Download Festival: Photo: Paulo Gonçalves
As everyone may or may not know this month played host to the infamous Download Festival contained within in the hallowed grounds of Castle Donnington. A place that can make or break, there’s no denying that Download has had and always will have a big part to play in a bands trajectory. Over the years, a reliable reputation for the weather to be nothing short of shit has been a big focal point. This year however is a completely different story. As I rolled up to download on the Friday and the sky was grey, the wellies we’re on standby.
Persevering, I joined the queue and understandably due to recent events it took a little while getting into the arena so much so that I missed Australian Metalcore bandits Northlane opening the main stage. From what I could hear they sounded promising and have done a great job to work their way up to the big stage. Be sure to check them out at this year’s edition of Techfest.
Download Festival: Photo: Matt Eachus
In the arena with a beer in hand, I wondered over to the main stage and as the sun made flabbergasting appearance Motionless in White graced the stage. Hot off the back of their recent release ‘The Graveyard Shift’. Say what you will about the silly goth tinged lyrics, MIW have a 30-minute set packed with a cannon of anthems that go down a treat with the moderately sized crowd. Front man Chris makes full use of the cat walk in front of the stage while nearly faceplanting bringing their set to a close.
I headed over to the Avalanche stage next. Anyone that was stood in that tent at 3:30pm would have seen something that will go on to define creativity, ingenuity, intensity, heaviness and most importantly the future. Hungry to eat every band on the bill alive Code Orange deliver a blistering set and prove that they are the most important thing in heavy music right now. Only the third band of the day and Code Orange have stolen this festival.
Beer number 2 in hand I made my way back to the main stage to catch Mastodon. After the face melting new record ‘Emperor of Sands’, I was 100% prepared for Mastodon smash download to pieces, sadly it just wasn’t meant to be. The wind took the sound away regardless of where you were stood in the field and the choice of setlist wasn’t the best with big hitters ‘The Motherload’ and ‘High Road’ not getting a look in.
Just before the Mastodon set was over I ran to the second stage to catch some Suicidal Tendencies. For a band now 37 years into their career they still have the energy of a youthful hardcore band with Mike Muir being front in centre giving that bloke from the insanity work out a run for his money.
When you wonder around big festivals like Download its always clear how much of a following a band has by seeing the sheer number of fans wearing merch. Today is a sea of Five Finger Death Punch Shirts. Drawing a crowd as big as a headliner, FFDP are really on form and regardless of the over publicized turbulence the band has been through over recent times, there are no signs that this band are on the ropes in any shape or form. Rifling through a set of already established 21st century metal anthems, Ivan Moody has the crowd in the palm of his hand. Expect to see Five Finger Headlining download in the next few years.
Download Festival: Photo: Ben Gibson
As dusk starts to wash over Donnington there’s something magical about being stood in the centre of the arena and taking in the atmosphere. Showing that regardless of who you are and where you stand in life, everyone’s there to mosh their tits off and have a good time.
I strolled over to the smallest stage next to catch extreme metal prodigies Venom Prison. Uncompromising and hauntingly heavy, Venom Prison destroyed and are shining star in the British extreme metal scene.
While walking back to the main stage to get a good spot for the headliners, people were losing their minds to Prophets of Rage and rightfully so. Armed to the teeth with a setlist full of the best songs ever written it’s hard not to go down a storm.
So, System of a Down. The last time System graced Donnington was back in 2011. Performing a lackluster set and looking like they just didn’t want to be on the stage. Anticipation was riding high for them to redeem themselves as the unstoppable force they have the potential to be. From Soldier Side into Suite-Pee System are firing on all cylinders tonight with a setlist heavily drawn from the first 2 records. Dropping rarities like Mr Jack very early into the set, immediately any concerns that this would be a repeat of 2011 are tucked away. For a headline set there’s not much in the way of production on stage but with the quality of songs that are being belted out this really doesn’t take much away. All in all, this is a triumph but one can only hope that the next time we see System on this stage, it’s with some new material.
Saturday, the clouds were starting to loom over Donnington but the atmosphere was still electric after Fridays shenanigans. The first band I caught we’re British Horror Punk Newcomers Creeper on the main stage. Having recently released their debut album ‘Eternity, in Your Arms’. Creeper draw a huge crowd and are an absolute pleasure to watch. Energetic from beginning to end the band sound huge. Front man Will gives a touching speech about his relationship with Download and demands a mass singalong during Misery which is acknowledged in the most spine tingling way.
Next up on the main stage are tech metal masters Sikth. The first thing that is noticeable is the crowd considerable thinned out which is a real shame as Sikth have been one of the most consistent and influential bands not only to come from the tech metal scene but the UK entirely. Mikee Goodman’s unique voice rips though the monitors and new song Golden Cufflinks sounded colossal.
Download Festival: Photo: Matt Eachus
Suicide Silence on the second stage we’re next up and to watch a group of individuals who have taken an un-justified amount of hatred walk out on that stage and tear everyone a new one was all inspiring. Fan of the new album or not a lot of people walked away with their tail between their legs that afternoon.
So, having a beer in your hand accompanied by one of the best albums ever recorded played in its entirety isn’t bad for a Saturday afternoon, right? The Cavalera Brothers come raging onto the second stage to play Roots in full and it’s by far one of the highlights of the weekend. Over the last few years Max hasn’t quite been up to scratch but today he sounds ferocious, the whole band do! From ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, ‘Spit’ and ‘Ratamahatta’. It’s an earth-shaking reminder of how much of a monster this album is. Although the bands slot’s not enough to play the whole album, they close their set with an awesome thrashy cover of the Ace of Spades. Rest in Power Lemmy.
Every time I Die are next on the list. With the tent being packed to the brim it’s a squeeze to get in but once that band hit the stage absolute bedlam. Pits everywhere, crowd surfers, security were glad to see the back of this band once there set come to an end.
He brought the fire and he brought the songs, it was finally time to see ‘Wednesday 13’s highly anticipated headline slot on the Dogtooth stage. First off, the tent was rammed to the gills with all manner of spooky phenomenon, you name it: clowns, ghouls and dudes dressed as Hulk Hogan. With a setlist loaded with new material and a few classics thrown in, the band we’re there to create a spectacle. New songs Cadaverous and What the Night Brings hit hard and sounded huge, while slower songs like Serpent Society really had the theatrical touch with Wednesday dressed as Satan commanding everyone to throw the horns.
I sprinted over to the second stage to briefly catch the last few minutes of Devin Townsend’s set and it sounded amazing! Again, proving to be one of the most genuine and down to earth dudes to walk the earth, Heavy Devy is a legitimate genius that never fails to blow minds left right and centre.
So how can you follow a man dressed like Satan commanding a sea of Hulk Hogan’s to throw the Horns?
Mr Rob Motherfucking Zombie.
Saturdays nights alternative headliner to Biffy Clyro who to their credit sounded mega, but it’s very clear who everyone is here to see tonight. Drawing a massive crowd, the stage lights up like the launch of Apollo 13 and out walks everyone’s favourite bogey man. Opening with ‘Dead City Radio’, the field turns into one huge party with not one person being able to refrain from throwing all kinds of shapes. Armed with a back catalogue that’s built for these kind of environments, ‘Living Dead Girl’, ‘Superbeast’ and ‘More Human Than Human’ keep this ghoulish shindig on course while brand new edition to the set ‘Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO’, featuring crowd surfing aliens (yep you read it right) sounds just as huge. Finishing up with a medley of The Ramones and Alice Cooper’s Schools out, before levelling the place with ‘Dragula’ which draws a close to the Saturday and sadly my time at download for the year.
More weather like this next year please!
Download Festival: Photo: Paulo Gonçalves