Australian Guitar - - Axes In Action -

Though the UNIFY camp­ing fes­ti­val has soft­ened the blow con­sid­er­ably, riff ad­dicts Down Un­der have yearned for a Sound­wave gap-filler since its un­timely demise in 2015. En­ter one of Earth’s most prodi­gious shred-a-thons: the moth­erf***ing Down­load Fes­ti­val. Though a scaled-down jaunt com­pared to its UK coun­ter­part, the one-day Aus­tralian im­port kicked off with a down­pour and swel­ter combo that ver­i­ta­bly screamed, “Wel­come to Melbourne!” The sticky weather didn’t throw pun­ters off their game, though, as punks, met­al­heads and moshlords all poured into the grounds in giddy and over-caf­feinated droves.

While they were the last band to grace (or de­file) our eardrums, we need to get this out of the way right off the bat: for all the fears of their head­line sta­tus be­ing un­re­quited, Korn more than proved them­selves a wor­thy crescendo. Their 90-minute set was jam-packed with fan favourites, axe-wield­ers James ‘Munky’ Shaf­fer and Brian ‘Head’ Welch tear­ing through a backto-back as­sault of bangers from the in­stantly chantable “Rot­ting In Vain” to the in­dis­putable teen angst an­them “Freak On A Leash”.

Nü-metal it­self was given an am­i­ca­ble spot­light, with fel­low ‘90s icons Limp Bizkit draw­ing a horde of nos­tal­gic pit fiends to the main­stage – it’s just a shame their set was em­bar­rass­ingly bad. Lo­cal trail­blaz­ers Ocean Grove fol­lowed in their stylis­tic foot­steps, but the young guns were quick to show they had a wealth of youth­ful tal­ent to tap into. Their early arvo set – a show­case of cuts from last year’s genre-crush­ing TheRhap­sodyTapes – bled pure in­ten­sity from start to end, riffs as vi­cious as the pits they brewed.

Of course, it wasn’t just the Od­dworld over­lords that made Aus­tralia’s pres­ence on the lineup felt. North­lane’s fi­nal set on home ground was al­most up­set­tingly good, with djent-tinged pulls from Josh Smith and Jon Dei­ley staunchly test­ing the PA’s re­silience. Me­tal­core ma­ni­acs Make Them Suf­fer and punch­core unit Clowns brought with them en­ergy in abun­dance, too, any last drops of which were promptly sucked out from the crowd with an un­for­giv­ing and un­for­get­table set cour­tesy of Tassie grind masters Psy­crop­tic.

A clear high­light in the mix of lo­cal acts came with a ca­reer-defin­ing set from Novo­cas­trian emo-punks Tro­phy Eyes. The UNFD goal-kick­ers squeezed a truly gar­gan­tuan crowd into the Avalanche tent, their fiery hooks and tow­er­ing cho­ruses rip­ping even the most stoic of by­standers off their feet. It was an up­lift­ing vibe that car­ried on with­out a hic­cup, thanks an un­ex­pect­edly solid pop-punk pres­ence. Neck Deep and The Story So Far both shined with their melodic ar­dour, the whole she­bang peak­ing with an even­ing set from the most ques­tion­able band on the ros­ter: Good Charlotte?

De­spite a rocky start to their hour­long sin­ga­long, the hon­ourary lo­cals were crush­ing it by song three. Even the diehard met­al­heads threw a wind­mill to un­equiv­o­cal clas­sics like “The An­them” and “I Just Wanna Live”. The quin­tet also raised the ques­tion of why Down­load needs its 18+ re­stric­tion, with pun­ters

on the cusp of their 20s band­ing to­gether for what might’ve been the most tem­pes­tu­ous boo­gie in metal fest his­tory. Acts like Fall­ing In Re­verse and Is­sues ap­pealed sim­i­larly to the younger crew among us, and with an all-ages crowd, it’s with­out a doubt they’d fill a tent.

Of Mice & Men were an­other draw­card for ex­pats of the MyS­pace era, though it can be ar­gued they’ve evolved into more of a proper metal band with the omis­sion of ex-front­man Austin Carlile (his role now han­dled by bassist Aaron Pauley). And since this was the Down­load Fes­ti­val, af­ter all, “real” metal was in no short sup­ply. Mastodon and Go­jira put the ‘heavy’ in ‘heavy­weights’, their nox­ious rum­bles and glit­ter­ing so­los cours­ing through their crowds like a tsunami from hell. Mastodon gui­tarist Brent Hinds was no­tably em­i­nent, his fevered string abuse noth­ing short of spine-rat­tling.

Ditto for death-met­allers Arch En­emy, who brought the Dog­tooth stage to a stand­still with front­woman Alissa White-Gluz spew­ing only the gori­est of gut­turals. There was a blaz­ing sig­nif­i­cance that en­veloped her per­for­mance – es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing she was one of only three women in a lead­ing role on the 24-band ros­ter (an is­sue we’d love to see ad­dressed with a more di­verse Down­load ’19 lineup).

The sole all-fe­male band on show were the enig­matic punk war­riors in Bad Cop/Bad Cop. It’s easy to see why they’ve cap­tured the eye of genre icons NOFX – they car­ried on their torch with a bright, youth­ful en­ergy that, as proved by a show-clos­ing set hours later, their men­tors sim­ply don’t have any­more. That said, NOFX still man­aged to squeeze out some of their old school spark. The dy­namic be­tween front­man Fat Mike and rhythm shred­der Eric Melvin was as sprightly as its ever been, the pair trad­ing as many jokes as they did melodies.

On the heav­ier side of the punk spec­trum, High Ten­sion tore the god­damn roof off with their long-awaited come­back. A harsher shot of AM adren­a­line than any espresso could ever de­liver, Ka­rina Utomo’s vo­cals soared, sharp and bloody over a land­mine of wail­ing juts from gui­tarist Mike Deslan­des. Their mosh was one of the most in­tense we saw, but com­pared to the all-out chaos that pow­ervi­o­lence out­let Nails dis­patched, it may as well have been a quiet brunch in the gar­dens. The Cal­i­for­nian gods of tur­moil hit us with an on­slaught of shred void of any room to breathe, cuts from their YouWill Nev­erBeOneOfUs al­bum leav­ing a last­ing im­pact on their un­sus­pect­ing crowd.

Above it all stood one act in par­tic­u­lar: the overtly con­tro­ver­sial – both po­lit­i­cally and in con­cept – Prophets Of Rage. With fists raised high and whammy bars in full ef­fect, the rap-metal su­per­group’s hour­long set was a roller­coaster of chaos from start to fin­ish. Tom Morello might just be the most im­pen­e­tra­ble ax­e­man alive, too – ev­ery scat­ter­paced solo and fevered jam was bat­tered out with un­godly pre­ci­sion, and mak­ing not a sin­gle crack in his ex­pres­sion through­out, he brought the fes­ti­val’s most im­pas­sioned shredding to life.

There was room for im­prove­ment, all things con­sid­ered – lines were un­bear­able, se­cu­rity lacked and we could do with a lineup that takes a few more risks – but for the first shot at a risky con­cept, Aus­tralia’s de­but Down­load was a rip­ping suc­cess. The cel­e­bra­tion of bru­tal­ity is set to re­turn in 2019, with Melbourne and Syd­ney dates on the cal­en­dar. Catch you in the pit?



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