Review by Jordan Sibberas
Despite missing out on a leg of Download festival, Brisbane were treated this Thursday to a slice of some of the heaviest, most brutal metal Download Festival 2019 had to offer, and were given the chance to farewell Slayer with one last Australian tour. A congregation of black t-shirt clad fans descended upon the large amphitheatre nested in the Brisbane river, but with a distinct mix of ages; testament to Slayer’s reach across almost three generations since their formation.
But first up were Poland’s blackened death metal favourites, Behemoth. Fresh off the release of their latest album I Loved You At Your Darkest, they came prepared for war. From my observations, a fair few Slayer die hards either didn’t know Behemoth or didn’t know what to expect from them, but frontman Nergal’s energy and passion for the art had the whole of Riverstage in his hands by the end of their brief set. Helped along of course, by the frenzied, ravenous energy of Behemoth’s sizeable fanbase of their own. Notable moments during their explosive set included Daimonos, a blisteringly fast track off their record Evangelion, and Bartzabel, a more subdued cut from I Loved You At Your Darkest that held the audience’s attention with the ethereal atmosphere of an ecclesiastic gathering. Despite being first up, they also made great use of the limited stage room they were given; for instance, their final moments on stage concluded with war drums and masks that left a chilling last impression. It did feel strange to see Behemoth without their usual array of pyrotechnics, stage props and the like, but this only served to highlight their larger than life stage presence and bombastic attitude towards their crowds. All in all, it’s safe to say that they have their old fans frothing at the mouth for more when they return, along with a sizeable number of converts.
Anthrax were up next, and took the night in a more thrashy direction. For those of you born under a rock, Anthrax are one of the big four of thrash metal, alongside Metallica, Megadeth, and of course, Slayer. Their set was well planned and it felt like they used their full 45 minutes to blast out as much headbanging goodness as possible. All thirty-eight years of experience as a band shone through in what felt like a super tight performance, where the musicianship was faultless. But as with Behemoth, it felt like just as the pit got going, and the riffs were flying, that their set had somehow disappeared in seconds. One very cool touch was their choice to pay homage to thrash royalty and bookend their set with the intro and outro to Pantera’s classic, Cowboys From Hell.
All this teasing had left the crowd ravenous, and it showed. As night had settled over Brisbane, and the clouds turned ominously dark, chants of “SLAAYYEERRR!!” broke out in a cacophony of out of time chanting. And then, the lights came on, the curtain dropped, and the evilest band in thrash set about proving why after all this time they were still the kings of the genre. The dissonant intro to Repentless quickly turned into an assault of brutal riffs, powerful drumming, and oh so much pyro. Every song it appeared that they were getting better, and it drove the audience wild. It’s hard to believe that this band is choosing to retire when they sound so good; the only signs of ageing were a few thirty second breaks scattered into their set, and a bit less movement around the stage than the youthful Behemoth (to be fair, no-one moves as dynamically on stage as Behemoth).
Slayer’s set was impeccable, and despite the soft curfew of 10 PM set on them by Brisbane council, they raged on into the night with cuts off almost all albums. Slower tunes like Dead Skin Mask and Seasons in the Abyss offered no reprieve, as the venue seemed to collectively hold their breaths with the tension and darkness that they filled the air with. Finally, the night climaxed with the heavens opening with pouring rain, right as the intro to Raining Blood echoed across South Brisbane. At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole country felt the ground shake with Slayer’s sheer wall of noise or the intensity of the crowd (both cheering from the sides and the mosh pit exploding with energy). Finally, the Jeff Hanneman tribute banner was unfurled, and for one last time Angel of Death rang out into the Brisbane night as the heavens continued to pour upon the gathered punters. No-one seemed to mind. If this show was anything to go by, then Download festival, where these three bands will be playing alongside each other again, is set to be legendary.
Download festival will be held in Sydney on the 9th of March, and in Melbourne on the 11th. Tickets available from www.downloadfestival.com.au/.