The last day at a festival is somewhat of a sombre affair. Tents are slowly being dismantled and disappearing, everything is wrapping up and there is a sense of sadness in the air. Not today though. Today is different. For today is Tool day. Happy Tool day everyone!
Over on the Zippo Encore stage we catch up with Dinosaur Pile-Up. The Yorkshire rockers have gathered a good sized crowd despite the early wake up call. “It’s Sunday morning, you feel like shit, I feel like shit. Let’s have a fucking good time!” exclaims frontman Matt Bigland. And we fucking do! Firing straight in to ‘Pouring Gasoline’, the band is clearly on form. I’m fairly new to these guys with this being my first time witnessing their live show but nonetheless, it all feels familiar, in a very good way. In the same way that when Foo Fighters release a new track you already feel like you know the song and love it already. It almost feels like a nineties alternative rock rival. It would be too easy to make comparisons to the grunge scene but there is an obvious influence there in style and sound. Breaking in to ’11:11’ the pits break out and the Leeds trio are clearly loving it. Closing with ‘Black Foot’ from their (very) recently released fourth studio album ‘Celebrity Mansions’, it’s evident that these guys are just going to keep growing and have one hell of a career at their feet.
Badflower are one of the fastest rising names in rock at the moment, and it’s easy to see why with their early afternoon performance on the Zippo Encore stage. Their set effortlessly blended a mix of hard/blues rock with grunge-inspired alt rock, drawing comparisons with the likes of Royal Blood, Bush and Highly Suspect. Lead singer Josh Katz showed an abundance of energy, dashing onto the stage like a man possessed, doing his best to get the crowd moving, and at one point jumping out into the crowd before finishing a song sat next to the security in front of the stage. It all made for a wildly entertaining show, before the band end their set with an emotionally charged performance of ‘Ghost’, probably the stand-out track from their debut album ‘OK, I’m Sick’. Ones to watch out for in the future.*
Once again, another quick hop over to the Avalanche stage for Heart Of A Coward showed a huge turnout for the Milton Keynes metalcore group. Former singer Jamie Graham was always going to be a tough act to follow, but after a year or so with the group, Kaan Tasan has made the position his own, and here he put in a confident and commanding performance. Of course, the rest of the band were equally as good, absolutely nailing every note perfectly as they mixed older Graham-era tracks with material from their latest album ‘The Disconnect’. Highlights included set opener ‘Drown In Ruin’, which had more than a hint of Architects to it, and fan favourites ‘Hollow’ and ‘Deadweight’, the latter of which ended the set in explosive fashion.*
Black Peaks hold a special place in my heart. I first discovered these guys playing early on in a relatively small tent at Sonisphere Festival back in 2014. Upon checking the guys out, somewhat by chance, I fell in love and after the show went over to speak to frontman Will Gardner to see if I could purchase a CD from him. Instead, he gave me a copy of their demo EP ‘Closer to the Sun’ free of charge. Since then, I have followed the Brighton (now) quintet and have seen them get bigger and bigger and deservedly so. Playing over on the Avalanche Stage, Black Peaks get proceedings going with ‘Can’t Sleep’ and it’s evident from the huge crowd that has amassed that I’m not the only one who loves these guys. The crowd sing back every word throughout the whole set. The breakdowns are thunderous and the softer sections are haunting. Gardner seems somewhat reserved on stage this afternoon but when he throws his arms to his sides and releases the humongous voice the audience stand to attention. One of, if not the most, powerful voices in modern rock and metal and Gardner’s full range is demonstrated throughout the set. It’s rare to find someone who could match the range of someone like Devin Townsend and even challenge him with his tuneful screams. Dedicating ‘Say You Will’ to those who have been there from the beginning, the song sounds just as powerful now as the day I first heard it. When the chorus kicks in the stage burst’s in to flames, a spine–tingling moment. Closing on ‘Glass Built Castles’ the energy from the crowd sky rockets.
Leaving the stage, the compare announces, “Congratulations to Black Peaks, you have just made every other vocalist on this stage shit themselves”. I can imagine so.
Alcest bring the beautiful, harmonious gloom that every festival needs. Playing in the darkness of the Dogtooth Stage, the French Post-Metallers bring a breath of much needed fresh air and change of pace from the riff laden norm of a mainstream metal festival. Stéphane ‘Neige’ Paut’s angelic voice takes you far away from the muddy field of Donnington Castle and (nearly) every person in the tent is mesmerised. ‘Oiseaux de proie’ gets the surprisingly large crowd clapping in unison for the first time all weekend (WHY CAN’T CROWDS CLAP IN TIME!?!) and the angelic vocals turns in to shrill demonic screams. Accompanied by chest pounding blast beats, all hell breaks loose as strobe lights dazzle the audience. The band, stage and sound is stunning. Alcest have the ability to take you on a journey. Every song is a crescendo with the next part being even more glorious and at the same time darker than the last and building in to truly epic masterpieces. ‘Autre Temps’ creates a chorus of ‘ah’s and final song ‘Percées de lumière’ brings a wonderful set to a close.
As Sunday teatime made its way around, Virginian groove metal giants Lamb Of God took to the main stage. Such is their popularity now, they had a crowd that any of the headliners would’ve been proud of, extending right up the hill towards the famous Download Dog, meaning it was difficult to get into a decent spot by we got across to see them after Alcest. Their set seemed to have a more nostalgic feel to it, with a significant chuck of the songs taken from their mid-2000’s albums ‘Ashes Of The Wake’ and ‘Sacrament’, possibly as a celebration of the material that got them into the public eye and got them to where they are today. Randy Blythe’s voice was once again on brutally good form, whilst touring drummer Art Cruz did a commendable job of filling in for Chris Adler while the latter is still on hiatus. Hopefully next time an earlier arrival can get us a better spot to really soak it all in!*
Three creepy, totem pole like figures stand tall on the main stage. Creepily colourful and equally sinister the lifeless creatures tower over the crowd. As the intro music begins, the rain starts to fall and the figures inflate. For a while Download Festival looks more like Glastonbury on acid. A stage set like this can only mean one thing. The Smashing Pumpkins. The familiar sombre tones of ‘Zero’ begin and every head is nodding along. I can’t help but chuckle. Not because of the song or band but because my childish mind went straight back to that Simpsons episode. You know the one, “Homer Simpson, smiling politely”. Anyway, back to it.
Billy Corgan is a sinister figure on stage. Dressed in a long black gown, reminiscent of a satanic priest and with makeup that would make Wizard (the band) jealous, the frontman barely cracks a smile. Corgan looks enthusiastically unenthusiastic. Almost like he is going out of his way to become one with misery itself. This is all part of the Pumpkins vibe we all know and love and it makes for an incredible show. ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ brings the relatively sparse crowd to life. The classic line “Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage” being sang by the audience is louder than Corgan himself. During ‘G.L.O.W’ When Corgan sings the line “I’m so alone” it is still so believable and you get the distinct feeling that it is a moment of true honesty. Either that or he is channelling a time when he did. Half way through the set, the three bight and colourful characters towering above the band begin to rotate. One by one they turn and reveal monochrome counterparts, I very symbolic spectacle that mirrors the mood change on stage as the songs become even darker.
Corgan is a mesmerizing character live, but a very quiet one. Using guitarist James Iha as his spokesperson I actually think that the amount of guitar changes Corgan had was greater than the number of words spoken to the crowd, but like I said, this is all part of Smashing Pumkins Charm. We get treated to a cover of Black Sabbaths ‘Snowblind’ complete with a guest appearance from a heavily pregnant Amalie Brunn of Danish Dark Folk/Black Metal band Myrkur. ‘Ava Adore’ takes us back to the more industrial side of The Smashing Pumpkins whilst ‘Cherub Rock’ and closing song ‘The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns left, Looks right)’ remind us of just why we love The Smashing Pumpkins so much.
Okay guys, I’ll be honest. Throughout the weekend, during every set, I was stood taking notes in preparation for these reviews. Making notes of little reminders that would take me straight back to the fields of Download. This one was different. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see one of your all-time favourite bands, and it’s even rarer to see them live when that band is Tool. There was no way I was going to stand back and observe. All professionalism went out of the window for this one and I “accidentally” found myself five meters from the front barriers in the middle of all the pits, exactly where I wanted to be.
Tool is a band that everyone needs to experience live at some point in their life and the patient folk of Download had been waiting a long, long thirteen years to see the masters of progressive metal back on sacred ground. My god was it worth the wait though! Pre-warning: expect full on fan girl mode here.
The cameras are gone, the live feed replaced with visual accompaniments. ‘Third Eye’ plays out across the PA as the band walk out one by one. Never one to take center stage, vocalist James Maynard Keenan walks to his platform at the back to a rapturous applause and from the darkness you hear a faint whisper of “Hey, hey, hey, hey…”. The crowd break into chants as the opening riff of Ænema is struck by guitarist Adam Jones. Keeping the momentum going we hear the line “who are you to wave your finger…”. The crowd are singing every single word back towards the stage and the pits open up for every single rhythmic breakdown. Two songs in and I am already losing my voice. The aches and pains of sleeping on a rough floor and sludging through mud for the past few days are gone and honestly, from there everything becomes a little bit of a blur. Not through alcohol or any other substance, but just from a natural high one can only achieve when in the presence of something truly magical.
Tool take us on a journey through a 29 year career (admittedly the last decade has been rather quiet) and everyone is lapping up every single note. We get treated to the moment every single person here has been waiting for, not one but two new songs. ‘Descending’ and ‘Invincible’. They’re perfect and if these songs are anything to go by then the long awaited follow up to 2006’s ’10,000 Days’ will be something incredible. The rhythmic pummelling of ‘Jambi’, delivered by Danny Carey’s impeccable drumming makes way for the biggest pits of the set whilst the iconic opening bass line of ‘Forty Six & 2’ by Justin Chancellor sends the crowd into a frenzy. Closing this marvelous set on the incredible and thought provoking ‘Vicarious’ and ‘Stinkfist’, Download Festival 2019 comes to a glorious end.
At the end of the day, Tool is not a band to watch from a distance and not a band to stand and review. (Where they hell do you start?)
Tool are a band to be experienced and absorbed. A band to savoir every second of and get lost within the rhythmic, primitive percussion, the dirty riffs and the catchy bass hooks and get taken somewhere else through Keenan’s thought provoking lyrics. A quick heads up to future Download Festival headliners; this is going to take some topping.
All words by Benjamin Gladstone except *
* Words by Scott Cardwell