No Sleep Til Brisbane @ The RNA Showgrounds, Brisbane (19/12/10)

As unwelcomely ominous clouds loom in the Brisbane sky, today’s show at the RNA Showgrounds marks the final date of the inaugural No Sleep Til festival, and despite the weather forecasts, droves of excited punters ranging metalheads to hardcore kids impatiently queue around the block to get through the festival gates.

This reviewer’s day begins with Melbourne’s House Vs Hurricane at the Red Stage. Despite pulling an impressively sized crowd, it’s hard not to see (and hear) them as a weak clone of Brisbane’s own The Amity Affliction, but their fun and energetic set gets the attendees warmed up for the day to come.

With shrieking falsetto vocals and a classic metal sound, 3 Inches of Blood bound on stage to the neck warping strains of Battles and Brotherhood. With only half an hour to work with, the Canadians cram in as many tunes in as humanly possible, as the likes of Silent Killer, Night Marauders and the closing The Goatriders Horde causing a headbanging frenzy from the faithful down the front. Frustratingly vocalist Cam Pipes is buried deep in the mix beneath the onslaught of guitars for most of the set, but the hirsute quintet slay the gathering of metalheads regardless.

The dark horses of the No Sleep Til festival would have to be Katatonia, with their doom/prog hybrid a far cry from the punk and hardcore acts on the bill. Disappointingly the turn out for the Swede’s is fairly disappointing, with it appearing that most of the festival goers today having opted to check out Suicide Silence at the Black Stage instead. However, those who stayed at the Red Stage are rewarded with a stunning set, with My Twin and Liberation amazing examples of their beautifully gloomy sound.

With an equal amount of complexity and groove, August Burns Red’s set pulls a massive crowd, and as the heavens open to a deluge of rain that continues for the rest of the festival, the band drives the pit harder and harder, with vocalist Jake Luhrs tirelessly bounding across stage. Their off time polyrhythmic breakdowns keep things fresh, with the musical twists and turns of Back Burner summing up the band perfectly.

Led by the muscle bound frontman Alex Varkatzas, Atreyu take to the Black Stage amidst a chorus of cheers and high pitched squeals. Touring on the back of their latest album Congregation of the Damned, the band dips their toes into the new record, but it’s the older cuts such as Exs and Ohs and Right Side of the Bed that gets the decent sized mosh bouncing.

As one of the big drawcards of the No Sleep Til festival, A Day To Remember’s unique mix of metalcore and pop-punk draws in a huge army of fans. While their poppy choruses divide more casual listeners, and their breakdown heavy sound does become repetitive quickly, the masses that have turned out for the Floridian crew nevertheless lap up every second of their forty minute set.

Certainly one of the most ridiculous bands in human existence, Gwar brings monster suits, decapitations, impalements, dinosaurs and oodles of blood to No Sleep Til – in fact their set is so hilariously over the top it’s almost enough to disguise the fact that their songs aren’t really that good. But as vocalist Oderus Urungus spits out a very unprintable tirade against Oprah Winfrey and then shoots out a fountain of blood from his, err… ‘member’, it proves that the music really does come second at a Gwar show.

In all honesty, what hasn’t already been said about Byron Bay’s Parkway Drive? They simply are one of the biggest things musically to come out of Australia in a long time, and in front of a massive sea of fans the band pulls out a huge ‘best of’ style performance, with older gems such as Gimme A D and Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em snugly fitting next to tunes from their latest opus Deep Blue. Playing their final show of 2010, the boys tear through a razor sharp set as vocalist Winston McCall forces the audience to expend every bit of energy, before closing with their now perennial show finisher Carrion.

Although Megadeth receive the best sound and mix of the festival, the crowd size is dreadfully low, with the headliners barely pulling a quarter of the turnout for Parkway Drive. While some punters would have bailed early during the night due to the weather, the likely reason is that the metal legends are just out of place on the bill, as The Descendents – who are currently occupying the Red Stage at the same time – have a much stronger attendance. Regardless of this though, the four-piece tear through the Rust In Peace album with haste, and despite the fact that Dave Mustaine’s vocals are fairly off-par, the wizard-like abilities of lead guitarist Chris Broderick and returning bass hero David Ellefson make sure that they still pull out an air-tight set for the saturated devotees.

Those over at The Descendents witnessed a spectacle akin to karaoke after frontman Milo Aukerman loses what little voice he has left after two songs. Members of Dropkick Murphys, NOFX, Frenzal Rhomb and Alkaline Trio took to vocal duties with glee, with Aukerman chipping in sporadically throughout. The set was undoubtably not what avid fans had been waiting 20 years to see, but the band offer two Black Flag songs, Nervous Breakdown and Jealous Again as an encore and consolation prize.

As the rain soddened attendees stumble out of the RNA Showgrounds, today’s show and the No Sleep Til festival in general has mostly been a success. While there have been some organisational flaws, and also a somewhat worrying lack of visible security – it’s the weather that would have brought the most disappointment today. However it’s uncontrollable scenarios such as these which really separate the die-hards from the casual fans, with plenty of happy punters more than willing to put on a brave face and stick it out in the rain. With all that in mind, there is undoubtedly room for improvement, but for a festival in it’s first year a little slack must be cut, and you’d have to think that No Sleep Til will make a welcome return come 2011.