Soundwave Sydney Review 2013

Joey Belladonna

Oh, where do we begin... the excitement leading up to this festival has been building since mid-September, 2012, when the first lot of bands were announced for this year.

For a huge metal fan like myself, knowing that three of the big four of thrash were going to be on one stage was more than enough to cement my intentions of heading to the festival, not to mention the countless other bands i was eager to check out.

As I do every year, I arrived early to a sea of people already lined up and making their way through the main entrance. The first thing to catch my eye was the lack of police presence. I know the NSW police had issued an update on social media sites saying there would be zero tolerance on violence, drugs etc, but there didn’t seem to be too many sniffing anything out at the main arrival point. Inside, though, there were plenty of blue uniforms to make sure the 70,000+ crowd stayed well behaved, and for the most part, they did. But more on that later.

The first band I went to see on the day were Japanese metallers Crossfaith. I have to admit I didn’t know too much about these guys leading up to the festival, but I can assure you I will make damn sure I find out everything I can about them now! If this is the type of band Japan has to offer the world, then look out!

Crossfaith, by far, were one of the standout bands at the festival. So much energy, a tight and killer sound and stage presence up there with the best of them… from the headbanging to spinning guitars, drummers and keyboardists standing on top of instruments to members of the band jumping offstage and hanging over the barriers, getting up close and personal with the crowd. This band is set to do big things, in my opinion, and with a performance like that I have no doubt plenty of people will be talking about Crossfaith for quite some time.

Throughout the day I did a good share of running around, and the crowd were all having a great time. Lots of laughs, plenty of beers; plenty of water, too, as here in Sydney we experienced one hell of a muggy day. Most of the crowd certainly welcomed the rain that fell from the skies; us photographers... not so much!

I managed to make my way out of the main arena to witness English metal giants Dragonforce. Why, you ask? Firstly because I had never seen them live and I wanted to see them pull off what they have created in the studio in front of a live audience. They entered the stage to a massive roar from the crowd and blew all of us away! To see that band onstage doing what they do was incredible and left me somewhat speechless. The musicianship is unlike any I have witnessed. These guys know their shit! Watching Herman Li shred is something everyone needs to do at least once in their life. 'Cry Thunder' was a highlight from the band's set for me, and it was definitely a crowd favourite!  

A couple of bands that disappointed me were ones that have quite big personalities in them. The first to bore the living hell out of me was Tomahawk. Featuring the always unpredictable Mike Patton of Faith no More and Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk are certainly an acquired taste. Unfortunately, I haven't acquired it. Not only did I find them to be boring as hell, but to see Patton onstage with that microphone effects board fiddling with buttons sent my ears into ringing hell. I really felt that Tomahawk were one of the loudest bands I heard on the day but that’s about all the credit I will give them.

The other band I wasn’t too keen on was A Perfect Circle. I have never been a huge Tool or A Perfect Circle fan — I give Maynard props for making a mark on popular music and legions of fans but I just don’t get it. The crowd seemed to love them, but me... I was more than happy to leave their set and go to a bar for beer. Opening in the pouring rain with a version of John Lennon’s 'Imagine' was not my idea of the best way to kick off a show. Not only do I think it was one of the worst renditions of the song that I’ve ever heard; I almost felt like the rain was tears falling from the eyes of Lennon directly out of heaven. To me, a band like A Perfect Circle really have no place being on a main stage. Yes, they're popular; yes, crowds love them, but  they don’t put on a show, in my opinion.  

One band that didn’t move around quite a lot on the main stage, but still managed to make one hell of an impact, was Kyuss Lives! I caught these guys on their last Australian run with Nick Oliveri on bass and thought that was cool, until seeing them again this past weekend with Corrosion of Conformity’s Mike Dean on bass… HOLY SHIT! Talk about one hell of a tight group! These guys played some of the coolest stoner rock and groove orientated music ever released and had an audience of the who’s who of rock watching them from the side of the stage! The crowd reacted very well to plenty of Kyuss classics and the band seemed to be having a great time.

Bullet For My Valentine kept the crowd going crazy. No sooner had the band kicked off and the rain pelted down once again! Playing a great set of hits including ‘Tears Don’t Fall’, ‘Your Betrayal’ and the newest hit ‘Riot’, the Welsh lads looked right at home on the main stage.

Someone else that is always remarkable to watch on a main stage is Stone Sour. Fronted by vocalist Corey Taylor, they put on one of the best sets of the day! Opening with the first two tracks from the band’s latest album; this alone was worth the price of a ticket! Taylor, one of the finest frontmen alive, worked the stage and crowd and when he removed his shirt the screams coming from the girls in that stadium were deafening! The band played a killer set including the hits ‘Through the Glass’ and ‘30 – 30 – 150’.  

For everything that was great about this year’s festival, there were some mishaps. Due to the floods that had occurred between Queensland and New South Wales, a lot of gear was delayed. This meant that a lot of bands playing over on Stage 2 were delayed or had time changes, and unfortunately Garbage had to cancel their performance at the Sydney festival. Many questioned why they couldn’t borrow the equipment of others — maybe they are just too precious for that, maybe the egos are too big, who knows?

One band whose gear wasn’t there in time still managed to take to the stage. I’m talking about the amazing Flogging Molly! These guys walked onstage with acoustic guitars and played a phenomenal set from all accounts. It made me think that next year it would be cool to see one of the Soundwave stages set up just for bands to do stripped down versions of their classics.

The most publicised story from the Sydney festival was, of course, the idiot/s that decided to let off flares during performances. I am still finding it somewhat hard to put in words exactly what it is I want to say about this particular event... I can’t even begin to understand what makes an idiot do something in amongst a crowd there for a good time watching bands! During the Bring Me The Horizon set, reports flooded in that up to three flares were set off, one hitting the stage and another which seriously injured one female concert goer, whilst others were treated at the scene. After this incident was reported, another flare was let go during Metallica’s set inside ANZ stadium. Quick thinking security there quickly hosed down the ignited flare before any serious damage could be done.  

Although from all accounts metal giants Metallica put on a blistering performance, the day was all about thrash legends Slayer and Anthrax for me! The first of the two to hit the stage was New York’s Anthrax. Ripping it up with two fill-in members, Anthrax put on a brilliant performance. Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais and one-time Slayer / Testament drummer Jon Dette are both currently performing with Anthrax and doing a brilliant job! Frontman Joey Belladonna ran out onto that stage and owned it! Still looking fantastic, the man never stood still! He worked that stage side to side from the moment the band kicked off proceedings with the appropriate ‘Caught In A Mosh’.

Having witnessed Anthrax live a number of times over the years, I never tire of seeing these guys live, Between Joey, Frankie and the beard, Scott Ian, that stage becomes explosive! Shadows Fall guitarist Jon D — another rocker with killer onstage presence — did an incredible job, not only at the festival appearance but also at the side show the following night. The man behind the kit... I couldn’t say enough about him. Great timing, fit the line up well and certainly made an impact on the Australian fans!

Anthrax pulled out a killer set list including ‘Got The Time’, ‘Fight 'Em Till Ya Can’t’, ‘Indians’ and ‘In the End’, a great tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio. It’s safe to say that the biggest reaction they got was when they broke into their version of AC/DC’s ‘TNT’. Every single person in ANZ stadium was on their feet and vocal! Scott Ian took to the mic, telling the crowd how he had the honour of watching AC/DC play live in that very stadium during the band's last Australian visit, and I couldn’t imagine how he felt to hear the Aussie crowd give them such a kick-ass reception for their exceptional version of an AC/DC classic.  

The other band of the day for me was the mighty Slayer. I stood in the pit area watching the awesome Stone Sour, whilst waiting for Slayer... as the band's banner was erected the roar of the crowd was incredible. After the unfortunate events of Slayer’s last Sydney Soundwave appearance, the crowd were more than excited to see that this time... the band would be taking to the stage! News broke only days before the festival began that drummer Dave Lombardo would not be joining the band on the Australian run and I’m sure many fans thought that we might once again miss Slayer. But saving the day, fill-in Anthrax drummer Jon Dette pulled double duties, taking on Slayer’s sets as well (and what a kick ass job he did).

Already familiar with much of the band's material, having played with them for almost four years, Dette handled Slayer’s catalogue with no problems! The band opened up with one of my all-time favourite Slayer tracks, ‘Disciple’, and the crowd went insane! With guitarist Jeff Hanneman still out of action, thrash legend Gary Holt (Exodus) took on guitar duties and did a brilliant job! Watching Holt onstage alongside King and Araya... words can’t describe how fuckin' cool that is!

Thrashers in the crowd were treated to an onslaught of Slayer classics, including ‘War Ensemble’ and ‘Angel Of Death’, creating a mosh pit straight out of hell!    

All in all, it was another great festival filled with great live bands from all corners of the globe in one place entertaining a massive sold-out crowd! If there is one thing we can all take away from this year’s festival it’s that Soundwave is getting bigger and bigger every year. Is it getting better?

I guess everyone will have an opinion on that. For me, I think so. I will never complain about anyone who is bringing out a ton of bands I have always wanted to see live or have enjoyed seeing in past years! I have no idea how the 2014 line-up will top this one, but I’m sure it’s going to be one hell of a killer group of bands!

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