantera then following into their set, the roar of the crowd was ecstatic. Circle pits started almost immediately with myself almost finding myself in the centre of one. With a strong set of hits like Got The Time and Madhouse, Anthrax showed why they earned the title of one of the Big Four. Closing with Indians and then a final snippet from the end of Cowboys from Hell again, Anthrax left the Download Sydney crowd happy with the performance they witnessed.
One of the bands that was my gateway to rock/punk/metal was early Rise Against. Having seen them countless times I knew what I was in store for. Opening with Re-Education through Labour was a brilliant way to make sure the crowd participated and boy did it work. Performing their hits Give It All, Drones and Satellite,Rise Against gave it all (pun intended) and made sure that their fans left smiling. While they have a vast choice of what they could play they opted to play two short covers of Black Flag (with the lead vocalist from War On Women) and Misfits (with Spike from Me First & The Gimme Gimmes).
While I’d always heard a lot of good things about Halestorm I was yet to witness them live. With a fantastic voice and band to compliment it Lzzy Hale sung her heart out from start to finish. Guitar solos all round, vocal solos even, Halestorm had it all during their set. Even to the point of the drummer doing a drum solo with abnormally large drum sticks – interesting to say the least. Definitely worth checking out and listening to more.
When you think of bands that paved the way in the punk scene you can’t miss a big name of that list; Pennywise. With a very long career and never letting up, the band took full force of Download Sydney and delivered an epic set to the punters watching. Playing hits like Homesick, Society and even having Fletcher cover TNT by AC/DC (it sounded better than the original too), Pennywise proved they’re one of the strongest bands on live performances still going round. Speaking of covers, Pennywise followed suit of most other bands from earlier on in the day and played a Beastie Boys classic, Fight For Your Right (To Party) and Stand By Me. As you’d expect they finished their glorious punk filled set with Bro Hymm much to the delight of their long serving fans.
Six years… six long years fans have waited for Sum 41 to grace our shores Down Under once more. But in my eyes after witnessing their performance, it was worth the wait. After what nearly killed Deryck Whibley, he’s bounced back with a full recovery, released new music and reformed the band with all original members. Now they’ve finally returned down under and brought what I consider the best Sum 41 show I’ve ever seen. Opening with The Hell Song, the band showed that they’re back with a vengeance and kept it rolling all throughout their set. Kicking doors down with Walking Disaster and Fake My Own Death, Whibley picked three lucky punters in the crowd to enjoy the whole set from side of stage, which saw a sea of punters go nuts trying to get picked. Once picked, Sum 41 unloaded a giant inflatable skeleton with its rude finger up in the background.
The band closed with In Too Deep, Fat Lip and Still Waiting, proving that you can overcome anything that tries to take you down. Besides Fever 333, Sum 41 definitely were a highlight of the day (and ultimately should’ve closed out the two stages in my opinion).
Now after an impressive performance by Sum 41, Ghost had to follow it. With a full stage set up and light/pyro show to go with it they went to all stops to deliver a memorable performance for punters. Unfortunately for me, I feel they should’ve performed prior to Sum 41 but punters in the pit were still left happy with a fantastic live show.
Seeing the debut of Melbourne last year and now Sydney this year I’m proud that our festival scene is starting to kick back into full gear, regardless of the roadblock known as Gladys that stands in our way.
It was a phenomenal set up, a great day and everyone looked after everyone. So I’d rate Sydney Download Festival’s debut a giant success.
Bring on 2020!
Similar to the British shipping their best to Australia in 1788, they’ve done it again with their big heavy event – Download Festival – now in its second year in Oz. While they bypassed the first settlement for the 2018 rollout in favour of Melbourne, they soon realised the harbour city’s hunger for metal and branched out. Let us all hope the ledgers over at Live Nation are looking healthy and they can ship the festival to the next logical city of Brisbane for 2020 and continue that trajectory elsewhere.
The first act of the day was Hobart’s Ruins. It must be hard for black metal bands to get in the right headspace playing in the midday sun, but luckily for them, most of the day was overcast and gloomy, with the sun being relegated to a dim torch. Ruins delivered a six-song set on the Dogtooth Stage and damn was it ferocious. Vocalist Alex Pope summoned as much internal darkness as he could to get the neck veins popping and the crowd chanting ‘oi, oi, oi’ through several songs. He was giving us air guitar, air drums, air uppercuts and even air pump-action shotguns. The drums, bass and guitar did not let up for the 30-minute set either, complementing perfectly the growls, screams and shrieks. Certainly a headbutt to start the day. A highlight was Faust.
Kicking things off for Black Stage was New Zealand thrash band Alien Weaponry, whose show-opening Haka had many punters running over to see what the commotion was about. The teenage trio wasted no time busting into their first track PC Bro and backed that up with Holding My Breath. The brothers-and-a-mate combo then told the crowd their next one, Whispers, was their ‘political shit’. They finished with their Maori anthems Kai Tangata and Raupatu, proving that language doesn’t have to be a barrier to metal enjoyment. A solid set from the young blokes.
One of the best performances of the day came early on – from Sydney metalcore powerhouse Polaris on Red Stage. Lead vocalist Jamie Hails said it was probably the biggest crowd they’ve played to in their hometown and they certainly didn’t drop the ball for it. Starting off with Casualty and Remedy, Hails, along with clean vocalist and bassist Jake Steinhauser, came through the speakers a little soft, but by the time they hit Crooked Path and Consume, Hails was giving us an Eddie Vedder grin in the softer spots and an angry bull goaded by a matador in the others. What a performance from drummer Daniel Furnari, rhythm guitarist Rick Schneider and lead guitarist Ryan Siew too. There was so much anger, sadness and passion injected into the limited timeslot that it was hard not to take notice, and crowd interaction was up there with the best.
Continuing the Red Stage and metalcore theme, I Prevail were on 50 minutes after Polaris. They also held the crowd participation at full throttle, with unclean vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe jumping on the barrier for a personal touch and even doing a ‘shoey’ with a rum and cola thrown at full velocity from the crowd. They smashed through powerful renditions of Come And Get It, Breaking Down, Lifelines, Already Dead, Scars and more. There might’ve been a bit too much melody here for the extreme metal fans but the majority of the crowd were getting their kicks. A bloody entertaining 40-minute set from the American mob.
The chants started early – ‘Be-he-moth’, ‘Be-he-moth’. Then the Polish blackened death metallers appeared on Red Stage in black skull masks and long garbs to start the Satanic mayhem. The drums were furious, the guitars were swift and dirty, and Nergal’s vocals were as powerful as ever. The Poles ripped through Daimonos, Bartzabel, Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel and a few others from the discography, making time to ditch the masks to reveal the corpse paint and for Nergal to don his trademark tall hat at one point. Airbourne were one of the first of the day to go nuts with the pyro and Behemoth took it to the next level. The band gave a ‘hail Satan’ towards the end and thanked all the ‘free-thinking’ attendees. One of the darkest performances of the day.
Aussie metalcore guys The Amity Affliction were the next to make Red Stage their own. The gigantic banner behind them read ‘Misery’ (2018 album) and the performance certainly echoed that sentiment – in a ‘good’ way. The angst in the music was not only apparent, it was raw and unhinged. The members certainly have some shit pent up, and while their records aren’t for everyone, their live performance is something else. See them live at least once if you get the opportunity. Their set list included Drag The Lake, Ivy (Doomsday), I Bring The Weather With Me, This Could Be Heartbreak, Shine On, D.I.E., Open Letter and Feels Like I’m Dying. Unclean vocalist Joel Birch was good enough to ask the crowd to welcome relatively new drummer, Joe Longobardi, to the fold too.
From here we make a detour to the Ascension Stage for Kiwi metal band Devilskin. Lead vocalist Jennie Skulander said she watched Fever 333’s stage antics a few hours earlier and needed to step up her performance, so she gave a couple of impressive cartwheels. She’s a born performer, rocking a unique latex ensemble with coffins on the bottoms and top. She jumped around the stage shared with guitarist Tony Vincent, bassist Paul Martin and drummer Nic Martin, nailing the soaring vocals for All Fall Down, Start A Revolution, Never See The Light and more.
Now at this point, some might think I’ve got a rager for metalcore. While I do enjoy the subgenre, I also am partial to prog, black, and nu metal, as well as grunge. And speaking of grunge – now we arrive at my pick for the day – Alice In Chains. The Seattle legends were the first of the day to get a 75-minute set and they made the most of it, kicking off at dusk with Bleed The Freak before getting into Check My Brain, Again, and Rainier Fog. Some of the rustier looking patrons were a bit concerned that they weren’t going to hear the classics, so I had to remind them that patience is a virtue in this game. And sure enough, the band dropped Them Bones on us. Well didn’t everyone just have a bloody sing along then. Following this was Dam That River, which just made the crowd even louder. Hollow came in next, before everyone got a bit softer and reflective for Down In A Hole. Just as the line “I’d like to fly but my wings have been so denied” was sung by William DuVall, a flock of birds flew through the grey sky over the stage. It was a wow moment.
Jerry Cantrell on guitar is another must-see experience for any rock or metal fan – what a privilege to listen to him glide through his parts. Things took an upbeat turn with No Excuses, which paved the way for We Die Young and Angry Chair. Then it was time for Man In The Box – the biggest pre-‘Dirt’ track of their career. I’ve heard some pretty rough pub harmonies of this track in my time, but this Parramatta Park harmony was truly beautiful. The One You Know and Would? were equally as popular and took us to the closer – everyone’s favourite song about Vietnam (no evidence to support this) – Rooster. It was like Sunday church the way everyone got involved. Except AiC is better.
Judas Priest was the other band to score a 75-minute slot and were the final performers on the Black Stage. Now, let me first start off by saying that Rob Halford and Co. played their set expertly, from the guitar wizardry and high notes to the stage production and theatre. The fading tattoos and the greying hair don’t mean a thing to these guys, who are true pioneers of the genre. However, the studded leather getup is a bit old-hat for me and the riffage isn’t enough for me. In addition to the riffage, I need angst. I need the composition and the emotion. And I was only getting the composition. I struggle to identify with a lot of bands from the NWBHM. Priest played stalwarts like Rising From Ruins, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, Hell Bent for Leather and finished off with Breaking The Law. The crowd loved it all, and that’s all that matters, right?
At 9.30 on the dot, the chant started. Crosses appeared on the backdrop and moved to an inverted position. Finally, it was time for thrash titans Slayer, who stepped into the headline slot for a mammoth 90-minute set to close the day. They smashed out Repentless, Spill The Blood and Disciple before Tom Araya addressed the crowd for the first time. He asked the people for their best ‘Warrrrrrrr’ scream before entering into War Ensemble. The pyro and lighting were arguably the best of the day. From there they played Payback and Seasons in the Abyss. It was at this point that I realised I harboured a controversial opinion – I’m just not that into Slayer. I’ve listened to their magnum opus ‘Reign in Blood’ several times and this was the first time seeing them live. I was really hoping they could change my mind but Araya’s semi-automatic vocal style just doesn’t gel with me. I need some light and shade in my metal. I really wanted to ‘get’ them, especially since it’s their final world tour. Maybe I will one day. Was Araya impressive? Yes. Was Kerry King? Yes. Paul Bostaph? Yes. Gary Holt? Yes. They finished their set with a mighty four-pronged aural assault of South Of Heaven, Raining Blood, Chemical Warfare and Angel of Death – surely a brilliant way to see off the legends.
So, here’s to Download – may you set your sights higher each year (and hopefully announce a Brisbane 2020).