Download 2017

From nostalgia to metalcore and even satire, this year's festival displayed the best metal acts - in the sun

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Big Issue North dubbed this festival “Drownload” last year and the masses turned up in wellies. They were destined to spend the weekend with sweaty legs however. To everyone’s surprise, there was nothing but sunshine in Donington last weekend.

Being the only metal-specific festival in the UK, you can guarantee that Download will exceed expectations by calling first dibs on the biggest metal acts and hosting single UK performances for a lot of American bands.

Friday kicked off with a heady dose of nostalgia with noughties punk rockers Sum 41 and Good Charlotte going through their greatest hits with ease, to a mid to late twenties crowd. Both can be viewed as somewhat novelty acts, but the festival goers still gave them plenty of energy (they’d only been drinking for two days so far) and were more then happy to relive their teenage years. System of a Down closed the main stage with an hour and a half of non-stop hits from all five of their albums. They say very little and have minimal crowd interaction, but the audience weren’t there for banter – they sang and moshed along all the way to the back end of the field.

The main stage on Saturday was probably the most packed of the weekend with its line-up of more modern bands. Metalcore favourite Of Mice & Men played their first UK gig since losing frontman and screamer Austin Carlile, leaving bassist and clean vocalist Aaron Pauley to pick up both vocal duties. Despite fan’s scepticism, he led the band through an onslaught of old and new material flawlessly.

Sound levels were not great for Pierce the Veil, with the bass drum sending a shudder through anyone stood near the front. But they put on a hearty performance nevertheless and evidently won over some undecided bystanders.

“Sunshine and a strong sense of musical community.” Photo: Ross Silcocks

With arena shows tucked under their belts, A Day to Remember know how to please a crowd with their unusual mix of pop-punk and metalcore. With a meticulously planned set list and DJing knowhow, they brought the crowd up with their moshpit-inducing infectious grooves and then back down again with some slower singalongs.

With the apparent metalcore theme of the day, headliners Biffy Clyro were a bit out of place. Perhaps more suited to a festival such as Leeds and Reading, they drew the smallest crowd of the weekend, but nevertheless adapted to their surroundings and played some of the heavier songs from their oldest albums. Frontman Simon Neil asked the crowd if they were excited to see Aerosmith on the Sunday before breaking into an a capella version of Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing, which the crowd dutifully sang back to him. “That’s the best singalong we’ll get all weekend,” he self-deprecatingly remarked before the loosened-up crowd proved him wrong during ensuing hits Mountains and Bubbles.

Steel Panther, a satire of the Sunday main stage cock-rock bands, delivered an outrageous performance. Mixing jokes with actual talent, the comedic band sang through their crude anthems and inserted dick jokes wherever possible. Frontman Michael Starr went through his usual routine of inviting girls on stage. Normally they let a handful on, but this time there was no limit and around 100 frenzied girls (and one man in a wig) crowdsurfed their way to the front to dance on stage. They may be a novelty act but they do it very, very well.

Headliners Aerosmith treated the crowd to two whole hours of their rock legacy. With all band members pushing 70, some might assume it wouldn’t be the greatest performance of the weekend. They’d be wrong. Frontman Steven Tyler’s vocals are still next level and he didn’t miss a beat while strutting up and down the walkway. Lead guitarist Joe Perry also showed the youngsters how it’s done, with a blues segment in which he took lead vocals. With hits such as Walk This Way, Crazy and Cryin’ the two hours flew by and the night ends with cannons and confetti covering the blown away and sunburnt crowd.

Recent tragic events were never far from people’s minds, especially as election news unfolded in Chinese whispers throughout the weekend. Security had become very tight, with staff rigorously bag-checking everyone on entry. It was new and overwhelming to everybody but it provided comfort more than alarm, although hundreds of people were waiting more than 30 minutes to enter the arena, missing bands on the first day. That aside, the sunshine, a strong sense of musical community and solidarity made for a weekend that proved the world isn’t always such a bad place to be.

Photo: Paulo Gonçalves

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