Three words can sum up this year’s Download festival – muddy, metal and mayhem! Those revellers who went to camp early may have enjoyed a couple of days of rock-fuelled sunny drinking in the campsites and village but for the majority it was wet – very, very wet. Still, the rebranding of the festival as Drownload didn’t stop fans enjoying the weekend.
After arriving on a sunny Thursday afternoon, we headed to the village to take in some of the party atmosphere. Now boasting two music tents, a cinema, a comedy stage and an inflatable “metal” church, along with the usual stalls, bars and funfair rides blaring out music, it’s almost the size of the arena when I first went to Download years ago.
Despite a night partying with cheesy classic rock and a DJ all too fond of turning down the music so he could hear the crowd sing back the chorus, hangovers were surprisingly minimal and we were up bright and early. Royal Republic kicked off the main stage with Alien Ant Farm following shortly after. Having enjoyed a bit of a comeback recently touring their 2001 album Anthology, the band peaked with Movies and closed with the crowd-pleasing cover of Smooth Criminal. Babymetal were next up, but a torrential downpour just as they were due to go on delayed their set. About 20 minutes late and in front of a soaking crowd the Japanese trio managed to make the crowd forget about the rain, whipping up circle pits and with their fast-paced j-pop metal.
Korn, having had a few dodgy years in the past, are back on form with the return of Brian “Head” Welch to the line-up (main picture). They breezed through their back catalogue with ease, mixing moshpit hits with a few unexpected rarities. German industrial metallers Rammstein topped off the night. Known for their lavish pyrotechnic-laden stage shows, this one delivered a bit more style than substance. Frontman (and trained pyrotechnician) Till Lindemann is certainly an enigmatic and eccentric performer and his booming voice dominated, but muddy guitars and an unenergetic performance meant the band weren’t at their best.
Saturday kicked off with bacon butties and bloody marys courtesy of WWE:NXT – the wrestling company’s new talent division. In the excitement of being privy to the info that wrestling legend Triple H had flown over that morning on a private jet “for something special”, we went to catch one of their shows. Despite it being early the tent was still packed, and the crowd was almost as entertaining as the wrestling. While the grapplers did their moves in the ring the crowd chanted the things they might not be used to in America. One Scottish female indie wrestler, who had been brought in as a “good guy” the day before and now had “turned bad”, was greeted with taunts of “We still love you!” and fans randomly shouting anything Scottish in her direction – “Iron-Bru”, “kilts”, “Susan Boyle”, etc. When a tag team mishap ended in the partners having to hug it out a chant of “He’s your boyfriend” quickly turned into a well received “We don’t judge”. There were some children there, but mostly it was adults. It was one of the highlights of the festival.
Away from the hilarity and violent action of the wrestling, Triple H ended up on the main stage to accept the Spirit of Lemmy Award (the main stage was renamed the Lemmy Stage as a tribute to the late rocker who was due to play the festival). After saying some kind words about his friend and hero it was time for Deftones.
Having sold out Wembley a couple of nights before, the band sounded huge. Steph Carpenter’s riffs boomed out of the PA, making your chest shake alongside Chino’s distinct and sometimes haunting vocals. It was tipping it down again but no one cared – it was an energetic and captivating performance where both the crowd and band were loving it. Any of those rumours still lingering that the band were in trouble when making the last album were surely washed away with the rain. Headliners for the evening were Black Sabbath with a set of pure classics and no real gimmicks – just a few flames and some video effects that hark back to old promos for Paranoid and such. This was to be the band’s last ever UK show – they were even selling t-shirts that said so – but announcing another tour that morning didn’t stop the crowd enjoying it like it was the last, singing along to every word. It’s obvious Ozzy has seen better days, but while he shuffles around the stage he still has that crazy vibe to him. With the band feeding off the energy of the crowd and Tony Iommi’s unmistakable riffs blasting out, it was easy to get lost in the music, which sounded like it was being played by a more youthful Sabbath.
The arena was an absolute quagmire by Sunday, the hay put down overnight to try and soak up the mud quickly absorbed into the ground. It’s easy to spot the difference at this point between the people who’ve been camping all weekend and the fresh faces staying in “RIP” areas or arriving for just the day. For a set so early in the day Viking metallers Amon Amarth brought a lavish stage set with them, including dragon heads and fire, and soon got the crowd re-energised. Over on the second stage, not put off by the appalling weather, Periphery brought their tight and technical djent prog to a slightly diminished yet enthusiastic audience. Back on the main stage the day and the weekend was coming to an end and Disturbed’s frontman David Draiman seemed to be dressed in a jacket made from his mum’s curtains and a t-shirt wrapped in duct-tape. Despite their generic music, legions of fans turned out to pump their fists in the air along to the beat. Somehow still only playing a tent and not one of the outdoor stages, French metal titans Gojira were an absolute wall of sound worthy of more. The cancellation of Ghost, due to a bout of laryngitis for Pope-esque frontman Papa Emeritus III, was also a disappointment.
Closing out the festival with their Book of Souls tour were Iron Maiden. Their stage set was huge but thankfully their jumbo jet, flown by frontman Bruce Dickinson, was parked only a stone’s throw away. It’s not all just props and pyro though – with decades under their belt Maiden can still rock out and put forth an energetic performance. Ankle deep in mud and exhausted, it was a great weekend.
In Big Issue North, 27 June, read Mark Wheeler’s interview with Babymetal