With the rock festival graveyard expanding significantly in 2016 with the implosion of Soundwave, Newcomer Unify offered solace for heavy music lovers with its sophomore edition going from strength to strength.

Marketed as ‘a heavy music gathering’, the sold-out boutique 2-dayer returned to it’s South Gippsland home in Tarwin Meadows – this time inviting an additional 2,000 punters along for the party.

Unify divides its festivities into a Saturday ‘Marathon’ and Sunday ‘Matinee’, with day one providing an all-day onslaught of tunes from across the broad hard-rock spectrum.

Early in the afternoon, Melbourne’s Ocean Grove put on a strong performance sure to bolster their steadily growing fanbase while Perth veterans Make Them Suffer brought the brutality early with their ferocious blend of blackened death metal and hardcore.

Set-times were kept relatively short throughout the day, with non-headliners performing mostly 30-minute samplers of their varied back-catalogues. A single stage-operation, changeovers were a succinct 20 minutes, broken up by refreshing airplay of multi-generational guitar-tunes from the likes of Metallica, Blink-182, A Day to Remember and local stoner-punks Violent Soho.

These breaks saw a constant ebb and flow of punters from the campground to the stage, with many sneaking off to take full advantage of the festival’s BYO policy and enjoy a quick tinnie in-between sets.

For those inclined to stay in the arena, food and drink was very reasonably priced by festival standards, with the local Tarwin Lower community chipping in some killer cook-ups for all to enjoy.

Haunting cuts from Dream on Dreamer’s latest effort Songs of Soulitude proved ethereal and captivating in a live setting, with hundreds emerging from the campgrounds for the first-time to bolster the steadily growing crowd. It was then time to say goodbye to Confession, playing their final Victorian show at Unify.

Funny bugger frontman Michael Crafter called out Winston McCall’s new bleach blonde haircut as resembling Justin Bieber – the Parkway Drive frontman joining Crafter on the mic for ‘Fuck Cancer.’ Confession had their share of hiccups and ex-members throughout their 7 years of existence, but they maintained an unwavering presence in the scene and will surely be missed by many.

Alt-rockers Hand Like Houses were next to the stage, and frontman Trenton Woodley was quick to point out that their music was going to stretch the umbrella of ‘a heavy music gathering.’ That point was well and truly up for debate though, for what they lacked in raw brutality, the Canberra boys more than made up for with punishing energy.

Hands Like Houses are a band that have actually been more successful off-shore, carving a sizeable name for themselves in the US with their first two full-length efforts. However, following a multitude of support slots and regular Triple J play of latest single ‘New Romantics’, it was evident at Unify that Aussies are finally starting to take notice.

As the crowds grew throughout the day, unfortunately so did the amount of dirt stirred up in the air, steadily increasing to a thick cloud of dust extending from the front of the stage back to the campground.

Event organisers might want to look in to spraying down the dirt in the lead-up to future events, while the crowd were far from deterred, it did get pretty hard to breathe in the pit. As the sky began to darken, New Yorkers Stray From The Path made history as the first international act to take the Unify stage, finishing up a headlining run around the country to complement an otherwise home-grown day of music.

Now moving into headliner territory, the crowd quickly doubled in size for Tonight Alive. Jenna McDougall is a titan of the stage, commanding attention and staking her claim as one of Australia’s most powerful frontwomen in a fiery, captivating performance.

With pop-punk sensitivities shrouded in crushing riffs, the moshpit antics are hardly diminished at all, particularly when it comes to hard-hitters like ‘The Edge.’ The Band even provide a little fan service with a throwback to their breakthrough single ‘Wasting Away.’

In Heart’s Wake were welcomed back to their second Unify, bolstering their setlist with new material from latest effort Skydancer. Those who got to experience the band at the 2015 edition were quite vocal in expressing their excitement for round two, and the band do little to disappoint. The Byron Bay quartet have been playing music for almost 10 years now, but in recent years they have really matured and carved a special place for themselves in a new frontier of Australian heavy music, gaining well deserved attention alongside the likes of UNFD label-mates Northlane.

One of several bands to pay tribute to the recent deaths of Lemmy Kilmister, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, the band quieted things down with their stripped back Like A Version rendition of their Earthwalker original ‘Wildflower’, a chilling set highlight.

Headliners Parkway Drive entered their most ambitious and experimental era yet with latest album Ire, and while the word ‘divisive’ has been often used to describe it, it seems that in a live setting its tracks are anything but. Thousands of bodies jumped around in unison to opening track ‘Destroyer’, welcoming Australia’s most-loved metalcore band to their first 2016 show.

Their setlist spanned all five of their studio albums with classic cuts like ‘Carrion’ and ‘Romance is Dead’ thrown in not just for nostalgia, but because they still hold as much weight live as they did on release. From the gigantic circle pit of ‘Karma’ to moshpit wheelie bins, the erratic crowd ate up every second of Parkway’s set, further cementing their place as one of Australia’s most exciting live acts.

With late-night antics rife amongst the campground after Parkway’s set, very few emerged looking like actual humans for Sunday’s matinee. Dirty and drained, the strongly diminished crowd were treated to a more relaxed afternoon of music from the likes of international pop-punkers Neck Deep and State Champs, as well as a small Aussie contingent.

The second-coming of Unify was exceptionally well run, leaving very little to complain about outside of all the dirt. But then, as Winston McCall put it ‘It’s not an Australian festival unless it’s covered in dirt and there’s a tiger snake out the back of the stage.’ With two consecutive success stories, and a sizeable gap to fill in the heavy festival market, a strong Unify 2017 is a safe bet.

Check out the full photo gallery here.