By Howard Keogh – Our Intrepid Reporter / Purveyor of Fine Wine
It’s that time of year again. Midsummer is nearly upon us and Liggers, Loggers, Bloggers, Blaggers and a good smattering of Daft Buggers congregate on the hallowed turf of Donington Park for the annual metal bash that is the Download festival 2013. This year there are again 5 stages and the addition of a zip wire that spans from one side of the main Arena to the other for all those Adrenaline junkies who need more excitement than the 150 plus bands scheduled to defile our ear drums over the next three days.
After a stiff drink to “get the creative juices flowing” we are off, first stop the Red Bull Studios stage to see Hammer of the Gods a U.K. band (not to be confused with the Led Zeppelin tribute band of the same name formed by Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy) who released their first 3 track EP in 2011.These guys gained a reputation while touring in support of Crowbar and have all adopted their names from Greek mythology. They bring down the hammer on the audience in their own particular style, clad in Black robes and masks, while interlacing a menacing guitar with a screaming vocal line.
Rise to Remain, who have played before but last year had their slot cancelled due to the abysmal weather conditions. This year the weather so far is better than last but as any seasoned Donington pilgrim will tell you anything can happen. The 5 piece metalcore band who today show off a new rhythm section was formed by Ben Tovey, Will Homer, and Austin Dickinson (son of Iron Maiden front man Bruce) One could be forgiven for thinking it was Bruce when Austin speaks to the crowd, however this all changes once the music begins. The band finish their set with the vocalist making a visit down into the crowd for an “Up close and personal” finale.
Another British hardcore band Palm Reader who have just released their debut album “Bad Weather” are the second band on the Pepsi max stage. This band whose promise on their website “We play loud, we play heavy, we play hard, we play fast” is true to their word as even the air in the tent vibrates with the excruciating volume.
A change of tempo then as we visit Zippo encore stage for elder Statesmen of Prog Rock Uriah Heep, who have been treading the boards for more years than many a punter here today can remember, having formed in 1969. The weather has been interfering with proceedings again but Heep claim they are loud enough to “Blow away the clouds” as the rain has stopped for their set. The years have been kind to them and today we are treated to outstanding performances on both drums and Keyboards. They treat us to a collection from their 23 album career that includes “Gypsy” and they finish up with the classic “Easy living”.
Its afternoon, it’s raining, however this does nothing to dampen the spirits of an eager crowd as Dragonforce take to the boards of the second stage. From the off singer Marc Hudson has the crowd onside as he urges the crowd to clap while guitarist and Keyboard player duel it out in an aural assault of speed and power metal. This London based band is obviously enjoying their return to home turf after a US tour. We are treated to 2 tunes from their 2012 album “The Power within” in the shape of “Cry Thunder” and “Seasons”. With a new album due in early 2014 the band finishes their set with their best known tune “Through the fire and flames”. One can’t help feeling the band is a little short changed here as the audience seem to have run out of steam at the end of this great performance.
Next we come to one of the gems of the weekend In this Moment. The stage is decorated with a pair of macabre garden arches, bedecked with skulls, as vocalist Maria Brink enters clad in a red cloak and mask. The band launch into a set list comprised totally from last years album “Blood” opening with “Rise with me” as smoke bombs go off and the stage is almost engulfed. The band work their magic on the crowd, and today’s performance is likely to have won over some more fans. Their live show is slick, as they have cut their teeth in the live environment with tours in support of Shinedown, Halestorm, and Papa Roach.
Volbeat are the next band playing on the Zippo encore stage, and these Danes are creating quite a storm with their unique blend of country, rockabilly, metal, and rock n roll. They taunt the crowd by starting a chant to an infectious bass and guitar groove before saying “Thank you and goodnight”….. and then “you want More?” And that’s it the band rattle out a diverse selection of songs one better than the last. Amongst this menagerie are covers of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of fire” and Judas Priest’s “Breakin’ the law”. We are also given a taste of “Raining Blood” as a dedication to the late Jeff Hanneman. These guys are a band to watch, check out their new album “Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies”.
Bullet for my Valentine arrive on the main stage to the strains of a high speed “Carmina Burana “ by Carl Orff and get into stride as a battery of Pyros explode with the opener “Breaking point” from their new album “Temper Temper”. The band play an impressive set from their 4 albums with extensive use of pyros and front man, Matt Tuck tells the huge assembled crowd this festival is a celebration of heavy metal. Obviously a large number of punters picked Bullet as the act they wanted to watch from the choice of 5 stages. This is a problem that besets any visitor to Download as the sheer number of acts performing simultaneously is bound to lead to difficult decisions.
An emotional return to Download for Slipknot as last time they played here in 2009 was in the company of their bassist Paul Gray who died in 2010. The strains of Billy Jo Spears “Get behind me Satan and push” ring out across a dismal and dreary field full of expectant metal heads, then the record seems to get stuck, the curtain drops, pyros explode creating clouds of smoke and the band launch into “Disasterpiece”. Front man Corey Taylor asks “90,000 people here, glad to see us?” to a rapturous response and tells us that Donington is like home to them. The band has never made a secret of the fact they are bigger in the U.K than in the states. Problems with the Barricades force them to stop twice during their set to allow for running repairs. Their set includes classics like “Psychosocial” and “Dead memories” and as they finish their set Corey Taylor tells us “you will see us again sooner than you think”.
It’s Saturday morning and after very little sleep and enough beer to start a small pub, its straight back into it with rock veterans UFO who open the main stage with the Classic “Lights Out”. Phil Mogg tells us that he is surprised anyone is up and launches into “Wonderland” followed by “Burn your house down” from their latest album “Seven Deadly” The sun comes out and Phil Mogg who is wearing sun glasses tells us he lost his guitarist earlier backstage because he was looking for him in the wrong dressing room. The set today is short but the quality is still there, these guys are not content to sit back on their laurels and finish their set in style with the classics “Rockbottom” and “Doctor Doctor”.
The Main stage next plays host to Young Guns who hail from Buckinghamshire. Band members stream onto stage all dressed completely in white, not very rock n roll……don’t speak too soon, this is like an invasion of the staff outing of a psych ward with attendants rampaging about on stage. This band are on the rise with 2 albums to their credit “All our Kings are dead” from 2010 and “Bones” from 2012. They tell us it is good to be home after extensive touring in the US and that they had been looking forward to their slot at Download. Looks like they were not the only ones as a big crowd has assembled by the time they finish with the title track from their last album “Bones”
Black star Riders who are the Irish band Thin Lizzy in their latest guise, are next on the main stage. Ricky Warwick (formerly of The Almighty has taken up duties at the microphone, and the band have released their first new material since the death of their infamous front man Phil Lynott 27 years ago. The album “All Hell Breaks Loose” was released in May and their set comprises a selection that includes music from the new album interspersed with classics like “Jailbreak” and the Bob Seger cover “Rosalie”. Mr. Warwick then politely asks “Is it too early for Whiskey?” before launching into a blistering version of “Whiskey in the Jar”. Proceedings are brought to a close with the signature tune “The boys are back in town”……..so get your knickers down!!!
Katatonia are a metal band from Sweden and they begin their set with “Dead Letters” from their 2012 album “Dead End Kings”. The remainder of their set is tunes taken from each of their recent albums. Their sound is a clever blend of light and shade similar to Anathema. Oh and by the way ….it’s raining again, however the audience are enjoying this capable band’s set.
Next up on the Zippo encore stage are Karnivool a band from Perth on the west coast of Australia and one of three Aussie bands playing Download. Vocalist Ian Kenny proclaims “Lucky us we got the sun” as the weather has improved after the rain during Katatonia’s set. This progressive band play a great set taken from their 3 albums. This band is something special in the weekends festivities…..watch this space! Karnivool complete their set with “Themata” from their 2005 album of the same name.
Now it’s time to make the cross country hike from Stage 2 to the main stage for “Alice in Chains”. The site for the weekend is large and fancy dress has always been one of the most enjoyable and fun aspects of the festivities. On the way to the main stage I meet a gentleman in tweeds and cap accompanied by a lady in skirt, jacket, Headscarf, and sensible shoes…..it is the Queen and Prince Philip. I have already run into a Teenage mutant Ninja turtle, Wonder Woman, Eddie of Iron Maiden fame, Bo Peep and her 3 sheep, a Giraffe, a tiger, and a Dinosaur in one piece suits. Later on my journey I meet some gentlemen dressed in French Maid outfits. Back to the music however, Alice in Chains come on stage and launch into “Them bones” and “Dam that River” both from the album “Dirt” Disappointingly we are only treated to one tune ”Hollow” from the new album entitled “the Devil put Dinosaurs here” Ironically the guys have a false start on “Again” and have to do a second take. This was the only blip in an otherwise flawless execution by the band who finish their set with “Rooster”
Stage 2 again and Thunder are about to take the stage and as we wait we can hear the strains of “Damage case” as Motorhead bang out the hits. Thunder announced their intention to split before their performance at Download 2009. Since then there have been a number of reunions, this one announced in April this year but the boys are back in business, and as good as ever. They open with “Dirty love” to a large crowd who lap it up. Their set includes favourites like “Higher ground”, “River of Pain” and “Love walked in”. Danny Bowes does however looks a little more like the Father of the bride than a singer in a Rock band. Notwithstanding this Thunder is still a great band and deserve the rousing response received from the Download crowd.
On the Jagermeister stage Devin Townsend has his work cut out for him as he has to struggle against the assault of bands on other stages. In his inimitable style he quips “they asked me to bring my band but I said no, I wanted to play acoustic guitar to a backdrop of bands playing metal on other stages…..that’s real action” as he prompts his sound man to turn it up! Devin steam rolls through with a set that includes “Deadhead” and “Storm” from his “Accelerated Evolution” album. As always this performer is incredibly entertaining with his clever sense of humour and quick wit. The set comes to a close with “Bad Devil” from the 1998 Infinity album.
Headliner time again as Saturday sun begins to set and the Download crowd has swelled as it always does at the prospect of witnessing the well oiled machine that is the amazing Iron Maiden. The anticipation is palpable that something special is about to happen. We are not disappointed as the intro involves a real World War 2 spitfire flying over the crowd at low altitude followed by an elaborate build up to the opener “Moonchild”. This is a return to the Maiden England show and Bruce welcomes us to 1988 when this show was unleashed in Donington to 107,000 eager fans. I am proud to say I was one of them. Bruce gives a speech where he remembers the Battle of Britain, and thanks the RAF for the use of the Spitfire. He goes on to mention the possibility of another date in the U.K. at the end of the tour. He goes on to mention that England send troops out into the desert and expect them to do the right thing by way of an introduction to “Afraid to shoot strangers” Bruce was all set to cycle the last leg of a 3 day cycle from London to Donington in support of three children’s charities. Unfortunately Bruce had to cancel as he had been suffering from a virus and was advised to rest up by doctors. This might also be the reason for the trade mark scream on “Number of the beast “being cut short. The remainder of the set leans heavily on the “Seventh son of a Seventh son” album and includes some rare pearls from the past like “Phantom of the opera” The encore for this evening comprises Churchill’s speech followed by “Aces High”, “The evil that men do” and old staple “Running free”. Another day down and it’s back to our Teepee for a few beers to round off the evening. Rammstein it’s going to be hard to top this show!
Sunday morning comes around way too soon as we definitely had much more beer than was required to round off the evening. So what’s the best cure for a hangover, well it’s a dose of Five finger Death Punch of course. The sun is shining and FFDP ask “you want to get crazy?” Front man Ivan Moody introduces “Burn it down” and after the song proceeds to blow off steam about being shut down last time they played Download. He goes on to say that this time he won’t ask the fans to crowd surf but says he’d ‘love to meet them’ instead! This won’t have gone down well with security who are of course responsible for crowd safety. The highlight of their set is a cover of the song Bad Company. Moody attempts to redeem himself later in the set by fishing children from the front of the crowd to remove them from the crush. He then uses the opportunity for some banter before finishing their set with “White knuckles”, “Lift me up” and “The Bleeding”.
Second stage next and Sweden’s Amon Amarth are due onstage however unfortunately technical difficulties mean their set is reduced as they are ten minutes late coming on. As the intro plays the sail rises on a full size longboat on stage. The band open with “War of the Gods” but the technical difficulties are still evident at the start of this song. They only play 4 songs due to scheduling which include the title track from their album “Deceiver of the gods” which was recorded in the U.K
Next act on the 2nd stage are California’s Rival Sons who are currently blazing a trail. Vocalist Jay Buchanan is flawless in his execution and with the infectious grooves provided by his band mates it doesn’t get much better than this. Their whole set bar one tune is lifted off their 2012 album “Head Down” which is well worth checking out.
Ghost are next to play this afternoon and this band are an unlikely melting pot of Black metal, pop, and Doom, and they are rising fast. They open with the title track from their 2013 album “Infestissumam” which debuted at number 1 in Sweden. During the intro the Ghouls assemble in their black hooded robes while their front man Papa Emeritus follows in the guise of a demented cardinal with a skull mask. Their set comprises songs from both their albums, and is well received by the crowd. Beware the dark side!
Australian wild boys Airbourne literally explode onto stage with “Ready to rock” followed by “Cheap Wine and Cheaper women” then “Black dog barking” from the latest album during which front man Joel O’Keeffe goes on his traditional Australian walkabout through the crowd. There is a huge crowd here and it takes quite a while for him to return to stage. These guys really can rock and the crowd loves it. Their latest single “Live it up” from the new album gets an airing before they finish up with the rocker “Runnin’ Wild”.
Finally the last band Rammstein are ready to take to the stage and behind the honeycomb curtain Fireworks start to erupt, the curtain falls and we career headlong into “Ich tu dir weh”. Till Lindemann sporting a pink Fur coat is lowered on a blazing platform as fire burns all around. Rammstein are intent on keeping us warm tonight as any chill is staved off by the use of pyros while the band storm their way through a set that includes “Keine Lust”, “Sehensucht” and “”Feuer Frei”. Then it’s time for a little theatre as we come to “Mein Teil” during which keyboard player Christian “Flake” Lorenz is wheeled onto stage in a huge cauldron. Lindemann dressed as a butcher and wielding a huge knife then proceeds to cook him using a flame thrower, but not content that he is cooked he swaps the flame thrower for an even bigger one and engulfs the cauldron in flames. After which Lorenz runs across the stage with fire crackers flying from his half cooked rear end. Later in the show the band perform “Benzin” during which Mr. Lindemann blasts flame from the nozzle of a giant old petrol pump. ”Du Hast” is another fiesta of flame after which keyboard player Lorenz again comes in for a hard time during “Buch dich” being led about on all fours with collar and chain by Lindemann who appears to sodomise him before spraying the crowd with the emissions from his plastic phallus. After “Ich will” the band leaves the stage only to return for an encore of 3 songs. The first of these is a beautifully eerie version of “Mein Herz Brennt” with just Lindemann with the backing of a piano, followed by “Sonne” and the ridiculously flamboyant “Pussy” during which Lindemann rides a giant Phallus from side to side of the stage spraying the crowd with foam. Finally as this amazing show comes to an end huge quantities of confetti are unleashed from the stage and Rammstein thank the crowd take a bow and depart.
What a way for Download 2013 to end and what a weekend. Roll on Download 2014!