Neither the apocalyptic rains or chaotic traffic surrounding Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse could hinder the most hardcore of heavy music fans from lining up at the gates more than an hour before they actually “downloaded” for the first time in Australia — the first Download Festival!
While shivering under a makeshift shelter of black plastic, spirits are high as punters huddle together singing an inaudible but seemingly uplifting tune.
The downpour is now torrential, my jacket is soaked and my umbrella has fallen apart and sliced my hand open at the same time. But the solidarity of the other early birds beside me is inspiring and we are all determined to have a good day regardless of the predicted thunderstorms.
High Tension kicks things off brutally with a set that could conjure the Devil himself. Everyone is soaked and despite rain blowing onto the stage, High Tension seem determined to give the audience in front of them everything they’ve got, successfully managing to hold everyone’s attention.
Ocean Grove are on next started with “Beers” from their breakthrough album, “The Rapsody Tapes.” The crowd swells and the boys deliver an absolutely blistering performance. They are everything you’d expect live from listening to their music. Their stage show is heavy, quirky and captivating.
“We’ve lost Soundwave and Big Day Out and the people of Melbourne deserve something like this,” vocalist, Luke Holmes states passionately before the band launch into “Intimate Alien.” The downpour has paused briefly and around me, people are wringing out their shirts of water.
You can definitely hear Ocean Grove’s 90s grunge and 2000s EDM influences in their music. However an important thing to note is whilst they reference their idols, they have successfully honed their own individual, yet modern, sound, which is a difficult skill and one of a true artist.
After wandering over to the mirid of awesome Melbourne food trucks for a bite to eat (I settled on MILF – Man I Love Falafel – which did not disappoint), the unmistakable sound off Northlane’s “Quantum Flux,” echo through the grounds drawing in listeners like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. By the time I reach the main stage, Northlane were launching into, “Rot” at full force.
Having seen the band many times before, it was interesting to compare their set on a small Soundwave stage, to their performance today on the Download main stage many years later. Northlane are clearly on another level now after having achieved such global success. Whilst their set was technically flawless – the playing was incredibly tight and they had their stage show down pat – I feel that the performance is almost a little too polished and lacks some of the audience connection I’ve noticed previously.
For a change of pace, I head over to see proud Tasmanian death metallers, Psycroptic. Their set is beastly and they’ve drawn a huge crowd who at one point lift a man in a wheelchair up to crowd surf. It is an amazing moment and a real testament to the metal community.
I do rush over to see the last few songs of Of Mice And Men’s set. They play a heavy and groovy version of Pink Floyd’s, “Money,” which is pretty darn cool. Other highlights included, “Will You Still Be There,” and “Defy.” Of Mice and Men fuse catchy melodies and heavy elements perfectly to create a well-rounded and entertaining set.
Another band with strong entertainment-value is Swedish power-metal band, Sabaton, who hit the Red Stage next door straight after. The skies clear right before they begin giving audiences a much-needed reprieve from the soggy start of the festival.
Gojira mention they hadn’t played together for over 6 months and feel a little rusty. However, their set is anything but that. In fact, their performance is one of the highlights of the festival and in particular, Mario Duplantier’s exceptional drum performance is exceptional.
I manage to catch one tune from Issues before having to head back to the media tent for a round of interviews. Like Ocean Grove, Issues are another band that are really carving their own musical path and the contrast between Tyler Carter’s soulful clean vocals and the heaviness of the rest of the band really make for a unique and refreshing sound.
Make Them Suffer suffered no love loss as they smashed the packed audience with their deathcore/metalcore with ferocity.
Amon Amarth blew what was left of the clouds out of existence as they sailed their Viking ship in onto Flemington Racecourse. Their mighty chants could be heard right across the perfectly laid out event.
Mastodon were their usual masters of alternative metal.
Suicidal Tendencies packed out the Avalanche Stage opening with an extended version of “You Can’t Bring Me Down” which delighted their passionate fans; a perfect opener for the set.
Perhaps the most controversial band on the Download Festival lineup is Good Charlotte. Many see the Madden Brothers and friends as essentially a pop band disguised as a punk band, which true punk fans find kind of offensive. There’s no denying however that they have pulled one of the biggest crowds of the festival and catchy tunes such as, “I Just Wanna Live,” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” have the ability to entice even the most unwilling of participants to sing along.
But for the vast majority of Download Festival-goers, Limp Bizkit is the band they’ve been looking forward to most. ‘Bizkit deliver “Hot Dog,” to a roaring crowd and vocalist Fred Durst rides into the crowd on someone’s shoulders before getting pissed off people keep grabbing at him. They mention they’re not allowed to play, “Break Stuff,” due to a tragedy many years ago that will always cloud their performances within Australia. It’s unclear why the band decide to go ahead with playing the well-known anthem but the mammoth crowds lap it up and it is one of the highlights of the festival.
Arch Enemy are a band I’m very curious about having never seen them live previously. For a band that has been around for 22 years and released 10 studio albums, they’ve had a career which has steadily grown and has only just started to peak since new(ish) vocalist Alissa White-Gluz joined in 2014.
As they open with “The World Is Yours,” I’m struck by Alissa’s phenomenal vocals and powerful stage presence. Arch Enemy are a band at the top of their game despite a less-than-perfect mix of their sound (there were no bass frequencies and it was so quiet I could have a comfortable conversation with the person next to me), I really enjoyed their set. “Nemesis,” and “War Eternal” are crowd favourites and Alissa playfully addresses us in the Australian native language calling us, “sick cunts.”
Prophets of Rage definitely had a few things to stay about the world’s problems and deliver that message they did indeed. Mixing the set with songs from their debut self-titled album and 2016’s incredible “Power To The People” and Rage Against The Machine hits the moved into a wicked melody comprising: Hand on the Pump / Can’t Truss It / Insane in the Brain / Bring the Noise / I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That / Welcome to the Terrordome / Jump Around
And of course, the closed with these legendary numbers: Bulls on Parade and Killing In The Name Of”, but not before dedicating a Chris Cornell/Audioslave song, “Like A Stone”.
Local Melbourne band, King Parrot, went troppo and the sun came down and smashed the biggest pits of the whole event. Matt Young commanding his mad fans into a frenzy.
Korn brings what has been an amazing, and well-organised day to a close. Granted, the start of the Festival was shaky and with barely any shelter on the grounds, I did wonder whether the weather would hinder the success of the event music fans and industry alike want so desperately to succeed. But after experiencing the inaugural Download Festival Australia first hand, it’s evident that it would have taken a lot more than pesky rain to ruin things for the 28,000-strong crowd.
It’s amazing to see how time and time again Australian alternative music fans band together to celebrate the impact heavy music has had on their lives. Many memories were formed at Download Festival 2018. Fingers crossed we can say we have a new set of Download memories this time next year!
HEAVY (and everyone that was there; all metal heads in Australia) should thank Live Nation, UNFD and Secret Service for bringing DOWNLOAD to Australia. It was perfect. Next year Melbourne & Sydney we believe!!!
Photos by John Raptis:
Photos by Matt Allan
Photos by Ken Ken:
Videography by James O’Connor of From the Pit.