When the finalised line-up for Download 2006 was announced, it was always the middle day’s filling that looked the tastiest part of the rock sandwich. And so it proves with Saturday’s day tickets sold out and a four-mile queue of traffic to the venue from our motorway services base-camp (tents, pah!). Nevertheless, your intrepid critics manage to make it to the Main Stage in time for the latter half of a surprise opening slot by metal supergroup Down.
Comprising members of Corrosion Of Conformity, Crowbar and the legendary Pantera, the focal point of these sludgy, stoner-metallers is very much frontman Phil Anselmo. Unfortunately, these days Mr Anselmo is a shadow of his former, incendiary live self, although he’s no less belligerent. “My name is Philip,” he needlessly tells us in his Texan drawl, “and I’ve f**ked all your girlfriends… At least I think I did, but not if they are disgusting.”
Such is Anselmo’s kudos within metal that the masses can only laugh and enjoy the next song, although not before he stops it to address some seemingly imaginary punter in the distance: “Don’t look at me unless you want a fight… And you’ll lose!” He also informs us that his “dick is longer than Naseem Hamed is tall”. Well Phil, Mr Hamed is in prison and you know what they do to big dicks there…
After the mirth of Down, it’s time to hotfoot it over to the Snickers Bowl to catch some serious BMX practice and Glaswegian all-girl quartet The Hedrons. Now I’d love to tell you that Tippi, Rosie, Soup and Chi are the next Blondie, Runaways or even Ramones (all obvious influences), but when you’re playing music in the universe where a fourth guitar chord does not exist, you need mammoth tunes to pull you through and on this evidence, there’s still work to be done.
“Mammoth tunes” are not something that black metal Norwegians Satyricon get accused of producing much of. As I pass the Main Stage where they are performing their supposedly scary music with supposedly scary white face paint on, I can’t help but wonder how come these creatures of the night aren’t melting in the light of day.
Inside the cavernous tent that houses the Snickers Stage, on the other hand, and there’s much liquefaction going on thanks to an implausibly huge crowd who are waiting with bated breath for Watford nutters SikTh. Who’d have thought they’d be one of the buzz bands of the weekend? In fact, save for The Prodigy on Sunday evening, it’s possible SikTh draw the largest crowd to this outpost of the festival site.
Needless to say that, buoyed by the fervent response to their arrival, SikTh blast through a brutal yet cohesive set of individualistic metal that sees dual vocalists Mikee Goodman and Justin Hill working effectively in tandem, while it culminates in a mad, guitar-tapping instrumental that has people gasping. The new album should be interesting.
At this point musicOMH runs back over to the Snickers Bowl while those who like their metal loud, fast and goggle-eyed stay behind to watch Dez Fafara continue to banish the memory of Coal Chamber with his altogether heavier offering Devildriver. Apparently, Phil Anselmo makes a sotted guest appearance and even milks some applause after Devildriver have disappeared. Oh dear.
Over at the Snickers Bowl getAmped try (mainly unsuccessfully) to distract the BMX devotees from their tailwhips and the like. Still, you can’t fault them for trying and their melodic pop-punk is certainly sing-along and summery enough to suit the climate. Besides, frontman Rick Parkhouse is the producer of Sandi Thom‘s current UK number one album, so life ain’t so bad, eh?
It’s now 130pm and in half an hour England will be kicking off their World Cup campaign against the mighty Paraguay. There’s a giant screen up in “The Village” and already the numbers are building as people do their best to not get Peter Crouch mixed up with a goal-post.
Despite this, the Main Stage is more than bustling as Arch Enemy manage to generate some sizeable mosh-pits with their brand of precision, nouveau thrash. And in Angela Gossow they have a unique phenomenon – not just a vocalist who is a woman (a more than rare occurrence in extreme metal; and no, Evanescence aren’t “extreme”), but one who shocks a first-time listener who hasn’t already gotten their head around the fact that it is physiologically possible for a pint-sized lady to produce such guttural roars. It’s amazing what those Germans can do…
For once, we then stay where we are for one of the few bands worth missing the football for – Alice In Chains. Why these legends of the early ’90s Seattle scene are so low down on the bill is anyone’s guess, but anyone old enough or young and savvy enough to stay is rewarded with a short set of absolute classic songs.
To be fair, it’s the songs that win the day. New frontman William Duvall (also of Comes With The Fall) is no Layne Staley, in presence or in vocal prowess, but when a band has the beautiful Down In A Hole or the edgy greatness of Would? in its repertoire it would take Kermit The Frog to spoil it. In short, a winning set from “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” (Cantrell – guitarist; leader) and his cohorts.
From Alice In Chains it’s a quick peg back to the Snickers Stage hoping to catch some of Henry Rollins‘ socio-political, witty Spoken Word. Unfortunately, and contrary to the official timetable, the big man’s already been and gone. Shame.
musicOMH tries to get over the disappointment by jockeying for position in the now absolutely sardine-like Village to watch the second-half of England-Paraguay. Although the Three Lions win it’s hardly a convincing performance, something that could also be said of Stone Sour back on the Main Stage. Still, Corey Taylor will more than atone later in the day, but we’re getting ahead of ourself…
Californian flavours-of-the-month Avenged Sevenfold are around half-an-hour late on-stage, which gives me and others the opportunity to sleepily top up our tans before being rudely awoken by an exceedingly loud and drum-heavy sound mix.
The good things about A7X (as they confusingly like to be known) are frontman Shadows’ custom-made, sleeveless England footie top (we like a bit of effort) and the chunky metallic sound that they are able to generate. On the other hand, the bad things are shocking – get rid of those weedy, weedy choruses chaps!
It’s now time for something completely different. Picture the scene. It’s 5pm and over 80 degrees in the middle of the English countryside. In the distance, Avenged Sevenfold’s unholy racket is disturbing the peace. People are skateboarding in a wooden Bowl with Snickers logos all over it. And behind some railings appears the decidedly non-metal Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (or Sam Duckworth to his mum), armed with an acoustic guitar, a shiny Mac laptop and an occasional trumpeter.
At this point in proceedings, and despite all the obstacles in his path, Monsieur Duckworth and his winsome-yet-never-twee, Damien Rice-meets-electronica soundtrack is exactly what this particular metalhead needs to relax to before the madness ahead.
I Spy is memorable, as is Glasshouses (written about the rise of the BNP in Duckworth’s home town of Southend). By the end, he has the hitherto disinterested hordes distinctly focused. Impressive stuff.
And so to Trivium – latest “saviours” of metal (or something) and, on paper, the perfect warm-up act for Metallica. Except today Trivium come across as more of a tribute band. Frontman Matt Heafy – who it appears has no other vocabulary than “f**k yeah!” – is wearing a Kill ‘Em All T-shirt; his voice is James Hetfield Stars In Your Eyes-fashion; while asking the crowd if they are “ready for Metallica” not once but twice before A Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation is at least one time too many. As one seasoned punter wisely puts it afterwards: “They remind me of Metallica around 1985”.
Still, there’s no doubting that the assembled throng is absolutely up for a mosh and Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr is certainly a crushing way to finish.
It’s time to wait for Korn. Given how hot it is, especially after the exertions of the day so far, should we be surprised that multiple ladies choose to play the “flash my assets” game on the big screens as the cameraman pans around looking for volunteers? Or that blokes egg on their partners by putting them on their shoulders just so they get picked? It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world…
Eventually, three members of Korn appear on-stage to announce that frontman Jonathan Davis has been taken seriously ill in hospital (immune thrombocytopenic purpura apparently), but they will do a brief and pretty unrehearsed set with guest vocalists. It’s a brave and appreciated gesture, reminiscent of Metallica’s substitute drummer episode two years ago. And like that time, this is a novel moment in metal history rather than being especially impressive in itself.
Jesse Hasek from 10 Years nervously does It’s On; Shadows from A7X does a better job with Falling Away; Dez from Devildriver improves further with Somebody and the riff-tastic Coming Undone; Benji from Skindred seems made for A.D.I.D.A.S.; Slipknot/Stone Sour’s Corey Taylor is a bit of a hero with his renditions of Clown and Freak; while Trivium’s Heafy would have had to be, erm, Kermit The Frog, to spoil the Korn classic Blind. Good effort guests; get well soon, Mr Davis.
Almost time for Metallica but not before musicOMH has witnessed the performance of the festival so far over on the Snickers Stage. Alter Bridge are probably deeply unfashionable, especially given that three-quarters of them were in the widely loathed but deservedly successful Creed. However, tonight is one of those rare occasions when everything comes together in magical unison: a glorious band performance, a devoted, lyric-perfect crowd and, crucially, context – for the band members are in genuine disbelief that so many people would miss the beginning of Hetfield & co to be here instead.
Frontman Myles Kennedy is a genuine rock star, with the looks, moves and, most importantly, voice to be magnetic on-stage. Find The Real is a stunning, downtuned opener; newie Buried Alive chunkily-riffed; and by the time Burn It Down, One Day Remains and Open Your Eyes spin by it’s veritable euphoria.
The crowd chant “Alter Bridge! Alter Bridge!” with any energy they have left and the band respond by finishing with a wild, party version of AC/DC‘s Whole Lotta Rosie and the maximally heavy Metalingus. Metalingus? Humungous, more like. Time to stop raving before I run out of superlatives.
After Alter Bridge’s glorious showing, it’s a relief that Metallica aren’t an anti-climax and instead do their job of providing the best show on the Main Stage. We’ve missed openers Creeping Death and Fuel but arrive in time for Wherever I May Roam, a very Metallica-sounding “new song” and a pointless guitar solo from Kirk Hammett.
However things get a bit good once the delicate strains of The Unforgiven kick in, after which Donington is treated to something rather special – a complete performance of Master Of Puppets to celebrate its 20th anniversary and to commemorate the tragic passing away of bassist Cliff Burton.
Although things sag during the instrumental Orion, Damage, Inc. is always a mayhem-inducing way to finish, but Metallica are just gearing up for an encore of four songs that few others could match – the majestic Sad But True; the semi-acoustic Nothing Else Matters; the harrowing-yet-cathartic One (complete with all manner or pyrotechnics); and the adrenaline rush of Enter Sandman.
James Hetfield – who resembles a member of the Amish community these days with that goatee – appears to be enjoying himself immensely and just when you think it’s all over after the band have done minutes of revelling in the glow of Donington’s adulation, they return for a cover of The Misfits‘ Die My Darling (with seemingly half of the other bands on backing vocals) and a no-messing-around Seek And Destroy. A fitting finale to a day that will live long in the memory.