Live Review: Download Festival 2023 – Castle Donington, Derby 08.06.23

Phil Pountney

So, after a ninety-minute journey had morphed into a six-hour journey I hiked the path that was well trodden and finally landed on the hallowed turf of Donington Park, and the truly mammoth extravaganza that was to be a four-day Download Festival. As my feet found their way into the arena, and onto the familiar turf that I was going to call home for the next four days, what was meant to be the first day of the festival would pretty much, I suspect, feel more like an Alter Bridge/Metallica gig after all the bands I ended up missing due to the traffic. 

Trying not to be too disheartened with the fact that I had missed Jinjer and Hundred Reasons, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself being hit with a frantic version of ‘Freak Like Me’ courtesy of Halestorm who were busy ripping up the Apex Stage. As I truly hadn’t expected to be anywhere near the site to be able to catch any of Halestorm, I made the most of my good fortune and made my way down the slight incline to the Main Stage and traversed the various barriers which had been strategically placed within the crowd, positioned myself within the inner cordon and found a vantage point at which I could soak up the remaining set from energetic rockers and with a triple whammy of ‘Back From The Dead’, ‘Bombshell’ and ‘The Steeple’. I was blown away and so relieved I had managed to be a part of the rocking set, one which had set the juices flowing and warmed me up nicely (although I really didn’t need much help on that front given the tropical heatwave we were in the midst of) for the rest of the day’s events.

Once I had come back down to earth I decided to maintain my spot at the Main Stage and patiently wait it out for the rock royalty that was Alter Bridge and their gigantic rock anthems. The anticipation and excitement amongst the assembled masses was well and truly palpable and as we caught our first sight of Tremonti, Kennedy et al the whole place erupted and went crazy. With the setlist built around a diverse selection of Alter Bridge classics as well as newer additions to the family, we were not disappointed for one moment. The likes of ‘Addicted To Pain’, ‘This Is War’ and ‘Come To Life’ all demanded a huge response from the crowd and a demand which was duly noted and actioned from each and everybody stood in Donington on this barmy evening.

An absolutely beautiful ‘Blackbird’ was unleashed on us and triggered a mass sing along which was in danger of drowning out the band before we were then bid a fond farewell with a massive ‘Isolation’ and a staggering ‘Metalingus’, both begging the question that surely it must be Alter Bridges time to grace the lineup poster in the glorious top spot and headline this whole god damn festival, and I’m sure that everyone who was stood under the Midlands sun and witnessed that lesson in how to deliver a rock show would testify that it is a headline slot long overdue. 

I then decided to stick with my original plan of keeping it all about Alter Bridge and the Bay Area Thrashers tonight, and I didn’t want to risk losing my spot by wandering over to participate in the Newport helicopter, so I stuck rigidly to my piece of turf and eagerly awaited the main event, the first of two nights and two different sets courtesy of the absolutely iconic Metallica.

As the adopted anthem of ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ and then the mesmerising and spine chilling ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’ blasted out over the PA it was time for the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention and salute the metal sovereigns, Metallica were back in town. From the moment the first chords of ‘Creeping Death’ hit us like an out-of-control freight train we were on a journey of epic proportions with the likes of ‘Harvester Of Sorrow’, the huge ‘Leper Messiah’ and the absolutely crushing ‘King Nothing’ all of these even before any notion of tracks of the latest opus ‘72 Seasons’. Rob stalked the stage throughout the evening like an absolute beast, wielding his bass with maniacal intent, while Kirk orchestrated the intricacy and delicate riffs and chords, introducing the solos with insane ease and passion.

‘Fade To Black’ was unleashed on us, sandwiched between ‘Lux Aeterna’, ‘Screaming Suicide’ and ‘Sleepwalk My Life Away’ before returning to the classics with colossal airings of ‘Orion’, ‘Blackened’ and the hugely anthemic ‘Seek And Destroy’. Lars intermittently switched between a pair of drum kits throughout the set, one was housed on the main stage whilst the other sat on the ramp which led out into the crowd, circling the infamous Snake Pit with authority and impressive stature.

‘The Black Album’ was represented by a beautiful ‘Nothing Else Matters’ which saw the Donington family in fine voice and ‘Sad But True’ which was particularly crushing tonight. James was on form throughout the whole evening, barking and roaring with ferocious command and power, switching to luxurious harmonies with dexterity and obvious ease when needed to. ‘Fuel’ saw massive pyros burst into life and the evening was then rounded out by a gargantuan ‘Master Of Puppets’, absolutely phenomenal and a thrash classic of the highest proportions. 

Metallica had been decadently sublime this evening delivered with beautiful power and aggression, absolutely flawless, which only firmly cemented the notion that we had just spent the evening with just perhaps the greatest metal band of all time. Bring on set two because I for one couldn’t bloody wait!!! 

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