Review by Jess Cate
Gone are the days where huge music festivals included Adelaide on the touring plan. Many South Australians might be in two minds about spending their hard-earned cash on an interstate trip to attend a music festival on the eastern coast, but that’s ok because Eventalaide headed to Melbourne to check out the 2019 Download Festival on your behalf!
It is only the second year for Download, but the hard rock and metal festival has stepped up and become one of Australia’s biggest music festivals. The Melbourne leg saw thirty-six bands playing on five stages, set amongst the sunshine and rose bushes of Flemington Racecourse. Being that it was a public holiday on the Monday, a fair chunk of Melbourne turned up to the event and were rewarded with on perfect festival weather as cool winds took the edge off the early-autumn sun.
It was unfortunate that major headliner Ozzy Osbourne had to pull out of the tour due to illness, however there were still plenty of huge names on the line-up, including Slayer, Judas Preist, and Rise Against. It was Airbourne (added to the lineup when Osbourne was removed) who kicked off my festival day. The Terminator movie intro music preceding the Aussie rockers entrance onto the stage, before they launched into “Ready to Rock” with smiles on their faces and pyrotechnics exploding from the stage. The applause from the crowd showed that Melbourne really was ready to rock. Airbourne put on a fantastic live performance, their energy and sound were perfect for setting the mood for the rest of the day. Lead singer Joel O’Keeffe left us with the mantra: “As long as we’re alive and you are alive then rock’n’roll will never really die.”
Next up I caught Californian act Fever 333 who were playing the Avalanche Stage. This stage was located under a tent, and the dim lighting only added to the uneasy atmosphere that was created, as a man in a black hood and jumpsuit stood in the middle of the darkness, stock-still and silent. Suddenly a dozen spotlights pointed directly down on the lone figure, then an ear—splitting static of sound assaulted us and the hoods were flung aside, guitars were in hand and the band were thrashing wildly across the stage. To say that Fever 333 are an outstanding live act would be an understatement. It took all of one song before the singer was in the crowd, finding his way to the back of the tent, before climbing up some scaffolding. This is must-see live act next time they make their way to Australia!
As I wandered to the bar to grab a cold drink, I was able to see Polish death metal band Behemoth greet their hungry fans through a wall of flames on one of the two huge main stages. Behemoth are very theatrical, adorned with masks over ghostly-white painted faces. They perform as a well-oiled machine, who clearly love playing live together and seemed to be genuinely happy to be back with Australian fans once again.
Despite playing in the early afternoon, Metal veterans Anthrax proved that they were not about to be outshone or upstaged at Download. Singer Joey Belladonna opened their set by running across the stage to get the crowd going. He had boundless energy, and he never once stopped moving! With a huge back catalogue, a diehard crowd and the band giving it all on stage, it felt like Anthrax would have been better served by a later timeslot than they were given.
There was a handful of unfortunate schedule clashes throughout the festival, but it felt like many punters had set up camp for the evening at the main stages by the time Australian metalcore band The Amity Affliction arrived. In fact their fans were so enthusiastic that the band had to stop three-quarters of the way into a song, when vocalist Joel Birch noticed that someone in the mess of people had fall over. The crowd quickly moved aside so medics could assist, but Birch ensured the fan was safe before the band continued their set. This was a great example of the vibe I got all day from the festival: have a great time but look out for each other.
Rise Against were up next, as the sun was getting lower in the sky. The Chicago punk-rock juggernaut opened with “Re-Education” off their 2008 album, before heading into “The Violence.” During “Give It All,” singer Tim McIlrath came down the barrier and shared vocal duties with fans, and soon had everyone pumping their fists in the air saying “rise, rise.” Their energetic set also saw Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s singer Spike Slawson join the band on stage. They wrapped up a stellar set list, with “Saviors,” which merged into a cover of “Crazy Train” in honor of the absent Ozzy Osbourne.
As the night set in, the two main stages would be ground zero for the biggest acts of the festival. Whilst most punters crowded in to see the back-to-back spectacle of Judas Preist and Slayer, I made the decision of head back to the Avalanche Stage to catch Sum 41, and then take in one of the festivals most talked-about acts, Ghost.
Sum 41 packed out the space, and singer Deryck Whibley was all smiles – clearly happy to be back in Australia again after 6 years. They played a mix of hits from the early 2000’s, such as “Motivation” and “The Hell Song.” The band loved to interact with the audience, bringing a few fans up onto the stage, and during “Underclass Hero” they even sent beachballs out into the crowd. Whibley and his bandmates played some Pantera in honor of Vinnie Paul’s birthday which then morphed into a cover of War Pigs in what was becoming a pattern of tributes to Ozzy. They rounded up their energetic set with two of their most popular singles, “In Too Deep” and “Fat Lip.”
The final act I would take in for the festival was Swedish band Ghost. I had heard a bit of buzz about the band but did not know what to expect. Straight away it was clear that Ghost are a unique live act. The eerie tune of the always-creepy “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” preceded the bands entrance and each member was wearing matching devil masks, all except the lead singer Tobias Forge who sashayed onto the stage wearing a strangely off-putting mask with blackened eyes. With a literal bang, they exploded into their first song “Rats.” Despite the masquerade and creepy lyrics, Ghost are much more fun than they are terrifying. Forge was striking poses, and the devil-guitarists took formation along the front of the stage in their matching suits and tails. Ghosts costumes and set design are as flamboyant as their catchy, metal pop sound!
And just like that, it was the end of Download Festival 2019! The festival proved to be well worth the ticket price, bringing some of the best crowd-pleasing rock, classic metal and the spectacle of some of the best international acts to Australia. Start saving now, as you will want to make the pilgrimage to the east coast for next year!