After what has seemed like an eternity, Download had finally opened its gates once more on the hallowed turf of Donington Park and armed with my trusty homemade grid, complete with various highlighting and tactical notes on my must sees and plans for the days, I completed the monumental hike from the car park to the arena for what was sure to be a weekend of mammoth sets and frenetic live music
So, after checking out the merch stands, and the absolutely massive queues that stood before them, I decided to grab a spot on the Main Stage for a healthy slab of Metalcore courtesy of Bury Tomorrow. From the off, it was obvious that these brits were here to engage and deliver an absolutely huge dose of brutality to the gathered masses. Daniel Winter-Bates stalked the stage like a man possessed, commanding from the front, and delivering vocals with enough power to light up the entire Download site on their own. The set was multi-faceted, it had massive anthems in the form of ‘Black Flame’ and ‘The Grey (VIXI)’, impressive circle pits ignited sporadically and wave after wave of crowd surfers made the security team earn their keep early on under the imposing burning afternoon sun.
As I headed towards the Second Stage, still computing the carnage and success I had just been a part of on the Main Stage, I was met with an absolute eye watering colossal crowd, one of which a band sitting at this position on the billing of the Second Stage of a festival shouldn’t perhaps expect, but when you consider that it is the absolute legend that is Myles Kennedy then it all starts to make sense. The amount of Alter Bridge, Slash and Myles Kennedy shirts in the crowd today was a testament to the popularity that Mr. Kennedy has grown over the years and as Myles et al launched into their Download set, the volume from this wing of the festival site was deafening. The whole set from start to finish was an absolute success and as the last chords rang out and the crowd turned on their heels and headed back into the main arena, with grins as broad as the Suez Canal, it left me pondering a question which I’m sure many a fan would now have front and centre in their minds if Myles Kennedy could draw this huge crowd today, what the hell was going to happen when he treated us to an acoustic set on the smallest Download Stage on Sunday evening.
So, as I hot footed it over to the Main Stage once more, I was keen to catch the tail end of the Black Veil Brides and their brand of American rock. As I marched closer and closer to the stage, it was clear for all to see that the whole band were pouring everything they had into their Download set today, delivering an absolutely crushing rendition of ‘Fallen Angels’ which saw each member of the band attacking their duties with passion and energy which any Red Bull fuelled Duracell Bunny would be proud of. As the set closed out with ‘In The End’ it was visibly obvious that the band had made some new fans and friends under the Donington sky today.
As the bell tolled 5 pm, the Second Stage was graced by the infamous Italian gothic masters, and my highlight of the day, Lacuna Coil. The stage was adorned with a fairly minimalistic backdrop which only seemed to highlight the impressive painted faces and outfits of Marco, Diego and Richard, whilst the paint worn by Christina and Andrea may not be as elaborate, this did not take away from the presence they both held. ‘Reckless’ was a standout track of the set, the passion with which Christina announced its arrival was only second to the deliverance, absolutely maniacal and passionate beyond belief. The crowd were genuinely appreciative of every beat that was delivered to their souls, and they absorbed each note and fired them straight back at the stage with so much love and admiration for the Italians it was truly astounding. ‘Heavens A Lie’ was an absolute monster, delivered to an ear-splitting rapturous reception and the whole crowd moved to the beat in unison, a true anthem in anyone’s book. As the band signed off and left the stage after putting in a blistering shift, this is one band that need to visit our shores again and it needs to be without delay. Grazie
Now, you always expect some clashes on a festival bill, especially when the bill is crammed with so much good stuff as the Download bill had to offer, but the early Friday evening conjured up a nasty, nasty clash for me. Should I venture down to the Avalanche Stage to catch a band that have been highly, highly recommended to me but I haven’t really had much exposure to, Sleep Token, or do I brave the confines of the Dogtooth Stage for British Lion who I caught, and was absolutely blown away by, fairly recently in Leeds. I decided to head over to the Avalanche Stage and try to catch the enigma that is Sleep Token. As I approached the tent, it was obvious that I wasn’t the only one wanting to catch a glimpse of the infamous Sleep Token and their mysterious masked rock. I manoeuvred into position so that the figures were at least visible from a distance, each one masked yet commanding their segment of the stage with authority and ease. The crowd were vocal and showed their appreciation with roars and screams at each relevant point, the energy from the crowd was impressive and welcomed the Sleep worshippers to the Download party with gusto and excitement. The set seemed to fly by, and the crowd were definitely left wanting more, I’m sure a few that have discovered Sleep Token tonight will be attending a gig the next time the band grace us with their presence on the next tour, and they are surely destined to be playing bigger and bigger venues as the momentum is certain to grow on the life of Sleep Token. Future anthems in the form of ‘Hypnosis’, ‘The Love You Want’ and ‘Higher’ were delivered with clinical precision, the sound desk was doing the band proud as each chord and beat was crisp and polished, soaked up by every person crammed into the tent to worship the band tonight. The set was signed off with an absolutely blistering ‘The Offering’ and as the band stalked off the stage, the crowd turned on their heels and left in very high spirits, many a voice could be heard replaying the evenings tunes and what they lacked in tunefulness they more than made up for in passion and exuberance. In conclusion, my first meeting with sleep Token was one of reluctance and uncertainty yet my first result from a Sleep Token show was one which left me certainly wanting more. Impressive, very impressive.
Day 2, and for me, this is the day that has it all, Thrash, Death and of course, Eddie and the boys. Bring it on!!!
So, my first appointment was on the Second Stage and with a hardcore/metalcore crew from South Yorkshire, Malevolence. Id been lucky enough to grab these bruisers a couple of times, my last meeting with them was at Bloodstock where they put on an absolute stormer of a set, so I was keen to grab them again and I was met with a healthy number of others with the same intention. The opening chords hit, and the band launched onto the stage, each with enough energy to make a border collie envious. ‘Malicious Intent’ opened up the set and brutally carved open the crowd with purpose and overflowing passion, the energy flooding from the stage was enough to ensure that the crowd followed suit and without further a due, the crowd were moving and moshing as if their lives depended on it. The set progressed well with my personal highlights being ‘On Broken Glass’ and ‘Self Supremacy’, but it wasn’t long before the Sheffield squad was closing out their short time on the Download stage with an absolutely epic ‘Keep Your Distance’. A true success of heroic proportions and judging by the number of Malevolence shirts walking around the site today, they already have a firm fan base and one on which their new friends from today can safely join for life.
I had planned on catching some of Monster Truck on the main stage but as they were 25 minutes late, I reluctantly had to leave before I could catch a glimpse of them so that I could find a spot against the barrier for Ice Nine Kills backon the second stage. As the band emerged and launched into a set, dressed in masks and suits, it was obvious from the off that these horror inspired Americans were out to prove a point and blast us with their unique brand of melodic hardcore/metal. The set was punctuated with killing scenes and props, even parading a decapitated head around the stage at one point. The crowd had significantly swelled for INK and the whole crowd was moving in unison to the catchy and energetic show that was being cascaded down from the stage on the beautiful sunny East Midlands Saturday afternoon. These trans-Atlantic metalheads were one of my discoveries of the festival and I will be sure to catch them out on at least one of their UK dates when they descend upon our shores once again for their 2023 tour.
Next up on the main stage, an absolute legend, Mr Zakk Wylde, and the Black Label Society. As I approached the stage it became obvious that the delay for Monster Truck earlier was having a knock-on effect as the Doom Crew were now late, but somehow, they had clawed back some of the lost time as the Doom Crew weren’t as late hitting the stage as they could have been. As the band hit the stage in front of their huge backdrop, it was full-on, all-out metal! Zack was striking an imposing figure together with kilt and signature yellow and black axe in hand. The mike stand was elaborate with skulls piled up around the metal and Zakk stood atop a strategically placed platform for him to strike the aesthetically solid rock poses. The sound was crisp and powerful and the vocals from Wylde were just as imposing and commanding as his aura itself. The crowd went crazy for the southern tinged metal and tore up the Donington turf as if their lives depended upon it. The solos being served to the crowd were intricate and mesmerising and the core served up from the skins was as solid and titanium as any groove metal band would expect. Several murmurs were swirling around the crowd that the Society are too low on the bill today and they hadn’t got as much stage time as they deserved, that given though, every damn minute had been utilised to good effect by Wylde et al in this unrelenting afternoon sun.
My first trip to the Dogtooth Stage next, and with good reason, up next were Bleed From Within. I managed to secure myself a spot against the barrier, stage left and waited patiently for the arrival of the Metalcore Scots. As the band strode onto the stage and launched into their brief set, the crowd went ballistic. Security seemed to have been caught napping as body after body started to surf over the top and generate enough action to make security earn their wages this afternoon. Bleed From Within anthems were punched out to the crowd, ‘I Am Damnation’, ‘Pathfinder’, ‘Levitate’ and ‘The End We All Know’ seemed to generate an even more rabid effort from the crowd, at times 7 or 8 bodies were coming over the top at a time, a very impressive spectacle to witness from my vantage point. Before we knew it Scott Kennedy was bidding us a fond farewell and every one of the band tonight looked to have died and gone to heaven, not able to contain their obvious excitement and pleasure with the event they had just orchestrated and been a part of, lads you truly deserved longer today.
As the tent started to empty and another wave of bodies entered, it was obvious that there was a major switch in styles, a healthy crowd formed once more, this time it was for some all-out brutal Death Metal, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourself, Dying Fetus were about to rip you apart. Again, these American Death Metallers hadn’t been given long enough in my mind, but the short time they had been given was used to the best possible effect. The vocals from Beasley were muscular and powerful, encompassing the blast beats from Williams to form one gigantic monster with which to rip your innards out with. The six-string work from Gallagher was mesmerising and intricate, solos flooded from the stage, each one a conductor to the mayhem and carnage being generated beneath the feet of the Fetus lads. ‘Wrong One To F**k With’ was absolutely colossal and brutal and led perfectly into ‘Grotesque Impalement’ with which the band signed off, leaving a tent full of battered and bruised souls and bodies. A true lesson in brutal and battering Death Metal, something that was severely lacking across the weekend.
As I staggered out into the glorious rays it was still blistering hot, if not a little hotter than when I had entered the Dogtooth Stage, but now it was time for one of my must sees from the weekend, Megadeth, and a healthy slab of Thrash Metal. The crowd for these Thrash giants was absolutely massive, stretching as far back and from side to side as you could see, and as the band appeared to the truly anthemic ‘Hangar 18’ it was clear to see why Megadeth are held in such high esteem. The set was made up of pretty much 2 halves, later material, bar the aforementioned ‘Hangar 18’, warmed us up in the first half of the set with tracks such as ‘The Threat Is Real’ and ‘Dystopia’, and then we were treated to an absolutely classic second half, ‘Sweating Bullets’, ‘The Conjuring’, ‘Wake Up Dead’, ‘Symphony Of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’ and then the colossal ‘Holy Wars’ to leave us gasping for more. That truly was a lesson in thrash and a lesson as to why Megadeth are still as relevant and current in the metal landscape as they were ten, twenty, hell, even thirty years ago.
The main stage had been transformed into a remote village from the furthest corner of Japan and the opening chords from ‘Transylvania’ hit out from the speaker stacks to an ear-splitting roar from the massive crowd that had now assembled to worship and bow down to one of metals true icons, Iron Maiden. ‘Doctor Doctor’ then played out which allowed the crowd to warm up their vocal cords in preparation for the upcoming spectacle, and then the band emerged with ‘Senjutsu’ firmly in tow. The signature grin on Dave Murray’s face was planted as firmly as ever and Janick Gers was as energetic as we have come to expect of him. The set continued with another two from the latest opus, ‘Stratego’ which saw an impressive Japanese warrior Eddie stalk around the stage to a huge cheer, and ‘The Writing On The Wall’ before, as Bruce described it, the band had to move house and the stage was transformed from Japan into the more classic maiden set up complete with Eddie rode backdrops. The set, from this point on, was classic after classic (although where was the representation from ‘Killers’, ‘Somewhere in time’, ‘Seventh Son’ and ‘No Prayer’ ??), backdrop after backdrop, and saw Maiden well and truly on form tonight. My personal highlights were an absolutely on point ‘Revelations’, an epic Flight Of Icarus’, a sing along inducing ‘Fear Of The Dark’ and the set closer ‘Aces High’ which was led by none other than Mr Churchill and that infamous truly inspiring speech of his. Bruce’s vocals this evening were absolutely flawless and the solid Steve Harris was as robust and spirited as ever, seeming to sing along to every lyric as if in direct competition with Bruce. There may have been some ill-informed onlookers blaspheming by citing that Maiden have become a house band for Download and with a mighty five appearances are just on repeat as headliners for the festival, no no no I say, they are perfect headliners for the fest, and I wholeheartedly pray for five more
The third and final day and there are some well and truly weary legs trudging around the site with sunburnt torsos and heads being nursed amidst all the hangovers and sleep deprived souls.
I make my way through the gates and head straight for the second stage for a band I was keen to check out as I had heard good things about them but never actually been able to catch them plying their trade in the live setting, Control the storm. As I approached the stage, the band were in full swing and there was a decent enough crowd considering it was pre midday. The sound was clear enough, Razavi was belting the vocals out as if she was leading a headline set and the stage was being lit up with tons and tons of pyro, again, impressive considering they were the day’s openers. Razavi then announces that the next track was their current single, and one that we all would know, before the band launched into the Bonnie Tyler classic, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ which did well and truly got an impressive number of voices singing the tune back at the band pretty much word for word. As the band closed out with ‘Follow Me’, this had been a success and only proved that the band won’t be opening up stages for long, they are surely destined for bigger stages and crowds.
Over on the Avalanche Stage was Download newcomers, Dead Posey from the States. Again, for the time of day, and relative newcomers to the scene, the crowd was healthy for these American rockers. Highlight of the brief set for me had to be ‘Don’t Stop The Devil’ which I was impressed at the number of people who seemed to be familiar with the track and were singing along, standing back and appreciating the band and the set they were delivering, I could definitely hear tinges of Nirvana and Marilyn Manson mixed into their own style and mould and this is a band I definitely wouldn’t mind checking out more the next time they roll into a town near me.
The band of the day for me, over on the main stage, was the Germanic Power Metal Wolves, Powerwolf. The stage was adorned with a huge backdrop and strategically placed props before the band unleashed themselves in front of the healthy and loud crowd, each member of the band dressed in matching styled outfits and corpse paint. Attila Dorn interacted with the crowd as if they were a gathering of his closest friends and family who he has known for years and years, encouraging the crowd to sing along with tracks and scream for the band at measured points within the set. Schlegel often left his keyboard podium to approach the front of the stage to coordinate the crowd and orchestrate the proceedings with energy and gusto overflowing from his priest inspired get up. ‘Incense And Iron’ was introduced to a warm welcome from the crowd and ‘Demons Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ saw the biggest response from the crowd out of the whole set. ‘As We Drink Your Blood’ came to a close and the Wolves left the stage which left me pondering as to when the next time would be where I would be able to stand in front of these Power Metal warriors because that was one hell of a good time, sincerely thank you very much, I loved it.
I stayed firmly rooted to my spot at the main stage as I waited for the fun inducing Pirate inspired power maestros, and their infamous huge inflatable rubber duck, Alestorm. Again, there was a healthy crowd gathered and as the band hit the stage the place erupted. The feel-good anthems and sing along tracks were delivered with passion from the huge stage. Replica rubber ducks were aplenty amidst the crowd, as were pirate outfits and obscure fancy dress outfits which I suspect had been brought out specifically for this set. The set was drunk up by the fans standing in front of the huge stage and they lapped it up as it poured out favourites such as ‘Treasure Chest Party Quest’, ‘The Sunk’n Norwegian’ and ‘Drink’. As Bowes bowed out with the rest of Alestorm and departed the stage to rapturous applauds I suspect that Alestorm may become a firm staple of any festival billing for years to come.
Again, my next appointment was with a Main Stage band and this time in the form of punk rockers Rise Against. I last saw these when they treated a carefully selected few in the confines of the tiny Key Club in Leeds to the launch of their latest album ‘Nowhere Generation’ which was a very special night indeed but far removed from the size and stature of the download main stage. Now, whilst they looked completely comfortable and at home sat on stools delivering their art to an intimate 300 in Leeds, they look just as at home commanding tens of thousands on the huge Download Stage. ‘Prayer Of The Refugee’ opened up the afternoon set, and the crowd went into absolute overdrive. Every single word was delivered back at the stage, perfectly in unison with the band and energy and excitement in equal measures. The set then progressed with the likes of the epic ‘Last Man Standing’ and the colossal ‘Nowhere Generation’ before rounding off the set with the huge ‘Savior’. Another resounding success for Rise Against and given the amount of love they have been shown at Download today, they certainly need to return in the not too distant future. I certainly will be catching them on their upcoming UK tour, and I strongly suggest, to avoid disappointment and regret, you do the same.
With sorrow, that drew to a close on my Download weekend but what a blast that was. A beautiful festival, passionate and dedicated fans and an event that begs to be repeated year after year. Everyone involved helped to put on a spectacle and a weekend of epic success, from all the bands playing the infamous stages, to all the crew involved front and back of house, a massive thank you for making this a weekend to go down in the history books. Bring on the 20th Anniversary next year and with download treating us to an extra day to party hard with by making it a titanic four-day event, only question left to ask is, how the hell are we ever going to survive.