It’s possibly the sunniest day of Download’s entire history and we’re collectively scorched after spending our Sunday rocking out to a wealth of amazing bands and artists. The swirling masse of black clothing is now contrasted by a beautiful tinge of red sunburn and vampiric-sorts are cowering under their parasols awaiting The Prince of Darkness himself… Ozzy Osbourne.
O Fortuna rings out heralding Ozzy’s return, both to Download – having performed last with Black Sabbath in 2016, and been a previous host of festivals at Donington with his own Ozzfest before – for this metal Brummie, it’s pretty much home. Two giant rectangular screens flank a cross-shaped one in the centre of the stage, which begin to scroll through a timeline of Ozzy-through-the-ages, including a school mugshot which elicits an ‘ahhh’ from the crowd. Like some kind of surreal supermarket of the damned, Ozzy’s unmistakable disembodied call comes across the tannoy “I can’t fuckin hear you… louder…”. Anyone who’s ever seen him before knows that this is pretty much all he’s going to say, for the next two and a half hours, no matter how much you yell back. He probably genuinely can’t hear us.
Anyway, finally legging it out in a black leather trench coat – and I do mean legging it, this is actually a pretty spritely Ozzy we’re getting tonight, and at 69 years old it’s no mean feat. Starting off with a site-wide howl we’re treated to ‘Bark at the Moon’ replete with moon and wolf visuals and Ozzy very literally throwing his head back for a howl. I was genuinely concerned he was going to tip over backwards at one point but was immediately distracted by guitarist Zakk Wylde’s indominable shredding on his signature swirl Les Paul. The man can honestly do no wrong.
As a crowd-surfing inflatable T-Rex bobs along the front row, Ozzy ditches his jacket revealing a sparkly bat top – it seems old tropes never die, and 1980 release ‘Mr Crowley’ harks back to a time where bat-munching was just, so on trend. Black Sabbath track ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ has the whole arena singing along but it’s not easy to forget the magic of seeing Iommi himself rocking this a mere two years ago. Truth be told, it doesn’t have the same gravitas.
‘No More Tears’ and ‘Road to Nowhere’ are both heavy hitters but it’s once again the Black Sabbath tracks that really get the stamp of approval with this crowd. The stage screens are aflame and air raid sirens wail in the night; ‘War Pigs’ is a wall of voices chiming in on a veritable metal anthem. If you don’t know the lyrics you’re basically desecrating Donington’s unholy ground, to be honest.
Ten minutes worth of Tommy Clufetos’ rumbling drum solo has everyone cheering, and gives Ozzy a bit of a break before heading into ‘I Don’t Want to Change the World’ and ‘Shot In The Dark’ which is accompanied by the most magnificent 80’s Tron-esque visuals. With a chant of “one more song” arena-wide, ‘Crazy Train’ is as massive as it ever was and Ozzy is doing a frankly stellar job considering he’s just shy of 70 and basically pickled with his history of drugs and alcohol. After a brief interlude, he’s back on for ‘Mama I’m Coming Home’ to the dismay of many (it is crap though isn’t it…) and as per the technology age we view a blanket of phone-lights in place of cigarette lighters thrust into the air. Anyway, it’s all quickly made up for with a rousing performance of ‘Paranoid’ to cap off the night in style.
Say what you will about Ozzy’s singing – he’s pretty much always sounded like that, I will always be appreciative of getting to witness one of heavy metal’s greats in the flesh, because there’s nothing in the world quite like live music, and this is history in the making.
© Image courtesy of Download Festival: Matt Eachus