We’re starting the day off heavy. We’re starting the day off right! It’s 11am and opening up the main stage of Download Festival this fine Saturday morning are Māori Metallers, Alien Weaponry and luckily for the mud clad festival goers they have brought the much missed Sun with them all the way from New Zealand. Delivering possibly the best wake up call ever in the form of a traditional Haka, a spine-chilling moment and a definite first for the festival, the young trio set the mood perfectly. The teenagers (I know, right!?!) pound Donnington Park in to the ground with a ferocious set of unique, almost primitive, metal, slipping in and out of Te Reo and English. The crowd waste no time and the pits instantly break out. It’s clear from the smiles and passion on stage that the guys are absolutely loving every second of this performance. So are we guys, so are we.
Download Festival have a habit of finding young blood and giving them their big break on the main stage (think Trivium etc.) and launching them to the dizzying heights of metal. Could this have been Alien Weaponry’s moment? If so, they nailed it! Keep an eye out for these guys.
And the winners of this year’s award for ‘most dapper gentlemen at a metal festival’ goes to…
Red suits, pearl necklaces, moustaches and quiffs. What more could you want? Storming the main stage directly after a ridiculously good set from Alien Weaponry, they had a lot to live up to, but Royal Republic bring their euphoric mix of rock and disco to Download Festival and the crowd love it. Never ones to take themselves too seriously, frontman Adam Grahn explains to the huge audience that they have given up on trying to be the heaviest band around with the biggest circle pits and instead has been thinking about Maths.
“I did some maths this morning” exclaims Grahn, “What’s the minimum amount of people needed for a circle pit? Three?”
I think I see where this is going.
“What’s better than one huge circle pit? One thousand very small, highly efficient circle pits”.
Great logic, the sight is incredible! Royal Republic bounce through a set of catchy chorus’s and dirty riffs with songs like ‘Tommy Gun’ going down a treat. Proving they can do heavy too the sharp Swedes throw in a cover of Metallica’s ‘Battery’ before closing on the massive ‘Full Steam Spaceship’. If you get chance to see these guys live, do it!
Making their Download debut on the Zippo Encore stage just before 2pm, we had instrumental prog-metallers Animals As Leaders. As one of the key instigators of the prog/djent scene in recent years, the band received a warm welcome from the crowd, with the loudest cheer reserved for founding member Tosin Abasi. Their set covered material from across their entire back catalogue, with all 3 band members on blistering form, sounding as good live as on record. Abasi’s guitar work in particular was nothing short of stellar, his playing almost hypnotic in places, proving why he’s held in such high regard. Set closer ‘CAFO’ got the biggest cheer of the set as it kicked in, ending a truly magnificent 35 minutes of technical brilliance. After a performance like that, here’s hoping this will be the first of many appearances for Tosin and the boys.*
Next up, the award for ‘heaviest band at a metal festival’ goes to…
Okay, I’ll stop with that now.
Four hooded men, complete with black skull masks, walk out. The stage is clad in black and white. Satanic imagery and inverted crosses cloak everything and the back drop looks incredible. The atmosphere instantly changes and you can cut the anticipation with a sacrificial knife. Before you can utter the words ‘Hail Satan’, the stage ignites and fire scorches above the heads of the enormous crowd as Behemoth break in to ‘Wolves Ov Siberia’. From the get go, front man Nergal has the crowd in the palm of his hand. Such a commanding presence that sends shivers down your spine. This isn’t one of those Black or Death Metal bands that are all show and no substance, though. Behemoth are called Behemoth for a reason. The Thunderous sound erupting from the stage is so guttural, so dark and powerful that even those not in to the darker side of metal are left in awe. The crowd unite in chants and scream along to fan favourites such as ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ and ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’.
Briefly breaking away from the intensity, Nergal asks the crowd to look around.
“This is magical!”
His expression and stature change whilst the crowd witness a moment of euphoric happiness and genuine amazement.
“This is the biggest extreme metal has ever gotten” he exclaims proudly. You can tell this means the world to him. And so it should. Behemoth are at the top of their game and this will surely go down as a highlight from the whole festival. As the band line up on stage for the end of their set and create a haunting drum orchestra, the heavens once again open. A fitting end to this diabolically delicious performance.
Next to take the soaking wet stage are festival favourites, Skindred. The familiar sounds of ‘The Imperial March’ rings out through the PA as the Welsh Reggae Rockers one by one enter the ring. Frontman, Benji Webbe, is clearly aiming to take the award for ‘most dapper’ away from Royal Republic and to be fair, it’s a close call. The torrential downpour isn’t going to stop Skindred from doing their thang and it’s definitely not going to stop the thousands watching from loving every second of it. Webbe struts the stage as they perform fan favourite after fan favourite. This is a master class in entertainment and perfection and Webbe has every single person eating out of the palm of his hand. Stepping away briefly from the typical reggae inspired metal, they break into ‘Machine’, more of an old school metal track, and are joined on stage by Reef front man Gary Stringer. The pair bounce off each other brilliantly whilst running up and down the central reservation, hyping the crowd in to a frenzy.
“Never forget what they have done for us” Webbe commands as Prodigy’s ‘Out of Space’ blasts out through the drenched audience resulting in Download Festival briefly turning into a rave (More of that to come tomorrow…). A fitting tribute to Keith Flint.
After over two decades on the scene, Skindred have perfected their craft to the highest standard and their live performances showcase just how incredible they are.
Now, a Skindred show wouldn’t be complete with the famous ‘Newport Helicopter’, which despite how cold and wet everyone is, doesn’t deter thousands from peeling off their wet shirts to give them a good air dry to final song ‘Warning’.
“Every single person here has made a dream come true for us today”.
Anytime Benji, anytime.
Taking a similar page from Animals As Leaders earlier in the day, the Dogtooth stage provided us with more instrumental prog in the form of Intervals. Now primarily the brainchild of lead guitarist Aaron Marshall, recent years have seen the project return to its initial instrumental roots, with the last 2 albums ‘The Shape Of Colour’ and ‘The Way Forward’ being released to critical acclaim, all while utilising a mix of various session musicians for both the studio work and live performances. The professionalism of their performance at Download was what ended up being the most striking aspect, as they played like a band who had been together for years, with intricate guitars weaving around each other. Sadly, the short set meant everything was over all too quickly, leaving the crowd desperate for more. Fingers crossed for a longer set next time!*
Headlining the Zippo Encore stage on the Saturday were hard rock heavyweights Halestorm. Fast gaining reputation as one of the best live bands today, they stormed out of the blocks with ‘Do Not Disturb’, taken from last year’s ‘Vicious’ album. The rest of the set followed a similar pattern of not letting up, with Lzzy Hale’s soaring vocals sounding incredible in the evening sun (yes, we had sun!), while her brother Arejay seemed to channel his inner ‘Animal’ on the drums. There were plenty of pleasant surprises scattered throughout the set too, including a beautiful acoustic performance of ‘The Silence’, a drum solo with oversized drumsticks, and an appearance by Asami from Lovebites to duet with Lzzy on the song that gave Lovebites their name. As the sun started to set at the end of their performance, Lzzy and the boys receive a thoroughly well-deserved ovation from the crowd. Potential future main stage headliners? You never know!*
There has been one band on everyone’s lips (and shirts) all day today. Download Festival’s Saturday night headliners, Slipknot.
Corey and his crew have become something of a house band for Download Festival, with this being the fifth time we have witnessed the masked mayhem unfold on stage at Donnington Park. I know what you’re thinking? Why would a festival book the same band as a headline act that many times? Because they are that damn good, that’s why! To be honest, I imagine a huge percentage of the punters would happily see Slipknot headline every year. Even before the show has begun, you just know it’s going to be incredible.
In recent times, Slipknot seems to have being having a bit of a tough time. After the premature death of founding member, writer and bassist Paul Grey back in 2010, things haven’t quite felt the same. Since then, we have seen disputes and even more departures from the original nine. Joey Jordison and Chris Fehn, two very much loved members, have both hung their masks up recently. Then there was even questions surrounding Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan after the untimely death of his daughter less than a month ago but there was no way he or the rest of the guys were going to let down their faithful family at Donnington Park. Though, you can feel in the air that things seem a little different.
A black banner with Slipknot’s logo hangs, covering the stage from view. The intro music, (515), begins. The cheers are deafening. This is easily the biggest crowd of the weekend so far. The banner is pulled up into the rafters and with that the familiar opening of ‘People = Shit’ begins. Complete with new masks, which have been getting mixed opinions from fans and press alike, and a swanky new trench coat for Corey, the aural onslaught begins. Breaking straight in to ‘(Sic)’ and followed by ‘Get This’, both from their debut, self-titled album, the speedy assault shows no sign of slowing and it’s clear that the fans or the band haven’t forgotten where it all started.
“I’ve been waiting a long fucking time to say this again. Hello Download Festival 2019!” Taylor bellows across the sacred soil (mud) of Donnington.
In the build up to the release of their sixth studio album, ‘We Are Not Your Kind’, it was inevitable that Slipknot were going to throw in a few new songs. The first being ‘Unsainted’, which as a standalone track is a belter but after hearing it played directly after the old stuff, seems to be lacking and the crowd definitely seem to hold back a little. I understand that this would always be the case when showcasing new songs and I appreciate when bands grow and develop but it doesn’t feel quite the same. The ferocity is gone and the song seems tailored to be more of standard metal track rather than the Slipknot we all know and love. I guess that makes sense though, given that after line-up changes, this is a different Slipknot and that is very clear in the song writing.
‘Disasterpiece’ instantly brings the crowds and pits back to life and followed rapidly by the familiar opening riff of ‘Before I Forget’, Corey once again has the crowd in the palm of his hand.
After seeing Slipknot perform multiple times around the UK, his love for Download Festival becomes very clear. Corey loves all his fans and the whole band give 110% at every performance, but when seeing them at Download, it feels like it’s on another level. His love is so genuine and even though you can’t see the bands expression behind the mask, you can tell that they are all loving it.
To close the show, the words ”I push my fingers into my..” are all it takes to set the crowd off in harmony as a chorus of thousands upon thousands of metal heads sing in unison to the beast of a track ‘Duality’. A beautiful spectacle, and surprisingly in tune!
‘Spit It Out’ once again see’s everyone sitting in the mud, most of whom are already on the ground before Corey has even had the chance to ask. The build up to “Jump the fuck up!” still gives you goosebumps no matter how many times you witness it. The chaos that follows is just indescribable. The second part of tonight’s encore comes as somewhat a surprise. One huge song, ‘Wait and Bleed’ hasn’t been played yet so it’s what everyone is expecting. Slipknot have never done things by the book though and instead they choose to end on the incredible ‘Surfacing’. Not what I or anyone was expecting but touché, Slipknot, touché.
All word by Benjamin Gladstone except*
*Word by Scott Cardwell