Live Review: Download Festival, Melbourne

Download Festival Australia
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Download Festival

Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne
Monday 11 March 2019

It’s not always easy settling on what you need for a festival. Is it going to rain? Should I pack a poncho? Sunglasses? Will they have sun block and water available? I know that at a recent festival in NZ attendees were not allowed to bring drinks, and the site ran out of water on a dangerously hot day. Will they accept a driver’s licence for ID, or do I need to take my passport?

Clearly most people didn’t put as much thought into it as I did. Melbourne had hit 38c just a week ago, but the black-clad crowds obviously didn’t seem fazed. But then again, this is Download, a descendent of legendary Donington – a Mecca for fans of heavy music from around the globe. It was a fairly stereotypical metal crowd: tattoos, studded belts, combat boots, leather and denim jackets adorned with patches. And of course: the obligatory black band t-shirt. Slayer was the most common name emblazoned on shirts that I noticed today, clearly influenced by the headlining act.

Download Dog

Upon arrival my friends and I took a quick photo inside the inflatable dog head (the festival mascot), and made our way to the mainstage for Luca Brasi. The Tasmanian punks had drawn a decent turn out for so early in the day, and judging from the amount of people singing along, many were long time fans.vin The attempt at a light show was entirely redundant in the middle of a sunny day, but the music was fun and set the tone well.

Like many festivals, the main stage was actually two stages stationed parallel [Red and Black], allowing for near continuous music. Stage techs on the left could set up and sound check while bands on the right performed, each side alternating throughout the day. The stages were flanked by two totem-like statues featuring the Download dog mascot, and a large screen was installed in the centre, allowing punters at the back a better view of what was happening.

We had a quick look around the rest of the site. It was fairly typical really: a selection of stages, plenty of food trucks selling future diarrhoea, a few stalls selling clothes and nerdy nic nacs, a merch stand, lines of port-a-loos, and plenty of bars. Great to see that the festival management were good hosts and made sure that water, sun block and ear plugs were freely available.

Next up we went to Slaves at the Avalanche stage. The Avalanche stage was a big tent, and easily the best stage at the festival, taking me back to the Boiler Room at Mt Smart, or Main Stage at dunk!festival last year. The reasons that tents like this work so well is because they provide shelter and shade from the elements, protecting us from sun/rain, and meaning there are less variables like wind that affect the audio mix. Light shows are also more effective during day time, seeing as they are darker. The downside is that the capacity can be more limited than an open air stage, and I’m guessing that it requires more set up, but I never thought this stage overcrowded when I was there throughout the day.

Slaves certainly had a unique approach. There were just two of them, both topless and heavily tattooed, giving their all with intensity. Isaac Holman played drums whilst standing – having converted a kick drum to a floor tom. Laurie Vincent played guitar.  The two shared vocal duties. It was high energy and reckless, the duo throwing themselves about the stage, bouncing off speakers and launching themselves into the crowd.

Fever 333 at Download

Next up were Fever 333, who followed on in a very similar vein to Slaves. Lead singer Jason Aaron Butler was led on stage wearing a jumpsuit and a bag over his head – imagery that wouldn’t look out-of-place in Guantanamo Bay. He was joined by guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta. All three of them have played in other successful bands, and their experience showed. It was a hectic brand of impassioned hardcore fused with extra intensity and politics. Many of the messages were about fighting – fighting to make shows a safe space for women, fighting against the NSW government who are trying to restrict live music, fighting for the rights of black people.

All three of them jumped around like mad men – even Improta, who jumped up on his drum throne on the regular. They even had us jumping – asking everyone to crouch down, and spring into the air after a countdown. One great section involved a “drum off” between Butler beat-boxing, and Improa on drums. Then Butler dived out into the crowd, ran the length of the tent and climbed the rigging for the lighting tower. I have no idea how long his microphone lead was, but I’m guessing at least 100 feet. Not to be outdone, Harrison began to climb the rigging on the side of stage, until he became slightly stuck, so jettisoned his guitar down onto the stage below. I loved the ferociousness of it all, and I think it’s fair to say the rest of the crowd did too. Easily a highlight of the day.

Whilst offering decent value for money, and an opportunity to see a range of artists play, festivals sometime feel less satisfying when the band you really want to see can only play a stunted set. But I didn’t feel that today, with many bands having a decent enough time slot to put on a good show.

Back out into the sunlight, and Polish death metal act Behemoth were on the mainstage. Not my thing. Looking at the crowd, many people love the Satanic shtick, but to me, raspy ‘evil’ vocals just sound pathetic, especially when you compare them to punchier shouted hardcore/punk style vocals. I’ll hand it to them though, their imagery made them stand out (spooky face paint and costumes) and they had cool pyrotechnics. The gimmick of being ‘shocking’ and ‘extreme’ just feels dated.

Time for a recharge: get something to eat and drink, reapply sun block, and risk the port-a-loos.

Truth be told, punk covers band Me First & The Gimme Gimmes were my prefered act for this time of the day, but I’m seeing them play a full set in Wellington this Thursday, so I thought I’d try something new. Many of my friends are big fans of Converge. I’ve tried listening to them in the past, and didn’t like it, but some bands are better live. I stayed for a few songs, still couldn’t get into it, so went to Anthrax.

Anthrax are one of the Big 4 – the four most notable thrash metal bands. The other three are Slayer (the festival headliners), Metallica and Megadeth (fronted by original Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine). Now I don’t listen to a great deal of any of those bands, but when the opportunity presents itself, you’d be foolish not to see them.

They were great, clearly veterans of the stage. In true metal fashion, the drummer had double bass drums and an excessive rack, and guitarist Scott Ian played a Flying V – the most metal (and one of the least practical) guitar shapes. You could see that they loved their job, with the leathery singer Charlie Benette and Ian taking turns to hype the crowd up. Their style of thrash is still centred around fast, heavy riffing, but takes a note from epic NWOBHM bands like Iron Maiden as well. Ian insisted on crowd participation. You can go nuts in the pit, you can nod your head, you can pump your fist, but everyone must move! They didn’t play many songs, but they sure hit the spot.

Amity Affliction took the next slot on mainstage. They played a decent set, although an incident up the front interrupted the set and caused the band to cease for some time. I think someone had fainted in the pit, and security we trying to remove them, but I couldn’t say for sure what happened. Despite the hold up, they played a suitably dynamic set, with great sound, and a mix of heavier songs to get the crowd moving and clean sing-alongs that elicited just as much involvement.

I met up with my friend Jason who had been tour managing Slaves earlier in the day, and we caught some of Alien Weaponry and Rise Against. A few years ago I had earmarked Alien Weaponry as the next success story, but never anticipated the extent to their success. They’ve spent the past year touring Europe and America, playing festivals and joining the likes of Ministry on the road. It has been almost a year since I reviewed their début album , and judging from the amount of views I still get from that article, I can tell that they are sustaining steady growth.

They may have played the smallest stage at Download, but the crowd was spilling out of the confines of the allocated space. I am proud of them for bringing their unique style of Māori-infused thrash metal to the world, and it was a blast shouting along to their rallying war cries as they played.

I’ve seen Rise Against four times in the past, and although they are one of my favourite artists, I think they’re stronger as a studio band then as live performers. That said, the sound mix at Download was better than I’ve come to expect from them, and they still come across as seasoned players. Nothing is ever as good as listening to some of your favourite songs from your formative years, and they made sure to touch on a mix of songs new and old. Special mention to the section of Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid” that they slotted into “Savior”, likely as a tribute to Ozzy Osbourne, the billed headliner who had to cancel due to health issues.

Grunge giants Alice In Chains were one of my big drawcards to this event. I’d read good reviews of their Auckland show the previous week, which only served to whet my appetite even more. And boy, did they deliver! Lead singer William DuVall will never be able to escape the shadow of original singer Layne Staley, whose substance abuse and subsequent death effectively ended the band in the 90’s. And although Duvall has recorded as many albums with AiC as Staley had, people still ask if he is fit to fill Stayley’s boots?

Short answer: yes. He nailed the older material. He didn’t try to emulate his predecessor, but made the songs his own while remaining true to the what the fans knew. As you can imagine, tracks like “Down In A Hole”, “Would?” and “Rooster” all went down a treat, but I can attest that new material stood up just as well alongside the classics.

It was just approaching dusk toward the end of Alice In Chains’ set, finally rendering the stagelights effective. An some of the original giants of metal: Judas Priest sure made the most of it.

When it comes to Judas Priest, everything is excessive. The stage set, the costumes, the drum kit, the sheer power of the music… it’s all epic. Rob Halford reappropriated the leather and studs from gay culture and pioneered the eternal metal wardrobe. And tonight he showed us how loyal he was to that look, with aviator sunglasses, leather gloves, and a range of leather jackets.

They’re a quintessential metal band, with the sound and look dialled just so. I was loving every minute. But I had a tough call to make. As great as they were, I’ve already seen Priest play at Westfest in Auckland a few years back. And my teenage nostalgia was craving some Sum 41, who I’ve never seen live. It’s the scheduling clash I struggled most with, but I think I made the best call I could have.

We timed it perfectly, arriving at the Avalanche tent just before Sum 41 played “Walking Disaster”, my favourite song of theirs. Sometimes you need to be strategic about which acts to see at a festival, and thankfully I could use Setlist.FM to look up sets from the Download Festival in Sydney on Saturday to inform my choices.

Singer Deryck Whibley commanded the stage like a pro, controlling both the band and the crowd at his whim. It was even more fun than I’d hoped – the great music combined with well rehearsed showmanship. Like Rise Against, they threw a few covers into the set (Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall”, Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”), the most notable being Queen’s “We Will Rock You”, which was so punked up that I didn’t recognise it until they hit the chorus.

They concluded with hits “In Too Deep”, “Fat Lip” and “Still Waiting”, which is what most of us were hoping to hear.

It was a hard decision missing most of Judas Priest’s set. I didn’t see Halford ride his Harley Davidson, but I did see them play “Breaking The Law” upon returning to the main stage, which was a great consolation.

Sadly for me, the night had peaked by that point. I got to shout silly things like “metal” and “Slaaayer” in falsetto when Slayer came on, but they didn’t have enough groove or dynamics to make we want to stick around.

I had been trying to figure out Ghost’s appeal leading up to the festival, and hadn’t worked out why people like them yet. Was it the same lame Satan shtick? Because at least Behemoth sounded plausible. Ghost’s sound didn’t match their image or reputation. I’d been watching Ghost videos on YouTube and it’s like they were trying to emulate Dynasty era KISS by playing disco tunes while dressing spooky.

Thankfully they fared better live. They had a decent stage set, which always helps (Rammstein are worth seeing for their stage set and pyro alone, even despite their music). The drums and bass sounded good, and riffs stood out a lot more than in the videos I’d heard. The singing was still a joke though. I said I’d give them three songs to prove themselves. Well, they were OK – better than I expected, but still not interesting enough to warrant sticking around any longer.

Halestorm proved to be the most worthwhile of the last three bands of the night. They played hard, shredding away and putting on a performance that focused on musicality over presentation. The drummer had some interesting tones from a slightly unconventional set-up, and the guitarists clearly knew their stuff. unfortunately singer Lzzy Hale was losing her voice. She put a heroic effort in, but wasn’t quite hitting her mark. This didn’t take away from the overall experience though.

All in all, it was a fantastic day. My friend and I discussed our day on the train trip home and we realised that we hadn’t encountered any dickheads. No aggro, no shoving, no spilling beer on us. People were respectful, gave space when they could, and all looked after each other. And that’s better than I’ve come to expect from most gigs, let alone one the size of Download. But it all came together: the weather was good, the line up of bands was excellent, the crowds respectful, and the overall experience was excellent.

It’s a real shame that Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t play. He had been one of the big drawcards for me. But you can’t hold it against anyone that he got sick, and it was still a fantastic event.

I may just have to fly back to Australia for Download next year as well!

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Alien Weaponry – Tū

Alien Weaponry Tū
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Mythical Māori figure Tūmatauenga is known as the god of war, among other things. That should give you a fair idea of what to expect when considering that metal trio Alien Weaponry have named their debut album after him.

 commences with “Waikōrero”, a haunting welcome recorded in some Waipu caves. The air hisses and hums as a purerehua [Māori bullroarer – literally translates as moth/butterfly] spins around overhead, while koauau [traditional flute] pierces the atmosphere with shrillness. Henry de Jong recites a welcome in his native tongue. This is how you set the mood.

Which makes the hard-hitting aggressive nature of first song “Rū Ana Te Whenua” all the more powerful by comparison “Listen up!” they cry: hear our message! Cue savage riffs and frenetic blast beats as they chant about the forces of nature unleashing. Death is coming! They reference caves where the dead lie resting, possibly similar to the caves where they recorded the “Waikōrero”. All this mention of death and destruction works in well with the heavy nature of the music, especially considering the warrior-like cries that the band emulate. The boys derived inspiration for the track from the stories of their tupuna [ancestor], Te Ahoaho, who fought the British at a notable battle of Pukehinahina (Gate Pa) in 1864.

I should mention that most songs on this album are not sung in English. New Zealand has two official languages: Te Reo Māori, and NZ Sign Language. [Surprisingly English isn’t an “official” language of NZ, although may as well be considered so by default]. Obviously sign isn’t going to feature in audio music recordings. And Māori is criminally under-represented.

Which makes Alien Weaponry unique, even within New Zealand. Sure, we’ve got a few token songs sung in te reo that charted here and there. Taika Waititi’s film Boy brought “Poi E” back to public conscious in 2010. I still remember the goosebumps I got when watching Tiki Tane perform “Tangaroa” at the NZVMAs as a teenager. Personally, the only use of reo I had in my music collection before Alien Weaponry was Kerretta using a karanga on “Kawea Tātou Ki Ngā Hiwi“.

This is obviously a big point of difference for the band. And it’s done with authenticity. The haunting mournful cries reflect karanga, and the strong chants could be compared to haka and war songs. They even use traditional instruments, which are effective in setting the tone as well as adding cultural value to the music.

Don’t let this put you off. You may not understand it all (I don’t), but this does little to detract from the music. I think it enhances the music by adding unique elements. Half of the tracks on the album are written in English anyway, with many songs also featuring dual languages.

Alien Weaponry

Lewis de Jong playing in Porirua on Waitangi Day. Image: Joseph James (Will Not Fade)

They touch on some heavy themes. “Holding my Breath” looks at struggling with anxiety, “PC Bro” explores the effects of social media, and how we can create false realities through it, and “Nobody Here” also explores the addictive nature of it. Fighting racism and retaining cultural identity are themes woven all throughout.

There’s also more than a few nods to their whakapapa [family history], with references to pre-colonial times and New Zealand historical events that happened once the European settlers arrived. “Kai Tangata” – the name a reference to war parties and cannibalistic practice – looks at how one Ngapuhi iwi [tribe] slaughtered another iwi with the use of muskets, which obviously outmatched traditional weapons that Te Arawa possessed. “Urutaa” tells a tale of how Europeans brought illness that Māori had no immunity against, which led to misunderstanding and paranoia.

“Raupatu” – the standout track on the album – is heavy, memorable and features a brutal breakdown. It translates as “Confiscated”, and discusses how the colonist government stole the lands from the native peoples, and set about trying to destroy Māori rights and identity. For many years Māori children were beaten at school for speaking their own language, the language that Alien Weaponry sing. But the message from the bridge is unmistakable:

“You take and take 
But you cannot take from who we are 
You cannot take our mana – (dignity)
You cannot take our māoritanga – (cultural identity)
You cannot take our people 
You cannot take our whakapapa – (family heritage)
You cannot take, you cannot take 
Raupatu!”

One criticism (if you can call it that) is that the sample at the start of “Whispers” is an interview with prominently racist politician Don Brash. The problem with this is that he is a lazy and ignorant man, and mispronounces the word ‘Māori’. I just wonder if international listeners would think that this is correct pronunciation, considering that they’d have no reason to know otherwise.

The production is decent. Tom Larkin from Shihad played a part in production, which earns them bonus points from me. I could certainly see an extra guitar coming in useful for filling out the sound, but they trio sound damn good for just a a three piece. And although it is thrash metal, they use dynamics well, as well as the traditional Māori instruments already mentioned, so it’s not all just a chug-fest that gets tired quick.

Put simply – this is an incredible release. A strong statement both musically and thematically, and all the more impressive when you consider that three school boys are behind it all. I am proud of Alien Weaponry for what they have achieved to date (including raising over USD $12,000 to record this album, and signing to Napalm Records), and can only see them gaining more success as they introduce their strong cultural identity to the world.


Alien Weaponry links:

Website: http://alienweaponry.com

Bandcamp: https://alienweaponry.bandcamp.com/album/t-2

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/alienweaponry

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlienWeaponry

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AlienWeaponry

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alienweaponry/

 

Joseph James

See also:

NGĀ TAMATOA WAIATA: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALIEN WEAPONRY (November 2017)

Lost Between The Sound: An Interview With P.O.D’s Marcos Curiel

POD 2018 NZ Tour Poster
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Marcos Curiel has lots to be grateful for. He’s the founding guitarist of P.O.D (Payable On Death), the San Diego nu-metal crew formed in 1992 who boast three Grammy nominations and over 12 million record sales. He strikes me as modest, downplaying his achievements and humbly attributing any success he’s had to his fans and “the beauty of music”.

When I ask him about the longevity of his band, he deflects the focus away from the band and towards his fans.

We are very gracious and thankful for this and to fans that are so loyal. Whether in South America, Europe, here in the states or even Australia or New Zealand. People still come up see us doing our thing and we are still riding that wave until that wave stops.”

But he’s also quick to credit his band members and crew for P.O.D’s success as well.

“I think a lot of it comes from our upbringing – having the same sort of background – basically coming from nothing. And just aspiring to want to play music for people and just doing it, acting out on it and building a following. We were independent before we signed to a major label and kept saying that there was an audience there for what we were doing. It encouraged us to continue to do it and encourages us to keep doing it today even though we are 25, 26 years deep. 

“We are definitely a second family on the road. We were basically teenagers when we started jamming together. Now we are full on grown men with kids and families of our own. P.O.D is our second family, you know what I mean? We’re probably together more as a band then we are with our own family sometimes. You know, we travel the world together. We are in an airplane, we’re in a bus… we are always travelling together as a band and with our crew”

Curiel is also a fan of New Zealand, having come several times in the past decade. Last time they co-headlined with NZ act Rapture Ruckus. Before that they’ve toured with Disturbed and played Edgefest. He begins the interview just gushing about our country.

“Given the opportunity, if I had to leave the states and go somewhere else to live and I always say New Zealand. . . Maybe I could even retire there.”

In recent years P.O.D have tried new directions, putting out an acoustic record (SoCal Sessions, 2014), and a concept album (The Awakening, 2015). I ask if the latest single, “Soundboy Killa” will be part of any upcoming album and Curiel admits that he isn’t sure at this stage.

“Well that is kind of a transitional single kind of thing  We put that kind of to let our fanbase know that hey we’re working on new music, we’re still here – you know what I mean? I don’t even know if that’s going to make the record. Some people are like ‘That should go on the record!’, and we’re like ‘well… you never know…’ We’ll figure it out.

“Actually, we just signed a new deal with Mascot Labels. And they’ve taken us on, and hopefully releasing the new album in the summertime here in the States. We’re currently writing and working on pre-production which started in November. We were in the studio last week and we’re working through December, but we’re taking time off for holidays and we’re going to jump back in in January and head on tour here in the States. And jump back in and hopefully record that record in March and drop it in the summer.

“It’s been pretty cool, because we usually get one producer to do the whole record and on this album we’re working with different producers and different production crews. We’re working with HEAVY – they’ve done stuff with Sublime, The Dirty Heads. .. Just a bunch of different artists. And we’re working with Cameron Webb – he’s produced NOFX, Pennywise, Motorhead… He’s actually the producer of Soundboy Killer.

“We’re just trying different things, man. We’re at a stage in our career that we don’t really have to go out and say ‘hey, look at us, we’re a band.’ You know who we are and you either like us or you don’t. We have freedom to be able to experiment and do what we want, how we want to do it. Which, quite frankly, is pretty awesome.”

One interesting fact about P.O.D that draws attention is that they collaborated with the then-unknown Katy Perry for their song “Goodbye For Now” back in 2005. This remains a seemingly hot piece of trivia, despite the fact that the band have also collaborated with many other artists from acts like In This Moment, Suicidal Tendencies and Bad Brains.

Curiel wasn’t part of the band during that period, so never actually met her. He tells me what he knows about the collaboration though.

“They were working with Glen Ballard for Testify and she was one of his protegés – so to speak – that he was trying to get up and get out there in the scene. She was always hanging around the studio and wanted to go on a track. The guys became friends with her and she actually performed on the song on The Jay Leno Show, I believe. That’s how that all came to be. She will occasionally tweets about the band, tweet out how much she loves ‘Alive’ and certain songs. That’s pretty cool.”

POD are known as a Christian band, which earns them flack from both atheists and churches. In my experience, non-believers are often quick to condemn anyone of faith. And many conservative churches dismiss POD because of the company they choose to keep, playing along the likes of Marylin Manson and at metal festivals such as Ozzfest.

Marcos virtually scoffs when I ask him about this.  “Do you know what’s crazy about that? I call it scenester stuff,” he explains, “I know vegans who are in hardcore bands, and I’m like, so what… you’re only gong to play with hardcore vegan bands? No, they’re playing with all different types of bands – you know what I’m saying?

I understand, I explain, my friends in Declaration AD used to get similar criticism. People would question their motives, asking things like “Why would a band of Christians choose to play alongside death metal bands? This strikes a chord with Curiel. He proceeds to explain that he tries to write music for all walks of life, not just Christians.

Christian people maybe want to hold themselves to be the poster children, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We want to write music that inspires everybody. And so we took an approach that we’ll play most of the shows, because we want to play for everybody.

“But as far as being caught in the middle – we don’t look at it like that. We are a band of faith. Definitely we have our personal beliefs. We try to write music that connects with multiple cultures and different types of people.

“I think that’s the beautiful thing about being an artist. There’s people who are gonna understand your art, and some that won’t. The thing is, we’ve never really tried to become, at an early age we were a little more – so to speak – old in the faith. We never knew there was metal, or punk rock or any kind of scene that was a Christian scene. The band that we referred to as a major influence was U2. We’ve always look at them as inspiration. They had Christian roots and have written songs that are very conscient of humanity, or being positive in general, and we’re taken that approach – obviously playing a different style of music.

“And when we went to Singapore we found ourselves playing in front of Muslims. And they were singing ‘Alive’! And we were like ‘What the heck!’, we were tripping out at it. But at the same time, that’s the beautiful thing about music – it’s universal.

“What we get our inspiration and a lot of our confidence. First of all, it comes from that Chrstian faith, but we don’t go out and say ‘Hey, we’re this and that’s who we are.’ We’re just a rock band, man, that wants to inspire . We have our struggles and try to write songs about those struggles and we try to encourage all walks of life.

“The Beastie Boys, towards the end of their career they all about Free Tibet, and Jay was a Buddist, and they were playing with everybody, from Pearl Jam to Jane’s Addiction.

“You know how it is. Music should be universal. People have certain beliefs that drive their music, and that just happens to be ours.”

POD

I feel that the way he concludes the interview is incredibly indicative of his character: positive and humble.

“We’re excited to get down there. We love your country and everything about the culture – the energy – and we cant wait to get down there and perform. Bring some Southern California vibes down there!”


P.O.D Australia/ NZ Tour Dates

Saturday 14 April          Auckland The Studio

Sunday 15 April            Wellington San Fran

Buy tickets for New Zealand: https://metropolistouring.com/pod-nz/

Tuesday 17 April          Melbourne 170 Russell

Wednesday 18 April     Adelaide The Gov

Friday 20 April              Sydney Factory Theatre

Saturday 21 April         Brisbane Eatons Hill Hotel

Sunday 22 April           Gold Coast Coolangatta Hotel

Buy tickets for Australia: https://metropolistouring.com/pod/

P.O.D links:

Website: http://www.payableondeath.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/POD/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/POD

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/POD/