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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!