Knotfest Australia
Slipknot | Credit: @Knotfestau

Knotfest Australia Review – Brutality and Belonging at Knotfest’s Down Under Debut

Knotfest Australia took place at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, on Friday, 24th March. Brenton Harris reviews.

Despite the early morning withdrawal of Bad Omens and some slight teething issues for early arrivals, Knotfest Australia’s debut event was one of the most enjoyable and well-organised metal festivals to ever visit Melbourne.

English metal act Malevolence were up first, putting in an uncompromising six-song set that got the pit activated before noon. Dressed to depress, Melbourne locals Void Of Vision took things up a notch with a set of industrial-tinged metalcore. Vocalist Jack Bergin was a magnetic presence out front as the band sucked you into their world with songs like ‘Altar’ and ‘The Lonely People’.

Tassie-formed, Melbourne-based nu metalcore outfit Alpha Wolf whipped the Knotfest crowd into a frenzy with the raging ‘Ultra-Violet Violence’. The performance remained an assault on the senses from there on in, culminating in a crushing rendition of ‘Akudama’.

Alpha Wold – ‘Akudama’

While a legion of dedicated maggots wrestled with merch lines rumoured to be hours long, the skin-masked Gore cut a terrifying presence in the Renegades of Wrestling ring, punishing his opponent with a painful finishing move to secure victory.

The agitated screams of Knocked Loose vocalist Bryan Garris reawakened the Knotfest mosh. The Kentucky band tore through half an hour of raw metalcore that was sufficient to cause a stream of bodies to go flying across the barricades.

Spiritbox vocalist Courtney LaPlante was conspicuously the only female front person on the Knotfest Australia lineup, a point she drove home by arriving onstage in a high-vis orange hood. The melodic hooks of ‘Circle With Me’ offered a temporary reprieve from the guttural expression on display elsewhere. That is, until LaPlante let out one of the most menacing roars in metal during the song’s breakdown.

The Canadian band’s superior songcraft shone even in the festival setting. Songs like ‘Hurt You’, ‘Yellowjacket’ and ‘Rotoscope’ inspired mass sing-alongs, while the crowd exploded at the sound of 2020 single ‘Holy Roller’, indicating Spiritbox could be headlining an event like this sometime in the future.

Spiritbox – ‘Holy Roller’

Noughties screamo favourites Story Of The Year ran through a career-spanning set that emphasised the heavier end of their catalogue, including ‘And The Hero Will Drown’, ‘Antidote’ and the anti-homophobe thrash fest ‘“Is This My Fate?” He Asked Them’.

Swedish melodic death metal icons In Flames played a solid set that received a polarising response. Newer songs like ‘The Great Deceiver’ and ‘State of Slow Decay’ caused a portion of the crowd to grow visibly restless. Said restlessness was supplanted by headbanging glee during 1999’s ‘Behind Space’ and ‘Only For The Weak’. Three decades into their career, In Flames remain world-class. There are just a lot of fans who’ll never get over them abandoning their roots.

Viking metallers Amon Amarth were the opposite of divisive. In Flames’ Swedish contemporaries were greeted by a contingent of cardboard weapon-wielding worshippers who embraced every second of their performance. Before ‘The Great Heathen Army’, grey-bearded frontman Johan Hegg asked the Knotfest crowd, “Are you ready to battle like Vikings?” When Hegg ordered the crowd to grab their oars and take to the seas for ‘Put Your Back Into The Oar’, everyone complied, forming a massive rowing pit that had to be seen to be believed.

With frontman and Twitch god Matt Heafy grinning from ear to ear, Slipknot’s old pals Trivium launched into a flawless 45-minute set. From the opener, ‘Rain’, to the final moments of ‘Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr’, they held the crowd in a state of elation.

Megadeth came out with guitars blazing. Dave Mustaine showed he has lost none of his shredding abilities as he joined forces with Keiko Loureiro to dazzle the masses with the opening triad of ‘Hangar 18’, ‘Dread and the Fugitive Mind’ and ‘Angry Again’. Mustaine thanked the crowd for their support during a recent battle with cancer, and revealed that he is now cancer-free.

Megadeth – ‘Hangar 18’

As the sun descended, a group of mysterious hooded characters held flaming torches aloft, signalling the arrival of Byron Bay juggernaut Parkway Drive. The distinctive stomp of ‘Glitch’ flipped a detonation switch for one of the biggest mosh pits you’ll ever see. Dressed in white and dancing amid a wall of flames, vocalist Winston McCall was the orchestrator of chaos, leading his band through a show worthy of festival headliner status.

Watching thirty-thousand metalheads bounce along to ‘Prey’ and ‘Carrion’ was, as McCall said, “iconic”. During ‘Dedicated’, the band beamed with pride and McCall adjusted the lyrics to scream, “20 years I’ve fought for this”. McCall joined the mosh to perform ‘Karma’ before crowd-surfing his way back to the stage.

A string quartet appeared to accompany Parkway Drive through ‘Shadow Boxing’ and ‘Darker Still’. Notwithstanding a few off-notes from McCall during ‘Darker Still’, this section of the show indicated Parkway Drive no longer have stadium ambitions, they have stadium realisations.

When guitarist Jeff Ling hit the intro for ‘Wild Eyes’, every voice rose to mirror his melody. Exiting the stage, McCall offered a cheery warning: “You’re all about to die”.

Parkway Drive – ‘Wild Eyes’

The moment Slipknot hit the stage, the intensity of the masked nonet was overwhelming. Frontman Corey Taylor crooned the intro of ‘Wait And Bleed’, inviting the Knotfest crowd to form one giant choir. ‘All Out Life’, ‘Sulfur’ and ‘Before I Forget’ attracted a similar display of devotion.

Percussionist Shawn “Clown” Crahan’s stage presence was hypnotic, while Jim Root and Mick Thompson’s guitar prowess coordinated with Taylor’s vocals to hold the sonic chaos together. With so much happening, there’s always a risk that individual elements will get lost in the mix. But the sound techs did an extraordinary job of ensuring everyone could be heard.

This was Slipknot’s first visit down under in seven years, and the response for newer tracks like ‘The Dying Song’ and ‘Unsainted’ showed that, 24 years removed from the release of their self-titled debut album, the band’s maggots remain faithful.

Slipknot – ‘Unsainted’

One fan got a little too excited during ‘Psychosocial’, scaling the speaker tower and causing a temporary halt to the show. But with the anthemic intro of ‘Duality’, all hell broke loose again. The percussionists hung off beer kegs as they beat in time with drummer Jay Weinberg, while DJ Sid Wilson carried an animatronic mask that sang and spoke in time with the music.

Taylor told the fans they’re his family, a pronouncement that was met with a mighty roar. The frantic ‘Custer’ and ‘Spit It Out’ brought the set to a close, but Slipknot returned for a two-song encore including the “maggots’ national anthem”, ‘People = Shit’, and an incendiary ‘Surfacing’. As Taylor sang, “Fuck it all / Fuck this world / Fuck everything that you stand for / Don’t belong / Don’t exist/ Don’t give a shit / Don’t ever judge me”, it dawned on me that this is what Knotfest is all about; creating a space where anyone who feels like an outcast can be comfortable in their own skin. In that sense, and in many others too, Knotfest’s Australian debut was a resounding success.

Further Reading

Bad Omens Pull Out of Knotfest Melbourne, Set Times Change

Alpha Wolf: “We Found Out About Knotfest When We Were Out on the Town in Europe”

Lost Slipknot Album Potentially Coming out This Year

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