Each year Download gets bigger and better, and it’s our privilege to catch the very best of the live action from bands across the weekend. This time around for the festival’s seventh year, we caught legends including Alice Cooper, Danzig and Twisted Sister, established talents like Linkin Park ‘n’ Rob Zombie and also got to check out some of the most exciting rising talents in the UK including Japanese Voyeurs, Hyro Da Hero, Sworn Amongst and more besides – pretty frickin’ fantastic, if we’re honest (apart from the schizophrenic weather which gave our editor a nasty case of sunburn) and if you weren’t there, then you missed out, but we’ve got you covered!
We start our epic weekend off with CKY who seamlessly create dingy, grunge-infected sounds that remain wholly originally and proper heavy at all times. The stand out track of their set today has to be ’96 Quite Bitter Beings’ (which is arguably, the band’s defining song) with its addictive and mosh-ready guitar lines and chorus.
The follow-up band is Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows – their potent mix of electronics and post-hardcore soundscapes is well-received by a very respectable crowd today. The group’s energy for ‘Mr. Owl Ate My Metal Worm’ is particularly impressive and each member rises to the challenge of entertaining a large crowd in the middle of the day by jumping around while vocalist (former Chiodos frontman) Craig Owens whips his audience into a fine frenzy and sets a positive mood for the rest of the day.
Young Guns follow-up next with their anthemic brit-rock-spiced tunes. It’s clear from today’s performance that arenas beckon this talented five-piece and with support slots with good ol’ Bon Jovi and alt-scene darlings Lostprophets already under their collective belt, who is going to argue with us? The Guns succeed in setting the standard for the other second stagers today.
Meanwhile, London-based post-grunge hipsters Japanese Voyeurs hold their own in front of a major crowd impressing with hits like ‘Dumb’ and ‘Smother Me’ over on the Pepsi Max Stage. Not only that, but the sound (for the most part, anyway) was clear and the near capacity crowd lapped it up and dedicated fans of Romily Alice and co. keep the energy level up and (fortunately) refused to stay still when they knock out a cracking cover of Nine Inch Nais’ ‘Closer’.
With their Kentucky accents and Southern blues-rock style Black Stone Cherry take to the stage, with a cherry smoking a cigar on their entertaining (and relevant) backdrop. These confident artists easily get the whole crowd’s fists pumping into the air while blasting out some of their most popular songs including ‘Rain Wizard’, ‘Maybe Someday’ and their latest single ‘White Trash Millionaire’, which gets the most response from fans old and new. Best of all? BSC announce that they have a UK tour coming up with Alter Bridge at the end of the year. Sweet.
As we trek back over to the Second Stage in the sweltering heat for The Damned Things’ pure mix of rock and hardcore (from début ‘Ironiclast’) we expect big things. After all, there’s much hype surrounding this act (returning to this Download stage for the second year in a row) featuring members of Fall Out Boy (Andy Hurley) and Anthrax (Scott Ian) and while this sound clearly appeals to the fans of classic and modern metal, there’s very little originality at play for us here. That being said, we must commend vocalist Keith Buckley’s excellent (if slightly shameless) self-promotion skills for their first record – the effort and live emotion is certainly there for ‘We’ve Got A Situation Here’ and the act do have a very strong fan base to boast, but we are left feeling that we have seen (and heard) it all before.
Next up, we check out Hyro Da Hero on the Pepsi Max Stage and witness an artist that is (probably) going to be the future of the dangerous musical marshland that is the rap-rock fusion genre. With energy and passion oozing from every fibre of his being, Hyro takes his crowd by the hair and shakes them hard and fast with songs like the RATM-baiting ‘Ghetto Ambience’ and the groove-laden ‘Dirty South Rock’ – truly original stuff that will no doubt return to bigger stages in the years to come.
Back on the Second Stage (we love it there!) Children Of Bodom slay a very respectable crowd with their no frills metal for the masses. As many will know, this dedicated Finnish five-piece have been tearing up stages the world over for the best part of a decade with heavy-as-hell tracks including the delightful ‘Somebody Put Something In My Drink’, and not many will argue that they just seem to get better at blending thrash, power and death influences. We heartedly recommend that you see this band before you croak.
Sheffield’s own Bring Me The Horizon fire things up next with their spiteful tunes chronicling pain, loss and heartbreak with some massive beats, hardcore rhythms and the occasional lashing of dubstep….whop. With loads of press surrounding this band at the moment, there’s quite a buzz for this crew’s set and we have to note how entertaining it is to hear “get the fook up!” repeated by vocalist Sykes on the second stage in proper Yorkshire dialect. Do they deserve the hype, then? Hell, yes. ‘It Never Ends’ stands out for us here as legions of followers chant every word back to the super-charged and ever-grateful unit.
As we’ve already discussed, there have been a lot of hyped bands over this weekend, and none more so that The Darkness who (after some years away) have come straight back in as the main support to Def Leppard on the main stage. Nobody can deny that within the hard rock genre at least, tunes like ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ and ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ are erm…classics, and we don’t think there’s a person into rock music that can deny (be honest now) drunkenly dancing to this band in a club at some point or another, but we’re just not convinced. Yes, it’s delightfully over-the-top (as it should be) and yes, they’re obviously glad to be back, but whether the fans enthusiasm for high-pitched screams and classic rock riffs is the same as it was in 2003 (or for that matter when Freddie Mercury was doing it…better back in the 70s) is the same now as it was then, is questionable. Indeed, as nu-metal pioneers Korn put on what is arguably going to go down in history as their best festival performance to a rammed-jam-packed-clusterfrick of a Second Stage with new material featuring that pesky dubstep genre (a style that is WINNING at the moment in mainstream music), The Darkness perform to a perfectly decent crowd of nostalgic onlookers. Over the next few years, this lot will have to produce some relevant and catchy new work that not only borrows from their previous formula but develops it in order to stay off of the dole. Don’t worry though, Justin Hawkins (complete with an undeniably epic moustache) need not worry about selling his catsuits just yet…yeah, we remember those, mate.
Tonight, Korn have cheers before they even start with Jonathan Davis’ recognisable mic stand and Ray Luzier’s huge drum kit brought on to the stage before the band members emerge to get this party started (anybody get the reference?). Starting out with ‘Blind’ and blasting out old and new songs like ‘Coming Undone’ and ‘Freak On A Leash’. Part of the crowd seem to stand in awe of the showcase while the other half mosh chaotically to the bouncy nu-metal anthems. Showing their truly professional nature, Korn seamlessly go from one song to the next with ease. Never mind the dedication of the crowd, vocalist Davis is the most energetic person here, headbanging throughout the set without giving up while his vocals seem healthier and more aggressive than normal. Our guess is that he is running on pure adrenaline here!
When you are a big and famous rock star, ego can become a problem and we’d like to say that with all his experience and success, Misfits founder and horror-punk genre powerhouse Glenn Danzig was an exception – because you know, he’s older and wiser than….The Darkness, but his electric performance tonight (which sees him belt out the best parts of his wonderfully extensive back-catalogue including ‘Mother’ and ‘Hammer Of The Gods’) is somewhat over-shadowed by his “paddy” at the sound engineer for the evening. Yes, of course we appreciate that Danzig is somewhat of a legend, and that he’s in a metal band so it’s considered “cool” for him to be big and scary in-front of his friends (err..we mean fans, this is not a playground), but at the end of the day there’s no reason to start throwing monitors about the place and sticking your fingers up at other professionals…if you’re not going to act on it – we feel cheated out of a proper stage fight! Squabbling aside now, Danzig overcomes technical difficulties as headliner on the Pepsi Max Stage to treat his fans and send us back to our tents and/or coffins feeling satisfied.
Starting off our Saturday at Donington with the melodic metalcore sounds of All That Remains, we get to witness a band with just the right balance of raging guitars and softer breaks. This of course means that the early starters are ready to mosh their (now) dirty, stinking socks of to tracks like ‘The Last Time’ and rejoice in the aural assault of Phil Labonte’s raw and powerful vocal tones.
LA-based Escape The Fate follow-on and their heartfelt amalgamation of hardcore and rock influences (with light lashings of electronic music) goes down well with the crowd. Again, it’s the case that this isn’t totally original in delivery or sound, but material like ‘The War Is Ours’ is definitely affecting and the band should be proud of their performance here as they succeed in building up the energy with tight musicianship and great crowd interaction before their 30 minutes is up.
With today’s performance we think that it’s safe to say, Skindred cement their status as “the people’s band” – after successfully running through their most accessible hits including ‘Nobody’ and mashing-up ‘Selector’ with Tinie Tempah’s ‘Pass Out’ the band proceed to work the crowd and get them to do two things never before seen (to our knowledge) at a a rock concert, the first is the “rock robot” which is pretty fantastic to behold – thousands of people…doing the robot (ed: I can’t do it…sadly), and then, the “Newport helicopter” which requires the fan to take of an item of clothing and swing it in a circular..yeah, you get it. All of this, makes Skindred’s performance the standout one of the day. Whether you’re in a dirty club, or at a stadium you cannot fail to be impressed with this band.
Speaking of sweaty and dirty clubs, we have decided that’s where Hollywood Undead can put on the best show. Their amalgamation of rap, rock and electronic music is best geared toward that type of setting, really – don’t get us wrong, we do find the HU set entertaining and tracks like ‘Undead’ and ‘Been To Hell’ are ever anthemic and emotive while ‘Everywhere I Go’ is just bloody good fun, but really, Hollywood Undead are a party band, and they make party anthems. We just feel that they’d do much better topping the bill and packing out one of the tents like Pepsi Max rather than performing in the middle of the day in future.
Next, it’s the turn of Down to bring their very own mix of balls-to-the-wall southern rock to the Main Stage at Donington. Led by Phil Anselmo and backed by the rough-and-ready bass workings of Pat Bruders (replacing former Pantera bassist Rex Brown for the moment) the band charge through their set fuelled by booze and adrenaline (actually, the best way to get through a show…we reckon), and perform a storming version of ‘Stone The Crow’ before ending by briefly discussing the potential for new material.
Following on, Skunk Anansie’s established alt-rock mix remains great to us anyway, but even new tracks like ‘Tear The Place Up’ bring a mixed reaction from the teen majority and now 30-something fan base. Skin’s vocals are without question some of the best in modern rock music and they particularly stand true on ‘My Ugly Boy’ and ‘Brazen’. Here, the group prove that they are still exceptionally relevant to the indie, rock and even metal scenes while remaining different and wading through a sea of other rocks acts that fail to crossover into other styles so well.
Back over on the Second Stage, we get to witness Twisted Sister in all of their pure rawk glory. Sometimes, when you see certain bands that have achieved legendary status, they don’t live up to your expectations…at all. Fortunately though, TS come across as a very welcome exception. Their hits including ‘I Wanna Rock’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ are frankly awesome to hear within the live and Dee Snider clearly enjoys performing with his band (this is one of 15 days that he dedicates to it every year, you know?), and this enjoyment and positive vibe is confirmed as the band promise to return soon. An epic show, from an epic band.
We stick around for Alice Cooper’s headline set on the Second Stage. Here, his showmanship pulls everyone together – old and new fans alike unite in a way that puts imitators like Marilyn Manson to shame. ‘I am Eighteen’, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ and the encore ‘Elected’ standout as “great festival tunes to experience at least once” aside from Alice’s head being chopped off (it’s all part of the show, baby!) and the theatrics of ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ where, yep…you guessed it, a giant Frankenstein arrives on-stage to “terrorise” the band – it is all good fun and not really tacky like the aforementioned Manson’s most recent performances. Alice Cooper is the true king of “shock-rock” and his live showcase and the musicians he tours with are tight as hell. Oh yes, there was a snake. Did we mention that? No. Well, there was a snake. It was cool.
On this horribly rainy Sunday, Biohazard start our day with their influential hardcore sounds and the defiant anti-anthem ‘Punishment’. The act give their all and the fans do the same given the cold conditions and epic wetness, before we move on to see the frankly laughable locals Hell hit fans with their quirky but utterly ridiculous satanic black metal. From Hell to Hull as Sworn Amongst perform next and provide the audience with a nice taster of their thrash-inspired sound. Particularly brutal in its impact is ‘Severance’ and another note-worthy showing comes in the form of ‘Exploited’ – this band prove that they deserve to take bigger stages this year – armed with monolithic riffs, nice blast beats and strong non-cliched vocal tones, big things await. Promise.
After moseying back over to the main stage we see Taylor Momsen’s (the bird playing a girl called Jenny out of ‘Gossip Girl’?) band The Pretty Reckless – well, we see rather a lot of Momsen too. The 17-year-old has her boobs in full-view out of a cut-up vest top (with carefully placed tape over the nipples, mind), but then, that’s not what we are here to focus on. Momsen’s vocals remind a little of Hole as she charges through the act’s first album ‘Light Me Up’ with lots of vigour and an undeniably infectious enthusiasm. It’s clear that Momsen, and her breasts…err bandmates love music, and while she is obviously trying hard to create an image that is as “punk-rock” as possible (and this will no doubt aggravate some on-lookers and fellow scribes), we actually think that the music isn’t bad at all. Singles ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ and ‘My Medicine’ pack a fairly kick-ass punch lyrically and sonically and we’d say that despite only a short amount of nervous banter with the crowd, it is a pretty promising UK metal fest début.
The Gaslight Anthem follows up with their country-infused (and totally uplifting) alternative rock. As one of the biggest surprises on the main stage of Download this year Gaslight also come off as one of the biggest players for us. On a day that is pouring with rain, and everyone is cold, the band manage to somehow keep everyone positive, and bouncing with tunes like ‘American Slang’ and The ’59 Sound’ to forge a festival memory that will stay in the minds of onlookers for a very long time to come.
Black Veil Brides swing into action next with their multi-faceted genre-bending glam-rock onslaught. Appealing to fans of both the old and new school, the band members are passionate, driven and nobody can really question their rise into the limelight of alternative music, because say what you want, these lads have worked pretty hard for what they have achieved at this early stage in their career. That’s not to say that they’ve got nothing to learn – more cenversation time with the crowd wouldn’t go amiss and learning how to connect the songs together without massive gaps would make the show a little more erm…showy, but other than that they seem to be on the right track and have found the right balance between Alice Cooper-like imagery and Bullet For My Valentine-esque heaviness.
Next-up, there’s The Cult, another legendary band who thankfully do not disappoint us this weekend as the sun comes back out (it’s rained all day!) for the acclaimed goth-rock pioneers. In one of the great showings of the last three days the band rock through old and new stuff like ‘Love Removal Machine’ and ‘Dirty Little Rockstar’. Vocalist Ian Astbury has his way with the crowd and keeps everybody happy while his band produce a much harder sound than anyone might have expected from them today, but hey, it’s a rock show and The Cult do not fail to bring the noise faster and harder than most of the younger bands on show this year.
By the time Bullet For My Valentine come on to the Main Stage the crowd doesn’t look as large as it should, due to the rain and the cold it seems a few people have gone home early or to warm up in their sleeping bags. Un-phased, the hardcore fans rejoice as BFMV start their set with ‘Your Betrayal’ (complete with awesome amounts of fire blasting from the stage!) and Matt Tuck uses his great energy and urges the crowd to get circles pits going for standout tracks ‘Scream Aim Fire’ and ‘Four Words (To Choke Upon)’ – the result is a grand response from the crowd. For a noteworthy finish, the band release about 15 huge inflatable balls into the crowd with their name on. As if we were going to forget, lads!? Nice thought though.
Perhaps one of, if not the most anticipated act of the weekend is up next, Rob Zombie hasn’t been to Donington for a very long time (the last time Rob was in town in fact was with former band White Zombie at Monsters Of Rock in 1995). Tonight, he rustles through his most popular tracks including ‘Pussy Liquor’, ‘Jesus Frankenstein’ and ‘Feel So Numb’ along with the best and brightest of White Zombie’s stuff including ‘More Human Than Human’. It is proper epic, and it’s nice to see quality musicians like John 5 and new drummer Ginger Fish get time in the spotlight too to show off their skills. Next to Alice Cooper, Rob is one of the only artists today (arguably) that can still inspire shock and awe with a live show that incorporates graphic visuals of Rob’s favourite films (and of course, his own ‘House Of 1,000 Corpses’) and lots…and lots of fire! The “zombie party” ends on a high note and long-time fans are left to wonder and hope that it won’t be too long before this delightful brand of debauchery returns!
Ending the festival in style, Linkin Park (who completely miss the rain which stopped half-way through Bullet’s set) perform a great show drawing upon songs from all their albums playing classics like ‘One Step Closer’ and ‘In The End’ while still getting a great response for new tracks like ‘The Catalyst’ from ‘A Thousand Suns’. A cracking conclusion to the weekend. We’ll see you next time!
For more information visit the official Download website.
MORE COVERAGE STILL TO COME…