By Howard Keogh – our lycra-clad ligger
As the time draws near for the metal legions to descend on Donington Park the spiritual home of rock, for the annual bash, there may be some trepidation in the ranks after last year’s unprecedented weather. Those in the know estimate that 70 million gallons of water fell over the course of the weekend making it challenging for those revellers who were lucky enough not to be completely washed out. Apparently that quantity of water is enough to fill 106 Olympic size swimming pools. But fear not because while you were scraping the mud from your boots Download dog has been busy. This year sees the addition of 3000m of new drainage, effectively quadrupling the existing set up. Also 1115m of new ditches have been added to direct water away from the site. Other improvements include the relocation of the Avalanche stage and the disabled campsite. Extra free shuttle busses have been added for the main campsite and a 400 strong group of festival helpers aptly named "The Dog squad" have been recruited to assist punters.
The other noticeable change this year is the heightened level of security at the festival, due to recent events in both Manchester and London. There are a number of delays incurred by the added security but as usual the good natured spirits of the Download crowd prevail and everyone gets on with the job of having a good time. So it looks like we can cross the Ark off this year’s list of Download essentials and get down to the serious business of rocking out.
Day 1 – Friday
Motionless in white bring their brand of gothic metal-core to Download’s main stage this year, having previously played the second stage in 2015 and 3rd stage in 2013. This fact does not go unnoticed by the band who thank the crowd for their support. Formed in 2005 and hailing from Scranton, Pennsylvania, they are currently touring in support of their fourth album "Graveyard shift" Lead vocalist Chris “Motionless” Cerulli tells the crowd they are in for a treat as they are debuting the song “Necessary Evil” their set also includes "Loud (f*** it)” from their new album which is a very appropriate choice for the Download crowd who lap it up.
Sabaton are next up on the main stage beginning proceedings with “Night Witches” from their “Heroes” album. During the set we are introduced to their pet tank Walther. Their set also includes "Sparta" and "Shiroyma" both from their latest album "The last stand". The band last played Download in 2014 when they played the second stage. Sabaton are no strangers to the road, they completed a European tour early this year with Teutonic terrors Accept. The rest of this year sees them playing other major festivals like Hellfest and Graspop.
Mastadon bring their seventh album “Emperor of Sand” to Download opening with “Sultan’s Curse” and including the songs “Andromeda”, “Show Yourself” and “Steambreather” in their set. The album explores themes of survival and death which are close to the hearts of the band following recent events when family and friends were diagnosed with cancer. The assembled crowd enjoy the show, however the band suffer with patchy sound that does not reflect their true technical abilities. We take a hike now up the hill to the Dogtooth stage where Krokodil are in full flight. This British band who previously played Download in 2013 and supported Marilyn Manson in 2015 plan to return to writing their new album after their appearance at Download. This brief glimpse of proceedings is enough to convince me that, when the new album is released, there will be a big queue to get it hot off the presses.
Time for a beer stop on the way cross country to the Zippo Encore stage where a huge crowd has assembled for Good Charlotte This is the band’s debut at Download and they open with “The Anthem” which immediately turns into a huge sing-along. Despite a hiatus between the years 2011 and 2015 this band don’t seem to have lost any of their appeal. They returned with their “Youth Authority” album in 2016 and vocalist Joel Madden recounts how the album was self-funded before launching into it’s opening song “Life Changes”. The band seem genuinely surprised at the size of the assembled crowd openly admitting they did not know if anyone would come to see them, however nothing could be further from the truth with the crowd revelling in it.
Prophets of Rage are second headliner on Friday’s main stage line-up and a sense of anticipation fills the air before they come onstage. These guys could easily headline and and for those who don’t already know, are an explosive mix of Rage Against The Machine, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. Their set includes everything from classic hip hop tracks such as “Fight The Power” to the naked aggression of Rage’s “Know Your Enemy” (used on the soundtrack of The Matrix), Bombtrack, and ‘Killing in the Name of”.
They also manage to pay tribute to the late Chris Cornell in the form of an instrumental version of “the classic Audioslave track “Like a Stone”.which is warmly received by today’s crowd. Lets hope we see these guys back to the UK soon.
Finally on the main stage, System of a down bring proceedings to a close with a high tempo set to finish an uncharacteristically bright and sunny day at Download. The band last played Download in 2011 when they also headlined the main stage. This really is a fitting end to a perfect day as the band delight fans with a set that includes old favourites like “Violent Pornography”, “Chop Suey”, “Toxicity” and “BYOB”.
Day 2 – Saturday
After a night of overindulgence Saturday morning dawns, and fans are happy, as following a little overnight rain the weather is fine. We make the journey over to the Avalanche stage where British band Trash boat are in the process of shaking the cobwebs off fans with their own brand of Pop Punk. Formed in St. Albans they independently released their first EP “Look Alive” in June 2014 following this up with another EP on Hopeless records called “Brainwork”. Their first album “Nothing I write you can Change what you’ve been through” was also released on Hopeless records in June 2016. The band recently toured in the U.S. and are set to tour the U.K. in September with Broadside and Homebound.
Our next stop is the Zippo encore stage where we catch Alestorm, a demented band of would be pirates, originally from Perth in Scotland. These guys could potentially make Frank Zappa seem like the most normal bloke. Playing in front of a backdrop of two one legged bananas with geese’s head…..what? Yes that’s what I said. Their drum kit is adorned with adverts for Fray Bentos meat pies. Their set is a lively mix of what has become affectionately termed Pirate metal including songs like “Alestorm”, “Magnetic North” and “Shipwrecked” which according to the singer was inspired by Tom Hanks amorous advances on the volleyball in the film Castaway. The band are set to play a later show on the Firestone stage…..if they are still capable as they openly admit in their own words “We are Alestorm and we like drinking”. The band released their fifth album entitled “No grave but the sea” two weeks ago from which they play “Mexico” and the live debut of “F**ked with an Anchor”. They may be mad, but they are the original party band, and the crowd are love it.
Kvelertak take to the Zippo encore stage to play Download UK, fresh from playing Download Paris the day before, as a part of their gruelling summer schedule, which also sees them play Graspop and Download Madrid. These Norwegian metallers released their latest album “Nattesferd” on Roadrunner records in May 2016. The band have attracted significant interest from James Hetfield and he posted a video of himself watching the band on his Instagram account, describing their front man as “savage”. All this has culminated in a support slot for Kvelertak with Metallica on their World Wired tour 2017-2018. This band have earned their place, so if your catching Metallica don’t be late and take in the Kvelertak experience for yourself!
After a quick beer stop it’s back to the Zippo encore stage for Max and Iggor Cavalera’s Return to Roots. While it may bring many back to the heyday, this is essentially old ground but nevertheless ground many are more than willing to tread once again. They play “Roots Bloody Roots” , “Attitude” “Rattamahatta” among others finishing with a rousing tribute to Lemmy in “Ace of Spades”
The Zippo Encore stage is the place to be today with The Devin Townsend Project taking to the boards playing an extensive collection of songs from the latest release “Transcendence”. Hevy Devy tells us that it is a “collection of romantically inclined progressive heavy metal” that is delivered expertly with soaring guitars fronting a wall of thunderous guitar and drums that gives it the impact of a ground to air missile. We are treated to a flawless set including “Stormbending”, “Deadhead”, after which Devin comments “A smattering of applause, the crowd go mild” then it’s straight into “SuperCrush”. Mr Townsend’s wit is always part of the shows and, as an inflatable doll passes by in the crowd, Devvy comments “an inflatable lady, desperation personified!” Devy then proceeds to simulate hand relief on an unfortunate security guard who I’ll bet wishes he had not been in the wrong place, at the wrong time! The Devin Townsend project are on tour across Europe over the next few months and are truly an experience not to be missed.
The final act on the Zippo encore stage are Rob Zombie who open with “Dead city radio and the new gods of Supertown” the backdrop is a time lapse movie of the drummer, interspersed with scary movie clips, which is almost mind bending! We are also treated to the classic “Living dead girl” and Rob calls for his aliens both of whom he sends crowd surfing as he challenges the audience to see which alien can get to the back of the crowd first. Rob Zombie is obviously as fit as an Olympic athlete and as flexible as the rubber aliens he keeps in his closet. Tonight’s set is closed with the inimitable “Dragula” to the delight of the crowd.
The final act on the Main Stage for tonight is Biffy Clyro. It is fair to say that there was a lot of criticism at this choice of headliner with the band having headlined before and their music being a little left-field of the usual Download fare. Critics however are proved wrong tonight with a storming set which includes “Friends & Enemies”, “57”, “There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake”, and “Many of Horror”. The large crowd tonight reflects Biffy’s popularity and the fantastic stage production and firework display finish the night perfectly and indeed spectacularly. The stark reality is that Download needs to embrace newer acts if it is to survive since many of the obvious headliners are now hanging up their spandex.
Day 3 – Sunday
On the final day of the festival, which has so many acts on offer, we are under pressure to decide who to watch and finally decide to make a start on the Zippo encore stage where The Dead Daisies are strutting their stuff. The history of the band members reads like a who’s who of Rock with members cutting their teeth in bands like Thin Lizzy, Motley Crue, and Whitesnake to mention but a few. The band have recently released the album “Live and Louder” and they play the single “With You and I”. The band are set to perform at further European Festivals including Hellfest & Graspop and it doesn’t end there a headline tour in Europe is followed by dates in Japan, South America and the U.S. This band are definitely worth catching live, so if they are coming to your town, get your tickets as they are selling fast!
Anathema have only just released their 11th album “The Optimist” and today we get to hear the track “Springfield”. There are 3 drum kits at work on the stage, and the rhythm is electrifying it is so tight. The band announce an extensive upcoming tour that runs until February 2018 with dates in the UK in September. The haunting voice of Lee Douglas captivates the audience and adds to the ethereal good vibrations their music generates.
A quick trek through the trees brings us out in the direction of the Main stage where Airbourne are in full flight. These Aussie rockers got in a little hot water when they played Download 2010 as guitarist Joel O’Keeffe scaled the rigging to add extra excitement to his guitar solo. Today is a much tamer affair only involving him being carried out a gangway into the crowd on the shoulders of a guy dressed as a fox. Fair dinkum boys!…..Mr. Fox then produces a can of beer which Joel busts open with his head before spraying it everywhere and chucking it in the crowd. The set is delivered at breakneck speed as always with old favorites like “Girls in Black” and “Breakin’ outta Hell” before bringing the curtain down with “Runnin’ wild”
Back through the trees again to the Zippo Encore stage, where we are treated to one of the performances of the weekend courtesy of Ministry, who seem to have been around forever, but certainly are none the worse for wear. Formed in 1981 by Al Jourgensen the bands driving sound described by some as industrial or alternative has the crowd rocking. Opening up with Psalm 69 the title track of the 1992 album it only seems a shame that the track “Jesus built my hot rod” does not get an airing. However the remaining songs more than compensate for this. Jourgensen blasts out the tunes from behind a microphone stand adorned with 3 skulls, setting the tone as dry ice smoke billows across the stage.
After an extended visit to the bar we return for Opeth who are no strangers to Download. They open with the title track to their latest album “Sorcoress” which has a quite progressive slant, they follow this up by bringing us back to earth with “Ghosts of Perdition”. Michael Ackerfeldt is in fine form and has lost none of his dry wit, on being signalled from the side of the stage to keep the set moving, he announces they are going to play “Deliverance” and that fortunately for fans the song only lasts 3 days. As usual the Opeth sound is pitch perfect and crystal clear and the crowd can only stand in awe and marvel.
Slayer top the bill tonight on the Zippo encore stage opening with “Repentless” from their 2015 album of the same name. Their set is like a well-oiled machine and we are treated to gems like “Mandatory Suicide”, “War Ensemble”, “Dead skin mask” and the classic “Seasons in the abyss”.
Final band on the final day of the Download on their final tour Aerovederchi…or is it? Aerosmith take to the boards of the main stage opening up with “Let the music do the talking” a tune originally recorded by Joe Perry and rerecorded by Aerosmith The hits keep coming with “Living on the edge”, “Janie’s got a gun” and the old Fleetwood mac classics “Stop messing around” and “Oh Well” The crowd can’t get enough and we get treated to the acoustic vibe of the deep south on “Hangman jury”. Steve Tyler shakes his Maracas as only he can while Tom Hamilton lays down the base line on “Sweet Emotion”. The obligatory “Don’t want to miss a thing” makes an appearance with outstanding performances on “Rag Doll” and “Dude looks like a Lady”. The encore comprises “Dream on “ and a brief digression with a cover of James Brown’s “Mother Popcorn and no Aerosmith show would be complete without their masterpiece of genre crossovers “Walk this way”. As of now all we do is wonder as there are rumblings of another album but this was supposed to be a farewell tour……wasn’t it?
The night sky is illuminated magnificently with fireworks and fans turn to head home wondering …..is that the last UK show for Aerosmith and in the words of Steve Tyler “Thank you and Good night”.
Download festival is always great fun and this year is no exception. Many people go the extra mile and dress for the occasion. This weekend we have met amongst others, Hansel and Gretel, a group of penguins, Superman in a skirt, and a group of travelling troubadours pulling a wagon that is being pushed by 3 apes in costume. All of this adds to the surreal atmosphere of fun, happiness and good humour that Download is famous for. If you’ve not been to Download yet, make sure 2018 is the year you put that right. We’ve been going since 1986 and it only gets better…
Until next year!