To celebrate it’s 20th anniversary, Download Festival went big. Increasing the festival to four days instead of three and increasing the capacity of the site, not to mention three massive headliners in Metallica, Bring Me The Horizon and Slipknot, Download 20 was going to be one to remember for both the wrong but primarily the right reasons.
Wrecked by well-documented traffic problems accessing the site and the surrounding areas for the first two days, many fans took to social media to vent their anger. Couple the traffic issues with logistical issues on site mainly due to the increase of capacity, many Download regulars wondering if organisers had gone too big for their celebration.
That being said, for all the issues experienced, the flip side of the coin was four days of great music headlined by two of the biggest bands in metal and, in Bring Me The Horizon, a British band who very much proved that modern British metal deserves a spot at the top of this exclusive table. So, having battled through the traffic, survived the crowds and the scorching heat, here is our take on a headline-grabbing Download 20.
The sun was high in the sky, the heat was intense and Cherry Bombs were set to take to the Opus stage officially opening Download 20. Sadly vast numbers of attendees were sat in their vehicles in sweltering heat consuming every available drop of water to remain hydrated, but by doing so decreasing the timeframe for which the impending dilemma of where to relive themselves would arise! Furthermore, this was the second day of chaos created by the increased and poorly managed traffic leading many festival goers to take to Twitter to express their displeasure at the organisation and in some instances demand refunds. It was a poor start to what was advertised to be a celebration of twenty years of Download Festival as many fans missed opening acts such as Cancer Bats, Mammoth WVH and The Bronx.
Due to the increased capacity the arena was missing much of its charm having all merchandise aside from official stalls removed. In it’s place though were high towers with 360 degree screens and additional speakers insuring that wherever you were in front on the Apex stage, you would have sight and sound of what was taking place on stage. For some, the sacrifice of tacky festival merch was well worth the assurance of not having to miss a single aspect of the music. For others though (mostly day ticket holders), the inability to take home a non-branded piece of memorabilia did not endear them to the changes to this years festival! This, of course, was a person to person issue dependent on who you spoke to, but the barren arena was sadly missing much of its charm.
Whatever your viewpoint on the above, everyone can agree that we were here for the music! Ukrainian heavy metal masters Jinjer took to the Apex stage late afternoon to a thunderous cheer from fans. The groups backdrop was that of a peace symbol bathed in the colours of the Ukrainian flag symbolising the unified desire of much of the world to bring the conflict in their home country to an end. It was simple and effective and enabled Tatiana Shmayluk and crew to focus on delivering a brutally beautiful performance. For the uninitiated they were treated to a show mixing groove laden metal riffs with Shmayluk’s outstanding vocal range moving from ferocious roars to harmonic lyrics with seamless perfection.
Following Jinjer on the Apex stage was the recent Heavy Music Award winners, Halestorm. Having previously headlined the Opus stage, their placement on the Apex stage felt both a downgrade and an upgrade all at once. However one would perceive this, all could agree that they were not afforded enough time to truly shine given their still rapid rise rise in popularity. From start to finish Lzzy Hale led the crowd in a sing along setlist of absolute bangers ensuring that any negativity of some of Download 20’s aforementioned shortcomings were melted away leaving only good vibes and sunshine, the very essence of a great festival.
Having stepped up at the last minute to fill in for Five Finger Death Punch who had to sadly withdraw due to medical issues, Skindred took the opening days headliner slot on the Opus stage being played in as always by The instrumental masterpiece that is the “Imperial March”. This placement has been long in the making for one of the UK’s most loved underdog bands! Skindred has performed at more Downloads then possibly any other artist and regardless what stage or time slot they are given, Benji Webb and crew never fail to deliver a performance like it was their last! Webb oozed with charismatic charm ensuring the crowd felt part of the show through every interaction, positive statement and tune delivered from the stage. The set was packed with all the favourites from the groups ever growing catalogue, but it was when Lzzy Hale herself joined the party for the final song of the evening, “Warning”, and to lead the charge of the signature Newport Helicopter move (if you don’t know YouTube it!). If ever any band had earned their stripes for a headline position at Download, no one could argue that Skindred were at the top of the list!
Of course, there is much anticipation for the first of two Apex stage headlining slots by the almighty Metallica! Regardless of feelings that someone else was robbed of the extra place created by the extended celebration of all things rock and metal, it cannot be argued that Metallica not only have the back catalogue to fulfil a no repeat guarantee, but have also earned this prestigious honour. As the sun began to settle and the intense heat lessoned, the various screens started depicting a photographic history of their storied career accompanied by AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If you Want to Rock ’N’ Roll)”. The track seemed almost written for this very moment. As the anticipation grew within the audience, Metallica somehow timed their entrance perfectly as the excitement was at its peak and to the delight of everyone kicked things of with a thunderous rendition of “Creeping Death” followed by a selection of lesser known, non-mainstream tunes such as “Harvester of Sorrow” and “Leper Messiah” ensuring that they were catering for the Metallica until death fans strewn across the arena. In the knowledge that fans were eager to hear the classics James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo were not about the neglect their latest record 72 Seasons so treated the ravenous crowd to new tunes, “Lux Æterna” and “Screaming Suicide”.
Although there were screens backing the band that varied the ambience of the stage and the songs being played, Metallica did not opt for any extravagant stage production simply allowing their set to do the talking. It was, however, the second half of the set where some of the bigger hits came out to play. The likes of “Nothing Else Matters” and “Sad but True”, that slowed the energy of the show somewhat, “Fuel” that heated the arena up with fire and flames and the first sets closer “Mater of Puppets” were all received by the adoring audience. It also came across that, despite their success, Metallica were humbled by their reception.
Despite some administrative issues in the festivals organisation, all was put to right by outstanding performances by all involved and day one of four came to a close. The bar was set high for things to come and it was unlikely those staying on site would be getting much sleep. This is Download though, and this is how it’s done! Who needs sleep? District X is between fans and their tents and with entertainment going on into the wee hours the party is far from over even if the bands are!
After the negative energy of day one had dissipated thanks to the incredible performances, revellers were rested (as much as one can be at a festival) and raring to go for round two with the arena. Once again, the sun was shining, the temperature was high and there was a thankful breeze blowing through the sight providing, at least some, rest-bite against the blazing heat.
The stage was prepped and neon laden signs depicting the next band to take to the Apex stage were set to be lit. Enter the Nova Twins. Upon entering for their main stage debut, the duo blasted into “Fire & Ice” with pure energy and a determination to own every second they were afforded on this vast space. Both donning similar electric blue outfits, their presence is exactly what was expected. It’s clear from the beaming grin on vocalist / guitarist Amy Love’s face that this is a massive honour for the Heavy Music Award nominated pair. The set is nothing less then perfection with Georgia South slapping her bass like a pro proving that both are rock stars in the making with Download being just another step up towards stardom!
One band that many fans were buzzing about seeing was the drum n’ bass masters, Pendulum. The buzz was warranted as a group that, on paper, didn’t belong at a metal festival, put the energy of Download into overdrive. The Australian five-piece got an entire festival up on their feet dancing from start to finish. With a surprise guest appearance from Matt Tuck of Bullet for my Valentine for “Halo” it is emphasised why bands such as this are continually breaking down the metaphorical boundaries between genres. Even the more harder metal heads could be seen nodding along and tapping their feet to the grove.
Friday was a day for the leading ladies of rock with both Within Temptation and Evanescence leading the charge on the Opus stage. Within Temptation started the proceedings with vocalist Sharon den Adel leading the Dutch operatic rockers and it was clear from the outset that this was the start of something special for the Opus stage! From the opener “Our Solemn Hour” to closing with “Mother Earth” Within Temptation were on form delivering a first class setlist whilst also unapologetically showing their support for Ukrainian with images and animations depicting the suffering of war with Adel even waving a Ukrainian flag of such stature a strong gust of wind could have taken her clean off stage!
The Opus stage was already rather heaving but as Within Temptations set went on, the crowd continued to increase. By the time Evanescence were ready to take to the stage the area had moved from busy to three people short of a potential catastrophe, it was busy! With more and more fans pushing their way forward in the hope of catching a glimpse of Amy Lee others were either pushed forward or back dependent on where they were. Sadly this incited a give up and move on scenario for many fans especially those with younger members in the group. Despite the headlining slot, it was apparent almost immediately that Evanescence should have been offered a place on the Apex stage!
The main event for Friday night though was Bring me the Horizon in their main stage headliner debut. There was anticipation in the air and a question on peoples lips; were they ready for this placement? Could they deliver a performance akin to their co headliners for the weekend? The answer was about to be given and in short, it was an overwhelming yes! Throughout the day between performances the main stage screens delivered obscure pieces of information related to a cult simply known as Genxsis preparing for an interwoven narrative to play alongside the show.
Even before the show started it was clear that no expense had been spared on the production with vocalist Oli Sykes even utilising a custom chrome goat skeleton mic stand (think Johnathan Davis’ HR Giger inspired piece). The stage was given a church like atheistic complimenting the cult like messaging delivered throughout the day. The moment Sykes sauntered on stage he commanded the audience and delivered a persona of a true rock star and as they jumped into their new track, “AmEN!” Any doubts about their headlining posting were instantly crushed below the incredible power on the groups stage presence!
Every moment of the set felt special and was only outshined by the next. Even when the Nova Twins accompanied Bring me the Horizon on stage for a rendition of “1 x 1” it felt as if the show had peaked only for one song later when a hooded figure appeared mysteriously on stage revealing themselves to be the one and only Amy Lee joining the group for “One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will be in Your Chest as You March Towards Death” staying for “Nihilist Blues”.
This was a career defining performance that will be remembered as a legacy for both Download and Bring me the Horizon. Despite being a well loved festival, Download has developed a reputation for a revolving door of headlining acts, so this gamble on Bring me the Horizon paid off and was worth more than its weight in gold! This show has ushered in a new breed of rock star, the old guard, whilst still respected, can take a step back ready for the new wave of legends to come. Bring me the Horizon has opened this door and fans now wait with bated breath on who will follow them through it!
With no sign of the weather worsening, the third day was going to have a lot to live up to following Friday’s history making performance from Bring me the Horizon. With Metallica set for their second performance of the weekend there was a real feeling that, despite many songs still waiting for their moment to shine at Download, could they, being the legends they are, hold up against the young blood of the previous day? It was a strange concept to ponder to say the least as comparing Metallica to the likes of Bring me the Horizon would have had no credence less then twenty four hours ago, but this was now a different world, a new world for rock and metal! However it was to be perceived, we still had a full day ahead of world class musicians ready to blow the collective minds of festival goers.
Disturbed took to the Apex stage late afternoon and it would be reasonable to say that the arena was heaving! It would also be reasonable to surmise that this was due to Metallica’s impending second set, but either way you look at it, Disturbed had one hell of an audience to perform too! For such a heavy band, the experience of witnessing Disturbed was quite heavy duty on the emotional side. Although we had the expected bangers such as “Stupify” and of course “Down with the Sickness” vocalist David Draiman also delivered possibly one of the most heartfelt monologue of the weekend in relation to the sickness that is depression proclaiming “Chester (Bennington), Chris (Cornell) I miss you” before an emotional rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”. This was an enjoyable set to say the least that had everyone rocking!
Placebo were down to headline the Opus stage and with a stage set up that emanated cleanliness with it’s white aesthetic, it almost felt clinical. Sadly this summed up the performance as well, both Brian Molko and Stefan Olsdal (also in white attire) came across a little robotic and detached from the audience with Olsdal even looking board throughout the set. The majority of the set consisted of new material that, whist more then suitable for their own show, didn’t endear the crowd much. It wasn’t until over half way through did they play some of their more beloved selection of tunes such as “Nancy Boy” and “Infer-Red”, but these were sadly minimal. They did close with their rendition of Kate Bush’s “Running up that Hill (A Deal with God)” but Placebo did not come across as being interested in the slightest in entertaining the crowd. They were there to do a job, they did it, they left. Very disappointing!
It was now once again time for Metallica to take to the stage and as previously mentioned, they now had to not only compete with themselves from their earlier set, but Bring me the Horizon’s one for the ages performance! Of course Metallica are Metallica and their songs can easily do the talking! This show came across as slightly more predictable as many of their fan favourites had been played leaving a selection for fans to guess what could be played. To be fair though, that selection was still rather large! Following “Whiplash” a bell rang out signifying clearly to even the most casual fan that Metallica were about to belt out “For Whom the Bell Tolls” which was promptly followed by “Ride the Lightning” to the gleeful admiration of the fans. It was a strong start to say the least.
Impossibly high accolades will always be given to a Metallica show, even when Hatfield poked a little fun at St. Anger but the show was the same as the previous performance just with alternative songs. Still, there were mosh pits aplenty, sing alongs in abundance and it was a Metallica show to the very core, what’s more to say that hadn’t been already said earlier? This was a celebration of Metallica’s 72 seasons as a band and regardless of your stance on the two set allowance, this was an honour that had been earned. It is now the tenth time this legendary band has performed at Donington be it Download or the festivals former iteration, the Monsters of Rock and it’s impossible to question their loyalty to those that put them on the stage!
It has to be mentioned though that both their performances made national news for their music being heard over 10 miles away on both nights. This can be taken negatively for the festival from a strictly business perspective, but from a rebellious rock n’ roll stance, how metal is that!?
It is the beginning of the end, Download 20 will soon be coming to a close but there is still one more full day of head banging ahead and for this weekend, nothing is over until the Corey Taylor sings!
The heat is still bordering on unbearable, but not even the fires of hell can end this party. Stoking the flames were The Hu on the Apex stage. Today had a more international feel with Indian head bangers Bloodywood opening the final day on the same stage. The Hu brought their A game to proceedings brining a tribal like atmosphere to the arena with their Mongolian folk music laden metal riffs inspiring the slowest, most ritualistic circle pit ever witnessed. The show was like a preparation for war with throat singing intimidating the enemy. With a cover of Metallica’s “Sad but True” as tribute to to the old gods, The Hu paid their respect!
What do you do when technical issues raise their ugly heads? Well, if you’re Dinosaur Pile-Up you roll with the punches and work with what you got. Sadly only able to deliver a stunted five song set on the Opus stage as a result, vocalist Matt Bigland joked about it and crammed in as many fan pleasing tracks as possible. It’s fair to say they were robbed on this occasion, but with real comedic timing, they shrugged it off and did what they do best; played rock n’ roll!
The thunder from down under that is Parkway Drive wasted no time demonstrating that their placement on the Apex stage was earned. Vocalist Winston McCall pulled no punches what so ever encouraging the crowd and energising them like some form of human battery. Accompanied by blasts of fire throughout their set the heat of the day was at its max with McCall stoking the fire placing himself at the centre if an intense, dust filled circle pit for “Idols and Anchors”. Tt was almost biblical watching a human raised out of a whirlpool of bodies whist fire blasted from the stage. This one moment summed up the very essence of a heavy metal show.
Headlining the Opus stage for the final night was the Grammy award winning Ghost. Tobias Forge and his congregation of Nameless Ghouls delivered a sermon not to be forgotten. It’s easy to surmise that Ghost could and should have been afforded one of the coveted headline slots given their status, but this year alas, it was not to be. The set up was, of course, that of stained glass windows accompanied by fire and smoke to set the scene and despite the slightly stripped back production of their set, Forge ensured that the performance encapsulated all the necessary aspects of what one has come to expect. It was grand, fun and above all else, sounded incredible from the grandiose opener “Kaisairion” to the colourful light show accompanied “Dance Macabre”. Just imagine what could be accomplished with a main stage headliner position!
Download 20, whist it had its issues accomplished what it set out to do. With outstanding performances from both headliners and support this festival will be remembered! Once again, Bring me the Horizon must be mentioned as their performance was carrier defining and demonstrated that the touch can now be passed to a new breed of artist.
So to the final band of the weekend, Iowa’s ever unpredictable metal Godfathers Slipknot. In a lead-up to their much-anticipated headline slot, founding member Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan announced he was heading home to deal with family issues with the band then announcing, to the surprise of their fans, the departure of Craig Jones. During all of that the band managed to drop their surprise Adderall EP.
That being said, the band pulled further suprises out of the bag as Clown managed to make an appearance with ninety thousand+ fans sending home best wishes to his family and a new mask/face made his UK debut replacing Jones for a blistering set. Despite acknowledging problems with his voice, ringleader Corey Taylor leads the band through an explosive, hit-laden set from “Custer” to “People=Shit” slamming the heat-battered fans through to the final hours of a weekend only for the hardcore could have survived.
Following one of their previous festival appearances where we bore witness to a troubled Slipknot, I was told by a member of the band that “even Slipknot on an off-day smokes every other band around”. Tonight, with Corey clearly struggling at times with his voice, the band again came out on top with a performance that was simply staggering. With a set list that included “Liberate”, “Psychosocial” and “The Heretic Anthem”, Slipknot slaughtered the opposition with an epic “Spit It Out” bringing the curtain down on a controversial weekend in truly sensational fashion.
Until next year, Download festival, we salute you, we thank you! In metal we trust!