Once upon a time, well about lunchtime on Thursday on June 7, Soundsphere arrived in the fabled land of Donington for a few days of music, mud, merriment, and multiple hugs with random strangers. Welcome to the 10th Anniversary of Download. This is our fable of mud and music.
(image by Jessica Gilbert)
FRIDAY, JUNE 8
After a sensible Thursday night of orange squash and Scrabble the Soundsphere team are, of course, tucked up with our teddies nice and early, so that we’re bushy-eyed and bright-tailed for second stage festival openers: Six Hour Sundown (N/A). Unfortunately, due to the torrid weather earlier in the week, the opening of the arena is delayed for a full two hours. Whilst the festival fairies set about making the ground passable the opening bands on all stages are cut from the bill.
It is left to the underwhelming Red White and Blues () to open the festival on the Zippo Encore stage and it’s hard to know who to feel for most. Whilst Six Hour Sundown don’t get the chance to play at all, Red White and Blues are told to start their set as soon as the arena gates are open. This means that they begin playing to an empty patch of turf and they end their shortened show in front of a mere handful of bewildered onlookers still unsure of what is happening or who they are watching. That said, the band are clearly frustrated and they never seem in danger of raising the meagre crowd’s spirits.
Terrorvision () are a different proposition. The British stalwarts never fail to raise a smile and from their opening salvo of the chorus of ‘Friends And Family’ the heads are nodding all around. It’s great to see Tony and the boys back as they storm their way through material spanning their lengthy career. ‘Celebrity Hit List’ gets the loudest reaction of the morning so far, and they deserve extra credit for not playing ‘Tequila’.
It’s destined to be a weekend peppered with legends and over on the main stage the first of them shuffle mischievously into the grey afternoon. NOFX () “The band who won’t be yelling at you all weekend” mock the weather and the crowd, but mostly they reserve their mickey-taking for themselves. The last time the SoCal heroes played Download their performance was hijacked by Metallica looking to rehearse with a surprise set. Fortunately, despite Metallica being back this year, NOFX don’t have to deal with such pomposity on our shores today. The set is interspersed with their characteristic good-humour and wit (depending on your stance regarding genocide gags) and songs like ‘Murder The Government’, ‘Stickin’ In My Eye’, and ‘Linoleum’ sound as fresh as ever. They end the set with ‘Kill All the White Man’ and nobody is happy to see them leave.
It’s fair to say Billy Talent () get the largest crowd of the festival thus far and they certainly know how to work it. The Toronto boys overdo things slightly with the gung-ho patriotism but the songs are the important thing and Billy Talent have three (soon to be four) albums of catchy nuggets to choose from. ‘Rusted From The Rain’ goes down well with the soggy crowd, as do ‘Devil In A Midnight Mass’ and ‘Try Honesty’, before they bid us farewell with a stirring rendition of ‘Red Flag’. The Canadians also allow the Cancer Bats, who were one of the bands cut from the bill due to site conditions, come out and borrow their instruments for a quick tune. You might not think these two bands would share much of a fan base but the Bats are massively appreciated. Sadly BT frontman Ben doesn’t offer his NOFX hoodie at the end of the set but this was an apt reminder of why we should keep an eye out for their upcoming album. Finally things turn heavy with Machine Head (). On the back of the much-lauded new album ‘Locust’ Machine Head quite simply own the main stage. From the intro bars to the closing song ‘Halo’ the guys don’t let up and the build in the crowd response is a fitting tribute to a band really hitting their stride. Robb Flynn has always been one of the most loveable of metal’s front folk but there is a definite change evident here today. The man’s stage presence has evolved moving him comfortably into that rare band of vocalists such as Chino Moreno who can hold a crowd with a simple look or pose. This is their time – all hail.
The fact that Chase & Status () are even on the bill this year has raised many an eyebrow but Saul Milton (Chase) and Will Kennard (Status) prove to be an appropriate distraction from the mud soup underfoot and the intermittent rain as the Friday sky darkens into evening. They play up to the rock-loving crowd by opening with a danced-up rendition of Chili Peppers’ ‘Give It Away’ and prove a fitting warm up for tonight’s main stage headliners The Prodigy.
Meanwhile, Nightwish () are putting on quite a show over on the second stage. Opening with ‘Finlandia’ the symphonic metallers are delivering an epic display of pomp and pyros. There’s smoke and fire spewing from every conceivable space on the stage which begs the question: “If this is what a support slot on a second stage looks like, then what the hell do they do for a headlining tour?” Anette Olzon is absolutely adorable throughout ensuring she’s the perfect balance to the frankly unhinged Marco Hietala. They throw out a heartfelt tribute to Gary Moore in the shape of ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ and bid us adieu with a storming ‘Last Ride Of The Day’.
Headlining the Encore stage is a little known fret-botherer going by the name of Slash (). Myles Kennedy and Slash have made a formidable pairing for some years now and the pair clearly relish the headlining slot tonight. There are new songs, a full five Guns ‘N’ Roses tracks and even a bonus Velvet Revolver number too. There are no mystery guests tonight, unlike at previous shows, but with Myles’ pipes it’s not like they ever really need them anyway.
And so it falls to The Prodigy () to close the first day’s festivities on the main stage. There are those in the crowd questioning the band’s presence on the bill, but those people are, of course, people who have never witnessed the Prodigy live. They definitely focus upon tracks from ‘Invaders Must Die’ but ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Omen’ both ignite the damp crowd. Keith and Maxim are still a great front-duo and Liam Howlett never lets the pace drop. Tonight they are accompanied by a retina-melting lightshow and even a pyro or two. It’s a suitable way to end the first day and we head straight back to the tent for a cheeky malt drink and a cosy night’s snooze.
SATURDAY, JUNE 9
Waking up bright and early for the 11am start (and not looking at all like we’ve woken up in a hedge after a party at Charlie Sheen’s house) we head to the Zippo Encore stage for Fozzy (). Considering the continual repetition of WWE-themed chants (see “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and the always popular “Cena sucks!”) throughout the site thus far it’s no great surprise to see a huge crowd ready to welcome Chris Jericho and his merry band. Every tune has that familiar generic quality which one expects to hear WWE superstars entering a ring to. ‘Enemy’ is, as ever, the clear highlight but what Jericho lacks in vocal range and power he more than makes up for in charisma and exuberance. There are definitely worse ways to blow away the cobwebs.
Following Fozzy are Pennsylvania’s own Halestorm () and cripes do they ever blow us away. It’s Arejay Hale who first greets us with a huge grin and the words, “Hello Mudload!” Arejay deserves an extra mention here as he almost steals the show from behind his kit. Well, I say behind, he is equally likely to be found on top, underneath, or indeed tangled up in the middle of it. With his pink bangs and demented energy the guy is the human incarnation of Animal from the Muppets and in most bands it would be hard to focus on anything else. But this is Halestorm which means Arejay’s sister Lzzy (no typo, this is how she spells it) soon swaggers to the mic with guitar in hand and launches into ‘Love Bites (so do I)’. Not to dismiss the other members of the band but this really is the siblings’ show. Lzzy is pure riot girl, channelling a potent mix of Patti Smith, Courtney Love and Brody Dalle into her own unique bombastic package. It’s a short set which closes with ‘I Get Off’ but they have an upcoming UK tour which comes highly recommended for anyone with the urge to see a full show.
Ginger Wildheart () is next up and he and his miscreant crew almost force the sun out with their relentlessly optimistic rock ‘n’ roll. Squeezing in four Wildhearts tunes and three originals the set gallops past all too quickly and there are a few sound problems which detract from an otherwise sterling rendition of ‘Another Spinning F**king Rainbow’. Maximum volume is achieved by the crowd for the customary sing-a-long of ‘Inglorious’ before we wave a tearful goodbye to Newcastle’s finest for now.
Over on the Main Stage Trivium () are on what seems to be way too early on the bill. Matt Heafy evinces nothing but gratitude though, and it’s partly in this mutual respect between band and fans which Trivium find the true crux of their success. That and great songs of course. ‘Pull Harder…’ and ‘Gunshot to the Head…’ deliver some of the most brutal pit action of the weekend. Nicely done boys. Next up we have a true and proper trip down mammary lane with Steel Panther (). Channelling the tawdriest of 80s hair metal the LA rockers swagger onto stage in a blur of spandex and colour. They must break some record here for most boobs flashed in a pit, but the most impressive thing (yes more impressive than more boobs than you could or would want to shake a stick at) is the quality of musicianship on display. Steel Panther will have won a huge volume of fans here for proving that, in spite of their novelty rock status, they can stand toe to toe with the bands they are sending up. Corey Taylor joins them for a storming ‘Death to All But Metal’ finale and it’s a real testament to the band’s back-catalogue that there is no room for recent single ‘If You Really Really Love Me’ on the set-list.
Tenacious D () have the unenviable task of following the frankly hilarious Steel Panther with more comedy rock. To Jack and Kyle’s credit they do a pretty good job and provide some genuine laughs but it’s pretty evident that are thoroughly out-laughed by the previous band. The huge volume of Jack Black fans in the crowd serve to add plenty of atmosphere to the occasion and naturally ‘Tribute’ gets one of the loudest crowd responses anyone will hear all weekend.
Over in a very cramped tent Corey Taylor () is behaving like that guy who always gets his guitar out at the end of a party. When I try this the usual response is for everyone to suddenly run for the hills, but then I am not an icon of modern metal (not yet anyway). There are stripped down Stone Sour tunes, covers as diverse as U2 and Alice in Chains and even an inspired acoustic rendition of Slipknot’s ‘Spit It Out’ (no, I haven’t got that song title wrong trust me). Lzzy Hale even joins the Corey for a blinding cover of ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. He talks of Download as his spiritual home and you can see on his grinning face that he’s genuine – an icon deserving of the status.
Killswitch Engage () are back and this time it’s with original lead singer Jessie Leach (the voice that brought you ‘My Last Serenade’ the first time). It seems to be business as usual for the bruisers and Jessie puts all doubts regarding his ability to front the now massive metal outfit well and truly to rest. It will be interesting to see how the chemistry between Jessie and Adam D develops over the next few shows. Adam D has always peppered his performances with inane remarks and unfunny sexual innuendo which the Todd from Scrubs would probably wince at, but Howard had a way of balancing this out with a wry smile or a roll of the eyes to the audience letting everyone know they we were all in on the joke. Jessie merely ignores him like a senile elephant playing with itself in the corner of the kitchen.
The headliners tonight are Metallica () and, as advertised, they are here chiefly to rip through the entirety of the ‘Black Album’. It looks as though the entire festival populace has turned out for this one and the main stage area looks stunning as it heaves with 100,000 bodies. Of course the metal legends were never likely to stick solely to material from the one album and we’re treated to a varied selection but it is the ‘Black Album’ tracks that stand out tonight. ‘Sandman’, ‘Nothing Else Matters’, ‘Of Wolf and Man’ all sound great in the chilly Saturday night breeze. They wish us goodnight with a spectacular ‘One’ accompanied by an epic light and pyro show followed by ‘Seek And Destroy’. This won’t be regarded as the classic Metallica show many had hoped for but it’s a solid effort and a great way to close the day.
There’s plenty going on in the Village from silent discos to rides and the drink is flowing well. Of course we at Soundsphere pootle straight past it all as we are here to work and so we pop in our earplugs cuddle up to our furry hot water bottles and settle in for our beauty sleeps.
Awaking on Sunday it is clear that something is very wrong. The damp which had slithered into the tent all weekend appears to have vanished and we are sweating like marines in a maths test. Tentatively we unzip the tent and peer out into this peculiar day. There is no water spilling upon us from the sky which has turned the strangest colour. Our lovely grey sky has bled into an odd blue colour and, most disturbingly of all, a large yellow orb has appeared above us. “Aliens!” our Jade screams and runs as far as her wee legs will carry her. Okay, we jest with hyperbole but seriously there really are people on their knees in the sun’s presence so happy are they for just one beautiful day.
Devildriver () have the pleasure of introducing both the sun and the final day to the now dry faithful. ‘Clouds Over California’ provides a great soundtrack to the hottest circle pits of Download’s tenth anniversary and Dez is an ideal ringmaster for the carnage. Over on stage the second British rockers Black Spiders () are absolutely smashing it. Dirty, unsexy, gruff rock ‘n’ roll is served up masterfully throughout the too-short set. ‘Just Like A Woman’ and ‘What Good’s A Rock Without A Roll’ are classic festival tracks and the boys soon have the entire crowd joyfully waving their middle-finger salutes back at them. During the exodus back over to the main stage there is a repeated refrain of “I’m gonna buy their album when I get home” from all sides and it’s much-deserved. A real highlight of the weekend.
Kyuss Lives () lope onto the main stage next and it all feels a little odd. We know they are the latest incarnation of true genre legends, and we know to expect that trademark stoner rock groove but it all comes across as distinctly apathetic. Obviously there’s a fine line between the laidback stoner rock veneer and genuine listlessness but you get the impression that Kyuss Lives would rather not be here today (seriously anyone would think they’d collectively taken an arrow to the knee). There is no attempt to engage the crowd, and I’m not talking crowd participation I’m talking not even a “Hello” or “See ya”. Perhaps it’s partly the disparity between the full on engagement and respect which bands like Black Spiders show their audience but Kyuss Lives are particularly underwhelming. With a sleepy yawn in the soothing sun, we move on.
Anthrax () and Download go together like me and yo mama or Quavers and cola (seriously try it). ‘Madhouse’ and ‘Antisocial’ sound great with Joey back on vocals and the new material slots snugly into the set list. Scott Ian is still one of the most watchable guitarists in metal and his gaining years show no sign of making him slow down. Joey spends half of the show in the crowd donning one fan’s native American headdress for ‘Cry for the Indian’. Sterling stuff.
Meanwhile Rival Sons () are playing to a respectable sized crowd and try hard to make the most of a short set. From ‘Gypsy Heart’ through ‘Torture’, ‘Burn Down Los Angeles’ and ‘Face Of Light’ they seem to be building in confidence and momentum. It is a shame then that on song number five: ‘Soul’ they are forced to call it a day just as they appear to be hitting their stride.
One band who never need time to get their juices flowing are Lamb of God () and Randy Blythe bounds onto the stage to a deafening roar. ‘Black Label’ and ‘Redneck’ instigate some apocalyptic pit action and new tracks like ‘Desolation’ work well alongside fan favourites such as ‘Now You’ve Got Something to Die For’. Throats thoroughly ruined we wave tatty-bye to the Richmond bruisers and go in search of some soothing hot lemon.
Over on the smaller stage The James Cleaver Quintet () are knocking seven shades of Dillinger out of their instruments. After some favourable reviews for their debut full-length the band are proving that their sound has even more bite live. Ferocious but not lacking melody this is one band who we’ll tip to be moving up the ranks in future years at Donington fairly swiftly. The Red Bull Stage has seen some wonderful talent today and it doesn’t stop when Dubliners Kopek () appear. In the US they have already found a healthy level of success and have seen their tunes appear on popular tv shows like ‘Jersey Shore’ (did I really just use the word healthy in a sentence with Jersey Shore? *shudders and claws own eyes out*). Kopek sound far more powerful up close and they do it with an understated charisma that’s hard not to take a shine to. This proves to be one of many great surprises of the festival.
Over on the second stage there’s a palpable sense that we’re about to witness something a little bit special. The last time Swedish legends Refused () played it was in a tiny bar to a handful of people who turned their backs to the band throughout the entire set. They are back and, whilst they may have taken an over-a-decade-long break, their music has continued to thrive without them. There are thousands here to see the boys (well men in their forties) tonight and they don’t disappoint. They may have promised never to play again and enigmatic frontman Dennis Lyxzén has to sacrifice a smile when he introduces ‘Refused are F**king Dead’ but there is a reason that their brand of impassioned political punk has remained popular. Refused are as relevant now as they ever were and when ‘New Noise’ ignites the crowd it feels like the Swedes have never been away. Welsh rockers The Dirty Youth () lay waste to their assigned tent this evening. Danni is a fully fledged rawk siren. Obviously she’s got the looks and the swagger but live it’s her voice that steals the show. The energy of the entire band never lets up as they tear through ‘Fight’, ‘Rise Up’ and a host of anthems from their debut album. Check them out soon.
Dropkick Murphys () are more at home in intimate venues and this is one of their biggest British festival shows yet. They are hampered by some sound problems early on but the Boston-Irish punks treat the whole affair as business as usual. They have become increasingly focused upon their Irish influences in recent years and in the festival setting that’s no bad thing. There’s Guinness flying and Irish jigs among strangers. It’s not the most memorable or rousing of Murphy’s shows but it’s delivered and received with great warmth.
Periphery () have the daunting task of playing in the Pepsi tent in earshot of the main stage where Sabbath will soon be headlining. If it bothers them they don’t show it and with songs like ‘Zyglrox’, ‘Totla Mad’ and ‘Make Total Destroy’ you can understand where their confidence comes from. The technical mastery on display is astonishing and the tent remains full until their final note stops ringing.
In a similar predicament but on a grander stage are Rise Against () who seem to raise their game tonight as they sound the most vital they have for several years. Tim Mcllrath has grown from an angry punk upstart into a performer who can command a festival stage with ease. From the opening bars of ‘Survivor Guilt’ the crowd is so firmly in the palm of his hand it’s incredible he still has room in their to grip his guitar. Catchy punk tunes such as ‘Give it All’ and ‘Prayer for the Refugee’ are revealed to be massive festival anthems when unleashed in front of this number of people. They finish things off with ‘Saviour’ which sounds like a monstrous beast as it barrels out into the darkening sky and to their credit, just like Periphery, nobody is going anywhere until Rise Against are gone from view.
Some relative unknowns from Birmingham are left to close the festival but they do seem to have a fair few fans. Black Sabbath () closing Download at Donington – is it just me or does that sentence just crackle like a jumper cable? Okay so the reform is one member short and there is a clear Bill Ward-shaped hole on the stage but it still feels right. Sabbath who started all this so many years ago are the ultimate choice to end the ten year anniversary. Ozzy calls Tony Iommi “the real Iron Man” and the crowd are vocal in their agreement. It’s a special show and every pair of lips can be seen singing along to ‘Paranoid’ at the end of the set. The noise from the crowd is incredible, so much so that when the prince of darkness himself repeatedly screams “I can’t hear you!” You feel a little sorry for him and do get the urge to shout back “That’s okay Ozzy it’s normal at your age!” But he probably wouldn’t hear that either.
The drinking, dancing, and general displays of good-will continue long into the night and in true festival tradition it seems that Sundays never sleep. Except of course where Soundsphere are concerned. We have work to do and reviews to write. So we wish our 100,000 new friends well and with pyjamas on and thumbs between lips we slip away to sleepy land and have dreams filled with mud zombies, metal legends and dodgy burgers. And we all lived happily ever after – well, until next year. The end.
For more information visit the official Download Festival website.