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.
With the sun tentatively out again Downloaders can rejoice at the first dry festival in god knows how many years, no wellies required!
Rock supergroup The Dead Daisies, heavily promoted on Planet Rock over the last few months, are absolutely living up to the hype with their classic rock and roll vibes. Another band to note the recent terror attacks in the UK, vocalist John Corabi calls out “We heard about what’s going on in Manchester… London… it's only gonna get better with love… peace” to a roar of applause from the crowd before busting out ‘Main Line’.
Over on the main stage, Southern rockers The Cadillac Three are making the most of the sunshine with their unmistakable country twang and slide guitar. They are absolutely as redneck as you imagine, it’s awesome. Next up are Gothenburg gods, In Flames with an enormous circle pit and a lot of complaining out their miniature cooler of beer (okay, it really is ridiculously small.) “We are Swedish people and we love beer… and this is what we got… (tiny cool box) we are gonna be great anyway but this is a disgrace! I’m just gonna put it here to remind us of all the suffering and struggle we have to make this shit happen”Anders Friden jokes it’s their “Spinal tap moment”. ‘Take This Life’ is incredible and the arena atmosphere is wild, there’s even a Teletubby in the circle pit going mental.
Next up, Aussie rockers Airbourne are as topless and naughty as ever, but you can see that security are on edge in case Joel ‘deathwish’ O’Keeffe tries any of his mental rig-climbing shit again. On the Encore stage Ministry are going off, with frontman Al Jourgensen yelling “this is a new song… if you think it fucking sucks, throw shit at us. If you like it, go buy the record and our tshirts and shit. I’m a promosexual”. They’ve got a massive crowd in front of them and are giving it everything they’ve got, it’s one of the most storming sets of the weekend.
Despite the fact that the arena is packed for Steel Panther, I can’t see anything different to last time they played Donington. The same misogynistic garbage is being spouted, and yes I know it’s satire but it’s a bit dated now, don’t you think? It’s a shame because they’re obviously talented musicians, but it’s hard to get past all the shit Spinal Tap stuff to see it. As usual they’re pulling loads of girls from the crowd to join them on stage, but it’s clear the TV crew are steering clear of the boob shots, probably due to the fact that these girls are of indeterminate age.
Clutch however are pure rock and roll heroes. After an initial rocky start with the guitars not being right, Neil Fallon quips “we are Clutch… we are professional musicians” before heading into ‘Your Love Is Incarceration’ and the powerfully epic‘X-Ray Visions’. Having been on the Download vetran list for a few years now, Fallon jokes “I think this is the most gorgeous day I’ve ever experienced here at Download, thanks for arranging that, Mr lighting director”. ‘Sucker for the Witch’ is amazing, and who doesn’t love a band who aren’t afraid to use a cowbell? On the other hand, they didn’t play ‘Electric Worry’…
Onward to Opeth, who honestly look like vampires about to combust in the late sun, they’re musically impressive don’t get me wrong, but much more of a band-of-the-brooding-night, am I right?
Big Four metal gods Slayer are up next, and Kerry King is sporting a blood-splattered axe while frontman Tom Araya let’s us know how tonight is going to go down “We’re all here for the same thing… smiling and getting hit and stuff. Its always nice to see happy people”. KK absolutely shreds like a beast, massive chains swinging from his leather trousers while his braided beard whips back and forth. The crowd is enormous and rafts of extra security have been drafted in to deal with the constant stream of crowd surfers coming over the barrier, including one particularly unfortunate gringo (he was wearing a poncho) who was bleeding profusely from the nose after recklessly going over on his stomach. He looked pretty proud about it to be honest. ‘South of Heaven’ and ‘Reign In Blood’ are obviously incredible, there’s something utterly spellbinding about hearing those metal anthems in real life.
An hour clear of everything else finishing, a cold night has come out of nowhere and underdressed metalheads are huddling together under the darkening sky. O Fortuna ominously blasts out of the huge array of speaker stacks flanked by giant screens offering up the Aerosmith Aero-Vederci logo and images of the bands’ past. As this is their departing tour, the tribute is expected but kind of lacks the oomph of last years’ farewell to Black Sabbath, maybe it’s because Black Sabbath were homegrown heroes, I don’t know. As Steve Tyler takes to the stage dressed in his usual hippy garb of sequins, frills and flouncy scarves, a massive roar goes up from the astonishingly large crowd.
Having seen Instagram posts earlier on from daughter Liv Tyler, of her and Steve riding the stage-side big wheel earlier on, looking out over the site, I wonder what it feels like to be playing these last shows. At nearly seventy years old I can imagine it’s relief and sadness all rolled into one. Throwing around the mic stand (also bedecked in a floaty scarf, obviously) Steve belts out the likes of ‘Young Lust’, ‘Cryin’ and ‘Living on the Edge’ and it’s like you’re right back at the beginning of their career with them. Well… apart from the incredibly shit fire graphics engulfing Tyler on the screens, it looks like they’ve grabbed them from the original Duke Nukem.
The band themselves are so practiced, so pro, that you wouldn’t know they’d aged a day. ‘Love in an Elevator’ powerfully resonates around the arena and Tyler leads on with a frank statement “I remember checking into rehab one time and hearing the abuse in the world people get… especially women… and thats why Janie’s got a gun”.
After a brief Joe Perry solo, alongside what appears to be a video of his holiday snaps… we get the awesome ‘Stop Messin Around’ and ‘Oh Well’ Fleetwood Mac covers as Tyler writhes around on the giant floor logo. We are treated to every bit of Aerosmith history, harmonicas, rattlesnake shakers and of course ‘Sweet Emotion’, though the wind has picked up and Tyler has to requisition a hat from the crowd to keep his hair out of his mouth. It happens to the best of us pal.
‘I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing’ sees everyone in the arena grabbing hold of each other and swaying, while a million phone screens light up the sky. It might not have the prettiness of the 70’s lighters but hey, we’re living in the age of technology. ‘Rag Doll’ includes the use of the most ridiculous and majestic megaphone ever. It is bejewelled with rhinestones inside and out, and Beatles cover ‘Come Together’ is just phenomenal.
‘Dude (looks like a lady’ is hilarious fun with guys prancing around in front of us, but the encore sees a white grand piano brought down onto the gangway for Tyler to play the heartbreakingly beautiful ‘Dream On’ after a mention of the recent UK terror attacks “When you dream good dreams… good things can come true… Aerosmith is dreaming with you… Dream On”. Standing atop the piano, the band show us the true meaning of a ‘show’, something few modern bands really do anymore, it’s a picture I’ll never forget.
Saying goodbye with ‘Walk This Way’, ticker tape explosions and blasts from smoke cannons, it’s hard to comprehend that we’ll never get to see them again. That those bands we grew up listening to, our rock history, is becoming just that, a thing of legend. Aero-vederci to one of the greats.
A packed arena tentatively awaits the dropping of the giant white screen across the front of the BOA stage, as we prepare to close out Bloodstock Open Air 2016 with one of the biggest metal bands of all time, the almighty Slayer.
As the curtain drops the thrash legends throw down hard, opening with titular track of their most recent album ‘Repentless’ amidst a stage almost sagging with the weight of the insane pyrotechnics they’ve rigged. Flanked by two humongous inverted crosses made from amps, which are actually there to shoot massive bursts of flame out onto the stage, it’s frankly amazing that drummer Paul Bostaph still has eyebrows.
When the flame cannons aren’t firing the back of the stage is alight with flame runners behind the band and the backdrop depicting an artistically creepy Christ image is reminder that Slayer one hundred percent do not give a fuck about offending anyone. Hell, the multiple law suits brought against the band have merely become a woven part of their society-defying history, so it’s pretty much par for course.
Kerry King, wielding his fork-headed axe and a belt of swinging chains shreds through the likes of ‘Disciple’, ‘When The Stillness Comes’ and ‘Mandatory Suicide’. Yelling out “You guys having fun today? Another year at this bloodfest!” it’s clear the guys are enjoying this one, and the thousands of windmilling heads in the crowd seem to agree.
King calls out “Thank you very much for coming today, cause we’re all here to have some fucking fun right?” before introducing ‘Die By The Sword’ with a quick quip on recent terror events around the world “The words are kinda fitting with all this crazy shit going on. I believe in karma, what comes around, goes around”. This is a band with such presence and power, you could bottle and sell it. As the Christ curtain drops to reveal the band’s famous eagle logo, an almighty roar goes up in the crowd before the band smash through ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ and they joke “You guys are here because you love music right? So we’re gonna do a love song…” for ‘Dead Skin Mask’.
After a short cut of the lights, Slayer pull out the big guns for the encore. ‘South of Heaven’ has one of the most memorable refrains of all time but it’s ‘Raining Blood’ that gets every single one of our little black hearts beating, and you just don’t know whiplash unless you’ve headbanged to Slayer.
A final banner drop shows a giant Heineken style logo with the words ‘Hanneman, still reigning’ to commemorate Slayer’s late founding member and guitarist, Jeff Hanneman who passed away in 2013. Going out with enough pyro to feel the warmth from the sound desk Slayer hit hard with ‘Angel of Death’ and it’s all over too soon. There is often much dispute over which bands could or should headline Bloodstock and to some extent it all comes down to preference, but Slayer are and have always been one of those bands you just can’t argue with. Tonight, they proved once again why they are metal royalty.