Could the Download Festival take Soundwave’s place? We look at some highlights from the inaugural event in Melbourne

Saturday saw thousands of metal, punk and heavy music fans pour into Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse for the debut of the Download Festival. The first time the renowned music event has been produced in Australia, the line up boasted an eclectic mix, from Amon Amarth to Prophets of Rage, through to Good CharlotteNOFX and Limp Bizkit.

With the Australian music festival scene without a big player to represent for the heavy and metal community (UNIFY aside), Download is eyeing up the gaping hole left by Soundwave some years ago. It’s possibly too early to tell how the festival is going to expand or continue to build on its branding, but as far as first events go, the inaugural Download Festival on our east coast was one that went out with a bang and a growl, instead of a whimper.

Many highlights were produced throughout the event’s duration, but here are some of ours from on ground.

Trophy Eyes (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Trophy Eyes

The semi-regular visits that Newcastle’s Trophy Eyes have been making to Melbourne seem to have culminated in their biggest crowd to date. Possibly seeking shelter from the rain, but more-than-likely gathering for sing-a-longs, a large crowd, packed out the undercover Avalanche stage for the band’s set.

Back to back tracks from their latest full-length, Chemical Miracle, rendered frontman John Floreani near pointless as the crowd assumed the job of main vocals. The most significant reception was saved for the group’s latest single, “Hurt”, a song built for crowd chanting that comes across much heavier in a live setting as opposed to the studio version. The set closed once again with the crowd carrying the final verse to Trophy Eye’s swan song, “Chlorine”, and the likely need for a bigger venue on the group’s next visit.

Amon Amarth (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Amon Amarth

The only thing better than the fact that Amon Amarth only sing about Vikings is the fact that they do it straight-faced the whole time. When vocalist Johan Hegg raises a giant Viking war hammer during the blistering “First Kill”, you get the feeling there is no intended irony in what the band does. They are actual Vikings.

Kicking the afternoon off on the main stage, Sweden’s new-age Vikings had a legion of followers drinking local Meade and summoning the God of Thunder along with them. Focusing on their 2016 release, Jomsviking, while skipping around their intense ten album back catalog, all fur-laced horn hats were removed to allow for vicious head-banging. We wish Amon Amarth safe passage as they board their ship to pillage the next continent.

Download Festival (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Neck Deep

Neck Deep, one of the few bands on the bill flying the pop-punk banner, offered a little reprieve from the down-tuned metal screams that dominated the day. Their hooks are infectious, especially from the newest material of last year’s The Peace and the Panic.

“This one is for Mark Hoppus,” proclaimed vocalist Ben Barlow before launching into set highlight “December”, from 2015’s Life’s Not out to Get You, a song that usually features the Blink 182 frontman. Neck Deep are bouncy, fun, melodic, and reminded the audience that happy can still be heavy.

Download Festival (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Mastodon

If Mastodon were food, they would be too thick and dense to digest. There is a reason why these guys moonlight as White Walkers. Kicking things off with “Sultan’s Curse”, a driving, blistering metal anthem from their latest record Emperor of Sand, the four-piece explained early on why they are one of metal’s finest.

Their set charged along with thunderous riffs from tracks like “Ember City” and “Steambreather”, but it was the classic “Blood and Thunder” that closed the show as the set highlight. The fast-paced thrash metal banger has the audience screaming in unison for its anthemic chorus leaving their rabid fan-base hungry for more of metal’s favourite beast.

The Story So Far (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

The Story So Far

The Story So Far kicked things off with their latest single “Out of It”, a swinging, punchy song that immediately excited their modest crowd. Frontman Parker Cannon seemed more reserved than he has in past shows but delivered one of the better vocal performances of the day.

There was a healthy spread of tracks from the group’s three records with highlights “Heavy Gloom” and set closer “Quicksand” showing how tight this band is in a live setting. The Story So Far are excellent contenders to take the every-word-sung-by-audience award from Trophy Eyes.

Limp Bizkit (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Limp Bizkit

Say what you will about Limp Bizkit, but they sure are fun. Kicking things off with “Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavoured Water”, the Jacksonville natives reminded everyone just how many hits they have. “Rollin’” and “My Generation” had the mosh pit jumping in unison before a fan was pulled up on stage to attempt the vocal duties on the George Michael cover “Faith” (he embarrassingly didn’t know the words). “If I weren’t vegan I’d eat you all alive,” proclaimed a happy Fred Durst and the band played a brutal version of “Eat You Alive”, with a black-clad Wes Borland matching the metal riffs of some of the festival’s heavier acts.

A quick Nirvana cover paved the way for the crowd frenzy during “Break Stuff” before set closer, and Mission Impossible theme “Take A Look Around” ended the high energy set. As one of the more enjoyable, high energy moments of the day, the audience agreed that there is nothing quite like limping with the Bizkit.

Prophets of Rage (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Prophets of Rage

Download Festival’s finest moment was the culmination of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. Playing hits from all three groups, Prophets of Rage had the smallest crowd of the headliners, but the finest sound. A RATM double whammy of “Testify” and “Take the Power Back” opened the set before a hip-hop medley that jumped between Public Enemy and Cypress Hill jams before ending on House of Pain’s “Jump Around”.

The highlight of the set was an instrumental tribute to Chris Cornell via Audioslave’s “Like A Stone” during which a single spotlight shone on an empty microphone before a RATM onslaught ended the set. “Dangerous times call for dangerous songs, and this is the most dangerous of them all” shouted B-Real before the set closer and highlight, “Killing in the Name”, showed everyone that the Prophets of Rage are doing an excellent job at preaching the message.

Korn (Photo: Ian Laidlaw)

Korn

If there was to be any form of nostalgia during Download Festival, it was brought to you by Korn. With each member looking the same as they did back in 1998’s “Freak on a Leash” video, Korn was there to remind you why your teenage self loved Adidas and eyebrow rings.

With a set full of songs that span twelve years of records, but sound like they all came from one, Korn was loud, tight, and brutal. Set highlights included the punchy “Y’all Want A Single” and “Somebody Someone”, with the band ending the night a little early after an encore that seemed a little flat. Korn wins best light show and have an amazingly accurate live sound but was appreciated most by the audience when they stuck to the hits.

Words by Luke Carlino.

Photos by Ian Laidlaw.