Download Sydney 2019 (Sydney, NSW)

9 March 2019 at Parramatta Park

Well, Download, what a massive day. When I found out that I was lucky enough to receive a reviewer’s pass for Download I was over the moon. The only ‘problem’ with having the pass to review download is that you want to see EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. Which is all but impossible, unless you catch like two or three songs each. The number of talented bands spread through the five stages at Parramatta was incredible and I did my best to catch as much as I could so I could share it with you. First, I want to thank Live Nation for an amazing event, especially with N.S.W. current festival climate. Also, thanks to Metal-Roos for letting me review the show.

Download lived up to its reputation as a premier world-wide festival, with all elements given special consideration. The food options alone were outstanding, including chefs from Momofuku Seiobo, Agrarian Kitchen, Fratelli Paradiso and 10 William St. As well as Bovine and Swine, Hardstyle BBQ, Greek St, Nighthawk Diner, Caliko, Messina, Superior Burger and Happy as Larry. Festival-goers were also spoilt for choice amongst market stalls from 24 Hundred, Sea Sheppard and craft and rare vinyl on offer.

The fantastic arrangement of the festival grounds themselves allowed easy access to all stages, with only a couple of minute walk between them. Utilizing the natural landscape of the park the Dogtooth and Avalanche stages were located at the bottom of a valley, which avoided any sound bleeding over from one stage to the next. There were plenty of bars (even though they only sold mid-strength for full price), plenty of toilets and the queues to get into the festival flowed smoothly. The Police presence was obvious but not intimidating or overbearing, even with some high ranked officers walking the fields and the obvious sniffer dogs at the entrance. The bands never ran behind, with every set starting bang on it’s scheduled time.

Now to the bands!

I started the day with Voyager (AUS) looked at home on the Download Main Stage with their Prog infused metal being a great start to the day. I must admit miss the Medleys they used to do, but they have a back catalogue so full of bangers that filling a half hour set is no problem, with Hyperventilating and The Meaning of I being definite standouts. Next up Alien Weaponry (NZ) launched into their set on the Black main stage. A well-rehearsed and tight unit, Alien Weaponry pulled no punches having one of the loudest sets of the day, Holding my Breath and the crushing Raupatu lifting the energy of the audience and echoing over Parramatta park, a killer set, and being so young as a band I am excited to see what they do next.

I was able to catch some of New Years Day (USA) and their energetic brand of metal. Performing at the Dogtooth stage, vocalist Ash Costello did her best to connect with the modest crowd, who responded in kind. A great sound with some massively catchy choruses in Epidemic and Skeletons New Years Day had a great set. I then caught Polaris (AUS) at the main stage. Polaris are quickly becoming one of Australia’s biggest heavy bands, with a huge crowd being whipped up into a frenzy with the interaction between the intense delivery of Jamie Hails and clean vocals of Jake Steinhauser on tracks like Crooked Path and Lucid. Polaris looked every bit a professional unit on the main stage of Download, another killer set.

Heading back over to the Dogtooth stage, War on Women were on the attack, their high-energy punk ‘n’ roll being used as a vessel for their strong political and social views. Issuing a resounding statement of ‘Fuck Trump’ to cheers from the audience members and onlookers in kind. An outstanding stage presence and strong message to boot, War on Women were great. High Tension were up next, fronted by the guttural scrams of powerful Karina Utomo, showing that diversity in festival line-ups isn’t that difficult. High Tension killed it with their blackened rock, a great set that was lapped up by the enthralled audience. The Fever 333 took the stage next. Heralded as the worlds next Rage Against the Machine, not just for their sound but their staunch political stance, Fever 333 lived up to the hype. Beginning with vocalist Jason Butler being led to the front of the stage with his head covered in a death mask, the tension in the crowd rose assisted through the bands intro speech. Not waiting long Fever 333 launched into BURN IT, literally, Jason Butler and Stephen Harrison covering the entire stage space with continual movement. Butler then took his mic into the bouncing audience, roaming around the side and up the back into the middle of the pit…with a wired mic…crazy scenes as scrambling sound crew and security struggled to give him enough cable, a huge sound made even bigger with choruses the size of mountains it was a fantastic set.

A late addition to Download Airborne (AUS) were up next on the main stage. Stating they had not played live in a year and a half, you could never tell, with a can of VB in hand, the Aussie larrikins tore through the stage with their brand of rock n roll. Always an entertaining watch, Joel O’Keeffe managed to get on the shoulders of a helpful security guard while playing a guitar solo and be paraded into the mosh, never missing a beat. Yes, they obviously sound like AC/DC but who cares, with songs like Runnin’ Wild and Live it Up the lads in Airborne had a great time, and so did we.

I was very excited about being able to see Code Orange (USA), their 2017 release Forever dominating the heavy world that year, topping many ‘albums of the year’ lists, and they did not disappoint. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the audience they deserved, having the worst clash of the day in my opinion, going up against titans of Black Behemoth (POL). But those who were there came to play, with tracks like Kill the Creator, Bleeding in the Blur and the dominating Forever turning the pit into non-stop movement and violence of the best kind. I made sure I caught some of the Behemoth set, as the last two offerings from the band have been masterpieces of Black metal. Their stage presence is undeniable, the theatrics going into a Behemoth show are legendary, and they were on display in full at Download. Smothered in corpse paint and leaking bright-red ‘blood’ from the mouth and nose Behemoth are truly a spectacle. Easily the biggest crowd of the festival at the time, it was a shame they played so early at 3.45 pm. Even with the cloud hanging overhead, it seemed to bright to be watching something so dark. Nergal was at his enchanting best, bewitching the audience with his screeching demands and tracks like Blow your Trumpet Gabriel and Chant for Eschaton 2000 E.V. enthralling the masses.

The plan then was to watch Converge (USA) at the dogtooth stage, however, I had never seen Anthrax (USA) before, and I felt I should, they are one of metal’s legendary bands after all. Beginning with a dedication to the late great Abbott brothers, Anthrax teased the crowd with the intro riff from Cowboys from Hell before going into the anthemic Caught in a Mosh. Anthrax have a back-catalogue bands can only dream of, so it was a surprise that they included two covers Got the Time (Joe Jackson) and Antisocial (Trust) in their set, but classics like I am the Law and closer Indians, were a highlight. Up next were the mighty Twelve Foot Ninja (AUS) on the Dogtooth stage. The crowd were buzzing for the boys before they even hit the stage, and when they kicked into One Hand Killing all hell broke loose. One of the highlights of the day, Twelve Foot Ninja absolutely crushed. Constant chants of ‘Turn it Up’ from the enthralled audience were met with a new track that I unfortunately forget the name of but was fantastic. Fan favourites Invincible and Coming for You rounding out the set, the boys in Twelve Foot did an exceptional job, with Nick Barker coming back out to a hero’s welcome and saying hi to those in the front row.

This was my first experience with Thy Art Is Murder (AUS), and my god, what a killer band. Hailing from Parramatta itself the Aussies tore the stage apart with their blinding deathcore. Vocalist CJ McMahon’s guttural roars commanding the attention of all in attendance. The band were an image of precision with the incredible Lee Stanton directing traffic from the skins at the back. A shining highlight of the day Thy Art roused those in the audience who were ‘crazy enough to do it’ into a Devildriver sized circle pit that surrounded the entire production tent during Slaves Beyond Death. Truly a spectacle, people came running from every direction to join in the craziness that was unfolding and if you’re interested in seeing it, many people filmed it so it won’t be hard to find, it’s well worth a watch. Absolutely insane, and so good. American rock giants Halestorm (USA) took to the stage next. Unfortunately clashing with Alice In Chains left the crowd somewhat smaller that I expected but Lzzy and her band are bona-fide superstars. Their arena sized rock anthems such as Black Vultures, Uncomfortable and I Miss the Misery were an absolute treat as the sun set behind them.

As Halestorm finished I was able to catch the last fifteen minutes of Alice In Chains’ (USA) set and they sounded fantastic. The crowd were in a hypnotized state from Jerry Cantrell’s riffs and William DuVall’s melancholic croon, as the band closed with the classic one two punch of Would? and Rooster. Judas Priest (UK) have been an institution in heavy metal since the genre was created. They are metal legends, they are metal gods and they treated Download to a full hour and a half set. Including all the hits you need to hear like Hell Bent for Leather, Turbo Lover and You’ve Got Another Thing Coming the band also dove into new era Priest. The latest release Firepower is a favourite in the eyes of fans and critics alike, and the songs sound like the best Priest of old, with ragers Lightning Strike and Firepower real set standouts. Rob Halford was projected the image of strength as he strode the stage, changing outfits every other song, eventually riding out on a Harley Davidson to the stage before leaving s with immortal tracks Painkiller, Electric Eye and Breaking the Law. The only slightly negative is, if you get the chance to see Priest take it, they are on rare form with this new release. Plus, I’m not sure how much longer Halford will be able to or even want to do this. Even for a man half his age the stage takes its toll and while he was every bit the metal god that you expect, he also looked extremely exhausted by the end of the show (Which anyone would be).

I was genuinely excited to be able to see Slayer (USA) for the first (and only) time. This retirement tour has taken them all over the world for over a year now and is beginning to wind down, so this was the very last time we would see Slayer in Sydney. The build-up was intense, and as the Slayer logo was projected onto the curtain in front of the stage, the crowd erupted. The curtain then dropped and there they were, the heroes of the day, as they tore into opener Repentless. Unfortunately, I was positioned on the right-hand side of the stage and the sound was so lacking that we could easily hear the civilised conversation of the crowd, no one needed to raise their voice and during a Slayer set, especially the last ever in Sydney, this was a massive let down. Crushers like Disciple and Hate Worldwide seemed to have their nails clipped as the crowd desperately wanted to have more volume. Tom Araya was faultless behind the mic, commanding the audience to scream WAR as loud and as long as they can before they ripped into War Ensemble. It was at this point that I moved to a different section to see if there was better sound, and I am so glad I did. Walking a mere 100 meters to my left brought the whole world down around my shoulder. Slayer sounded as they should, absolutely gargantuan. With Paul Bostaph murdering his drum kit, the iconic look of Kerry King banging his head and Gary Holt parading around the stage, the reasons why basically every metal head loves Slayer became clear. Seasons in the Abyss and Dead Skin Mask were earth shattering, with all members of the band firing on all cylinders. Slayer may be calling it a day, but they have plenty of fire left, and Download was a great way to say their final goodbye to Sydney. Now I was desperate to see Raining Blood, as it is my favourite track of theirs, but they happened to be clashing with Ghost (SWE) and as I was reviewing the festival, I thought I should see at least some of what Ghost had to offer. So, I said goodbye to Slayer the only way you can, by raising my horns high in salute, and went over to the Dogtooth stage. Ghost was fantastic. A well-oiled machine, the band sounded brilliant, the stage performances all well-rehearsed and the production was brilliant. The Nameless Ghouls looked predatory onstage in their shiny metal masks and the strut of Tobias Forge’s ‘Cardinal Copia’ effortlessly captivated the jammed audience. Rats was easily a standout but with such a monolithic back catalogue the hits didn’t stop, ending with the infectious Dance Macabre and mighty Square Hammer Ghost really had the audience in rapture.

As the final notes rang out and fans wiped their tears away Download in Sydney wound down to an end. It was a massive, glorious day filled with music and madness, hellos and goodbyes, drinking and debauchery and an excited happiness that even the occasional downpour couldn’t wash away. I wish I were going to Melbourne to do it all again.

Line-up: Slayer, Judas Priest, Alice In Chains, Ghost, Rise Against, The Amity Affliction, Anthrax, Sum41, Anthrax, Pennywise, Halestorm, Behemoth, Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, Airbourne, I Prevail, Thy Art Is Murder, Polaris, Twelve Foot Ninja, Converge, Frenzal Rhomb, Luca Brasi, Code Orange, The Fever 333, War On Women, Slaves, Alien Weaponry, New Years Day, High Tension, Justice For The Damned, Aversions Crown, Outright Ruins, Devilskin, Eat Your Heart Out, Voyager, The Beautiful Monument

Reviewer: Jonathan Hurley
Photocredits: Jab Photography