Download Festival: Day Three – Castle Donington, UK

Download lineup

The final day of a festival is often filled with many emotions: a wonderful weekend sadly coming to an end; another day spent celebrating brilliant innovative and life affirming music; hours spent trying to dry your tent out… So it again proved with Sunday at Download.

Leaden skies greet the hordes either nursing hangovers of epic proportions or gathering their belongings for the trudge back to cars and the dreaded long trip home. It’s cold on the field so a bit of warming up is required. Bacon rolls and coffee do part of the job but Dead Daisies do the rest in a punchy late morning slot that has a much bigger crowd than perhaps even they were expecting. Dead Daisies inhabit that strange world where it is perpetually 1986, eternally sun-soaked California and every band is the last gang in town, riding steel horses into sunsets or the arms of star crossed maidens. As you have probably guessed, I thought it was terrific and an object lesson in how to warm up a crowd.

Sweden’s h.e.a.t. have gathered plenty of plaudits for their two albums of 80’s inspired rock and from this performance it’s easy to see why – they are pumped full of energy and chutzpah and have a genuine love of big tunes and even bigger riffs. It may not be the most original sound of the day but it does the job very nicely indeed. Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers finish the morning off in predictably brilliant fashion with vocalist Mikko Von Hertzen channelling his best John Travolta via a natty white suit that he does well not to get covered in the ubiquitous festival mud. The VHB brand of rock is so packed full of intelligence and hummable tunes, particularly the peerless ‘Flowers and Rust’, it does make you scratch your head as to why these guys aren’t absolutely massive but their time will come…..Please make it so.

Backyard Babies’ raucous and efficient cock rock gives way to the studied and equally efficient metal of Mark Tremonti who does Alter Bridge without the tunes (if you’re not a convert) and Alter Bridge with added metal (if you are).  I’m in the latter camp, as are most of an appreciative if slightly wet crowd on the main stage. The new songs from his second album, Cauterize seem to stand up equally well with the more familiar tunes from All I Was (both Fret12) too. Boxes ticked, job done.

Blackberry Smoke are the perfect band for a warm sunset, cold beers and a barbecue, so the presence of rain, wind, rain and some more rain probably didn’t help their cause but I found their performance compelling in an insouciant and entirely charming way. Billy Idol, by contrast, is a bit of a man for all seasons and you can tell why: he has an arsenal of hits that most bands would give their right arm for. You have to pinch yourself that this is 2015 and not 1985 but Idol turns in an effortless performance of crowd pleasers that you know and love- of course there’s ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’ but it’s ‘Flesh for Fantasy’ and ‘Eyes Without a Face’ that are the standout tunes. Idol has this look of a man who won the lottery, the football pools and the EuroMillions over one weekend – he simply cannot quite believe that he is still the draw that he is – and, even more brilliant, no one in the crowd seems to begrudge him one iota of his considerable success. Bless him.

In much the same way that people gripe about Cavalera Conspiracy and how it’s not the REAL Sepultura (yawn, boring, get over it) so there is a similar constituency that seems to surround former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash and his latest incarnation with Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge. Honestly, I don’t know what the problem is: what’s not to love about an artist playing a blinding set of classic song after classic song peppered with huge tune after huge tune from his latest solo records? I tell you what’s not to love: nothing. Slash clearly writes mega tunes in his sleep and his set is one hour of aural bliss. The 55,000 or so on the main field lap it up like a horde of very thirsty Pavlovian dogs. And rightly so.

Lamb of God, photo by Susanne A. Maathuis

Lamb of God, photo by Susanne A. Maathuis

Likewise, the same old situation (song pun entirely intended) for LA’s Motley Crue. Crue, midway through a thoroughly deserved and valedictory world tour to say farewell are another act that many can’t seem to wait to sneer at. “It would be better if Vince Neil could sing better”- kids, Vince Neil hasn’t been able to sing since 1981. This isn’t the point at all. Crue are about the glamour, the sleaze, the rock, the roll, the girls, girls, girls. They bring a show that is part rock opera, part vaudeville, all fire and brimstone. Of course they are absurd and ridiculous- THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT. It is absolutely silly and absolutely brilliant- all at the same time.

And so we come, finally, inexorably, to the self-styled hottest band in the world, Kiss. Arriving on site in a fully badged up Kiss-copter, the New York quartet turn this corner of a foreign field into a veritable circus of pomp, circumstance and old style rock n roll. There are stadium rock shows and then there is a Kiss show. There isn’t one second that passes by in this blistering set where there isn’t something going on – fireworks, drum risers, zip wires, crowd singalongs, flame throwing, blood vomiting all in glorious technicolour and all set to a soundtrack that you know and love. As an end to the best music festival I know, it is both fitting and invigorating.

I’ve booked my place for next year already.

 

MAT DAVIES

Download Festival – Castle Donington, UK: Day Two

Download lineup

I like being in early to an empty festival arena; the main stage with its welcoming wide arms enticing you down into big open area that later on will be filled by up to 80,000 pairs of feet. But at 10.30am, while taking it all in, there were pressing ablutions-related priorities while the facilities were still clean…

Having completed the exiting part of the cycle, it was time to begin filling up again. Running a ring round the perimeter of the whole arena is van after van of greasy and fast food vendors, and this is next port of call – though the stomach was not up for any of the kebab or burger related fare, fortunately there are a couple of recommended less greasy options – the ‘Vegan and Vegetarian’ stand doing a fine falafel and hummus and coffee (and I’m not even a veggie) to kickstart my heart (or at least brain). If you can be bothered to search off the beaten track as we did later in the day there are some decent food stalls in the “Kennels” by the acoustic stage, and right over by the far side of the second stage, where I picked up a very tasty and unsaturated teriyaki chicken noodle feast.

With all of the “main” three stages running simultaneously throughout the day, there are choices to be made… Heart of a Coward was, by all accounts, the right choice to “wake the fuck up” with. At 11 o clock, in front of only a hardy few in the rain (the opening of gates had been delayed to allow the site to be tidied and made safer by the laying down of straw following the previous nights’ downpour) you feared for the Milton Keynes boys, but by the time the set ended people were sprinting down the hill to catch them, hangovers forgotten as circle pits, choreographed headbanging and angsty shouts over slab-heavy grooves well and truly kicked things off.

With Funeral For A Friend completing their slide from the grace of being main support only a few years ago to the same slot they appeared in at the first Download with a performance as gray as the skies, it was time to wander away from the mainstage for another coffee and something different.

I had meant to see Malefice, but I benefitted from that most festival of experiences of accidentally seeing  a new band. Stage three at Download is a good one for that; not only does it shelter from the rain by driving in hundreds of people out of the elements, it provides up and coming bands with a  captive audience, and Stray From The Path won over some cold, wet new fans.

Saturday arvo was all about the second stage. Apocalyptica offered something different, and won over the inquisitive; Ace Frehely was, by all accounts, a surprising success that occurred while I got drawn into the unmitigated fun of Hollywood Undead instead, who had the main stage eating out of the palm of their hands. Brilliantly entertaining, which is, surely, what mainstage festival bands should be all about.

Back over second stage, Testament crushed with a consummate set of testicles and big fucking riffs, before Carcass continued the smackdown laying. Motionless In White drew the youngest crowd of the day (by the time we left to not be able to get in to see Dub War in the oversubscribed tent of the fourth stage, TeenFest 2015 was in full swing) as Chris and the boys delivered. While wandering to and from others, I caught the first and then later, the last songs of A Day To Remember (‘Downfall of Us All’ and ‘All I Want’), their best two, and all you really need to see, before taking up a good vantage point for Faith No More and Muse. I’d have liked to have seen Body Count, Marilyn Manson, Andrew W.K., and Black Veil Brides – all of whom played during Saturday’s Main Stage one-two knock-out blow, but from the first peals of the massively catch ‘Motherfucker’, to the dying Western-meets-Maiden/Queen of ‘Knights of Cydonia’ the main stage was where it was at.

Faith No More, by Hillarie Jason Photography

During FNM we had lounge jams, 50,000 people singing to Lionel Ritchie song (‘Easy’, natch) casual abuse of one pissed-off looking bedraggled girl in the front row, a set list that held enough back for their upcoming headline show while still showing how far above most other bands they are, arrogance and a performance of excellence; Mike Patton note perfect and enticingly sardonic. It even stopped raining.

People in the UK get particular about their festival headliners, and Muse weren’t selected from the normal pot. However, they were absolutely the right choice. Matt Bellamy is a sickeningly talented individual, nailing Eddie Van Halen guitar techniques while simultaneously hitting falsetto notes that could crack glass, all to the back drop of videos, a stunning light show, pyro, fireworks, streamers, big bouncing black Prisoner balls and a cleverly tailored, dark, heavy set that saw them fire out rarities like ‘Dead Star’ and ‘Agitated’ and epics such as ‘Hysteria’, ‘Micro Cuts’ and ‘Citizen Erazed’, which had even the most sceptical won over even before a last forty-five minute hit-factory, with fervent reaction all the way back as far as the eye could see. Muse more than matched up to Slipknot, the first two days at Download further proving that there are bands, and there are “bands”. And then there are bands. And then there are BANDS.

With things a lot dryer , even the walk back to the tent was alright, though I’m far too old to be lying in a field kept up until 4am by a bunch of young pissheads blasting out Slipknot. Hotel next year for me, methinks!

 

MUSE SETLIST

Psycho 

The Handler 

New Born 

Interlude 

Hysteria 

Micro Cuts 

Dead Star 

Agitated 

Citizen Erased 

Dead Inside 

Supermassive Black Hole 

Mercy 

Time Is Running Out 

Reapers 

Stockholm Syndrome 

 

Encore:

Uprising 

Plug In Baby 

Knights of Cydonia 

 

STEVE TOVEY

Download Festival: Day One – Castle Donington, UK

Download lineup

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.

Slipknot,  photo by Susanne A. Maathuis

Slipknot, photo by Susanne A. Maathuis

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.

 

SLIPKNOT SETLIST

XIX 

Sarcastrophe 

The Heretic Anthem 

Psychosocial 

The Devil in I 

AOV 

Vermilion 

Wait and Bleed 

Killpop 

Before I Forget 

Duality 

Eyeless 

Spit It Out 

Custer 

 

Encore:

742617000027 

(sic) 

People = Shit 

Surfacing 

 

 

STEVE TOVEY