Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The last stand of the big bands. With Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and countless others over the last couple of years doing their ‘final’ tours and including Donington as a must-do stop, we seem to have these epic/ sad endings coming thick and fast. Honestly though, given I’m about half a generation behind the curve of these bands, I’m pretty glad I’ve had the opportunity to see them at all. Tonight it is the turn of the mighty thrash merchants Slayer to bid us farewell, in their last ever UK show, and the Zippo Encore stage area is awash with black tshirts as far as the eye can see. This is hands down the fullest this arena has ever been in the whole of Download history, and I can see half a dozen kids-on-shoulders who have yet no idea how insanely lucky they are to be at this show, given that these guys have been playing for almost 40 years.
The stage is set with all the trappings you’d expect of metal royalty, pentacles, skulls, chains, fire… and the crowd are already chanting ‘Slayer’ in unison. Walking onto the stage with all the clear purpose and confidence of a band who have made performing live their home, it’s a sobering moment to think that we are about to see this for the very last time, that this is our metal history we’re saying goodbye to. We can’t wallow for long though, ‘Repentless’ is wild and immediately gathers a hot and chaotic mosh pit, before the band break into early track ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’. It’s certain that tonight we’re getting a history lesson.
We’re spoilt with a list of raw, furious shredding from ‘Disciple’ to ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ as pyro cannons shoot flames across the inside of the stage and inverted crosses burn in the darkening night. Rocking a ‘Kill the Kardashians’ tshirt, guitarist Gary Holt is ripping Donington a new one alongside Tom Arya and Kerry King in his signature belt chains, and as the first ominous notes of ‘South of Heaven’ shimmer across the arena, I feel actual chills. Slayer played at the first festival I ever went to – here at Donington for Ozzfest 2002 and those notes, that moment will be forever etched into my memory – now, alongside this one. As the band scream into the iconic ‘Raining Blood’, thousands of people are windmilling their hair and headbanging like their necks aren’t over 30 and going to be immobile by work on Monday, it’s a sight to behold.
Shutting Donington down with ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and ‘Angel of Death’ is exactly the fire fueled, gut-punch of an ending I expected of Slayer, they are masters of their craft and Gods of the genre, that much is undeniable. With a final “Thank you for being here” and Tom Arya reluctantly leaving the stage, with what looks to be tears in his eyes, we in the crowd can only chant their name in appreciation and thanks. I think it’s testimony to their legacy that everyone is just still standing, still throwing horns into the air – instead of legging it straight to the main stage. This night is too important to so many, and I hope we gave Slayer the farewell they deserved.
Ok. Confession time. I’m not a Slipknot fan. I am standing in a field full of Slipknot fans eagerly awaiting this much anticipated show. Flanked by overall-clad bodies, every face a grotesque mask (some quite obviously homemade), a through-the-ages tour of Slipknot’s style back catalogue, the excitement is palpable. Of course, this UK debut of the bands’ new masks is just a part of it, but the forums and news stories have been filled with ire towards the new choices – with many describing them as boring or thoroughly non-theatrical compared to previous iterations.
Indeed as the giant stage banner drops and the majesty of the stage set up is revealed – all industrial turbines and Mad Max-esque landscaping – frontman Corey Taylor appears in a black trenchcoat in place of a jumpsuit, and gives off a distinctly corpse dragged-from-the-river vibes in his bloated mask. Instantly I am reminded of the terrible ‘dream machine’ mask from the ultimate cheese-fest Bond movie ‘Die Another Day’, which levels on funny rather than creepy for me.
Sporting a more traditional Slipknot look, the rest of the band hit the stage in black boiler suits and their own new masks for an undeniably powerful opening trio of ‘People = Shit’, ‘(Sic)’ and ‘Get This’ with Corey yelling “This is where you fucking scream for me”. New release ‘Unsainted’ is a strong introduction to what we can expect from Slipknot going forward, as Corey screams “…are you happy to see Slipknot back in your beautiful fucking land? It’s amazing to be back HOME” to an almighty roar back from the Download crowd.
I’ll admit, they bring a great show – the pyrotechnics, the crazy percussion podium made of steel industrial hazard drums, the mysterious extra member who still hasn’t been revealed… and it’s clear the crowd are absolutely loving Slipknot’s return to Donington. Growling “…bunch of crazy motherfuckers over here. You feel good?” we head into a brutal assault of ‘Psychosocial’ and ‘The Devil in I’ while Corey muses “…this is the kind of Download I wanna see right”.
‘Duality’ comes with a side of the clown smashing up some of the stage set with a bat, and we’re treated to “something fucking special” which turns out to be a bit of a mishmash of ‘555 to the 666’ and ‘If Rain is What You Want’ at possibly the only time this weekend it isn’t actually raining. It’s kind of a shame to be honest, if there’s any band that the rain would have benefited in terms of atmosphere – it’s Slipknot. Regardless, the entire crowd is singing along in a rowdy chorus before going headlong into ‘Spit it Out’ for an arena-wide bounce… on the floor… before the song breaks and everyone goes absolutely berserk.
Corey leads out with a heartfelt speech on Download/the fans being family and making the statement “We are not their kind”, before heading into closer ‘Surfacing’, and a quick message to ‘take care of each other’ as they exit the stage. There may be thousands of raised horns in the arena, there may be a mass chant of ‘one more song’ but it’s clear as the house lights come up that the band are done for the night. Despite a bit of initial disappointment in the crowd, as the black video screens change to display ‘SLIPKNOT LIVE 2020’ a guttural roar of appreciation begins to ripple. Slipknot are coming back, and the sweaty hordes are abated as they head out into the night.
Forced once again to choose between the Zippo Encore and the Main stage for tonight’s grand entertainments – we have opted for Rob Zombie, master of the macabre and fringed outfits. Immediately upon turning the corner to the Zippo Encore stage it is clear that mistakes have been made. When Rob last played Download in 2017 the area was pretty jam packed but this year the arena is so ridiculously full that some people are actually almost standing in the shops at the back to watch. As much as I applaud Download for the booking – why oh why can’t we just have him on the main stage? He’s got the back catalogue, the energy and the showmanship to fill the main arena, never mind the sardine-can Zippo.
Anyway, aside from the spacing rant, Rob Zombie was an absolute highlight of the weekend, as expected. Rocking up with his signature screen boxes/dance podiums and immediately storming through ‘Meet The Creeper’ and ‘Superbeast’, Rob is resplendent leaping from box to box in as much fringed clothing as I’ve ever seen on a person. His style is sort of… the creature from the Black Lagoon, meets deep South in the 70’s, and I’m here for it. Anyone who can pull off such spritely moves in tight ass flares gets my respect to be honest.
Down the rabbithole we go with Rob for the iconic ‘Living Dead Girl’, as he yells “Good evening everybody, welcome to the Zombie show! Download, you ready to fuckin go?”. People are shrieking the lyrics all around us and throwing down some good old fashioned cyber goth moves for good measure. If you were gonna put a soundtrack to Vampire porn, this would be it – and Rob Zombie would have probably directed it to be honest.
Calling out “Everyone down here in the front, in your muddy shoes… jump jump” he rolls into the epic White Zombie track ‘More Human than Human’ and the crowd goes absolutely berserk. There’s nothing like a festival arena full of sweaty writhing bodies just dancing with wild abandon, it’s not something us Brits are usually especially practiced at but we’ll give it a damn good go, even in the rain and mud. Rob quips “Well we travel all around the world, and I must tell you… you win the award for the muddiest place on earth. I’m sure its cosy in those tents after the show… I’m sure when you’re sitting in those tents freezing you go… do I really wanna see these bands that fucking bad? And you guys just say fuck it, let’s get high and do this shit” as a set up to ‘In The Age of the Consecrated Vampire We All Get High’.
Manson clip backdrops herald Beatles cover ‘Helter Skelter’ and Rob turns stage side to ask “Can we keep playing? Do we have time?” eliciting a roar from a crowd who simply aren’t ready to end the night there. Rob muses “I was thinking the other day about Stone Henge. I believe I’ve solved the mystery. It’s one big landing pad for ufo’s” and calls us all to wave at an aeroplane passing overhead during ‘Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a U.F.O.’ whilst his guitarist rocks a flashing rainbow grille to grin at the crowd.
White Zombie (and Guitar Hero) classic ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ is punctuated with a little Ramones’ ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ for the “…punk rockers in tonight” and Rob heads down to the pit to meet his front row fans. Finishing up with the gut-busting ‘Dragula’ to strobing images from Rob’s ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ is unreal, there’s something undeniably visceral and sort of tribal about a Rob Zombie show. It makes you want to move, be part of the throng, takes you right into that horror movie realm. Honestly we could have gone another ten rounds with Rob Zombie and it still wouldn’t have been enough – so my message to you Download Festival: please book him for the main stage so we can headbang without the fear of breaking our faces on the person in front of us next time. Rob Zombie is undeniably rock royalty and deserves the throne.
DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL DEBUTS MINDFULNESS PROGRAMME – MIND THE DOG
ON SITE IMPROVEMENTS FOR 2019 INCLUDING NEW DAY ENTRANCE, CAR PARKS, AND MORE!
FIVE CONTINENTS OF ROCK TALENT TO DESCEND ON THE HALLOWED GROUNDS OF DONINGTON PARK
Download Festival, the world’s premiere rock event, has announced that a full mindfulness programme will be implemented in 2019 for the first time. Announced ahead of Mental Health Awareness week next month, the Mind The Dog initiative will run morning, afternoon, and evening sessions where rockers can share a fully immersive, live music and mindfulness experience, from Thursday 13 – Sunday 16 June. Day and weekend festival tickets available at www.downloadfestival.co.uk
One in six people in England report experiencing common mental health issues including anxiety and depression in any given week (1) and by 2030, it’s estimated that two million more adults in the UK will experience mental health problems than there were in 2013 (2). The recent loss of music legends including Keith Flint (Prodigy), Chester Bennington (Linkin Park), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), and Scott Hutchinson (Frightened Rabbit), calls for action to open up the conversation surrounding mental health, something Download organisers are committed to.
Festival Republic’s Melvin Benn said: “Download Festival has gone from strength to strength in its sustainability and accessibility offerings. We have been awarded 4 star Creative Green Result by Julie’s Bicycle for the second year running, and level gold from Access Is For Everything last year, which is highest possible award for accessibility, so it only made sense to offer an on site programme for mental health, as well as physical. By introducing Mind The Dog this year, we are hoping to provide a mindfulness haven in The Doghouse across the weekend, with meditation, sound baths, and more. I couldn’t be prouder of how much Download Festival has accomplished already.”
Fans can channel their zen under ambient lighting and atop woven tapestries, before immersing themselves in hour long classes under the roof of The Doghouse which will transform into Mind The Dog by day, offering FREE mindfulness gatherings. Morning meditation will host curated live music sessions, designed to ready campers for the day, whilst the afternoon offers a healing sound bath, encouraging fans to pause, connect, and tune into themselves, and the evening class brings a calming focus to elevate fans state of consciousness. Designed with conscious breath work sessions, the programme aims to bring fans together in the now, becoming closer to themselves, the music, and each other. Full schedule details can be found in notes to editors.
Recent studies show music can prevent feelings of loneliness and provide social connection (3), whilst the global heavy metal community provides a strong sense of “belonging and acceptance”(4). In line with the success and return of on-site DO.OM Yoga (yoga to Doom Metal music), and the thriving return of Camp Loner, (the campsite dedicated to welcoming individuals attending the festival solo), organisers are now excited to bring their elevated mindful offerings for Download fans in synergy with the festival spirit.
In support of the programme, Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari, who headline The Avalanche Stage at this year’s festival said: “We often go through life on autopilot, getting caught up in the stressors, the anxieties, the intensity of it all. We’re rarely consciously in control of our turbulent mind. Mindfulness allows us to regain control as we learn to observe our thoughts instead of getting caught up in them. It has been an incredible help to me and I couldn’t recommend it more. Not only does it help with anxiety and depression, but it also improves focus, emotional intelligence, compassion, tolerance and objectivity and has even been proven to help boost your immune system. Big up Download for introducing this programme to the festival”
Improved changes for 2019 include a new devoted entrance for day visitors and non-camping weekend ticket holders, weekend campers will also have their own dedicated car park, plus The Village is moving close to The Arena meaning festivalgoers can go from mosh to party with ease. The NXT Arena moves closer to the guest area, where NXT UK will be live taping to broadcast as part of a weekly show on the WWE Network, and the introduction of Metal Movies, a new open-air cinema with hammocks and lounge areas, will allow fans to kick back and watch music documentaries including being a metal band from Nepal with Underside along with a Q&A with the band afterwards, and Pursuit Of The Vikings with Amon Amarth.
Download continues its commitment to provide the best experience for fans, with accessibility improvements implemented in 2018, resulting in the awarding of Gold Level status by Access is Everything ahead of this year’s festival.
Sustainability remains a priority for Download Festival. Car parking donations last year via Energy Revolution raised £15,811 for Solar to Schools, a project which funds schools with solar roofing panels across the UK, and the festival continues its zero waste to landfill policy, as recycling points in the campsites will double in 2019. Last year saw the recycling and composting rate increase to 46% from 2017’s 41%, and single use cups were reduced by a million with reusable alternatives. The Eco Campsite opened in 2018 which saw zero tents left behind and returns this year with an increased capacity for a total of 2000 campers, a 33% increase from last year.
Additional water points for 2019 will be introduced across the arena, refillable Download Festival metal water bottles will be available for purchase the first time, and Co-op are excited to continue their Deposit and Return Scheme with their reverse vending machine returning to Download, which proved popular last year with festivalgoers who want to recycle plastic bottles, in return for a coupon to spend in the on site Co-op shop. Since 2016, all single use plastic cutlery, containers, and straws have been banned from traders, caterers and bars.
Donnington Park, the spiritual home of rock, has always called for international talent to grace its stages, with 2019 as no exception. With over 100 bands performing across the weekend, hailing from 18 countries including Australia, Canada, England, France, Finland, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, United States and Wales, Download Festival remains the King of rock festivals.
(1) Mind (2) NHS Mental Health Network
(3) Reachout.com (4) Journal of Community Psychology
Download Festival the UK’s premier rock event has today announced the winner of Kerrang! Radio’s Finding Fresh Blood competition as grime-punks PENGSHUi. Crowned by Download Festival promoters and a panel of Kerrang! Radio presenters, the London trio triumphed over thousands of entries to come out as champions of the hottest new talent search for the festival. The band are now set to open The Avalanche Stage and guarantee to bring their unrelenting, raw mix of rap and riffs to the crowds for an utterly unmissable Download debut.
Download Festival’s Andy Copping said: “A big thanks to everyone that applied, and to the Fresh Blood team who had to narrow down thousands of bands to the shortlist we were given, but PENGSHUi have something special with their effortless blend of metal and grime, they are the perfect opener for The Avalanche Stage this year. Get yourselves down on Friday afternoon, and watch history being made as I can see big things for them!”
Hailing from London and made up of Illaman on vocals, Fatty on Bass and Pravvy Prav on drums, the trio have made already made huge waves with their unique sound.
Kerrang! Radio’s Alex Baker said: “Pengshui are without a doubt one of the most exciting bands on planet earth today and their win is a testament to their unbelievable, powerful, innovative sound! Ultimate vibes. They are going to light The Avalanche Stage UP!!”
Would it even be a Download weekend if there wasn’t at least the threat of rain? It’s grey but holding off as we head into the arena for a day of pure rock and metal shenanigans. The first notable difference is the somewhat extreme, and numerous bag checks. We’d been warned via the site and social media that only A4 sized backpacks and smaller would be allowed into the arena, but didn’t realise that there would also be multiple check-points between the car-park and actually getting in to see the bands. Not to worry though, the checks are pretty quick and efficient, and soon we are cresting that hill for the first amazing sight of the arena.
I’d also like to do a quick shout-out at this point to Download’s ever evolving experience enhancements. Big plastic tracks have been installed around the second stage area making both walking in general and getting to the Accessibility platform via scooter or wheelchair easier than ever, and they have employed professional BSL music performance interpreters for the Main and Zippo Encore stages, giving even more fans access to this incredible event. They have also increased accessibility shuttles from the campsites, provided a wheelchair charging station and increased their accessible portaloos by 50% on last year. This continual thought and attention to feedback is impressive, and Download is one of the few festivals out there who seem to be really improving access year on year, in all kinds of different ways. Bravo.
So, the Arena. If you’re a rock or metal fan and you haven’t been to Download before, all I can say is, it’s like coming home. All the beautiful freaks are right here with their astral hair, their pleather and fishnets, jackets covered in patches and piercings in every available inch of spare skin, tattoos blooming from black tshirts and ripped jeans. Oh and at this point in the day, approximately half of them are jammed in a never-ending queue to buy merch. Bah. Tips for next year DL – employ at least twice as many staff for this please, it was obnoxious.
Extortionately priced t-shirts in hand, we stride down the hill to catch up with the mighty Dragonforce who have gathered a massive crowd for ‘Cry Thunder’, prophetically as the rain begins to spit. Thankfully that’s where the correlation ends, but it is still pretty ridiculous when they yell “We are Dragonforce… we come from right here in sunny England…”. Frontman Marc Hudson also lets us know that they “…are filming every single song of this set… so the rest of the world sees how fucking crazy the UK is” which obviously sparks a frenzy for the next song, only to fall foul of technical difficulties. If sod wrote a law, the page would be titled ‘Dragonforce’ today. Laughing “It’s so great when your mic cuts out in front of thousands of people…” they deal with it gracefully and end on a high with ‘Through the Fire and Flames’. Oh and no, I’m still not over Herman Li’s majestic hair swishing. Werk.
Yorkshire band Marmozets fronted by enigmatic Becca Macintyre are straddling the line of hipster rock, almost too current-cool for Download but they certainly know what they’re doing. Yelling out “Last year I was camping with you lot” Becca hops around in bright pink trousers whilst a Darth Maul in the crowd is going absolutely mental with his inflatable lightsaber.
Over on the Zippo Encore stage, self-professed king of the party Andrew WK has amassed an army of bemused onlookers, if not actual fans. Yes he’s kitschy, yes he rocks up in pre-dirtied white jeans and yes he pulls faces like a more demonic Jim Carrey, but well, he’s our weirdo. The rock community is strangely proud of him. Fan fave ‘She is Beautiful’ is silly and fun and I really rate a dude who can build anticipation with the line “…and now it is time… for me to play a guitar shaped like a slice of pizza”. No really, damn I love that pizza guitar. As if he wasn’t margarita-cheesy enough he calls “It’s not Andrew UK… it’s Andrew DOUBLE UK, double the power!” and then proceeds to do an actual 100-1 countdown for anthem ‘Party Hard’. It is frankly ridiculous that everyone likes this terrible track so very much. I of course am bouncing around with them.
Now for something completely different, in the form of Danish metalheads Volbeat. Now Volbeat are no strangers to DL but they never seem to be hyped up either, someone you know but wouldn’t flock to. Not so today my friends, Volbeat are here to slay. The enormous crowd that has surrounded the main stage is singing along to ‘Lola Montez’ and frontman Michael Poulson’s Elvis-esque lilt is refreshingly different to your standard screamer vs. power vocal camps. As if to highlight the difference in fact, Barney of Napalm Death fame (who have a set later on) is brought in for a quick collab on ‘Evelyn’ with his distinctly unintelligible shrieking, but oh we do love a bit of Barney don’t we. ‘Still Counting’ goes down a storm for their last song and honestly, I think they are arguably the band of the day for me.
On the zippo stage, Hell is for Heroes have about 30 people down the front watching them, which is kinda sad actually as they were by no means awful at all, and their cover of The Cure’s ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ was decent. However, I think they definitely fell foul of their timeslot – everyone seems to be getting their food and booze situation sorted before tonight’s headliners.
That’s something we should really mention actually, the food. It’s been getting steadily better every year at DL but this year was off-the-charts excellent. An incredible variety but also quality, gone of the days of rat-burgers and CMOT-Dibbler style saugages-inna-bun. Truth be told, you can still buy a box of suspect noodles if you want the real Doningtons-past experience but why would you? We instead grabbed ourselves a stack of butter-milk chicken in a brioche bun and a side of poutine. Effing decadent.
In the Avalanche tent Bad Religion are shutting it down, rocking on to an intro of ‘My Sharona’ and looking decidedly less punk than they used to. No worries though, they sound exactly as good as they ever have with the likes of ‘Recipe for Hate’ and Tony Hawk Pro Skater hit ‘You’. Yelling “Everyone gearing up for a big weekend huh? I got some bad news… we can’t stay for the whole weekend… there was a backstage clause, Axl kicked us out…” the band head into the excellent ‘Anesthesia’. ‘Infected’ is the sound of the 90’s and the packed out crowd is straight up loving it.
As we head back out to the main arena for Avenged Sevenfold, as huge crowd has already gathered and though we are donning toastier clothing for the chilly night, we’re still damn thankful for the minimal rain today. To read what we thought of A7X’s headline show, click the link below!
Weather report: still holding, patches of sun spotted but we’re keeping quiet because we don’t want to jinx it. Still packed a poncho.
Monster Truck are providing the heavy rock sounds as we head into the afternoon, already drunk people are taking enormous risks with their phones on the high-flying sky-swing (do it for the ‘gram y’all) and lunchtime calls for another foray into the plethora of nourishment offerings. Seriously, vegan sushi, paella, duck fat roasted potatoes, a bowl of crumble and ice cream, wings, burritos, tapas, full roast chicken dinner? You want it, they have it. Oh and the now famous Motley Brew are serving up an array of hot beverages in real mugs, and they even have seats. You can take your Coachella VIP champagne and caviar and shove it up yer arse, we’re British. We like a CUPPA and a GOOD SIT DOWN.
One very notable thing on walking/squeezing around the arena today – it is RAMMED. Day sales for G’n’R must have been good this year because it is truly packed. Local lads The Struts give it big on the main stage shouting “You know we used to live in Derby just down the road… and we used to come to this festival and stand where you’re standing now… it’s incredible to be up on this stage” to a roar from the crowd. We love a hometown hero, but I’m less convinced on their actual show. I mean, they’re not bad as such, just a bit wet compared to everything else I’ve seen this weekend. The Temperance Movement however, muster all the southern soul a grey afternoon needs to get with the programme, and indeed they seem to bring out the sun a little. ‘Trouble’ and ‘Midnight Black’ are phenomenal and it’s more than a little hard to believe boho frontman Phil Campbell, with his maracas and tambourine, swaying in a lace shirt – is actually Glaswegian.
Thunder step on stage to AC/DC track, er, Thunderstruck. Well, why wouldn’t you. ‘Wonder Days’ and ‘River of Pain’ are pretty epic, it’s so great to see a band who are just absolute pro’s at what they do. Joking “Hands up who wasn’t even born in the 90’s” makes for disturbing viewing (thanks for that, Thunder, so kind) but they are absolutely killing it so I’ll let them off.
Over at Zippo Encore, there is no longer any visible section of floor. This is the busiest I’ve ever witnessed this arena without it being a headliner for sure. It seems like Babymetal’s fan base is a lot larger than anticipated and to be honest, sheer fascination seems to be driving a large portion of people in rather than actual fandom. Podium platforms for dance showcase the three firecracker leads who are sporting gold and black Xena-warrior-princess style outfits. Yeah it’s super kawaii nonsense but the music is actually decent and hit ‘Chocolate’ is both ridiculous and annoyingly catchy. I sort of love them.
Onto something we can pretty much all agree on. Kentucky kings Black Stone Cherry are Download’s biggest love story. A band championed by fans ever since their first showing here back in 2008, a decade of repeat requests for their billing, and it’s no wonder why. They are honestly flawless, vocalist Chris Robertson is arguably one of the best rock and roll singers going, he soars through ‘Blind Man’ in the now blazing sunshine, and everyone around us is singing their hearts out alongside him. Thankfully this time ‘Rain Wizard’ doesn’t coincide with a hideous downpour, as it did a few years ago, and ‘Me and Mary Jane’ has the entire crowd bouncing. A cover of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ is made for this Wayne’s World worshipping crowd – yes, we did dance like Garth, yes it was magical. ‘Like I Roll’ and ‘Blame it on the Boom Boom’ see crowd-surfers flailing towards the front and ‘Lonely Train’ is just, incredible. Closing up with ‘Family Tree’ from the new album, this has been yet another epic showing from BSC and we hope to see them back again soon.
With a huge chunk of time before Guns’n’Roses we lope off in search of sustenance, beer and portaloos as the evening draws in. It’s been an incredible day here at Donington and we are suitably amped up for the closest we’ve ever been to a full G’N’R lineup…
WOAH. It is HOT today. Not England hot, like equatorial hot. Everyone either has the sheen of well slathered sunblock or is already burnt to a crisp and the whole place after three days of booze and no showers, smells like an armpit. A rowdy afternoon starts with the likes of Turbonegro and Kreator on the Zippo Encore stage and Hatebreed are throwing down on the main stage, yelling “This is for Dimebag, Lemmy, Chris Cornell, Chester (Bennington)… I wanna see every fist in the sky” for ‘Perseverance’. It is at this moment that a small bi-plane flies overhead with a banner reading “Jesus loves every 1 of U” and the fists become horns. Hard to tell whether it’s a joke or we’re actually the subject of some local zealot’s fear, but either way everyone is laughing and trying to take poor phone photos of it.
In This Moment bring the strange and unusual next, with everything from priestess costumes, skulls and pentagrams to choral music and interpretive dance. I don’t really know what to make of them if I’m honest. They sound like metal-Bjork. Is it a good thing? I mean I do like the toilet-paper costume, but their mini cover of Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ is a little upsetting. I did laugh at the Game of Thrones Cersei-style ‘Shame’ poster situation, but there is a nice sentiment behind it all; “…this is what I was told when I was just a girl, that I would amount to absolute shit, that I would become nothing at all… this last song is about rising above other people’s perceptions” – for ‘Whore’, accompanied by huge white balloons being batted around the crowd.
Black Veil Brides sport pyrotechnics and screaming, standard. It’s decent but they are eclipsed by next up: Shinedown. Super appropriately it is scorching hot right now and they are smashing their way through some straight up great rock and roll. Motivational as ever, frontman Brent Smith invites everyone to shake hands with a stranger next to them, and hit ‘State of my Head’ goes down a storm. “Take a look at the history you’re making this afternoon… ladies and gentlemen you look absolutely spectacular today” yells Smith, and I must sincerely disagree, we look fried, tired, sweaty and smashed. But I do appreciate the love.
Over in Avalanche, happy pop punk legends A are playing to a packed out tent, which is suspiciously full of pale people avoiding the sun-monster. Riffing on their age “hands up if you’re over the age of 30… hands up if you’ve got 2 properties… you know when bands re-form and they’re like 20 years older and you’re like why are they bothering? We just really fucking enjoy this” the band speaks to a place in all of us, who are genuinely here for the same reason – even if we’re sort of proper grown ups now. Oh and they start an over-30’s circle pit, cause it’s funny to go home to your office job with two black eyes, right?
Now, was anyone else truly alarmed by the sight of Marilyn Manson in daylight? I was. I thought he was going to spontaneously combust, burst aflame, incinerated by the power of sunlight. I mean he’s so pale as to be almost translucent – at one point he turned sideways and I swear I could see a passing plane through his face. However, it’s an absolute treat to have the master of the macabre here at Donington and he does not disappoint, rolling in with ‘Irresponsible Hate Anthem’ backed by a giant inverted monochrome crossed American flag.
Sporting a knuckle-duster mic and a long black trench, it takes all of about two minutes before he looks as though he’s sweating his ass off and has to ditch the look, pogo-ing down the runway he calls “Thank you for coming out in daylight… it’s like the opposite of our lives… do you like daytime? I don’t… we’re kind of stuck here together with daytime… let’s deal with it” perhaps displaying a little animosity towards the scheduling. It’s true, his show and music both lend themselves to a dark and brooding atmosphere, it’s a little hard to get caught up in the bloodlust when the big tattooed bloke standing next to you is eating a 99 with a flake.
‘Disposable Teens’ is obviously solid gold but it’s more than a little amusing that due to there being no option to control the lighting, we get to see people rush on an off stage during the show to dress Manson in various different outfits. More amusing still is that it is genuinely too hot for any of it and he keeps having to peel it all off himself within minutes. He’s clearly frustrated about it too “It’s very difficult, but together we can accomplish it… like having sex with the lights on”.
‘mOBSCENE’ comes with a vampiric Manson backdrop and during ‘Kill4Me’ he drags a crowd-surfing mega-fan on stage with him. She’s head to-toe Manson-merch and is sporting an “I’d Kill 4 you” flag, obviously ecstatic to hug him as he slaps her ass and sends her on her way, before togging up in an enormous Howl-like (of Moving Castle fame) black feathered trench-coat. Think, demonic Big Bird.
Talking to us as he emerges from a corner of the stage “I was just having a moment with my personal physician, with my eyesight and the sun…” it’s not clear whether that’s a joke or he’s ahem, getting medicated, but it seems extremely apt that we head into ‘The Dope Show’. ‘Sweet Dreams’ is breathy and brilliant, there’s some writhing around a smoking podium which looks rather uncomfortable, and a little bit of using drum sticks to hit a bass guitar. It’s a bit off, and I can’t put my finger on why. Dani Filth joins the action for ‘The Beautiful People’ and unfortunately he finishes up a little slow with ‘Cry Little Sister’. I’ll be honest – Download have definitely seen him better, and I hope next time we can at least give him the night.
Closing up the Avalanche for the weekend are Sweden’s mischievous mayhem peddlars – The Hives. We’ve seen them in white suits, we’ve seen them in black suits, and today – they’ve sown them together for half and half suits. Aesthetic on point. Yelling “Did you miss us? It’s good to see again isn’t it? Did you miss this face?” it’s clear they are here for fun, and they have lost absolutely none of their famous energy and life. ‘Die, Alright’ is awesome and ‘Hate To Say I Told you So’ brings back a wave of college memories, of afternoons in dingy pubs and cover bands. “We have come to the part of the show where we expect way more applause than we are getting…” garners a massive roar from the absolutely packed tent, and “…this is reparations for all the shit we stole from you in Viking times… we’re giving it back in the form of musical treasure!” makes everyone laugh. They are an unstoppable force, jumping from amps and swinging mic stands around their heads with wild abandon, they just look like they’re having the absolute best time, and so are we.
As the sun begins to set we head back to find a spot in the main arena, cover up our burnt bods and grab a beer before our final headliner – Ozzy Osbourne. It has been yet again an incredible weekend and if you’ve never experienced Download before, I can scarcely describe it to you without gushing. It’s a well-oiled machine and you don’t get this kind of bang for your buck anywhere else, I have witnessed a host of the best in rock and metal, in a field with my friends. Does it get better than that?
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.
Day two of Download and arguably the most anticipated revival in rock history topping the bill tonight. Yes yes, we’ve all seen some other iteration of Guns’N’Roses… the one where Axl turned up an hour late, got bottled and slipped over… the one where everyone hated Chinese Democracy… the one where Slash just came and did his own thing and everyone completely loved it and uh, Velvet Revolver. But this is it. As close as we’re ever gonna get to a feud-less, most-members, sort-of-real G’n’f’n’R. For those of us born too late to have worn snakeskin and chains in the heyday, when leather was acceptable for every item of clothing, it’s a chance to jump into a bit of history and live the 80’s Sunset strip for a couple of hours.
In an extraordinary turn of events (which I am led to believe is mainly due to extremely fierce contract rules) the band hit the stage BANG ON TIME. It’s so incredibly unlikely and unheard of, it appears to take the crowd by surprise and a frantic legging-it-back from portaloos and food stalls ensues as the first notes of ‘It’s So Easy’ ring out.
Emerging in jeans that are more rip than denim and the inevitable plaid shirt tied around his waist, Axl’s unmistakable nasal tones signal the start of something special. Massive runway steps around the stage promise great views for even those at the back of the main stage arena, which is helpful considering this is probably the most packed it has ever been here at Donington.
Blasting through ‘Mr. Brownstone’ with hilarious backing vocals by… everyone, we’re so happy that even ‘Chinese Democracy’ itself doesn’t upset us. This is undeniably what we came here for, I mean even if Axl isn’t rocking a kilt and wellington boots, Slash looks precisely the same as he ever did (have we ever seen his actual head before?), Duff is still rocking a Prince logo on his bass, visuals of the band logo are plastered over all available screens and they sound downright incredible.
A crowd-wide Guns-and-Roses chant arises as the epic intro for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ begins, and of course Axl milks the “you know where you are?” part. I just wish, just a little bit, that he’d have customised it for “you’re in Donington baby!” but oh well, he’s donned a different leather jacket and a hat for this so I guess that’s, interesting.
Classic Wings cover ‘Live and Let Die’ is spectacular, but honestly they kinda ruined Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’. It’s just not made for Axl’s rasp. ‘Rocket Queen’ in the blazing sunshine is the stuff rock and roll dreams are made of, and Axl has swapped into a fetching white leather jacket with a Crocodile Dundee-esque hat. I’m not sure I totally understand the outfit swaps to be honest, are they just all his favourites? Like a kid taking too many soft-toys to bed? They don’t seem to bear relevance to the set list, I mean if he’d come back on stage dressed as a rocket, or for that matter a queen, I’d be considerably more impressed.
Now I won’t lie, there’s a bit of a lull here in the middle. It’s a 3 hour set which seems to have been set up to include Appetizer, Siesta, Dessert, as far as planning goes. There are some absolute highlights of course – Terminator track ‘You Could Be Mine’ with a host of tron-esque graphcs is amazing and obviously any time Slash is rocking a solo you just shut up and enjoy. The Godfather theme tune ‘Speak Softly Love’ isn’t exactly ripe for the sing-along, but it is pretty spectacular.
Now clearly ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ is going to be well received no matter what, but Axl-more-changes-than-RuPaul-Rose goes wild, with er, a red bandana and tan hat combo. It’s a dream to hear live and the entire crowd is air-guitaring along with Slash, as it should be. A beautifully soulful cover of ‘Witchita Lineman’ has the younger contingent scratching their heads a bit, and Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is top notch too, but it’s now dawning on us that at least half of this 3 hour behemoth of a set isn’t actually going to be Guns n Roses songs. Go figure.
‘November Rain’ sees a raft of on stage pyro simulating rain due to the unusually dry conditions this year, which we are all super thankful for by the way, and a giant black grand piano is wheeled out, with a teeny weeny motorbike stool for Axl to sit on. It’s more than a little bit comical. Sorry. Then again I’m sure he cares not a jot, seeing as we’re treated to some up-close shots of his hands tickling the ivories, and one of them is adorned by an obscenely huge rectangular sapphire ring that looks like it could knuckle-dust you into another dimension. Slash is now up on the top gangway wailing for all he’s worth, and the skies are turning pink and blue above us, it’s so perfect I want to puke. As if that wasn’t enough, we’re treated to (yes, another cover…) Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ with an intro suspiciously familiar to Westworld fans in the crowd, which honestly makes me wary that Axl has actually been replaced by a host. It’s the only explanation for his turning up on time.
Snapping back to the big guns we’re treated to ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ with Axl in a fringed jacket, and then the absolute classic ‘Night Train’ before an extremely brief pause for the encore. The signature whistle signals the intro for ‘Patience’ and Axl quips “…we’re going to play an English folk tune” before launching into a cover of The Who’s ‘The Seeker’ whilst wearing a Union Jack emblazoned hat. Finishing up with a final change into a studded leather jacket we get the big one, ‘Paradise City’. It’s everything it should be, loud, large and classic. Fireworks top off what was an incredible, if slightly lengthier than it needed to be, show. There’s no denying Guns’n’Roses were meant for Download Festival, it’s been a long time coming.
The rain has held off all day, we’ve weedled our way into the middle of the black sea of metal-tees – beer in hand, and it’s time for the first headliner of Download Festival 2018 – Avenged Sevenfold. Heading out onto the Donington stage for the first time in 2006, A7X have been firm favourites at the festival, returning in 2011 and then 2014 to headline, but this is something else entirely.
The stage is set with a raft of giant screens depicting stone murals and front-man Shadows appears in his now signature garb of a red and black plaid shirt and an Axl-style bandana strapped around his head, yelling something or other about Jesus, as the band scream straight into the entirely apt ‘The Stage’. ‘Afterlife’ is heralded by a bombardment of pyrotechnics in the form of massive flame cannons, which serve to singe the whiskers off anyone in the front five rows, and to the surprise of many around us – they’re absolutely nailing it. I suppose the problem with A7X has always been their willingness to explore so many different styles of rock and metal, from prog to hardcore and everything in-between. They’re not ‘that’ polarising band that you either love or hate, they’re just somewhere in the middle, where a song or two might chime with what you like. As such, it can be hard to accept their set as anything other than a mash-up of whatever they feel like that day, but honestly, today it’s more like an expert tour through metal as a genre.
Vengeance and Synyster are back to back, playing intricate harmonies and it’s clear that from a sheer musical perspective, they deserve their top of the bill spot here at Download. Yelling “It’s our favourite goddamn place in the world to play” is always guaranteed a roar from the crowd in the UK, whether it’s true or not, but the sheer force and power of ‘Hail to the King’ rings the sentiment true, and here’s where it gets interesting. Taking more than a small cue from metal legends Iron Maiden I’m sure, a giant zombified king is ushered in from the back of the stage to ‘crawl’ above the band and inexplicably, to sing along. This kind of production is usually the reserve of giants like Maiden or Viking Power-metal bands who just really believe in their storyline, but hey, maybe that’s what the current festival scene is lacking? The 90’s and noughties saw a phase of rock and metal where any kind of gimmick or even loud clothing was considered tacky and unprofessional, leaving a hole in big-scale shows which covered the entertainment factor, as well as musical prowess. Are we due a proper resurgence of pantomime metal? I’m not sure it’s a bad thing, it keeps things interesting in a long set at the end of a busy day of bands, and who doesn’t love an enormous skeletal king having a sing-song anyway?
With a sobering video tribute to former drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan who died in 2009, they head into ‘So Far Away’, followed by the massive ‘Nightmare’. Yelling out “…we’re taking it back to the beginning, none of that shit we’ve been playing all year, this one’s just for you” the band roll into a track from their second album – ‘Eternal Rest’. Just when you thought it couldn’t get weirder, yet another giant installation is floated out above them on stage… a humungous skeletal space-suited spectre, as grim as it is spectacular, and the screens change to dark starry skies as the night truly sets in over Donington Park as the band hit the ahem, high notes of ‘Higher’.
A cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is dedicated to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who was reported to have committed suicide in the early hours of the morning, and Shadows implores anyone who is struggling – to seek help; “…we lost Anthony Bourdain today. It may seem silly but he’s a guy that showed us all different cultures and different people… that we’re all equal… so reach out, we all feel the same way”.
Bringing things back to a safer, louder space ‘Shepherd of Fire’ inevitably sees the stage… well… on fire. Pretty much all of it in fact. You’ve got to wonder what their total carbon footprint is for this entire set. Joking “We’re gonna have some fun… all the people who hate us have gone back to their tents”, A7X finish up with ‘A little piece of Heaven’ a delightful song about murder and necrophilia, and then ‘Unholy Confessions’. No really, and the entire crowd is singing along as if it were as normal as a school assembly hymn. I mean, metal has always been known for hitting up risqué topics but there’s something undeniably jolly and therefore unnerving about this. If there’s one thing you can say about Avenged Sevenfold, it’s that they’re not afraid to go there. Well, anywhere really. Tonight was a triumph of their absolute willingness to do whatever the fuck they want. Bravo I say.
Download Festival,the world’s premier rock event, has announced some of the biggest rock acts in the world including Marilyn Manson, Parkway Drive, Rise Against, BODY COUNT ft. ICE T and more. The three-day festival takes place 8-10 June 2018 at the spiritual home of rock in Donington Park, Leicestershire. Tickets are on sale now at downloadfestival.co.uk/tickets.
Download is proud to welcome back the Antichrist Superstar himself Marilyn Manson,fresh off the release of critically acclaimed new album Heaven Upside Down. The goth rock veteran is more energised than ever and set to bring his renowned live show to Donington next year.
Since 2003 Aussie rock titans Parkway Drive have gone from strength-to-strength, pushing boundaries with their epic live performances. Having ascended to the forefront of modern metal with their latest critically acclaimed album Ire, their ferocious crushing breakdowns and stadium-sized choruses have them high on people’s lists for future headliner contenders.
Parkway Drive said:
“Parkway Drive are super stoked to be returning to Download for 2018. It's always a highlight for us to play Download and this time around we're aiming to top it all. We can't wait!”
British modern metal institution Bullet for My Valentine have also been confirmed to perform at Download Festival next year. The Welsh powerhouse have conquered the heights of Wembley Arena along with fellow UK torchbearers Asking Alexandria whowill be taking to the stage with a hero’s return of their original infamous vocalist Danny Worsnop.
Matt Tuck of Bullet For My Valentine said:
“We're so excited to be playing next year's Download Festival!! It's been 5 long years now since we last performed at Donington Park, so we're more than ready to get back on that legendary stage and do what we do best. See you there!”
Ben Bruce of Asking Alexandria said:
“We have been waiting for half a decade to say this again, “DOWNLOAD WE ARE COMING FOR YA!”. Download festival is hands down one of the most exciting festivals in the world to play and so we have decided to bring our biggest show to date over with us. We cannot wait to see you all there. In the words of this year’s legendary headliner, Mama I’m coming home”
Pivotalpunk rock heroes Rise Against will have fists thrown in the air, with their ferocious socio-political rock. Expect a high energy, kinetic performance from one of the world’s biggest authentic punk bands, who’ve proved their lasting worth to the genre.Joining the line up are LA Glam Rockers Black Veil Brides, Swedish extreme tech-metal trail blazers Meshuggah, and post hardcore legends Alexisonfire whose performance will be a long-awaited return to Download Festival.
Mind-blowing “metal phenomenon on a mission”BABYMETALare confirmed to make their second official Download performance. This UK exclusive appearance will see the return of their thunderous metal, mixed with infectious J-pop that’s taken the world by storm. With figurehead Ice T at the helm, Body Count’s mix of harsh political messages and powerful hard-core sensibilities have made the rap metal icons unmissable, as well as In This Moment who are led by the entrancing Maria Brink and ready to bring a gothic, industrial, metal spectacle to make Download proud.
“We are so happy to announce that we will be playing at Download UK!! We were last there in 2016 and it is an absolute honour to be returning to this prestigious festival next year. Can’t wait to go back and see everyone there!”
Purveyors of garage-punk noise The Hives are confirmed, with frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist guaranteed to leave no stone unturned with a set of frantic non-stop rock n’ roll. Making their Download Festival debut are pop punks scousers WSTR who have propelled themselves throughout the last year, as well as emo pop favourites Mayday Parade who are hot off the back of a successful ten-year anniversary tour.
Selling out Brixton Academy and making massive waves as the break out luminaries of UK pop-punk, Wrexham five-piece Neck Deep are returning to Download Festival along with Seattle’s The Pink Slips with their fusion of “synth-pop, punk, dance and vintage rock ‘n’ roll”, fronted by the ferocious GRAVE, daughter of Guns N’ Roses’ Duff McKagan. Last but no means least are rising stars Dream State with their no-nonsense, melodic emo rock which has earned them their debut Download appearance.
Download Festival is the home of rock music and takes place on the sacred grounds of Donington Park, which have been associated with rock since the eighties. The festival attracts icons of rock to its main stage, plus some of the best and hottest new acts in the world. AC/DC, KISS, Metallica, Black Sabbath, The Prodigy, Rage Against The Machine, Slipknot, Linkin Park and many more have all headlined its main stage.