I always find the Forum to be a bit of a funny venue – it’s an awkwardly shaped room with a stage fit more for theatre productions than
rawk gigs. But tonight, underneath the fake starlit sky of the Forum’s strangely designed roof, some of the world’s finest metal veterans transformed this strange venue into the ultimate 90’s metal-kid nostalgia daydream. And I, for one, couldn’t have been happier.
Welsh Metal heavyweights Skindred hit the stage first at full force, and even 21 years on, they had the entire crowd’s full attention from the very first note and refused to let it go for the entire 50 minutes that they were on stage. They had the performance energy and the musical flexibility of bands like 90’s funk-metal monsters Fishbone but with a much stronger melodic sensibility and maturity, and I daresay a bigger variety of musical styles present in their performance – they were happy to swing from near Poison levels of leather clad cock-rock to full-blown thrash metal riffery to U2 depths of stomach-churning balladry from track to track without so much as batting an eyelid. The singer dominated the stage clad in a gigantic rainbow scarf, a head full of dreads like the cat from Bad Brains and a red leather jacket with matching sneakers to boot – no shade, dude ran shop looking like Lenny Kravitz’ older, cooler, slides you Picture magazines on the sly style brother. Or maybe George Clinton’s younger, more conservative, partakes in the occasional jazz cigarette but just can’t get down with his brother’s daily acid use style brother. Full respect, Benji Webbe – you’re one sharp dressed man. But I digress.
The band dominated the Forum’s beautifully lit and incredibly ornate stage and showered the crowd with all of their love and energy, demanding singalongs and oi-alongs alike and getting a huge reaction – much bigger than you’d expect for the opening act. I guess that’s what 20 years under your belt can earn you in this business, or maybe it was just their work ethic on the night that won the crowd over; whatever the case, the band had them eating out of the palm of their hand from the first note all the way til the last, where in a strange surprise twist, they invited 90’s icon Whitfield Crane (vocalist for Ugly Kid Joe) to join them for a dub-step cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. Not even kidding, that’s actually how the end of their set went. Whit joined them for a minute or two of that confusing moment in Melbourne musical history, before they delved into a dual-vocal version of Skindred fan-favourite ‘Warning’ to close. A massive ending to an absolutely massive opening act.
Next up, we have the main course; the prime steak, the big potato – THE RETURN TO ROOTS. It’s been two whole decades since the Roots album shook the metal world to its core, and even though we all thought it could never happen again, tonight in Melbourne Max and Iggor Cavalera took the stage together to pay homage and tribute to the album that secured their place in Metal history. And what a fucking tribute. Igor sneaks out first to waves of applause, looking a little older but still as solid as he ever was. Soulfly guitarist Marc Rizzo and Ex-Static X bassist Tony Campos follow in tow, and lastly, Max wanders out looking like some kind of heavy metal warlock, his one gigantic central dread knocking about behind him like his skull has its own tail. He roars into the mic – “MELBOURNE, YOU READY TO FUCK SHIT UP??” – and with that, the band absolutely hammer into the opening track and arguably Sepultura‘s biggest number, the eternally driven ‘Roots Bloody Roots’. The crowd explodes – and I mean explodes, like a sealed-over well bursting at the seams with middle-aged rage just waiting for this moment to finally pop. You only get moments like these so often, and to witness a whole crowd completely in their element like this was a glorious sight to behold.
One thing I have to note, and full credit where it’s due; this was without a doubt the most active, engaging and energetic crowd that I have seen in Melbourne for a good 10 years. Not only were they up and engaged for the entirety of the opening act’s set, but once Max and Iggor took the stage they lit up like they were 17 again – like this was their first concert. They howled every lyric back at the band with gleeful abandon, living out their best 90’s moshpit memories complete with awkward shirtless crowd-surfing, air guitars for days and even a couple of classic metal stage-dives to boot. The security, likewise, need a serious amount of love – they handled the constant flow of stage divers and crowd surfers with the grace and civility like of a group of professionals who truly loved what they did, making sure everybody was safe and handing out water between songs, even taking selfies with crowd members when requested. There was nothing but constant, caring attention shown by security and the crowd returned their love in kind – I wasn’t the only one I saw thanking them at the end for their efforts. But again, I digress (boy do I ever digress).
The band absolutely stomped through a monster of a set, competely laying waste to the Roots album from front to back with no stone left unturned. Once the crowd caught glimpse of Max with his signature berimbau (a native Brazillian string instrument) they near squealed with glee, knowing full well they were about to be treated with ‘Attitude’. As the band nailed through the album like they never stopped playing it, the audience crowed back at the band in pure delight, screaming along with every word to classics like ‘Cut-Throat’ and the insane rambling scat-chanting of ‘Rattamahatta’. Hell, the whole night was one great, big 90’s singalong memory-fest for all concerned, with one of our favourite albums from the era being played by the very men you never thought would reunite to play these songs for you again. It’s a true Christmas miracle *wipes tear*.
They played the album front-to-back as promised with deadly precision, only leaving the more traditional instrumental ‘Jasco’ out to have Iggor play the rhythms for the hypnotic ‘Itsari’ in an extended solo jam instead. Once the final notes for the monolithic album ender ‘Dictatorshit’ rang out, the band let the instruments send waves of feedback out into the audience and left the stage momentarily to refresh themselves, while we hit the bar to do the same.
Max and Iggor came back alone at first to play a medley of early Sepultura songs together, including a thrashy-as-fuck rendition of ‘Beneath the Remains’ and a downright brutal version of ‘Desperate Cry’. What happened next, though, was absolute magic – they got the rest of the band back to have a bit of an extended encore jam over their favourite covers, first plowing into the Venom classic ‘Black Metal’ before belting out their cover of Celtic Frost’s ‘Procreation (of the Wicked)’. They followed that with a breakneck cover of Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, and just when you thought your neck couldn’t take any more, they finish it off by re-breaking into a super fast thrash version of their own classic, ‘Roots Bloody Roots’. By the time they finally left the stage, my body had not one ounce of energy left to commit to anything but dodging the waves of empty cans as security swept them and us toward the exit and into the night air. I stumbled towards the train station grinning from ear to ear, reeking of old beer and stale sweat and damn, damn good times.