Soundwave Festival, Sydney

Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney Olympic Park
February 26, 2012

Q Machinehead 03 Machine Head/Andrew Pittman

Brian: Unlike the melee at the gates of the Big Day Out, the vibe outside Soundwave is polite and orderly. A long line snakes around the outside of the venue from the gate back to the railway station as people queue relatively quietly. There’s a few cops around, but they mostly look bored until a drug dog singles out a bloke in his 50s who looks like a cross between Lemmy and Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider, and three of them cart him away somewhere. The gates open, the crowd files in, spreading out slowly over the vast acreage, the giant arena and the various pavilions, bars and food stalls. Punters are poring over venue maps and timetables that seem to change by the hour, trying to work out where to be and when. The merch stands carry something like 100+ shirt designs from 70+ bands. Trying to choose one probably takes longer than waiting to get to the front to buy it. There’s dudes in Batman, Mario Bros. and Cookie Monster costumes, a team of friends  dressed up like Turisas, blokes wearing Viking helmets and another group in ripped spandex and fright wigs armed with Guitar Hero controllers who could only be there to see Steel Panther. It looks set to be a huge day.

Stage 4 rumbles to life with Chimaira sounding amazing, locking tight around a massive groove and unleashing it onto the early crowd that responds the only way they should: by bursting into a mosh. It’s only the first song from the first band of the day, but Soundwave is already kicking arse. The new Chimaira line-up is running like a well-oiled machine for their return to Sydney. There’s no sign of turmoil, just high-energy, synth-laden heavy groove metal as the new parts mesh perfectly with the old, bringing the day to glorious, deafening wakefulness.

Right across the other side of the Showground, Holy Grail’s set was crashing to an end on Stage 7. Leaping around in their leather and spikes, they certainly looked the part as they revved up a handful of early punters. Soundwave was making better use of indoor pavilions this time, after last year’s experiments with the wood-chopping and dog-show arenas, but the combination of tiny stage, massively cranked PA and large, mostly empty room with steel walls and roof unfortunately made the Hollywood metalheads sound like rubbish unless you were right at the very front – and then it was just too loud. I’d like to see these lads again sometime, perhaps in a club where they would undoubtedly slay.

A bloke dressed as Spiderman leaps over the barrier and sprints into the crowd, prompting acknowledgment from The Black Dahlia Murder’s vocalist Trevor Strnad, as they smash everything apart on Stage 4. Their sound is murky compared to Chimaira’s and at first it’s difficult to make out the technical chops, but it gets better. Setting what goes on to be a precedent for most of the bands today, none of them can keep still as they pump out a short but action-packed set.

Brendo: First set of the day for this reviewer belongs to Hyro Da Hero, who had set about getting the party started with his pumping hip hop vocals flowing over the top of his band’s Rage Against The Machine-inspired riffs. The dirty Southern rock of “Sleeping Giants” and the fist pumping “Ghetto Ambience” wrapped his set.

Taking the stage fifteen minutes behind schedule were Californian prog rockers Dredg, opening with the mesmerizing “Ode To The Sun”, and from that moment all eyes were transfixed as Gavin Hayes’ haunting vocals echoed around the hall. Leading into “Bug Eyes” and the evocative “Same Ol’ Road”,  the crowd roared their appreciation. Just as the quartet had slipped into a groove, their set was cut untimely short.

Brian:  In another plus for Soundwave 2012 compared to last year, there was far more chicks on stage this time. On Stage 6, Cherri Bomb were bouncing around like excited teenagers, Nia Lovelis’ amazing shock of pink hair flashing out from behind the kit where she piloted the beat for the band’s energetic up-tempo pop-laced hard rock. The multi-part vocal harmonies and hellaciously catchy songs made me think of a poppier, slightly-less-aggro Nitocris, punchy exuberance and attitude backed up with sheer rock-out ability.

In the room next door the full-scale battle metal assault of Turisas was well underway, sucking a whole bunch of people who looked like they wouldn’t ordinarily even listen to a band like this into a vortex of uninhibited old-school style moshing and air-punching. Armour-clad and war-painted, violin sawing through the melodic guitars and furious drumming, the Finns were certainly making an impression, and with the best sound I heard from any band at Stage 7 all day. I’ve been a little cold on this band in the past, but after being swept along like everyone else by their incredible stage presence and the irresistable charms of “Battle Metal”, I walked away certain I’d already seen one of the best bands of the day.

It was already time for Steel Panther, who were looking to be a not-so-surprise hit of the event. In tattered singlets and badly-sagging spandex, they looked every bit like the has-been rockers they lampoon, but they also sound far better than most of them probably ever did. A parody they may be, but a joke they are not. Steel Panther kick ass: Satchel plays guitar like an absolute demon and Michael Starr hits notes that are somewhere out in orbit with barely an effort. Two songs in, Lexxxi Foxxx pouts into a hand mirror, adjusting his hair as Starr and Satchel launch into their repertoire of innuendo, pussy jokes and potshots at ageing rock stars. “I don’t see myself as a chubby version of David Lee Roth,” Starr tells the crowd, “I see myself as a thinner Vince Neil!” The banter gets increasingly bawdy and low-brow before they kick into the tawdry but hilarious “Asian Hooker”. Steel Panther’s parody is so in-focus it’s almost blinding – what we see them doing now as a joke is how hair metal bands used to behave for take-it-seriously real.

Both Hellyeah and Shadows Fall put on short but crowd-pleasing sets, one after the other. Hellyeah was nothing other than one huge singalong with Chad Grey conducting the masses through “Alcohaulin’ Ass” and “Cowboy Way”. Shadows Fall ripped through seven of their metalcore tunes with surgical precision, including a new one, “Fire From the Sky”, from a forthcoming album.

With their heavily processed backline producing a bottom-heavy thunder like the earth ripping open, Meshuggah were clock-stoppingly awesome. The issue was beyond doubt – this was not only the heaviest band of the day but quite possibly the heaviest thing that has ever been. The Novotel across the concourse was probably calling engineers to look for dangerous cracks caused by the Swedes’ incredible sub-bass onslaught augmented with impossible time-signatures and Jens Kidman’s spastic-in-slow-motion stage moves.

Brendo: Straight after the demolition that was Meshuggah, the recently reformed Coal Chamber took the stage. Appearing as if they hadn’t been away for ten years, the four-piece launched into biggest single “Loco” and the crowd went wild. Frontman Dez Fafara stood like a monster on stage, commanding the audience, spitting forth the lyrics before calmly asking “Who has the keys?”. “Big Truck” garnered a huge crowd response, as did favourite “Fiend”. During “Rowboat”, Meegs Rascón’s guitar began to cut out, leading to one very angry and frustrated Fafara. Recently acquired Chela Rhea Harper’s downtuned bass tone slotted in perfectly with the rhythmic bashing of Mike Cox’s drums, and the crowd collectively lost themselves to closer “Sway”.

Over on Stage 6 Biohazard were tearing the stage apart with their brash mix of hardcore, punk and metal stylings. Vocalist Billy Graziadei never stood still, utilising every square inch of space to spit his hard rhyme vocals. The powerful “Vengeance is Mine” and set closer “Hold My Own” saw the audience clambering over one another and left battered and bruised. Following straight after, melodic metalcore four piece In This Moment took the stage. Fronted by the beautiful Maria Brink, they opened with the soulful harmonies of “Just Drive”, before launching into the hard rock driven “Blazin’”. All eyes were on Brink, resplendent in a white flowing dress; this was a fierce woman backed by a fierce band, with an impressive set of lungs. Whether people were there to enjoy the music, or just to catch a glimpse of her, either way set closer “The Gunshow” had everyone running rampant.

Brian: Paradise Lost seemed like an odd choice to be playing today but were one of the first bands Soundwave’s promoter ever brought to Australia back in the mid 90s. As their soundcheck dragged on I grabbed a pretty decent hot dog from a vendor near the stage and stood back — way back actually, because these guys were seriously loud. It was good to hear some old classic melodic and heavy doom, such a contrast to many of the other bands playing, but the volume did seem to murder some of the subtleties of their songs and six wasn’t really enough.

Bad Religion, appearing today without Brian Baker, kicked off their set with the bang of their best known song, “21st Century (Digital Boy)” to a crowd that seemed largely indifferent to them. Audience reticence was taken completely in the punk legends’ stride however as they chopped out one catchy tune after the next, Greg Graffin and Jay Bentley bouncing off each other with the natural chemistry of three decades on stage together, dedicating songs to the brave souls on Channel V’s telecast platform hanging like the sword of Damocles eight storeys above the arena, and thoroughly enjoying their return to Australia. After the jarringly-loud Paradise Lost, however, Bad Religion sounded downright subdued and as much as they truly deserve a main stage slot I felt they would have worked better at one of the smaller ones – the people filing in to see Limp Bizkit just didn’t seem to get them at all.

Back at Stage 4, Trivium were just finishing their set. For some reason they were one of the least-anticipated bands on the bill today, probably because they seem to be here so often, but were solid as always. It was Mastodon that many of the people gathered were here to see and when the big-riffing quartet ripped into “Dry Bone Valley” first up people lost their shit. The performance that unfolded was consumate, a near-flawless display of immense rock grooves and metal riff-mongering as they trawled through “Black Tongue”, “Crystal Skull” and into “Megalodon” without pause for ceremony. The ‘Don were absolutely on fire and sounded as massive as the leviathans they write songs about. By “All the Heavy Lifting” they had taken the mantle of Best Act of the Day so far, and I was reluctant to depart but there was another band I just had to see today because I’d never get another chance.

Brendo: The first of the headliners – and long awaited – nu metal favourites Limp Bizkit took the stage, opening with “Introbra” from 2011’s Gold Cobra before the mass singalong that was “Hot Dog”. Frontman and egomaniac Fred Durst had the crowd eating out of his hand. “My Generation”, “Livin’ it Up” and “Hold On” all went down a treat, with the entire crowd moving and shaking, singing every word. Wes Borland, this time dressed in a white, blood stained suit and fedora was entertaining as always, bringing the riffs all while bouncing around the stage. Durst then brought the set to the part where he acknowledged that fateful day on January 26, 2001, dedicating “Take a Look Around” to Jessica Michalik. Losing momentum towards the end, “Nookie”, “Faith” and “Rollin’” rounded out the rest of their set.

Soon after, the Godfather of horror rock, the one and only Marilyn Manson, graced the stage. Excited as I was to witness his performance, much to my dismay it was nothing less than disappointing. His vocals were flat and lifeless. He missed cues, was constantly exhausted and it was apparent that he had consumed a number of drinks and/or drugs prior to his set. Opening with “Antichrist Superstar” and the normally energetic “Disposable Teens” should have been eye opening, but this reviewer felt that without life in the songs and faltering vocals, it was little more than a lame interpretation of himself. Twiggy Ramirez on guitar started out strong, working the crowd, but he too fell into a groove of nothingness. Walking away during “The Dope Show”, feeling let down I made my way to catch The Pretty Reckless.

Better known for her role in Gossip Girl, Taylor Momsen was a girl on fire, rocking the crowd in nothing more than socks and a large shirt. As the room filled with people, it’s left to decide whether most males were there for the music or to view the attractive eighteen year old deliver a set of hard hitting rock. Tracks from debut LP Light Me Up “Zombie”, “Miss Nothing” and “Goin Down” had all manner of fans dancing and rocking out. The Pretty Reckless closed out with the fast paced “Make Me Wanna Die” and the awesome “Factory Girl”.

Brian:  As much as Mastodon are my favourite band right now, across the park a legendary career was coming to an end and I headed over to witness Cathedral for what was to be the final time. Even the sonic limitations of Stage 7 were no impediment to the British veterans and Lee Dorrian – ill-fitting purple skivvy and all – was in mighty fine form. With their set coming to an end and only a handful of shows left in them, the psychedelic “Ride” caused plenty of movement down the front only for “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)” to rouse the room even more. As the band’s immense riffs crashed about him, Dorrian danced a Tyburn jig with the mic cord wrapped around his neck and then it was goodbye.

I dashed across to one of the far-flung stages to see some of Kvelertak before Dillinger came on. The Norwegian sextet burst on stage like a grenade in a nursery, guitars windmilling in unison as band members leapt in every direction, somehow keeping it all together without missing a note. Four songs in and they were still in overdrive, as if that was the only gear ever in existence, blasting out a furious roar of punk-tinged metal extremity. I was getting exhausted just watching them going totally berserk, and had to drag myself away to catch one of the bands I had specifically wanted to check today – The Dillinger Escape Plan. Back over at Stage 7, the sound problems had still not been sorted out and the New Jersey maniacs just sounded like an immense wall of noise moving at various degrees of fast. Greg Puciato was somewhere in the crowd, Ben Weinman was atop the PA with his head among the lighting rig, the others were moving like blurs around stage. The crowd was going totally apeshit. Then Puciato was back onstage, Weinman was now on the opposite speaker cabinet. Then his guitar was flying around in the air. Then he was in the crowd, walking over people, firing off a splat of technicality, threatening to throw his instrument into the masses, scrabbling back to the rest of the band. The technical idiosyncracies of their songs were hard to make out thanks to the massive volume and terrible acoustics, but Dillinger were so entertaining to watch that this really didn’t matter that much.

Brendo: Heading over to check out another of hardcore’s finest, Connecticut’s Hatebreed had set to, tearing the small stage to pieces. “I Will be Heard”, “Live for This” and the brutal “Facing What Consumes You” hit home like a punch to the face. Touring here quite frequently, the large mass of people gathered knew what they were in for, forcing Jamey Jasta to up the ante, with “Smash Your Enemies” starting a small riot before “Straight to Your Face” pummeled the audience into submission.

Brian: The strangely muted volume in the main arena meant that all I heard from Slipknot at first was the ringing in my ears left there by Dillinger. The ‘Knot, of course, were seriously bringing it on: Clown goes up and down on a scissor lift, Chris Fehn jumps on and clambers around, Joey Jordison gets up onto Clown’s shoulders, and then everyone stalks around, shouting stuff like a hip hop crew. It’s little wonder they got to be where they are, and even without all the trappings of their live show they would no doubt still be a pretty big deal. Even with his face hidden, Corey Taylor oozes charisma. Jim Root is sheer menace behind his mask. The songs are caustic, catchy and accessible all at once, and no one blends all the elements as well as Slipknot. “Before I Forget” and “Pulse of the Maggots” turn the D into a swarming mass of bodies. It’s good to see them back, but one also gets the feeling that their show, once so edgy and exciting, now seems increasingly stage-managed: it is fun to watch, but there’s no real element of surprise anymore.

Brother Zakk and the Black Label Society were shredding faces off back at Stage 4, Wylde resplendent in his full warrior chief’s headdress, singing in his dark croon and tearing all kinds of shapes from his guitar. There’s other guys in his band but with his wild showmanship, powerful voice and mastery of his chosen instrument it’s really just Zakk everyone’s there to see. “Godspeed Hellbound” is absolutely enormous, ringing out around the venue like a foretold doom.

Brendo: Closing the night for me were Swedish giants Raised Fist. With one foot in metal and the other firmly planted in hardcore, these veterans know how to put on a show. Considered one of the most energetic bands of today – and on a bill that had both Dillinger Escape Plan and Letlive that was something to live up to – Raised Fist showed them how it’s done. “Friends and Traitors”, the massively fast-paced “Breaking Me Up” and the intensity of “Killing It” had the small crowd running riot, climbing on each other and generally destroying the final reserves of energy they could muster. “Sound of the Republic” and “Bleed Under My Pen” tore the place apart. Alex Hagman was a monster, high kicking a good six feet in the air whilst Jimmy Tikkanen and Daniel Holmgren on guitar flung themselves wildly about the stage.

Brian: Much had been made of Swedish extremists Watain and I gave up the Devin Townsend Project to witness this ritualistic cabal in action on the metal stage as the faithful drifted there to see Machine Head. Surrounded by so much fire – flaming cauldrons, upside-down crucifixes and candles – Watain nonetheless wielded a cold malevolence in their theatrical, relentless, seemingly endless black metal attack. The lighting of the braziers was as spectacular as it got: after all I’d been told, I honestly expected more. Was it worth skipping Townsend for? No.

Watain may have left some enthralled, others bemused and others still, like the guy who sat down and played Angry Birds for their whole set, totally uninterested, but when Machine Head came on it was as if everything else was forgotten. And deservedly so. There’s a reason why this band keeps coming back to bigger and bigger crowds each time. Machine Head is one of the best bands in the game and right now they are at the pinnacle of their powers. Proof came early with the utterly seamless cut to the single clean guitar section of “I Am Hell” then the switch back to crushing heaviness riddled with tremolo-picked guitar and solo trade-offs. Dave McClain’s drumming was earth-shaking, probably ratting windows as far away as Rosehill. “Aesthetics of Hate” sent roars skyward as an image of Dimebag filled the screen behind the band. They went back to Burn My Eyes late in the set, offering “Old” to the crowd and the audience responded with a mighty roar and a sea of horns raised to the sky. Jesus probably was weeping. Pits opened and closed as irresistable grooves sent bodies flying. “Halo” and “Davidian” worked the crowd into a final explosion of energy and the band rode it all the way to the finish. Robb Flynn’s constant invocation of “Sydney!” got  a bit tiresome after the first 12 or so times but that’s the only negative thing I can bring myself to say about this performance, apart from it being too short. Machine Head was absolutely on fire, utterly faultless, the epitome of metal in the second decade of the 21st Century and no other band could have closed the day better.