Download Festival 2012 – Saturday Review

After a drier night, the arena is looking decidedly less slippy (good) but quite a lot stickier (gross) and the feeling of being sucked into the depths of hell pervades ones’ thoughts if you stand still for any length of time. A dusting of woodchip and a dumping of hay around site has matted most areas into a lumpy farmyard but hey, it’s a little less perilous than yesterday so we’re not complaining.

Norwegian deathpunk glamsters Turbonegro, wake up the second stage sleepyheads with enigmatic newbie Tony Sylvester emerging in a sparkly Union flag cape and regal crown for a roaring ‘All my friends are Dead’. Over on the main stage Steel Panther steal the hearts of the ladies in the crowd with their 80’s rock personas and hip-thrusting action. The arena is rammed with lookalikes in bouffant wigs and zebra print lycra, screaming along to the likes of ‘Asian Hooker’ and ‘Supersonic Sex Machine’. It’s kitsch, it’s corny, but it’s all good humour and behind the filthily funny lyrics they are actually a fairly talented bunch.

However, it’s the stand out comedy-meets-rock performance of Tenacious D that gains the real respect of the crowd, even if you don’t much favour Jack Black, you’ve got to admire their story telling ability and straight up phallus-worship (in the form of a giant blow up cock and balls, made out to be the head of a colossal firey phoenix – in reference to their new album ‘Rize of the Fenix’). Fan favourites ‘Fuck Her Gently’ and ‘Kickapoo’ are mere warm-ups to the arena-wide exultation of band epic ‘Tribute’ and a chorus of “Nay, we are but men… ROCK”, as the D put it – they “made love to our ear-canals” and gave us “eargasms”. Jack Black declares Download was on their list, the “Last one before the world explodes” referring to the Mayan calendar ending in December and Tenacious D leave the stage to a confetti ejacuation emanating from the head of the ‘phoenix’.

Biffy Clyro

Skindred’s second stage set is met with unfortunate sound problems – largely due to the wind, but once gold-suited Benji Webbe exploded into heavy ‘Doom Riff’ any fears of a failure were well and truly gone, and their skit of ‘All the single ladies’ (with proper bogling) was extremely giggle-worthy. Wild crowd love for ‘Game Over’ and ‘Trouble’ as well as ‘Nobody’ see the band going mental and it’s tshirts off for the Newport Helicopter during ‘Warning’. If you were anywhere else in the world – you were missing out. Even the security guards at the side of the stage had their phones out videoing the mania.

Biffy Clyro go off with thousands of dedicated fans, and the return of Killswitch Engage provides raw power with ‘Life to Lifeless’ (circle pits galore) and an extremely memorable cover of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver’. Main stage monsters Metallica are greeted by an arena FULL, front to back, side to side, of sardine-canned-fans. What it must feel like to look across that sort of a crowd one can only guess, but ripping into an intro set including ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ – they prove why they’re such a Download stalwart and deserve to top the bill. The reverence of The Black Album is felt like shivers down the spine of the collective crowd as the band begin to play it in reverse order, and an epic singalong (and lighter swaying) for ‘Nothing Else Matters’ may well have been heard by low-flying planes. Following up with the likes of ‘Battery’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’, Metallica detonate well before the pyrotechnics do. This is their 7th Donington performance, and despite some dodgy sound at the back – it’s one you’ll tell your kids about, for all the right reasons.

Download Festival 2012 – Friday Review

Once upon a time there was muddy swamp seated in the backwaters of the Bayou… oh wait a second, sorry, scratch that… it’s Drownload Festival 2012!

For early birds in the campsite on Wednesday, crowing over their favourable release from the workplace, it may have seemed like a rock-filled dream… until Thursday. The heavens opened and smite was heaped from on high with almost constant downpour from the get-up. Campsites quickly turned into duck ponds with many having to evacuate tents in favour of sleeping in the car or even leaving the festival entirely, and going to the portaloos was practically a mud-slalom event worthy of the Olympics. Welfare tents overrun with various ailments and incidents, fallen victims staggering about like bilge-monsters from the deep, and forlorn looking metallers with sodden dreadlocks were the scenes of Thursday and Friday morning.

But wait, this is Britain and these are The British. This nation was practically built on the ability to keep calm and carry on, or in the average Download goer’s case – get wasted and rock on. However, spirits aren’t exactly lifted with a two hour pushback for the arena opening, forcing some bands off the bill entirely and others to play later slots, as well as having ‘cleverly’ closed off nearly every available motorway junction to the event, creating great backlog for folks trying to get into the site. Those caught in the hours long traffic included Swedish rock legends Europe, presumably doing the final countdown to missing their slot completely. As sludge-ridden fans waited for the absent band a huge karaoke Final Countdown was paid in homage.

It is the warm/violent embrace of a circle pit that welcomes the first mainstage band Fear Factory (due to Cancer Bats and Rise to Remain being shimmied around) who proceed to rip through to closing favourite ‘Replica’ with gusto and Fat Mike of NOFX brings a little comedy to the mix whilst they roll out the likes of ‘Dinosaurs Will Die’ and ‘Perfect Government’. Billy Talent invite Cancer Bats on stage for a collaborative effort on ‘Hail Destroyer’ and over on the Jägermeister acoustic stage Skindred’s Benji Webbe is showing off his Michael Jackson dance moves and singing whole songs in ‘little kid crying’ style… just for the craic. Oh and he forgot the words for Doom Riff. Call it a warm up for tomorrow.

Machine Head’s explosive performance was foretold by reports of their not-so-secret Ten Ton Hammer gig in London earlier in the week but there’s something utterly great about seeing a band thrash it out in the open like wild things and the huge sweaty mosh pits tell a tale of a ruddy good show. ‘Imperium’ is received in exactly the manner it’s intended – a war anthem with the cry of thousands of fans going berserk.

Machine Head

Controversial dnb booking Chase & Status are hands down a triumph, the thumping basslines of ‘Eastern Jam’ and ‘Hypest Hype’ can not only be heard, but felt all around the arena, and Nightwish’s ‘Amaranth’ on the Encore stage is completely overshadowed by the London duo’s ‘Pieces’. The rest of Nightwish’s set though pretty, is largely uninspiring. Sure ‘Last of the Wilds’ is a beautifully haunting piece, but vocalist Anette Olzon doesn’t stack up to axed band member Tarja Turunen’s operatic style in old tracks ‘Wish I had an Angel’ and ‘Nemo’. It’s not that she’s bad, it’s just that if you already own the albums – it’s a bit disappointing. The pyrotechnics and Tuomas’ giant Phantom-esque pipe organ is interesting but they just don’t have the spark that their Tarja fronted Download appearance in 2005 did.

Encore headliner Slash wails like no-one else on earth and the second stage arena is awash with shred-fans for GnR song ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’. Friday’s mainstage headliner The Prodigy finally get underway 30 minutes late, opening with ‘World’s On Fire’ and enough decibels to reanimate the dead. Super hits ‘Breathe’ and newest album tracks ‘Thunder’ and ‘Omen’ are instant fodder for rave hungry revellers, but classic ‘Firestarter’ is the body-thrashing anthem everyone has been waiting for. ‘Smack my bitch up’, ‘Diesel Power’ and ‘Take me to the Hospital’ are as firey as expected and The Prodigy go out with an almighty bang. That’s one flame the rain couldn’t dampen.

Review by Anna Hyams

Download Festival 2012 – Sunday – Black Sabbath Review

Better late than never, sunshine graces the Download Arena as the stage screens go black in anticipation of the Godfathers of metal, Black Sabbath, headlining and closing out the 10 year anniversary of the festival.

An intro video of highlights is played, shamelessly thin on clips of Bill Ward who is not  performing with the band tonight due to a public online spat over 'contractual issues'. It is Ozzy's tour drummer Tony Clufetos who is to take his place.

As the skies begin to darken, the maniacal signature laughter of Ozzy Osbourne can be heard behind a black curtain across the stage, which is lifted to reveal the band with huge screens featuring a flaming backdrop of the Black Sabbath logo, straight into namesake track 'Black Sabbath'.

Whilst Ozzy appears to have an abundance of energy, playing harmonica and careering about during 'The Wizard' there is a zombie-like quality to his movements these days, which is sort of disturbing, yet sort of endearing and as the band launch into 'Snowblind' Ozzy's sweat beaded brow and crazy eyes are projected on screen whilst he screams for everyone to jump.

Ozzy's second-puberty voice is crackling as he gets more excited and screams "I can't fucking hear you" repeatedly, and the stage goes black once more for the air-raid sirens of the iconic 'War Pigs'. Thousands yelling out the lyrics "Generals gathered in their masses" is a spine-tingling thing to witness and Black Sabbath absolutely blast it out. Despite Iommi's public battle with illness he is shredding as hard as ever with Geezer Butler providing the signature Sabbath rhythm to the sound.

A massive Tony Clufetos fuck-you-BW drum solo makes the crowd roar as they drop into 'Iron Man' after Ozzy laments on Iommi being "The real Iron Man" and then into 'Fairies Wear Boots'. Ozzy gets down on his knees and praises the crowd, and the band encore with the inevitable 'Paranoid' and a bombardment of fireworks for a sensational finish. You might be forgiven for saying Ozzy's voice isn't quite there anymore, or that it wasn't the fast-paced go-nuts finisher of a festival, but, this is original metal, in the original home of metal, with the Prince of Darkness. It's metal cubed, and everyone loved it.

Download Festival 2012 – Saturday – Metallica Review

After a brief glimpse of sunshine and a compacting of mud, the Download site seems to be in much better spirits as the main stage is set for the return of Metallica to it's hallowed ground. As Download veterans they pretty well have the home-team advantage with anything they play, but this year sees Metallica revisit their 'do a whole album' idea (having performed Master of Puppets in its entirety at Download 2006) with a complete run through of The Black Album. Backwards.

As the sky darkens and the arena fills up with expectant fans, Metallica arrive with all the collected-calm you'd expect of rock legends, and hammer out some taster tracks to the tune of 'Master of Puppets' and 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' with the accompaniment of thousands of voices from the crowd. Despite the fact that Metallica are clearly absolutely smashing it, taking a walk around the arena shows a very different picture. Go ever so slightly up the hill from the sound desk and suddenly you're in Metalli-karaoke land. The sound is so low and tinny you could be forgiven for thinking Download were using ipod speakers down there, and a lot of people are upset – made ever more apparent as song by song, irked fans get up and leave. Hetfield's shouts of "Are you with us Download?" are unfortunately met with cries of "We can't fucking hear you". Is it to do with the fact that the speaker stacks were lowered because of windy conditions? Did they have to turn it down because of the other stages? Given that The Prodigy's set last night was clear as bell around the whole site, it would seem something is amiss.

Metallica

As Metallica take a breather, a making-of video is screened about The Black Album, lamenting the incredible 300 tour dates the band made when it came out and various other insane statistics (as well as a lot of very bouffant mullets, both from fans AND the band) and Metallica begin the album with gusto, from 'The Struggle Within' and backwards through The Black Album from there. It's 'Nothing Else Matters' that really takes the prize for most-crooned though, a sea of lighter flames ripples toward the stage where Hetfield's face, eyes closed, is plastered onto a giant back screen.

With crowd-pleasers 'Wherever I may roam', 'The Unforgiven' and monster smash hit 'Enter Sandman' Metallica close out The Black Album in style, with ear-busting fireworks and a thank you to the Download family. The inevitable encore is a scorcher, 'Battery' is followed by 'One' complete with fireworks used to project wartime missiles and 'Seek and Destroy' which is accompanied by huge black blow up beach-balls thrown into the thrashing crowd, as huge fireworks fired from the top of the stage crown the performance. Metallica were undeniably spectacular and clearly a Download favourite, it's just a shame that not everyone got to experience them at their epic, amazing best.

Download Festival 2012 – Friday – The Prodigy Review

Despite the day's earlier setbacks – road closures, 6-hour traffic waits to get into the site, the arena opening being pushed back 2 hours, bands missing their slots entirely (Europe) and all the campsites looking more like the bog of eternal stench than a home away from home, it's Friday night, the day has been full of rawk and it's time for a bit of a rave yeah?

Like mudcrabs scrabbling in a swamp the main stage arena is filled with dirty Downloaders heading towards the front for Friday headliners The Prodigy. 30 minutes late, the band ignite the stage with 'World's On Fire' and Keith's red trouser/white leather jacket combo can be seen jerking around a mile off.

With a cosmic ripple from the front, Breathe drops with all the force of a clubland superhit, there's no doubt The Prodigy deserve to be here – the crowd is loving it. Hits from their most recent album, the aptly named for the weather 'Thunder', and 'Omen' go down a storm with fans glow-stick dancing in a 90's rave fashion, but it's still the iconic 'Firestarter' which gains the biggest roar from the crowd.

Over on the Encore stage Slash is ripping it up with the obligatory 'Paradise City' and a shred-tastic version of 'God Save The Queen' to an absolutely rammed arena. I mean like, people standing shoulder to shoulder right up to the food stands kind of rammed. The kind of rammed where you can not only smell, but taste the person next to you. Oh and every single hand is up in the air saluting the rock.

However, The Prodigy's hit parade of 'Smack My Bitch Up', 'Diesel Power' and an encore including 'Take Me To The Hospital' is the full force finisher to the night, with lasers strong enough to bring down the East Midlands Airport planes and a barrage of strobe lighting, swampy Download goers have clearly forgotten that it's cold and wet and are just having a fucking great time.

Download Friday

Review by Anna Hyams

Photo courtesy of Jessica Gilbert

Bloodstock Open Air 2011 Review by Anna Hyams

Bloodstock is renowned for it’s no-nonsense approach to the scene, entwining bands from all areas of rock and metal into a bill like no other. There’s no pop-punk to be found here, no wet-eared emo kids and definitely no over-sized sunglasses wearing, prissy ‘my-hunters-will-get-dirty’ Moss-alikes. Bloodstock is a haven for real lovers of metal.
 The Defiled
Friday’s starter for ten The Defiled playing to their biggest BOA crowd yet, exploded onto the stage with a distinctly arrogant air about them, growling and grimacing into the microphones for catchy new track ‘Call To Arms’ and earning the respect of the morning main stage crowd with an energetic show, while the distinctly more rock n roll style of Bloodstock veterans Wolf, brought out the animal in us with ‘Skullcrusher’ dedicated to a techie who’d earlier sustained a head injury in an accident. Notable but not entirely special performances from Triptykon and Kreator seemed to gather fair sized but not huge crowds, whilst Lawnmower Deth’s brand of ear-bleeding thrash on the Sophie stage sticks it to the man in style. Props to Primitai on the New Blood stage for a great set, they deserved a bigger crowd.
 
Despite retro rockers W.A.S.P’s steely eyed stare and (albeit tamed) list of hits, they weren’t the epic performance we wanted them to be, particularly with the culling of ‘Animal’ and Blackie Lawless’ pvc under-suit is frankly a
little bit creepy at his age. The shout out of “If you want your country back, you’ve got to take it” referring to the recent rioting, was also met with apathy around site – most obviously from the man next to us who shouted back “Shut up you American arse!”. Stand out performance of the day goes to the Devin Townsend Project, returning to BOA after 2010’s comedy of technical errors, Devin and the gang absolutely smash it up with a whimsical tour through his deranged mind and facial expressions often reserved for Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura.
 
Saturday’s offering of Finntroll saw a topless Mathias "Vreth" Lillmåns belting out the folksy vocals with hair windmilling, and former Emperor frontman Ihsahn gave a relatively demure performance, preferring to head-down shred rather than move about the stage.
 
WintersunDespite another batch of technical difficulties, metal dream-team Wintersun were seen to regain their honour after pulling out of BOA 2009 with their harmonic vocals, and the vast member-count of Therion provided much mirth as they swirled about the vortex of the stage each taking a turn to grace the front with their symphonic metal and odd collection of fancy dress. Aside the amusement, even the toughest members of the crowd were seen to be staring open mouthed in the direction of the fine ladies of Therion, and singing along with more than a few songs. Straight from the jaws of Wacken, Italy’s power metal powerhouse Rhapsody of Fire put on a musically flawless set with huge crowd pleasers ‘Holy Thunderforce’ and ‘Emerald Sword’ to a dedicated audience (hundreds of Rhapsody tshirts on show) brandishing blow up swords.
 
Badger-faced black metal headliners Immortal spent most of their set looking disparagingly at the crowd in an effort to seem cool, which is hard to do when you’re wearing black leather pants covered in what looks like talcum-powder, but hey-ho.
Though they’re not every metalhead’s keg of ale, they did put on a good show and end BOA Saturday with a flaming bang.
 
Napalm DeathWith a glimmer of sunshine, Brummie grindcore gods Napalm Death began their audio assault on Bloodstock Sunday, with all the fire and fury they could muster, stopping only to breathe and calmly say “We’re Napalm Death from Birmingham, and this song is about Peace…” before launching into another incomprehensible scream. Hammerfall provided light relief with a good old sing along (it’s easy, apart from Craig David, they probably weave their own name into more songs than any other band) with the likes of ‘Let The Hammer Fall’, ‘Hammerfall’ and the incredibly funny ‘Hearts On Fire’ which sounds quite a lot like ‘Arse On Fire’ from across the arena.
 
At The Gates’ brutal death metal reunion was welcomed onto the main stage with a huge crowd as they rolled through a selection of their vast catalogue for a good old headbang, and venerated death metallers Morbid Angel threw down with everything they had. Hailing from sunny Florida, you’ve got to wonder how they fit in with the Disney crowd there…
 
Home grown rockers Motörhead are certainly deserving of a headline slot at BOA, especially as they closed Wacken only a week ago, but something was definitely amiss. Gritty voiced Lemmy looked bored as sin and apart from the obvious hype for ‘Ace of Spades’ the people of BOA were largely unresponsive. After a day of hard, fast and heavy thrash – were Motörhead the musical equivalent of a 50mph zone on the motörway?
 
Motorhead
 
Anyway, the epic performance of the day, nay the weekend goes to the raw talent of San Francisco’s Exodus with an absolutely scorching set of drum-pounding, ear-drum-busting old-school thrash. So many people came out blinking into the sunlight saying “I never really liked them before, but… wow.” and we were utterly converted by the sheer power rolling off them into the crowd. Tattooed frontman Rob Dukes grimaced and swore his way through a stunningly heavy set, inciting the scariest circle pit you can imagine, all fist-meets-face. If you get a chance to see them – take it, you won’t be disappointed.
 
Exodus
 
All in all, Bloodstock Open Air 2011, with its eclectic mix of new and old metal from many different genres and backgrounds has claimed another victory. In a lineup which is arguably weaker than previous years it would be easy to say that it just didn’t work, but the spirit was there, the community was there and everyone was having a great time experiencing bands that you might see once in a blue moon otherwise, thanks to the Cowell’s of the world. Roll on BOA 2012…
 
See Anna's photos from Bloodstock 2011 here: