It’s a heat that’ll straighten your pubes and make you wonder at the sanity of the settlers who, nearly 200 years ago looked around, dropped their bags, and went, ‘this’ll do’.
But if today’s furnace-like, 36-degree heat is currently roasting the sweaty throng that’s rolled into the Melbourne Showgrounds for the first day of Soundwave 2015, then it stands to reason that it’s nothing less than Hell on Earth for the leather-clad men of Priest up on stage right now.
The real feat, though, is in belting out newer entries like Halls Of Valhalla and Redeemer Of Souls with the same conviction as cast-iron classics like Metal Gods, Jawbreaker and a spine-tingling Beyond The Realms Of Death. Given KK Downing’s curious departure for presumably more aromatic pastures, new guy Richie Faulkner’s ability to throw shapes and resonate with crowd and bandmates alike is undeniable, and the man can play.
An inspiring opening salvo then for what is effectively Australia’s biggest and baddest rock and metal festival of the year. More a travelling circus than a classic festival, it’s become the go-to event for those of a heavier inclination, and that it hits multiple cities – this year it’s Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, and ending in Sydney and with a heap of so-called Sidewaves club-shows scattered in between – means it’s as much a feat of logistical genius as it is a snapshot of rock and metal’s State Of The Union. From Slash, to Marilyn Manson, to Steel Panther, pretty much every base is covered here, but this year there’s a peculiarly early alt.rock bent in the billing as a Soundgarden-Faith No More double-header on the second day of Soundwave Melbourne that’s probably to blame for the amount of frayed, Seattleite T-shirts amassed around the main stages.
It begins with a screech – tone-king Kim Thayil’s heavily distorted command of that classic, down-tuned crunch that would sweep the world sounds every bit as potent as it was the day it busted speakers the world over. Spoonman, Outshined – it’s more a growl than anything, and spearheaded by Chris Cornell’s inimitable banshee operatics, Soundgarden’s set is a roll-call of classics that only suffers from blowy sound and that plodding, mid-tempo gait that’ll do nothing to win you over if you’re not already a fan. And as the bluesy melancholy of Fell On Black Days and the timeless, bittersweet charms of Black Hole Sun washes over the crowd in the waning light, why wouldn’t you be?
It’s the perfect segue for headliners Faith No More to take the stage and own it. News of their impending album Sol Invictus – their first in 18 years and precisely about fucking time given this is their sixth year since the re-formation – has electrified the capacity crowd. The cadence of new song Motherfucker kicks it all off. Resplendent in all-white regalia on a stage bedecked with floral arrangements and white curtains they are, immediately, head and shoulders above anything that’s been seen here all weekend.
Mike Patton – all pitch-perfect delivery and hyper-animated stageplay – is an eye-magnet who peppers Ricochet with a few lines of Meghan Trainor’s pop-hit All About The Bass before, a few songs later, stopping Midlife Crisis dead in its tracks for an a cappella The Lion Sleeps Tonight that kicks off a few field-wide choruses of ‘a-wimoweh a-wimoweh’ before dropping right back into where they left off. It’s fun, it’s silly, but more importantly it’s proof-positive that one of the greatest bands of our time isn’t just back, but – as evidenced by the stomp of new song Superhero – they’re vital once again. You get the sense that this is really just the beginning. Welcome back, boys.