FESTIVAL REVIEW: DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL 2019 Live at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Australia was lucky enough to welcome Download festival to its shores in 2018. Ever since the void left in the heavy music world by the dissolution of Soundwave was finally filled. I was lucky enough to witness my first Download Festival at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne this year, and it was a day of incredible significance. Here is how it all went down.
As the crowd starts pouring in and Karnivool’s Goliath fills the air while main stage openers get ready, I’m gearing up for my first set of the day – Perth darlings Voyager. These veterans of Australian progressive metal have earned their place here today, with their enormous sound and ear worm melodies. The crowd starts cheering as soon as the music dies down, and the next 30 minutes are a party. Voyager perform confidently and with undeniable swagger. We are treated to some new music with their recently released single Brightstar, as well as some old favorites like Ascension and Hyperventilating. Voyager not only thrive on a big stage but command it. And so a pattern emerges starting here, of the Australian bands absolutely killing it today.
Next up on the Black stage are Luca Brasi. These guys exploded across the country with incredible success over the last few years, famously pushing through and asking whether this is all they were ever going to be. And if a Download festival band was that thing, then well done. Luca Brasi sport a massive crowd and albeit a little tired, they kick things up a notch with their emotionally charged tunes. It has to be noted that there is a great variety in the line-up today, and the sound certainly doesn’t suffer the usual festival quality downgrade.
I migrate over to the Ascension Stage to catch Melbourne newcomers The Beautiful Monument. Stoked to see a strong and confident female-fronted band here today, and no, female-fronted is not a genre, but sadly still a rarity at events like these. The Beautiful Monument perform with raw passion and professionalism, and their crowd grows steadily for the duration of the set. Every track is met with louder applause than the previous, and their latest single Deceiver seems to get the loudest reaction still. A band surely on the rise, and one I implore you to check out immediately.
Taking a short break, I’m pleasantly surprised by the lack of noise bleed between stages. In the sitting and food areas in-between, one can virtually hear nothing and it’s easy to get away from the noise and relax. The facilities are plentiful as well, and I personally only encountered short cues throughout the day. There are two guest areas, the VIP and the RIP, and both were well catered and provided a great festival experience. The RIP ticket gets you a private sitting area, bar, phone charging station, merchandise and food stands, and separate toilets, and for $379.00, it’s a pretty sweet deal, especially considering you get a great view of the Black stage. Which is where I’m headed to witness some Polish magic up next.
Behemoth offer the first costume-heavy performance, and despite the sunny day, these black metal giants cast a long shadow over the crowd. Behemoth are immaculate. They create a whole world for us to participate in, and they do it so well. There is corpse paint, some blood for good measure, and as singer Nergal points out, it’s a great day to spend with the beautiful heavy-music-worshiping people of Australia. This is Behemoth’s first time back on our shores since 2015, and it is oh so worth the wait.
At this point it’s getting hot out here, and the grounds are well and truly swarmed by a sea of black-shirt-wearing fans, looking mean but smiling like goofs, because of course, this is such a treat for heavy music fans in Australia, and many have traveled from near and faraway places to come here, since Brisbane doesn’t yet get a Download Festival – something I hope changes in the near future. But back to the music, it is time for Anthrax.
Nothing much has been left unsaid about Anthrax. A part of heavy music folklore at this point, they launch into their set with a vigor and energy that frankly many of the young bands of the world can only dream of. Singer and certified thrash metal royalty Joey Belladonna runs on a stage like he’s in his 20’s, not to mention sounding stunning, and legendary guitarist Scott Ian is a player to behold for any musician watching. Playing fan favorites Indians and I Am The Law, Anthrax delivered in every way. This set felt like a minute, and many were left wanting more, myself included.
Taking a short break, I wander over to the food van area, and I’m stoked to see the variety of food choices, market stalls and of course, the free sunscreen, which unfortunately ran out pretty quickly. But hey, it was there, they thought of it and I was grateful. What was also particularly refreshing was the incredibly well-behaved crowd. For the majority of the day, mosh pits were peaceful and whoever got into trouble or fell, instantly benefited from our metal community’s ten commandments, one of which is, pick up thy fallen brothers in the pit. Police presence was minimal, security was helpful and informative, and the mood remained relaxed.
The above was true for most of the day, though there was some trouble at the Amity Affliction set. The band had to pause due to the collapse of the barrier, an issue resolved in just a few minutes by security, and the set went on. Amity played some of their greatest hits, including This Could Be Heartbreak, much to the delight of their fans. While there was mass exodus mid-set, this band has earned their spot here today and many were glad to see them.
Heading to the Ascension stage, I was really excited to catch the world’s favorite metal teen band, Alien Weaponry. These New Zealanders stormed onto the world stages with incredible force, and the praise is certainly earned. Do believe the hype. While getting ready, the band may seem young and inexperienced, but once they start playing, you know you’re in the presence of greatness in the making. They perform with precision, strong energy and passion, and they give 110%, seemingly exhausted by the end of the set. The Gojira-esque riffs and the te reo Māori language are a match made in heaven, and I can’t wait to see what these guys do next. A worthy addition to the Download line-up, as confirmed by many of Europe’s top festivals who welcomed Alien Weaponry on board. This young band’s resume includes goddamn Wacken Open Air. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Heading home now, or more specifically, the Dogtooth stage, to catch Australian rising stars, Polaris. It may feel like Polaris just appeared out of nowhere and stormed the scene, but these guys have been doing the hard yards long before they took over Triple J, and subsequently out collective heart with the release of The Mortal Coil. What has always struck me as unique about this band and their shows, is that they feel like a gathering of friends. Regardless of what size stage you put them on, a Polaris show is an intimate one. The band has come a long way since the last time I had the pleasure of watching them, but their truth and purpose remain intact – playing the Wembley Arena on their recent European tour supporting Architects certainly didn’t get to their heads. It was a truly enjoyable performance, full of equal parts of raw energy and grace. You do it well, Australia.
I battle the crowd to the main stage to catch Alice In Chains next. This band has stayed in people’s hearts for decades. Their status in the music world is unquestionable and having written some of the greatest alternative rock anthems of all time, like Man in the Box and Rooster, so I was pretty excited to see them for the very first time. This was relaxed and smoothly running set, by a somewhat (understandably) tired band. There were people crying, fans absolutely losing their minds at the front and in that way, a massive success. Opening with Bleed the Freak and performing fan favorites ‘No Excuses’, ‘Would?’ and of course, ‘Man In The Box’, Alice In Chains gave us an hour of chilled fun, filled with nostalgia, that fans absolutely, unquestionably, loved.
Next up I catch Sydney’s Thy Art Is Murder on the Dogtooth stage, performing to a healthy sized crowd and dominating their appointed stage with ease and confidence. The calm and collected demeanor of this band gives off an ominous vibe that I loved. A band no stranger to huge shows in their own right, and recently supporting Parkway Drive on their 2018 national tour, Thy Art collected quite a few new followers along the way, and understandably so. It is great to see them here today, a well-deserved slot. Singer CJ McMahon calmly asks us to start a circle pit around the sound desk, and I am just as surprised as you that it worked, it was enormous, and most importantly, no one got hurt.
Back to the Red stage, an elaborate stage setup comes into view, because it is time to conjure the heavy metal gods of old, and by that I mean, the one and only Judas Priest. It is likely true for many heavy music fans to be at the very lease sentimental about this band. These UK lords have been around for nearly 40 years, first emerging in 1969 (yes, you read that correctly), and in 2019, they are still performing in front of thousands. Judas Priest were pioneers in heavy metal from their very inception, and they remain one of the most celebrated metal bands of all time. It is an event in itself to even be in their vicinity. Guitarist Richie Faulkner is every bit the rock god you would expect, and he plays freakishly well, with his solos so squeaky clean, they don’t seem real. Rob Halford hits his signature high notes like no one’s business, and new addition Andy Sneap fits in with this crew like a glove. Drummer Scott Travis is having a good old time, with metronome-like precision drumming that is as flawless as you can get. And if you look for a band that has stayed true to themselves from day one, and not given into trends or what’s new, Judas are it. Their stage and visuals are a trip back to the ’80s, and I am not complaining. An absolutely superb performance from a veteran band.
I’m realizing at this point that most of the day is over, and all I can think about is how I don’t want it to end. But I shake that off and move on to the Dogtooth stage to catch Melbourne locals Twelve Foot Ninja. I still remember when these guys emerged for the first time, and the refreshing slap in the face they were at the time, and I’m glad to see they still are just that today, except a million times better. The genre-bending ninjas perform with swagger and confidence and sport an incredible live sound. People are dancing, moshing, singing along and loving every minute of the metal-to-funk-to-jazz experience that Twelve Foot Ninja provide. Performing some of their most beloved tracks including Mother Sky and Coming for You, they leave us wanting more.
One of the hardest things to decide on the day is which headliner to see. So I decided to see all three. First up, I head into the Avalanche stage to see Ghost. It is rather refreshing to see more of a show at this point, something elaborate, choreographed and very, very European. Ghost are somewhat of a cult band and their crowd is massive and impenetrable. A quick summary: a Pope comes out to play the saxophone during Miasma. Dance Macabre gets a thousand people absolutely losing their minds dancing, and the masterstroke of the intense rainbow lighting design made this perhaps my single favourite performance of the entire Download Festival. Closing with Square Hammer, we get a few explosions for good measure, to add to the sea of pyrotechnics and Co2 effects that littered the show. An absolutely superb performance from one of the most celebrated oddball bands in heavy music today.
Of course, I was running back and forth between the three headliners so time may become convoluted at this point, but halfway through Ghost, I ducked in to see a bit of Slayer. If the name Slayer doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you are not human. The band announced recently that they were calling it a day and would tour the world one last time. Download Festival Melbourne would be the very last chance for Australian fans to see these metal giants perform, and it was quite bittersweet to see them today. I arrived right on time to catch South of Heaven and Raining Blood, and the light show and giant fire jets were a thing to behold. The band was energized and as brutally heavy as always, and I can’t help but regret this is really their last time here. But for anyone who got to witness this set, it was the quintessential Slayer show, including tracks like Seasons in the Abyss, Chemical Warfare and Angel Of Death. A magnificent show, perhaps one of their very best, and an appropriate time and place to send them off in a spectacular way.
I run to catch Halestorm right as they launch into Black Vultures, and I’m stoked to see them headline a stage tonight. Lzzy Hale is an absolute powerhouse, and her skills as a guitarist are awe-inspiring. Her voice is loud, screeching and ear-piercingly powerful, and I hail to the Queen of rock and roll.
At this point though, I run back to the Ghost show, having decided that it was the right one for me, catching the closer and joining the entire crowd in disappointment as we loudly demand one last song, but singer Cardinal Copia informs us that they’re ‘told to fuck off now’ and thanks us for a lovely evening.
Joining the sea of people exiting the venue, I am a little disheveled. I’m in disbelief, I’m inspired and I’m trying to summarize this epic day in my head. It is a little easier to do so this morning after having the time to recuperate, so here it is.
Download Festival was easily and literally the most smoothly running and well-organized festival I have ever attended. A major highlight for me was, of course, the amazing live performances, but the true winners were by far the Australian bands. I have never been more chuffed to see our locals not only perform alongside world-famous acts but perform on par, if not better. Well done Australia, and thank you Download. If you didn’t make it this year, make sure you go to the next one because it is one experience I guarantee you will never forget.
Also, there was a food truck named Ryan Gozleme, I had to mention that.