Breaking down the best and worst of the Soundwave festival’s 2-day stopover in Melbourne.
Soundwave 2015 was a bit of an organizational mess. The festival, now in its fifteenth year, was for the first time broken up over two days, ostensibly “to minimize clashes; give bands longer sets, better staging, production & infrastructure. We are also hoping that this will give fans better value for money and a less stressful day,” but the more cynical might think it was because the promoter fucked up and booked it on the same weekend as a major racing event and Cirque Du Soleil, which were occupying its usual venue of Flemington Racecourse, forcing the festival to revert to its original, smaller, Melbourne Showground’s venue – especially when both days were plagued by major clashes and each of the headliners only got hour-and-a-half sets in place of the usual two hour ones and ticket prices soared close to 200 dollars; not to mention a public transport fiasco, which lead to a, er, public slamming of the festival organizer by Public Transport Victoria’s Chief Executive Officer.
Still, the weekend proved to be an enjoyable one, and particular props must be given to the new security team, who were a lot more welcoming than in previous years and seemed to be having a genuinely good time themselves. But who really cares about all that? What you guys really want to hear about is the music, right?!
So here it is: the six best and worst bands witnessed by yours truely at Soundwave 2015:
6. Crossfaith (day 1)
While Crossfaith’s music hasn’t always agreed with me on record, there’s no denying the band’s reputation as a live tour de force. The rave-metallers’ everything-happening-all-at-once approach to metalcore helps rather than hinders on live front, keeping energy levels at the max and never allowing for a dull moment. I’ve seen Crossfaith three times now (all at festivals) and they’ve improved out of sight with each encounter, and the band sounded absolutely huge inside the hanger that sufficed for “Stage 5.”
Frontman and Chino Moreno look-alike, Koie Kenta might be the centre of all the action but the highlight of the set came from drummer Amano Tatsuya and charismatic keyboardist Tamano Terufumi, who dropped a big fat drum and bass section towards the end of the set, which saw the crowd of glaring hardcore moshers instantly transformed into a dancefloor of ear-to-ear grins.
5. Faith No More (day 2)
You’d think Faith No More would be a shoe-in for best band of the weekend given that I like them roughly twenty-times more than any other band on the line-up (with the possible exception of Killer be Killed) and that last time they headlined Soundwave it was (indisputably) the best thing I have ever seen ever. Yet, there was just something missing this time around. “Are we making a connection, are you connecting with us Melbourne,” mocked keyboard player Roddy Bottum during the set, and while the crowd cheered in agreement, the answer was honestly “No. not really.”
Having said that, the fact remains that Faith No More are better than your band and their songs, not to mention their flawless performance, are undeniable. The whole, thousands-strong crowd singing in unison along with “Midlife Crisis” (this time with “The Lion Speaks Tonight” interjection) remains the highlight of the festival and the outstanding new song “Superhero” more than made up for opening with whatever the fuck “Motherfucker” is.
4. Killer Be Killed (day 1)
Getting to see this band in action was something pretty special, especially considering Greg Puciatto had originally told me that touring Killer Be Killed was impossible and that they would only ever perform once in California maybe. As on record, Killer Be Killed live was the sum of its parts, with Puciatto and Troy Sanders giving their all to the performance while Max Cavalera (equipped with, not one, but two camo-guitars, and camo sweatpants) simply exuded class and majesty. Dave Elitch was missing in action due to his other, more-underwhelming, super group, Antemasque also being booked on the festival but was replaced by none other that Ben Koller of motherfucking Converge. Ex-Torche guitarist, Juan Montoya (now of MonstrO) was also in attendance, handling most of the lead work, save for a few feedback salvos from Cavalera.
The band were let down by a few sound issues – Puciatto’s guitar was noticeably louder, early on, than the others’, with the band sounding considerably weaker when he laid down the six-string for a few numbers – and being the first band I saw, in the middle of the afternoon under a glaring thirty-six degree (Celsius) sun perhaps robbed them of a bit of otherwise much deserved impact, but just seeing them at all, let alone them being this damn good, was a privilege and an honor.
3. Monuments (day 2)
Holy shit did these guys bring it!!! Fresh-faced frontman Chris Barretto is an absolute superstar who had the crowd in the palm of his hand the entire time while the rest of the band astounded them with unrelenting technical displays and demolishing grooves. The tracks from The Amanuensis really came to life on the live front, bolstered by Barretto’s oozing charisma their massive sing-along sections, and this performance is yet another reason why Monuments – who also get the award for band that looked like they were having the most fun themselves – are the best in their field.
2. Fear Factory (day 2)
Fear Factory are a band I’d never seen before and I had turned down the opportunity to see them on their previous tour, where they played their landmark album Demanufacture in full because everything I’d read or heard about them live was rather less-than-favorable. Boy am I kicking myself for that now!
Any preconceptions I may have had, especially about Burton C. Bell (who now, with a short undercut, is a dead ringer for Keifer Sutherland)’s vocals were immediately blown away by the bands onslaught of tightly executed cyber blasting – delivering a setlist that covered the band’s entire career extensively, with the exception of my own personal favorite record, 2005’s Transgression (because, either: a) legal issues, or; b) I’m the only person on the planet that thinks that album is at all worthwhile for some strange, never-explained reason) and were utterly unrelenting and unfaultable throughout.
1. The Smashing Pumpkins (day 1)
While no one else at the festival with whom I crossed paths had a single good thing to say about them, for me The Smashing Pumpkins were a revelation. My interest, along with everyone elses, had dropped off the band in recent times, due to a slew of middling-to-terrible records and self indulgent re-releases, but this night the band were absolutely sublime. The sound was perfect, Billy Corgan (who I now [re-]recognize as a musical genius), and the band were entirely humble and engaged through the entire set.
I heard a lot of complaints that they played too much new stuff and not enough classics, but to quote one punter “you just missed it dude, they dropped like all the bangers at once!” – referring to the sudden string of “Disarm,” “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” in the middle of the set – and the songs off their new, mostly overlooked new album, Monuments To An Elegy, sounded great live and made a convincing (and retrospectively-appreciated) case for revisiting that record. Otherwise, I was awed to see them play a bunch of stuff from my favorite album of theirs – the oft-forgotten about MACHINA/ The Machines Of God – and the righteous rendition of “United States” to close things out was an unexpected delight.
What I saw of Slipknot (who were playing the same time) – being the first three songs of their set: “Sarcastrophe;” “The Heretic Anthem” and “My Plague” – was rather impressive, but the intimate and unexpected delight Smashing Pumpkins provided was an unrivaled and rather unprecedented (unless you’d been paying attention to their outstanding back catalog) delight.
Honorable mentions to Marilyn Manson for being back in close-to-top form and Steel Panther for sounding great, being hilarious and not singing songs about punching women in the face (at least while I was there).
And now, the less-than-good stuff:
6. Judas Priest (Day 1)
To call Judas Priest’s set “bad” per se is a tad unfair and misguiding. On most fronts the band were quite impressive; they sounded great and young-gun Richie Faulkner (age) was the star of the show, and he brought a much-needed vitality to an otherwise pretty stiff performance. Halford, however, was problematic. Sometimes the dude sounded great, but a lot of the time, especially his seemingly disinterested delivery of “Redeemer Of Souls,” was pretty flat and off-tone. Likewise, his penchant for changing between sparkly jackets for each song, in lieu of the rest of the band’s stage show, didn’t really translate to the festival stage, and he had this annoying habbit of disappearing backstage, which is all well and good, except he would often start singing the verse from back there as well, which was rather off-putting.
The set was largely populated by early Priest material –we’re talking Killing Machine, Stained Class and even Sad Wings Of Destiny – which, along with the retrograde material from Redeemer Of Souls was sure to please older fans of the band (of which there were plenty in attendance) but it was only when they dropped into the post-1980 material that it really started working for me, and the older stuff was cut-in at the expense of essentials like “Painkiller” and “Electric Eye.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the band (I was wearing my British Steel shirt on the day) but if you’re going to play alongside a younger crowd then you’re going to be judged against them, and Priest looked positively ancient by comparison.
No YouTube footage of this one. Sorry guys.
5. Confession (Day 1)
I don’t know what I was expecting from the Melbourne beatdown crew – a previous Soundwave run-in with Your Demise had already proven that I had long ago outgrown the hardcore crowd, and I had a good 5-10 years [I’m only 24] on the rest of the crowd, along with about a foot and a half – but I rather enjoy Confession’s debut EP Can’t Live, Can’t Breathe (2008) and was quite impressed by last year’s return-to-form Life And Death (following 2011’s The Long Way Home, which, in my humble opinion, is pretty much the worst thing to happen in the history of Aussie hardcore) so I thought I’d give Confession another go; and yeah, I’ll stick to the records from now on.
Lead by over-posturing, former Big Brother housemate and bench-press enthusiast Michael Crafter – now sporting a face tattoo and the weirdest haircut I’ve ever seen (like an undercut but on the back: shaved on the top and sides, party in the rear!), and bass player name, who was donned in similar fashion to Parkway Drive guitarist name, which is to say: sunnies and a backwards cap, together with Crafter who was sporting a shirt for a tattoo removal company – it was clear that the band were taking a non-serious approach, but contrarianism doesn’t add up to irony, and irony without any point or direction isn’t much use anyway.
The Life And Death material came across strong and had a genuine amount of feeling behind it, but Confession’s set was populated heavily by Long Way Home material and cuts from their less-than-impressive, if serviceable, debut full-length Cancer (2009) and it would seem that, while I have been in absentia, the hardcore dancing skill level has plummeted even if enthusiasm remains at an all-time high. – like, it was never good, but at least they had moves. This was not for me.
4. Soundgarden (Day 2)
I have never been a big fan of the ‘Garden. I tried to be for a while, since I love Pearl Jam, Nirvana and (especially) Alice In Chains, but however many forced endurances of Superunknown (1994) later have not been convincing. Chris Cornel in particular just rubs me the wrong way: everything about him: the tone of his voice; the way he sings; the way he looks and acts on stage – I can’t stand it. But again, I thought I’d give them a shot, their one of those bands I’ve always felt like it’s more my fault for not liking and I do enjoy a few of their songs and will concede that Badmotorfinger (1991) is a pretty badass record. Alas, it was not to be.
I caught the first few songs of their set, which culminated in “Spoonman,” which Cornell sang completely out of time, before ducking off to see an unfortunately poorly-attended He Is Legend ripping shit up across the park in a hot and stinky shed – a genuinely great and exciting rock’n’roll band, doing genuinely great and exciting rock’n’roll things. I returned after He Is Legend’s set to catch the godawful “Black Hole Sun” and whatever other self-indulgent crap (“Badmotorfinger”?) they finished off the set with – Cornell awkwardly posturing and singing off-beat the entire time. No thanks.
…Or this one. But here’s the band playing in Prague.
3. Terror Universal
Terror Universal are a brand new, enigmatic, “super group,” whose most notable member is probably the guy that played second guitar on Machine Head’s Supercharger or something. They wear dumb masks for not reason whatsoever and play dumb nu-groove metal for much the same. Sure, that’s being a tad harsh on the young band (this is only their first couple of live shows) but if you’re going to wear masks then either embrace it like Gwar does or revel in it like Slipknot do. Terror Universal (what was wrong with ‘Universal Terror’?) completely fail to acknowledge that they’ve got one of the guys from Doom playing guitar for them, and whoever the lead singer actually is he clearly wants to be Corey Taylor.
Musically, Terror Universal were ok, I guess, but everything was too damn loud. The guitars were so hot that they shrieked and squealed in pain the whole time and nobody seemed to notice or care. Opener, “Welcome To Hell” is a decent tune for what it is but the rest of the set was less than impressive and the closing rendition of Rob Zombie’s “Superbeast,” with the “hey yeah!”s substituted for “hellyeah!” says about all you need to know really. I’d say there’s no future ahead of these guys but I saw an alarming amount of King 801 shirts so you never know…
To be fair, this video really isn’t all that bad.
2. Incubus (Day 2)
I only caught the tail end of Incubus’s overlong set but it was more than I or anyone should have to endure. There was a time when I convinced myself that Make Yourself (1999), and even Morning View (2001), was a decent album and was taken by Brandon Boyd’s pretty-boy good looks. Flash forward an odd fifteen years and Boyd is now sporting a seedy mustache and all-over, mandala back tattoo and, along with the rest of whoever’s in the band, is just completely insufferable.
It is inexplicable that this band are as popular as they are. Like, whose favorite band is fucking Incubus for fuck’s sake? (I do actually know someone.) They’re like a nu-metal version of The John Butler Trio. To paraphrase Metal Hammer’s Stephen Hill “Incubus is music for people who like having sex with their own brothers.” What kind of soul do you have to have that fucking Incubus speaks to it?
This video’s also pretty decent, but I assure you the beginning of the set was not.
1. Ministry (Day 2)
I don’t know what was going on with Ministry’s set but whatever it was it wasn’t good. (Tuns out it was From Beer To Eternity, which I had until now never evern heard of and wish to never again.) I only made it through a song and a half (songs) of Al Jourgensen’s bullshit before having to mercifully excuse myself but the report from my friends who stayed on was that it didn’t get any better (and they said Ministry were the best band of the festival at Wacken Open air last year).
Day 2 of Soundwave was an industrial heavy affair, with Fear Factory and the insanely heavy Godflesh preceding them, but if Ministry, who have been fairly consistent with their recorded material until late, and have a reputation for putting on an exciting live show, are the kings of the genre then I’ll have nothing further to do with it for a while I think.
Honorable mention to the hour it took for everyone at the festival to filter out the one available exit into streets clogged and blocked off due to the small and infrequent shuttle buses. And thanks (for a change) to everyone for the cameraphone footage.