Sunday and there’s a stench in the air. That’ll be two days’ worth of dried urine that occupies most of the one-way pedestrian system from the Main Stage to the Snickers Stage, not to mention thousands of peoples’ unwashed sweat and body odour (not from us – we’re posh and not camping, remember?).
Having Hatebreed on the Main Stage early is hardly going to help this state of affairs with circle pits springing into life, limbs flailing and gallons of sweat flowing.
Still, Jamey Jasta and crew’s brutal set of fist-pumping, unity-imploring hardcore is an ideal way to shake out any cobwebs and prepare for the long, final day of the festival.
Disappointingly, it seems that Evergrey‘s slot on the Snickers Bowl has been shifted and so, after watching some of the gravity-defying BMX All-Around Finals, it’s back to the Main Stage for the cheese-fest that is Dragonforce.
With his leather trousers, bare chest, long hair that’s been repeatedly molested by curling tongs and operatic vocals, it’s clear that the last 20 years have been but an amnesiac blip in frontman ZP Theart’s non-ironic mind. Furthermore, the undoubted technical guitar wizardry of Herman Li and friends is utterly buried in a shocking sound mix that is all drums… And dustbin lid-sounding ones at that.
Nevertheless, the crowd loves it. Theart, fresh from demonstrating how his microphone could be used as a phallus (did someone mention “cock rock”?), is amazed at their fervour. Dude, you’re not the only one.
In complete contrast, 36 Crazyfists bring things back down to refreshing reality with their heartfelt, chorus-centric metalcore. At The End Of August and The Heart And The Shape are particularly fine though your intrepid correspondent does end their set with a bloody mouth (whack in the face – accidental I assume) and warm, yellow liquid running down his leg (not mine, not accidental – don’t ask).
Onwards and upwards and over at the Snickers Stage, the cavernous tent is beginning to bulge in anticipation of Fightstar. Once Charlie Simpson and his buddies take to the stage, it quickly becomes clear that a small section of the attendees are here to exact revenge on Simpson for his past life with pop muppets Busted, as a continual stream of plastic bottles are lobbed on to the stage during the first few songs.
To his credit, Simpson deals with the anonymous hecklers brilliantly. “There are a lot of good throwers… [Pauses] C**ts!” he shouts, before adding that the band wouldn’t care about being hit if it weren’t for it spoiling the enjoyment of their real fans. The roar that follows indicates who’s in the minority and the bottle-throwing mysteriously ceases. Nice work.
All of which distracts from the important thing, namely that Fightstar are at least as impressive live as they are on record. Paint Your Target, Grand Unification (Pt 1) and Palahniuk’s Laughter, to name but three, are tight, anthemic and aggressively metalled-up. All in all, a truly triumphant set.
Over in The Village a surprising number of people are watching Serbia vs Holland on the big screen, although it’s still impossible to get into the Snickers Bowl to watch the BMX Best Trick Competition.
So, it’s back to the Main Stage to check out Christina Scabbia and her altogether less good-looking band-mates in Lacuna Coil. It’s fair to say that although this Italian mob (geddit?) don’t overwhelm the modest crowd gathered, they do at least have an individual sound among the Main Stage acts today.
The likes of Swamped and Fragments Of Faith are propelled by clean, distinct metal riffs; Scabbia and Andrea Ferro’s female/male dual vocals generally complement each other; while Fragile and Our Truth somehow puff themselves up in a live setting. Not sure about that cover of Depeche Mode‘s Enjoy The Silence though.
From Italy to Sweden and a quick dash over to the Gibson Myspace Stage where unsung alternative hardcore heroes Blindside are due. If it were mathematically possible to give 110% (football players – take note), these Scandinavians would be the ones responsible and today’s stunning but oh-so-short show is no exception.
Caught A Glimpse, Pitiful, This Is A Heartattack and Fell In Love With The Game are not only simply awesome songs, they are delivered with a passion sadly missing from many more popular bands. Frontman Christian Lindskog announces that his voice is struggling so they’ll finish with two hardcore numbers (because, erm, screaming will help?). Yamkela and About A Burning Fire whizz by with Lindskog and guitarist Simon Grenehed so into it they look close to smashing up some instruments. Of course, they don’t, but their zeal wins over what had been a subdued crowd. Fabulous.
We can’t reveal the secrets of how we cover all three bands (or we’d have to kill you). So, you’ll have to take our word for the fact that Viking Skull are the only band of the weekend on the Snickers Bowl who manage to get all the hitherto seated spectators standing up, and have oodles of people outside the Bowl also shaking their fists at their classic English, tongue-in-cheek heavy rock (think Motörhead).
And when this offshoot of Raging Speedhorn worryingly announce that they’ll be playing a ballad before pausing and declaring it’s called Saddle Up (And Let Me Pull On Your Reins) and is as far removed from a ballad as they are from being a serious band, there’s no choice but to smile.
Meanwhile, over at the Snickers Stage there’s a lot of smiling going on too as Eighteen Visions strut their tattooed, black fingernailed, metalcore-with-arena-rock-ambitions stuff. James Hart is a showman rather than mere frontman, whipping up the better balanced than usual crowd (from a male/female perspective), climbing above the drum kit and throwing multiple rock star poses.
All of which would mean little if it weren’t for the fact that the likes of Waiting For The Heavens and Tower Of Snakes are crushing yet curiously anthemic, with the latter’s pneumatic drill-sounding beatdowns are absolutely earth-shaking. Songs from their forthcoming eponymous album sound more straightforwardly rock, while the lack of pits today (mosh or circle) also indicates that Eighteen Visions’ hardcore days are long gone. However, judging by the many happy punters in attendance, there are plenty of people ready to make the journey with them.
From one fashion-conscious band to another and Bullet For My Valentine on the Main Stage. They have their detractors but this lot do have content as well as style, with pummelling metal in the shape of Suffocating Under Words Of Sorrow and plenty of made-for-festival shout-along moments such as Four Words (To Choke Upon). No doubt today’s performance will win them some new fans.
Not sure the same can be said for Funeral For A Friend – not because they don’t put on a good show, but mainly because they seem to be preaching to the converted. Funeral For A Friend before Axl and his hired hands always looked like a strange pairing and so it proves with one of the smallest crowds conceivable for the main support act at the end of a festival.
Nevertheless, aside from a few apathetic, bemused-looking types, most of those here are absolute fans, singing every word and enjoying what is an impressive display from the Welsh rockers. Juneau sees Matt Davies on his knees singing, “I’m nothing more than a line in your book”; Red Is The New Black boasts some massive, metallic chugging in its climax; and although History is a bit anaemic, at least Davies makes a self-deprecating joke about its “power ballad” status, while his singing voice sounds in fine fettle, especially when counterpointed by drummer Ryan Richards’ hardcore vomit in the more upbeat numbers.
So if the crowds are absent from Funeral For A Friend, where are they? After all, tens of thousands can try playing hide and seek but ultimately they will lose. Well, over on the Gibson Myspace Stage, Finnish troll-rockers Lordi are making the most of their new-found infamy from winning the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s virtually impossible to get into the tent as multitudes have turned up to get a glimpse of Lordi’s Lord Of The Ring costumes and an earful of their Kiss-style anthems such as Hard Rock Hallelujah and the delightfully-titled The Devil Is A Loser.
However, it only takes a brief foray towards the Snickers Stage to discover where seemingly half of Donington are heading – The Prodigy. It’s a curious decision by the festival schedulers to put The Prodigy on the second stage and yet it’s possible that if they hadn’t Donington would have been robbed of a special, special evening.
If that sounds hyperbolic, tough – you had to be there. The Snickers tent could have been filled 10 times over, while inside people are climbing up the stanchions that support the building. It feels hotter than the Earth’s core (ok, so that is hyperbolic) and there’s so much sweat exuded that the floor is quickly turned from sand into mud.
In short, it’s the party to end all parties with Liam Howlett directing proceedings from his computer-laden space console, a guitarist and drummer adding layers to the sound, Keith Flint strutting across the stage pitbull-like and Maxim Reality leading most of the songs with his confrontational but always cool vocals.
Tonight The Prodigy show that to “feel heavy metal” (as Blur once put it) does not need necessarily require ear-splitting guitars, throat-damaging vocals or moshing. Instead, energy, adrenaline, hard beats and an abandoned spirit can also do the job, although having songs of the quality of No Good (Attack The Radical), Firestarter, Breathe and Voodoo People help on the road to euphoria.
Heck, in the crowd even glow sticks are out in force, and when it’s all over and the ’70s ditty Love Is In The Air is played on the public-address system, dozens of people stay behind dancing and singing. Yes, that’s metalheads dancing. And singing. To Love Is In The Air. The power of music, eh?
If The Prodigy provide the high, then back on the Main Stage Guns ‘N’ Roses are in serious danger of giving us an anti-climactic low, not just to today but to the festival as a whole. Sweet Child O’ Mine just doesn’t shine as one of the top songs of all-time should, Axl almost slips over mid-song, and when he announces that “due to technical difficulties” they will be taking a short break, things look decidedly prima donna.
Events continue to spiral downhill as one of the guitarists (who cares what his names is – he ain’t Slash) performs Don’t Cry solo, the band return for an inauspicious version of You Could Be Mine (during which Axl disappears again) and then the bassist throws his guitar, seemingly at the on-stage cameraman, and storms off.
So what on earth is going on? Is Axl turning into a farce even of himself? Apparently, not. Contrary to some of the rubbish that’s been written already, Mr Rose wasn’t being thorny for the sake of it. There were “technical difficulties”, including but not confined to a crap microphone that made Axl’s voice sound thin and strained. Yes, Axl’s initial reaction was to mope and yes, the bassist really does need to take some lessons from Fightstar’s Charlie Simpson on how to react when confronted by flying plastic bottles.
However, from the moment the bassist has his strop and someone somewhere sorts out the sound, Axl & co gradually turn things round. Izzy Stradlin does a guest appearance for Appetite For Destruction’s Think About You (and selected others); November Rain is as boring as usual until a fireworks-laden, guitar-soloing finale; Skid Row‘s Sebastian Bach appears to lend some energy to the very good sleaze-rock of My Michelle; Axl proves he’s a great whistler (!) as well as the fact that his voice is very much intact in the crowd sing-along Patience; while Nightrain really does rock.
By the encores Axl is even cracking jokes. Yes, really. After a positive crowd response to IRS, one of many tracks from the fabled Chinese Democracy album to have been leaked on-line, he suggests that the band should consider recording the song and that maybe fans could then download it. He follows it up by declaring that he is having so much fun he doesn’t want to go home, before pausing and adding: “… And I couldn’t have said that an hour ago!”
And so Download does end victoriously with a superb rendition of Paradise City, complete with confetti and more pyrotechnics. Thousands of people leave, happy, sated and smelly, although as we wander round the site in the early hours of the morning, it’s clear that many are staying to indulge in the carnival atmosphere some more.
The headlines afterward may be about a tiny smattering of people getting arrested for “starting fires” but concentrating on 12 people out of 75,000 merely demonstrates the media’s predilection for needlessly giving rock fans a bad rep.
Download 2006 really was a festival – a celebration of metal in all its diverse forms, where people laughed, perspired and shouted together, and took refuge in the fact that there are plenty of others who share their love for a sub-culture that mainstream society is often all too happy to dismiss. For three days, being a “freak” never felt so normal.