Words by David Cheney
Photos by Brodie Ramsay – Viephex: Artistic Photography and Cinematography – Full gallery HERE
This Saturday offered us wee Queenslanders one of the most well-rounded metal tours to ever wander into the jaws of our beloved brown snake. The Tivoli, a venue with the class of Kat von D and the atmosphere of a super-sized dive bar, offered the perfect setting for four potently visceral heavy acts to cook up something special for a starved Brisbane audience. This was a relay race of metals finest from around the world and closer to home. Alpha Wolf, Crystal Lake, Wage War and Polaris, at this time of year? At this time of day? In this part of the country? Localised entirely within Brisbane’s best venue?! Fuck me, I hope The Tivoli pays juicy insurance premiums because this thing is going to be nothing but rubble and empty cans by Sunday morning.
Australian metalcore young guns Alpha Wolf are a force of nature. Staring dead in the eye of a truly bonkers tour run that will see them running rabid across the 45 USA and the UK in the early months of 2020, they took to the stage like a duck to very heavy water. True to their name, the pack unleashed every ounce of themselves onto the adoring crowd, proving their place as the perfect opening act for a night of barely contained mayhem. I’m guessing the face masks hide the fangs, either way, this is one bunch of string-slingers that Coronavirus won’t claim. To be honest I find their sense of humour to be sadly under appreciated. Wrapping a runaway car filled with screeching guitars around a telephone pole of cheeky lyrics isn’t easy and I’m still trying to find another group this side of metalcore willing to rhyme ‘pussy’ with ‘black hoodie’ (See Sub-Zero for reference). The music allows itself room to breathe, even laugh, where colossal walls of sound are stripped bare to single bass-and-drum groove passages. Their watertight opening set was loaded with cuts from 2019 EP ‘Fault’, a six-track onslaught that sent the boys orbiting around the world and back again. Opening Band Syndrome, they had not, leaving the stage demolished with full support of the swelling crowd.
Taking up the baton from the wolf pack came Japan’s finest extreme metal export, Crystal Lake. Their sound? What. Even. What? Where the fuck did that come from? Truly enigmatic, harder to pin down than jelly to the drywall. Such a curious and engaging take on extreme metal, this is the type of genre-bending that would make Alfred Hitchcock sweat buckets. The quintet relishes the tension in the music, live on it, like that bastard cousin at Christmas dinner who won’t stop dropping dead baby jokes in front of auntie Jules. Heavy hitting slabs such as Aeon and Agony from the group’s earth shattering 2019 LP ‘Helix’take the heavy rule book and feed it feet-first through the wood chipper. These aren’t your mumma’s blast beats; these are parasitic earworms ready to bury themselves deep in your skull. Beautiful chord progressions are punctuated by a buffet of rhythmic switch ups as free-time experimental chaos and whacky electronic freak-outs feed remarkably well into good ol’ fashioned beatdowns.
This band builds a winding highway and skip the road works, every second is meticulously deliberate and euphoric. And what a stage show! Absolutely airtight from start to end. Lead vocalist Ryo is a charisma machine, every move he pulls on stage is somehow both raw and polished and really sells their unique approach. And that’s what this show is about. Charisma. Honestly, the Walls of Death built themselves, no encouragement needed. As Ryo proudly announced their excitement at finally making it to Australia after 18 long years, he scaled the walls to climb to the second floor of The Tivoli only to launch himself into a sea of hands locked in skywards worship. My smile could not be wider. This was headliner behaviour, headliner perfection. I hope this band meets a cyclone of success in our sunburnt country and return for a headline run, especially if they bring some more local Japanese talent along for the ride. This fringe genre we love is designed to be inclusive and Crystal Lake are the perfect example of the absolute gems that are waiting to be found when we search a little harder over the horizons. Kudos lads, fucking kudos.
The sold-out crowd had been feed treat-after-treat and were left frothing at the mouth for more. The energy had hit fever pitch, time for a gear shift. Time for Wage War. The Florida natives have been kicking some serious goals off the back of their meaty 2019 release, ‘Pressure’and the band strutted to the stage with the air of a well-earned main support. The band dove straight in with floor-crusher Who I Am and demanded everyone bounce, fucking bounce. It was at this point, arms hung over the top floor barrier, that I became genuinely terrified by the onbeat vibrations of 1500 punters losing their fucking minds. Something was bound to collapse.
Vocalist Briton Bond stalked the stage with veteran confidence, his dance moves both quirky and unexpected with echoes of Drake’s infamous Hotline Bling video. Maybe if ‘Champagne Papi’s’ stones were a little heavier, he could go toe-to-toe with Bond. But I don’t see that ending well. “SAY IT TO MY FACE” he screeches across the wall of bodies. “No fucking thank you mate I value my life” I reply to the fury of noise. Guitarist Seth Blake’s silky and precise clean vocals soared into the sails of the Wage War machine, a refreshing melodic moment to vary a bill chocked full of audio chaos. Despite the dizzying heights that the bar had been set by Crystal Lake, Wage War’s ‘backwards cap-core’ was a sure-fire hit with the crowd. The dual melodic vocals between Blake and co-guitarist Cody Quinstad kept my eyes busy, darting from stage left to stage right to see who was delivering the juiciest notes soaring above the racket this time. A very genuine shout out to Polaris and a quick Ryo (Crystal Lake) cameo during the set closer, Stitch, was all punters needed to set their phasers to ‘stunned’ and await their golden headliners.
We’ve all heard bands and their hype-up songs. Some go old school, some go classical, some throw in a modern pop left hook proving that a little pre-show Bieber really can get the blood flowing. As night’s end approached and the chandeliers dimmed, that glorious piano-intro of The Black Parade bounced out across the bodies which returned with a belting sing-along for MCR’s 5-minutemonster-piece. It was time for something big. It was time for Australia’s brightest heavy export to turn The Tivoli into an all-out warzone. It was time for Polaris. The Sydney quintethave been anointed as the new face of Australian metal, gracing the covers magazine to mobile billboard, even poking their nose into the Australian ARIA album charts at a whopping No. 3. ‘The Death of Me’ has clearly connected with the wider metal community, propelling the boys deep into international waters like sharks with lasers attached to their heads, seeking out any unsuspecting ears to feast on. And might I add, every date of their Australian tour run sold the fuck out? What a homerun!
Bathed in intoxicating blue light, the metalcore stalwarts kicked the show off with the moody Pray for Rain, the sombre attitude sealing the track as an unofficial aftermath anthem of our recent devastating bushfire season. Vocalist Jaime Hails had punters eating out his palms from the get-go, bouncing across the stage with a charming, puppy-dog level of enthusiasm and life-loving zeal. Hails is the type of character this genre needs. Humble, quick to thank anyone and everyone in attendance for their support of the band, and extremely genuine. Then suddenly, like flicking a light switch for the apocalypse, he wretches out an onslaught of rhythmic, hard-hitting vocal passages that seemed to activate some primal instinct in the crowd. “Grug move, grug mosh, grug crowd surf” I’m sure punters thought as instinct overtook evolution and the room span like Satan’s roulette table.
The devil’s banjos were on full display as guitarists Rick Schneider and Ryan Siew powered through track after track with laser precision. Siew really knew how to steal the show, his blistering solo’s through Landmine and associated antics keeping all eyes glued to him, waiting to see what happened next. A quick mid-set break gave Hails the space to recover and give some valuable insight into the struggles that formed ‘The Death of Me’. “We bled ourselves dry for this record” he announced, “and it blows my mind that you sold this fucker out!” Cheers ensured and the air quickly settled. Then, with little fanfare he uttered, “…Hypermania.” Fuck. Me. Dead. Volcanos. Ragnarok. Death and destruction. My favourite cut sent the venue into overdrive and a circle pit that probably conjured a hurricane on the other side of the globe. After such a rabid tour run, it’s beyond impressive that a band can channel so much energy back into their audience, feeding on it like a solar farm in the desert. Fan favourite Lucid closed out the night with style, the full force of the Polaris stage show on display. Steam cannons, confetti, tambourines, mayhem. A masterful performance from a dedicated troop of performers who 110% deserve their current monsoon of success.
Leaving the Tivoli that night was difficult. They say good things go fast, this felt like a bullet train that just realised it left the stove on. It was like saying goodbye to a friend. Shows like this don’t come by often, solid gold nuggets in time. Polaris clearly know how to run a show and pick their supports and bless them for their choices. Four hours of chaotic sweat never felt so good, and you really couldn’t ask for a better end to a stellar tour run. Buy ‘The Death of Me’ right now so the boys can come back for round two. This country needs it.