Download Fest, with its roots in the Monsters of Rock festivals that ran from 1980 until people decided rock was dead in 1996 (and Kiss and Ozzy’s shambolic co-headliner of that year pretty much proved that point) is the Grand-Daddy of Euro festivals. It’s a behemoth that dominates the rock landscape in the UK (note “rock”. This is a rock festival, with some metal, not a metal fest. Bloodstock, Temples, Damnation are metal fests). It suffered in the 90’s from bands putting on their own outdoor all-dayers (and nicking all the support bands, too), and from being a predominantly rock festival that suddenly seemed to lose all its headliners. However, since it’s rebirth and rebranding in 2003 it has seen off European juggernaut festival Sonisphere to stand as the UK fest of choice.
Having redesigned its layout a few times, and no longer held inside the iconic Donington Park racetrack but just to the south of it, Download seems to have settled into a format that, while works, is a little familiar and perhaps would benefit from a little spicing up next year. Enter the arena, and with the main stage resplendent in front of you, to your left the second stage, and in the far right corner lies the third stage, a huge blue marquee tent. With boobs on top. Tucked to the side of the “Maverick” third stage is the relatively quiet and chilled press and guest area.
History has seen the main stage opening slot at Castle Donington act as a kingmaker opportunity; Trivium for one owe their success to a scintillating opening set in 2005. It’s fair to say All That Remains will not be joining the list of legendary openers, particularly by including that dreadful wailing ballad halfway through a twenty-five minute set.
A pleasant stroll in the sun over to Krokodil in the tent results in seeing a band doing it right; great energy, big riffs and bludgeoning hooks winning over and gaining them plaudits, before hot-footing it via the bar (where the cashless system was working perfectly in pretty much eradicating queues) back over to the main stage for At The Gates, Lacuna Coil and Clutch, ATG and Clutch in particular delivering. If you’d have said twenty years that the main stage at a mainstream fest would be hosting those bands, going down to a slavering reaction, you’d have been laughed out-of-town. Instead, ATG and Clutch showed how diverse things are these days, and how influential they’ve both been on others over the years.
You’d have thought a choice of Corrosion of Conformity versus Five Finger Death Punch would have only had one winner (and spare a thought for Sylosis who were on #three at the same time), and you’d have been right. Five Finger Death Punch mauled, maimed, murdered and munched down on COC with a blinding headliner-worthy show full of big riffs, sing-a-longs and making a statement. Unfortunately, I was over at the second stage watching a rather tame COC limp through a set it didn’t seem they could really be bothered with themselves. Shame, cos they’ve got some great songs.
Judas Priest did exactly what you’d want of a main support, anthems to the left of me, anthems to the right and left you wanting more, with newer tracks ‘Valhalla’ standing toe to toe with ‘Hell Bent for Leather’, ‘Painkiller’ and a particularly joyous ‘Living After Midnight’.
A bite to eat, a quick dash round the corner to see the lacklustre continue over on stage two with Black Stone Cherry phoning it in, before heading back in time for Slipknot, whose 2009 show has gone down in Donington folklore alongside Iron Maiden in 1988 as one of the UK’s all-time best metal festival headline experiences.
I wasn’t there in 2009, but if it was better than 2015, then it must have been some set.
Opening with ‘Sarcastrophe’, what followed was an outpouring of whole-other-level excellence, as hit after bloody hit flew from the stage in an unbridled making of a fucking statement. That statement? There is no one better than Slipknot in metal right now. No one.
As all the hits followed, interspersed with a very cleverly chosen set including more reflective moments of darkness, such as ‘Killpop’ and ‘Vermillion’, their catalogue stood tall. And don’t even get me started on how fresh and violent ‘Eyeless’ was. As fellow GC scribe Mat Davies uttered “Shit the actual bed…”
With ‘Spit It Out’ seeing 80,000 people crouch in the mud, as the torrents of rain began to pour (rain that wouldn’t let up for 20 hours), before leaping to their feet to start one enormous mosh pit, Slipknot confirmed what we’re known for a while.
As I ran back to the tent, through the torrential downpour that marked the end of day one, as I dived into a tent, shedding sodden clothes (sorry for the image) and cursing the Peak Download of it chucking it down on the Friday night (after a sunny and hot day) I couldn’t help reflect that despite all that, I’d witnessed something above and beyond what most bands are capable of.
Surely, the list of standard bearers and true greats in metal now reads. Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slipknot.
The Heretic Anthem
The Devil in I
Wait and Bleed
Before I Forget
Spit It Out
People = Shit