Download Festival 2018
Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne 24/03/18
Review: Matt Doria (Website) | Photos: Peter Zaluzny (Facebook / Twitter)

Though the UNIFY camping festival has softened the blow considerably, riff addicts Down Under have yearned for a Soundwave gap-filler since its untimely demise in 2015. Enter one of Earth’s most prodigious shred-a-thons: the motherf***ing Download Festival. Though a scaled-down jaunt compared to its UK counterpart, the one-day Australian import kicked off with a downpour and swelter combo that veritably screamed, “Welcome to Melbourne!” The sticky weather didn’t throw punters off their game, though, as punks, metalheads and moshlords all poured into the grounds in giddy and over-caffeinated droves.

While they were the last band to grace (or defile) our eardrums, we need to get this out of the way right off the bat: for all the fears of their headline status being unrequited, Korn more than proved themselves a worthy crescendo. Their 90-minute set was jam-packed with fan favourites, axe-wielders James ‘Munky’ Shaffer and Brian ‘Head’ Welch tearing through a back-to-back assault of bangers from the instantly chantable “Rotting In Vain” to the indisputable teen angst anthem “Freak On A Leash”.

Nü-metal itself was given an amicable spotlight, with fellow ‘90s icons Limp Bizkit drawing a horde of nostalgic pit fiends to the mainstage – it’s just a shame their set was embarrassingly bad. Local trailblazers Ocean Grove followed in their stylistic footsteps, but the young guns were quick to show they had a wealth of youthful talent to tap into. Their early arvo set – a showcase of cuts from last year’s genre-crushing The Rhapsody Tapes – bled pure intensity from start to end, riffs as vicious as the pits they brewed.

Of course, it wasn’t just the Oddworld overlords that made Australia’s presence on the lineup felt. Northlane’s final set on home ground was almost upsettingly good, with djent-tinged pulls from Josh Smith and Jon Deiley staunchly testing the PA’s resilience. Metalcore maniacs Make Them Suffer and punchcore unit Clowns brought with them energy in abundance, too, any last drops of which were promptly sucked out from the crowd with an unforgiving and unforgettable set courtesy of Tassie grind masters Psycroptic.

A clear highlight in the mix of local acts came with a career-defining set from Novocastrian emo-punks Trophy Eyes. The UNFD goal‑kickers squeezed a truly gargantuan crowd into the Avalanche tent, their fiery hooks and towering choruses ripping even the most stoic of bystanders off their feet. It was an uplifting vibe that carried on without a hiccup, thanks an unexpectedly solid pop-punk presence. Neck Deep and The Story So Far both shined with their melodic ardour, the whole shebang peaking with an evening set from the most questionable band on the roster: Good Charlotte?

Despite a rocky start to their hourlong singalong, the honourary locals were crushing it by song three. Even the diehard metalheads threw a windmill to unequivocal classics like “The Anthem” and “I Just Wanna Live”. The quintet also raised the question of why Download needs its 18+ restriction, with punters on the cusp of their 20s banding together for what might’ve been the most tempestuous boogie in metal fest history. Acts like Falling In Reverse and Issues appealed similarly to the younger crew among us, and with an all-ages crowd, it’s without a doubt they’d fill a tent.

Of Mice & Men were another drawcard for expats of the MySpace era, though it can be argued they’ve evolved into more of a proper metal band with the omission of ex‑frontman Austin Carlile (his role now handled by bassist Aaron Pauley). And since this was the Download Festival, after all, “real” metal was in no short supply. Mastodon and Gojira put the ‘heavy’ in ‘heavyweights’, their noxious rumbles and glittering solos coursing through their crowds like a tsunami from hell. Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds was notably eminent, his fevered string abuse nothing short of spine‑rattling. 

Ditto for death-metallers Arch Enemy, who brought the Dogtooth stage to a standstill with frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz spewing only the goriest of gutturals. There was a blazing significance that enveloped her performance – especially considering she was one of only three women in a leading role on the 24-band roster (an issue we’d love to see addressed with a more diverse Download ’19 lineup).

The sole all-female band on show were the enigmatic punk warriors in Bad Cop/Bad Cop. It’s easy to see why they’ve captured the eye of genre icons NOFX – they carried on their torch with a bright, youthful energy that, as proved by a show-closing set hours later, their mentors simply don’t have anymore. That said, NOFX still managed to squeeze out some of their old school spark. The dynamic between frontman Fat Mike and rhythm shredder Eric Melvin was as sprightly as its ever been, the pair trading as many jokes as they did melodies.

On the heavier side of the punk spectrum, High Tension tore the goddamn roof off with their long-awaited comeback. A harsher shot of AM adrenaline than any espresso could ever deliver, Karina Utomo’s vocals soared, sharp and bloody over a landmine of wailing juts from guitarist Mike Deslandes. Their mosh was one of the most intense we saw, but compared to the all‑out chaos that powerviolence outlet Nails dispatched, it may as well have been a quiet brunch in the gardens. The Californian gods of turmoil hit us with an onslaught of shred void of any room to breathe, cuts from their breakthrough You Will Never Be One Of Us album leaving a lasting impact on their unsuspecting crowd.

Above it all stood one act in particular: the overtly controversial – both politically and in concept – Prophets Of Rage. With fists raised high and whammy bars in full effect, the rap-metal supergroup’s hourlong set was a rollercoaster of chaos from start to finish. Tom Morello might just be the most impenetrable axeman alive, too – every scatterpaced solo and fevered jam was battered out with ungodly precision, and making not a single crack in his expression throughout, he brought the festival’s most impassioned shredding to life.

There was certainly room for improvement, all things considered – lines were unbearable, security was lacking, and we could do with a lineup that takes a few more risks – but for the first shot at a risky concept, Australia’s debut Download was a ripping success. The celebration of brutality is set to return in 2019, with Melbourne and Sydney dates on the calendar. Catch you in the pit?