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Knotfest Australia United All at the High Church of Heavy Metal [Live Review]

Speed, The HU, Halestorm, and funny t-shirts left an impression on the final day of Knotfest Australia

Knotfest Australia

Knotfest Australia 2024

Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane, May 24th

I was somewhere out the back of Machinery Hill when the Jack Daniel’s began to take hold.

You know, to paraphrase.

But there were bats. Lots of bats. 

Fruit bats, lodging in the Morton Bay Figs that shroud the edges of Brisbane Showgrounds, an oval of Queensland-green grass surrounded by grandstands serving a time gone by, surviving in the middle of that small wedge of prime real estate along Gregory Terrace and the start of the bare, concrete reach that becomes Lutwyche Road, booming low and slow out past the hospitals and the freeway on-ramps toward the outers; the hot and dreary suburbs, the fibro shacks on overgrown plots and brick veneer two-bedders fronting onto rumbling through-roads; Brisbane…

But the believers are under the bats. Out the back of Machinery Hill. Out the back off the green grass, on the concrete, pissing in the plastic piss-palaces and perusing the places – the food places, the merch places, looking for a place to sit amidst the constant-ness of it all. 

Early, it’s Speed; that’s a place. Heavy. Hardcore. Angry but joyous, which defines most of the day, the third and final day of Knotfest Australia, rumbling dirty up the east coast, not stopping hardly at all; no quarter asked, none given.

They thrash about in their own way and I, having traversed the covered car park and the striped black and yellow tape and the “lemme check yr bag, bro,” come out onto the terrace and immediately follow the music, and so I find Speed thrashing about in their own way, and it’s not my way, but man… it’s infectious as shit, and – for the first time all fucking day, and make no mistake it’s a long fucking day – I get someone else’s groove.

And so I hit my booted heel into the ground in time with the beat. 

And I start moving my head in time with someone’s beat

And this defines the day. The beat.

And the riff. The beat and the riff… this is heavy metal, no? Agree or not.

And, indeed, agree or not, this is also heavy metal for politics or religion or any other shit on this goddamn glorious sphere upon which we all stomp. It’s all subjective; you dig it, or you don’t. But, in the instance of Knotfest Australia 2024, we dig it or we don’t in the same space, about the same thing. ‘Metal’ is an umbrella term – you don’t have to dig it all, but at its core, we’re all here together.


Image: Speed Credit: Tahmid Nurullah

And so we are in Brisbane on this sultry late summer’s day. The sky hangs low like an elephant’s undercarriage, more often than not loosing a fine drizzle upon all us metal faithful, spending our Sunday in the sanctity of the beat and the riff and the Cathedral of Fuck You (“This is our church,” sings Elizabeth Hale of Halestorm later on) where no one is left behind.

Metal crowds – they really are the nicest and best of all musical crowds.

After Speed, Skindred from Newport in South Wales delight in the drop, the long groove that then drops into the ‘headbanger’s delight’ – man, I did not (having not heard their music prior to this very weekend) expect this from this crew, but (again) I find someone else’s beat and I also find (quickly and effortlessly) how easily I can adapt to how they’re shaping metal and so I listen to vocalist Benji Webbe (cheeky motherfucker that he is – “Who needs a t-shirt?”, he cries, holding up a band t-shirt… the crowd yells that they do… “Fuck you, sixty dollars once you’ve left,” he retorts, throwing it back over his shoulder) and, yes, this is (to some extent, at least) ‘my jam.’ I came into this day with a list of who I wanted to be in front of – Skindred weren’t on that list but they are now.

Escape The Fate step to the pulpit next and begin with “Forgive Me”, a song which any self-respecting clergyman would denounce (it contains the line, “I killed myself today”), but let’s be honest – how many men of the cloth are here today? Unless, by cloth, you mean some sort of black t-shirt with any number of slogans printed upon same…

[Examples of t-shirts spotted at Knotfest, 2024…

  • Kanye? Never Heard of Her (with a picture of Lemmy) – Classic
  • I Like His Beard (he, next to her, wears a matching shirt saying, ‘I Like Her Butt’) – Fair play
  • My Beard, Your Boobs – Classy…
  • It’s a Slut Party Right Here – I almost wish I was in actual church…]

Knotfest is set up in the same vein as CMC Rocks, or as Big Day Out used to run – two huge stages, side by side, one being used while the other is hurriedly prepped, crew scuttling about gantries and hauling cable like ants before a rainstorm – the change between sets, then, is effortless, hardly more than a handful of seconds all day long (on the odd occasion there is a short delay, someone in the booth presses play on the likes of Vengaboys’ “We Like to Party”, or Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”) and so the morning lethargy burns off and we begin the run into the long, hard, flat afternoon moving from stage to stage.

Thy Art Is Murder do exactly as you’d expect them to, razor-sharp, tight as a drum; Wage War simplify things somewhat, more four-to-the-floor thrash, punctuated, as they’ve been wont to do in the past, by a solo acoustic number that fits well within the confines of the middle afternoon, Briton Bond’s voice careening back off the stands, filled with people sitting, watching, waiting.

Everyone is waiting.

Waiting for what? I don’t know and so lope off to find food, somewhere to sit myself. I watch Asking Alexandria for a bit as their brand of metal (Metalcore? Touches of industrial? Too much singing, not enough growling?) isn’t for me and so I wander through the market past the lockers, smoke a cigarette in the corner, flick it in the bin and head back onto the worn grass in the late afternoon as The HU come on stage, and this is wild shit.

Mongolian folk metal, if you can dig it, which most seem to be doing – their set is underpinned by an almost constant low and heavy drone, it (the music as a whole) seems to slowly emanate from the stage, seeping out and out and through you until it hits brick up the back of the old stands and then rolls right back – the traditional throat singing enhances the drone and so it all seems to follow you, no matter where you’re lurking onsite, filling cracks and crevices.

Halestorm bring an immense energy to proceedings, vivacious and vicious all at once; strobing stage lights cut patterned lines through the falling rain, for quick nips of time brightening the dark corners, high in the stands down the back, booming up iridescent as the riff comes in, all of it breaking down into a sludgy puddle that seems done and dried all too soon, but then one switches their attention to the left side stage and Lamb of God begin, and this is metal, the heaviest of metals, the most precise fucked up metal of the day, frontman Randy Blythe a goddamn pinball of pent up aggressive energy.

He bounces and never stops; he holds court, talks to the crowd, riles them up and pushes them back, and truth be told, this set is the first of the day that finishes far too soon, way too soon.

Out the back, on the front terrace, in the alleys between stands, or on the slick and hard concrete behind Machinery Hill, people are milling about and it’s blurry, time and space constantly warping. Is it the drink? Maybe. The dull thud in heads that mutes the sound? Perhaps… but people are still waiting.

Lamb of God

Image: Lamb of God Credit: Travis Shinn

I take stock for a moment but fall into impromptu conversation with Dylan, who’s only got one shoe having lost the other in the Lamb of God pit and so his sock is sodden but he couldn’t give less of a shit; we talk about bands and the act of worshipping in the high church of heavy metal, but then his phone rings and he hops off to find his mate. Hops off to continue waiting, like everyone else, and they’ve been waiting all day.

For Disturbed? Yes, for many. Disturbed have been doing what they’ve been doing for some thirty years and so they Deliver. I observe from the side, from high up in one of the stands, from the back. I don’t like their music, I never have, but one cannot deny how fucking good they are at what they do. This is music done clinical – for many, when they’re done, it’s a devastation.

But, of course, it is now time. This is what people have been waiting for; people who’ve been wandering about all day taking in the beat and the riff but, really, waiting for the beat and the riff that they’ve known for decades, that they haven’t seen in the flesh since 2001.

And so it is, then, that Pantera take the stage, and people push forward, eager faces lit large by the flashing strobes, and then the sound gives out.

They don’t know it though and so continue thrashing through “A New Level” having a fucking ball, but us out in the dark are howling, screaming, trying to be heard (the drums and vocals are still alive) – “fix the fucking sound, man, the sound…” Word finally gets to the band and so they stop and there’s a pause – the quietest period of the entire day – and then, a minute or so later, they’re back and so they begin again (“Mouth for War) and they’re off.

To my mind, to my devastated mind, the sound never quite comes back to how it was, but they own it. They whip and howl through what is surely the shortest set of the day. It cannot be over, but it is over and we’re left standing on wet grass in the middle of an arena, Brisbane lit around us as the sound fades and finally, finally dies. The band hug on stage, they salute the faithful, and it’s done.

The bats have gone as I trudge out with my brethren. Rain drips from the figs and the closer you get to the front gate, you can hear slow traffic out on the Terrace, the sound of real life.

My head thrums with the beat and the riff. People sing as we walk through the car park but the further away we get the more the crowd thins and the sound and the singing and the laughter die off and then I’m alone on a slick street somewhere in Brisbane, Knotfest Australia behind me, but the beat and the riff living on.