For anyone with even the slightest interest in rock music from the UK, Download Festival needs no introduction. The iconic fields of Donnington have become a Mecca for fans of all things heavy. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the legendary festival.
It is no secret that Spirit Level are avid fans of ‘Employed To Serve’ (9) so it is a truly joyous site to behold that they are able to start the day to a full tent. Since the release of their sophomore album ‘The Warmth Of A Dying Sun’ last year, ‘Employed To Serve’ have been on an unstoppable upwards trajectory and this is their crowning achievement as they play a blinding set on a stage bigger than some of the rooms we have seen them in. Smashing their way through a ferocious half hour set, ‘Employed To Serve’ refuse to be intimidated by the larger crowds and by the time that they are are finished, guitarist Sammy Urwin is crowd surfed all of the way out of the tent.
Less can be said unfortunately for power metallers ‘Dragonforce’ (5). Despite the technically impressive guitar solos and over the top shredding; the band seem pretty bored and nonplussed throughout their performance which is a feeling that appears to be shared by the dwindling crowd. Lack of enthusiasm is not a criticism you can aim at ‘Stray From The Path’ (7) who decimate the third stage with their blend of highly politicised hip hop and metal. The sound mix means that vocalist Andrew Dijorio’s lyrics are not always clear, but the message is unavoidable. ‘House Always Wins’ is even angrier live than on record and the closing duo of ‘Badge & A Bullet Parts 1&2’ go down a storm.
Back on the Main Stage, ‘Marmozets’ (8) draw in a hefty crowd as they play a greatest hits package from their two records, striking a perfect balance between old and new material. As always Becca MacIntyre is on phenomenal form and still one of the coolest front-women in current rock music. It is clear to everyone present just how grateful ‘Marmozets’ are to be here after a shaky couple of years and their enthusiasm is infectious. It is hard to argue against the promise that next time ‘Marmozets’ set foot on this stage, they will be much higher up the bill. Back on the third stage, Canadian punk rockers ‘Cancer Bats’ (7) are on typically great form with a varied setlist that celebrates both the ten year anniversary of the seminal ‘Hail Destroyer’ but also their latest album ‘The Spark That Moves’.
There was a time when ‘Bullet For My Valentine’ (7) were pinned as potential headliners in their own right and it is clear that this is a goal that vocalist Matt Tuck is still aiming towards. ‘Bullet For My Valentine’ play a solid set that covers their entire discography (with the notable absence of anything from ‘Temper Temper’). There is even a taster towards their upcoming sixth album which sounds considerably better live. Despite lower numbers at recent shows, ‘Bullet’ pull a decent crowd and we can’t help but hold out hope that one day they may still be able to achieve their headliner goals. Whether or not this is possible is likely to rest on the next album.
In the interim between ‘Bullet’ and ‘Avenged Sevenfold’, we are able to run to the fourth stage in time for grind core legends ‘Napalm Death’ (8) who put on a relentless set of hard hitting extreme metal aggression, proving that they can still stand head to head against their younger contemporaries. Barney Greenway storms around the stage with a gleeful enthusiasm that is impossible to fake and the band play with unrivalled technical precision. As we stagger out of the crowded tent, headline act ‘Avenged Sevenfold’ (7) are just kicking into the expansive opening track of ‘The Stage’. After a slightly shaky start, ‘Avenged’ play a note perfect set of non-stop bangers with an incredible visual show to match. Singer Matt Shadows is in his element and obviously delighted to be here, as is new drummer Brooks Wackerman, however the other three bandmates appear less enthusiastic which drains a little of the enjoyment from the set. That being said, the encore of ‘Shepherd of Fire’ into ‘A Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Unholy Confessions’ is undeniably huge and a perfect end to the first day.
The sun is shining bright on Saturday morning and our elated moods are improved even more with the unabashedly upbeat classic rock of ‘The Struts’ (7) who warm up the main stage. Vocalist Luke Spiller was born to play stages like this as he channels the likes of Freddie Mercury and Steve Tyler in his wonderfully flamboyant stage manner. On the opposite side of the spectrum, ‘Bury Tomorrow’ (7) warm up the second stage with a much heavier brand of metallic hardcore. With a new album on the way, ‘Bury Tomorrow’ will walk away from Download with a lot of new fans.
The day really starts to pick up momentum when ‘Rolo Tomassi (8) arrive on the third stage. Riding off the back of their sensational album release and sold out tour earlier in the year. ‘Rolo Tomassi’ continue to impress and step up their game. Eva Spence is captivating as she dances across the stage and the subtle nuances in their songs are not lost on a larger stage. When it comes to captivating stage performers; there are few greater than Jason Butler as Download is about to discover during a surprise performance by ‘The Fever 333’ (9). This is the first time that ‘The Fever 333’ have ever played in the UK but you would never be able to guess as they manage to upstage pretty much every act that has played before them. The band has only been together for less than a year and they have only released one EP so far, but that doesn’t stop them from playing a sensational forty minute set with the crowd singing along whenever they can. ‘LetLive’ may be no more, but Jason Butler still has plenty to say and it looks as though ‘The Fever 333’ will be sticking around for some time.
Back on the second stage ‘Babymetal’ (7) put on one of the most bizarre yet enjoyable sets of the weekend with their unique brand of J-pop/metal hybrid. Yuimetal is unfortunately absent from the show due to illness, but we are assured that she is still a member of the band. Meanwhile, the other two members put on a thoroughly enjoyable performance and hits such as ‘Gimme Chocolate’ and ‘Karate’ go down a storm. Second stage headliners ‘Parkway Drive’ (8) may be a stark contrast in terms of their music, but are equally as fun to watch. Over the past few years, ‘Parkway Drive’ have become notorious as one of the best live bands in heavy music and it is easy to see why. Winston McCall is a terrific frontman, the songs sound huge and the band know how to put on one hell of a show. With enough pyrotechnics to fuel a 747 and Ben Gordon’s rotating drum kit; ‘Parkway Drive’ threaten to steal the day.
‘Parkway Drive’ may have been good, but in the end there was always going to be one band that would tower above everybody else. Since they were first announced as the headlining slot, the excitement for ‘Guns N’Roses’ (10) has dominated every conversation and with very good reason. Riding high on their “Not In This Lifetime” tour, the reformed ‘GnR’ are unstoppable from the opening notes of ‘Its So Easy’ all the way to the thundering crescendo of ‘Paradise City’ over three hours later. There are surprise covers of ‘Velvet Revolver’ ‘Slither’ and a touching tribute to the late Chris Cornell with ‘Soundgarden’ ‘Black Hole Sun’; meanwhile hits including ‘Night Train’ and ‘Coma’ prove that ‘Guns N’ Roses’ are still a force to be reckoned with. Very few things in life can compare to the joy of seeing Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan together on the stage in 2018 and tonight will without a doubt go down in history as one of Download Festivals most crowning and memorable achievements.
Today is the final and most action packed day of the weekend as we kick off early in the morning with ‘Dream State’ (6) who kick off the proceedings with their upbeat blend of electronic dance music and early ‘Paramore’ style pop-punk music. Next up ‘Greta Van Fleet’ (6) open the second stage to a surprisingly large crowd. Playing classic rock in the style of ‘Led Zeppelin’, ‘Greta Van Fleet’ are technically brilliant and the crowd are instantly drawn in. Opening the main stage are British black metal titans ‘Cradle Of Filth’ (8) who put on a raucously entertaining set. Bizarrely, they only play one song ‘Heartbreak and Seance’ from the new album, but no-one is complaining as they finish with an incredible performance of ‘Born In A Burial Gown’ into ‘Nymphetamine’ and close with ‘Her Ghost In The Fog’. Danny Filth is in his element on stage as he cracks jokes with the crowd and parades up and down the runway in full studded leather glory. Meanwhile on the third stage ‘Puppy’ (7) have stepped up their game massively in the past year with a powerfully energetic set ahead of their upcoming debut album scheduled for release in the coming months. ‘Puppy’ are one of the many brilliant up and coming bands that are seemingly impossible to pin down to any specific sub-genre with their eclectic riff-laden songs that combine pop-punk melodies with a much more metallic tone.
German thrash legends ‘Kreator’ (8) are up next on the second stage. Ploughing their way relentlessly through a mix of old and new songs proving that though many of the American heritage bands appear to be reaching the end of their days, ‘Kreator’ are still just getting started. A guest appearance from ‘Hatebreeds’ Jamie Jasta straight after they had finished playing at the main stage adds even more power to an already brilliant performance. If the crowd felt energised after ‘Kreator’, that is nothing compared to the raw power and aggression of ‘Body Count feat. Ice T’ (9). Still touring 2017’s phenomenal record ‘Bloodlust’; Ice T is a man on a mission to spread his message of the current social injustices facing our world and to convert as many people to his cause as possible. Judging by the hugely positive response from everybody here, it seems pretty clear that he manages to succeed at both and by the look on his face, he couldn’t be happier.
Back at the third stage, ‘Jamie Lenman’ (8) continues to up his game as he plays yet another fantastic set to a large crowd of devoted fans. Joking between songs, Lenman is one of the most entertaining and enthusiastic artists performing this weekend and a brilliant fit for a sunny afternoon in Donnington. In a dramatic contrast, the fourth stage is shrouded in mist and darkness as ‘Myrkur’ (10) displays her phenomenal versatility during a mesmerising set of folk tinged black metal ferocity. Alternating without hesitation between sultry clean vocals and devastating screams, ‘Myrkur’ easily wins our vote for the best underground artist of the entire weekend and we could happily have watched her perform for twice as long. Needless to say that next time she performs in the UK, we will be there in a heartbeat. Following straight afterwards ‘Zeal & Ardor’ (9) play what is far and away the most inventive and original set of the weekend; blending elements of old African/American slave songs and black metal in a way that should never work, but somehow does to a magnificent effect. Fresh off the back of the release of their brand new sophomore album ‘Stranger Fruit’, ‘Zeal & Ardor’ come dangerously close to upstaging ‘Myrkur’ within minutes of reaching the stage.
As the evening begins to draw to a close, goth overlord ‘Marilyn Manson’ (7) enters the main stage as the sub-headliner. There are periods when his voice isn’t quite up to scratch, but nobody can match Manson for showmanship and with songs of such high quality it is nigh on impossible to not have fun. ‘Baroness’ (9) close the fourth stage with a magnificent display of power and non-stop riffing, playing their signature style of progressive and sludge metal and it is difficult to think of many better ways to end the weekend on a high note. That is until ‘Ozzy Ozbourne’ (9) takes to the stage to finish off the weekends festivities. It is a well known fact that Ozzy’s performances have been more miss than hit in recent years, but tonight is special. As the field fills with long term fans and people who just want to pay their respects to the man who helped create heavy metal, no-one is expecting Ozzy to be on such top form. With long term guitarist Zakk Wylde back in the band, each songs sounds huge from the dirgy ‘Mr Crowley’ to ‘Suicide Solution’, all the way to ‘Crazy Train and closing song ‘Paranoid’ there isn’t a single moment where you could question the talents of “The Prince Of Darkness”. With tonights performance being a part of a farewell tour, we can’t think of a more fitting way to end a sensational weekend.
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