Once again, the heavens decided to open just in time for that start of Download Festival. The camp site turned into a swamp as we tried very hard to find anything that resembled green grass to try and pitch our tents.
The arena soon became just one big field of brown gooey mud. Download really doesn’t work well when it rains. The drainage is poor and other than a token layer of straw here and there, there isn’t much done to ease the conditions underfoot.
Day 1 – Friday
Kvelertak were the first band on the watch-list. New vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen possessed his own brand of manic energy and the tall lanky figure was full of charisma. Kvelertak drew a sizeable crowd and although the vocals are all in Norwegian, the crowd were still singing along.
Opeth were one of the big highlights of the day. Their 50 minute set was a veritable showcase of how complex, intricate and utterly heavy music can be. As one, the audience stand in open mouthed awe as Mikael Akerfeldt and his compatriots weave tapestries of lush sound with brutal power.
Rob Zombie and Def Leppard both put in good performances however there was nothing we haven’t seen from past shows of theirs. At The Gates played the Dogtooth stage late into the night, playing some brutal and killer tracks such as ‘Slaughter of the Soul and ‘To Drink From the Night Itself’. They struggled a bit with a murky sound but the zeal and conviction of the band overcame that.
So the day ended with me leaving the Dogtooth Stage along with a room full of rabid mud-soaked fan-boys, with ringing in my ears and starting to contemplating the next day.
Day 2 – Saturday
What had become apparent from Friday was that whereas in previous years the fairly average standards and organisation at Download had marginally improved, things this time were significantly worse. The arena security team seemed to be under-staffed and under-trained. Queues at the bars were ridiculous and as mentioned, there was little done to ease the problems caused by the heavy rain.
Fortunately the weather had improved overnight and I woke to blazing sunshine and blue skies Friday morning. The liquid mud however still remained across the campsites.
Alien Weaponry open the main stage to what is the biggest 11am crowd I have ever seen at Download. There was a real buzz of anticipation as around 30,000 people greeted the band who’s ‘Haka’ backing track soon evolved into the opener ‘PC Bro’.
Alien Weaponry play a heavy thrashy metal that is influenced by chants and posturing from their homeland Maori influences.
Alien Weaponry are very special indeed and also very very young. They completely own the stage on what is probably their biggest show to date, and believe me when I say that they will surely one day headline Download.
Power Trip were another Saturday highlight. After owning the stage at Bloodstock last year, they did similar again at Download. They were utterly magnificent, heavy, vital and full of passion.
Next up for me were Behemoth who pulled on fucker of a crowd. Behemoth pull no punches. This is unrepentant Satan-worshipping corpse paint adorned Black Metal. Nergal is one hell of a frontman and exerts a commanding presence as he urges the masses to hail Satan. At the same time a bi-plane is circling the site with a banner imploring us to turn to Jesus as a direct attempt to counterbalance the blasphemic nature of Behemoth’s set.
Skindred had a magnificent crowd in attendance while other bands that played in the tents such as ‘The Hu’ had what were unexpectedly sizable crowds due to people sheltering from the rain that had once again come to haunt us.
Carcass and Slipknot were my final 2 bands of the day. Carcass were magical and once again proved the power that Death Metal has to unite and blast your cares away. Slipknot still to this day remain one of the most violent, messed up and belligerent thing that metal has ever produced and were right on form tonight. As soon as they launch into ‘People=Shit’ the place exploded in a tsunami of bodies. The energy never let up on stage and for the full hour and a half the crowd remained a frenzied mess of screaming and lashing humans.
Day 3 – Sunday
With the weather now being fairly reasonable, I headed off to see Heart of a Coward who had pulled in a big crowd. After a number of years of not really going anywhere, today they looked like a band reborn.
On the main stage later that day we had the arrival of the Viking hordes and Amon Amarth who had brought their entire toy box with them. The drum riser was a massive Viking helmet and during the show we get flames, fire, theatrics. The band play like they are headlining. They are self-assured and utterly focussed. The only way is up for Amon Amarth.
Lamb of God unsurprisingly hit the main stage at 100 miles an hour. Smashing Pumpkins put on a great set, and then I had the dilemma of whether to see Slayer in their last ever UK show or Tool who had not played live in the UK for 12 years.
Having seen Slayer not so long ago, I opted for Tool and nestled in amongst a crowd where I could sense a distinct feeling of anticipation. As soon as Tool opened with ‘The Pot’ it became immediately clear that they were a class above anything else I had witnessed over the weekend. They were breath-taking to watch and as you listen you can hear the sophisticated layers of complex in-vocative Heavy Metal.
Tool had managed to change the whole atmosphere of Download. After the show, and as everyone drifted off into the night, we all shared a collective wow, and the inevitable ‘whose gonna play next year’ conversations began.
Review by Stewart Lucas of Rockflesh
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