The second annual instalment of the imported DOWNLOAD Festival in Australia has expanded from the single city in 2018 to a Sydney and Melbourne double this year and is a cut-down one-day version of the UK’s major rock festival event.

The attractions had originally been the final fling of OZZY and SLAYER, with the main supporting acts being JUDAS PRIEST, GHOST and HALESTORM – however Ozzy’s illness meant the withdrawal of one of the headliners, and while there was talk of a significant return of tickets, the attendances at both Sydney and Melbourne appeared healthy enough to push for the festival to continue as the major heavy music festival Down Under.

Given that there were 5 stages and 45 or so bands, it was never going to be possible to see all of them, so here is my roundup to accompany the gallery from the Melbourne leg of the event.

VOYAGER from WA opened the main stages with their energetic brand of progressive metal, and great to see the response from the early crowd, and were followed by Tasmania’s power punk trio Luca Brasi who was perhaps not right for the enormous main stages.  I ducked into the big top to see SLAVES, from my old stamping grounds in Tunbridge Wells in the UK, who simply destroyed their audience with their garage blues punk full of the heaviest riffs despite some equipment issues.  

Metalcore US act, I PREVAIL took to the sunshine with gusto, and delivered a powerful set based on their Lifelines album.  Last-minute local fill-ins AIRBOURNE, who don’t play nearly often enough in their home country promptly reminded everyone why they are one of the must-have festival metal bands, with their high-speed AC/DC riffs, non-stop excitement onstage and a ridiculous response from the crowd – one of the day’s highlights for sure, and early in the day!

Back into the tent for the much-anticipated FEVER 333 who were like a grungy punk version of the Hives in their in your face stage presence, with Stevis Harrison blitzing the crowd with his guitars, and ex-Letlive’s Jason Aalon Butler flinging himself around into and over the crowd – these guys are in danger of becoming enormous!  Bright sunshine and a warm Melbourne afternoon was not the obvious backdrop for BEHEMOTH and the mighty Nergal to unleash their brutal yet melodic brand of blackened death metal – musically and vocally complex, the drumming was astounding, and the band’s visuals are impressive, despite being better suited to a dark, sweaty smoky venue.

Next up on the main stages was the legendary ANTHRAX – just as heavy as Behemoth but with the most engaging energy onstage – Joey Belladonna still prowls the stage as he delivers the vocals, and Scott Ian appears turbo-charged throughout the set.  The band simply has energy to burn, and delivers all of their greatest hits in an hour in which everybody watching just smiled as they moshed!  Brilliant stuff from these old-school thrashers.

A return to the metalcore genre, this time from Australian veterans THE AMITY AFFLICTION, fresh from their recent Misery album, and they provided some different energy to their predecessors onstage in Behemoth, with frontman Ahren Stringer owning the stage and the crowd – even to the extent of parting them to allow paramedics in to assist someone collapsed in the mosh. 

I then headed out to the Ascension Stage, to see the much-talked-about young Kiwi melodic thrash band, ALIEN WEAPONRY, who kick off their set with a Maori chant and haka before delivering a set that many older bands would be jealous of……formed 9 years ago when the two De Jong brothers, Lewis and Henry were just 8 and 10 years old. These young men are being tipped for big things so keep an eye out for them!  PENNYWISE gave us a typical hardcore punk set before the legendary ALICE IN CHAINS took to the main stage. 

Back to the Ascension Stage for another export from New Zealand, with the striking line-up of Jennie Skulander on vocals, and on guitar and bass in Tony Martin and Paul Vincent – impossible to ignore onstage, and with the hugely impressive vocals from Jennie adding an extra dimension to the modern metal of the band!

No excuses from this reviewer – JUDAS PRIEST came, saw and absolutely conquered Download – 50 years after their formation, and nearly 40 years since I first saw them in 1978, the multiple line-up changes don’t appear to have damaged the brand, and Rob Halford’s voice is still extraordinary in its range, with some of the screams almost too high to be distinguished from the twin guitars of Richie Faulkner and new man Andy Sneap (from SABBAT and HELL), in place of Glenn Tipton, and he proved to be an excellent foil to the simply mesmerising stage presence of Faulkner!.  Halford roamed about the stage delivering the vocals, with Ian Hill welded to his bass rig, and Scott Travis hammering the kit.  The rendition of Sinner was the highlight of the whole festival for me – spine-tingling stuff from the band of the day.

A brief gap allowed a trip across to the other side stage to catch Melbourne’s own alternative funk-metal band, 12 Foot Ninja who received a hero’s welcome from their adoring fans – a little bit different to the norm of the day, the energy and passion in the performance gives a really positive vibe.

Last up on the main stages was the much-heralded final show in Australia ever of the mighty Slayer, and a very large portion of the crowd was pressing towards the barrier to get “Slayed”.  Brutal, visceral metal delivered by one of the legendary thrash metal bands, still fronted by Tom Araya and Kerry King, and while around 50 photographers struggled to find space in the pit to take any photos of the dark, red, back-lit stage set, the band just got on and did what they do best, and pummelled the intense crowd with a set of their best-known tracks from Hell Awaits and Reign in Blood. 

I went back to the big top for the new-look GHOST, who took to their elaborate stage set in a cloud of dry-ice and moody lighting, with the various “Nameless Ghouls” providing the symphonic pop-metal backing to the focus onstage in the form of the current incarnation of Tobias Forge in Cardinal Copia.  The band delivers the slickest almost commercial pop-metal in the most theatric of styles and has won over a huge number of fans in the process.  Sadly I had to skip out of this set in order to catch HALESTORM on the outer stage, a band I really enjoy both live and on record, and they did not disappoint, with Lzzy Hale just so powerful out front and on guitar, and brother Arjay as the larger than life showman behind the kit.  They had managed to retain a really healthy crowd despite SLAYER and GHOST still playing their sets, and they all enjoyed the one-hour highlights reel from the band.

A big day, and a great success all round – great weather, a wide selection of excellent bands. Roll on DOWNLOAD 2020!

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