Lamb of God, DevilDriver, Shadows Fall and High on Fire @ Festival Hall (Melbourne) 15 Dec 09

Festy Hall once again hosted a mini-American festival Down Under, brimming with hot, sticky and hungry-for-metal maniacs. Oh, and let's not forget Metal Santa...

Built some time in the 70s, Festival Hall has played host to countless metal acts over the years, leaving it a little worse for wear - cream colored ceilings, ancient creaky seats and wooden floors all part of the decor - the latter of which are murder on the legs if you're standing, leaving little to be desired if you're fortunate enough to have a balcony seat. As the crowd trickled in, escaping the Melbourne heat, High on Fire emerged, playing to approximately 20 people since their start time quizzically coincided with doors opening. They had to wait about half way into their set before a decent crowd appeared. Those who were lucky enough to experience their sonic assault of sludgy stoner metal lapped it up - Matt Pike and his sandpaper-like voice that sounded like a mix between Saxon's Bill Byford and Lemmy led us through hypnotic passages of guitar mastery, which thrilled melodically and shook us rhythmically. Their entire set was a great surprise, although odd lighting sometimes obscured Pike's mesmerizing and hugely energetic solos. They certainly won many new fans that night.

Shadows Fall entered rather quickly, amping up the energy of a lethargic crowd still coping with the heat. Vocalist Brian Fair attempted some theatrics, leaping up on to the barrier that seperated the stage from the patrons, spitting fire while being held aloft by a security guard that struggled to see through his forest of hair. Huge circle pits formed during Fuck it All, the band leading a heartfelt tribute to Dimebag Darrel during Destroyer of Senses. A decent performance, although their guitars sounded sloppy, notes being missed where they ought not to be.

Bounding in with untrammelled energy, DevilDriver from Los Angeles, CA appeared to a mighty roar, Dez and the crowd in similar high spirits. They all seemed primed to slay Melbourne - Dez loved to get the crowd going and warned them - "Don't make me yell at you!"

In their brutal-as-hell cut Clouds Over California a vortex-like pit opened up that swirled like a pack of insane animals; although this was not enough for Dez and co. He prompted the crowd to open up a "proper California circle pit" forcing the crowd to move over 100' to the sides of the stadium. Those who were game were dared to "chicken fight", carrying a friend on their shoulder while circling in a frantic pit like mad. Dez was impressed - "Man, I love humankind." There was even a naughty Metal Santa dressed up that promised to bring tainted gifts to evil children.

As the dust and smell of sweat formed a crust on a sizeable portion of Melbourne's underground metalhead population, porters readied the stage for Lamb of God; the drums perched on a tiered platform, the band's logo and backdrop lit up like a damned cathedral.

All horns were raised for the loud n' proud Richmond, VA metallers as they dug into Set to Fail a true indication of who Melbourne came to see. Easily the most dazzling light show of the night, they rested a while to thank their touring mates.. .but forgot to mention longtime friends DevilDriver (albeit speaking highly of High on Fire and Shadows Fall; they eventually remembered, however.)

As a somber riff struck out as Willie Adler, standing under a sole beam of light laid a framework for Mark Morton to let fly with a bluesy, Southern-fried shredfest over the top. Brutally strident, it was enjoyed by a battered crowd. Laid to Rest formed massive and frightening circle pits; when people couldn't force their way into the pack, they formed their own in the margins as Lamb of God drove their hard-edged grooves into the shaking floors of the tired hall.

Staple Redneck was also well recieved and had Confederate flags a wavin', people fixin' to whip up a Category 5 cyclone of fat, shirtless men. Swansong Black Label had a surge of people in a Wall of Death an unforgettable sight that capped off a heavy as hell experience that Melbourne seldom sees. As we walked out into the heat, the crowd was still on that unmistakeable high; a mini-festival in the middle of the week? You wouldn't see their smiles (or tinnitus) fade until after January.