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UNIFY Gathering is Australia's wildest celebration of heavy music

As a wise man once said, sitting on his folding-chair throne with a tinnie in one hand: “UNIFY. It's like Disney for metalheads.”

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Image source: 
Lewis Nixon

There was not a more accurate summarisation of the two-day festival said since. Six months in the making and finally kicking off last Friday to the pouring rain, the festival took place in Tarwin Lower Reserve, a huge football ground/open field situated in South Gippsland. Under grey, rain-thick skies, tents of all colours and varieties popped into existence, spanning from just outside the main arena all the way to the back corner of the venue. Alcohol of all varieties was cracked open, and after some light (heavy) pre-drinking and eating, the 7000+ people there made the afternoon trek towards the arena.

Over the two days, UNIFY roped in some (if not most) of Australia’s best and brightest hardcore and metal acts from all over the country, and even treated everyone to some international heavyweights from England and America. These two days were well-balanced in terms of acts, with the first day being shorter than the second. One thing they both had in common was that the rain just would not let up, but if the turnout was anything to go by, nobody really gave a shit.

The festival started humbly with the Melbourne local band Mirrors and up-and-comers Belle Haven, both of which performed solid, enjoyable sets with giddiness; they were so proud to have made it this far, and it showed, smiles and enthusiasm served as a running theme during their sets.

Things really started to swing into full gear however when American psychos Knocked Loose took up the mic for a taste of just how brutally hectic the pit was going to be, clearing out the centre for a frenetic, limb-swinging mosh with songs like ‘Counting Worms’ and ‘Deadringer’ (one guy walked away with a shattered nose if that’s anything to go by). 

For rising stars Polaris, this was the perfect foundation to build on. Performing mostly well-known bangers like ‘Casualty’ and ‘Relapse’ and a few songs from The Mortal Coil like ‘The Remedy’ and ‘Consume’, they managed to attract nearly everyone in the festival that wasn’t there already and an already big mosh pit somehow got even bigger. Scattered, wafting clouds of cigarette smoke and an ever-moving sea of people showed off just what was to come ahead.

Hardcore veterans Behind Crimson Eyes, Four Year Strong and 50 Lions claimed the stage right afterwards to perform memorably, screaming, strumming and drumming their hearts out to an audience that welcomed them with open arms, but for some strange reason, not everyone had shown up yet; some were still sinking alcohol back in their tents or eating from the variety of food stalls. They were waiting for something.

Tonight Alive was part of that long wait, and it was at this point when there were so many people flocking to the stage, that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the lively campsite had temporarily become a ghost town. Tracks like ‘How Does It Feel?’, ‘Lonely Girl’ and ‘Temple’ sounded like old friends as the crowd packed in towards the barrier and the braver ones rose above the ever-moving heads of the mosh to crowd-surf to the front, but surprisingly, they weren’t what everyone was hanging out for.

It was no secret that UNIFY had pulled some strings and gotten English hardcore heroes Architects in for a one-time Australian performance; there was not a single person that didn’t scream and roar and cheer their approval when they walked on stage. Aggressive, full of passionate rage and performing with nothing short of everything they had, the Brighton-born legends whipped the crowd into something beyond just a mosh; there was not a single person present that didn’t want to be there, and whatever the band threw at everyone, it was thrown back twice as hard. With a full hour to work with instead of the usual half-hour that everyone was getting used to, the crowd was treated to roaring songs like ‘Broken Cross’, ‘Naysayer’, ‘Deathwish’ and ‘Gravity’. More and more people were tossed into a crowd-surf, a massive circle mosh punctuated the middle of the performance, and for some reason, thousands of people were egging on frontman Sam Carter to do a shoey, who didn’t mince words when he told us to ‘get fucked’. But the crowd mostly quietened down when Carter started to tearfully talk about deceased band member Tom Searle, who had tragically died of a battle with melanoma. He told us that it was okay to cry, and it was okay to feel sad, something that resonated with everyone present and was rightfully met with a supportive wall of cheering and applause. The band soldiered on through an encore that threw the new single ‘Doomsday’ at us and wished us all farewell. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the festival had peaked at this stage, but such a thing couldn’t be further from the truth.

The lights dimmed, and the final, biggest act of the night took the stage with gusto. It was time for Parkway Drive to show everyone why they and they alone had the last, coveted slot time of the night. The crowd switched from passionate, lyric-singing moshing to absolute insanity. People were being thrown over heads, the circle pit doubled in size, some genius made his way to the front in a goddamn wheelie bin, and if the medical tent was anything to go by, a few people even got concussed and knocked out during the frenzy. Performing room-busters like ‘Carrion’, ‘Bottom Feeder’, ‘Vice Grip’ and ‘Crushed’, the boys from Byron Bay had left absolutely no one unsatisfied from the start of their extended set to the finish, emanating constant, incredibly energy to a crowd that could not possibly peak anymore.

Day one of UNIFY 2018 concluded in the early morning with drunken adventures, parties everywhere and for some, an absolute crash as soon as they hit their tent beds. But there was another day left, with nearly twice as many bands ready and eager to please. The antics continued, and half the camp was still ready and buzzing.

Day two started off with more up-and-comers to the Australian hardcore and metal scene. Local talent Dregg, Sydney-born performers Dear Seattle and skilled rockers The Beautiful Monument performed grey-skied, relatively relaxed, yet easily enjoyable sets early into the day, but it was a Newcastle quartet called Introvert that really dominated the morning. While entertaining antics like goon of fortune on a portable Hills Hoist, beer pong and backyard cricket livened up the campsite, these guys served to bring some of the energy from the night before back into the pit with slickly-done songs like ‘Everything Is Different Now’ and ‘December’, a set that the female-led, Melbourne born hardcore act Outright somehow managed to match, bringing their own brand of music to a crowd more than happy to vibe along to it.  As the day wore on, the pit once again started to fill out, with Aussie up-and-comers Young Lions fattening out the pit and performing a memorable piece that everyone present loved.

However, the anticipation started to brim for Melbourne metalcore legends Void of Vision, who went absolutely off the chain during their rain-soaked set, screaming and whipping a relatively tame mosh into an absolute mess of flailing limbs and head-banging. Stage-climbing, merch-throwing antics littered their set as they thundered through the entirety of their Disturbia EP and other huge tracks like ‘Nightmare’ and ‘Purge’ with gusto that could very easily have matched the peak of day one.

After a talented set from UK band Roam, it was a set from the large-scale American talent Being as an Ocean that really started to attract the masses. In comparison to the chaos of the last few sets, the crowd seemed to change to something more organized and passionate, with BAAO bringing their newer music like ‘Black and Blue’, ‘OK’ and ‘Thorns’ to bear, much to the delight of everyone present. As per every performance by them, frontman Joel Quartuccio hopped off the stage and waded into the middle of the mosh (much to the chagrin of the security guards), a unique element that no other talent brought to the gathering.

After they left the stage, it was nothing but even bigger names from thereon in, and once again, the once-lively campsite started to resemble a ghost town more and more as Australian heavyweight Make Them Suffer took up the briefly empty stage and belted out killer tracks like ‘Ether’, ‘Let Me In’ and ‘Blood Moon’ much to the delight of everyone already assembled. Followed by American pop-punk band Knuckle Puck, things were starting to match the crescendo created during the night before.

Following on with the American trend, the hard-hitting talent Stick to Your Guns once again whipped up the crowd into a surfing, moshing, tangled frenzy that refused to give an inch. Hailing from California and demanding a circle pit to remind them of home, they thundered through a set that was deserving of their fame.

As the night rapidly drew towards a fever pitch, the hustle and bustle in the crowd started to get more excited and buzzed, and with good reason. When Hellions took their places on the stage, it looked like they were born into it. The crowd almost exploded into the same frenetic moshing that accompanied Parkway Drive the night before, and then some. Heavyweight tracks like ‘He Without Sin’, ‘Hellions’, ‘Thresher’ and ‘Quality of Life’ were served up alongside Limp Bizkit-esque dance moves by frontman Dre Faivre, along with the new unveiling of a new track, ‘X’. There was not an inch to spare inside the mosh; crowd-surfing was the norm, and like Parkway and Architects, people came out hurt. But hey, with a band like Hellions performing, it only made sense.

Occupying the last two slots of the festival were the two Australian bands every single person present had been waiting for; Hands like Houses and The Amity Affliction, two of the main attractions of the festival. It was safe to say that the intensity of the first night had been well and truly surpassed in every possible way during those two acts; not a single person could have moshed or vibed any harder than they already were, pits of incredible size and intensity were opening and closing like the mouth of some wicked beast, and any sort of antics that could be pulled off in a mosh or any crowd at all had happened already or were already being executed. Each person that took up the stage performed their absolute hearts out (although Ahren Stringer’s vocals left something to desire, slightly), and put on a show that would not only be remembered for a year, but for a long time afterwards.

Of special note was the set that was belted out by The Amity Affliction. It was their 15-year anniversary, and as a tantalising reward to their fans, they played golden oldies like ‘Severance’ and ‘Stairway to Hell’, two songs that no crowd would ever hear again after that night. From the oldies, they slowly started to graduate into their newer songs from records Chasing Ghosts, Youngbloods and Let the Ocean Take Me. Belting lyrics out until voices gave in, double-shoulder rides and the curious case of a blow-up doll being thrown around served to punctuate the nearly hour-and-a-half juggernaut performance the Queensland-born act put on, and when it finally wrapped up at about 2:30 that morning, we were all left with tired bodies and ringing ears, but that was half the fun, and not a single person could have cared less. For two incredible nights, metal fans of every possible hailing in Australia, and even abroad, were treated to a menagerie of incredible talents from all around the country, and they could not have been happier. The come down from such a night came in the form of a chilled, unplugged acoustic session from some of the smaller bands of the festival, but it was just that; a come down from one of the wildest festivals in Australian history.

A friendly, larrikin-like atmosphere and every conceivable Australian culture trait surrounded UNIFY 2018 like a shroud, and with friendships forged and their money’s worth more than delivered, punters couldn’t help but leave happy. Happy and royally battered around.

Highlights: Day One was getting into the DJ booth beside the main stage and watching the crowd for Parkway Drive, something I won’t forget. Day Two was crowd-surfing during Hellions, the first times I’d ever done so at a gig. Unforgettable memories.

Lowlights: Forgetting a spray jacket in the pouring rain, seeing a dude in a wheelchair getting royally knocked out in the first night’s mosh, or having security ride your ass for being too close to the side of the barrier.

Crowd Favourites: Day One was Polaris, Architects and Parkway Drive,  while Day Two was Make Them Suffer, Hellions, Hands Like Houses and Parkway Drive.