Soundwave Festival @ ANZ Stadium, Sydney (24/2/13)

At Soundwave Festival in Sydney RHETT DAVIS discovers that sometimes bigger is better.

Celebrating 10 years Soundwave Festival hit Sydney with its biggest event yet: Biggest line-up, biggest layout and biggest crowd – with over 70, 000 black-clad Sydney-siders passing through the festival gates, devil horns a-twittering.

A real trademark of Soundwave, aside from mind-boggling tattoos, is how each year it manages to improve on the year beforehand and Red Fang ’s early set inside one of Olympic Park’s many sheds, was a shining (albeit small) example of this. In 2012, the bands relegated to the cramped “shed stage” suffered from a hollow, tinny echo – but not this year; the stoner rockers from Portland hacked out a huge chunk of last year’s Murder the Mountains record in a rich aural grind.

Each member of Dragonforce gets a moment to show off their astounding technical skill during the band’s five-song set – every over-the-top stage move choreographed perfectly to match the epic proportions of their “Game Of Thrones” sound. While there is a sameness to some of their songs that eventually wears a little thin on the casual fan, patience was rewarded with an un-shredable 10-minute rendition of Guitar Hero anthem, ‘Through The Fire and The Flames.’

To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, Anthrax don’t get no respect. Always the first members of “The Big Four” to be nominated for potential replacement, they are easily the most overlooked of the elite metal club. Despite this, punters were clamouring to get caught in the Anthrax mosh as Scott Ian and co. churn out thrash anthems that explode through ANZ stadium with childish glee. Their original material sounds so vital that it’s a shame they fill out much of their set with covers.

It’s impossible to run a 70+ artist heavy festival – which includes some of the world’s best cranking it up to 11 – without an equally huge space in which to stage it all. ANZ was an intimidating beast at first, but its numerous entry points and large exits actually made it simple to navigate. While it was simpler to focus on one stage, with some forward planning snaking ones way around the monolithic beast of a stadium wasn’t too difficult.

Pop-punkers, The Wonder Years, took the rain (an welcome break from the otherwise relentless heat) in their stride, but the majority of their audience couldn’t handle it choosing to watch from a sheltered distance. In contrast, UK hardcore outfit Gallows exploded under the lacerated sky – their fury met by a teeming mass of punks, who circled like sharks over the wet concrete floor. Operating a man down, Gallows sounded a little thin, but any discrepancies were easily forgotten as the furious bulk of Wade MacNeil, hung over the barrier, mesmerising the crowd.

No one drops the bass quite like Kyuss. Operating under the temporary nom de plume, Kyuss Lives! they brought the swarming sounds of the desert Down Under. Guitars were lost occasionally as the bass echoed back on itself inside the stadium, but this took hardly any kick away from the thunder of ‘Thumb’ or the riff-o-rama of ‘Freedom Run.’

While later in the day the revamped stage two timetable would be broadcast loud and clear on any screen available around the festival, many punters were confused by the delay proceeding Sum 41, as it took some time for the news that floods were blocking road trucks full of gear, to trickle through the crowd. When the Canadians did hit the stage it was hardly worth the wait. Knocking out crowd pleasing hits from days gone by, Deryck Whibley and his cohorts seem well aware their best days are behind them.

It’s in both Slayer and A Perfect Circle ’s nature to polarise their audience. Slayer deliver a punishing performance, an uncompromising set of thrash standards anchored by Jon Dette (on double drum duty for Slayer and Anthrax). Relentless and brutal, if you weren’t already on the Slayer train they certainly weren’t stopping to pick you up.

In the same way, A Perfect Circle open their set with moody piano-led covers – deliberately antagonising their audience. Focusing on an unfavourable record of covers and remixes was a bold move, but ultimately it failed to create a unique festival moment – instead, with the blaring sun stripping-back any mystery or atmosphere, it felt like a purposefully executed back-hand to fans.

Linkin Park don’t have the street-cred of many other bands on the bill, more Tupperware than metal. With that said, they put on a bombastic performance, crafting a set list with the right amount of nostalgia and a good indication of what’s to come from them in the future.

The high point of their set came not from any of the songs that they executed flawlessly, but the way they were able to stop on a dime when frontman Chester Bennington spotted someone injured in the pit. On a day marred by the injury of a festival-goer due to the stupidity of another punter, it was great to see clear heads prevail both on stage, in security and in the crowd. The behaviour of a small few, that started with flares being thrown during Bring Me The Horizon’s set – and would resurface during Metallica’s – was certainly the anomaly in my experience. The majority of Soundwave punters really were music-lovers trying to have a good time with others, not at the expense of others.

It’s no secret that Tom Delonge cannot sing, at all. But that’s not the point of Blink-182 is it? With Olympic Park’s baseball diamond bursting at the seams, fans embarked on a collective nostalgia trip. The crowd boomed out classics like ‘First Date’ and ‘Dumpweed,’ using the newer songs to catch their breath and appreciate Brooks Wackerman’s excellent drumming in lieu of Travis Barker.

Metallica have headlined the world’s biggest festivals and dominated massive stadiums for the last 20 years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if, by this stage, they just came out and did “headline by numbers”. But they don’t. Not even close. Instead, a wide awake Metallica demolished a set of monstrous head bangers from right across their back-cat, with all the bombast of the youngest bands on the bill. Entering the stadium to hear the harmonised guitars of ‘Ride the Lightning’ was the most jaw dropping moment of the day.

Flames burst through the rammed stage and explosions rattled the chests of metal heads during the intro to ‘One’. And was equally as impressive as the Pyro was how much fun Metallica seemed to be having on stage. With a lineup full of bands in all different shapes – some losing members only days out from the festival itself – it was great see a band over 30 years old with its core members still intact and happy to play up alongside each other.James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet darted up ramps and around drums, only to sidle up to one another for a harmonised guitar lick. They even (quite genuinely) celebrated Robert Trujillo’s tenth year on bass, doing so with a tremendous rendition of the bass -ed instrumental, ‘Orion’.

Metallica captured the spirit of what Soundwave does: Turning a lot of aggressive riffs into a celebration, unifying people with their love of music. Hell, I made four friends while head-banging to ‘Creeping Death’. While Soundwave 2014 is proposed to be a more subdued affair, hopefully organisers remember the numerous victories that came with the upscale of this years show that didn’t make the turbulent post-Soundwave headlines, especially the big spirit of thousands of people singing ‘Seek And Destroy’ as one.