With the festival season well and truly upon us, it’s up to Download to stamp its authority on the calendar with a solid metal boot. It is fair to say that the site is quieter this year than previously, but with Sonisphere, Bloodstock and the British Summer Time shows coming up, disposable income can only stretch so far.
The other problem that is staring these festivals in the face is the lack of quality, earth-straddling headliners to take over from the increasingly elderly big hitters. This year’s main festivals are dominated by bands closer to the grave than the cradle with Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and even Metallica all liable to be considering sponsorship offers from Stannah in the next few years if they’re not already.
But, hey, it’s hot, there’s chilled lager on tap, and a weekend of top bands to pound at the eardrums. Why think about tomorrow when you can live for the moment? That’s pretty much the philosophy of the weekend.
Friday sees the site embracing zombie day, because it’s Friday 13th and Rob Zombie is playing too (fortunately). The result is an audience of lurching drunks covered in fake blood eating stacks of chips because brains aren’t on offer (unless there’s a stand we missed). As for Rob Zombie, his set later in the day is a ridiculous overblown affair, which is all that could be possibly asked of him.
Earlier in the day, Drenge and Radkey go someway to answering the question of where the fresh young talent is going to come from. Drenge’s two-piece grunge assault grabs the audience by the throat and never lets go. Radkey meanwhile channel punk and metal, dust off their Misfits collection and totally nail it. If the crowd feels a little bit dead, it’s probably because 50% of them are zombies.
Skindred kick the festival into life; Pressure is absolutely incendiary. Their update of Bad Brains‘ template works perfectly, mixing punk, metal and dub until it fizzes with attitude. As the band bellows “nobody gets out alive” a punter dressed as a fox sails over the top of the crowd; ordinarily his safety would be a concern, but he seems pretty wily. Post-Hardcore legends Quicksand put in one of the performances of the weekend. Expansive and glorious, each song packs a punch but also meanders gracefully. They close with an utterly glorious version of Landmine Spring that serves as a reminder as to just how influential they are.
Similarly Bad Religion’s set late on Friday is packed with old classics and new songs that will, no doubt achieve similar status. The Offspring will later plump to play the whole of Smash, which is perfectly good fun, but with Linkin Park playing all of Hybrid Theory in their somewhat lacklustre Saturday headline spot, there seems to be a little too much resting on laurels and not enough innovation going on.
If there are any questions about whether Friday’s headliners Avenged Sevenfold are capable of taking over from the older established acts then they answer them quickly. A solid confident set, packed with their best bits and nicely toasted with plenty of pyrotechnics, they cement their place here with aplomb.
Saturday seems a bit more geared up for fun, with Lawnmower Deth striking an early blow with hardcore stupidity, and great riffs. Bowling For Soup lead the crowd through a Bad News chant (Rik Mayall’s metal band played here back in 1986) as a massive inflatable sheep looms large behind them. Orange Goblin go one better and emerge onto the stage to Bad News’ Warriors Of Ghengis Khan before launching into a set of awesome stoner rock designed to crush granite.
The Bosshoss keep the fun running, they’re like a country Rocket From The Crypt. To call them metal is pushing it, Don’t Gimme That for example, is a solid gold pop hit. With their horn section, they’re like an overdriven Stax band, all the more glorious for it. Vamps (Jpn) are a ridiculous interpretation of of practically every metal meme known to humanity. There’s dollops of Polysics, nu-metal, j-pop, Stock Aitken and Waterman and early Manic Street Preachers. What can it all mean? Well, probably nothing, but it is ridiculously good fun, which is all you can ask when you’re half cut on flat larger.
Proving that age is nothing but a number are Twisted Sister and Status Quo. TS’s frontman Dee Snider grasps the opportunity to steal the show and run away with it. He’s a charisma H-Bomb, leading the audience through big dumb classics I Wanna Rock, I Am I’m Me and We’re Not Gonna Take it before wrapping up with a cover of Motörhead’s Born To Raise Hell. It’s a masterclass in keeping an audience in the moment. Status Quo offer an alternative to Linkin Park’s headline set. Quo might be an easy target for mockery, but there’s no denying that they’ve got piles of classic songs, all of which tonight seem shot through with a youthful vigour and are far heavier than might be expected. Heavier still are black metal titans Behemoth, who in the Pepsi Max tent offer a truly brutal end to a second day that can still happily stagger back to the tent with a smile on its face.
Sunday still offers a few comedic moments, but Steel Panther’s joke is starting to wear a little thin. After three albums of little more than cock jokes, the question for the band is where do they go now? Initially the idea of a ’80s hair metal parody band was pretty funny (and they do still have some good one liners), but with the misogyny in their material becoming more rife, and the fact that ’80s hair metal was pretty self-parodying anyway they need to change something quickly.
Phil Anselmo, he of Down and Pantera, is hilarious. Whether it’s intentional or not is uncertain, but when he’s saying things like “we’ve got…what you might call…40 minutes” in a low growl, it takes on a strangely comedic edge. He makes the most of his time though, and brings Rex Brown (Pantera) on stage to rip through A New Level, which fuels speculation that some kind of reunion might be on the cards.
It’s older bands that rule the day. Sepultura might be barely recognisable to the band that recorded Beneath The Remains and Arise, but their songs are still rumbling, tribal calls to arms. Aerosmith close the festival in overblown rock star fashion. Steven Tyler is more energetic than anyone half his age has any right to be. Roaring through a back catalogue that contains more hits than many remember, Love In An Elevator, Dude Look Like A Lady, Sweet Emotion and Walk This Way all get delivered with an assured swagger whist I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing prompts an impassioned sing-along.
Replacing rock gods like Aerosmith over the coming years will eventually become a necessity for festivals like Download if they want to strive, thrive and survive. It’s still thrilling to catch Tyler, Perry and co on good form as they are here, but the new breed need to step up, and festivals and fans need to give them the opportunity to do so.