Live Review: Download Festival – Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne (11.03.19)

With the sun pelting down as you walked in, Download Festival was off to a hot one in Melbourne. Luca Brasi helped kick things off, with a set on one of the two main stages. I Prevail were an early highlight, too, as punters piled into the Flemington Racecourse. Eric Vanlerberghe’’s vocals punched through the air and drew a massive crowd early. There’s something particularly great about the contrast in vocals between Vanlerberghe and Brian Burkheiser that helped add an extra appealing level to their sound as clean vocals clashed with the grumbling screams.

It was well established that Download’s 2019 iteration was going to look back on some of the greatest metal artists from the past and Airborne was an early reintroduction to the rock and roll style. While only getting off the ground in 2007 themselves, their act paid heavy homage to the genre, while still being able to instill a sense of rotten individuality.

It was a definite genre change when Behemoth arrived on the opposite stage. The band known for its overt anarchistic messages and vivid on-stage costuming bled over the stage and crowd for just over an hour with multiple costumes for lead singer Adam Nergal Darski, whilst the rest of the band thrashed around stage in their black garb.

Anthrax, considered one of the big four of heavy metal and one of its greatest influences were handed an interesting time-slot for the Melbourne festival, working in between Behemoth and The Amity Affliction smack bang in the middle of the time sheets run. Yet, Joey Belladonna and the crew ran the set with an exuberance of a band forty years their junior; rocking their way through their classics “Madhouse”, “Caught In A Mosh” and “Indians” in front of one of the most fulfilled crowds of the day.

While the hardcore stages displayed that Australia has a vested interest in the scene and won’t have a problem contributing to the metal and hard rock genre for many years to come, thanks to the likes of Polaris and Twelve Foot Ninja, it was the old rockers that really stole the festival. The sheer might of Judas Priest, Alice In Chains and Slayer were a throwback to a ‘Golden Age of Metal’ that many couldn’t refuse. There were many younger punters seeing Slayer for both the first and last time.

After five long years, metal heads Alice In Chains finally returned to Melbourne.  Whilst Alice In Chains seemed to suffer from some lowered levelling, especially lead vocalist William DuVall, enough could be heard on the outskirts of the crowd for everyone to enjoy “Down In A Hole”, “Would” and “Man In The Box” without too much of a struggle.

Alice in Chains morphed straight into the seventies rock virtuosos Judas Priest. Emerging in studded leather and Rob Halford’s vocals shining through, Judas Priest’s set was a welcome blast from the past. Following directly on from Alice In Chains offered punters a rare opportunity to compare the metal generations. Spanning a difference of near twenty years, Alice In Chains wrote a slower, but heavier sounding metal, with lower tuning and slower solos that had an air of romanticism about it, whereas Judas Priest could be aptly described as a lightning strike on steroids. Judas Priest’s set was a melting pot of shredding power metal solos, piercing vocals and a constant throng of energy.

Unlike the spattering of festivals we normally see in Victoria that press headline acts to an hour for more stage coverage, Downloads multi stage layout means band’s like Judas Priest, Alice In Chains, and of course, Slayer could truly express their music properly, with each of the trio of bands having over an hour on stage

It’s hard to not write paragraph upon paragraph about Slayer’s almighty Download performance, which covered the span of the band’s albums. Both the fans and band knew it would be likely be their final time in Melbourne and let nothing hide away for the final performance with an endless stream of hits and crowd surfers streaming through the set. The old adage “finishing on top” came to mind whilst watching the set with no member having lost touch over their years touring, but especially not Tom Araya whose vocals were still as crisply reminiscent of Slayer’s early recordings.

As the opening riffs of “Angel Of Death” rang out, it was a clear toll to the end of the band’s time on stage as Slayer set out to finish by way of a more than memorable track and more fire than the rest of the festival combined. Humbled by the cheers at the completion of their set Slayer spent extra time on stage to soak it in, as Araya stared into the crowd, shifting across stage to take in the faces of their fans saying nothing but a humble “thank you for everything” before departing stage.

Even without Ozzy Osbourne as a major headliner, the second iteration of Melbourne’s Download Festival was a massive success, the emotional farewell of Slayer; one of the worlds biggest metal influences was enough of a draw to secure a massive crowd, the thrash metal mega-band managing to pull thousands of people to their set. We should all be looking forward to Download’s 2020 iteration.


Header Image from by Lachlan Mitchell taken at Download Sydney