What: Download Festival
Where: Parramatta Park, Sydney + Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
When: Satuday March 9th + Monday March 11th, 2019
Review: Matt Doria (Website)
Photos: Peter Zaluzny (Facebook / Twitter)
For an event only in its second year, the Australian offshoot of the Download Festival is way more enormous than it has any right to be. Even without a headliner – Ozzy Osbourne was forced to back down mere weeks beforehand due to health complications – the 2019 jaunt was ridiculous in scope, wall-to-wall legends shredding it up across five stages. It was still considerably smaller than the Donnington, UK archetype it’s modelled after, but that’s to be expected for a gamut of reasons the politics of which aren’t worth going in.
Australian metalheads were spoilt for choice on this sunny Labour Day long weekend – as were punks, emos, goths and rockaholics – and by midday, the Flemington Racecourse was swarming with puppy-like excitement.
Things kicked off on a poignant, if slightly lowkey note with Tassie underdogs Luca Brasi, whose crushingly catchy blend of melodic punk and pub- rock had fists pumping in droves, and good vibes rushing through us all. Their coltish energy was infectious, and made a lustrous prologue to the scuzzy, sloppy fun of the British menaces in Slaves. Brash and abrasive, yet strikingly upbeat and with a palpable positivity that distinguished them from their peers, the duo delivered a set we could’ve fawned over for hours.
Speaking of bands we couldn’t get enough of, post-hardcore hellions The Beautiful Monument slayed their set on the Ascension stage. Over a bed of synths, Ibanez crunches and Telecaster wails had a mosh erupting like sparks from a firework, frontwoman Lizi Blanco clutching onlookers in the palm of her hand with her fierce and fiery vocals.
Though their overzealous use of backing tracks was a tad jarring, the political dance-punks in Fever 333 did a stunning job of dropping jaws with their breakneck-paced demonstration. Jason Aalon Butler bordered on psychopathic with his venomous energy, and whether he was spitting a barbarous rap verse, diving headfirst into the crowded pit or scaling his stage’s lofty frame, the debonair of danger had our eyes locked for every second of the set. Ditto for Karina Utomo of High Tension, who we’re just gonna go ahead and brand the official queen of hardcore. She and her band of down-tuned delinquent went miles above ham with their 30-minute onslaught of loveably violent riffs and roars.
Teasing cuts from their forthcoming debut album, pop-punks Eat Your Heart Out offered a breathtaking moment of reprieve from the chaos; their choruses were stickier than caramel and their riffs hot as all hell, a bright, buoyant energy washing over the crowd and leaving us dying for more. But for those keen to keep the calamity coming, Behemoth were wreaking truly inhuman levels of havoc over on the Red stage. Their punishing torrent of biting blackened death metal was something words could never really do justice – between the band’s garish make-up, the raging pyro and more crumbly shredding than our hears knew how to handle, the Poles played a set we won’t soon be forgetting.
After being riled up by Behemoth, we were fanging to let our anger out in the most primal of ways: a good ol’ fashioned mosh pit. Luckily for us, mathcore maniacs Converge were more than keen to incite a few, their kaleidoscopic breakdowns and barbed-wire bellows marking the perfect soundtrack for our socially accepted punch-ons. Anthrax were more civilised in their delivery on the Black stage, but still cranked out a belting blow of brutality, their classic thrash holding up better today than it ever has.
It was surely an odd choice to follow their set with one from The Amity Affliction, but you’d be hard pressed to squeeze a complaint out from us. The pop-mosh mainstays flipped through a veritable ‘greatest hits’ of their biggest cuts, from the heart-shredding pummels of “Open Letter” to the glitchy bangers that defined last year’s Misery LP.
Amity were arguably biggest drawcard for the younger pit-fiends amongst us, but Code Orange came stunningly close with their ineludible avalanche of battered hardcore jams. Characterised by the cold-blooded riffage of the ESP-wielding Reba Meyers, the Pittsburgh powerhouse made a clear case for why they’re spearheading a new generation of punks. Don’t fret, though – the old-school stuff was represented astonishingly by Aussie icons Frenzal Rhomb, who showed instantly they’re still as loose and livid as ever.
The evening rolled on with a ripping set from Kiwi thrashers Alien Weaponry, who, despite being so young they otherwise wouldn’t be allowed through the gates, exhibited stupefying levels of virtuosity. Fusing blistering, ‘80s-channelling thrash metal with elements of their traditional Maori culture, the trio offered an atmosphere unlike anything else at the festival – think Roots-era Sepultura by way of Metallica’s prime. If it were up to us, Alien Weaponry would play every installation of Download, with at least two hours to their set times.
Despite our photographer hyping Rise Against up so much that there was no way they’d live up to our expectations, the longstanding Chicago foursome blew us away with their career-spanning showcase of tight and tempestuous punk-rock. When he wasn’t ripping out to his heart’s content on a striking black Les Paul, frontman Tim McIlrath was deep in the pit spurring all kinds of chaotic responses. It was the nostalgic gems from their set that brewed the loudest – the same phenomenon we saw with the skate-punk crushers in Pennywise. Never ones to take themselves too seriously, the Californian kings stood out with an incandescent levity – and, of course, the soul-melting fretboard dancing of Fletcher Dragge.
Proving that post-hardcore is the one genre trend that will never actually die, Sydney trailblazers Polaris smashed through their 40-minute set with a ferocious vibrancy that rivalled that of the landmark acts they’re inspired by. Cuts from the game-changing Mortal Coil record had their crowd in a flurry of elbows and ankles, the chants they incited damn near drowning out frontman Jamie Hails’ own gutturals. Up-and-coming hardcore hellions Outright were similarly intense in their eruption of ardour, frontwoman Jelena Goluza tracing the stage with murderous determination while shredders Lincoln le Fevre and Joel Cairns bred breakdowns aplenty.
Kiwi hard-rockers Devilskin were comparatively mellow, but with lashings of gristly overdriven crunch and the occasional solo that could put Slash’s own Les Paul frettage to shame, they became an unexpected highlight of the day. Over on the Dogtooth stage, Thy Art Is Murder made it crystal clear that even if it’s been a while since their last record, they’re still unf***withable, their bone-shattering death metal so intense that all of three seconds would be enough to slip a priest into a coma. Copping the latter chunk of their set, pop-punk-come-nu-metal mainstays Sum 41 were almost surprisingly good, frontman Deryck Whibley as sharp behind the mic as he’s ever been.
Slayer’s set was resoundingly special, for much more than the fact they’d stepped up as the festival’s de facto headliners. Tearing shit up in Melbourne for the final time in their 38-year tenure, the bonafide thrash Gods put on the kind of set you might only be privileged to see once in a lifetime. The quartet rolled through 20 of their biggest and most badass classics, gems like “Seasons In The Abyss”, “Raining Blood” and “Angel Of Death” met with deafening cheers and the biggest field of thrashing mops that we may ever see. Kerry King was unfaultable with axe in hand, each twisting solo and punishing jut further cementing his assuredly infinite legacy.
With 90 minutes to their name, we could justify stepping away from Slayer – if only just for a bit – to catch the weird and wonderful mayhem of masked metallers Ghost. Complete with their own Broadway-esque stage design, a mix so clear it could’ve been ripped straight from the studio, and a hit of mighty saxophone to offset Cardinal Copia’s gravelly howls, the band lived up to every word of hype their rhapsodic mythology spun. Halestorm were decidedly less opulent in their setup, but delivered such an enthralling slate of melodic metal that we’d barely noticed the lack of production.
At the end of the day, we couldn’t praise enough how shockingly well Download ’19 unfolded. From the layout to the lineup, everything about the day was memorable; an extravagant blast that every metalhead worth their horns should experience at least once in their lifetime.
Now all that’s left to do is count down the days ‘til Download 2020. Meet you in the pit?
Catch our full gallery of photos from Download Australia 2019 after the jump!
SIDENOTE: Although we’ve used the layout of the Melbourne show to streamline our review, Australian Guitar was also deep in the pits at Download in Sydney. Some of the sets we’ve covered here are the ones we caught up north.