It’s hard to believe that we went 2 whole years without visiting the hallowed ground at Donington Park (not counting the Download Pilot which took place in 2021). The pandemic that gripped the world was all take with zero give and the entertainment industry was one of the big victims of the global shutdown. Music fans, however, are a resilient bunch and even though there were fatalities for some artists, most musicians found a way to adapt and keep the spirit alive providing light to many in the darkest of days. Thankfully COVID-19 is now all but a painful memory of a waking nightmare for people across the world and Download Festival was the rebirth of a community longing to reconnect with old friends whilst also making new ones.
Day 1 – June 10, 2022
It was a glorious day to return to the sacred lands, the sun was shining and the atmosphere was a buzz with anticipation for the first bands to take to the various stages.
Bury Tomorrow – Apex Stage
Hitting the stage with pure unchained force, Bury Tomorrow wasted no time kicking off their set with “Choke”. The crowd were already on form having been warmed up by Wayward Sons and Theory, so they needed little encouragement to let the band know they were ready to rock! Interacting with the band, vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates spoke of the hardship of the last few years involving rescheduled and reshuffled shows. Declaring loud and proud “don’t take this shit for granted! The rock scene is the best community on the planet!”
Just before erupting into “Death (Ever Colder)”. Before playing their penultimate song, “Black Flame”, Winter-Bates highlighted that usually before a show they receive a security brief advising against encouraging circle pits, “clearly they forgot this year” he declared as the band began to play, those pits were something to behold! For their finale, Winter-Bates highlighted that they had an unofficial record for crowd surfing, at least 1000, “Let’s try to break that record” he exclaimed proudly before bringing their show to an end with “cannibal” accompanied by bursts of fire thanks to well-timed pyrotechnics.
Myles Kennedy and Company – Opus Stage
Myles Kennedy is the personification of cool and this persona was maintained throughout his time on the Opus stage. Unlike many other musicians of his status, Kennedy did not rely on any flash set pieces or additional effects to enhance his performance. The man’s brand of blues and jazz-infused hard rock always is everything he needs to carry a performance. From the opening track of “Wake Me When It’s Over” to the closing song “Get Along”, the set was nothing but a zen experience!
Skindred – Apex Stage
Let’s be honest, would it even be Download without Skindred making an appearance? It also appears that every year they claw their way ever closer to the coveted headline position. Whilst it is unlikely they will achieve this, it has to be commended how thy have risen up the ranks. Frontman Benji Webbe is quite frankly one of the most charismatic guys on the planet and his outlandish stage outfits compliment his banterous nature making for one of the more entertaining shows of the weekend. As usual the band took to the stage to the ominous “Imperial March” made famous by the Star Wars franchise before blasting into “Under Attack”. Interacting with the crowd, Webbe, dressed head to toe in a red and black combination that makes your eyes bleed, yells to the audience “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”.
Responding to this, Download cheers and claps with thunderous glee knowing full well the Welsh legends have one hell of a show ahead! Before dropping into the ever-popular “Pressure” Webbe recalls an experience in a Kabab shop in Wales. With his Welsh accent (a complete 180 away from his reggae-style vocals) he tells the story of meeting a chap chatting to him about rock music. Clearly not recognising who he was the guy asks Webbe “do you know about this band Skindred? They’ve got a song called “Pressure””. This resulted in the entirety of the Apex stage attendees losing their shit, for want of a better word, and unleashing enough energy to power the whole of the UK! Have I just solved this energy crisis thing going on? Could it be Skindred’s music and fans? Did I mention the Newport Helicopter? Oh yes, there was the Newport Helicopter!
Sleep Token – Avalanche Stage
An unidentified collective that has carved its own place in the world of rock and grown in popularity at an impressive rate. For the uninitiated, you would think the band would be extremely heavy, but this is not the case for the group that worships the deity known only as Sleep! Their brand of ambient metal is slow and atmospheric and upon taking to the stage and opening with “Alkaline” everyone in the tent sang along in pure unison giving the impression that this was more a cult gathering than a rock show! Vocalist Vessel commits to the set in an almost trance-like state, his vocals are hypnotic and perfect all backed up by spectacular sound production from the rest of the group. From the opening of the set to when it ended with the enchanting track “The Offering” booming out, it was clearly one of the more stand-out sets of the weekend. Even when the band left the stage, the congregation refused to accept it was over chanting the band’s name over and over.
Kiss – Apex Stage
You wanted the best? You got the best! The hottest band in the world….. Kiss! It’s hard to imagine that Kiss began their globe-trotting career in the mid 70’s so it’s understandable that this will be the last time they play the UK (supposedly, we’ve heard this before) on their End of the Road tour, and let’s face it, they are coming up to almost 50 years on the road now, so they have paid their dues and earned a rest. Tonight though, there is no rest, there is only rock! Descending from upon high playing “Detroit, Rock City” it was clear as day that, although retirement is on the horizon, this show is a bucket list experience for those that have yet to experience one of the greatest shows on earth.
As “Shout it Out Loud” kicks in it becomes apparent that both Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons’ heyday has unfortunately passed as the energy they could muster in the early days has waned over the years. However, this would only be apparent to those that have experienced a Kiss show in the past as the performance is still first class.
Their two-hour set of course was intercut with both guitar and drum solos from Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer respectively, however, these sections felt a little monotonous overstaying their welcome somewhat with one section of the drum solo simply being Singer pedalling away at the bass drum.
Although there were some negative aspects to the show, these were more or less just nitpicking as the show as a whole was still a bombastic experience. It has to be stated that Stanley pulled it out of the bag when he zip-lined over the crowd to the missing tower playing both “Love Gun” and “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” to pure perfection. The pyrotechnics, smoke and light effects and of course the fireworks all brought the show together in spectacular fashion.
Day 2 – June 11, 2022
Once again, the sun was shining (for the most part) and the weather was warm. Even those hardcore festival-goers that had been there since Wednesday were still full of adrenaline showing no signs of slowing down. In their eyes, the feeling of sleep when you’re dead (or at least home) was a prevailing factor to keep the party going. Unfortunately, the Apex stage started to run about 30 minutes behind schedule throwing everyone’s plans into the air, but this was not about to dampen festival goers’ spirits.
Shinedown – Apex Stage
Entering the stage with bursts of flames Shinedown waste no time jumping straight into “The Saints of Violence and Innuendo”. As always, Shinedown ooze positivity both through their songs and audience interactions. Frontman Brent Smith encourages the audience to “look o the left and look to the right, give the stranger next to you a high five” whilst the band builds up and kicks into “Cut the Cord”. “Did you bring your singing voices today?” Smith enquires before kicking into “Unity”. With the whole crowd singing along, the title of the track fits the mood of the arena perfectly as the sense of unity can be felt throughout all in attendance. Following on with “Bully,” Shinedown remain a blur of energy right up until they exit the stage after playing “Sound of Madness.”
Will Haven – Dogtooth Stage
As Sacramento noise merchants Will Haven are setting up in the Dogtooth Stage, there is barely a hundred or so people in the tent and you have to worry that the vast majority of people previously packed into this tent have chosen to go elsewhere and miss out on something special? Thankfully, by the time the band hit the stage the tent is a lot busier as one of the most underated bands on the planet shows yet again why they are also one of the most exciting. Spitting with rage, the band might only have a short time to state their case for a higher slot next year but, watching frontman Grady Avenell lurches about the small stage screaming his heart out, they show there are very bands who, at this stage in their career, can still sound as utterly crushing as Will Haven do.
Creeper – Avalanche Stage
Possibly one of the most creative British bands to hit the scene in a long time, Creeper delivered an incredible set that mesmerised those in attendance at the Avalanche stage. It is clear the goth-punk outfit are adored by fans with cheers erupting whenever any member of the group do anything! From the opening song, “Hiding With Boys” to the closer “Misery”, the crowd sang along with every word and the emotion of every song delivered perfectly by singer Will Gould brooding vocal style. Creeper’s range is impressive and if they return next year, will have earned their place on one of the main stages.
Deftones – Apex Stage
The Deftones delivered a blistering set filled with several of their most popular songs. Chino Moreno and crew opted for a healthy mix of their varied catalogue of tunes from the more fast-paced songs such as “My Own Summer (Shove It)” to the more subdued tracks such as “Dimond Eyes” and “Change (In the House of Flies)” and everything in-between. Moreno seemed genuinely delighted to be back on stage at Download excitedly stating “welcome back, thanks for having us!” Just before blasting into the always popular “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”. It’s no easy feat to open for the mighty Iron Maiden, but the Deftones kept those who had clearly found their spot for Maiden entertained to no end.
Napalm Death – Dogtooth Stage
If you’re looking for an extreme metal masterclass, then there can be no better example than Birmingham grindcore legends Napalm Death. Going off in the Dogtooth stage like a hand grenade, Barney and Co are simply unstoppable as they power through track after track of punk-inspired grind. A regular on the UK scene now for over three decades, the extreme metal veterans sound as fiery and passionate as they ever have. Frontman Barney is still one of the most capitivating frontmen this country has ever produced so, whether he is spitting his lyrics or raging about politics or society, he will hold your attention. A brutal set from a band who know no other way.
Sepultura – Dogtooth Stage
If you’re attending Download Festival and don’t know who Sepultura are you need to take a good long look in the mirror as does the person who put them in the Dogtooth stage. Alongside bands like Pantera and Machine Head, Sepultura were one of the most important band of the ’90s metal scene. Their turbulent story has been well-documented but the band hurtle through the likes of thrash classics like “Arise”, “Territory” and “Refuse/Resist” displaying all the venom and neck-snapping rage that has kept them at the top of their game.
Iron Maiden – Apex Stage
There can be no argument that Iron Maiden was the main event of the entire weekend! For as far as the eye could see, in every direction, Donington Park was awash with bodies all eager to catch a glimpse of me of the greatest bands to come out of the UK. The anticipation was almost at bursting point when “Transylvania” started to play over the PA. The cheers from the crowd almost drowned out the music! Yet, still no sign of Maiden. Following a second tune over the PA, this time “Doctor Doctor” by UFO.
Finally Maiden took to the stage. Surrounded by a set made up to look like an oriental village, the band wasted no time jumping straight into one of their more modern hits, “Senjutsu”. This was followed by “Stratego” then “The Writing on the Wall”. A showcase if you will of Maiden’s latest material complete with a Samurai Eddie. It was the perfect demonstration that a group with this many years under their belt can still stay fresh.
The set then changed seamlessly for “Revelations” to a church-like setting. The legend himself, Bruce Dickinson, announces to the crowd; “well, the last few years have been a bit shit!” A truer statement could not have been made! “But that all ends tonight” Dickinson declares with such commitment he could have stated he was the second coming of Christ and the crowd would have believed him! “We are all “Blood Brothers” in this field” Dickinson announces as the guitar riffs kick in for the aforementioned song.
Throughout the set, there were plenty more set changes with a winged humanoid-looking being as “Flight of Icarus” played loud and proud and of course fire, lots of fire with Dickinson himself taking up arms with a twin-armed flame thrower. Even after all these years, it’s clear as day the man loves his job, and who could blame him!
By the time the encore rolled around, Dickinson had changed his costume multiple times with the last being that of the English Red Coat soldier for “The Trooper”. Once again Eddie attacks the stage this time in the military garb and proceeds to sword fight Dickinson.
Let’s not forget the set was filled with everything fans wanted to hear from “fear of the Dark” to “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills”. Finally, as the curtain dropped on the draw-dropping show, the band are signed off by the unexpected Monty Python tune, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” proving once and for all, Maiden are a band that, whilst being perfectionists, have a great sense of humour!
Day 3 – June 12, 2022
The people are rested (as best they can be) and raring to get the third and final day underway. Once again the weather is great, although a little more overcast than the previous days, a welcome change for us Brits some of which can struggle in direct sunlight. Still, today’s lineup of bands is just as on point as all the others so let’s crack on with the show!
Rise Against – Apex Stage
Rise Against, as usual, delivered a politically driven social commentary of a set with their alternative/indie style. Opening with “Prayer of the Refugee” the catchy nature of the song, is underpinned by the world’s current affairs, especially in Ukraine. As vocalist Tim McIlrath declares it to be a “political Sunday” shining a light on what many came to the festival to forget. Still, Rise Against’s rallying cry is heard and accepted. As “Satellite” plays, McIlrath dumps the mic for a megaphone blasting the tune’s lyrics loud and proud across Donington Park for all to hear whilst encouraging the audience to raise their fists in solidarity. As the set moves the band delivers a varied set of old and new to the crowd’s delight. Always a crowd-pleaser, but always ensuring their message is heard and understood.
Volbeat – Apex Stage
The Danish rockers delivered an incredible set! The sound was on point and the atmosphere was next to perfect. Hitting the stage the way they mean to go on, Volbeat blast out “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” and the set just got better from there. At one point vocalist Michael Poulsen addresses the audience and asks “are there any shady ladies here today?” To which the crowd erupts pointing fingers in every direction. “Are you pointing to your wife?” Poulsen asks, “no sir you ain’t a shady lady with that beard. Here’s a song about a shady lady called Lola” and with that the band dive head first into “Lola Montez”.
Spiritbox – The Avalanche Stage
Every so often a band comes along who capture the imagination of the metal community. Spiritbox are this year’s pick of the new breed and, unsurprisingly, the tech-metal stars step out onto the stage to an absolutely rammed tent. With a huge amount of anticipation weighted onto their shoulders for their debut UK show, the Canadian heavyweights are absolutely magnificent. Performing on an uncluttered, simple stage, Spiritbox simply let the music do the talking with the crowd matching vocalist Courtney La Plante word-for-word through already crowd favourites like “Holy Roller”. A defining moment in the career of Spiritbox, given the reaction to their debut, it would be hard to imagine that, next time they return to this neck of the woods, they’ll be performing anywhere other than the Main or Second stage.
Skillet – Opus Stage
If you ever wondered what a positive band sounded like, Skillet is your answer. “Tonight we say no to depression” exclaims singer and bassist John Cooper as they bust out “Rise” to a cheering crowd. Every member is a ball of energy zipping around the stage as if the power of god completed them to do so. At one point Cooper dedicated the tune “Hero” to a young lad currently fighting cancer even going so far as to bring him onto the stage. Drummer Jen Ledger, a Brit by birth (having just gained American citizenship) had her family ad young nephew in the crowd cheering the group on. Ledger at one point came to the front ditching her sticks to take up lead vocals to deliver “Awake and Alive”.
The Darkness – Opus Stage
There was a point in time where The Darkness was everywhere, you couldn’t turn your head without someone singing “I believe in a thing called love”! Sadly the group vanished from the scene seeming like a one (perhaps two) hit wonder. However, their fans did not forget them and over the years there has been a The Darkness Renaissance if you will. Their performance at Download proved that they should have stayed in the spotlight. Right from the start, the group’s 80’s style lit up the Opus stage. As their set came to a close, singer Justin Hawkins encouraged everyone to jump for their “most famous song” in his words before belting out “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” before exclaiming “Do you want to hear a Christmas song in June?” Before closing with their one-time attempt at a Christmas number 1, “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End).
Steel Panther – Opus Stage
Closing the Opus stage for the festival was the one, the only Steel Panther. For the uninitiated this was to be a show to remember (and also not take your daughter too) as the spirit of the 80’s lifestyle of drink, drugs and rock n’ roll lives on through Michael Starr, Satchel, Stix Zadinia and current touring bassist Spyder. Oh, and girls, I forgot to mention girls! Entering the stage as Van Halen’s “Unchained” blasts out the PA, the band wasted no time kicking off the show with “Goin’ in the Backdoor” Aside from all the banter between Satchel and Starr, which had the crowd roaring with laughter, they poked a little fun at The Darkness because they supported them this time before bringing Hawkins on stage to play “Party All Day (Fuck All Night)”.
This was followed by a cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”. Disturbingly, Starr not only pulled off the vocals to pure perfection, he had mastered Ozzy’s mannerisms to absolute perfection, again ensuring the crowd was losing breath due to laughter. In preparation for “Weenie Ride” Stix came to the front to play the piano as Starr pulled a young lady called Ally from the audience and the band proceeded to serenade her with the most inappropriate lyrics you could imagine. It would only work for Steel Panther! Following this questionable love song, the band prepared to play “17 Girls”. Now usually they only pull up 17 girls, but on this occasion, the stage was invaded by way more than that including one bloke in a wedding dress. “Michael, I’m scared, I can’t see you!” Called out Satchel to roars of laughter from the crowd. For the blokes, of course, there were plenty of boobs to enjoy. Closing out Downloads Opus stage with “Gloryhole” it has to be said, this was possibly the best the weekend had to offer (aside from Iron Maiden, they were fierce!)
Biffy Clyro – Apex Stage
It has to be said, Biffy Clyro were an interesting choice to close out the first Download in 3 years. Of course, they have their fans, but the audience present for their set was but a shadow of what Kiss and Maiden drew in. Despite this and despite the cynics, Biffy Clyro proved they were worthy of headlining Download in 2017 so for their second turn it cannot be questioned whether they were, indeed, worthy. “Scream for me Donington” vocalist Simon Neil declares loud and proud and deservingly, his request was received happily by the few that remained. Regardless of your opinion they played an incredible set and whilst I will confess I have never been a fan, I followed advice from friends and gave their live show a go. I was not disappointed! I will also now give a band I had previously dismissed as boring another shot.
Download 2022 was everything British (and further afield) rock fans needed after several years of uncertainty. We all prayed to the Download Dog to not only deliver a wealth of incredible bands but to also allow us a year where the heavens didn’t open. Our collective prayers were answered and we were rewarded for our patience, resolve and belief that we would see each other again with glorious weather, exceptional music, crazy antics and for some, a hangover that would floor a concrete elephant. It was all worth it though and next year marks the 20-year anniversary of Download, so the deity that is the Download Dog has seen fit to grant us not 3, but 4 days of music and some of the greatest bands on earth. It is not to be missed! See you all next year for the greatest show on earth, Download 2023!
Download Festival 2023 will take place over the weekend of the 8th-11th June, 2023 and you can find out more on the Official Download Festival Website
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