Review: Download Festival Australia at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, March 11 2019
Just two weeks shy of one year ago, the inaugural edition of Download Festival Australia kicked off in Melbourne. A rousing success, it was revealed back in 2018 that this year’s event would be expanded, with Sydney music-lovers getting their chance to rock out as well.
Following the announcement of a lineup that included icons of the genre such as Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, and Slayer as part of their final world tour, many other big names also joined this stunning bill.
However, just a few weeks ago, Download Festival received the awful news that Ozzy Osbourne would no longer be appearing due to a series of ongoing health issues. While this undoubtedly hampered the day for many, it didn’t stop the masses from descending upon the Victorian capital for a day they won’t soon forget.
Check out Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’:
With over 20,000 music-lovers flocking to Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse on this Labour Day Monday, it was clear that even the cancellation of Ozzy Osbourne couldn’t dampen their spirits. With Black Sabbath and Ozzy shirts out in full force, it was clear that even without his presence, the Godfather of Heavy Metal would still be well-represented.
As fans slowly made their way into the venue, it was Perth’s Voyager that helped kick things off on the main stage, helping serve up a brief set of high energy and powerful vocals before Tasmanian punks Luca Brasi took up residence on the Black Stage.
Starting their set with an atmospheric guitar line, it wasn’t long before this gave way to the group’s trademark punk sound, with the strong Aussie accent of Tyler Richardson shining through on each and every song.
Sadly though, Luca Brasi’s set was the first to showcase an ongoing problem for the main stage acts throughout the day, with the unrelenting wind catching the sound at times, making it harder for those not in the immediate mosh area to hear the bands on display.
As Luca Brasi finished up though, it was time for an all-too small crowd to head over to the Avalanche Stage, where English two-piece Slaves were busy tearing it up.
Dishing up a brutal sound with their no-fucks-given attitude, the duo were the total embodiment of what a punk group should be, exuding raw, primal energy during their songs, and taking the time to interact with their faithful audience between tunes.
Easily the most energetic band of the morning, guitarist Laurie Vincent bounced around the stage like his shoes were made of springs, while an equally-shirtless Isaac Holman pounded the drums like nobody’s business, shouting out their vocals with enough force to make a black hole blush.
Describing themselves as a “two-piece boy band from England”, it was clear to everyone in attendance that not only were Slaves deserving of a much longer set at a headline-worthy time, but that they would undoubtedly go down as one of the day’s best acts.
Check out Slaves’ ‘Cut And Run’:
Over on the main stage, US metalcore act I Prevail were busy doing what they do best, delivering a crushing set of anthems to their eager crowd,
However, the most exciting moment of their set undoubtedly came nearer to the end when they took a moment between tunes to reveal to fans that they would be back for another tour before the year is out.
While they noted it was supposed to be a surprise, it’s clear that their legions of Aussie followers will be quick to throw down cash to see this powerful group once again.
Before long, attention was quickly drawn over to the Black Stage, where a wall of amplifiers signalled the appearance of hometown heroes Airbourne. A late addition to the lineup, these rockers were in no way disadvantaged by the fact, kicking off a blistering set with their mission statement, 2013’s ‘Ready To Rock’.
Descending into a mix of hard rock and heavy metal anthems, the group were in fine form, with the vocals and guitarwork of frontman Joel O’Keeffe generating plenty of applause throughout the set.
Over on the smaller Dogtooth Stage though, High Tension were busy delivering a phenomenal set, and becoming the first band (to date) to have played every edition of Download Festival in Australia.
With the group’s unrelenting rhythms and rapid-fire guitarwork, High Tension undoubtedly served as one of the most popular Aussie acts of the day, drawing a massive crowd who came to view the powerful vocals of Karina Utomo on full display.
Check out High Tension’s ‘Rise’:
Back on the main stage, Polish blackened death metal outfit Behemoth were serving up the theatrics nice and early, with their enigmatic stage antics and iconic face paint drawing a huge crowd.
As fans came and went, eager to see these legends of the genre in full force, it was easy to get caught up in the group’s live show, with their stage presence and brutal sound transfixing almost anyone who came within hearing distance of the stage.
Over on the Avalanche Stage though, it was time for a bit of fun, with punk supergroup Me First And The Gimme Gimmes fulfilling the role of not just a cover band, but the cover band to witness live.
Kicking things off with Cher’s ‘Believe’, the group’s members were all dressed sharply in gold jackets and white pants, while frontman Spike Slawson took to the stage decked out in an all-gold suit.
Powering through covers by legends such as Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, and even John Denver, Slawson fulfilled his promise to us, delivering a new Aussie cover, this time by way of Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs’ ‘Most People I Know’.
However, the most memorable moment of the band’s set undoubtedly came through their cover of ‘Over The Rainbow’. While their version is quite remarkable to begin with, it’s to say that you’ve lived until you’ve seen a sea of tattooed heavy metal fans all singing in glorious unison to Judy Garland’s most iconic tune.
Check out Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ cover of ‘Most People I Know’:
Meanwhile, the main stage saw thrash metal icons Anthrax taking to the stage, opening their set with a tribute to late Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul, performing the opening riff of ‘Cowboys From Hell’ in honour of what would have been his 55th birthday.
Before long though, the metal icons powered through a brutal set consisting of classic tracks such as ‘I Am The Law’, ‘Evil Twin’, and ‘Indians. With vocalist Joey Belladonna’s iconic voice on full display, the likes of Scott Ian, Jon Donais, Charlie Benante, and Frank Bello delivered the frenetic energy needed to turn their set into a thrash metal history lesson.
However, with the reemergence of that classic ‘Cowboys From Hell’ riff near the end, Anthrax bade their farewell to the eager crowd, undoubtedly planning their return upon the completion of their next record.
On the Red Stage, Aussie icons The Amity Affliction soon found themselves front and centre, kicking off a mammoth set with 2018’s ‘Drag The Lake’.
Delivering huge powerful choruses, the metalcore legends switched between their trademark clean and scream sound with ease, whipping the crowd into a frenzy and proving why they’re one of the most beloved acts on the local heavy scene.
While flams signalled the beginning of ‘I Take The Weather With Me’, the Amity Affliction were forced to stop their set for a few minutes to find help for a distressed fan in the audience.
Following this unexpected break, they jumped right back into it, polishing off huge performances of classics like ‘Shine On’, ‘This Could Be Heartbreak’, and ‘Open Letter’, before closing out their set with a mammoth rendition of iconic tune ‘Pittsburgh’.
Check out The Amity Affliction’s ‘Pittsburgh’:
Meanwhile, Frenzal Rhomb were busy over on the Dogtooth Stage, with guitarist Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall opening their set with a cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train’.
Before long though, the irreverent punks were back at it, blasting through their own classic tracks like ‘Bird Attack’, and ‘Russell Crowe’s Band’, in addition to newer anthems such as ‘Cunt Act’ and ‘I’m Shelving Stacks (As I’m Stacking Shelves)’.
With their trademark fun-loving approach to their music and a tendency to basically do whatever the hell they want, Frenzal Rhomb’s live show stood in stark contrast to many of the more serious acts on display throughout the day.
While the Sydney punks were powering through their set, Chicago’s Rise Against hit up the main stage for a set full of high-energy punk tracks.
Although the group had only been in the country just over a year previously, some fans might have wondered what Rise Against could do to make this show even more exciting than the last. Thankfully, they weren’t waiting long to find out.
Opening their set with ‘Re-Education (Through Labor)’ and ticking off iconic tracks like ‘Prayer Of The Refugee’ and ‘Give It All’, the group also welcomed a couple of guests to the stage for a pair of cover tracks.
With War On Women‘s Shawna Potter joining for an electrifying cover of Black Flag’s ‘Rise Above’, frontman Tim McIlrath welcomed Me First And The Gimme Gimmes’ Spike Slawson to channel his inner Glenn Danzig, performing a rousing rendition of the Misfits’ ‘Hybrid Moments’.
Check out Rise Against’s ‘Prayer Of The Refugee’:
Back on the Avalanche Stage, California’s Pennywise made their presence known with a full-on aural assault of punk tunes. Kicking things off with ‘Peaceful Day’, it was clear that the band were here to dish out as many songs as possible in their short window of opportunity.
With their skate-punk jams providing a perfect moshing atmosphere, Pennywise also gave fans the chance for their voices to be well and truly heard, as the audience chanted the vocals of tracks like ‘Society’, ‘Fuck Authority’, and ‘Bro Hymn’ at full force.
As Pennywise played their set, crowds ebbed and flowed out of the area, with many clearly heading to the main stage again to witness the presence of grunge icons Alice In Chains.
Touring in support of their most recent record, Rainier Fog, the legendary rockers pumped out a set full of old and new tracks, with the classic tunes clearly resonating with the crowd the most.
Although any mention of Alice In Chains these days often attracts some derision from critics due to their reunited lineup, it’s clear that vocalist William DuVall is just as powerful as Layne Staley ever was, expertly tackling those iconic tracks and making them his own.
While mighty cheers rose up for the band’s penultimate track, ‘Would?’, it was clear that the set still had life left in it, as the opening chords of ‘Rooster’ indicated that a major singalong was about to close out this phenomenal performance.
Check out Alice In Chains’ ‘Would?’:
As Alice In Chains took their leave, English metal pioneers Judas Priest made their presence felt thanks to a pre-recorded version of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ over the P.A. system. As fans sang out to Ozzy Osbourne’s iconic vocals, the members of Judas Priest soon filled the stage, kicking things off with a huge performance of ‘Firepower’.
Attracting what was easily the biggest crowd of the day so far, it was clear that even after 50 years in the game, the group are still one of the biggest and most authentic metal acts going around.
With vocalist Rob Halford ditching his silver jacket for a trademark leather one, his soaring vocals were on full display as the group powered through a set full of legendary tracks, including ‘Running Wild’, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin”, ‘Painkiller’, and even topping off their encore with the classic ‘Breaking The Law’.
Back on the Avalanche Stage, Canadian punks Sum 41 were busy dishing out a powerhouse set to a tent so packed that it felt as though the mosh pit never ended.
With their fun-loving punk anthems on full display, the group powered through these tunes with such fury and ferocity, barely leaving fans a chance to catch their breath.
Easily one of the loudest sets of the day, Sum 41 also brought a few covers into their set, opening ‘Fake My Own Death’ with the intro for Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’, ripping into brief versions of Pantera’s ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, before running through a full-length version of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’.
As the band’s dedicated fans sang out to each and every song, even the police presence could be seen singing along, as raucous applause rang out for set closers ‘In Too Deep’, ‘Fat Lip’, and ‘Still Waiting’.
Check out Sum 41s ‘Fat Lip’:
Over on the Red Stage, it felt as though everyone at the festival had gathered to watch the group who had become the de facto headliners. Performing their penultimate Australian show as part of their final world tour, the mighty Slayer soon made their presence felt.
Kicking things off with ‘Repentless’, it was clear to almost everyone in the audience why this iconic thrash metal outfit were going to be missed when they finally pack it in.
With the stunning vocals of Tom Araya on full display, the blistering guitar solos of Kerry King were met with fire and flames, illuminating the night sky as screams of “SLAYER!” frequently filled the air.
Ripping though an unstoppable set full of classic tunes, songs like ‘War Ensemble’ and ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ were met with unmatched energy and headbanging from this dedicated crowd.
Despite a set time of 90 minutes, it felt over far too quickly, as a final run of iconic tunes like ‘Hell Awaits’, ‘South Of Heaven’, ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Chemical Warfare’, and ’Angel Of Death’ signalled the end of the legendary group’s set.
Undoubtedly though, Slayer are still a band at the top of their game, with the phenomenal nature of their live shows undoubtedly making their future absence all the more bittersweet.
Still, at least everyone who was lucky enough to see them on this final Australian jaunt will have all the brutal memories to look back on in the years to come.
Check out Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’:
Although it felt as though everyone had left the other stages to say farewell to Slayer, it was the duty of Swedish rockers Ghost to help close out the festival. Attracting a mighty crowd to the Avalanche Stage, the group delivered a set so full of energy and passion that it felt hard to look away for a single second.
Opening with 2018’s ‘Ashes’, vocalist Cardinal Copia led the audience as they worshipped at the altar of Ghost, keeping everyone hooked on his every word like the spiritual leader his name suggests.
“We’ve come to rock your socks off, if you’re wearing any,” he joked to the crowd between songs, almost completely removing himself from the menacing image portrayed on stage.
Before long though, Copia and his Nameless Ghouls were back at it, delivering crushing tunes to whet the appetite of any hard-rocking fan.
Closing out their set with the likes of ‘Dance Macabre’ and ‘Square Hammer’, it was clear to everyone who had witnessed Ghost’s set that they are so much more than the enigmatic Satanists the media often portrays them as, rather, they’re a genuine rock band hellbent on delivering the best show they possibly can.
Check out Ghost’s ‘Dance Macabre’:
With the second year of Download Festival in Australia now coming to a close, it appears as though this festival is set to become a staple of the summer music scene, providing another heavy metal event for the genre’s most dedicated fans.
As organisers revealed in the wake of the festival, this year’s edition ended up being another incident-free event, with emergency services explaining they were incredibly pleased with the behaviour of audience members.
Although fans might not have ended up seeing the mighty Ozzy Osbourne performing live, we were still treated to a tantalising mix of rock, punk, and heavy metal at every turn, with up-and-coming artists and icons of the genre performing with high levels of intensity throughout the day.
Needless to say, as the dust settles on another year of Download Festival, it’s pretty clear that fans have their sights set on what’s to come in 2020.