If you lasted the full weekend at Download Festival then full marks to you, this years washout of mud and rain was unbearable for most revellers and that’s before anyone even mentions the price of the food and drinks! Having watched Slipknot absolutely annihilate the main stage headline slot on the Saturday, it would be hard pressed to find a band that even came close to putting on a show quite as good as theirs.
Trying to open the main stage at 11am on the last day of the festival is a large feat. But Cane Hill (★★★★) are the type of band to rise to the occasion. Frontman Elijah Witt was unapologetically commanding, somewhat intimidating and not afraid to call out a crowd stood entirely still. Starting to understand what the band are all about during last track ‘Too Far Gone’ when Witt, in a deep, distorted voice explains the track was written on whilst on LSD. The weather seemed to affect Underoath’s (★★★) set, which was a shame given the fact they hadn’t played the festival in over 10 years, they probably deserved a bigger crowd than they actually got. However musically, the songs blended together and nothing seemed to stand out too much, they may have benefited more on a smaller stage much later on in the day. – Sasha Howells
Being one of the first bands on the main stage is daunting even for those that have been in the game years, you’re unsure whether anyone will turn up or if they do are they just playing the waiting game for the headliners. A decent turn out for I Prevail was absolutely what the band deserved as it was only the second time the band had ever crossed the pond to play a show. Opening with a newer track called Bow Down it was a real mix of heavy vocals and clean singing from the two vocalists. A special mention must go out to clean vocalist Brian Burkheiser, not only was he sick whilst on the road touring, he was also doing the show in a boot on his right foot after breaking it previously. DOA and Come and Get It are two bangers to close their set- singer Eric Vanlerberghe clearly taken aback by how many people were singing along to their tracks, maybe there’s reason to come back to the UK and not leave it as long this time? (4/5)
Chants of ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire!’ are rarely heard in the East Midlands until a band from Castleford grace the stage at Download. Allusinlove (previously Allusondrugs) brought their unique grunge-y rock to the Avalanche stage early Sunday morning and blew away any forms of a hangover. “The last time we played here Download I projectile vomited during the first song so I’ll try not to do that today” exclaimed singer Jason Moules. It’s hard not to compare the look of the band to early Nirvana if they’d all bought shit shirts from Leeds Festival but here we are. Track Sunset Yellow was a real standout of the set and made the audience hungry for more from the band. Telling the crowd they’d just released their debut album was music to their ears and it’s guaranteed we’ve not heard the last of this band. (3.5/5)
Starset (★★★★★) are made for festival days like this; their intriguing outfits and use of instruments, like vocalist Dustin Bates’ use of two separate microphones to keep his clean and distorted vocals separate, make for an interesting watch. Looking like the Tusken Raiders from Star Wars: A New Hope, the four pieces were accompanied on stage by two ladies playing stringed instruments to really round out their whole cinematic rock vibe that they provide on record. Their infectious tracks like ‘Monster’ and ‘Carnivore’ bring out their storytelling in a way that can’t be rivalled but it’s ‘My Demons’ that made a potent stamp on the crowd in an overall set worthy of your attention from start to finish. – Sasha Howells
State Champs (★★★) probably seemed out of place on a stage where two of the four bands following them were Anthrax and Slayer but that just speaks volumes about how diverse not even just the days are, but each individual stage. Their pop-punk antics brought them a significant crowd that for the most part seemed to get into it, many of whom are very aware of the band and their music as tracks like ‘Secrets’ proved that greatly. However, you could see the odd Slayer fan very uninterested in something that is genres apart from what they’re used to. – Sasha Howells
It’s been a fair few years since Godsmack have been to the holy grounds of Donington and it was evident they were keen to make their mark on the main stage. It’s difficult to gee people up if they physically have no energy but Godsmack did the absolute best in hyping the revellers up with tracks like 1000hp and Unforgettable. A great moment in the set came when lead vocalist Sully Erna competed in a drum battle with their own percussionist Shannon Larkin. The drum kits spun around as they played alongside snippets of classics such as Back in Black, Killing in the Name Of, Walk this Way and Enter Sandman. The energy in crowd was buzzing for the first real moment of the day, 10 points to Godsmack for this. (4/5)
Someone who wasn’t on our list to review this weekend was Black Peaks and we didn’t even catch all of their set, walking past the Avalanche stage the heaviness of the music and piercing vocals drew us in. Black Peaks are not for those who want a quiet day, they are heavy, loud and absolute huge. The vocals from Will Gardener are anthemic and are showcased in the epic Say You Will; there was fire literally on the stage making the whole scene look huge. Black Peaks should not be playing a small tent but maybe they’re rocks best kept secret. So let’s keep it between us eh? (4/5)
The metal-est drum riser you will ever see belongs to Amon Amarth; a Viking boat. Yep you heard, a Viking boat, the stage set up for the Swedes is epic before they even grace the stage. Their brand of melodic death metal can be enjoyed by even the tamest of metallers because if it’s a little heavy for you, you can still enjoy the production and theatre that goes on both on and off stage. Having real-life Vikings dressed up, fighting on the stage to members of the crowd sitting down partaking in a metal version of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race. Guardians of Asgaard, Raise Your Horns and Twilight of the Thunder God are the biggest way you could think to end a set and left a mark on everyone watching the main stage that afternoon. (4/5)
The cover tracks that Our Last Night (★★★) have released online over the past few years has certainly impacted their success. However, they don’t tent to dabble in them live and instead let their original music speak for them. With their use of two singers, they can switch from melodic to heavy in an instant or do both at the same time, a lot like the next band, The Amity Affliction, who just seemed to have a much more aggressive edge to their sound, putting the crowd more in the mood. With a back catalogue spanning seven albums, The Amity Affliction (★★★★) have a tough time putting all those years into a half an hour set. So instead they settle on two albums worth of tracks and a standalone single in the shape of ‘Shine On’. They certainly had a rough time last time they played the festival after torrential rain sent everyone running back to their tents just before their set, this time however the Avalanche Stage is under a tent so it’s bound to go better than last time. Vocalist Joel Birch claimed that the crowd were all “crazy” for camping in the conditions that the rain has caused and that you “wouldn’t catch me doing that.” You’d think at all their times at European festivals over the years they would be used to the rain by now but the Australians are more than ecstatic to be on the stage rather than in the mud. There is a certain different in their newer tracks like ‘Feels Like I’m Dying’ vs ‘Pittsburgh’, their change in sound has given them an extra level of variation in their sets that differentiate them from others of the post-hardcore genre. – Sasha Howells
If political music is your thing then Fever 333 would be right up your street. After the band Letlive broke up a couple of years ago, lead singer Jason Butler still had so much he wanted to say. Fever, with their ‘demonstrations’ rather than their live show represent the so-called minorities in the world, giving them a voice and a sound even when they’re forced to keep silent. Not using the stage as much as he used to do in his old band, Jason still leapt around the stage like a man possessed, using the speakers in front of the stage as hurdles to jump between. Tracks like Made in America and The Innocent give an insight into what Jason wants to speak about- using his platform in the greatest way possible. It’s a shame that they were on stage at the same time as Smashing Pumpkins as they would’ve played to possibly a bigger crowd and would be more suited out of a tent rather than in one. Check their tour listings for the future because they’re coming back to the UK and you can’t miss the chance to see this band live. (3.5/5)
Housing what could’ve arguably been the most colourful stage set up of the weekend, Smashing Pumpkins (★★★) looked somewhat in awe of themselves on the stage. Asking the crowd if they were “having a reasonable time?” seemed almost patronising in the sense they were never getting the reception they wanted or felt deserved. Some of their most popular songs find themselves missing on the setlist and overall if you were an avid fan this may have been an interesting set, including a Black Sabbath cover of ‘Snowblind’ featuring Amalie Bruun from Myrkur which they haven’t done at any other festival this summer. However bored they seemed, Billy Corgan’s stage presence and vocal ability made the set worth sticking around for.
The main stage was left basically bare after the end of Smashing Pumpkins as everybody made their way to the Zippo Encore stage in time for Slayer’s (★★★) final ever UK show. With a barrage of their signature thrash metal hits, their set was an hour and a half of one big metal party. A lot of the contribution to the sheer size of the crowd felt more like a novelty aspect, with this being the last chance to see Slayer live, and the band didn’t let up one bit. Their stage set up made simple in comparison to their music, with the occasional fire blast and the constant red lighting overall made for an intimidating watch. It’s no surprise that ‘Raining Blood’ got the largest roar of the set but after that, everything moulded into one big thrash metal song. – Sasha Howells
Sticking with the political music, there’s nobody bigger than Enter Shikari. Having to stop their set early on because of two revellers climbing the rigging holding the tent up set out the musical insanity that was to come in the following hour. The last time they headlined a set they were on the second stage so its unsure why the demotion in stages as the tent was packed to the brim of people wanting to see the electronic madness. The political messages they convey within the music are powerful and memorable because of the anthemic choruses they put them in, furthermore, climate change isn’t something usually spoken about at a metal festival yet here we are. Playing their track Arguing with Thermometers written in around 2009, they speak about climate change and the “reality denial” surrounding it almost ten years on. Vocalist Rou Reynolds doesn’t always stick to the script when it comes to the live shows and it doesn’t take long for him and his microphone stand to descend into the crowd, additionally the chant of “FUCK OFF BORIS JOHNSON YOU C*NT” probably wasn’t written into the setlist either. A self-proclaimed ‘quickfire’ round is one of the most energetic songs of the set, Reynolds stating that the music will get to 174bpm in the first song; the classic Sorry You’re Not a Winner complete with synchronised clapping. The 2019 remix of No Sleep Tonight will “give you blisters” states Reynolds and he isn’t wrong, there’s old school dancing, moshing and a hell of a lot of crowdsurfing. A special mention must go out to the security at the Avalanche stage over the weekend; they kept the crowd entertained between bands, dancing, throwing balls into the crowd, organising a synchronised Icelandic clap and even one of them crowd surfing during Shikari’s set- but most importantly keeping everyone safe. Shikari were an outstanding choice to headline on the Sunday night, just as people thought they’d had enough and given their all, they realised they still had so much more energy left to give and were a great alternative from the older bands Slayer and Tool; a great booking by Andy Copping (organiser of Download Festival). (5/5)
Overall here at Backseat Mafia we had an excellent weekend of moshing, music and mud, the bands were incredible. Donington Park is such a great location for the festival with enough space for four stages and a wrestling tent there’s never a dull moment during the day. We hope to be back next year for more metal but hopefully a little less rain and mud.