Avid weather watching and ultimate festival preparation was indeed necessary for this year’s Download Festival at the legendary Donington Racetrack, as the masses were simultaneously sunburnt and soaked, we thank the grand old British climate for a mostly acceptable atmosphere in which to rock. In it’s eleventh year, Download Festival draws in the metal hordes, clad in anything black, denim, ripped and studded, for a weekend of extraordinary music and warm beer.
Heading into the arena on Friday, the familiar sights and smells wash over us (portaloos, expensive burgers, eau de camping) with one particular very obvious addition – the zipline. Even at this time people are queuing up to spend fifteen smackers for thirty seconds of extreme wedgie, it’s baffling. I suppose the view is good from up there though. At the Zippo Encore Stage nearest the arena entrance, legendary hard-rocker heroes Uriah Heep draw an absolutely massive crowd and play a storming set that would have you think you’re at the ’82 heyday Monsters of Rock, not 2013 Download. Screaming “Where were you back in nineteen seventy seven?” frontman Mick Box smiles at the blank stares of all those who weren’t born yet, and pushes on with ‘Gypsy’ and some serious shredding. Despite the very recent and death of bassist Trevor Bolder, the band put on a great show and leave the stage with an outtro of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ just to cement their homegrown status.
Over on the main stage, Yorkshire metalcore kids Asking Alexandria spin damp fans in the rain into a frenzy, whilst London based power metal heavyweights Dragonforce are beset with shoddy sound for the first few songs. Despite this they ride rambunctiously through ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ and new track ‘Cry Thunder’ is punchy enough (and almost ironic enough, in the current conditions) to gain instant earworm status. Herman Li’s frankly beautiful hair blows in the wind as he and Sam Totman shred harmoniously in their distinctive style and the crowd joins in for the chorus. Main stage emotions are running high as Papa Roach create circle-pits and drive the hits ‘… To Be Loved’ and ‘Last Resort’, and the second stage area is awash with Swedish flags for Stockholm rockers Europe. After a hugely entertaining and musically engaging set, the inevitable party-piece ‘The Final Countdown’ is final-ly rolled out, to which the crowd goes wild. It’s more comedy than it is song now, but boy do we Brits love a good cheesy anthem.
Korn, though intensely self-aware and at times quite comical, are actually rather good and manage to draw the largest crowd of the daytime. Head honcho Jonathan Davis’ looks like he’s having a fit whilst dancing/headbanging through ‘Blind’ and ‘Falling Away From Me’, but it’s ‘Coming Undone’ that really gets the audience thrashing. An unnecessary ten minute bagpipe interval (of which Davis really only plays a few notes, it’s like… if Deep Purple went highlander…) leaves a lot of confused faces, and more than a few people groan when the dubstep part hits, however, fan favourite ‘Freak On A Leash’ brings them back.
3 Doors Down do a sterling job making the afternoon light with their particular brand of American Rock, with a fun cover of Megadeth’s ‘Symphony of Destruction’ and Gypsy Punk crazies Gogol Bordello have everyone up and skanking to their weird and wonderful accordion packed sound, also rainbow stripes don’t really make a balaclava any less menacing, but we appreciate the oddity of it.
Second stage headliners Black Stone Cherry, here on merit of a forum-wide plea from fans, play an absolutely stunning set with favourites from the first three albums, and a first ever sneak peek at brand spanking new material from their studio work (see headline review for full details). Main stage masked-bandit headliners Slipknot have ditched the red boiler suits for white (much to the dismay of die hard fans who’ve spend the whole day perfecting their costumes) but other than that, not much is different from their 2009 Download appearance, except that this year they play without late bassist Paul Grey and play ‘Duality’ in tribute to him (the 2009 Download Festival show was his last appearance). Fans are fans though, and twice during the wild night, Corey Taylor called to stop the performance due to crowd surges, yelling “No-one is getting hurt on my watch, I'm not going to let that happen to my family”. Over the two hour set, hits ‘Wait and Bleed’ and ‘Psychosocial’ make for rowdy moshpits and after an extra long pause before the encore, ‘People = Shit’ and ‘Surfacing’ complete the show.
Photo courtesy of Download Festival