Slipknot at Soundwave 2015, Sydney / Photo: Yael Stempler

Soundwave 2015, Sydney: A Metal Perspective

They say sequels are never quite as good as the original, but I had my fingers crossed that Day 2 of Sydney Soundwave would be like the Terminator 2: Judgement Day of music festivals. It was definitely just as action-packed, with the requisite amounts of blood, storms, fireballs, machines causing havoc and, of course, a heavy metal soundtrack.

For those who missed the first instalment, we decided to do things a little differently this year by splitting our annual festival review in half – looking at Day 1 from a punk perspective, and Day 2 from a metal perspective.

Saturday was punk day, and you can read all about how that went down, right here. Which means Sunday was all about the metal. But rather than just focus on the heaviest bands on the lineup, we attempted to search for the spirit of metal in a variety of acts.

So slap on your black leather steel caps, dust off your favourite pig’s head and let’s get brutal. #justmetalthings

Soundwave, Sydney Day 2: Journey To The Centre Of Metal

“Heavy metal is what I’m into. Shit that moves you. Shit that has heart and soul.” – Dimebag Darrell, Pantera

“Heavy metal drives me bonkers, it makes me want to vomit, heavy metal really is a pile of puke.” – Ian Gillan, Deep Purple

“To some people heavy metal is Motorhead and to others it’s Judas Priest.” Glenn Danzig, The Misfits/Danzig

Though its myriad of subgenres may differ in enough ways to set internet forums at war, the main characteristics that unite all breeds of heavy metal music are fairly similar. According, once again, to the bastion of human knowledge that is Urban Dictionary, those characteristics include aggression, loudness, and — usually — electric guitars.

Finnish band, Apocalyptica, breaks that mould right off the bat on Day 2. Instead of guitars, these European metalloids arm themselves with bows and cellos, which they used on Olympic Park’s main stage on Sunday afternoon to skullcrushing effect.

The blaring midday sun didn’t hinder their larger-than-life performance (only made it sweatier) as guest vocalist Frankie Perez (ex-Scars On Broadway) showcased his rockstar vocals with an uplifting rendition of the band’s radio-friendly new single, Cold Blood. But not even a well-received cover of Metallica’s classic thrasher Seek And Destroy could live up to Apocalyptica’s own standard of what constitutes true heavy metal.

“Even though it’s hot I see a lot of black T-shirts, which means there must be some heavy metal fans here, so I think it’s time we play some heavy metal,” said cellist Eicca, in a Finnish accent Metalocalypse-watchers would swear was bang-on Dethklok’s Skwisgaar. “Are you ready for some metal?”

The string trio and their drummer then launched into a frenetic classical arrangement of Sepultura’s Inquisition Symphony, which yielded the first cello metal windmill I’ve ever seen, courtesy of master bowman Purttu. It was strange, hilarious and magnificent.

Speaking of Sepultura, ex-frontman Max Cavalera was over on Stage 4, getting ready to make his Sydney Soundwave debut with new supergroup, Killer Be Killed. The metal legend came out in a smoke-machined haze, rocking a King Parrot shirt in front of a Marshall amp which was draped with an Aussie flag, thus scoring immediate brownie points with the bogans.

The crowd surged towards the stage in a maniacal tidal wave, as heavy metal kingpins Cavalera (Soulfly), Greg Puciato (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Troy Sanders (Mastodon) and fill-in drummer Ben Koller (Converge) entertained with a selection of ferocious tunes off their debut, self-titled album. Contrary to the band’s hints prior to the festival, there were no setlist surprises.

With the number of B-sides and lesser known tracks from the new album dominating their set, a strategic Soulfly, Dillinger or Mastodon cover would have kept fans’ blood pumping til the finale, which offered a double-whammy of big singles Wings Of Feather and Wax and Snakes of Jehovah . Instead, the fever that exploded when the band first stormed the stage hit a wall about three songs deep and never recovered.

While that was all going down, the conspicuously un-metal Tonight Alive were jazzed to be playing in front of their hometown crowd on the main stage. The shooting star pop punks’ loyal fanbase was out in force, and a priceless moment in their set came when frontwoman Jenna McDougall serenaded a crowdsurfing fan dressed in a full Spiderman get-up with The Edge, their song from the soundtrack of the most recent Spidey film.

However, the group drew the ire of the few metal fans who were still present inside the stadium with a Rage Against The Machine medley, smashing together Killing In The Name, Know Your Enemy and Guerilla Radio. Even a cameo from Bert McCracken of The Used failed to impress a lot of Rage fans, who groaned that the pop punks had no business butchering such classics.

The majority of the crowd, however, went wild for the mashup, and the politically-charged messages of the songs complemented McDougall’s T-shirt — “All human life is sacred.”

After Tonight Alive came All Time Low, who must have done something to anger the metal gods. A few songs into their set, the searing heat that had scorched Olympic Park all afternoon was suddenly sucked into a dark, looming storm cloud, which promptly shat itself with explosive force.

After previously quipping that the crowd would need to get naked if it started to rain, the wisecracking All Time Low were silenced by a torrential deluge, which smashed down upon the stage, drenching amps, gear and other electronic equipment while all but the most dedicated of fans bull-rushed the grandstand, seeking shelter.

Minutes passed as the rain continued to hammer down with deafening power in the tuneless arena, before finally easing into a steady drizzle, and a sudden cheer directed everyone’s attention back to the stage, where All Time Low had reappeared.

They were unable to continue performing, as the rain had “fucked” their gear, but the group earned major respect points for inviting the crowd to participate in an acapella jam on one of their originals, followed by the Queen classic We Will Rock You, before they graciously went down for the count. I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of this college party band, but you can’t deny it was a pretty baller move.

While punters waited for the main stage to get its shit together for Papa Roach, I did what any metal fan would do — fucked off to watch some Japanese metalcore. And it seems I wasn’t the only one. A vast horde had gathered in the Stage 5 hangar for Crossfaith, who entertained with a crushing set that was balls-to-the-wall venom and pulverising guitar work.

Next up was Exodus, just down the road, who delivered an onslaught of thrash metal riffage and some of the day’s biggest and most perilous circle pits. A well-chosen set of old classics and material from their new album Blood In, Blood Out sent fans of the veteran act into a savage but spirited frenzy for the duration of their 60-minute set.

Meanwhile, back over on the mainstage, Marilyn Manson was raising plenty of eyebrows. Well-known for his unpredictable live shenanigans, the Pale Emperor left even the most loyal of fans questioning their musical taste when he smashed a bottle of Heineken and used it to cut open his hand and smear actual blood all over himself and the stage.

Someone from the backstage crew, perhaps Manson’s minder, rushed out, seemingly pleading with the frontman to cease and desist, to which he responded by smashing yet another bottle of imported beer in an act of bratty protest. Metal?

The antics might have come across as the right kind of crazy, had Manson been performing the songs well. But even during Beautiful People and Sweet Dreams – the most effortless of crowd-pleasers – he slurred through the lyrics, sometimes not even bothering to sing them at all, and often meandered drunkenly into his ‘wardrobe change’ area at centre stage for an outfit touch-up, or for no reason at all.

Thankfully, then came Judas Priest. Judas fucking Priest to make everything all better. Their presence even made the apocalyptic weather seem apt, a biblical tempest to mark Rob Halford and co’s return to the Australian stage, which they did in an orgy of smoke, bright lights and flamboyant outfits while spinning epic lyrical tales about Dragonauts, Metal Gods and Valhalla.

Their sound was as sharp as the metal studs on Halford’s leather jacket and you could hear every instrument with crystal clarity, from each individual note that guitarist Richie Faulkner shredded during his eye-popping guitar solo, to the perfect skyscraper notes Halford belted with scandalous ease, powerful enough to make a lesser man’s balls shrivel in terror.

There was just too much to marvel at during this performance: the sound, the talent, the stage show, all of it a masterclass. And you just couldn’t fault the frontman. At 63-years-old, grandpa Halford puts the f-u in fabulous. Still at the top of his game, talent-wise, the showman juggled multiple outfit changes throughout the band’s headliner-length set, and even rode out on an ACTUAL HARLEY-DAVIDSON during Hell Bent For Leather.

The joy at sharing in such a special event seemed to bind the crowd together in a collective sense of camaraderie, which found its zenith during fan favourites Breaking The Law and, especially, Painkiller, which the band returned to perform as a second encore.

I had originally intended to shoot off to catch the end of Slash, back on the main stage, during Priest’s set, but it quickly became apparent that this was not going to happen. Slash will probably be back in a few months’ time anyway (he always is) but how often do you get the chance to see a band like Priest? To me, Judas Priest were heavy metal incarnate and I was glued to the pit.

For others, that honour went to Slipknot.

The festival’s headliners were predictably mind-blowing. The nine exploded onto the mainstage in a nightmare of hellfire pyrotechnics, kicking off with new track Sarcastrophe and swarming over a gargantuan set that was packing mobile drum podiums and a monstrous Satanic effigy.

An apparent safety issue caused an impromptu 10-minute intermission early on, triggering a mass exodus from the arena as some punters’ patience struck out, but the masked metal maniacs quickly rallied with a back-to-back combo of their monster classics Before I Forget and Duality to bring it home.

They climaxed with a three-way encore of (sic), People = Shit and Surfacing that triggered the most intense mosh pit I’ve ever seen at Soundwave.

It signalled a wrap on an absolutely body-crushing weekend that had seen punters get baked extra crispy in the scorching heat, drenched in a torrential rainstorm, and rocked to the core by some of the greatest bands in the world.

Because, above all, that’s what Soundwave is all about. Unlike some other Australian festivals, which may have founded themselves on a culture of pingin’ in your Bintang singlet, or being so hipster that you dry-hump a meadow, Soundwave really is just about going to a place to watch a lot of really, really fucking good bands. Punk, metal and everything in between.

Gallery: Soundwave 2015 Sydney, Day 2 / Photos by Yael Stempler

Read our wrap of Soundwave 2015 Sydney, Day 1 here, and check out all our coverage, including more reviews, photos, videos and interviews, on our Soundwave 2015 Feed.

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