Soundwave 2015 – Sydney

Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney Olympic Park, NSW
February 28 – March 1, 2015

Steelpanther Steel Panther/Andrew Pittman

Day One:

Soundwave has now evolved into a two day festival. As a result, the layout of stages stripped it back to essential stages compared to prior festivals with less clashes for big acts from stretching out timetables over two days. On entry, once through the multi-lane gates, crowds popped out into daylight to find a myriad of exuberant caterers and merchandisers, all of which this reviewer dodged to first find the festival’s glorious saviour of a free water trough for filling up one of the essential items for survival — other than sunscreen: the water bottle. Two indoor stages were set up within close proximity to each other and allowed respite from the heat as well as a bunch of alternative music on offer compared to the bigger stages.

Checking the timetable of acts first up and getting one’s bearings, starting things off at these two stages turned out to be a winning idea. The Treatment, a five piece from Cambridge, UK delivered a cracking hard rock set with more AC/DC and Cult riffs than should be legally allowed. But they were so good at it, no one objected. Twin Les Paul guitars, Marshall amplifiers, leather clothes, tattoos and rock swagger. Admittedly their mohawked bass player was the first of many over excited musicians to be seen but when your leg moves in time to the beat of meat-and-potatoes rock with songs like ‘Shake the Mountain’, something is right.

Whilst waiting for Deathstars to appear, the other indoor stage looked deceptively enticing. Melbourne’s The Bennies, apparently hung-over, were serving up a mish-mash of punk rock, ska, reggae and rock. Songs about blowing minds, mushrooms, riding one’s bike and stream of consciousness lyrics have their place but since some Scandinavian Goth rock was on offer nearby, it was back to the previous stage. Deathstars appeared sporting sunglasses indoors, a dash of corpse paint, black hair and presented an ongoing festival theme of the band all wearing black clothing with black musical instruments. Their cold metal guitar sound gave the bass that extra thump and meant that the odd guitar solo rang out through the mix. The band understands working the crowd with plenty of raised fists, musical breakdowns with synth backings and simple yet effective rock rhythms.

As Aussies Ne Obliviscaris were about to be onstage, this reviewer legged it over to the open air Metal Stage which was located right on the other side of the festival set up. Playing to a growing audience, they were doing their best to cram as much material as possible into their forty minute time slot.  The band dynamic is interesting since the two vocalists offer a contrast of styles between mellow singing and death metal growling. Up against the incredibly fast blast beat drumming or lighter finger tapped bass passages and sweep picked guitar solos, the band’s musicianship combines just the right amount of technicality and brutality. An edited version of the epic song ‘Curator’ was the set highlight.

The Metal Stage this year was a stand-alone stage as opposed to the twin arrangement of previous years. So, there was generally a twenty minute gap between each set to enable loading in and loading out. Watching this process throughout the festival as the day progressed had the mind boggling at the logistics involved in getting it to run so smoothly. Back at one of the indoor stages, Le Butcherettes were releasing emotions with a unique performance from the three piece. Fronted by female vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Teri Gender Bender, the bass player and drummer added backing to a dramatically uncompromising musical experience that combined the roar of PJ Harvey with the deft passions of Bjork and the aggression of Courtney Love, only with a great vocal range. Certainly one of the more intriguing acts on the bill.

At this point, this reviewer said farewell to the indoor stages in order to alternate between the bands on both the metal stages and the main stages depending on breaks and timetables. As per usual, the main stages were two massive adjacent stages that alternated between acts almost immediately. So, no changes there then for the two day festival. But the sum total of stages for the event was five all up with the main stage arena area acting as a hub for the punters moving around the grounds. Throughout main stage performances, multiple live cameras captured the action which was projected onto large video screens either side of the two interlinked stages.

Checking out the happenings warming up things at the main stage area, Japan’s One OK Rock were delivering a solid, post hard-core, pop angled performance and ran about the stage or in the case of the guitarist, spun around on one foot using the other leg to propel the movement. It looked cool but just like a moonwalk, it only has so much currency. To be fair, their strong choruses and tight sound deserves credit.

Noticing some interesting odours as a result of the heat, ambling back to catch yet another masked metal band in the form of Terror Universal involved some trepidation. They weren’t as bad as expected. Consisting of some seasoned professionals from other well-known metal bands, songs like ‘Piece by Piece’ had a typically down tuned style to it that allowed the twin guitar sound to move some air across the field. The masks are either highly comical or menacing, probably based on your age group yet they were able to knock together some decent riffs and hit pretty hard.

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Soundwave Day 1/Andrew Pittman

Over at the main stages, My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way was doing this solo thing, dressed in black with a greyish blue tie and band all dressed in white shirts, black pants and ties. The backdrop flogged his latest album and clearly playing to his adoring fan base in the front of stage, some banter was inaudible for the passing festival goer. Wandering closer, he encouraged fans to seek out other relevant bands on the bill. Still, he clearly knew how to work his audience and did so quite well with the pop edged new song ‘Brother’, amongst others. Other punters found watching the stage being set up for Steel Panther more entertaining.

Catching the sparse but effective two piece of Godflesh hammering out their industrial metal was a perfect precursor to Fear Factory’s live set. Of the two bands, the latter attracted a bigger crowd but the former certainly had a relentlessly slow crushing feel to the music which bludgeoned the crowd with the heavy thump, minimal combination of bass and guitar. Drums and additional enhancements were supplied via hard drive yet the audience reacted with indifference probably due to accepting the fact that many bands use this method within live performance due to various, perfectly legitimate reasons. Godflesh have a feel to them that reminds of The Mark of Cain. Their sound is filtered, pointed brutality. As for Fear Factory, the triggered drums were immediately apparent as were guitarist Dino Cazares’ incredibly precise, gated rhythmic style that walloped the P.A. in unison with the bass. Vocalist Burton C. Bell favoured the longer sustained vocal lines whilst Dino provided the aggressive bark. Crowd circle pit antics reached fever pitch in the summer heat as songs like ‘Archetype’, ‘Demanufacture’, ‘Zero Signal’ and ‘Self Bias Resistor’ sent rumblings across the festival. Not that Steel Panther gave a rats about any nearby noise.

Rocking out the Eighties on the main stage with their absurd antics, Steel Panther virtually replicated their live set from their sideshow with Slash but the crowd didn’t care. The comedy routines, outrageous costumes, references to the documented era of hair metal and stage invasions by women whose undergarments appeared unstable were overwhelmingly embraced by a substantial crowd streaming into the arena. Their attention to detail in performance and ability to entertain is obvious but their quick witted one liners work as ways of dealing with both hecklers and over-zealous fans. Using the video screens to their advantage, the art of subtlety was non-existent as a means to express some lyrical content or just dropping sight gags for further comedic value. If any jokes fell flat, they pushed ahead to the next one and did so with confidence.

Moving between stages to see some of Ministry’s set demolish ear drums and to catch the jazz odyssey of Antemasque was nothing short of odd. Bringing spatial, experimental soundscapes to a festival is a risk that Antemasque were more than happy to indulge in, thus alienating a good section of the crowd trying to find a riff amongst the guitar noodles, vocal screams, drum rolls and effected sounds. It was the musical art installation for the day and whilst adventurous, came across as too ambitious. At the other end of the spectrum, Ministry appeared intent on altering the innards of the crowd using full forced sonic trauma. The visuals synchronised to music accents and added to the pure power that had front man Al Jorgenson grinning ear to ear whilst mimicking sampled dialogue and dancing around cheekily as his band smashed through repetitive low end industrial metal. Including material from the latest album or the classics of ‘N.W.O.’ and ‘Just One Fix’, the set was a climax of three pioneering industrial metal bands hammering it out at the festival. The six piece used the monotony of a riff to ram home abrasive and confrontational lyric content.

Equally different was rock band Incubus performing on the main stage to a substantially sized audience for their large, professional rock show complete with percussive bongos, a shirtless singer, big video screen visuals and some interesting guitar sounds between the chorus sing-alongs. Finishing with a Beatles cover worked nicely to introduce Soundgarden who opened with ‘Flower’ and jumped straight into the bigger songs of ‘Outshined’, ‘Kickstand’ and ‘Spoonman’. The band were a little rushed to rip through their set list but they did so with determination and quality.

Any band following Ministry had their work cut out for them and quite simply, power metal band Dragonforce had to simply plough ahead on the metal stage as the sun began to set. However, it did allow for some change of pace albeit one of the manic, over the top virtuosity of twin guitar shredding madness. If you like power metal with keytars and some pretty impressive drumming from their newest recruit, Dragonforce delivered on that count in truckloads. New vocalist Marc Hudson took to the clichéd stage banter with falsetto pride and the band are one of few power metal outfits that can induce a circle pit during super-fast trade off and harmony guitars solos. Songs such as ‘Three Hammers’, ‘The Game’ and ‘Cry Thunder’ had the fans going nuts. Meanwhile, Soundgarden were still hitting the crowd with their well-rehearsed songs and wrapped things up with a sensational rendition of ‘Rusty Cage’, complete with an extended sonic meltdown ending of wailing feedback and noise that seemed edgy enough.

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Chris Cornell – Soundgarden, Billy Gould & Mike Patton – Faith No More/Andrew Pittman

Now well into the evening and looking to the Faith No More set on the main stage, everything was draped in white cloth linen with floral arrangements, a long curtain backdrop and a funeral service look. As the band members appeared, all in snazzy white duds, even drummer Mike Bordin was in a white singlet. They opened their set with ‘Motherfucker’ and by the third song ‘Ricochet’, Faith No More had the crowd intently hanging on everything coming from the stage. It was clear this performance was something special. Vocalist Mike Patton casually jumped between screaming yells to soft crooning lounge style delivery but got away with it with pure charisma and talent. Bolstered by the comic relief of keyboardist Roddy Bottum, the between song banter connected with the audience without being patronising. Simply, this set was destined to be the absolute highlight of the festival going on crowd reaction alone. The vast majority of songs had lyrics that everyone knew and just fell out of people’s subconscious to sing along. For example, songs like ‘Epic’, ‘Easy’ and ‘Evidence’ engaged everyone and crossed styles, even humourously dropping in ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ in the pause section of ‘Midlife Crisis’.

A quick dash over to catch what Lamb of God were up to was just that. Catching a couple of songs, they were certainly playing to the faithful and their hammering power could be heard wafting over to Faith No More’s chunk of the grounds during quieter moments for the latter act. Amusingly enough, Lamb of God front man Randy Blythe was having a friendly dig about cricket being boring, possibly lost on the irony that Soundwave was pushing into Test cricket duration territory by being a two day effort this year. This reviewer chuckled and quickly went back to Faith No More.

Faith No More could do no wrong as ‘Ashes to Ashes’ ebbed and flowed with the brief guitar solo from Jon Hudson giving the crowd some rest before launching back into the chorus. As the encore arrived to the now blue lit stage, Patton relished being able to yell the c-word expletive loudly and repeatedly to then even include it after the chorus of ‘Digging the Grave’. All very amusing indeed and an apt segue-way to their Bee Gees cover ‘I Started a Joke’ before completing their set with their first huge hit from the short lived pre-Patton era, ‘We Care A Lot’ as bassist Billy Gould led the recognisable riff. No band could ever hope to follow Faith No More’s performance today. They wiped the floor with everyone before them and did it with a huge, naughty smile.

Day Two:

Back for more for day two, it was a stinking hot day to start off with so looking about at some clothing attire that was anything but climate friendly meant the health services were on alert. Over at the metal stage, King 810 were putting in hard yards in the heat with band members running about. A shirtless singer with tatts, growling vocals, down tuned riffage, solid snare drum cracks and breakdowns with harmony notes ringing out seemed to entertain the kids on red cordial.

Back at the main stage, the unique triple cello driven Apocalyptica saw a decent crowd plus many people seeking shade around the outskirts of the arena. Two of three cellists had the long blonde hair and full metal image whilst all three were accompanied by a drummer and vocalist. Playing reasonable new material and covers of Metallica’s ‘Seek & Destroy’, the crowd erupted into a sea of fists. Cellos are not mobile like guitars but Apocalyptica attempted to move around with them and also used them as lead instruments when arrangement allowed it. Getting a good gallop going with bow bounce, there was also plenty of hair windmilling and harmonising cellos sections.

Nonpoint launched into their semi rap metal feel alongside a double bass pedal on a single drum, smoke machines and windmilling dreadlocks. The song ‘Alive and Kicking’, with a Korn style vibe, let loose with heavy cymbals and ‘Bullet with a Name’ generated a huge circle pit. Over to the main stage, Scottish band Twin Atlantic were playing songs such as ‘I Am an Animal’ with great confidence to a small but dedicated following. The band put in a good effort even delving into older material, with their sound including higher choruses to muted guitar rhythms.

For the guitar head musos, the incredible eight sting guitar playing of Tosin Abasi in his band Animals As Leaders was a festival highlight. Playing at an indoor stage that was rather humid, the three piece progressive instrumental band combined the amazing technicality of Steve Vai with Meshuggah’s binary coded, time shifting metal and dashes of fusion. With minimal stage banter and using some synth bass or bass from guitar options, the time changes were wafted over by sweeping, tapping guitar runs that combined lead and rhythm guitar with the odd bit of slap bass. The use of looping pedals for layered tracks in a live setting against quieter chords morphed into volume swells to back up over the top tapping patterns of intense technical proficiency in songs such as ‘The Woven Web’. Tosin’s eight string mastery uses the eight string instrument to increase the range of musical idea, not just play low end riffs. An acquired taste but certainly worth exploring.

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Judas Priest, Godsmack, Slipknot, Smashing Pumpkins/Andrew Pittman

Back at the metal stage, the all-star metal line-up of new band Killer Be Killed were taking off heads with songs such as ‘Snakes of Jehovah’. Max Cavalera from multiple bands, riffed on guitars and vocals, standing near amplifiers adorned with Brazilian and Australian flags, adding aggressive punch. Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders stalked the stage as vocalist and guitarist Greg Puciato added screaming vocals whilst circle pits took hold from the fast thrash and punishing drumming of Dave Elitch. They ended their blistering set by using instruments as projectiles at the drum kit. Storm clouds were building nearby and by now, some respite from the searing heat was needed.

Massive contrast came from major label pop punk band Tonight Alive following the live performance template. Sporting backwards caps, a shirtless drummer, statement t-shirts and some slightly Americanised stage banter, appeal is selective but one has to admit they are good at what they do. Songs about best friends and finding identity clearly have a specific demographic for life affirming pop but covering Rage Against the Machine classics such as ‘Killing in the Name Of’ and omitting the most intense ending to replace it with a mini spokesperson lecture meant this reviewer was not the intended audience. Although they were genuine about it, it felt a bit contrived in context of many bands doing the same of late. In other words, a tad too preachy but certainly full of bravado and musically very competent with infectious confidence and strong performance on a huge stage.

Flip flopping back to the metal stage, it had been a seventeen year wait for Godsmack to tour here. This set was memorable for a few reasons and not just the coverage of the set list.  Songs like ‘1000hp’ had front man Sully Erna leading the charge. His James Hetfield styled inflections are present but he still has his own character. Sadly, the storm coming in brought some lightning and wind making it questionable for anyone to be watching the set from under a nearby tree. The band were not about to let the weather stop them and they didn’t, even if it disrupted proceedings and impacted on equipment.

The wind came in blowing signs and fence coverings about followed by a pelting rain storm. Some of the crowd fled the downpour seeking cover whilst others endured the rain as Godsmack soldiered on during which rainwater bursts bounced off the awning tents atop the sides of the stage. Once the rain cleared they were still hammering away with more new material in ‘Locked and Loaded’ followed by a drum battle. That set highlight started with Sully adding percussion embellishments on a second kit to then synced drums fills and trade-offs with drummer Shannon Larkin. Spinning drum sticks then morphed into a medley of classic hard rock riffs [AD/DC, Led Zep, Aerosmith, Metallica and Rush] followed by invoking a huge circle pit for bragging rights to then end with ‘I Stand Alone’. Godsmack are definitely a stadium level, quality band.

Over at the main stage, massive selling American nu-metal band, Papa Roach brought the huge rock show with serious power in support of their latest album as the second wave of rain loomed. Between songs, front man Jacoby Shaddix uttered the word ‘motherfucker’ more than any other word which undermined their presence. Still, bassist Tobin Esperance had a heavy sound and was highly animated whilst drummer Tony Palermo seemed intent on smashing his kit. The crowd jumped about for ‘Between Angels and Insects’ and participated in a wall of death during ‘Blood Brothers’. However, given Exodus were soon to be on stage, Papa Roach sadly got short shrift from this reviewer.

Down to near the front of the metal stage, the thrash masters Exodus were a sensational addition to the bill with their spot on, fast and furious old school thrash metal. Songs like ‘Children of a Worthless God’ and ‘Piranha’ took the whiplash thrash into double-time trade off solos. ‘Blacklist’ then had returning front man Steve Souza introducing guitarist Gary Holt’s replacement, Kragen Lum. Soon it was back to the 80’s with Bonded by Blood material with ‘A Lesson in Violence’ and the title track as the hot sun temporarily poked through the clouds. A huge circle pit opened up for ‘War is My Shepherd’ with the twin guitar riff played in unison and fiery drum rolls from drum monster Tom Hunting.  Naturally, Fabulous Disaster classic ‘The Toxic Waltz’ was a set highlight to then end with another classic, ‘Strike of the Beast’ to a constantly thrashing pit.

Gothic superstar Marilyn Manson, playing on the main stage, had a different atmosphere with their equipment set up around the draped obstacles for the coming Slipknot show. The band and front man, all dressed in black, slinked through material. Manson, with blue forehead and smeared red lipstick to give off a freaky joker look shook his head regularly in mad throes and adopted either deep tones or mock southern accent when addressing audience with coaxing jibes. Kneeling a lot during each song chorus to his adoring fans and with signature knuckle duster microphone, Manson then elected to superficially slice the webbing between thumb and first finger with a broken beer bottle in front of video cameras for all to see. It was typically notorious blood-letting and used to have blood smeared on his face. Further mimicked tourniquet usage showed baiting of irresponsible activity to impressionable kids for the sake of the show is still alive and well. Aside from newer content, some older material like ‘The Dope Show’ sat well alongside covers of Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’.

Back to metal stage and in time for heavy metal forefathers Judas Priest, it was a stage set of video screens and a raised double bass drum kit that promised a ripping set. Opening with ‘Dragonaut’ from the latest album was then followed by the classic ‘Metal Gods’, setting the tone for the set. Vocalist Rob Halford let out shrieking signature screaming vocals whilst veteran guitarist Glenn Tipton seemed content to largely stand near his side of stage, letting fly some classic riffs and playing solos with ease form years of experience. As per usual, bassist Ian Hill stayed planted to his post, keeping things running along in time with the drumming power of the time keeping brilliance of former Raver X drummer Scott Travis. Meanwhile, guitarist KK Downing’s replacement Richie Faulkner more than closely resembled his predecessor. Richie was simply sensational, breathing new life into the Priest sound. His solos were passionately played and his guitar tone sliced through the mix as he wielded his flying V guitar like a weapon.

As Richie adopted a white Les Paul for ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’ from Stained Class, the solo trade-offs between himself and Glenn were perfectly executed. Concluding a classics- and new-material packed set, and following straddling the outskirts of the stage during ‘Breaking the Law’, Halford rode onto stage on a Harley Davidson in yet another jacket-based costume change, this time with a leather cap and riding crop to finish the image relevant to the song ‘Hell Bent for Leather’. Fitting in an encore, the mighty ‘Painkiller’ was introduced by Scott and the song capped off a stellar performance by Priest that thankfully redeemed them from the overblown previous tour here. Yet again, Priest showed how the older bands on the bill still had so much talent and legacy to celebrate.

The metal stage was now closed before Smashing Pumpkins turned up, so it was back to the main stage to get ready for the Slipknot production. Prior to that though, guitar legend Slash with vocalist Myles Kennedy and associates were ripping through the last twenty minutes of their set which overlapped with Priest. Plenty in the crowd were rocking out to another classic hit in the guise of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and newer material in ‘The Dissident’. It was possible to watch it from a distance checking out the screens given the focus was Slash and his playing, which the camera largely covered. Of course, ‘Paradise City’ completed their set as many rock fans and kids discovering Slash lapped it up whilst Myles delivered Axl Rose styled vocals with ease, demonstrating his flexibility as a great front man vocalist making Slash look that much better.

Then it hit, the masked mayhem of Slipknot were on the stage. Hydraulics on either side of the front stage lifted and spun the percussive drums or metal kegs that had Shawn Crahan aka Clown and Chris Fehn balanced upon whilst belting into things. Front man Corey Taylor wasted no time in acknowledging the heaving mass of bodies crammed down the front and was flanked by the twin guitar onslaught of Jim Root and Mick Thomson. The latter always looking particularly formidable whereas bassist Alessandro Venturella replacing the celebrated and mourned late Paul Gray stood back, concentrating on simply playing the material in a fairly unassuming manner compared to everyone else. Drummer Jay Weinberg, replacing acrimoniously ejected Joey Jordinson, was planted on a central drum riser wedged between two staircases, letting rip on everything from blast beats to double kick bursts and cymbal smashes. DJ Sid Wilson stuck to his turntables and Craig Jones rocked into his keyboards in a tiered area. At the top of the stair cases, a huge goat’s head that included alternating flashing eyes was made more evil by a combination of pyrotechnic flash pots and rows of fire set off during some songs.

Slipknot’s Prepare for Hell tour had finally gotten them to Australia after ten solid weeks on the road and the band were finely honed but also acutely aware of things going on around them in the almost controlled madness. Their set covered material from all five studio albums with the focus on the latest .5: The Gray Chapter whereby the song ‘The Negative One’ and ‘The Devil in I’ offered some incredibly intense extreme music for a headlining act. With not much being played from All Hope is Gone, at least ‘Psychosocial’ got aired. Prior to the band playing ‘Duality’, the show was stopped temporarily due to crowd rushing the stage and stuffing up part of the security barriers at the front, which this reviewer discovered on return to the arena, having ducked out briefly to cover a small chunk of Smashing Pumpkins’ live set.

The Pumpkins seemed to be delivering a laid back set with Corgan’s guitar playing allowing for some expressive solos and nice Strat tones or with him just singing a melody line with utmost strength as the band alternated between moody, notes ringing out to full band backing sections. The Pumpkins certainly had some groove and coaxing blues-based alternate rock happening with Brad Wilk’s drumming offering more power to the hits. Unfortunately, their set clashed with the monster show of Slipknot.

Back at the main stage there was a brief delay as a bunch of dangerously over enthusiastic patrons were barely even scolded for compromising crowd safety and ruining the flow of a live show. Things got back underway for Slipknot and the moshing continued as barrels bounced around on stage. The bulk of the second half of the set sourced material from the first three albums with the exception of ‘Custer’ from the new album to close out the main set compete with blast beats and unbridled aggression from all, especially from Corey Taylor. Returning for an encore, Slipknot’s adoring ‘maggots’, as they long ago coined them, lost their minds to ‘(sic)’, ‘People = Shit’ and their breakthrough track from 1999, ‘Surfacing’.

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Soundwave Day 2/Andrew Pittman

House lights up, the festival was completed as a sea of music fans spread out into the night to car parks and public transport, with a large proportion trying to make sense of the sonic and visual overload they’d just experienced. People looked utterly spent but at least the rain had cooled down things considerably, otherwise it would have been a very sweaty and smelly ride home on public transport. For the majority of festival goers, Slipknot closed what had been an intense couple of days with some of the heaviest and most successful alternative bands in the world all on the same tour. For this reviewer, whilst the spectacle and extreme intensity of the massive show that is Slipknot was incredibly impressive, Faith No More were the festival highlight. Their musicianship, crowd interactions, remarkable legacy, variety of back catalogue material and brilliance in performance left every other band in their wake.