by Howard Keogh – Ligger in Chief and Satanic Cyclist from Hell
Some places mean different things to different people. If you mention Donington UK to a historian he may refer you the historic references in the Domesday Book of 1086. A motor racing enthusiast on the other hand will most likely tell you about the famous Donington Park Race Track and perhaps mention that Since 2013, Norton Motorcycles has had its head office in Donington Hall.
To any self-respecting rock fan however, there is only one true meaning, Donington is the spiritual home of Download – rock music’s greatest festival which has been running almost every year since 1980. The festival has grown in popularity and under various names has played host to some of the biggest names in rock and metal from around the globe. However, just because the monsters of rock have played here does not mean there is no room for the young pretenders to peddle their wares. Some of the best acts have cut their teeth on the smaller stages at Download, where they are all welcomed by both the organisers and the crowd alike.
As we know, even the gods of rock haven’t managed to control the weather in Donington and this year is no exception. Thursday is pretty wet but based on some high-profile mainstream media reports coming out in the lead up to Download you could have been inclined to pack a small inflatable boat or even make a start on building yourself an ark!
Doubtless the revellers who elected to come early to the site were subjected to some incredibly challenging weather and there were a few who decided to call it a day. However, all credit to the Andy Copping and the Download team, who really get stuck in, making layout adjustments and spreading tonnes of straw around the arena each day in a mammoth effort to reduce the impact of the weather on the site and the music fans. In true defiant Download style, the vast majority of fans decided the show must go on….and so it did regardless of the rain.
Navigating Download festival can be a daunting task for music fans, as the site is massive and the number of stages poses another problem, choice! There are always difficult decisions to be made as your favourite bands may conflict. However the sheer fun of Download is what makes it so special. Despite a very difficult start to the festival, spirits are high and the costumes are out again this year as many fans dress up for the event. So far, we have spotted Mario, Santa and his elves, and the Mother from the Alien movie series amongst others, and I promise you we have only had one beer!
This year’s festival sees an extra environmental effort made, to reduce the use of single use plastic bottles. Another addition is a little light relief in the form of “Doom Yoga”, and Mindfulness sessions aptly named “Mind the dog”
Now lets go listen to some music…
Day 1 – FRIDAY 15th June
Tesla is the first band up to start proceedings on the main stage today. The band formed in Sacramento California in 1981 by bassist Brian Wheat and guitarist Frank Hannon. The band started their existence under the moniker Earthshaker which later changed to City Kidd. The band changed their name to Tesla in 1996 releasing the album “Mechanical Resonance.” They have toured extensively with Def Leppard in the past. This collaboration resulted in Phil Collen producing their most recent album “Shock” which was released in March. Their set today has a few technical difficulties and includes the power ballad “Modern day cowboy” and “Cumin’ Atcha Live.”
Super group Deadland Ritual, whose line up completed with the addition of Geezer Butler in 2018, play the Zippo encore stage. Unfortunately, they too suffer a few technical difficulties with sound but these get resolved. The band members include Steve Stevens and Matt Sorum. The set list draws significantly on the Black Sabbath catalogue with the addition of "Symptom of the Universe," "Neon Knights," and "War Pigs" included in the set. The other band members back catalogue also get a look in with the addition of "Rebel yell" and "Slither." The band’s first single "Down in flames" released in 2018 also gets an airing. If you want to catch these guys they are also set to play Hellfest very soon.
Whitesnake are back with their new album "Flesh and Blood" and the mighty David Coverdale looks fresher and fitter than ever. His voice too is in fine form as he charms his way through the set.
Today’s menu is full of old favourites and includes "Bad boys," "Love ain’t no stranger," "Slow and easy," and the single "Shut up and kiss me" from the latest album.
However the highlight of the set has to be “Still of the Night” with its slow build to its epic finale. Fans have had a bit of a wait for new material from Whitesnake, with the last album being released in 2015 but the new release sees them make a glorious return. With a string of concerts planned across Europe, including Hellfest, and Graspop festivals, these boys are definitely back in full flight. Catch them while you can.
Opeth make a welcome return to Download with another pitch perfect performance from these Swedish masters of light and shade. Greeting the crowd in his own inimitable style Mikael Akerfeldt reminisces about dancing with one of Abba’s lovely ladies. Almost an Opeth trademark now is a short set of very long songs and Mikael Akerfeldt admits it openly. For those hoping for a preview of their imminent new album, it may be disappointing; however this is more than compensated for with a typically flawless performance that include gems like “Ghost of Perdition,” “The drapery falls,” and “Deliverance.” The sun makes a welcome appearance during Opeth’s performance, and Mr. Akerfeldt makes the crowd jealous, as he announces the band travel to Malaga to play on the beach. These guys are touring extensively across Europe for the rest of the year, so if they come to your town, don’t miss them!
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators make a welcome return to Download this year. The set includes a sprinkling of Slash’s solo work and a blistering performance of the Guns ‘n’ Roses classic "Nightrain."
Slash is on top form pacing the stage like a tiger while Myles Kennedy knocks out the tunes. Another highlight of the set was “Anastasia” The tour continues throughout Europe until mid July before moving stateside for Canadian and U.S. dates
This year Def Leppard add another Download headline slot to their tally. Donington has always held a special place in their hearts, as it was where Rick Allen made his arena comeback after a horrific car accident in which he lost his arm. As with the recent tour, today’s offering features the band’s 1987 "Hysteria" album played in its entirety.
Joe Elliot introduces Northern Ireland’s Vivian Campbell on guitar and after "Hysteria" we are treated to a pure gold selection that includes "Let it go", "Let’s get rocked," "Photograph," and the classic "Rock of ages."
The polished performance is a fitting finish to a great day’s music.
Day 2 – SATURDAY 16th June
Saturday’s openers on Main stage are Alien Weaponry from New Zealand. Their set opens with a Haka-like chant, which draws applause even before the music starts. After a brief delay things get underway. The band’s set includes "PC Bro," "Holding my breath," and "Kai Tanata". The 3 members of Alien Weaponry all have Māori ancestry, and use their native tongue in a number of their songs. The band was formed in 2010, by brothers Henry and Lewis de Jong. Recently the band made a 10 part documentary documenting their European tour entitled "Alien Weaponry shake Europe". Their album "Tu" debuted at number 5 in the New Zealand album charts on its release in June 2018. As we see more and more bands beginning to sing in their own languages, possibly inspired by the mighty Rammstein’s success, this opens up a whole new exciting realm in music as we see more obands using their native language in their music.
Next up on the Dogtooth stage are Underside from Nepal. Exploding onto the Nepal music scene with their own unique brand of metal, these guys are not afraid to take on great tasks. They instigated the “Silence festival,” Nepal’s first annual metal festival. The band was also involved in fundraising efforts, following the massive earthquake in 2015, that left many parts of Kathmandu in ruins. Underside responded immediately raising emergency funding that helped rebuild a school. With such an unshakable determination, it is no wonder they have won over the crowd here today. The band’s stage show includes a masked demon dancer, who convulses to the beat of the songs. Once again there are a few sound issues during the set, leaving the demon dancer alone onstage briefly, but after a quick resolution the singer apologises, thanking the crowd for their patience the show gets underway again.
The Zippo encore stage is our next stop to marvel at the intricate progressive instrumental style of Animals as Leaders. This American band from Los Angeles is well up for the fray, and if today is any measure of the European appetite for the band’s trademark tunes, the upcoming Scandinavian and European dates will go down a treat.
Darkness might be more fitting for the next act on the main stage, the mighty Behemoth from Poland. They make their entrance sporting Black Death masks, to a chant of “I will not forgive.” As the set starts an inferno of pyrotechnics are unleashed, and the ritual begins.
Behemoth have planned an extensive European tour in advance of their US dates in July.
They have always attracted controversy, and currently, an Irish politician is trying to have their upcoming Limerick show banned in Ireland. Behemoth front man, Nergal has responded “Nihil novi. Another attention whore which Poland’s politics is full of, but do we really need that kind of publicity? Nope. But I’m thankful regardless!” Either way the band have a fast-growing fan base with many upcoming shows sold out.
Skindred have secured a Main stage appearance this year at Download following many previous appearances. Despite the pouring rain, front man Benji Webbe manages to get the crowd singing, crouching, and generally jumping about. Skindred whose album "Big tings" was released last year continue, with a string of dates after Download that include Hellfest in France. During the set Reef’s Gary Stringer joins Benji onstage for the track “Machine” Benji is looking like a lean mean rocking machine after his recent well publicized weight loss, and he makes light of the inclement weather while the crowd are lapping it up. The band’s trademark crowd participation “the Newport helicopter” is rolled out during “Warning”. and fans everywhere are removing their T-shirts and swinging them wildly over their heads. This as always makes for an amazing sight. This has been another superb high energy performance from a great live band.
The Hu in the Dogtooth tent attract a massive crowd which overflows out the sides of the tent due to a combination of the heavy rain and the Bands huge popularity. It appears Download may have misjudged this one, as The Hu could easily have been on a bigger stage. The band hail from Mongolia and have s unique style, incorporating traditional Mongolian instruments like the Morin khuur. Singing is in the ancient Mongolian throat singing style giving the band a very unique sound. The current tour takes in more UK and European dates before heading stateside.
Trivium who have racked up eight studio albums since their formation in Florida in 1999, have attracted a huge crowd to the Main stage. The weather has improved, and this only adds to the excitement of the fans and the band. The set today includes “Like light to the flies,” a blistering rendition of “Strife” and “In Waves.” The show is augmented by liberal use of Pyrotechnics and smoke, which add to the atmosphere.
After the last tour was received so well, it is great to see Trivium at Download. The band has grown, and they admit they have their sights set now on a festival headline slot. Following this tour they plan to start writing material for a new album, so there is much to look forward to!
Stone Temple Pilots are forging an exciting new chapter in their career at the moment with their self-titled album doing well and providing fresh new music from the band. Many veteran bands would have given up after the loss of two lead singers but Stone Temple Pilots have forged ahead and recruited an incredible new singer in the shape of Michigan’s Jeff Gutt. He doesn’t disappoint today and showcases his amazing range and control which fit perfectly into the grunge legends massive sound.
Highlights include ‘The Art of Letting Go’, ‘Dead and Bloated’ and ‘Sex Type Thing’.
Halestorm are no strangers to Download festival. Enter Lzzy Hale who delivers an absolutely amazing vocal performance. In her new leather clad Joan Jett look, she and her brother Arejay open up and let loose on the crowd in a combined vocal and percussive assault on the senses. Lzzy thanks the crowd and says she is proud to be a woman and she gets all the women present to roar. The set opens with "Untouchable" and this is followed swiftly with a request from Lzzy to little brother Arejay to let loose. Arejay duly obliges with a percussive attack that is both technically amazing and entertaining to watch.. Staples like "Ms Hyde" and "Freak like me" are rolled out and as usual Arejay gets the opportunity to trash his drum kit during the obligatory drum solo.
Today’s set is wrapped up with "Love bites (so do I)" and "I miss the misery". "Love bites (so do I)" sees Lzzy joined onstage for a duet by Asami from the band Lovebites who also played a set at Download.
Slipknot are always a big draw at Download and as soon as they appear on stage the whole arena erupts. Their energy is contagious, and the crowd has contracted the disease. Corey Taylor is sporting his new mask which has attracted some negative feedback from fans. No-one cares tonight though as the maggots are in the mood for a mosh pit.
The high octane setlist includes "People =s***," "Psychosocial," "Disasterpiece," and "The devil in I". What better way to end an evening than in the company of Slipknot.
One final thought on Slipknot is that at the festival, a poster surfaced hinting at the possibility of live gigs in 2020. With the new album "We are not your kind" set for release in August via Roadrunner records, the prospect of more live shows can only add to the anticipation.
Day 3 – SUNDAY 17th June:
I prevail are the first act on Main stage today and they put in a great set for the festival’s early bird punters. The band hail from Michigan in the U.S. and released their latest album "Trauma" in March of this year. Vocal duties are shared between Brian Burkheiser on clean vocals while Eric Vanlerberghe looks after the vocal heavy lifting.
The new album is well represented in today’s set with the inclusion of “Bow Down”, "Rise above it", "Gasoline", and the super heavyweight "Deadweight."
Although their slot is early they put in a rousing performance waking up the bleary eyed fans. These guys are definitely one to watch for 2019
Godsmack from Boston, Massachusetts are hot on the heels of I prevail as the next act up on the main stage. The band has admitted to being excited to play the U.K. again and open with "1000HP," then "Something different.” Then it’s time for a duel, in which the drummer and singer battle it out on 2 drum kits through a medley featuring AC/DCs “Back in black,” Aerosmith’s "Walk this way," Metallica’s "Enter Sandman" and Fleetwood Mac’s "Oh well." This has been a lively and varied performance from these stateside rockers.
Amon Amarth did a question and answer session in the press tent today, and they announced a tour in November with Arch Enemy and Hypocrisy. Answering a question from an Irish Journalist about their upcoming gigs, the band say they are looking forward to another Viking invasion of Limerick after 1000 years. They last appeared on Download Main stage in 2016 and since then have been growing steadily popularity.
When they hit the onstage, they open with "The pursuit of Vikings," followed by "First kill." A Viking battle is recreated, as two warriors do battle during "The way of Vikings." The latest album "Berserker", which was released in May, is on show today with "Crack the Sky", "Shield wall" and "Raven’s flight". The band compliment the crowd on their determination in the mud and call a toast raising their drinking horns with a "Skol" before launching into the song "Raise your horns." Amon Amarth really are on top of their game today.
Lamb of God bring with them a very energetic show. As the sun shines down for the one of the few times in the 3 day festival, vocalist Randy Blythe greets the crowd and promises to f*** the place up, before launching into "Walk with me in hell" and hails the crowd of "maniacs" for their persistence in the bad weather. "512" is next with its reminiscences of Blythe’s time held in custody in relation to the death of a fan at one of the bands concerts in the Czech Republic. Lamb of God certainly know how to work a crowd..
On a visit to the Avalanche stage, we catch the up and coming hot ticket – Fever333, who are currently touring on the back of their debut album "Strength in numb333rs." Their songs are politically charged, tackling social issues like racism, homophobia and sexual discrimination. The crown lap it up and if the response of the Download crowd is any indication, their other U.K. dates (which the trio also like to call demonstrations) should be extremely successful. Their style cites musical influences like Rage against the machine, Black flag and Public enemy.
Dream Theater have attracted a large crowd for their set on the Zippo encore stage. Currently touring their 14th studio album "Distance over time" the band show no signs of slowing down. The new album gets plenty of exposure, as the band open with "Untethered angel," and also include "Fall into the light" and "Barstool warrior." Dream Theater are no doubt technically talented and virtuoso players but sometimes it just feels like there is something missing. They close their set with a rousing rendition "Pull me under."
Finally it’s that bitter sweet moment, the final U.K. performance by Slayer, one of the big 4 giants of thrash metal. Anthrax, one of the other 3, played the same stage just earlier in the day, a testament (no pun intended) to the choice of bands playing Download. A huge crowd has gathered to witness the spectacle and one can’t help wondering if Slayer should have been billed as headliners on the main stage. "Repentless" starts the show as Slayer move up the gears with "War ensemble" and "Mandatory suicide". The band thanks their fans for hanging out. Paul Bostaph puts in a magnificent performance behind the drum kit, and the rest of the band are not too shabby either.
As the show progresses, they go into overdrive with "Seasons in the abyss", "Hell awaits", "South of heaven" and "Raining blood" all coming in quick succession. At this stage the crowd is at fever pitch with circle pits aplenty. The last U.K. performance of Slayer and the associated mayhem, finally draws to a close with the finale "Angel of death" but then Slayer fans don’t cry do they?
Tool are booked to close Download 2019 and may have certainly lost more than a few audience members due to the set time clash with Slayer’s final U.K. show on the Zippo encore stage. However, even disregarding that fact, the crowd numbers are definitely smaller than that usually seen for a Download headline act. Notwithstanding the draw of Slayer, this is a rare treat for any hardcore Tool fan, as live performances in the U.K. don’t happen too often. The band’s last Download performance was 13 years ago. The set opens with AEnema. The backdrop on the big screens light up with imagery that melds perfectly with the music to provide the audience with a veritable "audio visual trip." Old favourites like "The Pot," and "Schism" are there, and we are treated to some new material in the form of "Invincible" and "Descending." The set is brought to a close with "Stinkfist" and a group of happy Tool fans have had their dreams come true tonight at Download.
And so, we come to the end of another weekend of music, beer, fun, and well…lots of mud, but you know as usual it has all been worth it. Once again Download Festival has proved itself as the great survivor. Despite the bad weather and the unfair press, the event has once again proved itself a triumph of Rock n’ Roll spirit over adversity.
Roll on 2020. We can’t wait!