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This year I get to hitch a ride to Krank’d Up with progressive metalers Red Helen. Our chosen mode of transport: a Monster Energy Tour Bus. We spend our trip comparing favourite bands and singing along to a rather eclectic playlist that ranges from System Of A Down to Coldplay. The Red Helen boys playfully scold each other that they need to save their voices for their set. Already it feels like it’s going to be a monstrous night – and that’s not just the vodka talking.
I arrive at Sundowners just in time to catch the tail end of Held On Til May’s Set. The perky pop punk does well in the sunshine. A few minutes walk away at the indoor Hunters Stage they have managed to coax a good helping of gloom, a more favourable habitat for some. Mad God oozes stoner doom to a swaying black-clad crowd. The crowd wanders back to the Monster Energy main stage, snapscanning and vaping their way through the food stands. A quick pit stop at the beard wax stall, then it’s a wide arc around the Hellfire whisky stand before you end up in the open field, half baking in the sun. Albinobeach is in the middle of a massive instrumental soundscape when I notice what is surely a mother with her 12 year-old son, him donning an oversized HIM t-shirt. She seems unsure of the parade of purple mohawks, piercings and thornbush metal band logos but not worried by them. Her son stands headbanging his head by the stage barrier, enjoying every second. It’s a fantastic sight to behold.
It’s a good day for instrumental metal. Aside from Albinobeach, Savage Lucy and OhGod manage to grab our attention without the need for vocals. The latter in particular have only gone from strength to strength, harnessing the kind of synergy that only comes along a few times in a generation.
As night begins to fall it’s Vulvodynia who take us from dusk to darkness, kicking Krank’d Up into high gear. Brutal overdrive and crushing breakdowns are dished out relentlessly as the vocalist emits a series of guttural spluttered vowels- like a caveman screaming in Klingon. The day’s first circle pit has formed. But as always there’s one guy who partied exactly hard enough to pass out just as things really get going. He lies passed out on the edge of the field, half smiling in a drunken bliss as Vulvodynia’s “Forced Fecal Ingestion” washes over him. Somewhere further back in the crowd a sexagenarian in a Dimmu Borgir shirt wobbles in approval.
Red Helen are charged with the monumental task of opening for Intervals with Memphis May Fire to follow. In many ways they are the perfect choice because they embody certain aspects of both headlining acts. The technicality of guitarist Erick Gerber’s playing nods to that of Intervals while the positively charged melodic hardcore is right down the lane from MMF. When they ask for a circle pit, one is delivered in short order. The air reeks of dust, marijuana and vanilla ice-cream-flavoured vape smoke.
Near the end of their set the thunderclouds start rolling in but with the momentum of a killer set we endure, wind-whipped and soaking. As soon as Red Helen finishes it’s a mass exodus back to the food stands. A group huddles under the low hung light of the shwarma stand for just a bit of warmth while their friends attempt to strip bare the handful of food stands. We form friendships out of sheer need for body heat and drink Lewis Hamilton Monster energy. Hands shiver as they roll cigarettes. Back on main stage a man is seen mopping frantically before the stage lights go completely dark. It’s a big black carcass against the night sky.
The storm abates after half an hour or so. There’s a collective sigh of relief as the first lights flicker back to life. After a little more frantic activity from stage Aaron Marshall and company emerge as Intervals. Marshall assures us, “We came all the way here from Canada to play for you guys some music and that’s what we’re gonna do.” From the very start they prove themselves to be a marvel of technical music, blazing through their first two tracks with hard-to-believe precision and fluidity in the face of steep difficulty.
But just as the night has gotten back on track the bass drum gives up the ghost and another scramble ensues. Crewsmen come out of the cracks and manically work to deconstruct and then reassemble the drum kit, leaving Marshall with a few minutes of dead air to keep us entertained. He jokes about stereotypically apologetic Canadians and tunes the same string on his bedazzled purple guitar over and over again. Lame jokes are met with crowdwide approval, enhanced greatly by the bassist playing the theme from Seinfeld. Thankfully it’s an easy fix and the show continues with playful virtuosity. Tracks range from jazzy to djent with extreme complexity but absolutely always there’s an element of fun in the mix that you just don’t hear very often in this genre. The thunderstorm is all but forgotten.
Memphis May Fire are last up and it’s soon apparent that they have a massive following in South Africa. A few songs in Mullins has clearly noticed this, saying “It’s an amazing feeling, flying thousands of miles over the ocean to a country you’ve never been and hearing them sing all your lyrics back to you.” He handles his duties as screamer and singer with equal ability and dishes out a message of hope between tracks. It’s circle pits and positivity all wrapped up into one. They bring the evening to a suitable monstrous conclusion of hardcore, melody and cataclysmic breakdowns. Few bands could have been better suited for the occasion. When It’s all over we leave Sundowners suitably drunken, dusted and bruised.
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