Live Review: Download Festival 2023 – Castle Donington, Derby 11.06.23

Phil Pountney

The final day of this epic rock voyage and it was a fairly stripped back affair for me. The heat was truly oppressive from the off and wherever you stood in the vast Donington arena it was stifling. The water points were gridlocked, and it took almost an hour of queueing to become victorious and reach the sodden ground and lukewarm water with which you could fill your chosen vessel. Oh well, that’s the problem with having 100,000 people descend on one field on a scorching hot day I suppose.

First up on the main stage for me today was Lorna shore, an American Deathcore band who I had ran into once before at Bloodstock, and I had been impressed so I was keen to see if lightning could strike twice (I was actually praying for a thunderstorm at this point, it wasn’t just a tenuous pun) and yep, sure enough, they were fantastic. ‘Cursed To Die’ and ‘To The Hellfire’ were particularly antagonistic, brutal, and caustic, each allowing Ramos to fully explore his vocal range and utilise it to the best of his ability with the raw guttural roars and the more melodic segments. The crowd was a decent size considering the time of day and the unrelenting heat but they didn’t hold back which made for a deafening sound which demonstrated just how loved and appreciated the band were, so surely after this response and the shift that the band put in, they are only destined to keep moving up and up on festival bills and gig venues alike. 

The Hu were an unknown entity for me, all I knew about them prior to Download was that they were Mongolian and consisted of throat singing, Hmmmm interesting. That being said though, they were completely not what I expected. Sure, they had some interesting instruments on stage and some of the vocals were different to ones I had ever heard before, but the power which hit you was huge. As I stood back and let the sound wash over me, I couldn’t help but feel that there were very strong undertones reminiscent of those that Rotting Christ manage to muster. The musical score was punchy and battering, hypnotic and powerful. The chords were crunching and immense, perfectly balanced to provide depth and muscularity throughout while the vocals were enchanting and commanding without ever letting up on the power. As the set closed out I was left with a real want to be able to catch these again in order to fully appreciate them and not having had the need to acclimatise to them before being able to fully appreciate their art and virtuosity on a blistering hot meteorological summers afternoon. 

I then eagerly retreated back up the hill to try and find some shade and I thought the Dogtooth stage may have been just the very place, how wrong was I, the tent was rammed to the rafters, reminiscent of when Slayer played the second stage in 2004 due to the infamous logistical nightmare. So, while there was no room at the ‘Inn’ I decided to set up camp just outside where I was just in time to catch The Meffs, and their anarchic punk rock, and boy was I in for a surprise. From the off they were chaotic but with a strong element of control about it, they worked the crowd and in return received a huge wave of boisterous appreciation throughout. The set was brief but they managed to instil a huge amount of passion and pride into everything they delivered, I was very impressed and am very keen to catch them again as soon as I see any tour dates coming anywhere near me. Another fantastic ‘discovery’ of the festival for me and one thing to finally thank the scorching heat for! 

Back down to the main stage and this time for a healthy dose of Black Metal courtesy of Poland’s finest, Behemoth. As the huge backdrop appeared the anticipation around the front end of the field was well and truly palpable and when Nergal et al hit the stage the whole place went up in flames, quite literally. ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ carved us open and it was powerful and potent, the vocals from Nergal were formidable and the battering we got from Orion was simply sublime. The set continued with the likes of ‘The Deathless Sun’, ‘Versvs Christvs’ and my personal highlight ‘Ov Fire And The Void’ which absolutely detonated and obliterated the festival and all that stood before the blackened horde, a true success story if there ever was one and a decadent jewel in the Download crown, I just wish there had been more black metal in order to fulfil our hunger for the more extreme end of the dark spectrum. 

Unfortunately, it was with a heavy heart that I then had to tap out, in fear of succumbing to either sunstroke or heat exhaustion, I had to retreat and leave the rest of the festivities to my 100,000 new friends to continue flying the flag. I have however, subsequently heard from reliable sources that the Opus Stage was well and truly rocked to the core by Papa and his nameless ghouls, aka Ghost, The Dogtooth Stage was thrown into pandemonium by the sheer ferocity and mauling that Hatebreed dished out and the Main Stage was destroyed by the masked titans, Slipknot

What a way to end a monumental 4 days of debauchery and exuberance, I’m totally gutted that I had to leave the party early but looking on the bright side, as they say, there is always next year. 

Thank you Download it has truly been a pleasure. 

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