It goes without saying now that Download Festival is one of the most renowned and prestigious rock festivals in the whole world. A performance there, especially a debut, sets a notable milestone in any band or artist’s career, and year after year manages to cater for almost any fan of rock, punk, or metal.
With the Friday of the weekend festivities upon us, and the first wave of bands for 2017 ready to go, including a main stage headline slot from quirky and offbeat metal outfit System Of A Down, we headed on down to the hallowed Donington grounds to get our fill of riffs, pits, and devil horns.
THE LEMMY (MAIN) STAGE:
NORTHLANE – 7/10
Due to the increased security this year after recent events in both the UK and abroad, those who managed to be towards the front of the arena entrances nice and early manage to catch 2017’s main stage openers, Northlane. At least outside of Australia, stages of this size are new territory to the at times djent-esque metalcore troupe, and, though clearly more comfortable in a more intimate setting, Northlane step up to the plate with aplomb. Marcus Bridge’s voice through the likes of ‘Rot’ and set closer ‘Quantum Flux’ sounds incredible, and certainly secures future invites onto the bill. Not too sure about those cornrows though, buddy. [ZR]
MOTIONLESS IN WHITE – 7/10
Now four albums deep into their career having dropped ‘Graveyard Shift’ just over a month ago, a main stage slot is quite a step up from Motionless In White’s position on the Zippo Encore stage back in 2015, and the third stage before then in 2013. All of the visual dramatics are amiss today, unless you consider bassist Ghost dressed as horror icon Carrie as one, and it’s bright out, and with MIW being who they are, there’s certainly more potential in future years should they secure a higher main stage position when it’s a little darker outside. However, Chris Motionless prowling the stage throughout ‘Reincarnate’ and the more solemn ‘Eternally Yours’ proves that they’ve definitely have earned such ascension in stage rankings over the years. [ZR]
SABATON – 5/10
Have you ever seen a tank onstage whilst watching a metal band before? Probably not. Well, Swedish power metal outfit Sabaton bring some heavy artillery onto the main stage, but sadly the fact that there’s a tank onstage with them turns out to be the most exciting aspect of their entire set. It’s undeniable that Joakim Brodén has a powerful voice with an impressive range to boot, and the band give their all with their war and battle themed songs across their catalogue, but there’s just nothing there that captivates you enough to want the set to keep going any longer. [ZR]
MASTODON – 8/10
Georgia’s Mastodon plough their way through a blistering set in the surprisingly blazing heat. It’s impossible not to enjoy the way that they manage to diversify between crushing, prog-infused bangers, and songs such as ‘Show Yourself’, which fall into a much softer category. Following the rousing success of their latest album, ‘Emperor Of Sand’, they pack a punch as they work their way through their set, almost half of which is compiled of songs off of the recent offering. Brazenly opening the set with ‘Sultan’s Curse’ as opposed to a more well known hit, they play a mix of old and new, much to the appreciation of the crowd who’ve forsaken searching for shade in favour of watching the four-piece absolutely kill it. [ES]
FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH – 5/10
Heavy metallers Five Finger Death Punch have had their fair share of drama, especially in recent months, and they’ve more often than not involved frontman Ivan Moody directly. Still, with the dust now more or less settled, here they are to cause a ruckus. They’re certainly a band more built for a live show than a recorded experience, and fist pumpers like ‘Burn MF’ prove that. Something seems a bit off though, with the band having definitely pulled out better sets to the Download crowd in previous years, and the fact that Moody has to leave and change his tank top on three separate occasions during an hour long set seems a little ridiculous. [ZR]
PROPHETS OF RAGE – 7/10
With the results of the election results coming in just earlier today, political revolution is something that is on the mind of many, and what better band to soundtrack that than Prophets Of Rage. The part Rage Against The Machine, part Cypress Hill, part Public Enemy supergroup are still super fresh, having only formed less than a year ago and holding just a 5-track EP alone to their name; the apprehension from the crowd for them to be sub-headliners on the main stage is understandable. It’s great to hear their take on RATM’s politically fuelled bangers like ‘Bullet In The Head’ and ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’, even if they do come across as lacklustre karaoke renditions for the most part.
What is really the pinnacle moment of their set, however, is their solemn tribute to their late friend and fellow bandmate in Audioslave, Chris Cornell. With no-one taking the mic, the band let the crowd sing along to ‘Like A Stone’, and with what sounds like more than half the field signing the lyrics back in unison, Prophets Of Rage allow Download to send a fitting farewell to an indisputable legend. [ZR]
SYSTEM OF A DOWN – 7/10
It’s been nearly 12 years since System Of A Down released new material, nearly 7 years since they reunited following a 4 year long hiatus, and 6 years since they last performed a headline set on Download Festival’s main stage. Here they are, back once again, and with so little change to what the band have been able to implement into a set for over a decade now, admittedly, as unfortunate as it is, there seems to be a bit of stale element in the air in comparison to their 2011 headline slot here.
System Of A Down are undeniably one of the more inventive and quirky metal acts of the past few years, and their delivery of the likes of the head banging delights that are ‘Prison Song’ and ‘Deer Dance’, ‘Aerials’ and ‘Hynotize’ are still stellar soarers, and the inclusion of some rarer live airers like ‘Mr. Jack’, ‘Darts’, ‘Highway Song’, and ‘Lost In Hollywood’ certainly manage to keep things as fresh as possible considering the huge gap between anything new coming from the band.
Sadly, as reinvigorating as the aforementioned set cuts are, there’s a bit of a slump mid-way through the run-through, and a lot of the time the four-piece seem to be getting a little bored of the set themselves, and ultimately come across as a band just going through the motions. Thankfully, things begin to pick back up towards the set’s climax; ‘Chop Suey!’ still doesn’t fail to get the pits bouncing, and the curtain closing 1-2-3 of ‘Cigaro’, ‘Toxicity’, and ‘Sugar’ reminds us that System Of A Down are still festival headliner material. There just needs to be something more soon for it to stay that way. [ZR]
ZIPPO ENCORE STAGE:
MACHINE GUN KELLY – 6/10
Ohio singer/songwriter Machine Gun Kelly (or, Colson Baker if you fancy being a bit more formal about it) is certainly one of the slightly more obscure choices on the line-up for this year’s Download Festival, and it’s clear to see that MGK knows that himself. Regardless, he and his band step up to the Zippo Encore stage with aplomb, and deliver their rock meets hip-hop hybrid style better than most who are more reknowned in the scene for doing just that. There’s certainly nothing ground-breaking or different here, and his cover of ‘Wonderwall’, despite its touching sentiment, is a little difficult to bear, but MGK’s ability to get the crowd pumped up and have fun is undeniable. [ZR]
SUICIDAL TENDENCIES – 6/10
Crazy, balls out hardcore punks Suicidal Tendencies are back to inject their crossover thrash style into the Download sunshine, and show the less educated kids that the old dudes are still out in force. Mike Muir leads the band out and straight into classic, ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’. It sounds great and gives Muir the chance to demonstrate his unique and non-stop rocking out during the track, which is still ridiculously too long. It’s all about the classics today as ‘War Inside My Head’ and ‘Freedumb’ please the crowd, who are getting their Slayer fix earlier than expected with Dave Lombardo sitting behind the kit. Muir is the ultimate heritage frontman who has all the lines and countless anecdotes about his Dad that gear you up between songs, and will make you want to break out the shorts and bandana look all summer long. [MH]
BARONESS – 8/10
Baroness are a wonderfully engaging live band. It’s a refreshing change to see Gina Gleeson, one of the few female musicians across the entire festival, as she takes on the role of filling the position for recently departed guitarist, Pete Adams. One of the few vocalists that sounds note perfect live, John Baizley delivers an astounding performance on tracks such as ‘Kerosene’, ‘Morningstar’, and ‘Chlorine & Wine’, and the rest of the band as ludicrously tight as ever throughout. Finishing up with ‘Take My Bones Away’, it’s safe to say that this is nothing short of a triumphant set. [ES]
GOOD CHARLOTTE – 9/10
All of the younger attendees, and those who just want to relive the glory years of the mid 00s, fledge over to catch Good Charlotte, and their first ever set at Download Festival. One thing you can never fault this band on is their down-to-earth, humble attitude. They seem genuinely overwhelmed that so many have come to see them play, and more so when their enquiries as to who listened to them back in their heyday are met with roaring approval. Kicking off with ‘The Anthem’, they knock out hit after hit from their most well-known album, ‘Young & Hopeless’, their set interspersed with other classics such as ‘The River’ and ‘I Just Wanna Live’, each of them provoking the crowd into non-stop dancing and singing. Closing with ‘Lifestyles Of The Rich & The Famous’, they offer the crowd one more moment of elation when they announce their return to the UK in December. [ES]
SUM 41 – 8/10
Some may have raised eyebrows when Sum 41 were announced to close the second stage at Download Festival this summer, but the trend of introducing more punk rock has continued in 2017, and the metal influenced Canadian pop-punks, who’ve had somewhat a resurgence of late, were handed the opportunity to close proceedings on Friday’s Zippo Encore stage. A stage of blood stained white amps sets the scene for Sum 41 to appear and belt straight out into ‘The Hell Song’. The start is pretty patchy, as Deryck Whibley fails to capture the fun aggro that laced the band in the early noughties. The singer picks out fans in the crowd to join him onstage before ‘Over My Head (Better Off Dead)’ and ‘Fake My Own Death’ kick in, but still struggles to turn the radio rock tone into a punk metal medley. His chat in-between is even worse due to the unbelievable overuse of the phrase “Ladies and Gentleman”, which wears extremely thin fast. Thankfully, Whibley has a wake up call after the aptly named ‘Motivation’, and seems to actually start having fun instead of going through a charade. The recently returned Dave Baksh gets the chance to show off his impressive guitar work with an easy crowd pleasing helping of metal classics ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Master Of Puppets’, before delving into the excellent ‘We’re All To Blame’.
One time Mötley Crüe fill-in drummer Frank Zummo takes centre stage for a solo that leaves the crowd stunned before a giant inflatable skeleton with blood red eyes appears behind the amps, and the band return to play ‘No Reason’ to great applause. The Deryck Whibley Show has become a decent Sum 41 outing now, and a random cover of ‘We Will Rock You’ even sounds pretty good, but a killer finish of ‘Still Waiting’, ‘In Too Deep’, and ‘Fat Lip’ is pop-punk gold and hits home how many huge singles the band have released since their formation back in 1996. Before they leave, Whibley explains that during his well-documented health problems a few years back, the only thing that got him out of his hospital bed was a picture on the wall from a live show they’d played in England some time before. A crew member comes out to take a picture of the singer in front of the devout audience that he says will replace the picture that helped him through a dark time. The souvenir will be an ideal memory for what turned out to be a great show for the pop-punk legends despite a shaky start, and, of course, it’s great to see the singer back well and touring. [MH]
THE AVALANCHE STAGE:
ASTROID BOYS – 7/10
Download has had a mixed history with rappers over the years, but Welsh hip-hop influenced metal ragers Astroid Boys are the buzz band that aren’t going to give a shit about history or anyone trying to stand in their way. Frontmen Traxx and Benji are dominant on the Avalanche Stage, with their inverted red and black outfits being the fixation of all the eyes in the crowd. New track ‘Foreigners’ sounds way more aggressive live, but it’s seminal track ‘Mingin” that gets the biggest reaction as the metal guitar and drums carry the Cardiff band from genre crossover failure to rock scene starlets. “It’s the year of the dragon every year”, shouts Traxx to introduce ‘Dusted’, that even gets the dragon on the Welsh flag backdrop banging its head. [MH]
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – 7/10
Ohio based metalcore stars The Devil Wears Prada deliver a rather exhilarating set, especially for it still being so early on in the day. Mike Hranica’s snarling roars and screams compliment perfectly against Jeremy Depoyster’s almost angelic cleans. The likes of ‘Worldwide’ and ‘Planet A’ sound as ethereal as they do destructive and cataclysmic, and if Hranica’s pacing from one side of the stage to the other all set long wasn’t enough to keep you on edge, he picks up a guitar for himself during the set’s final moments, and thrashes it about as he crashes chords with his fists until it all comes to an end. [ZR]
CODE ORANGE – 8/10
WWE Superstar Aleister Black pops around from the nearby NXT tent to introduce the critically acclaimed metal/hardcore band that has everyone talking: Code Orange. The title-track of their new album, ‘Forever’, slams us straight into the action with that outrageously heavy riff while the three guitarists run around the stage to create energy that a sole vocalist will struggle to do during any other set today. How Jami Morgan has the audacity to drum like he does whilst screaming though ‘Kill The Creator’ is simply ridiculous, but somehow the crowd are keeping up with him through every crash and growl. This is carnage for the sake of being carnage, but in a good way. It’s a beautiful massacre that’s just relentless. ‘Bleeding In The Blur’ sees Reba Meyers take over the vocals for a more melodic take on their metallic hardcore, but it’s nothing that lets the hair on the back of your neck sit back down. [MH]
ISSUES – 8/10
Very few bands have attempted to walk down the whole R&Bcore route before or even since Issues came to be, and anyone who has tried it for themselves certainly can’t pull it off like them. Like a Vans Warped Tour metalcore band fronted by Justin Timberlake, police sirens draw us into set opener ‘Blue Wall’, and, after an initial stumbled start for the first few minutes, they certainly take off with following number, ‘Coma’. Co-vocalists Tyler Carter and Michael Bohn tag team and bat off one another with ease, and ‘Mad At Myself’ and set closer ‘Hooligans’ are evidence alone that Issues aren’t only one of the more innovative acts in their scene, but also one of the most talented. [ZR]
FOUR YEAR STRONG – 8/10
Four Year Strong must be the most underrated pop-punk band of the 00s, with their extremely consistent live show and records compiling melodic beatdowns and unfairly catchy choruses. They’ve been touring their debut ‘Rise Or Die Trying’ worldwide to celebrate its 10th anniversary, but it’s back to normal for Download as they fire out the biggest singles from their hit machine, with ‘Tonight We Feel Alive (On A Saturday)’, ‘Find My Way Back’, and ‘We’ll All Float Down Here’ demonstrating their prowess. One super oldie in ‘Maniac (R.O.D.)’ is the circle pit enabler, but it’s the massive 1-2 finisher of ‘It Must Really Suck To Be Four Year Strong Right Now’ and ‘Wasting Time’ that destroy eardrums on the Avalanche Stage this afternoon, and is exactly what Andy Copping had in mind when he designed this new stage for Download. [MH]
STATE CHAMPS – 8/10
Although State Champs are very much headed towards the pop end of pop-punk, this crowd aren’t one bit concerned, and, in fairness, the New Yorkers sound so tight live that they’re winning over even the heaviest of music lovers. Okay, well, maybe not, but ‘Eyes Closed’ is a fun, energetic summer anthem, and Derek Discanio hardly has to even mutter the first syllable in ‘All You Are Is History’ to have the whole tent shouting “I’m a realist and an optimist, but I swear to you, I’m not getting over this” in unison. ‘Simple Existence’ and ‘Elevated’ have fans of ‘The Finer Things’ gasping for air between lines, and the big finish of ‘Secrets’ shows that even the pin-up boys for the most palatable of alternative music has a place at the spiritual home of rock. [MH]
SLEEPING WITH SIRENS – 7/10
Over the years, Florida’s Sleeping With Sirens (particularly frontman, Kellin Quinn) have somewhat unfairly been dubbed as one of the poster boy bands of post-hardcore/pop-rock, and also over the years, it seems that their relevance and popularity (at least in the UK) has dwindled a little since the release of their 2013 album, ‘Feel’. Tonight, Sleeping With Sirens prove the doubters wrong, and deliver hook after hook. Newer numbers ‘Kick Me’ and ‘Go, Go, Go’ have a rigid punk edge about them, and ‘Roger Rabbit’ has the tent singing along to every lyric. It’s the older numbers that are the most captivating though, particularly ‘If I’m James Dean, You’re Audrey Hepburn’ and the call-to-arms almost anthem that is ‘Do It Now, Remember It Later’. Whether they’ve reached the peak of their careers is still yet to be seen, but Sleeping With Sirens are clearly not even remotely done. [ZR]
THE DOGTOOTH STAGE:
HOLDING ABSENCE – 3/10
Cardiff melodic post-rockers Holding Absence have rumbled up quite the following for an early afternoon set at Download, but sadly get off to a horribly chosen set opener in ‘Godsend’ that doesn’t inspire much excitement for the rest of the set. Recent single ‘Permanent’ is up next and has a way more grabbing introduction that ignites some much needed pace into the atmospheric scene the band set, but it soon drains out slowly into nothing. Bleach blonde Lucas Woodland does a decent enough job with the mic, but the performance is boring at best. It’s not necessarily pedestrian in effort or attainment, and ‘Dream Of Me’ has plenty of the crowd with their phones out to catch it all while filling in the lyrics in when asked to, but it’s all so flat and one dimensional that it fails to cause any kind of impact whatsoever. [MH]
EXODUS – 7/10
Somehow, thrash pioneers Exodus have never appeared at Download before, so finally we get to see them grace the festival with a headline slot on the Dogtooth Stage. Newly rejoined vocalist Steve Souza is back for his third stint with the band, and treats Donington to ‘Bonded By Blood’ early doors which pleases the older, horn throwing generation that fill the tent. ‘Blood In, Blood Out’ from their latest effort still maintains that fast tempo that saw Exodus excel in the Bay Area thrash metal scene alongside the likes of Testament and Metallica, but ‘Blacklist’ is the one that creates the best sing-a-long moment. As ever with a heavy metal crowd, these guys are going to lose their shit to the old stuff the most, so the band have a chat and come back with the Lemmy dedicated ‘The Toxic Waltz’ and ‘Strike Of The Beast’, which sadly close the surprisingly short 40 minute headline slot. It seems grossly unfair for a band with such history for their first time at the iconic site. [MH]
Written by Zach Redrup [ZR], Mike Heath [MH], and Emma Stone [ES]
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.