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Download XXI (Day Two): Pop Punk Classics, More Mud and the Return of Pantera [Photos]

Download XXI: Controversy, mud, and Busted. 70,000 fans rock through day one of the staple of the UK rock festival calendar…



Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy, photo by Graham Finney Photography

Saturday was arguably the hardest day when it came to weather at Download XXI. Like the Friday, it simply could not make up its mind, but today was so much more with constant shifts meaning you could not dress for the weather in any way. One minute the rain came, then next the sky cleared, and the sun shone down with glorious warmth. At one point things became quite biblical affecting BabyMetal’s performance, but despite this inconsistent nightmare, fans of the headbanging genres refused to be defeated and descended into the mud-filled fields once again at Download XXI.

Opening the Apex Stage on Saturday was one of the acts pushing the boundaries of rock music to breaking point, Bambie Thug. I have to admit that artists like Bambie had left me wondering if I was “too old for this” but, after watching her dominatrix-esque display, Bambie’s style is starting to sink in. Mixing rock, industrial and electronic elements into a mixing point of music, Bambie is the kind of attention-grabbing artist who has caught the attention and imagination of modern rock fans.

Someone who needs no introduction to Download XXI is Frank Carter who is already strutting his way around the large Apex Stage with his fellow “Rattlesnake”, guitarist Dean Henderson. Of course, nobody expects Carter to stay on the stage for too long and, barely a couple of minutes into the first song the pink-suited vocalist is down and hanging over the front rows… a decision he will soon regret when his first dive into the crowd sees some idiot snatch not only his sunglasses but also a sentimental chain from around his neck… something which doesn’t go down well with the punk rocker. Minor issue aside, Carter and the Rattlesnakes are as visceral as ever with circle pits exploding across the main arena.

One of the few of the new breed of heavy bands on the bill saw Russian deathcore heavyweights Slaughter To Prevail deliver a sledgehammer to the Download crowd. Becoming a hugely popular name amongst those who like their metal heavier, the masked band, fronted by the frankly terrifying Alex Terrible smashed through their set with the recent hit single “Demolisher” shaking the field. Despite being fronted by a man who wrestles a bear, it has to be said that the look on the face of Terrible as he addresses the huge crowd slamming around in front of him, is one of disbelief.

Taking to the Opus stage was the only Tom Morello, a face a lot of fans were questioning would attend, or even perform on stage due to the controversy surrounding the festival’s involvement with Barclay’s. Thankfully the banking giant had withdrawn from their partnership with Download, with Morello playing a huge part in mounting pressure.

Morello’s set was outstanding delivering a set opening with his latest song from his upcoming album, “Soldier in the Army of Love”, a tune co-written by his thirteen-year-old guitar whiz of a son. This was flowed by an acoustic classic, “One Man Revolution”, from Morello’s days as The Nightwatchman.

A big treat for fans at the Opus stage was an instrumental medley of both Rage Against the Machine tunes finishing up with Audioslave’s “Cochise”. At this point, Morello addressed the crowd announcing that: “Audioslave headlined the very first Download about 25 years ago, we were fronted by a man called Chris Cornell” Cheers erupted around the Opus stage as a picture of the late Cornell appeared on the backdrop of the stage as the classic Audioslave tune, “Like a Stone”. Spinning the mic stand around to face the crowd, Morello ensured the tune was led entirely by the audience. Although it was raining, a glimmer of sun shone through over Donnington and a bright and colourful rainbow arched across the skyline as if Cornell himself was giving it his stamp of approval.

“This is an old English folk song” announces Morello before the unmistakable riffing of “Killing in the Name” began much to the thunderous applause of the audience. This tune has a special place in the hearts of us Brits having chosen this tune as a protest to X-Factor contestants taking the No. 1 spot at Christmas in 2009.

One of the toughest choices of the weekend came next, The Offspring or the almighty Pantera who had not graced British shores in twenty years. This was a true dilemma, but I am not as fit as I once was and I was well aware of how busy the Opus stage would be, so the concept of wading up that hill only to find I cannot even get close to finalising my decision. I would remain at the Apex stage for The Offspring!

A fine choice of a band to stir the crowd up in time for Fall Out Boy, The Offspring delivered right off the bat fan favourites, “Come Out and Play”, “All I Want” and “Want You Bad” leading drenched fans in punk rock sing-alongs with masterful skill. Mud was flying, horns were raised, and fans were partying like nothing else mattered.

It was hit after hit, intercut with fun banter from Dexter Holland and Noodles with Noodles himself delivering some questionable mathematics in his estimation of the numbers in attendance. Even Holand himself asked Noodles to recount to which Noodles put his hand to his ear and announced, “Another world record broken, a lady in the audience has just given birth”. The Offspring, always the original pranksters!

Shoe-horned at the front of the barrier of the Opus Stage were two kids who must have been no more than six or seven years old. Having been there since before Sheffield metallers While She Sleeps performed, the two kids were gripping tightly onto a flag adorned with the faces of the four Cowboys From Hell. In front of them, a massive curtain with the name Pantera plastered across it hid the stage.

Another controversial announcement, the reformed Pantera, which saw original members Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown joined by Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante and rock legend Zakk Wylde, bring the name Pantera to a new generation of metal fans, despite the protestations of many hardcore fans. That being said when that squalling riff wails into opener “A New Level”, all bets are off. It might not be “the Pantera” but listening to Anselmo howling and gurning his way through “Strength Beyond Strength” while Wylde takes root as he headbangs his way through those iconic solos and, you know what, it’s very much the next best thing.

Headlining tonight was the almighty Fall Out Boy much to the delight of every pop-punk princess and emo-haired teenage boy from the early 00’s.

The introduction saw vocalist Patrick Stump appear on the enormous screens on either side of the stage lying on a hospital gurney in a gown and his signature peaked beanie. With a slightly confused look on his face, he raised a mic to his mouth and began to sing “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes”, or at least a snippet off before rising and making his way on stage with the rest of the band to thunderous applause of the crowd.

Wasting no time, Fall Out Boy delivered two massive fan favourites from Take This to Your Grave. Fall Out Boy Fans rejoiced, but it wasn’t until moving on to their From Under the Cork Tree segment with “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” that the party started and casual fans got a hit they knew well.

As the show continued, it became clear the set was broken into various sections comprising of hits from their back catalogue accompanied by period-specific costume changes marking the change for those not in the know.

When we finally arrived at the Save Rock and Roll era, the stage production (which was already top quality) picked things up with bassist Pete Wentz appearing to rise out of a volcano for “The Phoenix” as blasts of fire erupted from the side of the stage. During this fiery-based segment of the show, Wentz even shot fire bolts from the end of his bass during “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)”. Put simply, the show had now reached biblical proportions!

Closing their set with the ever-popular “Centuries” and “Saturday”, Fall Out Boy had massively outshined QOTSA in both audience and overall stage presence by delivering sing-alongs and party vibes throughout, Sunday’s headliner, Avenged Sevenfold, have a lot to live up too!

Read our coverage of Day One and Day Three here. Download Festival returns in 2025 and you can pre-order tickets from the Official Festival Website.