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Soundwave Smashes Ashore

by The Red Dragon


Soundwave 2012 washed upon our shores the finest heavy hitting set of musicians to ever visit Australia. If last year’s line-up was a revisit to an era ago’s metal and rock legends (Primus, Slayer, Queens of the Stone Age et al) then this year’s version was quite simply the heaviest show here- ever. The quality of acts was of the ilk of the ill-fated Alternate Nation tour back in the early nineties and the only potential disappointment for fans was the inevitable clashes between blue-ribbon bands. The black t-shirt brigade was sure to be out in numbers.
And they were. Big numbers, over 45, 000 punters (most wearing customary back tees) flooded through the gates to mosh to seven stages of their favourite tunes. An early must see was Ohio’s Chimaira who didn’t disappoint with their double kick laden tracks from early works as well as a couple of teasers from their forthcoming new album. If t-shirts and singlets were an indication, then glam-rock/metalers Steel Panther had plenty of fans. An ex-cover band who entertained with their brand of Poison/Motley Crue/Skid Row (etc) eighties inspired stuff, they are a curious lot who can’t be taken too seriously yet delivered on stage.

Many true metal-heads had planned their mid afternoon around Swedish experts Meshuggah. Arguably the truly heaviest band on the list (and going around), they weren’t to be missed, shaking the Earth with their heaving, grinding, growling sounds. They sometimes sound like a gigantic, pissed-off half-machine, half-beast, looking for a kill or a place to die. Technically amazing and an inspiration for aspiring guitarists, they delivered a tight, energetic and dark set with many exceptional moments, notably the aggressively progressive Combustion. Awesome. In the truest sense of the word.

Coal Chamber continued the barrage with another aural assault. Lead singer Dez Farara must love it here (he toured last year’s ‘Wave with DevilDriver) and the crowd loved the Chamber. Stage 4B seemed to be the place for the heavier bands but on the main stages the action was just as huge. A Day To Remember rocked out hard and Bush surprised a few sceptics who were prepared to write them off as has-beens or one hit wonders. Bad Religion were good, very good, pleasing their loyal crew of fans of their upbeat, energetic surf punk. The Goldie and Sunshine Coast crews loved ‘em, but they weren’t great. Almost felt like at times we were watching a punk cover band, reminiscent of the equally disappointing Violent Femmes a few years ago. Maybe some music is meant to stay on the CD shelf.

Trivium has established themselves as a serious contender for a heavyweight of the future. They are still relatively young and with five albums to draw on they were a genuine highlight of the afternoon, even though they mainly played tracks from their latest In Waves. The Stage 4B decibel levels stayed high as Atlanta’s Mastodon commanded your attention on stage. They thundered, roared and soared through an eclectic set of tunes in their own unique way. Their sound is hard to define, while they have moments that remind the ear of Tool, Kyuss or sometimes even Clutch, they definitely have their own methods of carving their music into your soul. It is clean yet brutal, churning yet melodic. It is Mastodon and they are fucking amazing, satisfying new fans and welcoming curious on-lookers on board. A top shelf display and one of the genuine highlights of the day.

Machine Head roared their intentions with their anthemic, scorching and pounding I Am Death from their latest offering Unto The Locust. These guys don’t really need an introduction. They are widely regarded and respected and rightly so and they rocked the muddied, sweaty pit. The entire run through of bands on these stages was so impressive that muddy and steaming afternoon. Most will never forget it, if they can remember it. Back on the main stages, Limp Bizkit proved they haven’t lost it and whipped the crowd into a frenzy in preparation for the main course. Break Stuff was a particular moshpit favourite and it was great to see guitarist Wes Borland back with this resurrected lot. Around now the serious clashes arose...

Too many options, too many stages, too many people in the way and not enough time to see it all- what a wonderful dilemma to have. The Dillinger Escape Plan played to an undeservedly small, but enthusiastic pit on Stage 7. Their frenetic, borderline psychotic, spasmodic, sweet melodies deserve a wider audience, albeit they are an acquired taste. Ex- Strapping Young Lad front-man, Devon Townsend (Project) was also a little out of place way out west with Dillinger. While his Project’s incarnation is not as brutal as his SYL days, this collective still warranted a greater audience. Neither act would have been out of place at a more prominent stage, this was the curse of the quality of this year’s beast. Another unlucky mob was Hatebreed, who surely had many festival-goers at the crossroads and compromised by the time clashes after sundown. These warriors of truth are a force to be reckoned with and still had true fans frothing at the mouth hours after their finished their fierce and ferocious set. Lamb Of God rounded out proceedings on the now famous Stage 4B, and while a great show of their brand of contemporary metal, the crowd favourite behemoths were back in the main arena.

Most punters swarmed the centre of the showgrounds for the finale...Slipknot were the first of two giants occupying hour and a half timeslots. Sick. There is not a show like it on this planet. Nine freaks in customised fright-masks, frolicking and cavorting like asylum escapees scraping and screeching out such now iconic beats and rhythms. Scary stuff. Their drum techs and roadies deserve a mention. The rising and falling, spinning percussion kits were ultra impressive with Shawn Crahan’s Clown strapping on a kettle drum and taking centre stage for the intense beats of The Blister Exists, something no one could forget from this great day. Some punters may have been excused for wrongly criticising or dismissing this band as catering to an immature or ‘commercial’ audience. Perhaps listening to some ‘Knot tracks and the development of the ever-softening Corey Taylor side-project Stonesour, fickle fans may have an argument however I would suggest these punters have never seen this circus live before. The opposite of mainstream or soft. A great show, one for the ages.

And then there was one, and was it a good one. System Of A Down burst onto the stage in the same way they did the music scene almost fifteen years ago- abrubt, brash, melodic, progressive, political in your face. Music with a message that can ignite an inquisitive young metal or punk or hardcore or whatever-they-are-fan’s brain into actually investigating the issues that System shout and spit and scream about. Leading would-be martyr and messiah Serj Tankian is a superb singer and front-man. His eco-socio-economic political rants towards the end of the gig aren’t meant to be taken lightly (Serj and his fellow band members are of Armenian descent) but his soliloquies only added to the theatre. It felt as if the majority of the party was there at this show, most singing, dancing and moshing along to every word, alternating between heavier tracks such as Deer Dance to post-post modern anthems such as Aerials, Toxicity, Holy Mountains and of course Chop Suey. While this reviewer has been to many, many festivals and is clearly, subjectively a fan (I have seen System four times), I can objectively declare that this is one of the best sets I have ever seen at any festival or live show. Straight into my all time top five easily. A perfect way to end an unbelievable day despite the mud. (Poor Spud!)

Punters, black shirt or not, left happy, a great day had by all surely. If you didn’t have good time I don’t know why you were there. A credit to all who planned, schemed and scheduled the entire day, circus, sideshow and party. Well done lads and ladies, well done indeed. We will be back.

Highlights: System of a Down, Mastodon, Meshuggah, Slipknot...Take your pick!!!

Rating: (out of five stars) ***********...