Soundwave 2012 @ Melbourne Showgrounds

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Soundwave 2012 @ Melbourne Showgrounds


Everyone’s Soundwave experience is different. I guess that’s true of all festivals, but especially so of one that features so many variants of heavy music, where genre lines divide some fans and unite others. And while my tastes in music and metal are pretty broad, it seemed that this year I was mostly drawn to the heavy metal stages. Still, I did make a point to get around a bit.
First up, I missed Steel Panther because I was in the ticket queue during their set, but by all reports, including those of the band backstage afterwards, their Melbourne Soundwave set was utterly killer. They’ve already planned a return later in the year for headlining shows.

Meshuggah were monstrous at their Wednesday night Sidewave and were equally powerful at Soundwave, although the atmosphere was very different with their syncopated, low-tuned rhythms wafting on the breeze rather than being hammered into your ears at the Forum.

The reunited Coal Chamber wasted no time, kicking off with Loco, perhaps their most well-known track. Dez Fafara seemed to bring his DevilDriver stage banter back with him to Coal Chamber, and the band were definitely on. New bass player Chela Rhea Harper is a great player with huge tone, and guitarist Meegs Rascón was clearly relishing the return to Coal Chamber material.

Mastodon played a healthy amount of material from last year’s The Hunter, including the punky Blasteroid, the groovy Curl of the Burl and the rolling Black Tongue and several more, but only the title track from Crack The Skye (no Oblivion? Dude!). They were ridiculously tight and powerful – probably the best I’ve ever seen them – and it was great to hear so much new material standing so proudly alongside the earlier stuff.

Lamb of God? Phwoar. Currently riding the success of their latest album Resolution, they put in a killer energetic set of old and new tracks, and while Resolution is a plenty heavy-sounding album already, the live incarnations of its tracks had even more kick and muscle. Buz McGrath from Unearth took over Mark Morton’s guitar during set closer Black Label while Mark chucked picks to the crowd.

What can you say about Zakk’s Wylde’s Black Label Society that hasn’t already been said? Wylde is an undisputed guitar hero, a killer vocalist who combines Alice In Chains with Ozzy Osbourne, and a power-keg of wild pinch harmonics, chunky riffs and screaming leads. BLS played a goodly chunk of Order Of The Black, and co-guitarist Nick Catanese recovered gracefully from stacking it on the drum riser.

Marilyn Manson. Um, okay. I’m a goth kid of the industrial variety, so I was looking forward to checking out Manson’s set. But his heart and mind just didn’t seem to be in the moment. Manson seemed to be phoning it in and the crowd weren’t really getting into it either.

Slipknot, by contrast, were intense, bombastic and powerful. All the typical mayhem you might expect was there: the flames, the violence, the defiance, the riffage, the rising and rotating drum riser, clown venturing way deep into the audience, all the elements of a great festival set where there, whether you like Slipknot or not. By the time they played People=Shit, the crowd was impossibly whipped up for System Of A Down, who put in a solid if not overwhelming set to a huge, enthusiastic crowd. Still, it’s great to have them back from hiatus, and let’s hope they stick around. But I couldn’t watch their entire set. I had to get to stage 7.

My title of Set Of The Day goes to the Devin Townsend Project. Heavy and crushing yet almost overwhelmingly uplifting, Devin Townsend Project is the emotional opposite of Townsend’s work in Strapping Young Lad. If Strapping Young Lad tapped into the darkest, heaviest, angriest aspects of human nature, Devin Townsend Project directs a similar level of intensity in the absolute opposite direction. Psychedelic, funny, heavy. Devin and crew nailed it with material from Ocean Machine, Infinity (and its follow-up demo EP), Physicist, Addicted!, Ziltoid The Omniscient and Deconstruction. Having seen Devin 8 times now in various formats, this current tour is probably the best musical and emotional form I’ve ever seen him in.

I finished my evening with a little Machine Head, who sounded great musically, although Robb Flynn seemed to be having vocal problems on the night. Knowing from past experience that he’s usually a great live vocalist, so I shrugged it off and enjoyed the mix of classic and new material. It was a great way to cap the evening and to come down from the buzz of the Devin Townsend Project set with some solid, angry thrash-inspired metal.


LOVED: Devin Townsend Project.
HATED: Marilyn Manson.
DRANK: Water and coffee.

Photo credit: Rebecca Houlden