One Month To Go: Download Festival Unleashes Its ‘Beyond The Bands’ Offerings

#DLXXI
12-16 JUNE 2024

With only one month to go until the mighty return of Liquid Death presents Download Festival, DLXXI has unleashed its ‘Beyond The Bands’ offerings, giving Download-goers an even more exciting experience onsite with brand new food, drink, gaming and sport options. Taking place on 12-16 June 2024 at the hallowed grounds of Donington Park, Download will be headlined by Queens Of The Stone Age, Fall Out Boy and Avenged Sevenfold. You can buy the last remaining tickets here: www.downloadfestival.co.uk.
 
Bigger, better and bursting with exclusive goodies, the Download Megastore is set to impress with new product lines, limited editions and exclusive collaborations with the likes of P&Co, Mary Wyatt and more. From Lou’s Hot Sauce to patch and pin badges and exclusive plush toys, there’s something for everyone. Plus, fuel up with an exclusive 200 Degrees Coffee x Download Festival blend, complimentary with every reusable cup purchase.
 
For those looking to murder their thirsts, Liquid Death hydration stations will be dotted around for festival-goers to grab a cold can of Liquid Death. And if you’re super lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of their iconic branded Liquid Death Hearse somewhere too. Will their beloved mascot Murder Man make an appearance and get up to his usual antics?
 
Step into a realm of audio wonder with the Eulogy immersive experience housed in an intriguing shipping container. Created by Darkfield, and free for fans, this is a 30-minute journey of complete darkness, using binaural sound and sensory effects to situate each participant in the centre of intense evolving narratives.
 
The Outpost is set to host live fire cooking demos with Shropshire Lad & Boca Loco, fire lighting and primitive skills showcases from Axe & Paddle, chilli eating contests from League of Fire, hot dog eating contests, wellness mornings, and classic Hammer Films screenings for the ultimate fright night experience. Footy fans will also be able to watch the key opening games in EURO 24, as The Outpost will screen the Scotland (Friday) and England (Sunday) games live.
 
Elsewhere, the food and beverage offerings onsite promise to be better than ever, with dozens of vendors catering for all dietary requirements, including the likes of In For A Penne, Bunnyman’s Chow, Happy Maki, King of the Yorkie, The Rock and Roll Toastie Company, Spud Gun Loaded Fries, Señor Churro, Crooked K’s Macaroni, No Frickin’ Chicken and many more.
 
Back by popular demand is the LoNo bar, serving up a choice of non-alcoholic beers and cocktails, proving that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time. But for those who fancy an ice cold beer, The Tap House and Beer Hall are also returning for this year, as well as Rocktail Cocktail, who will be serving up tasty cocktails alongside a host of DJs playing epic tunes.
 
New for this year are The Gooseneck Inn, a biker bar with premium spirits, and the Ace Of Spades Tavern, which will host food and entertainment in District X. The Welders Yard, by the arena entrance, will host some fantastic food stands and specialist bars, and Nohrlund will be holding cocktail making classes and demonstrations and serving their organic cocktails across the festival.
 
Inside the arena, festival-goers will find a Liquid Death Skate Ramp where they can catch pro skateboard and BMX riders in action. Tattoo booths from Liquid Death Tattoo and Old Sarum will be ready to make this year’s Download a memorable one, Mantorship will be running an open circle for men to discuss their mental health, plus iconic fairground rides and more than 80 independent market traders offering everything from jewellery, camping goods to body art.
 
Sega and Atlus Games will be bringing a gaming experience like never before to Download, with festival-goers among the first to play Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance at the immersive gaming experience. In honour of this, Friday night’s hugely popular fancy dress theme will be based on Video Game Icons, with people invited to dress for the anime / manga / cosplay theme.
 
BBC Radio 1 will once more broadcast live from the festival and give fans the opportunity to enjoy their photobooth activation with some very special surprise guests!
 
Following on from the recent District X announcement featuring Silent Disco, Comedy and Podcasts, the DLXXI’s Beyond The Bands offerings prove that Download is much more than just its stellar band line-up, with truly something for everyone to enjoy across the 5 days. More information and tickets at www.downloadfestival.co.uk.

DLXXI: SEGA brings gaming to Download

SEGA BRINGS GAMING TO THE LEGENDARY ROCK FESTIVAL DOWNLOAD WITH SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI V: VENGEANCE 
FESTIVAL GOERS WILL BE AMONG THE FIRST TO PLAY SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI V: VENGEANCE. 

A GAMING EXPERIENCE LIKE NEVER BEFORE AT THE SPIRITUAL HOME OF ROCK IN DONINGTON PARK 14-16 JUNE

LONDON – 8th May, 2024: SEGA® Europe Ltd and ATLUS have announced a new, exciting collaboration with Liquid Death Presents Download Festival. The definitive game Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance will be making its music festival debut at the iconic rock and metal Mecca, Download Festival.

For the first time ever, festival goers will be able to game like never before at the post-apocalyptic, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance themed SEGA and ATLUS immersive experience. Featuring eight gaming stations, audiences will be able fight demons ahead of seeing their favourite bands.

Liquid Death Presents Download Festival attendees will be among the first to play Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance on its launch weekend from 14-16 June 2024 at the hallowed grounds of Donington Park. The annual legendary rock festival which hosts thousands of fans will be headlined by legendary rock artists Queens Of The Stone Age, Fall Out Boy and Avenged Sevenfold.

Andy Copping, Executive President of UK Touring Live Nation “We are so excited to see SEGA bring Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance to Download Festival, creating a unique experience for our festival goers. Music and games have a long history of working together and their fan bases are frequently overlapping, so it feels like a natural fit. We can’t wait to see you at the gameplay stations!”

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance brings players the story of Shin Megami Tensei V in its entirety, plus a whole new story path, the Canon of Vengeance. The game features stunning next-gen visuals, new areas, demons and music to support an improved battle system, providing a richer gameplay experience.

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance arrives on June 14, 2024. The game is available for pre-order for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows and Steam. For more information on Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance, visit atlus.com/smt5v.

Download Festival – 20th Anniversary GIANT REVIEW!

It’s June, we are out of the grey days and on the cusp of summer, there is hope in the breeze. Donington Park, home to superbikes and souped up engines is about to be clad in all black everything – for the unstoppable force that is Download Festival. In it’s 20th Anniversary year, hitting a sold out 100k audience is the cherry on the cake of Donington history. Praise be to the old guard of Monsters of Rock for handing down these fields of joy, so we can continue to celebrate.

WEDNESDAY

As part of the bigger/better anniversary wealth, Download has this year included an additional full day of music to the line-up – meaning that campers can arrive from Wednesday instead. In previous years, there seemed to be a greater split of arrival times and days for those camping but this year… it’s like the Pied Piper of metal suddenly called every alt kid in the UK at once, and everything in a five mile area is a fucking mess.

Now we know the road infrastructure around Donington Park isn’t the best, and we know it’s also competing with East Midlands Airport along one side, but this is another level of shithousery – the abject worst queues in the festival’s history. Reports coming in of people queuing for over seven hours in hot cars and buses, carparks being full and closed early on, signage being scrubbed out instead of redirected… the list goes on.

Many people took to Instagram to contact the festival directly and voice their complaints; @morrighan writes “Please sort out whatever the heck is holding up the J24 exit! We followed advice to follow signs for the fastest route. Taken us 3 hours to move less than a mile!” with @not_my_pubs_name replying “same, got on m1 exit slip road j23a and been sat here 3 hrs so far, and I’m camping in quiet camp, but now West carpark is full, so double fucked off. Utter joke”.

Essex tattoo artist @lucyharmless was also caught in the melee “wanna tell me why I’ve been sat in the same spot for the last 5+ hours, I know it’s a sold out festival but we’re not even moving here”

The festival has made no response about why things were this bad, instead posting the same information about which junctions to enter the festival by for the following days. Though the problem wasn’t as pronounced over the rest of the weekend, there were still significant delays with no real explanation.

As a 20 year fan of this festival (yes, I’ve been to them all) I would love to only sing it’s praises, but this is something that surely must be addressed for next year’s event. There has to be a way to separate and space out arrivals, maybe something in booked time slots for coming in (whilst this may sound a little prescriptive, but both Bestival and the IOW festival essentially had this work with ferry bookings splitting up the entry) or linking booked parking to campsite locations so that you can only go to one specific area. Hopefully better brains than mine are considering the future implications of the festival’s size.

THURSDAY

For ourselves, entering on Thursday was indeed an unfortunate three hour queue situation to hit the West car park which is closest to the box office we needed to be at for our wristbands. Luckily we had packed drinks and snacks knowing the stakes from the day before. Though we missed a few choice early bands due to this, entering the arena again felt like coming home. There is something undeniable about the feeling of stepping through the portal of Download. One minute you’re in the regular world where people look at you funny, and the next you’re side by side with every other person who knows exactly what it’s like to be fringe, or other.

The arena itself has had an overhaul, and I really think it is (mostly) for the better. The fairground rides have been summarily booted to the Avalanche stage area, which is a brilliant move. Their ridiculously loud playlists are no longer sullying the Apex stage sound, and they don’t hinder Avalanche at all because it’s a closed in tent – perfect. Gone too is the traditional line of food outlets that broke up that area, and the accessible viewing platform has had a move too. The result is an absolutely gargantuan main stage area with incredible views from all angles, further helped by the enormous screen towers and stack amps that are supposedly only in place for Metallica. Honestly – I wish they would keep them, the sound and views have been bloody incredible due to this set up.

I will pause to note though, that the accessible platform has been moved to the other side of the arena, presumably to facilitate quicker movement between the stages, especially Opus and Apex. Whilst this is in theory a great idea – the route between the platforms has been sandwiched in probably the most notorious bottleneck of the whole festival, rendering it completely unpassable during high crowd sets, simply because people are stopping in those areas to watch too. I’m not sure what could be done about this, it makes the most sense to have moved the platform there, but some kind of access run-through between them perhaps?

Anyway, onto the music. Having performed an incredible set last year at Bloodstock, it is so good to see Ukrainian band Jinjer absolutely smashing their way onto the Download main stage to a very respectable crowd. Lead vocalist Tatiana Shmayluk is an absolute powerhouse, song ‘Teacher Teacher’ hits hard even in the baking sun. It’s clear the crowd is on side as the band talk about what is happening in their country, by beginning a “Fuck Putin” chant, under the screened Ukrainian flags. I’d call their set a complete triumph, especially for a band that has jumped from performing in The Dogtooth at Download 2019 to the main stage in 2023.

Hundred Reasons ‘I’ll Find You’ will forever be one of my favourite jams, but it is beyond horrendous trying to move around the Opus stage at this point – there are simply too many people for comfort, so we stand off to the side for it and then scarper in search of space to sit down.

Over on The Avalanche stage we caught Punk Rock Factory, a Welsh four-piece doing what absolutely everyone wants to hear – theme songs and Disney covers. I’m not even slightly joking, the tent is packed and there are crowd surfers galore. No-one is pretending to be too cool to sing along with the likes of Go Go Power Rangers (replete with actual Power Rangers standing ominously still at the front of the stage), the Pokemon theme tune is excellent, as is Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid. Truly this band are a highlight, if only for the nostalgia button they press in all of us.

Punk Rock Factory © Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

Halestorm are predictably awesome, and I mean that in the full sense of the word. Lzzy Hale belts out notes like she doesn’t even need a mic, an absolute rock icon. ‘I Miss The Misery’ is always going to be the big fan fave but truly the whole set was just good clean rock and roll in the sunshine. There’s something to be said for a band that sits so comfortably in this classic sound and owns it – there’s actually not a lot of it on the bill this weekend.

After grabbing a horrendously overpriced slushie (cozzie livs is really showing up in the food and beverage prices this weekend, let me tell you) we thought we’d check out the merchandise selections, but immediately turned on our heels when we discovered that they were over an hour long wait. No thanks.

I’m fairly sure that every single year I’ve complained about merch queues but, this festival is so big now it’s really time to add another one to the main arena. Way back in the Opus corner maybe? Heck stick one in VIP so that an entire population of people can grab their stuff outside of the arena as well? The addition of one to the West carpark exit/village entrance was great, but there were a few teething problems with the new ‘Megastore’ too.

Now, I love an obscure item as much as the next person (I do really want the Download bedsheets) and think this was a great idea… but I don’t know if sticking the Megastore out of reach for day/weekend ticketholders was necessarily fair. Particularly when it contained special tshirts not on sale in the arena stores – nor indeed the ENTIRE Mary Wyatt collection which been so hyped on social media prior to the event. More than a few disgruntled fans flocked to the Mary Wyatt Instagram to express their disappointment at not being able to grab something. The merch itself was interesting this year, I especially enjoyed the retro 03-23 logo tee and the back patch 20 jacket, but ooft the prices really do keep on rising.

Over on Apex, Alter Bridge bring us another dose of classic rock with Myles Kennedy’s signature vocal sound soaring over the sun-soaked crowd, while New York pop punk quartet State Champs light up the Avalanche stage for a rowdy but fun show – the whole tent is dancing.

State Champs © Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

There is one band that I categorically want to see playing somewhere EVERY year please-thanks, and that is our Welsh pals, Skindred. As far as I’m concerned they are the sound of the summer, and my season isn’t over if I don’t do the Newport Helicopter at least once. Pulled in to fill the 5FDP void, there could be no more perfect choice than having Benji & co. headline the Opus stage – and what a rowdy good time it was. Every damn song they do is catchy, upbeat and just generally inspires movement… so you can imagine how intensely difficult it was to acquiesce to this innate demand when ALL 100K FESTIVAL GOERS were also trying to occupy that space. Coming off the back of a Heavy Music Award win there’s absolutely no doubting they’re fully at the top of their game, and are beloved at Download.

I’m going to attempt to keep this brief, since the greedy barstewards are playing twice this weekend, but it’s time for the first Metallica roundup.

As the sound of AC/DC’s ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’ starts up by way of intro, old photos of the band surrounded by neon yellow frames (the official colour scheme of this tour ‘72 Seasons’) splash over the backdrops and the new cylindrical screen towers, including two monster cylinders actually on the stage itself. It’s an undeniably massive set-up, but there is a bit of me that is wondering if it’s going to be all style over substance.

On a personal note, Metallica have been there from the very beginning for me. I was there at the first Download, squished into a tent for their not-so-secret set… I was there when Joey Jordison filled in for Lars… I was there when they played the whole of The Black Album… they’re woven into the fabric of this festival and my festival history. One particular memory I carry from all of these times, is seeing hundreds of lights glowing in the dark of the night for ‘Nothing Else Matters’. The only difference is, the first time I saw them it was a warm orange glow from thousands of flame lighters – tonight, the cool white of phone torches. It’s strange to think how the next generation’s memories of live music will be formed.

Highlights of course included ‘Fade to Black’ in which Lars actually savaged a snare drum which had to be quickly replaced, ‘Sad but True’ and ‘Seek and Destroy’ (have we noticed how much Metallica love 3 word names for their songs?).

That said, this isn’t by any means my favourite set I’ve seen from Metallica. Yes the sound quality is excellent, and I’m never not going to enjoy ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Fuel’ but it feels a bit like they’re conserving energy for Saturday if I’m honest. Lars predictably spends some time at the end waxing lyrical about their Donington origins in 1985 “…you guys have that saying, ‘home turf’… I think this might be Metallica’s home turf” but, I think it would have been a bit nicer and more topical to have talked about their Download history in particular… it’s only the bloody anniversary event isn’t it.

© Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

FRIDAY

Today we’re already fearing the heat and slathering ourselves in sun-cream, but off we merrily pop to the Opus stage for The Warning. “We are 3 sisters from Mexico” they yell, before absolutely crushing their punchy hard rock set. From humble beginnings as kids on YouTube covering Enter Sandman, to a huge audience at Download is pretty damn impressive if you ask me.

The Warning © Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

In a swift change of pace, we catch up with our friends-from-another-field – Elvana. Usually seen in glitter and sequins at the likes of Camp Bestival, they’ve chameleon morphed into… well, something else. Resplendent in black skeleton Elvis-style jumpsuit and suits, the band (and their doom cheerleaders aka backup vocalists) bring something a little silly but ultimately very enjoyable to the Download palette. Who doesn’t want an unhinged circle pit to Blue Suede Shoes, and have lil mosh to Smells Like Teen Spirit? Jokes aside, they’re actually excellent as well as fun, what’s not to love.

Heading across site we spot a lot of little Battle Jackets this year. Seems that a few more people have braved bringing their kids along and it feels like a nice shift for the festival. Yeah you can whinge on about it being ‘for adults’ but, there’s something to be said for passing on the spirit of metal to the next gen in a way that feels genuine and community led, and metal Mums and Dads just wanna see live music too, so bore off.

Witch fever over on the Dogtooth stage are another example of excellent up-and-coming bands we’ve been treated to this weekend. It’s been really fun to have some new blood turnover in the smaller stages and they certainly came seeking violence with their heady mix of post-punk power over gloomy basslines. Riot grrl era is back on the menu, and they are leading the call in all the ways we want – including jumping into the crowd and getting rowdy. If they started a zine I would buy it. Top song for my choosing: ‘Bully Boy’, oh and did I mention – they’re all hot.

Heading down the hill to the Apex, we are greeted by the incredible Nova twins, a punk/grime influenced duo from London. Now this for me is a truly excellent booking, their sound is unique and interesting, they absolutely wail and have that unmistakable star quality that we need for the main stage. Next up, Hot Milk are in danger of becoming Curdled Milk (snickers uncontrollably) and suffer a bit from the crowd being well… too hot. I have no idea how they survived on-stage pyro in this heat but more power to them, because I am melting.

Epica are first up in the melodic/symphonic metal stakes today and lead vocalist Simone Simons has one of those voices that has the power to skewer you right through the soul. It’s a decent crowd already, and I fear for being able to get round there later on.

Neck deep aren’t usually my scene but they’re doing a good job of hyping up the crowd, and it’s nice to see what Wrexham has to offer besides football and American celebrities. However, they do indeed sound extremely American when they sing – such is the power of the pop-punk cadence. “Everyone who’s from a shithole town, yell if you’re proud of where you came from!” elicits a huge roar, but the thing is, everyone in the UK thinks they’re from a shithole town until someone else bags on it, then the gloves are off. Aaanyway, Brutus are another new-to-me band who absolutely ripped up the Dogtooth stage, I am always floored by drummers who are also vocalists, the level of coordination is baffling to me.

Brutus © Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

As expected Pendulum are fucking incredible and have wisely chosen to beef up the heaviness of their set – as they did last time they played Download. It’s a welcome return and everyone is up dancing about for it, despite the heat. “Front to the back, I need to see you crazy fuckers” is the call to arms for ‘Propane Nightmares’, and it’s quite cool that they’re joined by Matthew Tuck (of Bullet fame) for ‘Halo’, but ‘Witchcraft’ is the ultimate Pendulum masterpiece in my opinion.

Unfortunately due to some costumes not arriving in time, Gwar have to pull out of todays performance, which is met with a huge groan from the crowd inside the Dogtooth. So we head over to Within Temptation to be summarily met by a wall of people right up to the pathway. There is no chance of getting through, so we catch a bit of Sharon Den Adel’s deep and spooky vocals, as the second symphonic band to hit the stage today. Sometimes I forget how much ‘Stand My Ground’ slaps live – do these women even need microphones really? It feels like she could go without and still be heard at the Apex stage.

Architects are inducting newbies to the fray “…how many of you have crowd surfed before? Now’s your chance, get over this fucking barrier!” via some rather nice blokes who are giving people boosts into the waiting arms of obliging pallbearer types. But we’re hanging back to see Evanescence complete the trifecta of big vox, gothic female fronted bands today. As suspected – we can’t get anywhere near and the sound is totally borked from the side to the point of not really being able to hear. Sad times but I think the Opus field just no longer has the capacity.

Luckily the beyond brilliant Carpenter Brut who I’ve been listening to on repeat for the last 2 months, is giving the packed out Dogtooth something resembling a rave but considerably wilder. Apparently we’re calling this darksynth, but all I know is it’s fucking FUN. Sadly there are no tshirts to be found at the merch tents, otherwise I’d have snapped one up, call me a new fan – especially of his cover of Michael Sembello’s Flashdance hit ‘Maniac’– I command you to listen to it immediately.

Bringing Friday to a close are the much anticipated Bring Me The Horizon with an incredible stage set comprising of lots of bridge levels wrapped across a giant screen backdrop, like something out of a musical. Hitting the stage in a crop top with bondage straps and a shaggy haircut, Oli Sykes hasn’t morphed too far from the early scene kid days, but he definitely looks like a headliner now. It’s hard to describe but from minute one I was absolutely convinced they were meant to be there, and I genuinely felt excited to be seeing Download making a clear choice for the future of the festival here.

The band unceremoniously rip through the likes of ‘Teardrops’ and ‘Mantra’, before introducing “…one of [their] favourite bands in the fucking world…” Nova Twins, to head up ‘1×1’ with them. There is no denying the set is special, it’s got pizazz, the band sound incredible and they’re doing things that make it a unique show. This is what I wanted Metallica to do yesterday, to be honest.

Yes they’re a funny mix of genres at times, but this does actually allow them to be more flexible in their set too, something not a lot of bands can bring to the big stage – but there’s nothing that will keep a classic emo down is there… “Sometimes you get sad, but it’s about realising it and sharing it. If I’ve gotta be lost, I’m glad I’m lost with you people”. Oh Oli, wipe your tears babe, here comes Amy Lee (of Evanescence) – joining them for hands down the MOST emo named song in the history of songs ‘One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will Be in Your Chest as You March Towards Your Death’. It’s pretty great actually, and at least I can finally hear Amy Lee.

I could live without the face melting pyrotechnics to be honest, it’s still so hot tonight – and we were two speaker sets back so you know the people in front were basically cooked like turkeys. There’s a bit of me that wishes the tired suicidal ideation bit (‘DiE4u’) didn’t have to start with spoken word that sounds mystically beautiful to morose teenagers but ah, that’s the therapist in me speaking I suppose. Many have sung worse things I know, but it isn’t my favourite. Despite this, and the sort of strange cyber-attack/AI bit they keep playing on the screens, the band absolutely smash the shit out of this headline show. Yelling “I don’t care what you do, but if you stand still you are… a very special kind of knobhead” actually does appeal to my wish to not be seen as a knobhead, so I join in with everyone else because he told me to. If that isn’t the power of a headline act I don’t know what is.

‘Follow You’ is a lovely musical interlude, in which Oli requests people get on each others’ shoulders and hold up their lighters/phones “I’ll take owt”, and then runs down to hug the front row of fans. It’s a little cultish, but aren’t all the best bands?

With a giant explosion of pink ticker-tape and a nod “I will never forget this moment” they go out on the impeccable trio of ‘Drown’, ‘Throne’ and ‘Can You Feel My Heart’. Sign me up, I’m part of the cult now.

SATURDAY

Up and at ‘em for Polaris, who are very shouty and loud. I’m surprised at how many people are already going hard at midday considering we’re already edging on Satan’s armpit level heat.

I’m off to buy an overpriced slushie and head towards Avalanche for Lake Malice, who are going down as one of my favourite hits of the weekend. Vocalist Alice Guala looks like she’s jumped right off The Grid, wearing some kind of lycra Tron onesie and guitarist Blake Cornwall is rocking the coolest leopard print guitar I’ve ever seen. They’ve got an almost nu-metal edge, which appeals to my younger self, incredible energy and their crowd is responding with sending heaps of surfers across the barrier, despite the fact that the tent is stiflingly hot at this point. It sort of grieves me to know that this band started over Facebook during lockdown, and now they’re here. I was just out there making banana bread and doing my silly little zoom quizzes… how ‘bout you?

Lake Malice © Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

First hype pick of the day for me are the deliciously kitschy Ice Nine Kills. I’d say the Venn diagram of metal fans and horror fans is probably almost a circle, and I cannot pretend that I’m not a basic bitch. With all their songs themed to horror movies, a good dose of on-stage theatricals (knives, axes, Patrick Bateman getup, you know – the full Alice Cooper style schtick) and catchy lyrics, I don’t think I’m alone in thoroughly loving this set. ‘The American Nightmare’ has been one of my most played songs since their second stage performance at Download last year – get on it.

In a whiplash change of pace, it’s time for the mighty Clutch. They are the antithesis of the previous band, no frills… no stuff… no theatrics. They just do what they always do – play solid funky rock and roll, brilliantly. The blazing sunshine with a cold beer is in my opinion, the most appropriate setting to see the likes of ‘X-Ray Visions’ and ‘Electric Worry’. Neil Fallon quips “hey shall we take our shirts off and pretend we’re in Red Hot Chilli Peppers?” as the heat gets to him, and they go out on the excellent ‘Pure Rock Fury’. I could stand a couple more hours of Clutch in the sunshine to be honest, let the music play.

A quick trip into the Dogtooth for the weird and wonderful Bambie Thug does not disappoint. They are dressed in some sort of Alien-meets-Hela demonic playsuit thing which is very fun, and are flanked by two gyrating dancers wearing only boxers – who later water gun the crowd (which is actually rather thoughtful of them in this heat). ‘Kawasaki (I Love It)’ is very singable, and ‘Headbang’ with special guest Mimi Barks feels a bit on the nose but ultimately is just really enjoyable. Bambie is going straight on the summer playlist.

Bambie Thug © Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

Alexisonfire are yelling about something “Fuck racism, fuck misogyny, fuck you” but I’m too hot to do anything from my position on the ground under a sun-brella. They’re not usually my jam but it is frankly not in the cards for me to move right now so I accept a bit of shouty ‘Accept Crime’ and ‘Boiled Frogs’ under an oppressively cloudless sky.

Dragging myself into the Avalanche for Gwar’s rescheduled set is a feat in itself, but I am rewarded with the sight of a half naked King Charles, Kim Jong Un getting scalped and Putin with no hands. Unfortunately this also means I joined the masses of [fake]blood-soaked bodies in an already sweaty tent, and let me tell you that stuff does not easily wash off. You can’t not like Gwar, they’re so silly, it’s the law.

After attempting to clean myself up, it’s over to see Disturbed’s inevitable but iconic rendition of ‘The Sound of Silence’, which to my amusement – a group of guys in front of us all had a tearful cuddle afterwards, adorable.

The Opus area is of course way overfull once again, but there is nothing stopping Placebo being just fucking incredible from wherever you were standing. ‘Nancy Boy’ and ‘Bitter End’ are the sounds of my angry youth and I am transported back to a point where I actually had time to sit and listen to songs without it just being in the back of housework or my job. Their cover of ‘Running Up That Hill’ might be a lot of people’s introduction to Placebo, via Stranger Things, but for me they are tickling my nostalgia navel and I am gutted they weren’t put on the main stage instead.

Metallica, night two. This is the set I was waiting for. Yes we had the exact same intro but the band absolutely enter the stage with more presence and purpose tonight than they did on Thursday. The crowd tonight is absolutely wild to look out on. This is the most open the arena has ever been, without all the foot outlets and such chopping the area up it looks incredible, an absolute sea of bodies bathed under the stage lights. There’s something quite eerie about being in the company of 100k people like this, and the deafening roar of those people singing along to ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ immediately goes into the core memory bank.

“Let’s see if you guys know this song… wait let’s see if we know this song” jokes James Hetfield (Papa Het? Is that what we’re calling him these days? Bit weird but ok) as they drop into ‘Until It Sleeps’, but ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ is just gorgeously melodic and dramatic in the darkness.

Then there’s a weird interlude where Lars Ulrich seems to try and bring an extremely terrified child on stage from the Snakepit, who absolutely has zero interest in being there and therefore cries his eyes out. Luckily Hetfield is on hand to diffuse the situation “Here’s my dad joke… the fans at download are in-tents. You give me a microphone and I don’t know what to do!”. ‘The Unforgiven’ is wildly good, like seared-into-my-minds-eye good – it truly is one of the best performances I’ve seen Metallica give, and I enjoy the mild ribbing they’re giving Lars to boot. “This is night 10 for us here at Download or Monsters of Rock, that’s fabulous. Well, it’s Lars’ 9th show, you gonna catch up with us one day? He’ll be here tomorrow playing with all the other bands” Hetfield jokes, as people around us shout back “please no” and “don’t encourage him”.

‘Whiskey In The Jar’ never fails to get everyone singing along, the on-stage pyro and offset flame canons are massive, closing out with ‘One’ and ‘Enter Sandman’ and shitload of fireworks – this is the epic headline set we needed.

SUNDAY

Day four of blistering heat is a struggle, not gonna lie. We are done in but soldier on into the arena once more for Bloodywood – now with quite the following, the unique New Delhi bhangra heavy metal sound is exactly the kind of newness I love to see, being played to a pretty huge audience.  Graphic Nature in the dogtooth are somehow, and for no discernible reason, doing their entire set wearing hood-up raincoats in this heat – but they do look like they’re having fun.

Lorna Shore probably don’t quite get the reception they deserve as the order of the afternoon seems to be Lorna Snore, as many people appear to tapped out taking a nap in the field. Next up Mongolian metalheads The Hu are plying us with more tasty unique sounds, very enjoyable but I do wish that their stringed instruments had been been levelled up a bit, as that aspect which is prevalent in their online catalogue was kinda missing. Their cover of Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ with half Mongolian lyrics, is fantastic though.

We head over to the Opus stage for a bit of Avatar who I can only think must be boiling alive in all their leather, especially with all their coordinated circular headbanging segments. ‘The Dirt I’m Buried In’ and ‘Hail The Apocalypse’ are highlights but honestly they’re just so entertaining start to finish – I wish they’d been a main stage band too.

Behemoth look as uncomfortably hot as they did last year at the burning inferno that was Bloodstock Open Air, asking “We need your energy, we need you to jump” to a day 4 crowd who are dead on their feet and basically crisp. It’s a no from me friends, but there are plenty of people down there having their time of their lives still so it’s all good.

I prevail are doing a lot of screaming and yelling fuck, in an angry teenage way, and whilst it isn’t really my vibe, their cover of SOAD’s ‘Chop Suey’ is actually great, and they do manage to provoke some very respectable and dusty circle pits.

On the Opus stage Bad Religion are playing an absolute blinder of a set, just solid good punk rock – the sound of my college years. The likes of ‘Anaesthesia’ and ‘You’ are required Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater history of course, and ‘Infected’ results in a massive singalong. Over in Avalanche, German electronic wizards Electric Callboy are ripping Download a new one. This is the most packed and writhing I’ve seen the tent this weekend, the electric energy is undeniable. ‘Hypa Hypa’ is probably the most well known of theirs, but I also loved their cover of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ and The Frozen/Backstreet Boys ‘Let It Go’/‘I Want It That Way’ sweaty metalhead singalong was very funny to watch.

Scooting back through the gap to Opus we’re ready for some retro 80’s style metal from our favourite Swedish ghouls Ghost. This iteration of Papa Emeritus comes with much less pomp and ceremony, and I’m here for it. ‘Rats’ makes me giggle every time, it’s great used as a response to pretty much anything someone can ask you over the course of a weekend – but not if you want to keep your friends, let me tell you.

Dressed as a bat, Papa sings “I can feel the thunder that’s breaking in your heart” from ‘Cirice’ at almost the precise moment we start to witness lightning flashes in the sky above them. Very forward thinking of them to order the weather honestly. Luckily the festival skirts the zone between two massive thunderstorms in the Midlands, and is mercifully spared the Drownload moniker for another year.

Yelling “Do you want a goodnight kiss? How you doing Donington”, they launch forth into the epic and choral ‘Mary On A Cross’, a ticker tape and firework explosion, finishing up with ‘Dance Macabre’ and ‘Square Hammer’. This was truly the best Ghost performance I’ve seen, it looks like they’ve settled into their zone without some of the theatrical elements that I thought held them back a bit last time, and let the music speak.

Trying to get back to the main stage for our final headliner Slipknot, was like some kind of hideous cross country trek through sticky stinky bodies shoulder-to-shoulder. The traffic around the site this year has been noticeably worse due in part to numbers but also perhaps a few layout changes that have made routes through somewhat smaller. Slipknot arrive to giant bursts of smoke from all of the speaker towers in the crowds, and the cylindrical screens are focusing on up-close band members which is actually really effective. It’s also good to see the Clown return to the stage after a hiatus, atop one of the giant spiked drum tower flanking each side of the stage.

There’s no denying that it’s an impressive set up, and the band come in with a solid twenty minutes of pure heavy rage, eventually Corey yells “It’s good to be home” followed by “I’m a bit mad at you, you made me lose a bet. They bet me you would still go as mad without me running my mouth for the first twenty minutes. There were circle pits, I lost twenty quid you fuckin pricks” before admitting that he has been ill and that his voice isn’t up to par at the moment. Unfortunately it’s really obvious that he’s struggling through the set and it makes a marked difference in the power and delivery of the songs. “Well I always sound like shit, but I don’t always sound this cool” he jokes.

A collective ooooh emanates from the crowd as he shouts “Download! Our family. Here are  some songs we haven’t played in a very fucking long time…” as they launch into a tour debut of ‘Left Behind’.

“This one goes out to Kerrang magazine… Let’s see what you do with this one folks…” is the precursor to another exciting inclusion ‘Snuff’ which again has Slipknot fans cooing.

The obvious run down towards the end of ‘People = Shit’ and ‘Surfacing’ followed by an encore of ‘Duality’, ‘Custer’ and ‘Spit It Out’ is a predictable but, what the people want. The execution is phenomenal and exactly what you expect of a headliner but… it’s still not the best we’ve seen them I fear. There’s something lacking in the vibrancy, and sure some of it is Corey’s voice – but I do wonder whether the passion is in it for them as a band anymore. It’s hard not to make a comparison to Friday’s Bring Me The Horizon headline set, where the air was absolutely electric, and I say this as a person who isn’t (or wasn’t) a particular fan of either band. The tides are a’changing at Download festival, and I’m excited to see where we are headed, but it might mean leaving some beloved people behind.

Download, you’ve been epic once again – may your next 20 years be as wild!

© Anna Hyams Wade for Summer Festival Guide – do not use without permission

DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL REVEALS DISTRICT X LINE UP

With only two weeks to go until the mighty Download Festival, the sold out 20th anniversary celebration has unleashed its District X line up, as well as announcing special collaborations for this year. Boasting secret band sets, live podcasts, late night DJ sets and a comedy line up on the Wednesday night, the special four-day edition is set to be jam-packed. Taking place on 8-11 June 2023 at the hallowed grounds of Donington Park, Download will be headlined by Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot and Metallica, who will perform two headline sets with no repeat songs. All tickets are now sold out, but you can find out more info here: www.downloadfestival.co.uk. 

This year District X will be better than ever, with a fantastic line-up of secret band sets (to be announced on the day), live podcasts and DJ sets from the likes of The Blackout, Wargasm, Zoe London, Nova Twins x On Wednesdays We Wear Black, Daniel P Carter, Alyx Holcombe and many more. Festivities will begin on the Wednesday night with Get Your Rocks Off, who are ready to immerse the crowd in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, and from then on, UK clubnights Uprawr, Facedown, Girl Power and many more will take it in turns to get the party started.

Following the success of live podcasts in 2022, Sappenin Podcast, On Wednesdays We Wear Black and Life In The Stocks will be appearing at District X this year. Matt Stocks will be bringing special guest Matthew Pritchard of Dirty Sanchez onstage as his guest, which is sure to be entertaining. On top of this, the Sidesplitter will host an evening of comedy on Wednesday night, featuring members of The Comedy Store, Kunt & The Gang and more. And on top of this, there will be rock fitness classes, Drag Emo Karaoke and even Rock Kids for those with their very own mini moshers. 

Elsewhere, Download Festival is delighted to announce onsite collaborations with Mary Wyatt, Download Lava (Lou’s Hot Sauce) and Parabellum, which you can check out onsite at the Download Megastore, along with the likes of Download garden gnomes and gaming chairs. There’s also a chill out space where people can hang out with their friends, play arcade games and soak up the atmosphere. 

The District X additions continue to add to an incredible line-up for the very special 20th anniversary edition of Download Festival. More information at www.downloadfestival.co.uk. 

DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL REVEALS
EVEN MORE ARTISTS FOR 2023 LINE-UP

The line-up for Download Festival’s 20th anniversary has expanded with a further 12 names added to the weekend’s programme. All stage splits for the four days have also been revealed. The special anniversary edition, taking place for the first time over four days on 8-11 June 2023 at Donington Park, will now feature Cancer Bats, Casey, Hundred Reasons, Puscifer, State Champs and more, alongside headliners Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot and Metallica, who will perform two headline sets with no repeat songs. The very last tickets are available from www.downloadfestival.co.uk.
 
Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan will be bringing Puscifer to Download for the very first time, Canadian hardcore punk band Cancer Bats will also be delivering the noise this year and Hundred Reasons are back with their first new music in 15 years and will be playing Download for the first time since their 2006 debut.
 
Further additions include the recently reunited Welsh outfit Casey, as well as New York pop punk heroes State Champs, daredevil rock’n’roll darlings Cherry Bombs, and Welsh TikTok heroes Punk Rock Factory, who are rightfully graduating to a Main Arena performance after their memorable set in The Village last year.
 
The line-up continues with theatrical post-hardcore band Static Dress, South coast punk rockers SNAYX, Australian alt four-piece RedHook, and Kerrang! Radio The Deal competition winners Rituals, who will open The Avalanche Stage with their blisteringly heavy Newcastle metal.
 
These further additions continue to add to an incredible line-up for the very special anniversary edition of Download Festival. Stage splits have been confirmed and can be found at www.downloadfestival.co.uk.

OVER 40 NEW BANDS AND DAY SPLITS ANNOUNCED
FOR DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL 2023 

The greatest rock and metal festival of all time, Download Festival, announces 44 new names and the day splits for 2023’s mammoth line-up. New names include the blistering Halestorm, Alter Bridge, Neck Deep, Bob Vylan, Carcass, Five Finger Death Punch, Jinjer, Coheed and Cambria, Electric Callboy, Hot Milk and The Amity Affliction, who will join the celebration of Download’s 20-year legacy at the hallowed grounds of Donington Park across four days over 8-11 June 2023. They join headliners Slipknot, Bring Me The Horizon and Metallica, who will deliver two massive no-repeat performances. Weekend and day tickets are now on sale, as well as a very limited amount of camping tickets and new VIP options: www.downloadfestival.co.uk.
 
The biggest annual gathering of the rock and metal tribes will be joined by 44 new names, including the Grammy-winning Halestorm, hard rock frontrunners Alter Bridge, heavy metal behemoths Five Finger Death Punch, MOBO’s first ever Best Alternative Music Act Bob Vylan, Welsh pop punk kings Neck Deep, Las Vegas glam rockers Palaye Royale, and effervescent partycore group Electric Callboy.
 
Joining them at the hallowed grounds will be Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil with his grindcore extreme metal side project Empire State Bastard, metalcore veterans Hatebreed, progressive rock icons Coheed and Cambria, death metal heroes Carcass, throwback rap rockers Joey Valence & Brae, dual-fronted power pop rockers Hot Milk, bright Leeds metalcore outfit Caskets and frenetic Yorkshire-based rock group Dinosaur Pile-Up. Californian punk veterans The Bronx will also be returning to Donington, along with metalcore legend and former lead vocalist of The Dillinger Escape Plan Greg Puciato, and LA metal heavyweights Bad Wolves.
 
Download Festival continues to showcase the best of the international metal scene, with Dutch symphonic metal group Epica, Ukrainian progressive metal band Jinjer, globe-trotting Mongolian warriors The Hu, Australian metalcore heroes The Amity Affliction, Scandinavian pop-rockers Smash Into Pieces, Swedish metal ringmasters Avatar, French gothic electronic musician Perturbator, incendiary Canadian heavy rock duo Cleopatrick, Mexican metal sisters The Warning and French dark-synth pioneer Carpenter Brut all on the bill.
 
Alongside them will be Maryland stoner metal monarchs Clutch, pop punk reformists Mom Jeans, two-time Polaris Music Prize nominees PUP, doom-trap purveyor Mimi Barks, contemporary heavy metallers Spirit Adrift, Essex alt-rock quintet Tigress and Hunstanton’s finest, Deaf Havana. And from the bloodline that brought us the late Eddie Van Halen, we have Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH.
 
Last but not least, we have fist-pumping doom outfit Green Lung, the theatrically bleak A.A. Williams, eloquent emo-infused alt-rockers Beauty School, ostentatious Wyoming metallers Antisaint, punishing riff purveyors Undeath and Metallica protégés Taipei Houston. Not to mention that  Fearless Vampire Killers are back, and their flair for the dramatic and vaudevillian is sure to charm the Donington crowds.
 
Aside from bands, Download Festival are pleased to announce a brand new Camping Plus five-day ticket, which includes toilets and showers in a private campsite. For those who already have a four or five day camping tickets, upgrades are available. For something a little different, a selection of new and unique accommodations have been added to The Rock Retreat including The Skoolie, Fire Truck and Billy The Snail.
 
For more information on VIP options, camping tickets, weekend and day tickets, please go to: www.downloadfestival.co.uk.

DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL 2022 – THE BIG REVIEW!

Photo credit: Ⓒ Beth Miller for Download Festival

WELL THEN. Three whole years since the last proper Download Festival. Yeah yeah there was the Pilot last year, but it’s not the same. This is it, this is the return. Was it triumphant? Let’s discuss.

Donington Park opens its doors for the hoardes of giddy metalheads on Thursday, with the newly situated campsites filling from West Carpark quickly. Let’s have a moment for the new site layout; the campsites are now located considerably closer to the arena (they used to be at the opposite end of the racetrack) and the arena is accessed by travelling through the brand new Village area which is now on hard-standing.

There are a few things to note about this arrangement though. If you’ve managed to park in West Carpark, you are indeed only a shortish walk to your camping. However, once this is full the East and North Carparks are utilized and they are predictably – on the other side of the racetrack, a journey of epic proportions to your campsite. I suppose the question is, would you rather walk further to the arena every day, or have to cart all your camping stuff further on the way in and on the way out?

It must also be noted that whilst quiet camping does still exist, they’ve chosen to back the brand new (and considerably larger) Doghouse stage onto it. With music going on until 3am, it seems sort of redundant but hey, hopefully you brought earplugs.

The Village itself is a thing of beauty. Despite this being a rare good weather Download rather than a washout, it really is just such a good move to have the entire place on a tarmac surface. Immediately as you enter the area there is an enormous pop-up Co-Op selling practically everything you might need for the weekend, including fairly priced crates of beer and the cheeky sandwich meal deal which costs about a third of the price of a soggy burrito from the arena. Even for non-campers this is a short walk from the arena to keep your costs down, and I think its really important to stress that this is a great way of ensuring that people aren’t entirely priced out of coming to this festival, when food and drink prices seem set to continue to rise exponentially.

As for entertainment, this year we have an entire arcade replete with coin machines and Dance Dance Revolution, as well as the traditional fairground rides such as minor-whiplash-dodgems and possibly-the-worst-ghost-train-in-the-world. The new Doghouse is the real MVP though, a huge square post-apocalyptic shipping container park with a stage and a bar. It’s worth noting that this whole move really improves accessibility for everyone. RIP and Disability Camping guests are no longer miles from the night-time action, and the tarmac makes getting there much easier, a huge step towards making Download a much more inclusive festival.

For morning people you can give yourself a boost by joining in with some Rockfit, frame trampolining or rock aerobics – flashback to Download’s at-home content during Lockdown in 2020. In the evenings there’s stand up comedy in The Sidesplitter, and then the infamous Doghouse clubnights returning with a bang. I must give a mention here to Thursday night’s Punk Rock Factory who honestly I’d love to see hitting up the main arena next year, a punk Disney cover band. There is just something joyous about seeing a group of big burly dudes belting out songs from Encanto, truly they absolutely slap, and seemed to have the full support of a packed Doghouse.

Aside from this we also have another attempt at implementing a cashless festival, thankfully without a return to the RFID fiasco of a previous Download, though it does seem most of the shops are still accepting cash regardless. We also have renamed stages for 2022 – Apex and Opus in place of various previous names such as Lemmy and Dio, but let’s face it, everyone calls them Main and Second anyway.

Friday

It’s Friday, the gates are open and the sun is shining. Not packing a raincoat feels absolutely reckless for this festival, but the weather app assures me that everything will be ok so sun-cream it is. As seasoned Download goers, we head straight for a merch tent because everyone knows they can and absolutely will sell out of stuff. As per usual nothing has changed and there are simply too few staff to appropriately manage the volume of people queuing, and we wait a solid hour and a half to get our stuff. I think I’ve said this in every review but really, just drop more staff on for the first day, I beg.

The merch options are outstanding though, apart from the regular tshirts and such, there is a plethora of weird shit you can buy and I am HERE FOR IT. Download Monopoly for campsite mornings? Got you covered. Cafetiere and laser engraved wooden cups? No problem. We also love the fully embroidered denim jacket, the extremely handy new tote bags, and of course the plushie deranged Download Dog. There’s also a whole section for babies/kids which is nice, considering there seem to be a lot more of them in attendance this year. Mini metalheads everywhere you look – this is the next gen, teach them well.

Luckily the queue for said merchandise is situated right alongside the hill-top Dogtooth Stage, where we manage to catch a sweaty but brilliant set from The Scratch. Acoustic Irish folk music overlayed with heavy metal and a dedication to getting the crowd involved, makes for a unique and undeniably fun experience. Yelling “…if you’re really confused about what we’re doing, that’s fine, we’re confused as well… but we can still have fun” the band really sum up how it is to watch their show. I would absolutely go and see them again.

Over to Kris Barras on the Opus stage for some melodic rock and roll in the sunshine, playing bluesy summery riffs to a huge crowd. It’s perfect beer-drinking, feel good summer music that makes you feel like you’re in an 80’s TV show driving the Sunset Strip.

Skynd’s unique ‘true crime’ industrial rock sound is testament to the expansion of genre Download have been working towards over the last few years, something a little unusual and interesting, with songs named after infamous death events. Skynd’s unusual vocal style ranging from effeminate cheerleader-esque chanting to deep rasping creep is really something different, and sets the tone for how many new and challenging female artists we’re about to see this weekend.

Bury Tomorrow pull off a convincing enough set, but hero vocalist Myles Kennedy over on the Opus stage is just beyond compare – I genuinely believe he’s one of the best rock voices of all time. Dead Poet Society on the Dogtooth stage play to a jammed tent, and even spend a little time after their set taking photos with fans.

Firmly established Download regulars Black Veil Brides are tearing up the Apex stage to a mass of sweaty face-paint melting goths and some early crowd-surfers, but it’s Skindred who take the crown for band of the day with their energetic and powerful set. Whilst it’s true that we see them pretty much every year at least once, they never seem to disappoint. Benji always has a fun outfit, this time a lightning bold studded red leather set with a plumed hat, and they roll through a mix of old and new making sure to hit the highs of ‘Pressure’ and ‘Nobody’, as well as joking around with extremely British singsongs of “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”. “2 years without any fucking music” as Benji puts it, is enough time for everyone to get really amped up for ‘Kill The Power’ in which they also voice support for Ukraine, and a right old rowdy Newport Helicopter of windmilling tshirts during ‘Warning’. Oh Skindred, we’ve missed you.

Photo credit: Ⓒ James Bridle for Download Festival

Over on the Opus stage, the Aussies are at it again. Reckless wonders Airborne, who were once lambasted by security for climbing the stage rigging at Download sans harness – for shits and gigs, yell out “…if we’re still here, and you’re still here, metal still exists…”. Which when you consider their death-wish antics, is perhaps not the most solid flex.

A Day To Remember blast punky metal across the main stage area as the sun shines, before Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes take on the Opus stage with their classic punk rock sounds and social commentary. Frank, ever the cheeky chap shouts out “Moment of silence for all the bands that we just murdered” before clambering out onto the shoulders of fans to continue singing.

In a bold but timely statement Frank says “This is a ladies and non-binary only moshpit for this song. Fellas on the sidelines, protect this space. This is a safe space for those people to have a good time without getting groped or punched. For too long rock and roll has been unequal. I’m sorry I didn’t have the mindset to do this sooner, in 10 years time I promise you this will be a very different space for our children”. Whilst this may be somewhat performatory in practice (it’s one song in a weekend of bands), it does send a message that people are listening and beginning to take notice of what female and NB metal fans have been saying for years. Though generally pit-etiquette is known to be good at Download, it’s really refreshing to see how the festival is evolving into a more inclusive space for everyone to enjoy the music.

Frank also takes a jab with “This song is about Rishi [Sunak] telling me to get a fucking job. I’ve got two you bastard, how many am I supposed to have?” as massive ticker-tape explosions flutter over the crowd. It’s been an interesting set, and I’m all for artists using their platform to highlight important issues – it’s punk’s legacy.

After hitting up the legendary Bunnymans Bunnychow for dinner (South African firey chilli shoved into half a loaf of bread, the stuff of festival dreams) the Apex hill is filling up in anticipation of tonight’s headliner KISS.

The stage is draped with an enormous KISS banner, the sides flanked with KISS ARMY insignias, and the roof a hive of ring shaped lighting like something from sci-fi. Giant inflatable metallic effigies of the band members stand either side of the stage, blowing in the wind threatening to squash the puny worshippers below. As a tape begins to roll on the screens, of the band making their way through dressing rooms and corridors to get to the stage, I can’t help but giggle. We’re in a field, miles from anything solid, with only tents and tour buses back there. It’s all part of the KISS schtick though isn’t it.

“You wanted the best, you got the best!” yells Paul Stanley, aka The Starchild as a rain of sparkly pyro falls from the centre of the stage and the banner is dropped. As usual, they are dressed to the nines in, well, quite possibly bigger than nine-inch platform shoes and their signature shiny glam get-up – and there’s a part of me watching this, that is just a bit sad that nothing comes after this. We won’t witness this level of ridiculousness again, it’s an ending era. KISS are known for keeping it strictly performance. They have a script and they rarely step outside of it, which is professional I guess, if a little wooden sometimes. “This song is about putting something in your mouth…” comes before they drop into ‘Lick It Up’ but it’s the same sentence we heard last time we saw them here. I’m not sure whether I enjoy this from a nostalgia perspective – like re-watching your favourite movie when you feel down – or if I wish they’d break character just once, for this one final time.

‘Calling Dr Love’ is followed by ‘Tears Are Falling’ and then the more recent ‘Psycho Circus’ pulls up to a long drum solo from The Cat, who is raised up onto a giant platform. Presumably giving the other band members a much needed breather. I don’t hate it, it isn’t obscenely long… but the following instrumental really is. The solo is another thing from an older time, new bands don’t do it, or it’s a few seconds while someone grabs a drink. Another nail in the coffin of what it meant to be a headliner.

Luckily the band put on a great show regardless, Gene Simmons bleeding from the mouth whilst flapping his monumentally long tongue is an image burned into the rock retina for life. Jamming his iconic axe shaped bass whilst high up on a platform amongst the mysterons covered in images of his own face… you can’t get more Gene than that really.

“It’s the last time we’re gonna be together… and because it’s the last time, I’m gonna come out there and be with you. But you have to invite me… count to three and say my name…” calls Stanley, despite the fact that this is precisely the same way it went down the last time they played here, which obviously many of the fans remember all to well. Regardless, it is really fun to see him whizz from the stage to the sound tent on a circus ring zip wire to play ‘Love Gun’, and the epic ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, amongst the sparkly light of a giant projected disco ball.

Closing out with three song encore, the end finally comes with ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’. Big inflatable KISS branded beach balls are thrown into the crowd, ticker tape explosions go off, and fireworks erupt from the top of the stage as they lament “We’re gonna miss you so much, we bow to you. It’s so special every time we come here”. Now, plenty of bands have said it’s their ‘final show’ before (cough, Aerosmith, cough Black Sabbath). KISS have been one of them… over 19 times according to Steve Tyler. This time though, it really does seem like they’re done. Some of the vibrancy was missing, it was too rehearsed.

It’s testimony to their skill as musicians and performers that the show was still great, and I will be forever sad that my child won’t get to remember seeing one of, if not the most iconic bands in the world, but maybe it is time to open the gates for new things. KISS have done thousands of gigs, sold millions of records and have the weirdest and most diverse collection of merch on this earth (KISS condoms anyone?) so… fair play to them. I’m glad I was here for the last show… probably.


SATURDAY

Opening the Apex stage this morning are The Raven Age, good hearty metal despite the thin arena at this time, but Cassyette edges them out as the Opus stage opener with an absolutely huge crowd. Swinging her long blonde Pippi Longstocking braids as she thrashes around the stage, you can see exactly why she’s been booked – what a bloody epic voice. Again, it’s awesome to see more women hitting the big stages at Download this year, and absolutely smashing it. Those Damn Crows keep the vibe going, but there’s definitely an element of crowd fatigue in this heat – us pasty Brits are just crap at sunshine.

Sheffield lads Malevolent come in with their full force, pulling out all the stops in their exceptionally heavy set. “This goes out to anyone who has ever told you, you can’t do something because of how you look or who you are” says frontman Alex Taylor, before they muster up three massive circle-pits in the crowd.

Ice Nine Kills may have a bit of a gimmicky schtick when it comes to band theme, rocking up in suits to mimic American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, these guys are a self-professed Horror Metal band. However, there is nothing gimmicky about their musical talent, these guys absolutely kill it – if you can excuse the pun. Yeah sure they have some Alice Cooper-esque snuff theatre going on, stage knives and a creepy clown… but I defy anyone to try not to join in with the likes of ‘Hip To Be Scared’ and ‘The American Nightmare’. They’ve gone straight to the top of my post-Download playlist.

Photo credit: Ⓒ  Sam McMahon for Download Festival

Black Label Society, owners of very lush hair, gather a huge crowd at the Apex stage. With Zakk Wylde’s signature sound resonating across the arena, this just feels like peak Download. There are so many memories tied to that sound at this event. Later Shinedown absolutely tear it up, yelling “Ladies and Gentlemen, we made it, we are here and we’re all alive” and treating us to the hits we want to hear ‘Second Chance’ and ‘Cut The Cord’. The “Freedom” refrain really has some topical context for this crowd, after a couple of years of strict lockdowns and Covid worries.

Deftones are predictably great but we’ve been round the block a few times and I’m really only in it for ‘My Own Summer’ at this point, so it’s time to take a walk around the site and grab some food. One thing I really want to mention is that the quality of stuff you can buy from Download shops is actually really exciting. You can grab your next pair of skate trainers for a fraction of the cost of online stores, get hold of some unusual patches for your battle jacket, and there’s the likes of Mysticum Luna selling some  beautiful jewellery. If that’s not your jam, you can queue up in the morning to book yourself a tattoo slot at Old Sarum – I wonder how many people now have a Download Dog tattoo?

On the Opus stage Megadeth have the most ridiculous set of mega-stacked amps (there is no way at least half of those aren’t just for show, come on now) and Funeral For A Friend are bringing back those nostalgic emo kid vibes on The Avalanche stage. Sepultura play to a bursting at the seams Dogtooth tent, it’s hot, it’s heavy, it’s everything it should be – I just wish I could get further into the tent than the gate.

Looking at the arena tonight, it’s pretty clear there are a lot of day-ticket holders here specifically for this. It’s twice as packed as last night, people shoulder to shoulder right to the back of the hill and spilling out both sides around the sound tent. To say Iron Maiden are an institution at Donington would be putting it mildly. We’ve been waiting three years for this, let’s go.

As the traditional UFO ‘Doctor Doctor’ heralds them onto the stage, we take our first look at the set up for this ‘Legacy of The Beast’ tour, which centres on Japanese/Shinobi imagery due to their newest released ‘Senjutsu’. The stage is all green-roofed pagodas, Nikko’s brand new drum set is covered in the beautiful album artwork, and as the band take the stage we note that Bruce has gone full top-knot presumably in a nod to the theme. Rocking some almost spray-on leather pants (he does it better than Ross Geller though) Bruce is immediately and unwaveringly as brilliant as ever. If you think there’s a more iconic vocalist in metal I can’t hear you over the sound of Bruce belting the living shit out of ‘The Writing On The Wall’. You’d think after 34 years playing here, and the 7th inning as headliners, that something would eventually dip… the speed, the sound quality, the theatricality, the energy. No. Not our Iron Maiden. They are the lifeblood of this festival and all those before it on this hallowed ground, and they truly sound better than ever.

Eddie makes a surprisingly early appearance dressed as a Samurai, in order to go about executing the band members with a giant katana, and Bruce quips “You alright? That was bit fucking casual… you alright?” as the crowd warms up a bit from their viewing stupor. If you haven’t seen Maiden before, it’s a lot to take in. If you have, it’s a lot to take in.

Multiple set changes are expected with Maiden for sure, but wow is it slick tonight. Using curtain structures to create background sets means they basically drop away in seconds to be replaced by another – something that really just adds to the magic of their show. This next one is a full on church, replete with stained glass windows and flaming chandeliers.

Calling out “The last three years of all our lives, has been largely fucking shit. In this field is where it fucking stops. We’re one big family, the Maiden family. We don’t care what colour, size or anything you are… you are our Blood Brothers” they drop headfirst into the anthem. Not to get too corny, but there is something so uplifting, so uniting about hearing this after the hard couple of years we’ve just been through.

Now, Bruce has always been known to be a bit… extra. But tonight he really doubles down, in a floaty veiled cape, he capers about the stage brandishing a giant disco cross for ‘The Sign of The Cross’ and then in a bonkers turn of events, trying to brandish a Ghostbusters style dual flamethrower, AND his mic beneath an enormous winged angel for ‘Flight of Icarus’.

Fear of The Dark has always been my favourite, since I saw Maiden for the very first time at the very first Download festival in 2003. My friend lifted me up from our spot 10 or so rows from the front, so that I could look across the crowd at the sea of lights. At that time it was proper lighters, not blue phone screens, and it is one of my most magical memories. Tonight, I was watching from the side, much further back, with my 2 year old daughter – doing a small cry, thinking about how grateful I am to be back here, after everything, and it was perfect.

‘Hallowed Be They Name’, ‘The Number of The Beast’ and the eponymous ‘Iron Maiden’ are just beyond reproach, it’s ridiculous how Iron Maiden manage to gut punch us every time, they just get into your bones. There’s a giant inflatable beast Eddie… everyone is singing, everyone is headbanging, everyone thinks they’re in the band too… “Scream for me Donington!” elicits the monumental roar of thousands of metal fans in their element.

The stage lights dip, but no-one moves an inch. The encore is spectacular, with Bruce admitting “Wish I was down there with you, it’s fucking cold up here” into the amazingly clear moonlight night, before donning the signature Redcoat and flag for ‘The Trooper’, and the return of Eddie for a duel.

‘The Clansman’ (another chance to yell FREEDOM into the sky) and ‘Run To The Hills’ are magnificent, but there’s nothing quite like the closing gem ‘Aces High’ complete with a fucking massive Spitfire flying, in my opinion, terrifyingly close to their heads, on stage. Bruce gives it his full force, rocking a flying cap and goggles as the band wheel around the stage delivering the most powerful, energetic performance you can imagine. They are just such pros, I genuinely don’t know what we’ll do when they finally call time. With their outro of Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the bright side of life’, there is a collective sigh and we all begin to leave the arena. The hour plus queue to leave the car-park tells you that everyone stayed for this, what a bloody amazing night.

SUNDAY

Kicking things off for today at the Apex stage are homegrown electro-rock duo Wargasm, who sponsor a pretty brutal circle pit for so early in the morning. Two guys dressed as bananas are gleefully smashing into each other, as Milkie Way kicks and screams her way through the excellently named ‘D.R.I.L.D.O’ and ‘Backyard Bastards’. A live debut of ‘Fukstar’ and an N*E*R*D cover of ‘Lapdance’ also go down well with the crowd.

Photo credit: Ⓒ Sam McMahon for Download Festival

On the Dogtooth stage, drag artist Bimini serves us a fucking stunning outfit and an equally fun mash up of The Prodigy’s ‘Breathe’ and Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ gone metal. It’s very very weird, and I like it. “This is my first festival… You know what, we’re a queer fucking band, and we’re gonna fuck it up” they say, with new music being debuted ‘Don’t Fuck With My Groove’ which is undeniably outside of what we are used to hearing at Download. A cover of Peaches sends us over the edge, I want to see Bimini bring a bigger, more extravagant show next time. Spotted in the Bimini crowd: Zoe London, having an excellent time!

We’ve decided to sit down and have some lunch at the main stage, which means catching Alestorm today. Somewhat unwillingly. If you haven’t heard about their recent controversy over leaked group chat messages which highlight some pretty stark racism and misogyny – just take it from us, it was not ok. These messages were authenticated/claimed by lead singer Chris Bowes at the time, and apologized for, but when you’ve been talking about competitions to see who can sleep with the most barely legal fans on tour… it’s gonna fuck up your reputation as a fairly wholesome fun band.

It’s actually a bit of a surprise that they were still booked for Download following this. There’s a bit of a disconnect between what looks like the purposeful move to give more female artists stage time, and having Alestorm back on the bill. Between bands Download has opted for screen messages about consent and respect all weekend, a purposeful effort towards changing the culture of festivals and making them safe for everyone – which I fully endorse and applaud. So yeah… it’s strange.

They’re on stage anyway, giant inflatable duck in tow, yelling “We’re only here to have fun” and while there is a decent crowd, it’s markedly less than I would expect them to pull at this festival. They play their hits (indistinguishably all about drinking, it’s the schtick) ‘Mexico’ and ‘Fucked With An Anchor’ to a sea of crowd surfers, but there’s definitely a flatness to the performance compared to other times we’ve seen them. Around us a lot of people are looking unimpressed, and it’s probably not just to do with the show.

Conversely, The Hara absolutely rip it up on the Avalanche stage, with their really interesting tech fuelled set. As a three-piece alt rock outfit, I did not expect their sound to be so complex, but with all the extra electronic fills, it is a serious sucker punch. I totally expect to see more of them at Download in the future.

Rise against are coming back with a new album, but the familiar punk-rock feels we love, “…this is a song about what we’ve all been doing the last two years… it’s called Survive” and closing ‘Saviour’ in the sunshine is just bringing us all happiness as we sing along.

Over on the Opus stage, Baroness as expected put on a fantastic show, and on the Apex stage Volbeat give us what we want with ‘Lola Montez’ and ‘Still Counting’ as well as their cutesy ‘I Only Want To Be With You’ Dusty Springfield cover.

Up next Korn give a blistering performance worthy of a headline slot, Jonathan Davis careening about the stage in leather pants is giving us the big 90’s nostalgia. There are bagpipes, there’s a snippet of ‘We Will Rock You’ in ‘Coming Undone’, they serve up ‘Falling Away From Me’ and ‘Freak On A Leash’ at an eardrum bursting level. It’s such an energetic performance, mirrored in the sheer number of crowdsurfers who are heading towards the front, and it seems like the whole crowd is into it.

Photo credit: Ⓒ David Dillon for Download Festival

Steel Panther are divisive. They started off as a joke band… but they have some catchy hits… they’re clearly joking… but the type of jokes they make are tired and largely misogynistic…

Yelling “That crowd reaction was pretty good for a Hoobastank concert” garners a laugh from only those old enough to know who Hoobastank are, but the zebra leggings and 80’s hair never fails to make me smile. “England is my second home. I speak the language. My Grandma is from here in Leicester, she used to cook for the whole family… crystal meth” is exactly what we expect from them, as well as their penchant for pulling ladies from the audience to dance with them. They do in fact have 17 girls for ’17 Girls In A Row’, and they are joined by guest Justin Hawkins of The Darkness – who just played the other stage – for ‘Party All Day’. ‘Asian Hooker’ and ‘Death To All But Metal’ are meant to be silly, but that’s part of the charm – it’s possibly the most packed this stage has been all weekend.

So, right up front I have to note going into this headline review, that the arena is stunningly under-filled already. You can basically walk to the front in a couple of minutes from either side. This shouldn’t happen for headliners.

Scot-rock stalwarts Biffy Clyro are no strangers to Download Festival, having headlined here in 2017. Given the fact that we’ve been in Covid central for a couple of years, this actually feels more recent than the five years it has actually been. There’s no doubt that the band are musically brilliant, and the stage set up is impressive in its own way, but perhaps overshadowed by the previous two nights of high production headline sets.

The hometown crowd is representing at the front with giant Scottish flags flying, and ‘Wolves of Winter’ is a soaring masterpiece which absolutely deserves a place here. Yelling “We’ve waited three years for this, I know you have too. It’s wonderful to be back together again” frontman Simon Neil is clearly having an excellent time up there, but I can’t help but see the crowd is thinning even further. I wonder if they can see this from up there, and feel a little sad for them.

‘Space’ and ‘Bubbles’ come before an encore of ‘The Captain’, ‘Cop Syrup’ and ‘Many of Horror’ – all of which are performed beautifully and confidently, but it obviously isn’t hitting with a huge proportion of the Download crowd who are opting to be elsewhere. The band finish up with a set of stage top fireworks, but it’s not the crowning finale it should have been for this, the triumphant return of Download festival. If Download wants to sell enough tickets next year, those headliners had better be closer aligned to the main formula than Biffy were this weekend.

In other entertainments, The Doghouse is bumping for another few hours yet with the likes of Lais MW & Lauren Cornelius serving up fun bouncy mixes and Limp Bizkit dance renditions. Here we’ll leave everyone to the wild abandon of the final night at camp.

Round-up

So what did we think of Download festival 2022?

Firstly, we were served an unusual dose of good fortune with the weather being dry. This festival is no joke when it’s wet, so it was nice to not have to think about boots and raincoats this year. The new site changes are a huge step in the right direction to making this festival more inclusive and accessible, as well as just generally better for everyone. It would be great to see some companies like Vodafone with their Haptic suits there, to deliver unique experiences of the music to deaf fans in the Download audience in the future.

There were a lot more kids this time around – a lot of lockdown babies and toddlers in attendance, which yes, changes the vibe a little sure, but ultimately this music is for everyone – and that includes parents without childcare options. There’s nothing like indoctrinating the youth into metal anyway.

In the news following the festival it has sadly been reported that two men have died (in unconnected incidents) and police are appealing to contact a man who had helped one of them. Contact details can be found on the BBC website if you have any information. The deaths are not being considered suspicious at this time, our thoughts go out to them and their families.

Next year is the huge 20th anniversary of Download and Andy Copping has stated that all headliners have been booked already – an unusual feat. The anticipation and anxiety over who it will be is already gut wrenching. With a lot of the big legacy bands shutting up shop, I simply can’t imagine how this will play out, but for myself – I’m hoping for a Rammstein return, and the yet-to-play rock legends Pearl Jam.

I’d also like to mention that every staff and security member we came across this weekend was friendly, helpful and genuinely nice. It really makes a difference to how smoothly the weekend runs. On top of that, the general effort into turning Download into a more green space, and a more diverse space is really good to see. It’s time for the rock and metal scene to evolve into something more inclusive – and I don’t think Download loses any of its integrity as one of the worlds’ best rock festivals by doing so.

In summation, this weekend has been characterised by a return to familiarity, pure joy and a feeling of freedom. There has been something intensely healing about being back at Donington, for a lot of people I spoke to over the weekend. It has indeed been three years of shit, but thanks in part to Download Festival – I feel like I’m on the road to recovery. Roll on the big anniversary in 2023, see you there!

Download Festival 2022 – Biffy Clyro REVIEWED!

Photo credit: Ⓒ David Dillon for Download Festival

So, right up front I have to note going into this headline review, that the arena is stunningly under-filled already. You can basically walk to the front in a couple of minutes from either side. This shouldn’t happen for headliners.

Scot-rock stalwarts Biffy Clyro are no strangers to Download Festival, having headlined here in 2017. Given the fact that we’ve been in Covid central for a couple of years, this actually feels more recent than the five years it has actually been. There’s no doubt that the band are musically brilliant, and the stage set up is impressive in its own way, but perhaps overshadowed by the previous two nights of high production headline sets.

The hometown crowd is representing at the front with giant Scottish flags flying, and ‘Wolves of Winter’ is a soaring masterpiece which absolutely deserves a place here. Yelling “We’ve waited three years for this, I know you have too. It’s wonderful to be back together again” frontman Simon Neil is clearly having an excellent time up there, but I can’t help but see the crowd is thinning even further. I wonder if they can see this from up there, and feel a little sad for them.

‘Space’ and ‘Bubbles’ come before an encore of ‘The Captain’, ‘Cop Syrup’ and ‘Many of Horror’ – all of which are performed beautifully and confidently, but it obviously isn’t hitting with a huge proportion of the Download crowd who are opting to be elsewhere. The band finish up with a set of stage top fireworks, but it’s not the crowning finale it should have been for this, the triumphant return of Download festival. If Download wants to sell enough tickets next year, those headliners had better be closer aligned to the main formula than Biffy were this weekend.

Download Festival 2022 – Iron Maiden REVIEWED!

Photo credit: Ⓒ James Bridle for Download Festival

Looking at the arena tonight, it’s pretty clear there are a lot of day-ticket holders here specifically for this. It’s twice as packed as last night, people shoulder to shoulder right to the back of the hill and spilling out both sides around the sound tent. To say Iron Maiden are an institution at Donington would be putting it mildly. We’ve been waiting three years for this, let’s go.

As the traditional UFO ‘Doctor Doctor’ heralds them onto the stage, we take our first look at the set up for this ‘Legacy of The Beast’ tour, which centres on Japanese/Shinobi imagery due to their newest released ‘Senjutsu’. The stage is all green-roofed pagodas, Nikko’s brand new drum set is covered in the beautiful album artwork, and as the band take the stage we note that Bruce has gone full top-knot presumably in a nod to the theme. Rocking some almost spray-on leather pants (he does it better than Ross Geller though) Bruce is immediately and unwaveringly as brilliant as ever. If you think there’s a more iconic vocalist in metal I can’t hear you over the sound of Bruce belting the living shit out of ‘The Writing On The Wall’. You’d think after 34 years playing here, and the 7th inning as headliners, that something would eventually dip… the speed, the sound quality, the theatricality, the energy. No. Not our Iron Maiden. They are the lifeblood of this festival and all those before it on this hallowed ground, and they truly sound better than ever.

Eddie makes a surprisingly early appearance dressed as a Samurai, in order to go about executing the band members with a giant katana, and Bruce quips “You alright? That was bit fucking casual… you alright?” as the crowd warms up a bit from their viewing stupor. If you haven’t seen Maiden before, it’s a lot to take in. If you have, it’s a lot to take in.

Multiple set changes are expected with Maiden for sure, but wow is it slick tonight. Using curtain structures to create background sets means they basically drop away in seconds to be replaced by another – something that really just adds to the magic of their show. This next one is a full on church, replete with stained glass windows and flaming chandeliers.

Calling out “The last three years of all our lives, has been largely fucking shit. In this field is where it fucking stops. We’re one big family, the Maiden family. We don’t care what colour, size or anything you are… you are our Blood Brothers” they drop headfirst into the anthem. Not to get too corny, but there is something so uplifting, so uniting about hearing this after the hard couple of years we’ve just been through.

Now, Bruce has always been known to be a bit… extra. But tonight he really doubles down, in a floaty veiled cape, he capers about the stage brandishing a giant disco cross for ‘The Sign of The Cross’ and then in a bonkers turn of events, trying to brandish a Ghostbusters style dual flamethrower, AND his mic beneath an enormous winged angel for ‘Flight of Icarus’.

Fear of The Dark has always been my favourite, since I saw Maiden for the very first time at the very first Download festival in 2003. My friend lifted me up from our spot 10 or so rows from the front, so that I could look across the crowd at the sea of lights. At that time it was proper lighters, not blue phone screens, and it is one of my most magical memories. Tonight, I was watching from the side, much further back, with my 2 year old daughter – doing a small cry, thinking about how grateful I am to be back here, after everything, and it was perfect.

‘Hallowed Be They Name’, ‘The Number of The Beast’ and the eponymous ‘Iron Maiden’ are just beyond reproach, it’s ridiculous how Iron Maiden manage to gut punch us every time, they just get into your bones. There’s a giant inflatable beast Eddie… everyone is singing, everyone is headbanging, everyone thinks they’re in the band too… “Scream for me Donington!” elicits the monumental roar of thousands of metal fans in their element.

The stage lights dip, but no-one moves an inch. The encore is spectacular, with Bruce admitting “Wish I was down there with you, it’s fucking cold up here” into the amazingly clear moonlight night, before donning the signature Redcoat and flag for ‘The Trooper’, and the return of Eddie for a duel.

‘The Clansman’ (another chance to yell FREEDOM into the sky) and ‘Run To The Hills’ are magnificent, but there’s nothing quite like the closing gem ‘Aces High’ complete with a fucking massive Spitfire flying, in my opinion, terrifyingly close to their heads, on stage. Bruce gives it his full force, rocking a flying cap and goggles as the band wheel around the stage delivering the most powerful, energetic performance you can imagine. They are just such pros, I genuinely don’t know what we’ll do when they finally call time. With their outro of Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the bright side of life’, there is a collective sigh and we all begin to leave the arena. The hour plus queue to leave the car-park tells you that everyone stayed for this, what a bloody amazing night.

Download Festival 2022 – KISS REVIEWED!

© Matt Higgs for Download Festival

The stage is draped with an enormous KISS banner, the sides flanked with KISS ARMY insignias, and the roof a hive of ring shaped lighting like something from sci-fi. Giant inflatable metallic effigies of the band members stand either side of the stage, blowing in the wind threatening to squash the puny worshippers below. As a tape begins to roll on the screens, of the band making their way through dressing rooms and corridors to get to the stage, I can’t help but giggle. We’re in a field, miles from anything solid, with only tents and tour buses back there. It’s all part of the KISS schtick though isn’t it.

“You wanted the best, you got the best!” yells Paul Stanley, aka The Starchild as a rain of sparkly pyro falls from the centre of the stage and the banner is dropped. As usual, they are dressed to the nines in, well, quite possibly bigger than nine-inch platform shoes and their signature shiny glam get-up – and there’s a part of me watching this, that is just a bit sad that nothing comes after this. We won’t witness this level of ridiculousness again, it’s an ending era. KISS are known for keeping it strictly performance. They have a script and they rarely step outside of it, which is professional I guess, if a little wooden sometimes. “This song is about putting something in your mouth…” comes before they drop into ‘Lick It Up’ but it’s the same sentence we heard last time we saw them here. I’m not sure whether I enjoy this from a nostalgia perspective – like re-watching your favourite movie when you feel down – or if I wish they’d break character just once, for this one final time.

‘Calling Dr Love’ is followed by ‘Tears Are Falling’ and then the more recent ‘Psycho Circus’ pulls up to a long drum solo from The Cat, who is raised up onto a giant platform. Presumably giving the other band members a much needed breather. I don’t hate it, it isn’t obscenely long… but the following instrumental really is. The solo is another thing from an older time, new bands don’t do it, or it’s a few seconds while someone grabs a drink. Another nail in the coffin of what it meant to be a headliner.

Luckily the band put on a great show regardless, Gene Simmons bleeding from the mouth whilst flapping his monumentally long tongue is an image burned into the rock retina for life. Jamming his iconic axe shaped bass whilst high up on a platform amongst the mysterons covered in images of his own face… you can’t get more Gene than that really.

“It’s the last time we’re gonna be together… and because it’s the last time, I’m gonna come out there and be with you. But you have to invite me… count to three and say my name…” calls Stanley, despite the fact that this is precisely the same way it went down the last time they played here, which obviously many of the fans remember all to well. Regardless, it is really fun to see him whizz from the stage to the sound tent on a circus ring zip wire to play ‘Love Gun’, and the epic ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, amongst the sparkly light of a giant projected disco ball.

Closing out with three song encore, the end finally comes with ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’. Big inflatable KISS branded beach balls are thrown into the crowd, ticker tape explosions go off, and fireworks erupt from the top of the stage as they lament “We’re gonna miss you so much, we bow to you. It’s so special every time we come here”. Now, plenty of bands have said it’s their ‘final show’ before (cough, Aerosmith, cough Black Sabbath). KISS have been one of them… over 19 times according to Steve Tyler. This time though, it really does seem like they’re done. Some of the vibrancy was missing, it was too rehearsed.

It’s testimony to their skill as musicians and performers that the show was still great, and I will be forever sad that my child won’t get to remember seeing one of, if not the most iconic bands in the world, but maybe it is time to open the gates for new things. KISS have done thousands of gigs, sold millions of records and have the weirdest and most diverse collection of merch on this earth (KISS condoms anyone?) so… fair play to them. I’m glad I was here for the last show… probably.