FESTIVAL REVIEW: DOWNLOAD MELBOURNE 2017 Live at Flemington Racecourse, Australia
After months of preparation, Download Festival finally made its inaugural appearance in Melbourne, and in typical Australian fashion, we welcomed the festival the only way we know how – with a ceremonial downpour. It was going to take a lot more than a shower to keep the Australian fans away from one of the bigger live music events that the country has hosted over the last few years, a sentiment that and that showed with fans forming lines in the rain that headed into Flemington Racecourse and spanned a great distance an hour before the gates had even opened.
Once the gates had finally opened, High Tension opened up the festivals Red Stage and managed to do a relatively good job considering the early timeslot and the wet circumstances. While the band only performed to a relatively small crowd of fans that had made their way in early enough to brave the conditions they still put on a decent performance and were more than worthy candidates to open the days proceedings.
Homegrown heroes Ocean Grove were up next on the Black Stage and their six-month absence of shows in their home town had done nothing but increase the crowd’s appetite for them. Their rollicking drum fills, upbeat riffs and tremendous breakdowns had the legion in front of the stage moving – and the inflatable beach balls thrown out into the crowd helped a bit too. This was the first time during the day that the crowd had gone absolutely bananas for a band, and only being the second act in, Ocean Grove had given the subsequent acts a very big task to follow.
Northlane were next, and were always going to have a massive crowd present at their performance on the Red Stage. The band was almost seemingly slotted into the lineup in an earlier timeslot as a way to attract fans into the event sooner – and if they were then this tactic worked. The band had an incredibly tight audio performance, delving deep into their discography to deliver a setlist that encapsulated some of the greatest parts of the bands history, but it was the vocal delivery of Marcus Bridge that really put the performance into its own echelon. The conviction and passion with which Bridge delivered each lyric resonated well with the crowd that had assembled, resulting in the crowd playing a hefty singalong during each song.
As each progressive act of the day got better and better, it came turn for Of Mice and Men to perform their first shows in Australia for several years on the Black Stage. Having undergone a lineup change since their previous tour here, and on the back of their latest album Defy, the band performed a set consisting of many new tracks mixed in with some old ones. While the rain was still teeming down at this stage, vocalist/bassist Aaron Pauley managed to keep the crowd moving to make sure that everyone stayed warm. While it wasn’t a highlight set for the day it seemed like Of Mice and Men were really hitting a groove in the tail end of their set, and the crowd were opening up to them more as the set progressed too. Hopefully next time they can get aa set that runs for an extra couple of songs to really drive home their performance.
The Red Stage was next host to Swedish military maestros Sabaton – a band that many people had bookmarked as one of the must-see highlights of the festival. The band didn’t disappoint putting on one of the most entertaining sets of the day, complete with band playing pranks towards each other on stage, crowd singalong and an exuberant energy that only this sort of an act could pull off. The mix seemed a little bit off for a moment during opener Ghost Division, but it was shortly rectified and the sound remained consistent throughout the remainder of the set. It was also during Sabaton’s set that the rain had decided to subside, a welcome reprieve for those that had been braving the conditions for a few hours by now.
In what would be only their third ever tour in the Australia, Gojira took to the Black Stage and wasted little time in once again reaffirming for everyone that they are the future torch bearers for metal. Sporting perhaps the best sound of the entire day the bands thunderous bass and heavy riffs were probably audible for several kilometers around the venue. Being one of the only bands with pyrotechnics for the day just added to the appeal of their set – and the fact that the crowd had begun to swell around the red and black stage during their performance just indicated how monumental their sound was. Gojira was definitely one of the highlight bands of Download Melbourne 2018 and if you were at the festival and didn’t see them then you definitely missed out.
Amon Amarth was up next on the Red stage, and were good as always to watch, but their performance felt somewhat flat. Don’t get me wrong, everything was as you would expect from the Viking powerhouse, but it just seemed very similar to what was performed at Soundwave a few years earlier. Considering that the band has since released a new album and has basically finished the touring cycle for said album, it probably placed an expectation on the band to deliver that little bit more. The legions of fans didn’t seem to care though, and the band still had a respectable showing for their mid-afternoon timeslot, which is the most important thing. Many people came out of that pit exhausted and sore, proving that the imperfections meant nothing in the long run for their dedicated fans.
Grammy award winners Mastodon are always a treat to watch and although their performance on the Black stage was during the middle of the day, it was significant as it heralded the beginning of the ‘bigger name’ bands appearing at Download. Truth be told, Mastodon themselves, probably deserved to be a little higher in the running order, because a set that short is never truly enough to appreciate such a band, but we must deal with the hand we were dealt. Now, I know Mastodon normally has a huge sound to begin with, but I’m not sure if they borrowed some of Gojira’s sound settings from earlier, because their sound was probably the best I have ever heard from them over the seven times I have seen them and put most of the acts to shame on the day of Download. Most of the crowd seemed to agree and spent the entire set moshing, which is always a good sign.
While they may not have performed in Australia for a few years, Good Charlotte’s return to our stages on Downloads Red Stage proved to be just the right recipe to perk up the punters leading into the evenings proceedings. Performing a plethora of songs from the early 2000’s as well as dropping some of the newer tunes from their most recent album Youth Authority, the Madden Brothers and Co. proved that theirs is a sound that is always at the heart of the fans. Although they may be a bit older now, the band still managed to jump around the stage on numerous occasions, and visually did all that they needed to do to put on a stellar performance. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going in to see the band – as I had never been much of a fan past the songs that had received mainstream success while I was in high school, but their performance did not disappoint, and I had an awesome time.
The lowest point of the entire festival would have had to have been Make Them Suffer’s performance over on the Dogtooth Stage. When I say performance, I’m not referring to the bands performance directly, because the band performed well, but there was something entirely off about the sound at the Dogtooth stage during their set and it was particularly noticeable. The large contingent of fans towards the front of the stage all seemed to be having a good time, and visually the band was having an absolute blast up on stage, so it’s a shame that the sound just wasn’t up to scratch. This was an issue which was out entirely out of the bands hands, but one that was just disappointing for them overall.
Often the victim of much derision following the Download festival line-up announcement, Limp Bizkit’s performance on the Black Stage proved that their music will continue to speak volumes with their audiences. Putting on one of the more energetic sets throughout the day, it didn’t take frontman Fred Durst very long to jump into the crowd to sing amongst the fans in what would be one of many highlights of the bands set, with the other stand out highlight of the set being Durst telling the crowd to bring a crowd surfing wheelchair fan up onto the stage during My Generation. Musically the band was everything that you would expect them to be with bass-heavy bombastic riffs that had you jumping along to Durst’s lyrical prowess. While a lot of the post-festival coverage has decided to focus on whether Wes Borland’s stage outfit and makeup were acceptable, there can be little denying that the band put on one of the more engaging and better sounding sets of the day.
Starting off your set by turning your guitar back over to reveal the words ‘F**K Trump’ is one way to grab attention – but would you expect anything less from Tom Morello or Prophets of Rage? Prophets of Rage was everything that they had been talked up to be and then some. They were loud, they had character, but most importantly, they were bold. While many people will argue and create direct comparisons that this will be the closest thing that they will ever get towards seeing Rage Against the Machine live again, these comparisons are unfair as Prophets of Rage’s performance at Download was a true reflection of them as their own entity. The energy that B-Real and Chuck D bring to the stage is truly complimentary to Morello’s outspoken style of guitar playing, and it was for this reason that so many people that had made their way out to Download had gathered around the Red stage for this set alone. For their very first performances on Australian soil, I think that this band easily had one of the more electrifying sets of the day and playing songs which many consider to be some of the biggest anti-authority anthems around is always going to get a massive response from a crowd.
Similar to Make Them Suffer earlier in the day, the beginning of Arch Enemy’s set on the Dogtooth stage was plagued with terrible sound problems, even going so far as to having frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz inaudible for most of the first song from back near the sound desk. It was rectified about three songs into their set, and the fans didn’t seem to be too phased by it– but that section soured an otherwise impressive set from the superstars. Arch Enemy’s visual performance was immaculate, with the complimentary guitar-styles of duo Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis alternating at the front of stage with White-Gluz and providing a truly sharp visual, and audio soundscape once the sound issues had been rectified. Their positioning on the line-up also suited them well with the band being one of the only acts performing into the twilight – making the best use of the night sky and their lighting arrangements to enhance the visual aspect of their performance to the maximum.
It seemed that organizers truly saved the best for last – and I hope that anyone who, in the lead up to the festival doubted Korn and their position as headliner, was able to stick around for their set because it definitely exceeded all expectations. There isn’t much to say in terms of specifics because the sound was perfect, the performance was incredibly polished, the lighting was impeccable and their 15 song setlist covered eight of their albums giving everyone in the crowd something from almost the entire history of Korn. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Korn’s set was that it finished about fifteen minutes earlier than it was scheduled to, and while this might have been a bonus for those that had been at the event all day and just wanted to go home and rest – it is upsetting that the band couldn’t perform a few more songs in their only Australian appearance so far for this album cycle. It was however cool for Jonathon Davis, before disembarking the stage promised to return for a full national tour, before asking for the crowd to the band in song to wish their sound guy a happy birthday (as he had lost it on the trip over due to timezone differences).
Out of all the festivals I have been to, a list which include some of the biggest events held in Europe, this was probably the smoothest run. The bands were on time, the lines for drinks were never unbearable, and there was a plethora of food options to pick from. Perhaps the only thing which was the cause of some frustrations for festival attendees was the lines for merchandise at the few merch stands that were available. This is always going to be a persistent problem at festivals where your attendance is over twenty thousand people; however, with that being the only perceived negative aspect of the entire running of the festival, I would say that Download Melbourne was a resounding success.
For a day that offered a broad spectrum of musical offerings and contained very few clashes, the organizers are to be commended. The recent announcement of the festival branching out to Sydney next year means that the organizers have shown us some faith, so let’s hope that this is an event that the Australian music scene can foster and help grow over the coming years until it can become something that may even be able to rival its big brother in the United Kingdom!