Live Review: Knotfest, Sydney 25/03/23

(Image credit: Britt Andrews)

WHERE: Centennial Park, Eora/Sydney NSW
WHEN: Saturday March 25th, 2023
REVIEW: Bragg + Britt Andrews
PHOTO: Britt Andrews

It’s a brave and uncertain thing to start a new heavy music festival in post-COVID Australia. But if there is one thing Slipknot has always been, it’s ambitious. And by God they pulled it off, with all three legs of Knotfest Australia being complete sell-outs. Centennial Park has long proved itself to be a great locale for festivals, although as is the case with most venues of its ilk, more shading here is badly needed. We felt thankful that Sydney lucked out with a mostly overcast day (a rare occurrence indeed).

Celebrating music, art, and culture, Knotfest had a lot on offer, all packed into a very tight timeframe. With only 14 bands on the lineup, Destroy All Lines managed to pull off a two-stage, no-clash festival, with all bands getting a decent amount of time to play. The festival also touted a museum, featuring “a jaw-dropping collection of items from the band’s history”. Frustratingly though for many punters, you had to book your time slot in advance, prior to the release of playing times. This meant many clashes of favourite bands with blind bookings, with no way to change it.

First up was Malevolence. Hitting the stage first at a festival is always an incredibly daunting task, but Sydney turned out in full force for the UK unit. By the time Bad Omens took to the adjacent stage just before midday, the grounds were almost full. Despite singer Noah Sebastian facing vocal issues that caused them to cut short their sideshow (and outright cancel their Knotfest set in Melbourne), their performance was tight, and Sebastian even took the chance to joke about his failing voice with the quip that “at least people will stop saying I lip-sync now”. An abrupt finish to the set left dedicated fans of the viral outfit (both loved and maligned as being “the TikTok band”) wanting more. This was unsurprising, though, given how vocal their fanbase has been in the lead-up to Knotfest, especially since it was announced they only had a 30-minute set.

Void Of Vision hit the stage wearing a brave amount of black leather for a midday slot, but given that frontman Jack Bergin was the only artist at 2021’s Knight And Day festival to dress in chainmail, the Melbourne metalcore act doesn’t seem like the type to shy away from a fancy dress party. Following them was Alpha Wolf, and by the time they finished up at 1:20pm, Sydney was four-for-four when it came to bands spurring on walls of death. At this rate, it seemed uncertain how many punters would be standing for Slipknot’s hotly anticipated headlining set… Or, for that matter, how many would still be alive. All of a sudden this 10pm end started looking pretty reasonable.

While Knocked Loose can be considered an acquired taste (with some comparing the unique vocal stylings of Bryan Garris to “a hardcore Mickey Mouse”) there is no doubting their passion or intensity onstage. It did, however, seem an abrupt change of pace to have Spiritbox follow; while vocalist Courtney LaPlante made up the entire female contingent on what was otherwise an incredibly bloke-y lineup, her screams could put most anyone to shame. The genre-bending band have quickly gained a cult following in Australia, and LaPlante showed no reservation in directing “anyone with a size 40 ass” to shake it.

Story Of The Year definitely felt like the odd men out on this lineup – a pop-punk band standing awkwardly amongst a cohort of hardcore and metalcore outfits. That seemed no deterrent though, as they smashed out their 40-minute set, leading many a metalhead in a (semi-ironic) singalong. 

Amon Amarth embodied the statement “go big or go home”. With endless energy and enormous smiles, the nerdy dad-metallers quite literally brought the thunder, as the heavens opened up just as the row pit did during ‘Put Your Back Into The Oar’. This reviewer firmly believes that Viking metal can transcend all genre boundaries – no-one with an ounce of happiness in their soul can see Amon Amarth live and not have a good time.

Now aside from the aforementioned Knotfest museum, those who chose to wander from the mainstage stumbled across professional wrestling (thanks to Renegades Of Wrestling) at one end of Centennial Park, and the “Dark Stage”, with sideshow acts (think sword swallowing, straitjacket escapes and the like) at the other. Given the phenomenal talent that is Australian wrestling, it was great to see it taken seriously as the performance art it is.

While Northlane had braved the storm and played through the pouring rain, mother nature took mercy on Trivium. They gave a solid performance as usual, despite Matt Heafy often singing into microphones that weren’t turned up, and a distinctly bass-heavy mix in the pit.

The Big Four were represented at Knotfest Australia by Megadeth. While singer Dave Mustaine had what was undoubtedly the day’s least energetic stage presence, the 61-year old can be forgiven – not only because he’s 61, but because in 2019, he had a brief battle with throat cancer. While the rest of the band more than made up for his lack of enthusiasm, the band’s set was somewhat underwhelming. If anything, it provided a perfect opportunity to grab a bite before the headliners, as once you heard ‘Holy Wars... The Punishment Due’, the rest of the set became a bit unnecessary. 

As night set in, Parkway Drive cranked the energy up to 100. They brought more than their fair share of pyro, and regardless of your stance on whether 2015’s Ire was a turning point for better or worse, it’s undeniable that Parkway Drive still have it. There aren’t too many bands that can pull off both a high school hall and a thousands-strong festival, but Parkway can. With all the energy of a man half his age, singer Winston McCall sprinted out to the middle of the pit, just to crowd-surf back to the stage during ‘Karma’. The sold out crowd serenaded the surrounding Sydney suburbs during set-closer ‘Wild Eyes’, and all of a sudden, it was time.

The curtain dropped on Slipknot, ‘Disasterpiece’ started, and the next 90 minutes shot by in a heartbeat. The energy was infectious, creating an instant feedback loop between the band and the crowd. Percussionist Michael Pfaff (aka Tortilla Man) has (mind the expression) slipped so perfectly into Slipknot’s performance – he’s the perfect embodiment of the band’s chaotic energy, and a solid backup vocalist to boot. Watching Slipknot perform is like watching a twisted Cirque du Soleil show: there’s simply so much going on that you don’t know where to look, and the second you spend too long looking at one member, you realise that everyone else is now doing something totally different. 

Simply put, Slipknot’s set was as cathartic as it is maniacal. Being able to scream along to the lyrics of ‘People = Shit’ and ‘The Heretic Anthem’ with a sold-out festival crowd reminds you just how precious these moments are. In a genre that many see as loud and anti-social, a Slipknot crowd feels like family. When we think of Slipknot, we always find ourselves pulled back to “Pulse Of The Maggots’ – “We fight ‘til no one can fight us / We live and no one can stop us / We pull when we’re pushed too far / And the advantage is, the bottom line is / We never had to fight in the first place / We only had spit back in their face / We won’t walk alone any longer / What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.”

Knotfest is home for the maggots who never felt that they had a home anywhere else.

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