They say that metal is the devils music and Beelzebub generally likes to hang out near the lakes of fire inserting red hot pokers where the sun dont shine. Clearly nobody told Satan that Download was on this weekend, because the site is anything but warm, the lakes appearing are considerably less fiery than might be expected and like the orifices that receive those hot pokers, the sun most definitely isnt shining in this vicinity. Tents have been immersed in water, and over the course of the weekend, most of the 100,000 attending will be caked in mud.
But music and copious quantities of snakebite have a way of making everything seem much better, and as soon as Download kicks into life things are suddenly more bearable. However, with a delayed opening seeing Cancer Bats‘ set moved, Europe stuck at the airport, and a few sets cancelled completely, its not until Friday is almost over that things really get into gear. The rampant techno and drum and bass of The Prodigy and Chase & Status might not be everybodys idea of headliners at a metal festival, but the propulsive nature of their songs is undeniable. Over on the second stage Slashs set features enough Guns n Roses hits (Sweet Child O Mine and Paradise City) to keep happy everyone who finds the supercharged Prodigy a bit too much to bear.
With no overnight deluge occurring, Saturday is a little less fraught, although the site is still treacherous and hard to navigate. Old hands Saxon (who played the first Donington a decade ago) get things moving, and although much of Spinal Tap was apparently based upon their antics, theyre far from a joke. Unlike Steel Panther, who prick the bubble of cock rockery perfectly. Theres no time for cute irony in their approach; its all full on sex and drugs and rock and roll. Ludicrous it might well be but its so well done its impossible not to love. In a similar comedic vein is Tenacious D, Jack Blacks rock duo. Its slightly more refined than the T&A onslaught of Steel Panther (even their backdrop of an inflatable penis seems like an artistic statement by comparison) but the likes of Tribute still havent completely outworn their welcome despite their familiarity.
Elsewhere, The Wildhearts put on a blistering display of supercharged punk metal, while Guns limp rock is something of a disappointment. Its headliners Metallica that rule the day however, and after a brief introduction featuring old favourites Master Of Puppets and For Whom The Bell Tolls, they head into a full rendition of their commercial breakthrough, The Black Album. Playing it in reverse proves a sensible move as that means they can close out with the brutal Sad But True and the metal classic Enter Sandman. In truth it exposes the album as being slightly flabby in places; Of Wolf And Man and Dont Tread On Me havent aged particularly well, but its all so well executed, only a complete fool couldnt help but be swept up in the gargantuan riffs on display. They wrap their set up with explosive renditions of One and Seek And Destroy, and even though they could do with revamping their set somewhat this is still a triumph.
Sunshine bathes the site on Sunday and Black Spiders‘ charging rock ‘n’ roll is the perfect way to begin the day. The reality is that todays line up is the peach of the festival; theres quality everywhere. Kyuss Lives! bring their bone crunching, spliff laden stoner rock to the main stage and are phenomenal, the earth shuddering under the weight of their riffs. Anthraxs frantic thrash causes a joyful moshpit explosion whilst Megadeths lightning speed guitar work is still a wonder of finely executed complexity.
Proving that the sun has lifted spirits across the site, even Sebastian Bach seems surprisingly good as he runs through classic Skid Row material. Theres something slightly weird about him playing Youth Gone Wild to a crowd of people, many of whom remember it the first time around over 20 years ago. If anything it serves as a warning to any youth watching. Kids, if you go wild, thats what youll end up looking like 25 years later.
Sadly Sunday also brings a series of clashes, so after Refuseds blistering set (which culminates with a surprisingly fresh sounding New Noise), a race across the site is required to catch at least something of whats on offer. Soundgarden make a return with a functional and occasionally inspired set. Spoonman still sounds fantastic, as does Chris Cornells wailing howl. The fumbled intro to Black Hole Sun is unintentionally hilarious, but the dirge of Gun or the blistering Jesus Christ Pose are enough to remind everyone that Soundgarden were, and still are, vital.
Offering respite from Soundgardens serious outlook is Dropkick Murphys, a band more suited playing under the illumination of a bar light, but they’re equally at home in the scorching hot sun as a frenzy of good time tunes and Irish jigs break out across the field. No jigging for Ghost however, whose prog-rock operatics are deadly serious despite being delivered by a bunch of people dressed as druidic ghosts and a vocalist who may well be some kind of skeletal bishop. As ridiculous as it seems, theres nothing absurd about Ghost’s material; the pomp and circumstance of their songs is quite breathtaking.
Closing the festival is Black Sabbath, which is appropriate, because without them, its arguable whether there would be a festival like Download in the first place. They were the originators of metal as we know it, and every riff and nuance of these songs permeates every offshoot of metal today. From the first hellish notes of Black Sabbath to the closing blast of Paranoid the ground shakes under the weight of their songs. Ozzy Osbourne is in good form, shuffling around the stage yelling come on you fuckers randomly, as Tony Iommis riffs serve as a reminder that, in a sense, theyre metals version of The Beatles. These songs (Snowblind, Iron Man, War Pigs, Into The Void, Sweet Leaf) seem to be woven into the subconscious; their primal nature taps into the core and insists that the only possible response is to force those fingers into a pointy horned demon and rock like a bastard.