2019's Dead Of Winter Festival (DOW) felt more like a mild summer's day as I wove my way through back streets headed to The Tivoli Theatre (13 July).
Crystal clear, cloudless skies and unseasonably warm sunshine made for a stark contrast against the early-bird punters, clad almost exclusively in band tees and black.
By getting in nice and early to familiarise myself with the two venue set-up (DOW was also staged at Jubilee Hotel) helped paint the picture of exactly what was going down.
Instantly, I was hit with a sense of camaraderie (that dug a little deeper than just a shared love of music) that erred on the heavy side. There was a mounting anticipation as the day grew longer – the festival would only get rowdier.
I arrived just as Patient Lounge (fka Therapist) were set to take to the Fireball stage. After hearing the hype surrounding these guys, I was eager to see what all the fuss was about.
From the onset and throughout, Patient Lounge absolutely killed it. A complex, yet entirely palatable swirl of genres that, at times, could leave you feeling a bit whiplashed – but it was never long until the boys brought you back to a sense of complete cohesion.
Patient Lounge - image © Aimi Hobson
Frontman Zack playfully danced around the stage as his husky vocals drove home some of the tightest playing I heard throughout the entire festival. These guys REALLY know how to play their instruments.
Next up was Opus Of A Machine. I caught these guys at Progfest last year and their sombre yet soaring intonations stood out against the rest of the festival’s more chaotic line-up. This time was no different.
Their dreamy take on shoe-gaze/ prog conjure up a likeness similar to what would happen if Deafheaven and Silversun Pickups were to spawn a more introspective lovechild. Airy and honey-smooth vocals from frontman Mitchell ebbed and flowed over crunchy, guitar-driven hooks that played on space and ambience, without ever failing to crescendo into a spine-tingling, heavy chorus.
A couple hours had ticked by, so I slithered down the street towards the Jubilee to catch Tai Sui, a four-piece experimental group that once heard cannot easily be forgotten. They’re a truly unique amalgamation of new-millennium influenced hip hop meets mid 2000s screamo, all tied together with a politically-riled ethos.
Punters - image © Aimi Hobson
High-energy singles like ‘Celestial’ and ‘Big Pharma’ were belted and slogged-out seamlessly – no easy feat for tracks with such feverish shrieks and breakdowns. Hosted by one of DOW’s more modest stages, Tai Sui’s audience were not afraid to clamber to the front to show their support for one of Brisbane’s big genre-benders.
Out on the 4ZZZ stage, I caught Aussie surf-punk band The Go Set. While managing to encapsulate the quintessential elements of old-school, stripped-back punk, The Go Set weaves an overarching and inescapable element of folk into each of their songs.
Now, I’m not talking about your mother’s 'folk'; I’m talking full-blown, anthemic, neo-Celtic folk, complete with bagpipes. As they ploughed through their 2012 release 'The Drums of Chelsea', I had to overcome the urge to Riverdance my way around the Jubilee carpark.
Back to The Tivoli for Voyager. From the moment the Perth based five-piece stepped on stage, it was strikingly clear Voyager are an outfit born to perform. The crowd was packed. Heads were preemptively banging. Arms were preemptively swinging. We were ready.
Their signature fusion of djent and death metal neatly wrapped in to an incredibly crisp and tight performance sent the masses in to meltdown. The sheer theatrics of each member as they jumped around the stage was mayhem when observing the individual.
However, as you watched the band as a whole, it was obvious this was controlled chaos – an almost elegant dance. Voyager’s ability to orchestrate a sense of rich dynamic progression shines through with their injections of eerie and at times '80s-esque synth – the apex being the introduction of their latest single ‘Brightstar’; my personal highlight of their set.
Heart and Dagger sideshow - image © Aimi Hobson
My second-last band for the evening was Mammal, arguably one of the most influential contributors to the nation's metal scene.
Their infamous energy did not fall short, and saying the audience lapped it up would be a massive understatement. Ezekiel Ox commanded the crowd and Mammal as a collective performed with an unrivalled level of crowd engagement.
As I took a moment to gaze around the crowd, everyone was either moshing, attempting to start a circle pit, or smiling from ear to ear. With his limbs flailing around like a mad man, Ox lead with a crowd favourite ‘Smash The Pinata’ and effortlessly glided around the crowd during ‘The Majority’.
Mammal started on a high and only continued to go up and up throughout their set. A magnetic and raw energy that would otherwise be branded as cocky if any other artist tried to replicate it, but because it’s Mammal, there’s no questions asked – and with steeze like that, why would there be!
As the 12-hour day crept towards its final curtain call, the headlining act was set to go off at the Fireball stage. Prog veterans COG had The Tivoli’s auditorium and mezzanine packed to the rafters. Feeling weary from the massive day, I could feel myself starting to fade.
COG - image © Aimi Hobson
But when lead vocalist Flynn took a reprieve between songs to remind the audience how truly unique a festival like DOW is, I felt instantly reborn.
By reminding us the music industry can be a fickle, but rigid place, and that sometimes breaking in to the industry can be an impossible feat, it is events such as DOW that gives local musicians a platform to encourage their raw expression and ability to think outside the box.
That really rang true to me, as throughout my time at DOW I had been embraced with a sense of acceptance. DOW is more than just a music and arts festival, it’s a way of life.
Good lord is it July already? Well, what better way to treat the existential dread of another year flying by than with Brisbane’s biggest celebration of all things heavy, Dead Of Winter Festival.
Now entering adolescence in its tenth year, this blossoming carnival of whacky wonders and guitar-driven delights is a must-attend for any punter looking to mosh their worries away.
First up on my checklist was the Gold Coast’s very own Hammers opening the Jubilee’s deck bar stage. This motley crew of ocker personalities felt so disarming and approachable, like your four whacky uncles sinking tins around the barbie.
A well-executed sing-along kicked things off as the quartet asked the bumper crowd to “take care of these brittle bones”; pretty ironic considering the following 30 minutes of ferocious sludge rock could grind even the most calcium-enriched skeletons into dust.
Not to be held back by some early mic issues, lead singer Fish kept the band charging forward without missing a beat. When it comes to energy, these guys are like a 9-volt battery dipped in vodka Red Bull and more than happy to hand out fairy bread to celebrate drummer Ruckus’ birthday.
And might I add, the balls of guitarist Lucas wearing a NSW Blues jersey just days after Queensland's origin defeat? Priceless.
Next up was the barefoot psychedelic delight, Fight Ibis. Taking to The Tivoli’s outdoor stage, this young band was extraordinarily well practiced, swelling their groove laden sound to dizzying heights before snapping back into a streamlined attack of sizzling guitar leads and long-form jams, all the while maintaining a viciously playful edge like a protean King Giz.
Their hooks were on-point and burst through in instrumental leads and solos rather than catchy vocal melodies. But their laser-precise execution makes the whole affair deliciously refreshing; you don’t often see a band this rambunctious play so damn tight.
Rather than be intimidated by the festival's heavier inclinations, the crew handled themselves in charming style as the lead singer announced: “Look, we’re not the most metal band here, but that’s OK…” It’s more than OK lads. Fight on, fight hard.
Their material is strong, especially latest single ‘6 Nickel Rocket’, but their personality might need some time and the right setting to truly surface and flourish. That said, I for one will damn sure be there and hungry to see it.
In terms of pure musicianship and songcraft, Elephant Hive are nothing short of formidable. Hailing from Tel Aviv, Israel, this unusual two-piece took The Tivoli’s outdoor stage by storm. The drummer was an absolute beat machine, utilising every part of the kit possible; skins, rims, sides, even a rigged-up metal bucket.
Strange-yet-wonderful accents flew out of the oddest places to both confuse and tantalise, and song structure was completely at their mercy. It’s as if Hendrix never choked on his own vomit that fateful September night and got really into math rock and Lightning Bolt.
Both guitar and drum kit ricocheted off each other into wild and unpredictable trajectories, and boy did that guitar sing. And scream. And wail. Man, what an unexpected ball of nails that this band hit right the f... out of the car park.
A Night In Texas - image © Aimi Hobson
For anyone suffering blast-beat deficiency, A Night In Texas are exactly what the doctor ordered. While sticking to a fairly traditional meat-and-potatoes approach to deathcore, this band of merry shredders displayed a surprising amount of finesse to their technical approach and held a headlining presence balanced by genuine and honest crowd engagement.
Vocalist Ethan screeched out like Smeagol on a three-day bender as the band beckoned punters to get closer and closer. I always love seeing assorted band members mouth out the lyrics to songs; not to mention, their coordinated group stomps would have made the late Mitch Lucker proud.
Well timed silence breaks were deployed to great affect, punctuating onslaughts of whiplash-inducing riffage that sent the crowd flying into a circle-pit frenzy. Look, their fans love them and for good reason. A Night In Texas know how to punch out a kick-ass show and showed The Tivoli main stage how it’s done.
The biggest treat of the day was delivered by complete surprise when I stumbled across what looked like a Book of Mormon side project at the Jubilee Beer Garden. Lost theatre actors? Not on your life mate, it was Rick Dangerous and The Silkie Bantams.
With a sound like Every Time I Die crossed with a Department Of Urban Waste Manifesto, the quintet flung twisted tales of drug use and sexual extravagance through a comedic kaleidoscope with so much entertainment value the mere act of blinking could induce FOMO.
Rick Dangerous - image © Aimi Hobson
My jaw was left permanently dropped. Even a cover of Pantera’s earth shattering ‘Domination’ breakdown snuck its way into their set; all the while, Rick grooved and bobbed onstage like a stray dad stuck on the dancefloor of his kid's year 12 formal.
And what a frontman he is. Never before has the humble microphone been so well bastardised as a stage prop as he slaps it against his arm like a hypodermic screaming “BRING BACK HEROIN!”. This was truly low-brow high art.
Furthermore, these corporate jesters know exactly how to conduct a crowd. Imagine 200 sweaty people being taught how certain male appendages should be handled. As I recall, ahem: GRAB. SQUEEZE. TWIST. RELEASE. Etc. Shlock rock has a new face in town, and they’re coming for your tax statements.
Next up on The Tivoli main stage were New Zealand’s premier sludge metal export Beastwars. Like Fantasia through a fuzz pedal, the Wellington natives ripped into a set that exposed the joy of ageing disgracefully.
Part orchestra conductor and part demonic possession, vocalist Matt Hyde scampered across stage casting spells and hexes on his fellow bandmates. Eyes closed and arms out, his blood curdling guttural howls filled the ballroom and rode high on top waves of doom riffing; might I add, James Woods’ bass tone hits like a big, fuzzy roundhouse kick to the chest.
Beastwars - imagine © Aimi Hobson
A standout track was ‘Omens’ from their latest record ‘IV’. This intriguing left turn, flush with gorgeous chord progressions demonstrates Beastwars unique approach to filth and establishes them as a landmark act for genre-bending and innovation.
Capping off my Dead Of Winter experience came the mighty Mammal. Church was truly in session from the second the group hit the stage with vocalist Ezekiel Ox flinging his limbs to the sky like a cocaine preacher delivering his Sunday sermon.
This band is an apache attack helicopter of riffs and energy, firing off track after track of filthy molten, groove metal served with an authentic Aussie brashness. I dub it... Akubra-core.
Mammal’s commitment to servicing every geographical area of the crowd is a lesson to all aspiring rock acts; get ‘em involved and blow their freaking minds. Throughout their hour-long, stage-closing set, Zeak lead the tribe of sweaty punters with an iron grip and phenomenal showmanship.
Fan favourite ‘The Majority’ sent everyone into overdrive with the disco breakbeats of Zane Rosanoski injecting energy at a furious rate. The crowd proceeded to go absolutely bananas when Zeak climbed over the barricades to get up close and personal; there’s nothing quite like a frontman who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
Mammal are one of a kind, and I can only pray their steel-beam melting show isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
With a day well spent and a neck well whipped, Dead Of Winter lived up to its reputation as Brisbane’s premier heavy festival and left me grinning well into the late hours.