Gig Review: Amped Festival 2018

Event: Amped Festival

Venue: Cherry Bar, Melbourne

Date: Saturday 6 October 2018

Young festivals face a lot of challenges, especially due to oversaturation. But two-year-old Amped has something unique working in its favour – this is a day organised by the one and only Dave ‘Higgo’ Higgins, founder of legendary metal show Distortion With Higgo - A day by the fans, for the fans, and this is a vibe that attracts punters and musicians alike, because it feels like a genuine celebration of music on a community, grassroots level. This is the second installment of the festival and I was eager to find out what it was all about.

Amped is taking place at the iconic Cherry Bar on AC/DC Lane in Melbourne, on a sunny and unusually warm Saturday, and as I tag along an excited group of black shirt-uniformed fans, I make my way into the venue around 3pm. Carrying a heavy bag of relentless fever and the headache to end all headaches, I’ve become the tarty reviewer I always dreaded of being, but more importantly, feeling terrible did not deter me and I’m oh so glad I made the effort.

Walking into a blistering set by Sydney’s Lillye, who were the only female-fronted band here today, I was greeted by a confident band with a ferocious vocalist, catchy tunes and a razor-sharp edge, which was a great start to the day. The band mix elements of heavy rock and metal with a more approachable classic rock, and the concoction is a lot of fun. Their set is energetic and incorporates every bit of rockstar swagger you could ever want.

Next up, Kill:Death:Ratio take the stage with a super heavy piece, which proves to be nothing like the rest of their set, and that was a great little surprise. There is a lot to digest in their sound, from rock to metal to thrash and even speed metal, with a dash of Devin Townsend, and of that doesn’t spark your curiosity, nothing will. Armed with airtight rhythm section and an acrobatic vocalist, these Melbourne locals are on my ‘to watch’ list permanently, and one of the highlights of the day.

Headbore and Envenomed get a little more lucky with the crowd, as more punters have now joined the show and Cherry Bar is starting to fill up nicely. The night moves into a more thrash metal phase, while Envenomed storm in with a great 30 minutes of classic heavy and thrash metal goodness and lots of crowd participation, especially with the arrival of their Skyhooks cover of 'Horror Movie'. It’s a good time to mention that while I was dying on a couch at the back of the venue between sets, punters were having a blast and this was one of the most well behaved crowds I’ve seen at a metal show. There was a wholesome vibe in the air and you could really feel it was a gathering focused solely on the music and the acts it represented - no bells, no whistles, just a bald stage and a bunch of great acts.

Speaking of great acts, Frankenbok are one of the most beloved heavy Australian bands and this was my first time seeing them. To sum it up, they are impressive. There is a level of musicianship and tasteful technicality here which I found both approachable and interesting, and their live show represents a band that is confident, talented and unfazed on stage.

Rockers El Colosso also had a blast on stage, and so did we. This no-nonsense band has knows how to have fun. Their energy is infectious and they love what they do, and that’s what makes them endearing despite the hard edge of their tunes. Fans of Led Zeppelin, Hendricks, Joplin - El Colosso are for you.

Next up, Meshiiak deliver on their reputation. This is a band known for their screeching, heavy sound and fiery stage presence. This band is well versed in the art of performing live and some hiccups go unnoticed, because if your guitar strap unlocks and you manage to not only keep hold of your guitar, but also clip it back on so smoothly that no one realises what’s happening, doing so while singing in perfect pitch, well, you know what you’re doing. An especially impressive part of this unit is bass player Nick Walker, who’s fingers are a blur over the fretboard.

After a brief break to grab some meds and thus ensure my survival, I come across Harlott. I’ve heard so much about this band over the years, and they really are exactly what you’d expect - the funniest bunch of guys around. They’re not only hilarious and have completely mastered the art of engaging an audience, they’re fun, their tunes are fun, and they offer something a little left of centre. It’s been a long day, but the crowd remains undeterred and makes a loud declaration of love in front of this beloved Melbourne foursome. Appearing on pretty much every metal festival lineup in the country, as well as scoring an international support sloth with Sepultura, Harlott proved that they had earned the buzz as one of the most fun and exciting bands around.

It’s time for the headliners, and perhaps the oddest addition to this lineup, but hear me out. Figures have been making waves Australia-wide for a while - their 2016 self-titled EP catapulted them in front of the music world with a polished product, while their next release Chronos introduced them to fans of bands like Karnivool, Tesseract and Dead Letter Circus, but not because they sounded similar, rather, because they had the essence and mood of those acts, but ultimately sounded nothing like them. I had seen Figures before, and I was wondering how their set would go down with this metal crowd, but my worries were shattered.

Firstly, I remembered that Figures were heavy, but not THAT heavy. I also remember them being great, but not THAT great. Soaring vocals wash over the chunkiest rhythm section you can think of, chugging along with clockwork precision, and Figures wrap all that up with the swagger of a band well rehearsed and in love with their own music. Their live sound remained unsurpassed in the day, and It was a great experience to see this band bloom on stage, confirming that yes, Figures are nothing if not true headliners, and punters seemed to agree with me, as looking around I could only hear loud cheers and see wide grins.

All in all, despite being under the weather, I had a blast at Amped, not only because of the great bands, but because it felt like a metal community meeting, and everyone felt like they were a part of something they love. I sincerely hope Amped comes back in 2019. Thank you, Higgo, on behalf of all metal fans.

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