My Saturday at Download began over at the main stage where I caught the retro new wave of classic rock act Those Damn Crows, a band who have amassed a significant following in Wales thanks to appearances at the likes of Steelhouse Festival and other rock-oriented affairs. Possibly one of the smallest acts to perform on the main stage this year, the band spared no expense offering a fantastic wake-up call with some unremarkable if solid hard rock tunes. The day’s proceedings then continued firmly in the rocky territory with a southern, slightly heavier twang with Black Label Society, in their first festival appearance on UK soil since 2015, and with less of Zakk Wylde’s expectedly lengthy and tiresome soloing. Don’t get me wrong, Zakk was still doing his usual thing, but with a much-needed addition of percussion, making the moments of instrumental wankery much more palatable than usual.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review some familiar favourites, and it’s great when you can see a band so many times, and yet they can still pull out something unexpected. Such was the case with Mastodon, who were on absolutely top form from a performance perspective. The set itself was typical; a few tunes made the cut from the new record Hushed and Grim, with some big hits thrown in for good measure (though typical for Mastodon generally means excellent in my book). What struck me most, however, was just how much the band seemed to be enjoying themselves, particularly Brent, who has historically lacked ‘oomph’ with his backing vocals in the live setting – at least during the times, I’ve caught Mastodon live. But here, he was cracking jokes, roaring the growls on the early stuff, and was just being generally mental on stage without any disruption to the band’s uniformed professionalism. “Blood and Thunder” also closed the set, and that one is always a fucking treat.
Another vintage band in even greater form last Saturday was Megadeth. Though their crowd was unusually tame for a member of the Big Four, Mustaine and company totally owned their headliner position and scorched through a set of thrash classics alongside some refreshing deep-cut additions (“Dread and the Fugitive Mind,” “Angry Again,” and in a rare live performance, “The Conjuring!”). This was a set of a classic, late-career band on absolutely top form, and I’m sincerely looking forward to their new record which Dave teased, as well.
Iron Maiden closed Saturday’s proceedings, with an obtuse set that started with some lengthier and somber tunes from the new album, before bookending everything with the crowd-pleasing bangers that cemented Steve Harris and co. as the heavy metal legends they are.
Iron Maiden is a band that many would attest are at their best when performing on legacy tours. I sadly never caught them on the Maiden England tour, but what a joy it must have been to see some Seventh Son material live, which this set certainly lacked. Personal preferences aside, however, the Download set was an incredibly solid, if unusual combination of new material released on the tail end of Covid, combined with songs performed initially for the Legacy of the Beast tour, which started all the way back in 2019.
I really enjoyed watching the Senjutsu material live, but seeing Aces High in the encore, as opposed to being the show-topping opener, was certainly a choice. Even more strange was that the band seemed to be on autopilot a bit (honestly, no pun intended), with little in the way of genuine surprises. That being said, the samurai-inspired stage antics with Bruce dueling a giant Eddie always go down well, though Kiss definitely stood out more to me when it came to the weekend’s legacy act. Bear in mind though that I have seen Iron Maiden several times now, and I had never seen Kiss, so it was probably just me.
Another new wave of classic rock act that made genuine waves at Download was Massive Wagons, an early afternoon treat kicking off the Sunday, who have supported the likes of The Darkness and sold out many of their own club shows, consequently setting high expectations for me. I might not be totally in love with their particular sound, but I cannot deny they know exactly how to put on a show, with some of the most receptive crowd interaction across the weekend this side of Steel Panther (more on that later).
It’s highly unusual for Download to gamble on bands that are not only niche to a particular type of metal scene, but also have their audience largely based in Europe. Despite this, the decision to place Powerwolf on the Apex stage was no mistake, as they were fittingly one of the best bands of the day, and an unlikely highlight for most people that I spoke to afterward. As a result of their performance, it wouldn’t surprise me if their one-off date at the Roundhouse in London sold out, as their theatrical brand of fist-bumping power metal got the crowd jumping and made me feel like I was instead at Wacken Open Air.
People often like to point out that the modern traditional metal scene is generating fewer bands that could headline huge events, but Powerwolf seems set to be following in the footsteps of Sabaton, Gojira, and Behemoth before them to become a genuine force to be reckoned with. My one complaint is we didn’t get the flamethrower-filled set that Graspop Metal Meeting received just a few days later!
Making my way back to the Opus stage, I then caught Download’s stoner-sludge favourites Baroness perform a set of their biggest hits, during an anniversary of what was Gina Gleason’s second-ever performance with the band. Alongside KISS and Powerwolf, this four-piece was one of the true highlights of the entire festival. Kicking arse and winning hearts against a gorgeous backdrop that featured artwork from each of their colour-centric albums, their set was a joyous if criminally short odyssey through their back catalogue, featuring cuts from Red Album, Blue Record, Yellow and Green, and Purple. Not a single tune was played off Gold and Grey though, which is unusual considering they are touring on its album cycle…but that doesn’t matter at all when a set is jam-packed with bangers like “A Horse from Golgotha,” “Isak,” and “Shock Me.”
Arguably the weekend’s true headliner both in terms of their audience size and the spread of their legacy, Korn, despite being an iconic member down (I hope one day, I get to see the band with Fieldy), springboarded their audience into jump-the-fuck-up mode with every passing moment. Blasting through a set of familiar favourites like “Here to Stay,” “Falling Away From Me,” and “Coming Undone,” the band shook things up by playing a few bangers from their acclaimed new record Requiem, even finding time to perform a song from The Nothing, which was yet another well-received Korn record that was doomed by a pandemic release. Their rendition of “Shoots and Ladders” was an awesome highlight, ending with a smooth transition into the unsurprisingly heavy machine gun section of Metallica’s “One.”
Steel Panther then followed suit, headlining the second stage with a no-expense performance that merged the shock rock aesthetics and sound of Poison, The Darkness, and Cinderella with a surreal and obscene comedy act that saw vocalist Michael Starr somehow transform his face into a likeness of Ozzy Osbourne while performing a cover of “Crazy Train” in the space of about a minute while also cracking jokes about underage sex and misremembering the age of the UK’s consent. This is probably surprising to absolutely nobody who is the least bit familiar with Panther’s live shtick, but as someone who went in completely new, I was incredibly entertained by their unusual merging of shock rock and variety comedy show. Not for everyone to put it lightly, especially if you’re averse to women being called on stage to dance and treated like objects, but I personally had a great time, what can I say?
Biffy Clyro brought Download 2022 to a close and, as you may have already noticed, I have not reviewed a single band that is similar to them, and that’s precisely because there was little in the way of their sound across the festival. Replacing System of a Down, their placement as a headliner was puzzling, and aside from the faithful who crowded the main stage, the field was surprisingly empty in comparison to when Korn, KISS, and Iron Maiden were on stage. Not that this matters particularly, but it’s worth noting considering they were the final band of the festival.
Overall, thanks to uncharacteristically fantastic weather, a more structured site layout, and a bit of something for everyone, Download 2022 was well worth the price of admission. It fixed many of the issues of the 2019 event from an organisational perspective, and although there were a couple of mishaps with bands arriving/leaving the stage at previously unscheduled times without comment by the festival, I can say that I enjoyed myself massively.
The first proper summer festival season is back, and off to an incredible start.
Read part 1 here: FESTIVAL REVIEW: Download Festival 2022 Part I
WORDS BY MICHAEL MILLER