We’ve all seen the articles and horror stories of the atrocious weather. The torrential rain, the unpredictable scorching sun and mud that could swallow you whole, but we couldn’t care less. It’s that time of year again, festival season has begun and we are kicking it off in style with another trip to the sacred home of metal and rock. It’s time once again for Download Festival. And what a line up it is this year. Let’s do it!
Opening up the second stage on the Friday were Goodbye June, who got a decent turnout despite the weather, and stiff competition on the main stage from Last In Line. Fresh off supporting Greta Van Fleet over the winter, as well as recent dates opening for ZZ Top’s 50th anniversary tour, Goodbye June have been steadily building a following with their blend of bluesy southern rock, receiving strong reviews for their 2017 debut album ‘Magic Valley’. Aside from a few minor sound issues early on with the vocals being lost in the mix, they put on a solid show, and by the time they finish with album opener ‘Oh No’, a lot of the crowd can’t help but tap their feet in appreciation. Definitely a band to look out for in the future, and certainly a band capable of transitioning to the main stage further down the line. With new album ‘Community Inn’ in the works, the future looks bright. *
A quick hop over to the Avalanche stage saw a huge crowd gathering for Sumo Cyco, who have gained a reputation for their energetic live performances, and on this occasion they do not disappoint. Blurring the lines between the alt-metal sound of Skindred, and the ska-punk influences of No Doubt, the band focuses on short sharp bursts of adrenaline, with most songs barely reaching 4 minutes. They clearly know how to have fun on stage and get the crowd involved, with lead singer Skye ‘Sever’ Sweetnam holding the crowd in the palm of her hand (and at one point riding on the shoulder of guitarist Matt Drake as he continued to sing & play). Newer songs ‘Undefeated’ & ‘Love You Wrong’ show a glimpse of what to expect from their upcoming 3rd album, and there’s even time for a cover of System Of A Down’s ‘B.Y.O.B’ (though sadly no surprise appearance from Skindred’s Benji Webbe for crowd favourite ‘Move Mountains’). If you get chance to see them live in the future, do not turn it down! *
For those of you who have read any of my reviews before, you will know that I absolutely love Kvelertak. An incredible, energetic mix of Black Metal and good old Rock’n’Roll coupled with crazy shows and crazier fans. This was my first time viewing these guys after the unexpected departure of part frontman, part Viking Berserker Erlend Hjelvik and I was unsure of how new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen would fit in to the mix but he didn’t disappoint. It still sounds like the Kvelertak I know and love and the show was just as energetic as ever. It’s clear that the diehard fans have accepted Nikolaisen in to the fold quickly and you can see why. Though, as much as it still feels and sounds like Kvelertak I can’t help but miss the presence of Hjelvik. The Norwegians play a mix of old and new and songs like ‘Mjød’ and ‘Blodtørst’ goes down a treat for the old school fans. It’s so good to see them slowly climbing bills and making it on to the bigger stages of major festivals.
By mid-afternoon, the weather started to pick up again, just in time for Clutch to make their main stage appearance. 2019 marked their 6th overall appearance at the festival but only their 2nd time on the main stage. However, judging from this performance, expect more main stage appearances to come their way. Neil Fallon was on fine form on vocals, strongly backed by the rest of the band, who managed to sound musically tight while still retaining some of the raw sound of their studio work. Their set focused heavily on latest release ‘Book Of Bad Decisions’, though they did choose to finish with ‘Electric Worry’ & ‘X-Ray Visions’ which both got the biggest cheers (as well as the biggest singalongs!) from the crowd. On a day where the main stage was focused heavily on classic rock, Clutch did a great job of bridging the gap between old and new (it’s easy to forget they’ve been going for nearly 30 years!). *
After Clutch, it was a quick trek up the hill to the Dogtooth Stage for Finnish thrashers Lost Society. It came as a bit of a surprise to see these guys so relatively low on the lineup, as they’ve been going for nearly 10 years, having released 3 albums in that time, and toured with the likes of Slayer, Anthrax & Exodus. As such, they only got a 25 minute set, but made the most of it with an assured performance that will only bolster their reputation among the UK fans. Technically sound, both vocally and musically, the only minor complaint that could be made is that their set focused primarily on the more groove-influenced sound of their 3rd album. It would’ve been nice to hear some of the earlier, ‘thrashier’ songs from ‘Fast Loud Death’ & ‘Terror Hungry’, just for a bit of variety (plus these songs are generally a bit shorter too so they could’ve fitted an extra song or 2 into their set). Hopefully a future slot later in the day, or on a bigger stage, will give fans that variety. *
Next up, we have the undisputed masters of progressive metal, Opeth! In recent years, Opeth have stepped away from the heavier, death-metal infused prog’ and have slipped into more of a 70’s sound. Lightly distorted guitars and Hammond organs feature heavily in recent albums which has divided fans. So, when it comes to live shows, you never really know what to expect in terms of a set list but this is Donnington and I think I know which way it’s going to go. The set starts with the quirky drum and bass intro of ‘Sorceress’ before frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt steps up the game with the thunderous guitar chugs, a mere sign of what’s to come. Every head is nodding along but its clear Download wants even heavier and Opeth aren’t going to disappoint. The eerie opening chords of ‘Ghost of Perdition’ play softly as the crowd erupts in to cheers and then, the moment the old school fans have been waiting for, one of the most guttural and deepest growls in metal bellows across Donington Park. Åkerfeldt is one of the most versatile, ferousicos and heavenly vocalist around and every aspect of his vocal range is showcased within the set. One thing that is all but guaranteed from an Opeth set however is Åkerfeldt’s wit and charm. “Well, hello there you limey fucks”, he exclaims smoothly, “We have a new album coming out later, but we are not going to play anything, just old shit”. Choosing quality over quantity they end on the 14 minute epic ‘Deliverance’. Excellent!
After chatting earlier on in the day to the guys from Twelve Foot Ninja I was so excited to finally be seeing the guys live, but nowhere near as excited as they were to be playing Download Festival. Unfortunately though, through no fault of their own, Twelve Foot Ninja’s Download debut didn’t go smoothly. The stage was all but set. The humongous crowd had squeezed themselves into the Dogtooth Stage. Looking around, it’s clear that organisers had made a mistake putting the crazy Australians on the fourth stage and had underestimated the love that the UK held for Twelve Foot Ninja. But it wasn’t meant to be. A technical issue meant the crowd was left waiting, unsure of what was actually happening on the stage. Meanwhile more and more attempt to squeeze in to the tent to avoid the heavy downpour pelting Donnington’s sacred soil. The crowd begin chanting but to no avail. Eventually, with only fifteen minutes of their set left, TFN appear. The guys are clearly disheartened from the technical issue but that isn’t going to ruin the final fifteen minutes of their set. Wasting no more time they jump straight into 2012’s ‘Coming for you’. The crowd instantly forget the twenty minute delay and are mesmerized by the unique five piece. Watching as they jump effortlessly between genres mid-song, everyone in the tent is in awe of the energy and creativity on stage. Playing only three songs they still manage to squeeze in a new one (take note Opeth) leaving everyone eagerly anticipating a new record. Closing on the masterpiece ‘One Hand Killing’ the set comes to its premature end and it’s clear the crowd want more but the festival must go on.
Normally when a band finish the crowd clears a little. Fans of the previous band make way for fans of the new and for a little while you have some breathing space. But not this time. Somehow, it just seems to get busier. No one is going anywhere. But, who can blame them when you have Jinjer up next.
By 8:15pm, the Dogtooth Stage was jam-packed, with the crowds overflowing outside of the tent. One of the fastest rising bands in metal today, the crowd went absolutely crazy as the band entered the stage, with lead singer Tatiana Shmailyuk looking resplendent in a gold jumpsuit. Blending together a mix of songs from 2016’s ‘King Of Everything’ and this year’s ‘Micro EP’, Tatiana was on startling form, seamlessly shifting from deep guttural growls to perfectly pitched melodies, most clearly evident on fan favourite ‘I Speak Astronomy’, the outro of which got one of the biggest ovations all weekend. With such strong vocals, it’s easy to forget just how technically gifted the rest of the band are too, laying down a perfect foundation of prog-infused metalcore. With a new album expected in the autumn, and more UK dates in winter, expect 2019 to be the year when Jinjer break through big time.
Headlining the Zippo Encore Stage tonight we have the one and only Rob Zombie. Firing straight into classics ‘Meet the Creeper’ and ‘Superbeast’ it’s clear from the get go that Zombie and his group of famous monsters are on form. Well-rehearsed and flawless from start to finish, Zombie fires out hit after hit. This is a man who found his sound early on in his career and stuck to his guns, and why wouldn’t he? A perfect blend of horror, heavy riffs, catchy choruses and more horror! Proving this, we are treated to White Zombie classic ‘More Human Than Human’ which sounds just as modern and relevant as newer tracks like ‘Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown’ and ‘Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO’. The only difference being shorter track titles. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Rob Zombie. I really do, but after a few times of seeing him live a part of me feels that his greatest strength may also be a weakness. Being so well rehearsed and polished is an incredible achievement but it can also make the show feel a little predictable and less personal. The other part of me though, just doesn’t care. After all, you know that everytime you see Zombie live you are going to have fun and sing your heart out anyway. Kind of like watching a favourite film, you know what’s going to happen but you’re glued to the screen anyway.
Dancing around the stage like a deranged hillbilly at a halloween hoedown, Zombie continues to entertain and charm the crowd and even throws in a couple of covers including ‘Blitzkreig Bop’ and an amazing rendition of The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ which has the thousands watching dancing. ‘House of a Thousand Corpses’ is a personal highlight sounding as bone chilling now as the day I first heard it. A Rob Zombie show wouldn’t be complete with a solo from John 5, and what a solo it is! Complete with flashing dentures, J5 shreds his way up and down the fret board whilst Zombie runs around the pit high fiving anyone and everyone in his path. Closing songs ‘Thunderkiss ‘65’ and ‘Dragula’ (with a trailer for ‘3 From Hell’ in between, a bit of shameless promotion) bring the show to a close and with that, the first day of Download Festival 2019 is done. See you tomorrow morning!
All words by Benjamin Gladstone except those marked with an *
* Words by Scott Cardwell