Live Review: Download Festival 2023 – Castle Donington, Derby 10.06.23

Phil Pountney

As I entered the arena for the third time my battle plan required me to initially set up camp on the Opus Stage, so as I was winding my way to find a good vantage point I managed to catch the tail end of Stray From The Path and their brand of American Hardcore Punk. As these were a new discovery for me I settled in and turned my attention to the stage in order to be able to fully appreciate the offering which was being served up to a healthy amount of sun kissed craniums and shoulders. Fifteen minutes had passed and the Hardcore crew were bidding us a fond farewell and I made a mental note to myself to make sure I catch these again if I ever found myself in the same vicinity as them again. A healthy start to this wonderous Saturday. 

Next, I anchored myself to the spot in order to grab a healthy dose of Thrash by way of the Virginian maniacs that are Municipal Waste. I’ve seen these on numerous occasions now, from small sweaty clubs to huge stages, and they never disappoint so I had high hopes and I was not let down. Foresta burst onto the stage like a true man possessed, sprinting across the stage and interacting with the crowd before him as if they were all long lost best friends he had just been reunited with. ‘Demoralizer’ kicked things off and this was closely followed by ‘Breathe Grease’ and then the huge ‘Beer Pressure’. The set was full of thrash licks and energetic riffs, Waste and Poulos traversed their fretboards with notable ease and precision. ‘Sadistic Magician’ was phenomenal and a true blueprint of what an all-out thrash hymn should be about while ‘Headbanger Face Rip’ commanded every head in the field to be bouncing and banging in one way or another with ‘Born To Party’ subliminally demanding the Thrash loving hordes to go absolutely crazy which they duly obliged with. There was even time in the set for the crowd to be given the opportunity to surf their way over the front line and add to a Guinness World record attempt for the most crowd surfers in just one song, hell they apparently even brought in more security to bolster the numbers in preparation for the event. This had been a masterclass in the art of Thrash Metal and I for one loved it. Once again, Municipal Waste did not disappoint.  

I then had a wander over to the Main Stage so that I could catch some of Ice Nine Kills, and after catching them last year on the Download Second Stage (and being truly impressed), I was keen to see if they could impress once again and keep the momentum going. As I approached the stage, the crowd was huge for this horror inspired Metalcore so I hung back a little so that I could appreciate the whole theatrics in one view, and as they kicked into ‘The American Nightmare’ I couldn’t help but be impressed by the power cascading down from the speaker stacks. The vocals were crisp and clear and the guitars seemed to be driving the musical body with the bass and drums providing a slightly muted and muffled heartbeat to the whole soul. That being said, the whole package, which was carving open the glorious sun filled sky, was competent and catchy, hooking and endearing, my only regret was that I hadn’t moved further into the fray as I do think they lose you a little when you aren’t able to soak up the visual elements of the show up close and personal, so note to self, make sure I’m front and centre next time.    

I found my way back to the Opus Stage and again found a vantage point near the front in readiness for the Death Metal juggernaut of Carcass. ‘Buried Dreams’ kicked things off and hit us with a sledgehammer, the vocals from Walker were caustic and violent, spat out with venom and controlled anger, all moulding together to make for an exhibition of vocal excellence. As the set progressed with a brutal ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse’ and a toxic ‘Exhume To Consume’, Steer et al absolutely battered us from start to finish and displayed just why they are at the pinnacle of their trade and one of the most captivating extreme metal bands in existence. 

Motionless in White were next to attack the Opus Stage and the crowd swelled once more for the American Metalcore advocates and they did not disappoint. ‘Sign Of Life’ and ‘Werewolf’ were particularly punishing under the baking sun while ‘Reincarnate’ and ‘Another Life’ were bruising and absolutely deafening. Cerulli prowled the stage, barking orders out at the assembled masses, which was eagerly soaked up and actioned by the growing swirling pits that moved before them. The power that Mauro generated from his kit was mesmerising and this only added to the brawn that he injected into the set. As the set closed out with an impressive ‘Eternally Yours’ the gratitude and appreciation shown by the crowd was staggering and well deserved from the effort and work they put into their forty minute shift. 

Back to the Apex Stage for the remainder of the day and next on the agenda were the Canadian Post Hardcore mob, Alexisonfire. From the off this crew were simply hammering, a particular mention needs to go out to ‘Accept Crime’ which was just mesmerising and the power and precision which was poured into it was enchanting. A huge crowd had been drawn for these heavyweights and a certain Mr Hetfield could even be seen in the wings watching on with interest, which has got to be a massive seal of approval in anyone’s book. Alexisonfire used their time on stage to good effect and engaged with the crowd constantly, demanding action from the assembled swarm and which they duly obliged with throughout. 

Disturbed were up next and this was one that I was definitely up for, and as soon as we caught sight of the US rockers they didn’t relent one bit. Draiman was a beast, hunting the stage with swagger and commitment, the power he projected from his lungs was atmospheric. ‘A Reason To Fight’ was enchanting, each member of the band taking up positions on stools at the front of the stage and delivering a beautiful rendition which was emotive and passionate, even leaving Draiman needing a couple of minutes at the end to compose himself again. The set then continued with perfect displays of selections from the Disturbed back catalogue, we even saw a piano appear on stage along with a cellist and violinist so that an exquisite ‘Sound Of Silence’ could be delivered to us which was absolutely sublime, perfection personified. A powerful ‘Down With The Sickness’ and ‘Inside The Fire’ rounded off the set and left us all feeling pretty overwhelmed with the whole event and one which we needed to recalibrate and reset from, in the best possible of ways of course. I feel like I need another Disturbed fix already! Absolutely awesome set, honestly, thank you so much. 

Time to give a huge welcome back for night two, a second set from the mighty Metallica and we are promised a no repeat set from Thursday night so this surely was going to be a special set, and one I could not wait for. A few of my favourites were missing from the first night so I was salivating at the prospect that we may be treated to them tonight, so I took up my spot against the barrier and eagerly awaited the return of the Thrash masters. Again, we got the AC/DC classic followed by the Ennio Morricone masterpiece and then we were well and truly in the midst of it all. A frantic ‘Whiplash’ followed by ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ and then a gargantuan ‘Ride The Lightning’ and a very welcomed ‘Until It Sleeps’. Wow, what a start, Metallica were on form tonight and looked hungrier for it than they did on Thursday night for some reason, James seemed to have more of a raw edge to his voice, seemingly having a thirst for delivering each of his words with more toxicity and each of his down pick strokes and riffs were delivered with more ferocity and aggression. Rob manhandled his bass with mammoth crushing movements and Kirk manoeuvred around the stage with dexterity and luxurious elegance. The set then threw in other beauties, ‘The Unforgiven’, ‘Wherever I May Roam’, ‘The Call Of Ktulu’, ‘Battery’ and an epic ‘One’. 

The set then rounded off with ‘Enter Sandman’ and with that, we were left reeling from the show we had just been a part of a show which I’m positive will have people talking about it for years to come, and to think we still have another full day to go. Awesome, simply awesome.

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