It’s a wet and humid Friday morning, and a motorcade of heavy music fans are eagerly crawling their way through the main strip of Tarwin Lower. Like most cars making the journey to Unify 2018, our station wagon is full to the brim with people, eskies and tents and our soundtrack for the 2 hours journey has been the Unify Spotify playlist.
Rain pelts punters from every direction as gear is loaded onto trollies, wheelbarrows and each other. Already covered in mud and grass, we manage to set up a campsite, crack a tinnie and begin lining up red cups for a game of beer-pong that will be taken way too seriously. Despite the traditional monsoon-like weather, spirits are high and every second campsite is blasting the bands we know and love.
After we’ve settled in, distorted guitars begin to echo through the air. Melbourne metalcore band, Mirrors, have now hit the stage signifying that Unify 2018 has officially begun. By the time Sienna Skies take over, the rain has subsided and mosh-pit gains some traction. Sienna Skies play a mix of older tunes and tracks from their new album, ‘A Darker Shade of Truth,’ and put on an antiquate show.
When Belle Haven emerges, everyone is well and truly into the spirit of things. With most of the campsites set, Unicoin wristbands topped up and first drinks downed, the arena has filled up further. Bell Haven put on a brilliant performance filled with tight vocal harmonies, epic guitar spins and opportunities for the crowd to clap along.
The next set I catch is Sydney band, Polaris. The five-piece have been one of the most talked about acts at Unify, and before they even hit the stage the crowd has swelled even further, and a bunch of die-hard fans stand near the front holding a giant banner stating, “Shire Core Lives,” which the band appears to enjoy.
Polaris kick things off with their most recent single, ‘Lucid’ from their debut album, ‘The Mortal Coil’ and one of the best pits of the entire weekend begins to erupt. From the first riff played it’s blindingly clear why Polaris have earned their place on the Unify stage. The boys continue with other bangers from their EP such as ‘Regress,’ and end with, ‘Remedy.’ Their set is in the middle of the day, with no lighting or production whatsoever but without a doubt, Polaris’ performance is one of the highlights of the festival. No doubt they’ll be headlining in years to come.
As day turns into the night, we head back to the tents for dinner and beer pong before going back to the arena to watch Tonight Alive, who are celebrating the launch of their new album, “Underworld.” Tonight is only the third time these new tunes have been played live, and Jenna McDougall’s vocals are utterly flawless. Her presence is captivating as she dances around the stage and welcomes anyone that hasn’t seen the band previously graciously. Tonight Alive have moved well and truly away from their pop-punk roots and recent singles “Crack My Heart,” and “Temple,” really lend themselves to a live setting.
Architects hit the stage next and having seen them several times before I noticed that although their set was technically on point, something about it was a little flat. Their banter with the audience was a little more scant than normal, but some funny exchanges were made when hundreds of punters started chanting, “Shoey, shoey, shoey.” And so, began this year’s unofficial theme of Unify, ‘The Shoey.’
Vocalist Sam Carter wasn’t keen to oblige telling the audience to, “Fuck off,” because he didn’t want to ruin his shoes. But the relentless chants continued until he finally pulls the shoe off one of his band members and makes one of his crew down the foot-flavoured beer instead. This appears to be good enough for the crowd who cheer before continuing to sing and jump along to tunes like, “Doomsday,” and “Gravity.”
The rain is spitting on and off but this time adds an eerie vibe to Architect’s beastly set. As their time on stage draws to a close, Carter stops in his tracks, and the band goes silent. “It’s nights like tonight when we’re on stage… I don’t want you to shout or be angry…it’s moments like this we miss Tom so much.”
The crowd claps in solidarity, and although Sam has made similar speeches in the past about the band’s late guitarist who passed away in 2016 after a three-year battle with cancer, this one feels very different.
“We all go thru go (loss) at some point in your life. It’s okay to hurt, okay to cry. There is no shame, and I wish I told myself this a long time,” Sam implores through sobs. The emotion in the air is absolutely palpable, and most people are in tears themselves and crouched down in respect.
Carter ends letting everyone know, “There is no shame in telling every single one of family and friends you love them ’cause you don’t know how long you have them.” The band sincerely thanks the crowd before launching into an extremely emotional rendition of, “Gone With the Wind,” which the audience sings most of. It was a moment fans will remember for years to come.
Parkway Drive cap off an incredible evening was celebrating the ten year anniversary of their landmark album, Horizons. Although some were disappointed the iconic metal band didn’t play the album from start to finish, Parkway put on an incredibly powerful and high-energy set. ‘Carrion,’ ‘Dead Mans Chest,’ ‘Breaking Point’ and ‘Horizons,’ were all included as well as newer tunes like, “Vice Grip,’ and ‘Bottom Feeder.”
“I’ve seen people go crazy in the rain and mud since this thing opened. Thank you so much for sticking it out,” explores vocalist Winston McCall before asking, “Who wants to ride a boat?”
As someone seeing Parkway Drive for the first time, tonight’s performance was everything I could hope for and more. From Oompa Loompas throwing inflatable balls and sea creatures into the crowd to a hilarious two-dingy race from the stage to the sound box and of course an incredibly tight and heavy set of tunes we know and love; it was the perfect way to finish off the night.
Making our way back to the campground, a random rendition of DJ Otzi’s “Hey Baby (Uhh Ahh) is sung.” Those who thought they might get more than three hours sleep were sadly mistaken as the Unify playlist continued to pelt ears from all angles far into the early hours of the morning.
I and my five tent-mates awoke to the sting of sunlight beaming into our cramped tent. Rivers of hoodies wander dazed to find coffee and food, and while 9 am yoga sounded good in theory, it’s hardcore band, Dregg, which start bringing the hungover and weary back to life.
Our cluster of tents is close to the shanty town of “Kartents,” which have taken quite a battering overnight and a friend and I decide to wander over to assess the structural integrity of these glorified cardboard boxes. It turns out they’ve survived quite well due to an expert maintenance crew going round stapling parts back together and replacing them as needed. It also turns out they’re way more soundproof than an ordinary tent so actually not a bad option for next year.
I catch Saturday’s second act, Arteries, who are one of the stand out unsigned Unify bands this year. There’s a rock n roll energy about these guys that set them apart from some of the other bands in the sometimes monotonous sea of post-hardcore up-and-comers.
Save The Clock Tower, unfortunately, experience the first technical difficulty of the festival but carry on professionally and keep the mosh going regardless. Soon after, the technical difficulties seem to be resolved, and The Beautiful Monument delivers a hauntingly beautiful set despite having to find a fill-in bassist at the last minute.
Despite having a huge following, many of us hadn’t had the privilege of catching a set from the hardcore outfit, Outright, previously. But once they kicked off their first tune, we were so glad we did. The group puts on a beastly performance and captivates audiences with powerful messages about inclusion and diversity in the music industry. A highlight was a song called ‘The iron string;’ which vocalist, Jelena Goluza, explained was about the coming together of community.
A vast crowd had assembled well before Cursed Earth hit the stage. Although vocalist, Jasmine Luders was MIA, the band leapt into their set with full force supported by Lachlan Watt on mic duties, which deserves credit. However, it was a shame not to see the whole band on stage given the hype they’ve received lately.
After an insane year of over 140 shows and the release of new album, ‘Worlds Apart,’ Make Them Suffer were one band I was looking forward to catching. They don’t disappoint. Airy vocals from their keyboardist, Booka Nile, soar and contrast beautifully with the rest of the band. Their set is faultless, and the tunes from their new album are next level.
The night ends with the triple-whammy of Hellions, Hands Like Houses and The Amity Affliction. It’s my first time catching a Hellions’ set, and it was just as bit as fun as what you’d imagine the hip-hop inspired the hardcore band to be. Next up Hands Like Houses show us all why they have the privilege of performing the penultimate set for Unify 2018, and their colossal sound is only amplified by some killer production.
The arena is filled to the brim with everyone taking this last opportunity to mosh. Before we know it it’s time for the final band of the night, The Amity Affliction who like, Parkway Drive, was celebrating a milestone. It’s been fifteen years since the band’s inception, and although I’ve seen them countless times, I am pumped to hear some of their older tracks for the first time. Die-hard fans roar as Amity kick off with ‘Severance’ from their early-career self-titled EP, and a slideshow of photos rolls in the background leaving us all feeling nostalgic.
There are three and four-person stacks happening in the crowd as Amity play other early favourites such as ‘Young Bloods’ and ‘I Hate Heartly.’ They also mix in some of their newer tunes like “I Bring The Weather With Me,’ and ‘All Fucked Up.’ Vocalist, Joel Birch, comments on the fact the crowd seems to be going more mental for the newer stuff but many of us are disappointed ‘Fruity Lexia’ wasn’t played. Regardless, it was an incredible way to end the night for fans old and new.
Heavy festivals such as Unify – A Heavy Music Gathering always have such a fantastic community vibe, but there were so many nostalgic, raw and uplifting elements of Unify 2018 made this weekend very special. We’re already looking forward to next year!
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