[LIVE REVIEW] Download Festival @ Parramatta Park, Sydney 09/03/2019

So, the time has come for the second Australian installment of the huge music festival that is Download, and for the first time, the entourage makes its way to Sydney, Australia on the back of a super successful first year where it was exclusive to Melbourne only.

2019 sees the festival being performed at both Sydney and Melbourne.

I arrived shortly before 11 am for a midday start and immediately one could see that this was going to be huge in every sense of the word, with an enormous crowd swarming toward the gates!

The weather forecast was for a 70% chance of rain along with thunderstorms in the afternoon, this was going to be interesting!

No rain at midday and so Voyager from Perth, Australia kicked off the festival in dry conditions on the Main Stage Red. I have seen this band on a few occasions now and they never disappoint, great punchy prog and an abundance of frantic movement by all of the band members across the stage. It would seem as though plenty of the punters have seen them often and purchased their music also because it ended up being a very energetic opening to festivities – a perfect way to start!

Right next door on the Main Stage Black was where Alien Weaponry were readying themselves for their youthful and culturally powerful onslaught. And so the second act in the main festival area began with their trademark Haka being performed at the opening to each set, and for those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this band live I urge you to do so when they’re next in town… they are forging a successful path in world metal with their blend of nu-metal/thrash tunes and the powerful emotive lyrics which are largely based on their strong Maori heritage.

Time to go check out the other stage areas and the next act I saw was New Years Day hailing from California on the Avalanche/Dogtooth stage. With four albums under their belt now this band has created a huge following with their alternative and goth themed metal, along with a very visual stage presence headed by the enigmatic Ash Costello – this is a band that pumps volumes of crunchy tight riffs into each set and the blend of that along with their now dedicated following make for a performance worth seeing each time.

A very short break and then back up to the Main Stage Red for Sydney’s own Polaris. Until a few months back I hadn’t heard of this band, then I caught a radio interview that they did, checked out some tracks and then I knew I had to check them out live, and what better way to do so than by seeing them in this environment.

Just one album, 2017’s ‘The Mortal Coil’ which was nominated for a 2018 ARIA award and two EP’s to date, however, this is again a band that is going places. Classed as metalcore (I can’t keep up with all of the metal sub-genres) with most of the vocals performed by Jamie Hails, a very confronting vocal style in terms of passion and energy and you really cannot look away because he engages you with his demeanor and draws you in, and I’m happy to be there. A powerful set by an emerging band who are destined for huge success.

A look around the main stage area and you could see how the crowd had engulfed the grassland and settled in for a very long day and night. The alcohol and water was flowing, and the smell of hamburgers and chips was now beginning to cast its spell – and I was under it!

Many punters steadfastly stayed in front of the stages, many had simply retreated toward the back fence to watch and listen from afar, this as with all festivals was a community affair with each doing their own thing in their own way. You couldn’t blame them though, it’s a hell of a long time to be standing up without some form of retreat.

Luca Brasi was the next act that caught my eye which was on the Main Stage Black. A four-piece band hailing from Tasmania, formed in 2009 and who took their name from the character in The Godfather. Officially classed as melodic and alternative punk, they bring a slightly less distorted sound to the audiences and blend nice harmonies and catchy lyrical content into their performances, great to see live and they too now have a pretty big following on the back of their years plying their trade.

Having never seen The Beautiful Monument play live before I was keen to do it, and so I headed to the Ascension stage to catch this all-female alternative rock band from Melbourne. Plenty of catchy and bouncy riffs here with some nice distortion to kick it along, this blended with unlimited female harmonies and some nice lead riffs beneath the vocals made for a bloody good experience, no wonder this band has been receiving plenty of recognition.

One groove laden song after another – go check them out!

Back down to the Avalanche/Dogtooth stage to catch Fever 333. Classed as rapcore/rap metal and hailing from California, this band has loads of power and energy on stage, and clearly, have the ability to move people with their ever-changing riffs and verses – crunchy distortion and rap style verses across a lot of their songs. This was one of those sets where from afar you could clearly see that people were in tune with the band and jumping about without fear. I really loved the way that the lead riffs jumped in after many choruses, the ones where you find yourself singing along and then suddenly you’re air guitaring!

One of the bands I definitely came here to see was Australia’s own Airbourne! That was my next assignment and time to head to the Main Stage Black. Airborne never disappoint, never!

They have that magic formula, the one that is absolutely simple – good old fashioned rock guitar sounds, energised movement around the stage and a magnificent rapport with the audience – can’t go wrong with that eh?!

Hailing from Warrnambool near the Victoria/South Australia border and going at this caper since 2003, the band fronted by the superbly enigmatic Joel O’Keeffe delivers right from the start. They are in your face with simple yet powerful rock riffs that just pull you left and right, and when you look up to see how every god damn member of that band is giving everything they have to the crowd, well you know that you will get your money’s worth every time.

If you’re in the front rows, then expect to be hit at some point by sweat and/or splashing of Australian beer having been launched from the stage by Joel – near empty after being consumed by him of course! A real treat for the crowd too was Joel being carried (ala Angus Young style) by Riley Strong from Desecrator, again, this is why Airbourne have a loyal and dedicated following, proud Australians and they give it all every time!

For mine, this was one of the best performances of the entire festival.

A short break and a look around to catch some of the atmosphere. Some signs of rain had appeared by now and from what we could tell the rest of the day/night just might be a very wet and thundery one. This wasn’t going to dampen the enthusiasm though because music was now being accompanied by a reasonable amount of alcohol, and to hell with the weather – no misbehavior though, as with pretty much every large metal/rock crowd they were here for the music, not trouble.

Well, Frenzal Rhomb began their career when I was in my early teens and, to be honest I have never really listened to much of their music, I haven’t avoided it, I just hadn’t gotten around to it – time to kinda fix that, at least for half an hour or so anyway.

Frenzal Rhomb is classed as punk, skate and melodic hardcore and that was right on the money. Clearly, they have a huge following which has been forged since the early nineties and there were plenty of punters who were willing to miss other bands just to head to the Avalanche/Dogtooth stage to see them again, maybe for the thousandth time?!

Nine albums under their belt and a generation of fans which was quite evident, they commanded respect from the get-go and this, as with Airbourne was another example of a band who I believe would not disappoint their fans – you could simply tell by the way that the punters were engaged and in another zone, this was great to see and great for the fans to still be able to turn up to see this band play.   

I am always keen to see how far black metal fans will go as far as their attire is concerned at shows, whether it be corpse paint or jackets that always seem a little different to the standard metal jacket those folk certainly do make their presence felt.

Well, I can’t say that the Behemoth crowd were dominated by such people, but they were represented in some form and so black metal finally arrived at Download Sydney at the Main Stage Red.

Hailing from Poland and now well and truly established as one of the world’s premium black metal acts, Nergal (vocals/guitar) and his crew delivered exactly what the fans ordered in the form of a scintillating and seemingly effortless set of one dark and foreboding riff after another. Nergal’s presence on stage is haunting and mesmerising and the change in pace and atmosphere from the previous bands was breathtaking in that it was clearly in another direction in terms of the style and depth of their blackness.

I could feel the tempo of the festival literally change at this point!

A relatively short set from Behemoth, as is the case at festivals for most bands however enough time to feel the awesome force and nature of this band.

Back down to the Avalanche/Dogtooth stage to see a band that has been plying their trade since around 1990, Converge from the US.

Pretty much in the metal-core scene, they do not lack any power and ability to make people stand up and take notice. They are full of energy as with most metal-core bands these days, however, bands that have been around as long as Converge seem to do it with ease because they just flow with it, and that can only be achieved by doing it for so long and it becoming second nature.

Bands like Converge have armies of fans around the world, they plug in, play and the fans go nuts!

This was a great arena for them to play in too because the Avalanche/Dogtooth stage area had a large flat area immediately in front of the stages, then there is a grass hill which acts as an amphitheater and allows many who do not want to be caught up in the moshing to do their own energetic thing a little further back. This worked a treat and I’m sure that Converge could see the mayhem up the back as well as in front – cool set!

The time now for one of the big headliners on the Main Stage Black, Anthrax.

Well, I was barely born when they kicked off in 1981, but I am well and truly aware of their kick arse journey since then. Noted as one of the ‘big four’ of the thrash metal world, Anthrax has been one of the first bands that spring to mind when you talk thrash metal – think about that for a moment.

This band is steeped in heavy metal history and again are one of those bands that you know exactly what you’re gonna get and you’ve seen it before, but you just keep wanting to see and hear it – why not, it’s a magical formula!

With Joey Belladonna and Scott Ian still marching back and forth across the stage you always seem to feel rejuvenated watching their shows, because the energy is almost as fresh as it was way back when, and that my friends is a hard-working band who love doing what they do, and love being a part of your life for that brief moment in time.

It’s a part of them, in their DNA, because they never cease to do it the way they do it. Crunching and pounding riffs, beautiful slick 80’s style leads, Belladonna’s harmonies and a stage presence that defies the years that they have been around.

Plenty of old classics too, including three from ’Among The Living‘ being I Am The Law, Caught In A Mosh and of course Indians.

This was magnificent Anthrax, I’ll never forget it!

Just across the way is the Main Stage Black and this is where I caught the set by Australian metal-core outfit The Amity Affliction. Hailing from Gympie which is well north of Brisbane and formed in 2003, The Amity Affliction have developed a huge following on the back of their six studio albums, clearly evident from the way that many of the crowd were easily able to sing the lyrics whenever dual frontmen Joel Birch and Ahren Stringer pulled the mic away from themselves and pointed toward us.

Mixing clean and unclean vocals along with some nice harmonies as well, this band has the vocal arrangements to accompany some crunching guitar riffs and deliver plenty of power and energy through their unique sound and clearly know how to engage a crowd to assist them in doing so – I really enjoyed this set!

It was going to be a hustle in order to see both of the next two bands, the stages were relatively close to one another, however, the set times were very tight.

First up, Australia’s own Twelve Foot Ninja. Hailing from Melbourne and classed as alternative metal, this five piece have never disappointed and they didn’t here either!

Although they began in 2008, it has only been in recent years that they have begun to really feel the joys of success, and now they are in many ways a household name. I have seen them labelled as an experimental outfit and as a heavy metal outfit. If I was to use one of the metal sub-genres then I would at least gravitate toward perhaps metal-core, albeit with little conviction, but certainly not heavy metal as in the traditional form… either way I love their stuff.

This band is funny on stage, engaging and friendly toward the crowd, all whilst delivering really tight and heavy riffs with changes that break your hip when you react to them – felt like it anyway.

I was also really super impressed with Kin Etik’s vocal range and consistency, to me it didn’t seem like he dropped off at any point and he seemed to be holding the notes with relative ease, that’s a guy who knows how to breathe!

A shortish jog up the hill to the Ascension stage followed to see Devilskin from New Zealand. About eight to nine years in the business now and these guys pack a punch.

Plenty of gents in the audience to see and hear Jennie Skulander’s vocal arrangements accompany the old school riffs of Tony Vincent with a no fuss attitude and some down and dirty rock ‘n roll!

With three albums under their belts, one which went Gold and another Platinum in New Zealand, this band delivers the kind of music that you would want to play in the car or on a bike, good clean vocals, dirty rock ‘n roll and metal riffs and an old school stage attitude and presence that lets you know that you’re watching a hard working band who are exactly where they want to be at that very moment.

Jennie has a fantastic stage presence and clearly a favourite, she is also happy to walk onto the outer edge of the stage to engage more closely with the fans, this kinda thing really does bring the fan into the world of the artist and never goes astray – this was a fantastic set!

One more band in this neck of the festival before heading back up to the main stage area again – and this time it was Thy Art Is Murder.

The set began with vocalist Chris ‘CJ’ McMahon proudly telling the crowd that they were probably the only band playing at this festival in Parramatta that actually grew up in this or surrounding areas, this went down well with the crowd, clearly there were many people from western Sydney here!

This is my second time seeing Thy Art Is Murder and their brutal death-core material is still as in-your-face as the first time. Chris’ stage presence is hard to ignore, constantly moving up and down to deliver a menacing verse and chorus, never really stopping until the set finishes.

Blistering riffs with sheer precision and a death-core vocal arrangement over the top means that if you were seeking a quitter alternative for a short period then maybe this wasn’t the best way to go.

Four albums to date and no signs of this menacing and brutal attack ceasing – go forward Thy Art Is Murder.

As we reach the 7 pm mark somehow the forecasted rain and thunderstorms have stayed away, still time for them to arrive however at least for now we’ve passed the even hour mark with no more than about five minutes of rain.

I’m tired and hungry by this point, it’s a bloody long day but the show must go on. I see many have retreated again to the very back of the main stage area and are content with staying there and avoiding the hustle and bustle, can’t argue with that, although there’s no substitute for being in front of the bands in my opinion.

The crowd, in general, are in party mode by now, seven hours of drinking and metal, gotta affect you somehow huh?

Remember how I said that some may have been looking for a quieter alternative when watching Thy Art Is Murder? Well here’s your perfect opportunity because on the Main Stage Red now is the mighty and unmistakable Alice In Chains.

I’m almost afraid to admit this but this is the very first time that I have seen this iconic band, so I was not going to miss it!

I have heard many people across the years say that it isn’t the same without Layne Staley and that they are no longer the same force. Well of course they’re not the same, but not the same force?

In my opinion, the inclusion of William DuVall was and is a fine one, and he has added some spark back into the band and allowed them to continue on with the legacy of Layne in the background. The albums created with DuVall are fantastic in my opinion, and he is great live too so where’s the problem?

So many classics in their catalogue and many were played tonight, including the very early years – Man In The Box, Them Bones, Dam That River, Rooster, etc, etc – one after another and the set became a real nostalgic affair and a really beautiful way to just take the level and intensity down a notch and allow everyone to catch their breath.

In many ways that is the role that Alice In Chains plays for everyone, right? We don’t listen to them to hear fast crunchy riffs with harsh vocals, we put their albums on to chill out!

This for me was one of the big highlights of the night, seeing Jerry Cantrell in the flesh and being able to close my eyes and hear those magical songs played right in front of me, what an amazing experience! 

Geez, I was so chilled then that I could go to sleep!

Next for me and in the closing stages of Download Sydney for 2019 was for me the best performance of the day and night, without any question whatsoever, the mighty Judas Priest!

When Judas Priest began their huge career I wasn’t born, and I don’t have the jaw-dropping reaction to old riffs of theirs like Priest devotees have, but I do love their stuff nonetheless.

I have come to realise over the years that there are certain bands in the heavy metal world that calmly sit above the rest and go about their business with little to no fuss, because they don’t need to – Priest sit up there!

You don’t reach the ages of older musicians (especially vocalists) without the odd live performance here and there when something doesn’t quite go to plan, Ian Gillan from Deep Purple is a great example because time takes a toll and suddenly high notes are not achievable anymore, well Rob Halford showed none of that at Download Sydney for 2019.

Halford tore through many of the classics that required his trademark screams etc and he did not miss a beat, especially during Painkiller, one of the best examples of a Priest song that would test a vocalist in a live situation.

And how about the guitar lineup?!

Whilst I duly respect the legacy of KK Downing, Richie Faulkner is a breath of fresh air and is both a great guitarist and visually a fantastic performer. Yeah I know, Andy Sneap is just their touring guitarist to replace Glenn Tipton (again respect), but he too really adds a great dynamic and they all seem to just fit together, it really does look and feel comfortable on stage.

They began the set with their most recent killer track, Firepower, then preceded to entertain us all with so many older classics such as Sinner, Delivering The Goods, Desert Plains, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ etc, etc.

This was a real old school classic Judas Priest show and none of them missed a beat, one of those shows where at the end you just take a breath and say ‘wow’ to yourself, because that’s how special these types of shows are!

As I stated earlier, the best performance of the festival for mine!

Ok, two more iconic bands to finish off Download Sydney for 2019!

Second last was the mighty Slayer whilst on their farewell world tour, having announced that they were retiring. As with Priest, Slayer too are in that group of bands above most others, and they’ve earned that right during their career which began in 1981.

Slayer are a band who for many are one of, if not the most important band from a time where you first forged into the world of heavy metal. Slayer were and are thrash, and when they first projected themselves onto the world back in the day it was a tornado of ‘WTF’ and gimme more!

The heavy metal world really wasn’t prepared for Slayer or thrash in the early eighties, some think they were, but they weren’t. Can you imagine what it was like to listen to ‘Haunting The Chapel’ and ‘Show No Mercy’ when they were brand new?!

This is a band that was doing that back then, and have never stopped – album after album, tour after tour, and not slow and quiet albums and shows, they’ve been full on for all of that time!

Many believed that the sad passing of founding guitarist and key song writer Jeff Hanneman in 2013 was to be the end of the band, however then stepped in Gary Holt from Exodus, firstly as a touring guitarist in 2011 whilst Hanneman was trying to recover, and then from 2013 as a permanent member of the band after he passed.

All along the almost fatherly figure of Tom Araya stood in the middle of the stage and sang his heart out in the cause of Slayer, and who can ever forget the mighty Kerry King who once proudly partnered Jeff Hanneman and formed the magical guitar partnership throughout the decades.

Well tonight it was Sydney’s turn to say goodbye and they did not disappoint. A tonne of classics including Hell Awaits, Black Magic, Angel Of Death, etc, etc.

It was an odd kind of feeling looking up at them, especially Tom and Kerry and thinking that this was it for them, after the tour concludes there’s no more bookings, no more albums, that’s it. Well they’ve earned it and they certainly gave the Sydney people a great send off because the energy that is synonymous with Slayer was right there, complete with Tom’s screams and Kerry’s head bobbing and flame guitar bodies!

Thank you Slayer for the magical albums and tours of a generation, much respect to you and RIP Jeff Hanneman.

Ok, well Ozzy Osbourne cancelled so that just leaves Ghost to round off proceedings – not a terrible way to finish!

First time for me seeing Ghost and the anticipation was palpable.

Boutique stairs on stage in place and the atmosphere was positively electric. The opening riff to Rats began with everyone except the main man there and masked of course… and there he entered, Cardinal Copia!

Oh man, the tempo and feel of the band was instant and in perfect harmony. The riffs, the groove, the stage presence, they have it all!

A magical blend of choreographed and random movements all whilst the verses and choruses fill your head and transport you away – no harsh vocals, no blast-beats, just smooth vocals and a beautiful synergy between the band members.

This is a finely tuned machine at work!

A nice mix of songs across albums, but for mine Ritual from Opus Eponymous was the standout, the verses and chorus of that song are mind blowing and then the lead riff that exits out is absolutely spellbinding!

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see either of the Papa Emeritus incarnations, however, Cardinal Copia is still mesmerizing when in front of you, they certainly know how to create drama and intrigue with their shows, and that’s what these are, real show performances.

On they went through songs such as From The Pinnacle To The Pit, Cirice, Miasma, Square Hammer etc, all with that stately calm and the crowd were at fever pitch, tired yet ready to embrace the majesty of this great outfit.

The masks, the makeup, the harmonies and the movement made this a very special occasion for both myself and the crowd.

And so it was time to draw the curtain on Download Sydney for 2019, with the festival now heading for Melbourne… what a day and night for the many that attended, and hopefully a memorable occasion for the departing Slayer.

Good music and new acquaintances, what a combination!   

Review Contributed by Rochelle Cupido

Gallery byRoger Brooks