In the heart of Greater Western Sydney, the home to the greatest NRL team, the Mighty Eels, Download Festival have pulled it off giving Sydney punters a great location for their first Download experience at Parramatta Park.
Although a bit of a hike for some, it was worth the wait, with a good set up, not too far from stages, helping with the common clashes at festivals. The line-up was solid with something for everyone, the diversity of acts catered for all with an array of international and home-grown artists.
Opening the Red Main Stage were Perth Prog giants, Voyager. Kicking things off with “What a Wonderful Day”, from last LP, Ghost Mile (2017), front-man, Daniel Estrin’s voice soared as the bass groove set the mood for some world-class metal.
Always playing from the heart, pulling faces to prove it was Simone Dowe who absolutely shredded alongside fellow guitarist Scott Kay. The new single, “Bright Star”, seemed to go down well with the flock of Downloaders awaiting the next song like a seagull impatient for its next chip.
After a drum solo from Ashley Doodkorte, a crowd favourite, “Hyperventilating” taken from V (2014), was played in all its glory. Another highlight was “Ascension”, also from Ghost Mile, with some nifty bass slapping from Alex Canion and keys from Estrin.
As Snagglepuss always said, “Exit, Stage Left”, everyone did just that as New Zealand trio, Alien Weaponry set foot on the Black Stage. Brothers Lewis (guitar, vocals) and Henry de Jong (drums), accompanied by Ethan Trembath on the four-string brought smiles along, which were almost as big as the mammoth crowd they had drawn in.
Māori was the common tongue for the majority of songs, with Alien Weaponry, being the equivalent of a Māori Sepultura. “Raupatu” opened the set with English spoken, “Holding my Breath” introduced by Lewis, in his best teenage years, resembling a young Daniel Johns (Silverchair) with his golden locks and charisma.
“Whispers” was introduced as their political song, with the intro building up to some chugging bass and fat riffs. The highlight was what was referred to as their heaviest song, “Kai Tangata”, the horns through the PA introduced the blistering tracks and some heads were gonna’ roll.
Proving stages weren’t far apart UK garage punk duo Slaves were the first band to witness at the Avalanche stages, known as the Dogtooth B stage. Being around since 2012, a few records have been recorded, starting the set with the opening track from their latest LP, Acts of Fear and Love (2018) with “The Lives They Wished They Had”, Laurie Vincent jumped around with his guitar as lead vocalist Isaac Holman, belted away at his drum kit.
At times it was as if you were watching a British sitcom with dry humour intact, the duo had the crowd in stitches, explaining the only reason they were a two-piece was that no one else wanted to the join the f*@king band.
Laurie introduced them as a boy band from the garden of England before thrashing out beating the kit like it was a workout to numbers such as newbie, “Magnolia” and the catchy “Sockets”, from Are You Satisfied? (2015). It was explained that the band doesn’t need a high-hat with the aptly titled, “Fuck the High-Hat”, “cos we don’t need one”, Laurie blurts out after the song concludes. Highlights included “The Hunter” and the riff-driven “Beauty Quest”, Laurie shouting “We are not [email protected]#king beautiful like you” and screaming that “the future is female” before leaping out and running across the grassy plains like a madman escaping prison.
Security was asked to hug one another as were those in the crowd, stressing we were all here for the same reason. Sarcastic, dry, with some love and angst, thrown in for good measure, like your favourite British sitcom; Slaves enlisted new fans and pleased the old.
Local punks Frenzal Rhomb later played on that same stage, coming out in style with the opening riff to “Crazy Train” performed by guitar wizard Lindsay McDougall, a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne, who sadly couldn’t make the trip down under, get well soon the tone in the air, the Oz man would have been proud. “Bird Attack” from Smoko at the Pet Food Factory (2011) got the crowd pumping with some growls from front-man Jason Whalley, followed by “Cunt Act” which had every Tom, Dick, and Harriet singing along.
Making Voyagers four hour trip from Canberra a breeze, compared to Jay just arriving from Belgium, with occult rockers, Neptune Power Federation, winding up their European tour. Parramatta was referred to as the Belgium of Sydney in typical Frenzal humour. Jay speaks of the trip briefly with his comment on how he had a croissant in Paris. The front-man didn’t let that step in the way of putting in 110%, screaming his lungs out to fan favourites such as “Genius” and “Punch in the Face”.
“Never Had So Much Fun” and “I Miss My Lung” brought back nostalgia of the nineties and the now defunct Big Day Out. Later numbers such as and “I’m Shelving Stacks (As I’m Stacking Shelves) and “High School Reunion” and “Storage Unit Pill Press”, all from their latest LP “Hi-Vis High Tea” (2017), prove their weight as favourites amongst the classic tunes. Gordon ‘Gordy’ Forman delivered the beat attacking the skins like any good punker should, with Tom Crease, drilling away on bass duties to songs that bring a smile to the face of the grimmest of grim. How could one not smile at the genius songwriting of, “When My Baby Smiles at Me I Go to Rehab” Throw in some Alice In Chains riffs and a chunk of metal goodness with Black Sabbaths’ “War Pigs”, Frenzal slayed. Now only Pell Awaits!!
From watching Sydney’s veteran punks, then rushing over to witness Polish black-metal veterans, Behemoth, who entered onto the Red Stage with a hero’s welcome. In corpse paint and traditional attire known to Behemoth flames rose up as did the heat which could be felt across the pit. Kicking off with “Wolves of Siberia”, from last years’ I Loved You at Your Darkest, the atmosphere sunk in overwhelming metal brothers and sisters. Nergals’ screamed like he was unleashing demons, whilst shredding in sync with fellow guitarist Seth. “Bartzabel” was also played from their latest effort.
Inferno created the backbone, pummelling away at rapid speeds, sticking true to the name as what could only be described as a behemoth behind the kit, with the blistering bass of Orion. The Satanist (2014) got some love with fan favourite “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel”, as did Evangelion (2009) with “Ov Fire and the Void”
Older tracks such as “Conquer All” from Demigod (2004) and “Chant for Eschaton 2000” from Satanica (1999) which closed the set, saw light in the darkness, as screaming fans just had their black-metal fix for the day.
The first minor clash of the day involved Converge, clashing with Behemoth and Anthrax, however, time had to be made for the pioneers of metal-core from Massachusetts. A lot of metal-core bands these days can be tedious to this reviewers ears, however, Converge lay the foundations of heavy metal mixed with hardcore punk, what metalcore should be. The intensity of frontman Jacob Bannon is mind-blowing not taking a breath between songs apart from the naming the odd track.
Touring drummer Urian Hackney, does a stellar job filling in for Ben Koller, with the bass of Nate Newton sticking out like eyeballs popping out of Roger Rabbit’s skull. Not to mention the chaotic guitar technique of Kurt Ballou who makes a big part of the Converge and the whole metal-core sound as a whole.
Latest album The Dusk In Us (2017) is focused on most of the set with “Reptilian” shooting things off. Throw in fan favourites such as “Eagles Become Vultures” from You Fail Me (2004) and wrap things up with “Concubine”, from the ground-breaking Jane Doe (2001) and many Converge fans are left speechless.
Timing it nicely to see Behemoths last two songs before Anthrax came out playing tribute to Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul with the Pantera classic “Cowboys from Hell” with the intro mashed into “Caught in a Mosh”. It was every thrash metal fan’s wet dream for the earballs if that could be possible.
Joey Belladonna sounds in fine form, just how he did last Soundwave performance running around like a long distance runner on a mission. He asks the crowd if anyone has the time, as Frank Bello let loose that distinct bass line, which every Anthrax fan out there knew what that next tune would be. Charlie Benante played away full tilt behind the kit as Scott Ian and lead guitarist Jon Donais grinned to “Got the Time”, one fun song as seen on stage and off.
A tribute to Judge Dredd with “I Am the Law” and that heavy hitting riff to “Be All End All”, gave yours truly his Anthrax fix for the day, new song “Evil Twin” was playing when the Dogtooth stage was calling for the last few tracks of Converge and the cover band of all cover bands were to follow.
Californian supergroup or authentic American cunts as they would like to be known as by their charismatic front-man Spike Slawson get everyone singing away to the songs that most wouldn’t frequent given that punk rendition, making The Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies, “The Cover Band”.
Spike jokes around saying we have another cover for you in between songs and often chuckles, with the gimmick never getting old. Cher is first to get some love with “Believe”, a nice rendition of “Over the Rainbow”, Paul Simon, being ahead of his time and being straight forward with “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”. Spike asks the crowd if everyone likes Billy Joel? The majority of the crowd shout out yes and Spike replies, “Well we don’t but the song pays the bills”, before letting loose, “Uptown Girl”
Both members of Lagwagon, Joey Cape, usually on vocals plays rhythm guitar with Dave Raun never missing a beat on drums. Joey is hilarious with his sarcastic tone throughout the set, whilst keeping a straight face. He thanks the crowd for all wearing black to their funeral.
Three country songs are played putting the cunt back in country including Dolly Partons’ “Jolene” and Willie Nelson’s “On the road again”. Throw in Elton Johns “Rocket Man”, Blondies “Heart of Glass”, The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B” and even let the diva out with “I Will Survive”. All was covered with one of the many highlights with Lindsay from Frenzal reunited with the band, cranking away to John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”. Celebrating his birthday in style, fun was had by all and as always The Gimmies is one fun act to see.
One band hard to pin a genre on is Chicago based Rise Against, melodic hardcore/punk, call them what you will, the crowd loved their warm set throwing in covers and bringing out members from other bands. The cover of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” is shared with Shawna Potter who was on stage recently, fronting Baltimore punk act, War on Women as was Spike from Me First who shares the mic to cover The Misfits’, “Hybrid Moments”.
New songs such as “The Violence” and “House on Fire” from Wolves (2017) seem to go down well with punters however it is crowd favourites such as “Give it All” from Siren Song of the Counter Culture (2004), “Drones”, “Prayer for the Refugee” and “The Good Left Undone”, all of which come from the same record.
Closing the set with “Satellite”, from Appeal to Reason (2008), Rise Against could only please fanatics with a little riff written by Tony Iommi for a song titled “Paranoid”. Nothing was little from this energetic set from the lads. Next in line were the highlights of the festival, grunge legends, still going strong with one of the most underrated guitarists known.
Alice in Chains took the opposite stage as it soon cooled down and became dark, much like the dark subject matter and deep lyrics from many of the classics which never run short. Practically half the track listing from “Dirt” (1992), apart from the “Iron Gland” Intro with screams from Mr. Araya himself. When that many songs from your number one all-time album are played it was surely going to be one hard act to follow. William Duvall does an amazing job, being the only singer who could do any justice to the dearly missed Layne Staley’s unique singing style. His voice harmonises in sync with Jerry Cantrell and it is surreal, to say the least.
Cantrell’s playing is flawless from the get-go, coming out to “Bleed the Freak”; from the debut Facelift (1990) was an awesome way to make an entrance. The chugging riff welcomes “Check my Brain” making it a good choice from the album, as it was the first song in which we got to hear what Duvall had to offer from his debut with the band on Black Gives Way to Blue (2009) Ten years on and we have one tight group of musicians.
“Again” is played in all its glory with its crooning and dark yet catchy subtone. Just like untitled was a highly underrated album, the guitar playing and style make Cantrell one of if not the most underrated guitarists. Every guitar solo played tonight sends shivers down one’s spine.
The title track for “Rainier Fog” and “The One You Know” show that Alice is at the top of their game. Sean Kinney on drums and Mike Inez on bass are on point, backing each other with a groove that holds all the songs together, making them imprints within the mind.
The whole set was a highlight but as far as highlights within a highlight it would have to be back to back classics “The Bones” and “Dam That River” the greatest sound to come out of any speaker.
Next in line were Heavy Metal royalty, led by the one and only Rob Halford, the almighty Judas Priest. Who brought the firepower to Sydney starting off with the title track to do just that and a screen behind them capturing each album over the years. Heard earlier in the day was Frenzal’s rendition of “War Pigs”, now was the time for the Priest as it was used before entering. Delivering the goods with “Delivering the goods” and then some more. It was a set of greatest hits and the metal troops amongst the fields of black sang in unison, surely to wake up with sore throats the morning after. It would all be worth it.
A golden oldie like “Sinner” mixes in nicely with the fresh blood of newbie, “Lightning Strikes”, between that and “Desert Plains”. Halford, with his amazing range unleashed from his set of pipes, nails it every time with one truly talented group of musicians. Long-time members, Ian Hall on bass and Scott Travis work in unison to the guitar wizardry with Andy Sneap [replacing Glen Tipton] and Richie Faulkner, who was praised by Halford for his contribution to new material which went down well tonight.
As always Halford rode his Harley out in style to “Hell Bent For Leather” and hits kept a ‘coming. From “Turbo Lover” to “Freewheel Burning” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” You would think that the highlight of “Painkiller” with that drum intro of all intros would have been it for the Priest. Not the case here as they returned with “Electric Eye” and “Breaking the Law” to wrap up an incredible performance.
After that electricity, the headliners of the festival took the stage after pentagrams flashed around and crazed fans chanted for the last time, SLAYER!!! SLAYER!!
Getting straight into it with Tom Araya sounding in fine form with his four-string in hand like a sword for one last final battle in Sydney. Sporting his KILL THE KARDASHIANS tee was Gary Holt (Exodus) who Jeff Hanneman would be proud of, shredding away with his battle axe alongside Kerry King. The crushing riffs of destruction were sure to rip a hole in Parramatta Park and the drum machine known as Paul Bostaph showed why he was the man for the job.
Most albums were given some love apart from Divine Intervention (1994) and the underrated Diabolus in Musica (1998). “Disciple” and “Payback” featured from God Hates Us All (2001) as well. The majority of songs derived from Seasons in the Abyss (1990) with the likes of “Blood Red”, “Born of Fire”, “Dead Skin Mask”, “War Ensemble” and the title track. “Mandatory Suicide” and title track to South of Heaven (1988), with that distinct drum intro, were also standouts.
Old school fans would have been pleased with thrash gems “Hell Awaits”, “Chemical Warfare” and “Black Magic” and even after playing “Rain in Blood” from the defining album Reign in Blood (1986) the night wasn’t over with “Angel of Death” the swansong for the Sydney Downloaders. Next stop Melbourne.