“Rock is dead,” cries the tone-deaf geriatric, trite as they’ve sounded for the past couple of decades. The sentiment still annoyingly prevails in some quarters, but the inaugural, sold-out Australian edition of Slipknot’s festival Knotfest proves it’s never been less true.
Over three Knotfest Australia stops this past weekend, close to 100,000 mosh-starved maniacs convened to raise their horns, voices and subsequently hell. The first 30,000 took to the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne on Friday (March 24), kicking things off on a high note with a riotous chasm of windmilling arms and belting cheers for English hardcore band Malevolence. As far as openers go, they proved to be a safe bet, doling out an adrenalised surge of overdriven riffs and soul-rattling blastbeats that, while fun and fierce in equal measure, fell a little on the basic side.
Initially meant to follow them were unexpected TikTok sensation Bad Omens, who, thanks to recent hits like ‘Just Pretend’ and ‘Like A Villain’, fast became one of the most anticipated acts on the bill. But the band were forced to drop out just over an hour before they were scheduled to play, with singer Noah Sebastian suffering vocal strain that had already affected their Sydney show earlier this week.
Australia’s own Void Of Vision made sure their fans’ energy wasn’t wasted, wreaking havoc with their genre-bending mashup of neurofunk and metalcore. The biggest highlight was their Prodigy-channelling ‘Chronicles III’ cut ‘Hell Hell Hell’, which on record leans heavily into its electronic influence, but at Knotfest roared to life with thick, distorted guitars at the forefront. Fellow locals Alpha Wolf were next up on the itinerary, and although their sound was a little less ambitious – standard metalcore fare with stormy screams and crunchy breakdowns – their energy was infectious and their performance, tight and fuelled by an ironclad chemistry, was nothing short of mesmerising.
They offered a solid warm-up for the beatdown hardcore stylings of Kentucky champions Knocked Loose, who Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor once heralded as “the future of metal”. They made a fine case for that title, launching into a pummelling showcase of their two albums – 2016’s ‘Laugh Tracks’ and 2019’s ‘A Different Shade Of Blue’ – as well as some choice cuts from their 2021 EP ‘A Tear In The Fabric Of Life’. “I feed off of chaos,” Bryan Garris screamed between songs. “I thrive off it. I live for it.” Not content to let us take him at his word, the frontman gave Knotfest its most intense performance of the day.
Though they didn’t match Knocked Loose’s intensity, Spiritbox shone with the day’s first dip into melodic territory, with brief glimmers of pop-influenced levity adding colour to their otherwise grisly, shred-heavy offerings. Thanks in no small part to her role as this Knotfest line-up’s only female presence – something we sincerely hope is remedied next year – many eyes were on frontwoman Courtney LaPlante. But she stunned Melbourne with her soul-melting screams (heavier and more brooding than most of her male colleagues) and flipped seamlessly into her cool and cruisy cleans.
Following were screamo trailblazers Story Of The Year, and although they initially seemed out of place on the Knotfest bill, the American veterans proved their might with a tight and turbulent journey through their 20-year catalogue. Their set was heavy on cuts from their 2003 debut, ‘Page Avenue’, but the biggest highlights were the few gems they included from their just-released sixth album, ‘Tear Me To Pieces’, which showed they’ve still got what it takes to make a sprawling festival crowd lose its collective shit with the bang of a snare and whack of a fretboard.
As the afternoon rolled on, In Flames kept spirits high with their blistering run of hardcore-adjacent alt-metal gems – buoyed by frontman Anders Fridén’s hilarious banter – before Amon Amarth made their packed crowd (dozens of whom came prepared with cardboard swords and shields) feel like true Vikings at the hand of their triumphant, battle-ready death metal.
So unashamedly gruff and masculine, the Swedes made Northlane’s succeeding set – steered by the shimmery, synth-based material of their last few records – feel like tonal whiplash. The poor mix certainly didn’t help, muddying their usually meticulous blend of analogue and digital sounds. It was a shame: Northlane are one of Australia’s best heavy music exports, but at their first show on home soil for the year, they fell flat on their faces.
Another hit-and-miss combo came at the hands of Trivium and Megadeth. The former act showed that they’re more than worthy of headlining festivals like this – Matt Heafy commanded his crowd like a true king of the stage, shredding to his heart’s content between sharp and convulsive (and at times melodically rich) vocal runs – while Megadeth made it painfully clear that their prime has come and gone, stumbling through their over-wrung, hourlong set with little effort or excitement.
Effectively billed as co-headliners, Parkway Drive delivered a career-defining set of soul-ravaging metal. They balanced captivating theatrics – which included a cast of torch-wielding cultists, a string section and enough pyro to warm a small village through a full winter – with an impassioned performance. Galvanised by their newly rekindled chemistry (which NME unpacked with them last year), the now-legendary Byron Bay crew seamlessly weaved old-school hits like ‘Carrion’ and ‘Karma’ between new, soon-to-be anthems like ‘Soul Bleach’ and ‘Darker Still’.
The night could’ve ended there with no complaints from us, but of course, it wouldn’t be Knotfest without a closing salvo from the one and only Slipknot, the undisputed kings of nu-metal’s mid-‘90s peak. When NME spoke to percussionist Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan last year about Knotfest Australia, he explained that his ultimate goal is for the band’s sets at their own festival to become “a full-on spiritual and immersive experience [that goes] well past the definition of a concert”, where hordes of adoring Maggots end up “drowning in the dream”.
Slipknot may still be some ways off from that – as they band gave a fairly standard performance by their own metrics – but the spirit of Knotfest, with a sea of fans all galvanised by a collective love for the band’s unexampled ethos and aesthetic, made the show feel special.
Even when the band played deep-ish cuts like ‘Before I Forget’ and ‘Dead Memories’, their crowd went absolutely hog-wild. “I can’t take you crazy motherfuckers anywhere,” Taylor declared around the midway point, after the show was stopped momentarily due to a punter who climbed a pillar of scaffolding. And the energy only rose and rose, culminating in a dizzying blur of thrashing bodies and belting voices for a four-song climax: ‘Psychosocial’, ‘Duality’, ‘Custer’ and ‘Spit It Out’.
Clown told NME that Knotfest would debut in Australia this year so that Slipknot could “burn down [our] brainwashed philosophy” and indoctrinate us with their own. If any of those among us weren’t already devout members of the Church Of Slipknot (aka Maggots, sometimes Heretics), they surely walked away last night as fresh converts. Considering all three editions sold out, it seems inevitable that Knotfest will return Down Under in 2024 – we’ll start stretching now.
Knotfest Australia 2023 took place in Melbourne (March 24), Sydney (March 25) and Brisbane (March 26). Coming up are Knotfest editions in Japan and Italy