Slipknot have maintained the rage and become an undeniable inter-generational iconoclast of American heavy metal.
It's an early start at the first-ever Sydney Knotfest – breakfast is still working its way through most punters' digestive systems by the time UK riff-wielders Malevolence take to the stage. Still, if anything is going to wake up a crowd at 11:30 in the morning, it's snarling drop-C mixed with crushing hardcore beatdowns and guttural sludge-metal choruses. Theirs is a distinct brand of energy that is the exact place-setter a festival like this needs.
The same can't really be said, however, of Bad Omens. Their inaugural visit has been born under a bad sign, with vocalist Noah Sebastian having to cut a Sydney sideshow short and pulling out of yesterday's proceedings. The quartet soldier on, but the performance leaves little to be commended beyond resilience. Their glossy, overly-mechanical sound largely feels like what Imagine Dragons would make if they discovered Architects. It's apparently big on TikTok, though. Go figure.
It might seem reductive to analyse a band's appearance before their music, but when Void of Vision take to the stage decked out in what looks like Mugatu's Derelicte range from Zoolander you can't help but put the cart before the horse. They're eye-catching, certainly, and their flashy take on metalcore is admittedly catchy if a little same-same.
At the very least, Void of Vision are making a concerted, ambitious effort to do things differently. Alpha Wolf follow, who have evolved into a reliable, consistent presence. This is a perfect setting for them: early arrivals are all warmed up, while latecomers have something formidable to sink their teeth into. It's kismet, and the Melbourne crew do not waste a second on-stage. The breakdowns come as quick as the crowd-surfers, and bonus points for The Beautiful Monument frontwoman Lizi Blanco's cameo – one of, depressingly, six women to perform all day.
Despite an early PA snafu, Louisville's Knocked Loose are quick to get on the two-stepping good foot. As one of the final international hardcore bands to tour pre-pandemic, theirs is a warmly welcomed return – both by long-time fans and those in Metallica shirts being exposed for the first time.
Circle pits and throwdowns ensue, with all of Centennial Park returning to its roots of being a dog park when closer Counting Worms bursts forth. A stage over, Spiritbox are making their long-awaited debut. Frontwoman Courtney LaPlante is a wonder to behold, with both her clean and unclean vocals postively soaring. The band's kaleidoscopic genre-shifting is mesmerising, though it's a shame Secret Garden is snubbed as it's arguably their best track. Still, that's a minor con. Women in music are dangerously underestimated: LaPlante handily out-performs all before her and puts the rest of the bill on notice. An easy highlight.
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Walking out to Marky Mark's Good Vibrations, Story of the Year really want to hammer home they're not supposed to be here. They win the crowd over not only with self-deprecating humour, but enough energy to remind you of their status as rock festival staples.
Punters come to life during Anthem of Our Dying Day and Until the Day I Die – both of which were no doubt MySpace profile songs for many in attendance. By means of contrast, In Flames are very much supposed to be here. These evergreen Swedes are the metalcore band's metalcore band – they've been doing this forever, and they'll probably keep doing it forever too. Is it the same song for 40 minutes? More or less. But it's a good fucking song, man. It's got a great riff! The wheel's got no squeak, and it's rolled without reinvention for decades now. An eternal flame.
“BROTHERS! SISTERS! VIKINGS!” Amon Amarth have amassed the biggest crowd so far, and even if you've wandered in with no context you'll immediately get what's happening. It's fist-pumping melodic death metal, with a giant grey-bearded man growling about guardians, mythology and all that crazy shit. Such is his power, he gets the crowd to form an en-masse rowboat – an impressive feat and an even more impressive sight. His presence also begs the question: Why would anyone succumb to morons screaming at them to drink from a shoe when they could drink from a fucking horn? How metal is that?
After some slight drizzle, Northlane get stuck with having to play entirely in the rain. It's a dubious honour, but it's also a litmus test: Anyone crazy enough to stick around is ready to take things to the next level. That's a task Northlane themselves have been up for since their inception, continuing to adapt and evolve without ever losing sight of their sonic intensity. Right now they're on a real digital hardcore tip, mixing brown-note djent with a 90s computer hacker aesthetic. It's working wonders, and not even the slosh developing around the band can dampen the collective spirit.
As the sky eases, Trivium take to the stage for what is apparently their 14th tour of Australia. A lot has changed since they were precocious teens playing the Big Day Out in 2005, but even as a late-30s dad Matt Heafy maintains the same unbridled energy. He cleverly positions three microphones across the stage so he can perform to various pockets of the crowd, with his bandmates charging through an abridged tour of their discography with utmost precision. Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr, for the record, still goes just as hard as it did circa 2005.
It's nice to see Dave Mustaine. Not just because it's been nearly eight years since Megadeth last visited, but because it's nice to see him anywhere after he “kicked cancer's arse”. Megadeth has nothing to prove – they're the oldest on the bill by a considerable margin, and have been playing stages this big longer than most of the other acts have been alive. They're still here for the love of the game, and the denim-cutoff metalheads are loving every head-banging beat and blister-inducing guitar solo. A rousing Peace Sells... But Who's Buying? is one of the festival's top-tier moments.
Parkway Drive are the dynasty of Australian hardcore. They're the New York Yankees, the Melbourne Storm, the Sydney Swans. Here's the catch, though: They've achieved this on the back of the weakest, most uninspired music of their career. No amount of flames and elaborate staging can distract from the creative downward spiral the band have been on since 2012's Atlas. It's about time people stopped complimenting the emperor's new clothes and told him he's been standing up there naked for a decade – or, in this instance, letting off a lyric as live-laugh-love corny as “one life, one shot/give it all you got” before literally doing the monkey.
Winston McCall has one of the most impressive harsh vocals in the history of the genre within this country – something he can now only let loose with on the sole “old” song Carrion and in Karma. Inexplicably, he now spends the majority of a Parkway show singing, which he is poor at and rapping, which he is somehow even worse at. Lighter ballad Darker Still, complete with multiple bung low notes, feels like a Rock Eisteddfod performance or a Catatonic Youths video, not something to be performed on a major festival main stage. Having the band as one of the headliners of Knotfest was meant to be this big proving moment for local music – instead, it translates like your mum at the supermarket insisting that “we have arena rock at home”.
It doesn't take long for the bitter taste to be washed out, however – the band of the day are finally here, and Slipknot didn't come to fuck spiders.
The nonet come charging out of the gates with a blistering one-two of Disasterpiece and Wait & Bleed, and the momentum does not wane for a moment. Anyone who's been to a Slipknot show before knows exactly what to expect – never forget this is the band that popularized everyone getting down on the ground and jumping up well before normie bands co-opted it. The dual percussionists clatter and bang away, the dual guitarists churn and shred, and fearless leader Corey Taylor shoots off his belligerent howl with genuinely impressive accuracy – to still be able to hit some of these sweet spots 15 and even 20 years on is nothing to be sneezed at.
Just because you know what's coming, of course, this doesn't mean Slipknot are phoning it in or going through the motions. At this juncture, it's more like watching your favourite horror movie – you're prepared for the jump-scares and the twists, sure, but watching them unfurl always reminds you of why it became your favourite, to begin with. In this case, that'd be Duality, that'd be The Heretic Anthem and you'd best believe that'd be perennial set closer Surfacing. Nearly 25 years after cracking the mainstream, Slipknot have maintained the rage and become an undeniable inter-generational iconoclast of American heavy metal.