I’m not even going to pretend that I’m not obsessed with Soundwave. I stalk AJ Maddah’s Twitter, make educated guesses on the potential lineup and revel in the inevitable drama that comes with having 90-odd bands full of super egos playing on the same day. Well, Brisbane got their turn on Saturday and yesterday it was Sydney’s go. 45,000 black-shirted and costumed music fans descended upon Sydney Olympic Park and enjoyed the biggest and best-organised rock and metal festival in Australia.
First up were Swedish Viking warriors Amon Amarth. They’d somehow conned Australian customs officials into bringing their fire-breathing Viking ship set into the country, and they destroyed. There were some sound issues, but that’s par for the course in an outdoor music festival and who cares when there are five enormous, bearded men shredding guitars and bellowing from atop (I really can’t stress this enough) A FIRE-BREATHING VIKING SHIP? I wanted to pillage something just from watching them.
Meanwhile, on the main stage, Aussie ska band The Porkers warmed up the crowd while we stood on the other side of the dual-stage waiting extremely impatiently for Scottish alt-rockers Biffy Clyro. The Porkers were a lot of fun, but comparing them to Biffy is like comparing Slayer and Bullet For My Valentine. Biffy pulled a Green Day and had a couple of extra guys on stage to play the tricky bits while Simon Neil and his magnificent beard jumped all over the stage like a rabbit on crack. Drummer Ben Johnson’s highly publicised struggle with alcohol addiction almost ended the band, but those dark days are far behind him (as much as an addiction can be behind anyone) judging by the sheer joy in his eyes while he played, and brother James on bass was all energy and focus.
They set an unmatchable standard for the rest of the bands to follow, despite Simon knocking his head open on his fret board during one particularly enthusiastic leap from the drum riser. After being patched up, he announced that they were coming back to Australia in September, which was met with rapturous applause from the assembled masses before they finished their set with mega-hit “Mountains”.
British djentlemen Tesseract slayed the crowd over on Stage 6 with their brand of math tempos, Drop G guitars and soaring, soulful cleans. An impeccable mix and unparalleled musicianship left the crowd standing in awe of their technical prowess, while Stage 4 saw Detroit natives The Black Dahlia Murder and their bearded, borderline-obese frontman throw down titanic slabs of pure death metal. Drawing mostly from their latest album Everblack, they suffered from some sound issues and the fact that they haven’t toured enough here to establish a large fan base. They got a huge rise out of the loyal fans at the front, though, with three simultaneous circle pits opening up during fan favourite “I Will Return” and massive sing-alongs during the Gothenburg-esque “Raped in Hatred By Vines of Thorn”. The clouds of marijuana, unfortunately, sent many an asthmatic ducking for cover from their set.
Stage 6 played host to the very dapper Upon a Burning Body, whose cover of “Deep in the Heart of Texas” was one of the highlights of the day. Over on the main stage, Aussie band The Living End demonstrated that their pub rock is just as fun now as it was 20 years ago. The alcohol abuse hasn’t aged them well, but it certainly hasn’t affected their playing ability. Also, “Roll On” is an awesome song. Red Bee put the local Sydney talent on the map, slaying their Stage 4 timeslot with reckless abandon. They’re definitely one to watch, and any fan of Tesseract or Periphery should check them out.
Due to technical difficulties, GWAR started 20 minutes late, but they started with a bang, ejaculating blood all over the crowd from their enormous, infected phalluses before beheading an effigy of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It’s completely X-rated, but damn, they put on a hell of a show. In Hearts Wake, conversely, were flat as a tack during their 40-minute set, while Brendan Urie got shirtless at Panic! at the Disco, causing several thousand young ladies to suffer from oxygen deprivation.
Placebo were a massive disappointment. No energy, terrible sound and looking hung over as hell, they didn’t get a single rise out of the assembled masses. Even “Every You Every Me” failed to initiate any kind of response beyond mild, polite applause. A Day to Remember, however, changed all of that. Opening with “All I Want”, they pulled the biggest crowd of the day, second only to Green Day. It wasn’t hard to see why, though, as Jeremy McKinnon ran around on the crowd in a massive Zorb ball while roadies pelted the masses with toilet paper. Playing a set of mega hits, it was rather telling that the older material, specifically “Have Faith in Me”, “The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle” and “Downfall of Us All” that made the crowd touch themselves (new single “Violence (Enough is Enough)” being a notable exception).
However, it was time for the most poignant set of the day. Soundwave 2014 saw the return of Suicide Silence to the stage, with All Shall Perish‘s Eddie Hermida occupying the spot that, by rights, should have been Mitch Lucker’s for many years to come. Hermida was absolutely amazing, though. Absolutely humble and making repeated references to the late Lucker, he showed his position the respect it deserved, and his vocal performance was inhuman. The band seemed, not so much stronger, but in possession of a steely determination to make Suicide Silence a lasting tribute to Mitch’s legacy. The crowd responded with equal ferocity as pit after pit opened up, as well as the most violent wall of death I’ve ever witnessed (and I’ve seen Lamb of God four times). Playing a set comprised mostly of material from The Cleansing and No Time to Bleed, the air was thick with emotion as they finished up with the now-retrospectively prophetic “You Only Live Once”. In short, Suicide Silence smashed it, and I have no doubt that Mitch, wherever he is, couldn’t be prouder of them.
As for the more socially acceptable genres, Jimmy Eat World played a set that was almost entirely off their shithouse new album, but finishing with “Bleed American”, “The Middle” and “Sweetness” saved what would have been a lacklustre hour from the poor man’s blink-182. Phil Anselmo’s Down, meanwhile, wouldn’t get the hell off the stage. Running 20 minutes over time, the ex-Pantera frontman did whatever the hell he wanted, because what are you gonna do? He’s freaking Phil Anselmo. When they finally stopped, French eco-warriors Gojira hit the stage hard. They didn’t have the best sound, but they made up for it with sheer energy and stage presence. Can I also just say that Mario Duplantier is one of the best drummers in history? His freakish speed and technical capability was seemingly effortless, while his big brother Joe taught the crowd French. “Do you want another song?” he asked, to which the assembled screamed assent. “I don’t speak your Australian. Do you want another song?” The crowd looked confused and went “…oui?” “Ahhh, there you go, you speak a real language now!” Duplantier laughed, before closing their set with “Vacuity”.
Over on main stage, Green Day were just starting their three-hour set, and kept getting random people on stage to sing or play guitar. Billie Joe even gave one of these girls his guitar as a present for playing so well. Opening with a few hits off American Idiot, such as “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Holiday”, they then announced that, since it was the 20th anniversary of Dookie, they were going to play the whole album in its entirety. They saved “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” for the encore, of course. Can’t give away the best song for nothing. You all need to wait, god damn it.
Finally, back on Stage 6, the funk-hardcore maniacs in letlive. brought my day to a close with their trademark insanity. The whole band put on a great show; however, frontman Jason Butler is one of the greatest performers of our time. Jumping off speakers, hopping into the crowd, pouring water over the stage for the express purpose of sliding on his knees and actually knocking himself unconscious during a particularly frenzied moment in “Muther”, he won Soundwave this year.
I could have stayed and watched Mastodon, I Killed the Prom Queen or any number of other bands, but I chose to end it there. You can’t beat letlive. as a closer. Anything else would have been unsatisfying, and a lot of people shared the sentiment. As the mass fare began, the people were unanimous.
Best Soundwave ever.