Live Review: Download 20

By Jay Mitchell
By June 13, 2023 Live, Music, Reviews

This past weekend saw Download celebrate its 20th anniversary with a special edition of the festival. Expanding to four days instead of the usual three, over 100,000 people descended upon Donington for what was an insane four days of music.


Thursday had less bands than every other day but featured a stacked main stage line up which opened with Mammoth WVH. Playing a 40 minute set Wolfgang Van Halen lets the crowd know how much he appreciates everyone being there early telling them it’s a dream to be playing at Donington after hearing his fathers (Eddie Van Halen) stories when he was younger about playing there.

Next up was Ukrainian metalcore outfit Jinjer. Powering through the heaviest mainstage set of the day, the band certainly gained a few fans with frontwoman Tatiana Shmayluk demanding constant energy from everyone there early.

Halestorm were the first ‘logo band’ of the day and one of highlights of the weekend. Lzzy Hale walks out on stage and belts out a snippet of ‘Raise Your Horns’ before launching into ‘I Miss The Misery’. The eleven song set felt too short with the both the crowd and band loving every minute of it, but it isn’t too long to wait to see them again with the band headlining Wembley Arena in December.

Alter Bridge sub-headlined, which felt like an audition for a future headlining spot. Playing a varied setlist that missed a number of their crowd favourites, the band didn’t disappoint even if the setlist did feature newer songs more than you’d expect. With Myles Kennedy’s dynamic vocals and Mark Tremonti’s huge riffs the band were the perfect warm up for what was coming next.

Playing their first of two sets, Metallica were the band everyone was waiting to see. The biggest band in metal know how to make an entrance with ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ playing the crowd raise their voices before Clint Eastwood appears on the screens and the iconic ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’ rings out. Wasting no time, Metallica launch into ‘Creeping Death’ before hitting the crowd with ‘Harvester of Sorrow’ and ‘Leper Messiah’ – can you get a heavier opening three songs? Featuring three new songs off 72 Seasons, Metallica made sure the set spanned their whole career playing at least one song off every album except St. Anger and Hardwired… To Self Destruct. The set ends on a high with them lighting up the most of stage with flames during ‘Fuel’ before ending big with ‘Seek And Destroy’ and ‘Master Of Puppets’. Not a bad way to reintroduce yourself to festival after 11 years away.


Friday began being torn between Stand Atlantic and Tapei Houston, with both bands starting at 1pm. Stand Atlantic ended up taking most of the attention and felt like the perfect introduction to day that felt more progressive than usual for Download. Nova Twins unsurprisingly drew a huge crowd to the mainstage as people were beginning to look increasingly sunburnt. Playing seven songs the duo made full use of Metallica’s snake pit and poured everything they could into what was their third set of the weekend (a RIP camp exclusive show and a Doghouse DJ set).

The next band I watched more out of curiosity but ended up staying for the whole set was Elvana. Seeing what is essentially a tribute band on the second stage reasonably high up the line-up made it a must see and they crushed their set. With a frontman dressed as Elvis who tells the crowd “I might sometimes sound like Elvis, sometimes Kurt Cobain or sometimes Nicholas Cage”, the crowd couldn’t get enough. With circle pits everywhere during ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ Elvana was certainly an experience until the band was cut off for overrunning, that didn’t stop the crowd or the band finishing the set though.

Next up was some pop punk with Wrexham’s Neck Deep taking to the main stage. Perfect weather for bouncing around to pop punk, Neck Deep drew a huge crowd to the mainstage playing through a 12 song set with singer Benis Barlow using his mainstage opportunity to take aim at the government.

Catching parts of Asking Alexandria and Pendulum, the crowd stated to file towards the Opus Stage (second stage) ahead of symphonic metal giants Within Temptation. The idea of putting Within Temptation before Evanescence made sense, although it just didn’t work. With it being the second stage and even with Architects blasting through a set on the main stage, the area become extremely crowded quickly. Architects played though a set which again felt like future headliners in waiting and Within Temptation felt as though they should’ve played the Apex Stage (main stage). Headlining the second stage was Evanescence, and drew possibly the biggest crowd ever for a second stage act. With a sea of people attempting to get a look at the band it felt like a huge mistake putting them one the Opus Stage.

Apex headliners were up next and it was a long time coming. Not playing download since 2014, Bring Me The Horizon returned to Donington and brought with them one of, if not the best performance of the weekend. With their ‘Genxisis’ storyline, a computer generated woman appeared on screen and asked “Download, are you ready for the greatest night of your life?” The themes of an apocalypse, human testing and cults run through the set as the band blast through their catalogue in some style. Insane amounts of pyro, mutated dancers, and Oli Sykes being Oli Sykes made the set unmissable. Nova Twins appeared as guests on ‘1X1’ and Amy Lee sang ‘One Day The Only Butterflies Left…’ before duetting with Sykes on ‘Nihilist Blues’. Sykes works the crowd often calling out for more movement saying at one point “If you’re not moving in this next song you are a special kind of knobhead.” Ending with ‘Can You Feel My Heart’ Sykes again lets the crowd know how much the opportunity and occasion meant for the band before closing out what will go down as one of the legendary Download headline performances.


The weather for Saturday went up a gear from Friday, with not a single cloud over Donington till Metallica played and temperatures of 27 degrees. With the lack of shade in the arena people piled into the tents meaning anyone that wanted to see any band in them was unable to due to people sitting on the floor/camping chairs around every entrance.

Fever 333 got the crowd going early even if it was boiling before thrash metal outfit Municipal Waste took to the second stage. Another Opus Stage highlight, Municipal Waste probably had the most crowd surfers I’ve ever saw. Tony Foresta the frontman had a charisma that kept the whole crowd entertained often joking in between songs with crowd members.

Ice Nine Kills and Carcass brought the heaviness to the day before Clutch brought some of the only rock and roll of the weekend to the mainstage. Struggling through their set with a few technical issues the set felt slightly disappointing with the band also not making use of Metallica’s stage.

Alexisonfire then took to the mainstage, sounding good they seemed to please most of the crowd even if it was lacking any sort of crowd interaction and the band looked slightly bored. Then onto Disturbed, they brought energy, tears and part of an orchestra. Frontman David Draiman broke down on stage at one point in the set prompting the crowd to show their appreciation for him. With most of their classics played Disturbed left the stage with the crowd in a frenzy waiting for Metallica.

Again, after their signature entrance songs, Metallica took to the stage causing the whole pit to surge forward when they hear the opening chords of ‘Whiplash’. With the band bringing with them their M72 towers from the stadium shows, even those at the back of the 100,000 person crowd felt involved. Metallica again just proved why they are and have been at the top of metal/rock for decades, playing 32 songs over the course of two sets with no repeats. The band clearly loving every second and loving being at Donington for the tenth time blast through a set featuring ‘Ride The Lightning’ ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ and ‘One’. Closing out their second set the band play ‘Enter Sandman’ with what can only be the loudest singalong at any gig ever before a massive firework display. The biggest band in metal did not disappoint, and you can only hope it won’t be as long before they return to Download.


The fourth day was a slog full of dusty sunburnt metalheads underneath 28 degree sun, but as soon as the bands started playing all that was forgot. Kicking off the day was New Delhi’s Bloodywood. Combining traditional Indian instruments with metal is one thing but sounding good while doing it is another, and Bloodywood certainly did that. Managing to get a crowd bouncing after they probably haven’t slept for four days is some achievement and the day only got better from there. Next up were Lorna Shore, who were definitely a wakeup call for anyone who might’ve been nursing any sort of hangover.

SiM took to the second stage and were one I’d somehow never heard of, yet stayed for the whole set. The Japanese alt-metal band feel heavily Skindred inspired and manage to get the crowd bouncing around after one song. Chants of “we love SiM” erupt after every song, and the band were lapping up the love. Not a bad first UK gig.

Heading back to the Apex Stage, Mongolian metal giants The Hu take to stage and blast through a set which includes their cover of Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’. The same as Saturday, the tents were impossible to get into with people crowding them, The Meffs took to the Dogtooth Stage with what sounded like it could’ve been a great a set if it wasn’t for overcrowding. Avatar play through a set of hits on the second while on the main stage Polish extreme metal titans Behemoth begin their set. Dressed all in black in the scorching sun, it seemed a bit odd to have Behemoth playing in daylight and in this weather. Playing nine songs off six albums the band gave the crowd exactly what they wanted with a ton of pyro to go with it. I Prevail drew a huge crowd however it felt like they could go up a gear with a rendition of ‘Chop Suey’ getting the biggest reception of their set.

Parkway Drive then delivered what was the best sub-headliner set of the weekend, and if they aren’t booked to headline soon off the back of it something has gone completely wrong. The crowd were singing along to every song, singing every riff and the band were beaming with smiles. Frontman Winston McCall ended up in the middle of huge circle pit for a song before crowd surfing back to the stage. The also had more fire on the stage than anyone else with different pyro setups for nearly every song. I think you would struggle to find someone that would disagree that Parkway Drive are now an obvious choice for a new headliner.

Last up and closing the mammoth weekend was Slipknot. The Iowa metal icons took the stage, featuring the return of Clown and showed everyone why they seem to play Download so often. Corey Taylor claimed he was struggling with his voice, not that the crowd cared or noticed though with everyone knowing every word to every song. Drawing the biggest crowd of the weekend they play a few newer songs such as ‘Yen’ and ‘The Dying Song’ but stick to the classics. ‘Left Behind’ made its tour debut and the band slowed it down with ‘Snuff’. By the end of Slipknot’s set the security were head banging along with crowd and ‘Spit It Out’ featured everyone making the most of the last song of Download 20.