With extreme weather warnings hanging over this year’s festival it’s not so much a question of if the punters of Download are going to get soaked, but when. Looking down the line up, it’s all too obvious when the downpour is going to take place. Clearly God, or Satan, or some pagan deity (you choose, it’s a broad church… but this is a metal festival) has a sense of humour, because as soon as Thunder launch into their set, the heavens open.
Of course, it’ll take a bit more than rain to dampen the spirits. Even when the site has become something of a mud bath on Saturday, there’s hardly any complaining and certainly no referring to some kind of wartime spirit as if drinking lager in a field and watching bands is a horrific ordeal worthy of a thousand yard stare. Even the slight glitch on the cashless system, which is being rolled out for the first time this year, barely raises an eyebrow beyond the first couple of hours of Friday. In truth, the system works as close to perfect as can be expected.
The slight problems do mean that only a precious few get to catch Hell Yeah, although from the queue they sound as fired up as you would expect from ex-Pantera alumnus. Krokodil get things really rolling with their punk meets metal meets prog approach. Something of a supergroup comprised of members of Gallows, SikTh and Hexes, theirs is a dazzling array of carefully crafted songs and huge riffs.
Blues Pills’ hippy-rock approach is a jarring contrast to Krokodil’s bombast but a happy medium is found in the shape of Clutch. Their stoner blues riffs are an absolute joy, and they’re arguably one of the early highlights. As at home on the mainstage as they would be in a neon-lit backroom bar, they hit hard like a whisky soused heavyweight. When they launch into a sublime version of Electric Worry, they stake their claim not just as one of the bands of the day, but of the entire weekend.
Corrosion Of Conformity keep things hitting hard but not quite as bluesy on the Encore Stage before Dragonforce and Babymetal appear together, blitz through Gimme Chocolate! and pitch a quite delightful curveball to a crowd that appears to be unsure whether to be delighted, confused, or angry. As Thunder bring the rain (though thankfully not the thunder), Judas Priest remind the Download audience of metal’s roots and their quite amazing back catalogue. Whilst perched on a Harley, obviously.
As good as Judas Priest are, it’s up to Slipknot to raise the spirits of the bedraggled masses. Shortly before they take to the stage there’s fun to be had scanning The Maggots’ boiler suits (personal favourites include #3 – Pilgrim’s Choice on a 2 for 1 offer, and #6 – “beans”) but when the band take the stage and storm through Sarcastrophe things take a serious turn. Corey Taylor seemed at pains to give the evening a family feel (which confused those already part of the Metallica family) declaring the festival “home” as the band roared through the likes of People=Shit and The Heretic Anthem. Tonight’s set is probably the most convincing Slipknot show for some time, and despite the torrential rain it’s a warming end to the day.
After a great first day, but an entire evening of rain, Saturday threatens to be something of a wash out. Testament do their best to blow the blues away with a surprisingly effective and aggressive set of old-school thrash. It’s easy to forget that they were right up there with the big four of thrash back in the mid to late ’80s, but today the likes of Practice What You Preach and Into The Pit are stark reminders that they’ve always been a great band and deserve more credit. Similarly, there was a time when Carcass was considered to be one of the most extreme bands in existence. As pioneers of grindcore, they’ve been monumentally influential, and whilst they no longer seem quite as extreme as they did when they were releasing the likes of Symphonies Of Sickness, they’re still a brutal and invigorating live experience.
With so many old school bands on the bill, there’s no mistaking the sense of nostalgia that hangs in the air on Saturday. It’s perhaps best encapsulated by Black Star Riders who hurtle through a series of Thin Lizzy classics. If Carcass and Testament are a little niche for a crowd swollen by Muse fans out for the day’s headliner, then a set that includes Jailbreak, The Boys Are Back In Town and Whiskey In The Jar can’t fail to deliver.
Relying on former glories is something that Faith No More have done since they reformed in 2009, but with a new album out, they’ve started to spread their wings once again. Today’s set contains a lot of new material, and as with previous albums, it’s taken a while to get used to. Motherfucker for example sounded a little uninspired when it first appeared. Today it sounds glorious, as do Superhero and the jawdropping Matador, surely one of the band’s best songs to date. The likes of Strawberry Letter 23, Epic and Evidence ensure that the set is eclectic and something of a challenge to those expecting nothing but the heavier side of the band. It’s a set full of highlights, but the most peculiar is perhaps when Mike Patton leaps from the stage and attempts to get a stretcher bound fan to join him in the chorus of Easy, the Commodores classic.
The close of Saturday is something of a brutal sprint in mud clogged boots. From Andrew WK’s explosive invocation to Party Hard (a song he could play eight times in a row, and it would be a more than satisfying set) it’s a spirit sapping yomp to catch Marilyn Manson. It’s worth the effort though as he puts in a hearty performance that sets the record straight after his last appearance at the festival, which was somewhat shambolic to say the least. He drops the preening, pomp and props and lets the songs do the talking tonight, which serves him well as the likes of Sweet Dreams and Angel With Scabbed Wings hit the mark perfectly.
Closing Saturday night is Muse and a band that is perhaps something of a surprise addition to Download. Despite some of their roots being from the heavier end of the spectrum their presence has none the less caused a little consternation amongst the die-hard metal fraternity. There’s no doubting the sheer visual spectacle of their show, a masterclass in bombast and lighting. Beyond that though, Muse feel like they lack a little something. The likes of Plug In Baby and closing number Knights Of Cydonia are undoubted crowd pleasers, but the newer material from Drones, whilst heavy, doesn’t quite find the mark.
Of course in some quarters the idea of Muse as a headliner at a metal festival is tantamount to heresy, but credit to the organisers for trying something a little different. Before long the tried and tested headliners will be collecting their pensions or knocking on the lids of their coffins and a change is most certainly coming. With that kind of future not too far away now, making hay whilst the sun shines is the order of the day. On Sunday, there’s not much sun but there’s plenty of hay which has been put down to soak up the mud, rain, and piss. Cavelera Conspiracy get the ball rolling with some classic pounding Brazilian lunacy. Their charge through Roots Bloody Roots inspires a surprisingly charged circle pit, considering the time of day, and the state that most of this audience must have been in for the last three days.
Muse’s lightshow might have been extravagant, Slipknot’s familial platitudes heartwarming, and tonight’s headliners Kiss’ theatrics impressive, but it is Evil Scarecrow that provide this festival’s classic set. Their stage props are pure Blue Peter, their shtick is somewhere between Gwar and Lawnmower Deth, and their songs are sublime. When it comes to entertainment nobody else comes close this weekend. There’s an anti-gravity moshpit, an entire audience doing the robo, and in Crabulon there’s a pièce de résistance. Until you’ve seen several thousand people scuttling around throwing pincer shapes before a cardboard crab god, you just haven’t lived. If the band didn’t have tunes, it wouldn’t work, but they’ve got the lot. Evil Scarecrow are main stage material in the waiting.
Most of Sunday is given over to the old-school metal bands. Billy Idol appears to have been teleported in directly from the 1980s. There’s no attempt to tailor his set for the crowd, it is what it is. The big, obvious hits like White Wedding go down a storm, but the likes of Whiskey And Pills fail to impress.
The newly reunited L7’s set might have its roots firmly in the past, but it fizzes with energy, wit and aggression. On a bill dominated by male bands they leave their mark as the likes of Pretend We’re Dead drip with attitude. It’d be pleasing if Download took this set as an indication to have a stronger female presence on next year’s bill. As for L7, it’s been 14 years since they called it a day, but this set shows that far from being a cynical jaded reformation, they’ve lost none of their vitality.
Also looking to his past for inspiration is Slash. With Myles Kennedy at his side, he’s got a vocalist that can nail the old Guns ‘n’ Roses songs with style. Slash’s own material is perfectly functional, but alongside the likes of Sweet Child Of Mine (which today is positively glorious) and Paradise City, there’s no comparison. The quandary for Slash must surely be whether to leave the former glories behind, but when you can still deliver them with this kind of panache, it’d be a sad day if that was the path he chose to take.
Definitely calling it a day is Mötley Crüe who are hanging up their cod-pieces after this, their final tour. Although it’s not quite the last UK date for the Crüe they are insistent on going out with a bang. OK so Vince Neil now sounds like Bobcat Goldthwait, and the band’s stage show (flames, scantily clad backing singers…you know the drill) is exactly what you’d expect from an 80s hair metal dinosaur band, but somehow it works, and it’s deliciously good fun from start to finish. When they re-appear to run through a farewell version of Home Sweet Home, there’s a fair few damp eyes in the field and for once it can’t be blamed on the rain.
Closing the main stage is Kiss, a band whose reputation as a live act is legendary. There’s no getting away from the fact that they’re at least visually entertaining. Guitarist Paul Stanley flies around the arena on a zip wire, Gene Simmons spits fire and blood, and there are enough fireworks set off throughout the set to level a small insurgent village. There’s a limit to how much of Gene Simmons’ tongue it’s necessary to see however, and the band’s songs are actually rather lumpen and one paced, so it’s up to Suicidal Tendencies to finish the festival with a flourish.
Mike Muir is in frantic preacher mode tonight and he’s a pure positivity machine. From You Can’t Bring Me Down to Possessed To Skate, the hardcore legends don’t need the extravagance of a light show to make an impact. It’s a show of white hot energy, from start to finish and provides an antidote to Kiss’ big dumb bombast (which still has its place of course). The closing firework display might be impressive, but Suicidal’s blitzing show is awe inspiring and ensures that the weekend ends with a much needed, but well intentioned kick up the arse.