It’s the morning of Download Festival 2019 and Melbourne heavy music fans are looking to the sky and praising the metal Gods. Unlike last year, today will be clear skies and not a drop of rain to be seen. As a sea of black T-shirts mill towards Flemington Racecourse, it appears that “Flem” has had been over-dubbed with a sign saying ‘Don’ turning the signage on the gates to “Donington,” which is where Download UK is held.
Everyone is excited and as the first few bands echo in the distance, I can’t help but feel so thankful that Australia once again has festivals for heavy music fans to look forward to.
The Beautiful Monument are about to hit the Ascension stage we make a beeline for them. The Melbourne quintet blend hardcore and pop/punk effortlessly and put on a blistering, tight and energetic performance twisting and turning around the stage. They play songs from their album, I’m the Sin and their new single, “Deceiver” and it is a fantastic way to start the day.
After their set, I notice a huge portion of the Download crowd have been drawn towards the Avalanche stage where Californian Punk/Hip Hop act Fever 333 are blowing the pavilion up. The vocalist Jason Butler (who is the former singer of post-hardcore band Letlive) mashes up Chester-Bennington-style cleans with rap. Drummer Aric Improta is right there nailing both styles effortlessly as well.
“You gotta fight for what you believe in!” Butler urges referring to NSW current ‘War on Music.’
At one point their guitarist climbs up the stage scaffolding in a daredevil stunt that leaves crowds drooling and ends with a (deliberately) smashed-up guitar. It’s hard to be blown away by a band that you’ve never heard before, but Fever 333 are without a doubt one of the highlights of the festival.
Next on the list are Polish black metal band, Behemoth. From corpse paint to pyrotechnics, they are everything you’d expect from the metal veterans and they thank the crowd sincerely during their performance saying it is a beautiful day for “Free-thinking music lovers.” Having recently seen the movie, Lords of Chaos, I have found a new appreciation for black metal and Behemoth live stage show is definitely one not to be missed.
However, the crowd has already started staking their claim in the pit in front of the Black Stage where the mighty Anthrax are about to carve things up. With two of the Big Four here at Download, this is definitely a special occasion. Anthrax play crowd favourites such as, “Caught In a Mosh,” “Got the Time,” “I am the Law,” and “Antisocial.” Unfortunately during, “Indians,” vocalist Joey Belladonna didn’t get out his Indian headpiece, which being part American Indian, is his signature during that song. But regardless, hardcore Anthrax fans around me were lapping up their set with fists in the air.
Alien Weaponry are another band I’m keen to see and I’m gobsmacked at how seasoned the three-piece are at such a young age. Hearing their signature brand of Māori-infused metal in person is an amazing and unique experience and it’s no wonder the New Zealand boys have cultivated such a huge following already.
I catch a few songs from Rise Against who have taken the opportunity to play around with their set inviting guests from War on Women and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on stage which is a bit of fun. They play bangers such as “Prayer of the Refugee,” and “I Don’t Want to Be Here Anymore,” as well as a partial cover of Black Sabbath’s, “Paranoid,” which had mixed reactions from the crowd who are clearly still jaded Ozzy Osbourne was not able to make it.
Alice in Chains hit the adjacent stage to a huge crowd that had gathered well before their set time. Although I am keen to see ALICE IN CHAINS, I feel their songs do not translate well to a stadium setting and three tunes in, I am completely bored.
Wanting to shake things up I head back to the Ascension stage where Melbourne hardcore band Outright are smashing it up to a small but mighty crowd of moshers. It’s just the intimate change of pace needed to re-energize.
Hitting the stage straight afterward are New Zealand hard rock/metal outfit, Devilskin. Having recently caught their set at their Melbourne show supporting Slash, I can’t wait to see them again in a new environment and I am not disappointed. Jennie Skulander has got to be one of the most powerful up and coming metal vocalists out there right now. Her signature blend of Lzzy Hale meets Corey Taylor clean/growl vocals, performed whilst strutting and cartwheeling around the stage, are captivating. The whole band puts on an entertaining show and there is something so cool about the ‘matching’ guitarist and bassist who one punter lovingly dubs, ‘Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.’ Devilskin are absolutely a festival highlight.
When Judas Priest hit the main stage the first thing that strikes me is how incredible Rob Halford’s vocals are after all these years. The 67-year-old frontman doesn’t put a note wrong, hitting all the highs with power and presence. Halford commands the stage and incorporates several outfit changes which feature silver glitter, leather, and studs. At one point Halford also rides out on stage on a matching black and chrome Harley Davidson with a riding crop in his mouth. The rest of the band play as tight and as furious as ever and highlights include, ‘Painkiller,’ ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,’ and ‘Breaking the Law.’
In case ‘Priest wasn’t enough of a dose of metal, straight after their set on the adjacent stage are the one and only, Slayer. Tonight is a very special night for Slayer who are on the last legs of their farewell tour. They are a force to be reckoned with and tonight they successfully demonstrate why they have been so influential in the world of metal. It is bittersweet for the thousands of fans who are tightly packed watching them.
There are many points throughout the set where vocalist Tom Araya breaks his serious persona with a sincere smile from ear to ear. One of the first noticeable glimpses of this comes after the song, ‘War’ where the stage is awash with green lights and smoke. Yet afterward he snaps right back and he and the band fiercely perform anthems such as, “Black Magic,” “Seasons of the Abyss,” and hard and fast crowd-favourite, “Payback.” Kerry King is mesmerising with his signature squealy AF guitar solos performed whilst donning a Slayer shirt because, why wouldn’t you?
As the last tune, “Angel of Death,” plays, Araya paces back and forth across the stage with tears in his eyes. They now only have their Japan shows to go before their final tour ends. If this wasn’t enough emotion, a tribute to late guitarist Jeff Henneman appears in the background and it is the perfect final moment for Slayer and their fans to end on.
We also caught Halestorm who are also a highlight of Download this year. The hard rockers play a mix of old favourites such as, “Love Bites,” and “I Miss the Misery,” and tracks from their new album, “Vicious,” such as, “Do Not Disturb.” Drummer Arejay, plays a killer drum solo and vocalist, Lzzy Hale leaves punters continuously wowed with her show-stopping gritty vocals.
Reflecting on Download Festival Australia 2019, it has been especially pleasing to see so much gender-diversity amongst the line-up. For the past year or so it’s clear the Australian music scene has been really stepping up when it comes to gender equality and if I’m honest, there were several moments throughout the festival that had me quite emotional for this very reason. Download Festival 2019 was a wonderful and varied heavy music festival that truly had something for everyone, and it was an event many of us will remember for years to come.
NEW YEARS DAY
THE AMITY AFFLICTION
ALICE IN CHAINS
TWELVE FOOT NINJA