Having packed our kit into the car fairly early in naive hope of improving our chances of a swift late night exit to the motorway, we are given the pleasure of entering the festival site for a second time, with a very different crowd to the haircut sporting youths of Friday who can now be seen shuffling onto shuttle buses, still wearing mud caked Enter Shakiri shirts and downing the last dregs of their warm Cider.
I wade along the expanse of dusty track to the stages with every patchwork-denim jacket clad, beer gut sporting middle aged rocker in the entire country who have all turned for their annual dose of Iron Maiden in a field avec Carling. What this amounts to for most of the day is even more deck chair than usual littering the grassy slopes of Donington, while veterans of mammoth rock festivals here two decades back fill them with cynically folded arms, much unimpressed by the new school efforts of bands like Chimera, whose closing number; Pure Hatred isn’t really in keeping with their ‘big bottomed girl’ philosophy.
Away from picnicking ACDC fans, In This Moment deliver a brilliant set on the Tuborg stage, giving us female fronted melodic metal without the operatic self indulgent of acts like Within Temptation. Maria Brink appears is dolled up not unlike a Tim Burton remake of Alice in Wonderland, with the addition of head-banging blonde locks. Her band is at both its most brutal and melodic for the huge Beautiful Tragedy; with Brink’s lungs during the chorus proving there really is much more to this band than a pretty face.
In the mid day sun, Papa Roach have been pushing for a comeback since their brilliant debut and never quite succeeded. Wanna Be Loved is a pretty good song and has plenty of bounce for the dedicated younglings at the front, but unfortunately for them rap metal is dead buried and trying to exhume it is about as credible as having to play one of it’s standards (Last Resort) as your closing number at every single show.
For those in search of proper metal of the ilk that would have your parents frowning, the human ping pong game between the first and second stages begins with Devil Driver who provide just such an the ideal remedy; with End of the Line kicks things off in suitably brutal fashion. There is something wrong about a band this heavy being on so early in the afternoon, but they don’t look as stupid as Dimmu Borgir do later on; having to wipe running make up and sweat from their eyes despite being on the shaded Dimebag stage.
Dashing back into the sunshine, Mastodon‘s technical roarings on the huge main stage really shouldn’t work as well as they do, with a crowd so obviously unfamiliar with the material. As testament to either the deck chair posse’s politeness or the sheer brilliance of compositions like Megalodon, many new fans are gained in their short, flaming bursts of prog-metal.
One band who only seem to have brought their faithful (few) along are Orange Goblin, who take to the stage with no fuss or pomp; just a signature acoustic Johnny Cash intro and we are blasted into the crushing Harvest of Skulls. Scorpianica slips by before those of us who’ve waited five years to see these fine purveyors of proper metal kick things off in the pit for Blue Snow and Solomon Eagle, while the ridiculously catchy Some You Win convinces those loitering on the edges of the tent to bend an ear closer to one of the most underrated bands in the business.
Sweating and breathless, its out of the frying hot tent and into the fire of the main stage pit for Lamb of God, where in under half an hour songs like Again We Rise and Redneck prove just why this five piece are being given the ominous label of being Pantera v.2.0. The pit is literally a crushing experience as bodies fall under the violent sway and are dutifully recovered to their feet; metal etiquette at its finest. The circle pitting is fast, furious and for this reviewer somewhat deadly as ankle ligaments are still torn and swollen over a week later. Lamb of God are the pure embodiment of metal, there is no better band to let off steam too; and no better song for it than Something To Die For which is screamed back at the stage by the crowd with a volume that rivals the speaker system and leave Randy with a beaming smile to take home.
Corey Taylor’s Stone Sour might not match the brutality of the previous act, but they certainly bring more melody to the table, and their mellower moments actually prove to be some of their finest with their only Top of the Pops number to date; Bother providing a mass afternoon sing along. Killswitch Engage arrive at Donington minus Adam D with a job to do; rock out to many thousands of people in the blazing sunshine for a paltry 40 minutes; and they deliver the metal-core goods with faultless accuracy. Rose of Sharyn and End of Heartache are both brilliant tunes and Howard Jones doesn’t drop a note. Even newer slabs such as My Curse go down a storm, and Donington is probably the best reception they’ve ever had for the leftfield Dio cover of Holy Diver.
Evanescence on the other hand, having just the same job description, with the even greater pressure of opening for Iron Maiden; fail miserably. Amy Lee’s voice is hoarse from relentless touring, for that you can’t fault her. However, the lap lustre performance and whiny drone of their new epic material like Lithium simply doesn’t transfer to the expanse of Download’s main stage. This leaves many sunburnt and music hungry individuals to either seek solace in the progressive insanity of Dream Theater or to take a chance on the smallest stage, where five Swede’s are currently delivering an aural experience like no other on the bill; I give you Cult of Luna.
This underground act have been around a few years, touring, forming side projects and consistently refining their wall of sound into a melodic cacophony which is dubiously labelled ‘post-rock’ because muso’s like me don’t know how the heck to describe it. Suffice to say, the bass is so loud you feel it in you guts, while guitar lines dainty enough to be found on many Indy records swirl through walls of feedback laden distortion; which is all underpinned by kit battering rhythms that draw you into ten minute jams that never loose focus or intensity. Closing with Dark City, Dead Men, Cult of Luna leave a mark that extends way beyond their set, and personify the most memorable moment of any festival; straying from a crap band on the main stage to discover a band you’d never heard of who blow you away.
There isn’t a soul on site who won’t of hear of, and own most of the back catalogue of the festival headliners though. It’s an agonising 70 minute wait for the East London six piece to grace us with their presence. Despite opening with a more than 5 new songs on the trot including the patriotic anthem These Colours Don’t Run, Iron Maiden are still, unquestionably the unrivalled kings of metaldom. Bruce pauses early on, verbally lashing out at bottle throwers in the crowd; managing to eloquently wrangle in a dig at latest rival Sharon Osborne with rapturous response from his faithful throng.
Enlightening us all to the 25th anniversary of their seminal Number of The Best album, Donington is treated to a run of the albums tracks, taking in Run to the Hills, Children of the Damned and (of course!) the albums infamous title track. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg is possibly the longest and stupidly titled number, but the epic is a fine slice of modern metal with a retro twist.
The bold move of including so many new songs on this tour is simply a testament to the band’s longevity and prowess; while the cronies like the Rolling Stones have got through the past decade by touring as a glorified karaoke act, Maiden were able to play their new record in its entirety on their last tour; and still keep the louts happy by never forgetting anthems like Fear of the Dark.
Having not been able to secure my own living wage from playing heavy metal to adoring masses (other than in my drunken dreams), myself and thousands of others tear themselves away from the spectacle of an over sized tank being wheeled out onto the stage for the finale numbers in order to try and beat the all night queues of traffic that that are part and parcel of leaving Download on a Sunday night. Thankfully, we safely reach the motorway just before two minutes to midnight (groan); and with a sprained ankle, countless bruises, two pairs of ringing ears, and bodies that are screaming to be scrubbed, head home from the loudest weekend of our lives. They really will have to go all Spinal Tap and turn it up to eleven for 2008 in order to beat this one.