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Words by Samantha Wolstenholme

Knotfest, Slipknot’s global music/arts/culture hybrid festival movement, descended upon Australian shores for the first time in 2023 and achieved immense success. For Round 2 of Knotfest Australia this year, the titular nu-metallers are absent from the headlining mantle. However, with a lineup that boasts the recently re-formed new iteration of Pantera as the crowning jewel, along with the likes of Disturbed, Lamb of God, Halestorm and a plethora of dominating heavy acts, there’s much to look forward to for this year’s Knotfest Australia tour run. Today, on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, it’s Brisbane’s turn for the final leg of the tour for almost 12 hours of metal mayhem at Brisbane Showgrounds.

Kicking off a Pantera-headlining festival with everyone’s favourite foul-mouthed grindcore larrikins King Parrot seems like the ultimate top-and-tail lineup decision. A Slim Dusty-style, expletive-laden intro track entices diehard fans towards the foot of the stage, and then it’s mullet mosh ahoy for 30 minutes of pure, joyous, noisy silliness. A circle pit breaks out in the second song, and the pit just keeps on charging to bangers like Dead End, which deliver blast beat-driven chaos courtesy of kit weapon Todd “Toddy” Hansen. You wouldn’t think brutality could possibly be this much fun – guitar riff triplets gallop as heads roll, and copious amounts of VB tinnies are sunk. If I can accurately describe what it’s like to witness a King Parrot set, it’s the audiovisual equivalent of Russell Coight experiencing an episode of drug-induced psychosis. Ending with Shit On The Liver, it’s a roaring set from these guys today.

It’s Canadian deathcore outfit Brand of Sacrifice’s first time gracing Australian shores, but most unfortunately, they are down a vocalist today, as we are informed that he is too ill to perform. This would be gut-wrenching for the band to say the least, but they deliver such a committed, energetic performance that you could be convinced they are supposed to be an instrumental band. After an intro of the Pokemon theme, these manga-inspired metal masters launch right into tribal, synth-laden, downtuned deathcore chugs that give stadium gamecore vibes – think the DOOM OST but significantly heavier. The lack of stage production is a slight detractor – no lighting is present – but the riffs are honestly just that damn good that before long, the band have successfully won the crowd over with standout numbers such as Demon King, Exodus and Lifeblood, the latter of which stirs up the first wall of death of the day. An impressive feat for a band who are missing a key member.

Next up, our Melbourne boys Windwaker dial up the mood in the arena even further as they rip straight into high-octane, hyperpop metalcore madness. Opening with Fractured State of Mind is a good move, as a circle pit breaks out immediately. The live mix is crystal clear, and frontman Liam Guinane’s vocals are a particular standout, his ferocious screams contrasting with his pitch-perfect, resonant cleans. The groovy riffs courtesy of guitarist Jesse Crofts and bassist Indey Salvestro are infectious, inspiring jump pits and a wall of death halfway through the set as the band barrels through a compelling catalogue of bangers old and new. The nu-trapcore vibes of recent single The Wall – featuring blindingly rapid raps from Liam – culminates in a feral breakdown that has everyone throwing fists and then falling into a row pit. Stirring ballad Beautiful rouses a big crowd singalong which then dissolves into a dance rave circle pit. Closing with Sirens, in which Liam shows off some slick moves reminiscent of Thornhill’s Jacob Charlton, it’s a tight, electrifying set from Windwaker.

Sydney’s brashest hardcore punk kids Speed brand themselves as Gang Called Speed on digital platforms, and today, their performance is literally bringing this vision to life. Barely minutes after the quintet swing right into their down-and-dirty, defiant hardcore aggression, multiple crew members burst onto the stage to mosh along with them. The fight dancing on stage matches the frenetic energy of the rowdy, messy pit, and it is clear that this music has one sole purpose – to start a riot. Frontman Jem Siow announces several times that “We are Speed HARDCORE”, and all credit to him, this set does exactly what it says on the tin, as this is beatdown hardcore in its roughest, most unpretentious form. Speed’s guerilla warfare, anti-establishment chaos seems to resonate with the crowd as circle pits keep going and growing. 

Reggae metal legends Skindred, a unique wildcard on this bill, are the gift that keeps on giving. The veterans emerge on stage as a hip-hop version of The Imperial March from Star Wars plays – a genius move – and then launch into Set Fazers, whose heavy reggae dance vibes immediately get a party going in the pit. Frontman Benji Webbe is just too cool for school and practically bowls us all over with his confident charisma. He flexes his considerable vocal ability with a partial cover of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now before the music cuts abruptly to punchy grooves and he switches to searing screams. The one-two punch of That’s My Jam and Nobody are rewarded with a sea of fists in the air. Apparently, this is the crowd’s jam too. The melting pot of influences – flashes of Prodigy-esque EDM, Fatman Scoop dirty hip-hop, Drowning Pool nu-metal – shouldn’t work, but somehow they coalesce to create an explosive breath of fresh air. It’s a dynamic, badass performance from Skindred today.

Now it’s time for emo hardcore favourites Escape the Fate. Opening with the delectably theatrical solo piano and voice intro of Forgive Me, frontman Craig Mabbit beckons us all down into the depths of our angst. The quintet delivers a set comprising anthemic hit after anthemic hit, including The Flood, Low and H8 MY SELF, and the stylistic variation keeps everyone on their toes (literally) – at times we’re showered in candy confetti pop punk, then we’re figuratively slapped in the face with unhinged metalcore breakdowns. Feral fry screams from Craig maintain the aggression in the music, and rollicking punk rock riffs get the crowd moving. But the star of the show is lead guitarist Matti Hoffman, whose unrelenting shreds are nothing short of virtuosic – he’s basically Jeff Loomis with an emo fringe. There’s a huge jump pit for This War Is Ours (The Guillotine II), followed by the crowd-pleasing closer of One For The Money. Definitely a high point for millennials thus far.

Our own deathcore dynamos Thy Art Is Murder are back with their new captain at the helm, and this ship is sailing strong. After a hilariously incongruous intro track of The VengaboysWe Like To Party, darkly atmospheric synths and a drum build up increases the tension. Then new frontman Tyler Miller unleashes the full force of his infernal, rasping screams upon the arena, his devilish eyes conveying the wrath and brutality of this merciless soundscape. Deep guitar chugs cut through, as pitiless and sharp as machine guns as the rain falls harder still. A circle pit forms during the second number, and now it’s starting to look more like a Thy Art set. The sonic tempest rages on, with dissonant guitar sweeps from Andy Marsh and Sean Delander cascading down on us, and the unmistakable blast beats of Jesse Beahler fuelling the mosh. Tyler demands “the biggest wall of death yet”, as is tradition for this band. Powering through a solid balance of old and new tracks, including Blood Throne and the legendary Reign of Darkness, the quintet deliver an ideal festival set for a band embarking on a new chapter of world domination.

Floridian metalcore outfit Wage War charge on stage to continue the sonic onslaught, and they really do proceed to wage war on our senses, but in the best way possible. The quintet deliver a performance of uncompromising attitude that explodes with energy, and they don’t let up for a single moment. Bolstered by a perfect live mix, their punishing breakdowns are a call to arms that carve up the ground we stand on – it’s like Architects and ERRA with a distinctly martial quality. Bangers such as Gravity and High Horse get fists raised in the air, with the razor-sharp kicks in the latter inspiring a rabid rave in the mosh. New track Magnetic boasts an incredibly sexy riff and the breakdown absolutely slaps. Frontman Briton Bond maintains a forceful presence, his searing harsh vocals offset by guitarist Cody Quistad’s pristine cleans. Closing heavy tracks Death Roll and Manic further galvanise the frenzy in the mosh. It’s a thunderous set from these guys that has me eager to see them back in Australia very soon.

UK rockers Asking Alexandria waste no time in ripping right into their brash yet infectiously catchy brand of emocore, and instantly I am struck by two things: the sheer passion with which celebrated frontman Danny Worsnop performs, and the impeccably crisp drums from James Cassells that provide the framework for a flawless live mix. Jump pits erupt for hits such as Alone Again and Down To Hell, and the anthemic Into The Fire hits like a ton of bricks. Danny is an impressively versatile vocalist, his trademark gritty cleans as powerful as the punishing screams that ramp up the rowdy mosh, which descends into carnage during the massive breakdown in Dark Void. For a brief change of pace, Danny entrances us all in an around-the-campfire moment as he plays an acoustic version of Someone, Somewhere. Longtime fans are then treated to a very rare performance of The Prophecy – 17 years rare, in fact – and wrapping up with Alone In A Room sends the mosh into a widespread throwdown. 

The lineup turns another unexpected corner as The HU takes the stage – the Mongolian horde has arrived, and they’re ready for battle with the full force of their entire 8-piece touring band. They’re Mongolia’s answer to Apocalyptica, if you swap out the cellos for traditional Mongolian stringed instruments, the morin khurr and tovshuur. And that’s not even mentioning the costumes. The HU are fully committed to creating an authentic war folk experience. The dual morin khurr players Galbadrakh “Gala” Tsendbaatar and Enkhsaikhan “Enkush” Batjargal demonstrate technical mastery in every one of their countless solo moments – it’s like they’re possessed by the spirit of Vivaldi as much as that of their warrior ancestors. This band effortlessly commands the stage as they stomp their way to victory with these jovial yet militaristic songs. There’s a fantastic guitar and morin khurr solo duel in their cover of Metallica’s Through The Never, and best-loved hit Yuve Yuve Yu is a certified party banger. Crowd chants of “HU-HU-HU” ride out into the night, wrapping up a powerful set from The HU.

Finally it’s time for some gender diversity on the lineup, in the form of iconic rockstars Halestorm who are led by the goddess herself, Lzzy Hale. The set opens with our queen belting to us to raise our horns, and then the band launches into the classic I Miss The Misery. Lzzy is transcendent as a frontwoman, both vocally and shredding away on her guitar. Bolstered by strobe lighting effects, the extended lead guitar tandem shred moments between Lzzy and Joe Hottinger throughout the set are electrifying. Lzzy announces that she’s here to lift other women up, and bids the crowd to literally raise women onto their shoulders as she begins her cheeky “tribute to the ladies” – the oh-so-seductive I Get Off. After a captivating extended vocal solo in which we all marvel at the miracle that is Lzzy’s voice, the quartet powers through three megahits in Freak Like Me, Mz Hyde and Mayhem, the latter of which whips up literal mayhem in the mosh. There’s a phenomenal drum solo from Arejay Hale to give Lzzy a break. Then Bombshell hits hard, both musically and with its apt message of protest against sexism in music, and closing with The Steeple, we are invited to feel like we are a part of something truly special.

Night has fallen now, and just in time for groove metal masters Lamb of God. After 30 years, these guys just get better and better – they deliver a thunderous, tight and precise performance that conveys unbridled rage and aggression. Memento Mori followed by Walk With Me In Hell is a brilliant way to begin the set, and it’s madness in the mosh during the latter in particular. The quintet absolutely dominate the stage, but none more so than frontman Randy Blythe, who storms back and forth and asserts authority with his menacing screams. Ditch is a standout number – the pit dissolves into a rampaging horde during that swaggering chorus riff, and then the crowd chants during Now You’ve Got Something To Die For are deafening. Randy is bouncing on and off the drum riser like it really is 1994 again, and his energy is all but matched by dual axemen Mark Morton and Phil Demmel, both of whom could shred for America. Outstanding blast beats and double kicks reign supreme courtesy of Art Cruz, fuelling the endlessly spiralling circle pits. The crowd literally goes wild during Laid To Rest, and finally, Randy summons the biggest circle pit yet for megahit Redneck to close out a blistering set from one of extreme metal’s greatest acts. 

As an atmospheric intro booms through the arena, strobe lights flicker and a lurid video backdrop flashes, we know we’re receiving a stadium performance from alt-metal titans Disturbed. Opening with Hey You, this is an excellent live mix for Disturbed tonight, featuring a great deal more grunt in the guitar tone than I’ve heard in previous performances. David Draiman is still a kingly presence on stage, sauntering around majestically in his Matrix-style long coat and belting quasi-operatic rock anthems. For Ten Thousand Fists, it’s more like 20000 fists in the air tonight as the entire crowd raises theirs in power and solidarity. Bad Man cuts a striking visual of David reaching out into the darkness against a volcanic video backdrop, and this really suits the martial style of the track. A cover of GenesisLand of Confusion provides a brief flavour of 80s glam for the vintage metalheads present, and then the grit returns for The Game. Now the moment everyone’s been waiting for – a long, mournful piano intro announces The Sound of Silence, and never has Simon & Garfunkel sounded so theatrical. 

We get the powerhouse duet of our dreams with a surprise guest vocal performance by Lzzy Hale for Don’t Tell Me” and then David invites another special guest on stage – a lady named Tanya with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer, for whom music is the force that keeps her going. David aptly remarks, “Sometimes you need to have music to help you punch through the walls in front of you”, and with that touching reminder, we are catapulted through several more emotive numbers including The Light and Unstoppable. The notorious Down With The Sickness, otherwise known as one of heavy music’s most memeable songs, slaps HARD in a live setting, and closer Inside The Fire features a guest appearance by Benji from Skindred. This set delivers everything a longtime Disturbed fan could want, and then some.

Finally, the time for audacious 90s metal maniac antics has arrived – Pantera’s headlining set is announced with a partly amusing, partly disturbing collection of real footage from bonkers tours in bygone times. However, almost as soon as Pantera starts playing, their sound cuts out completely and there is an uproar from the crowd. The band seem blissfully unaware of this for a good few minutes, until eventually they are instructed to stop and sort out the tech issues. After this false start, they resume their vulgar display of sonic power with Mouth For War, and the mosh resumes its insanity – it’s a jungle up in here at this point. The stadium production with video backdrop, lighting and even pyro adds finesse to the performance, but at its core, this is still very much a raw and dirty Pantera throwdown. The live mix doesn’t fully recover, but this being a special tour commemorating the 20-year anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s tragic murder, everyone is very much in the mood to mosh regardless. In addition to hits like Strength Beyond Strength, we get wildcard numbers such as Suicide Note Pt II – for the “hardcore fans” – and this feral, black metal-tinged monstrosity gets the pit fired up even hotter.

There’s an extended guitar and bass solo section while footage of Dimebag rolls, and it’s poignant to watch, and particularly heart-wrenching for Rex Brown, I imagine. The crowd has the added bonus of watching Zakk Wylde weave his magic, which is always a highlight for any diehard metalhead. Then it’s back to chaos in the pit for Walk, the primal chorus chant echoing through the arena. Somehow, the mosh is still surging after nearly 12 hours, with the provocative, thrashy Cowboys From Hell and of course, Fucking Hostile hitting all the right nostalgia notes. Overall, this year’s edition of Knotfest Australia has been a triumph with numerous killer sets and a lineup to please several generations of metal devotees.

Thanks to Dallas Does PR

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