Words: Callum Doig & Kelsey Trevan
Photos: Andrew Basso
The very debut of the Download Festival that Australia had been fortunately graced with was nothing short of a prodigious success. With last year being headlined by acts including Korn, Prophets of Rage, and Limp Bizkit, Download’s return for a still-fresh 2019 became just as promising as its Australian launch; uniting hundreds upon thousands of heavy music fanatics once again with the visits of Slayer, Judas Priest, Alice in Chains, Behemoth, Ghost, and many more. In the enthusiasm of the enjoyment we had from 2018’s lineup, we returned to Download to see what this year’s proceedings had to offer.
The only way to make a public holiday better in Melbourne? Organise Round Two of Download Festival to happen! Unlike with last year, which started off with a lot of rain and wind, Melbourne turned on the fantastic weather and although the threatening, dark grey clouds were hanging around, the sunshine prevailed.
A stampede of metalheads charged onwards to the Red and Black Stages as soon as the gates had been open—enveloped mostly in black with prints of their favourite bands that ranged from multiple sub-genres of alternative rock to black metal. Camaraderie was strong, as was the dedicated, selfless, and friendly behaviour of the patrons in the surroundings.
No other act of the day could have begun the formalities better than Perth’s very own Voyager, who opened the Red Stage with exceptional party vibes of upbeat progressive metal. Having been around for many years, Voyager are far from ever losing their touch onstage; having performed to a diverse range of audiences across the world. For the first half hour of the Red Stage, Voyager presented themselves with intense, and elevated animation in bangers such as Brightstar, Ascension, Hyperventilating, and The Meaning Of I in front of the many enthused, and rapturous congregation that stood before them.
Opening up the Avalanche Stage today at Melbourne’s 2nd Download Festival was Los Angeles’ New Years Day. Vocalist and incredible frontwoman Ash Costello with her boys, guitarists Nikki Misery and Austin Ingerman, bassist Frankie Sil and drummer James Renshaw brought raw power, emotion and energy to their set and hyped the heck out of the early crowd. Ash demanded that everyone raise the horns to the sky to sacrifice to the metal Gods, specifically the late, great Vinnie Paul, even going as far as to call out two people in the front who weren’t doing it. A great way to kick off what was already promising to be an incredible day. Hopefully the Californian’s make it back to Australia soon and we get to experience a full show, not just a festival appearance.
Over to the main stages now and the black stage with Aussie rockers, Airbourne and wow, talk about a high energy set! Joel O’Keefe led the Aussie quartet with his soaring and growling vocals, his incredible stage presence and kickass guitar skills, with his brother Ryan O’Keefe on drums, bassist Justin Street, and rhythm guitarist Matt ‘Harri’ Harrison. “As long as I’m alive, and as long as you’re alive, rock will never die!” was one of the most important things that Joel said during the bands set and he encouraged everyone to support the festival now that we have a heavy festival in Australia again. The band played hard and this was evident from the small cut on Matt’s face, and Justin slicing his hand open but still continuing to play hard. The enormous circle pit that lasted for almost the entirety of Airbourne’s set is just another testament to how great their performance was, and was a great way for the Aussie’s to show the Americans that they can play just as hard.
With the Dogtooth Stage catering a plethora of international talent early in the day, Baltimore quintet War on Women made their Melbournian debut in front of a most devoted audience—mixed with newcomers to the band’s music, and longtime fans that had been eager to witness a minute of their performance. For the duration of their set, War on Women delivered a plethora of strong, motivating tracks from both their 2015 debut and ‘Capture they Flag’. Between songs, vocalist Shawna Potter often spoke with pride about annihilating racism, sexism, and transphobia from existence in front of a highly agreeing, and supportive audience, as well as recording a video of her, the band and the crowd shouting “Fuck Trump!” in unison.
Later on in the afternoon, Californian trio FEVER 333 brought an incredible, and most maniacal performance to the hundreds sheltered at the Avalanche Stage. If the proceedings had to be summed up in three (three, three) words, they would be: energetic, vigorous, and astounding—all of which remained consistent for the entirety of the band’s performance. It wasn’t even ten minutes into the set when vocalist Jason Aalon Butler jumped offstage and ran all the way to the sound desk, climbing the scaffold and shaking himself, gripping tightly onto the bars. Not only that, Fever 333’s gathering threw themselves around in the pit, and screaming from the top of their lungs to such politically-concentrated pieces such as Burn It, One Of Us, and Made An America, including an impressive beatbox and drum solo by Butler and drummer Aric Improta.
Highly acclaimed blackened death metallers Behemoth later brought precision and perfectly executed musicianship into their theatrical stage presence as one of the heavier acts of the day. Returning for their first show in Australia after a long four year wait, Nergal and co. executed a myriad of songs that orchestrated the audience into a satanic frenzy of moshing and crowdsurfing. Within their forty minute timeframe, Behemoth’s approach to the main stage remained unparalleled to a majority of the lineup, and continued to deliver furious zeal and astonishment flawlessly, resulting as one of the highlights of the festival.
Massachusetts quartet Converge then took the Dogtooth Stage into maximum overdrive with an extreme, substantial recital of metalcore and hardcore punk. To say that they were amazing would be an incredible understatement, and neither could one easily grasp the excelling potency, and artistry that the band had maintained for many years. Jacob Bannon’s role as the vocalist is far more than just screams, growls and chanting; guitarist Kurt Ballou, bassist Nate Newton and replacement drummer Uriah Hackney all brought an overwhelming amount of strength and vivacious quality.
To the Red Stage now and it’s another one of the Aussie’s on today’s stacked line-up, Queensland metalcore outfit The Amity Affliction. Often known for causing controversy, such as having a man hanging from a tree on the cover of their 2012 album ‘Chasing Ghosts’, and their feud with Matty Mullins of Memphis Mae Fire on Warped Tour 2013, I was pleasantly surprised by their set. Not too long after they started, vocalist Ahren Stringer stopped the set to help someone in the crowd who was having a seizure, making sure the person was helped from the pit and seen to by medical staff. One of the heavier bands on todays lineup, the boys from Brisbane brought their all and made sure that everyone in the crowd gave them just as much energy back as they were throwing out.
Back to the Black Stage now for crowd favourites in Australia, Rise Against. Born out of the Chicago punk scene in 1999, Rise Against have been thrilling audiences with their high voltage, and high energy shows for nearly 20 years and yesterday wasn’t an exception. When there’s such a stacked lineup that an incredible band like Rise Against play early on in the afternoon, you know you’re in for a good time. Tim McIlrath knows how to hype up an audience, and how to bring it and he most definitely did. There wasn’t many people in the huge crowd during Rise Against’s set that were standing still and it was high energy from the first, to the very last note of their set. While some bands on today’s lineup haven’t been back to Australia for a long period of time, Rise Against were on our shores in 2017 but that didn’t stop the fans from rocking up in droves and appreciating the fantastic performance the guys put on.
Pennsylvanian representatives Code Orange’s steroid-infused, mammoth-sized riffs were enough to cause a powerful magnitude across the festival grounds. For what was witnessed first hand in my surroundings, Code Orange possesses the entirety of the Avalanche Stage into creating the most fervent, and punishing moshpit of the day. Whether it be to something as enraging as Kill the Creator and 3 Knives, or something as rocky as Bleeding in the Blur, Code Orange and their fans would simultaneously turn the stage into an astonishing derelict with the barbarous presence that plagued them and their aggressive spectators.
Over to the Dogtooth stage now for another Australian band that is already taking over the world, Sydney’s metalcore five piece Polaris. Led by one of the most energetic frontmen I’ve ever seen, Jamie Hails, the guys put on one of the absolute best sets of the entire day and represented Australia in a big way. It isn’t just Jamie who is energetic but the entire band, drummer Daniel Furnari, guitarists Ryan Slew and Rick Schneider, and bassist and clean vocalist Jake Steinhauser give as good as they get. The crowd was rowdy, the circle pits were many and a lot of beer was consumed. Polaris played a rousing and energetic set and showed just why they are one of the best not just in the country, but in the world at what they do.
Soon after of the most formidable acts of the day, grunge legends, and festival favourite Alice in Chains then stormed the Red Stage in front of thousands of burnt necks and faces as the sun began to set. With fifteen songs in their set, the Washington four-piece kept it variant with massive hits including Man in the Box, Them Bones, Check My Brain, No Excuses, and heaps more that got everyone singing graciously along with William DuVall and Jerry Cantrell. The nostalgia and dedication was contagious—with the acuteness of the gargantuan flock of fans banged their heads, and stating to each other how much of a bewilderment it was to see one of the greatest acts of the nineties still kill it to this day.
To the Ascension Stage now for a band that was billed as honorary Australians, New Zealand’s Devilskin. If you’re looking for a band that makes their show not just a performance, but an experience, look no further! Led by the gorgeous and talented Jennie Skulander, with bassist Paul Martin, guitarist Nail Vincent, and drummer Nic Martin, the Kiwi’s thrilled the crowd with their rocking set. With their matching flaming red beards, Paul and Nail are also known as The Evil Twins and the way they interact and play off each other on stage is exciting to watch. Not to be outdone though, Jennie didn’t just sing, she performed a couple of mid-song cartwheels, rolled around on the floor, climbed the speakers and finished the set down on the barrier, singing into the crowds excited faces. It was obvious just from the crowds reactions that they all enjoyed Devilskin’s set and sound, even being a little taken aback by Jennie’s impressive deep, growling vocals. Another fine example that women aren’t just there to be pretty, but can rock out, and lead a band just as good as any guy can.
Hearing everyone around me singing along to Black Sabbath’s War Pigs gave me a strong shot of endorphins as we all eagerly awaited the almighty Judas Priest. Soon enough, the metal gods themselves adrenalised the Black Stage with a plethora of fresh material from 2018’s ‘Firepower’ and classics such as Hell Bent for Leather, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, Sinner, Painkiller, and Electric Eye. Most astounding of all was Rob Halford’s godly vocal range—shrieking with clarity and over Andy Sneap and Richie Faulkner’s ridiculously orgasmic riffs and howling guitar solos. Towards the end of the band’s finale: Breaking the Law, Priest gave their thanks to Download, promising yet another return to Australia in the near future right before Slayer began to close the main stage.
Crossing back to the Avalanche Stage and it was time for pop punk legends Sum 41, and the tent housing the stage was packed full! Having last thrilled Australian crowds with their interactive and energetic performance 6 years ago, it was not at all surprising that the audience was a rowdy one. Opening their set with The Hell Song, Deryck Whibley and co brought it right from the off, interacting with the crowd as much as they could. At the end of their first song, three lucky people from the crowd were pulled up on stage, with one fan getting a “you’re not gonna start some shit are you?” warning from Deryck due to the impressing beard and bright yellow shirt he was sporting. The Canadians set included a cover of Queen’s We Will Rock You, as well as their classic and popular hits Fat Lip, In Too Deep, Motivation and Still Waiting, closing with the latter. As Download Festival is more known for its heavy metal and rock bands it was great to see such a great reaction to a pop punk band. The crowd were more than willing to give the Canadian’s their love, energy and support and hopefully it’s not as long between visits and we get to see the guys here again soon.
As the sun started to set over Flemington Racecourse it was time for Melbourne’s own heavy fusion legends Twelve Foot Ninja to start their party on the Dogtooth Stage. Vocalist Kin, guitarists Stevic and Rohan, bassist Damon and drummer Russ have been together since 2008 and have such a great energy with each other and the pure job of being on stage was evident on their faces. The massive crowd that had gathered to see the Melbourne guys kick ass were not disappointed and screamed, jumped and rocked along with the band the entire set. Considering Twelve Foot Ninja’s set overlapped with both Slayer and Ghost, it was amazing to see such a large crowd of people supporting the hometown heroes and being so vocal about it. There were a few funny moments during Twelve Foot’s set, including the guys taking a few opportunities to play some jazz breakdowns and just have a whole bunch of fun on stage. A highlight of the set was when Russ took the opportunity to ask the crowd to “go fucking spastic” and they were more than happy to oblige. Another great example of the Aussie’s being able to do it just as well as the Americans, and an example of why the heavy music scene is so successful in this country.
While Slayer were killing it on the Main Stage, and Ghost were chilling on the Avalanche Stage, Halestorm were thrilling on the Dogtooth Stage. While there were several bands proving that women can do it just as good as the men, frontwomen Lzzy Hale is one of the absolute best in the industry right now. Along with her supporting men guitarist Joe Hottinger, bassist Josh Smith and drummer and little brother Arejay Hale, Lzzy brought everything she had to their performance. It must be said that not only did Lzzy sound amazing, she also looked amazing, rocking a pair of 6 inch platform stilettos and not faltering for a second. After their opening song It’s Not You, Lzzy took a moment to talk to the crowd and asker us three questions – “Do we make you crazy? Do we make you horny? Do we make you uncomfortable?” as the lead in to their second track, Uncomfortable. Mz Hyde was next, and before their next song, Lzzy asked everyone to get their cellphones and ‘old school lighters’ out and shine them bright for I Am The Fire.
Not wanting it to just be song after song after song, Halestorm ended Amen with an almost ten minute jam session with Joe throwing out some impressive guitar solos. Speaking of solos, following Do Not Disturb it was Arejay’s turn to show off his insane talent on the drums, featuring his ‘big sticks’ and an appearance from Devilskin’s Nic Martin. There are a lot of rock bands floating around at the moment, but Halestorm are definitely one of the absolute best in the world right now and last night proved why. There wasn’t a moment during Halestorm’s performance where there wasn’t intensity, energy and excitement and they proved why they deserved to be closing out both the Dogtooth Stage, and Download Festival.
In front of the Red Stage was a gigantic black curtain that displayed rotating crosses and pentagrams. Anticipation from there built extensively as Slayer proceeded with Repentless furiously blaring throughout the main stage with the myriad of raving fans. Song by song, what was the definite end of Slayer’s touring across Australia grew even more intense. Crowdsurfers and moshers remained frantically energetic, and optimistic as the band executed great recitals of Blood Red, Hate Worldwide, War Ensemble, Disciple, Jihad, and a whole plethora of renowned pieces that continue to get all the fans going berserk.
Although many had been bothered by the clash between Slayer and Ghost, anyone who attended the Avalanche Stage close to catch Swedish metallers Ghost can agree when I explain why they were such a quintessential finale to the festival. An ensemble of seven ghouls appeared in the shadows of a regal stage production—but the formalities were properly underway when they soon kicked off with Rats, with Cardinal Copia storming the stage in a lively, and provocative manner of his persona; gyrating and grinding around his microphone stand. Of course, Ghost had also made two festival appearances in Australia prior to Download—back when Papa Emeritus II and the Nameless Ghouls were all anonymous at the time. Back then, while theatrical, they didn’t move much as opposed to this most recent performance in Melbourne. Each and every one of the Ghouls were in such high spirits like Cardinal Copia to favourites such as Ritual, From the Pinnacle to the Pit, Year Zero, and Mummy Dust. Even more astounding was the guest appearance of Papa Nil who joined the Ghouls in an epic saxophone solo during Miasma. But of course, what made the hair-raising experience all the more intriguing was the effervescent communication between the band and the fans; continuously dancing and singing along to the suavity of Ghost’s onstage perfection.
The entirety of Download was all killer, no filler much like last year’s, but with an even more extravagant lineup. While the sun pierced the skin of thousands, the adrenaline of everyone across the racecourse was more potent thanks to the commitment and passion of all the patrons that helped make 2019’s Download Festival a success once again. This can only rise to an even greater future for the festival and the scene down under.