Maintaining its ever-lasting reputation of being the premium annual rock and metal festival in the UK, Download Festival has returned once again for 2019, hosting main stage headline spots from Def Leppard, Slipknot, and Tool across the weekend.
We made our way to the hallowed ground of Donington to get our fill of mosh pits, rock riffs, and everything else in-between.
THE LEMMY STAGE:
CLUTCH – 8/10
Clutch are becoming quite the house band at Download these days. The Maryland hard rockers are equally at home amongst the heritage and newer bands and today seems them sitting along 80s elites for the Monsters of Rock faithful in the crowd. Neil Fallon takes Donington Park through hits from their latest release, ‘Book Of Bad Decisions’, with ‘H.B. Is In Control’ and ‘Gimme The Keys’ slotting into the set with ease, but the frontman regrets his decision to don a pair of white shoes for the first time on stage with the mud claiming its first victim of the weekend.
Naturally, it’s the big hitters that steal the show, and when thousands of metal fans are attempting to sing the high-pitched guitar melody in ‘Electric Worry’, you know it’s been a mesmerising set. Modern classic ‘X-Ray Visions’ is the perfect end to Clutch‘s return to The Lemmy Stage, and they’re well aware that they’re welcome back every year they like.
DEF LEPPARD – 4/10
Sheffield classic rock legends Def Leppard are back appearing at the hallowed ground of Donington for the infinitieth time for what is their only UK date of 2019. Shaking it up this year, we’re treated to the seminal 1987 record ‘Hysteria’ that boasts 25 million records sales worldwide and hosts some of Leppard‘s biggest and best tracks.
As with a lot of albums played in full, ‘Hysteria’ is extremely top heavy with huge singles ‘Rocket’, ‘Animal’, and ‘Love Bites’ turning up before the sun goes down so when we arrive at the middle of the set, we get to some of the filler which drags on a bit. This is a pretty regulation appearance for the band with all the normal aesthetics on show; vocalist Joe Elliott casually floats on the stage, and Phil Collen has a jacket on that barely covers any of his disgustingly impressive physique.
‘Hysteria’ is a great example of Def Leppard at their best, but the enthusiasm is so pedestrian that it merges into ‘Excitable’ and ‘Love And Affection’ without much of a bang. A short break sees Elliott return for an encore with a sequin jacket and tells us “Welcome to the carnival” during ‘Let’s Go’ from their 2015 self-titled record, which is frankly rubbish, but the set does hit a high point when ‘When Love And Hate Collide’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’ give the crowd something to exercise their vocal chords to.
In a time where we’re losing legacy bands regularly, we need to cherish the classic headliners that we still have left, but Def Leppard need to be giving us more than just going through the motions.
ZIPPO ENCORE STAGE:
KVELERTAK – 7/10
Today marks the first appearance of Kvelertak at Donington Park since the departure of vocalist Erlend Hjelvik, but thankfully Ivar Nikolaisen fills the big crazy Norwegian shoes with ease. Although Ivar‘s stature is less imposing than his predecessor, the newcomer brings more interaction with the crowd in English and sounds great on the phenomenal ‘Bruane Brenn’.
He manages to win the crowd over by stopping ‘Nekroskop’ mid-song to smoke a cigarette and stub it out on his hand, which is more entertaining than ‘1985’ which sadly still sounds like an out of place 80s glam rock track. Set closer ‘Mjød’ is outrageously good, and it’s topped off with Nikolaisen wielding an owl themed flag to signify that he has conquered Download on his first visit.
ROB ZOMBIE – 8/10
Notorious shock rocker Rob Zombie is becoming quite the regular at Donington Park since ‘Hellbilly Deluxe 2’ was released back in 2011, and the second stage headline slot is made for the eccentric industrial metal singer. The stage is set with a red tinge and is decorated throughout with huge screens, which is fitting as it’s difficult to keep your eyes on Zombie as he spends half of his time with the fans in the front row.
White Zombie‘s ‘More Human Than Human’ is great fun, but the newer ‘In The Age Of The Consecrated Vampire We All Get High’ is pretty tacky and falls somewhat flat. Rob can’t help but portray how unsurprised by the amount of mud that surrounding the Zippo Encore stage today, as he describes that Donington is the muddiest place on Earth; they can go anywhere in the world, but nowhere is muddy than this Derbyshire race track.
‘Dead City Radio And The New Gods Of Supertown’ gets us back on track, and a nice British related story about the true meaning of Stonehenge being a homage to people having sex standing up naturally leads to a fun rendition of ‘Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a U.F.O.’. Rob Zombie brings a personal touch to his shows by talking to the crowd between songs, which makes a difference from the usual stage shows that headliners replicate identically from one place to the next. ‘Thunder Kiss ’65’ and a cover of The Ramones‘ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ get the crowd singing along before a bizarre yet on brand gap between songs gives Zombie the opportunity to screen his new movie trailer. The filmmaker takes the time to fetch his spiked leather jacket and hat combo for the finale of ‘Dragula’ that ticks all of the boxes that the crowd wanted.
It’s a seemingly short set from Zombie, and one that was probably a bit too similar to his last run out in 2017, but the man knows how to party and clearly feels at home in Donington.
THE AVALANCHE STAGE:
PENGSHUI – 8/10
London newcomers PENGSHUi have been entrusted in kicking off Download Festival at the unheard time of 11am, and the trio aren’t giving anyone time to grab a coffee and wake up because they’ve brought the hardcore, grime, bass, and beats to destroy anything in their way.
These lads have a huge stage presence that demands attention, and when the chants of “Round and round we go, round and round we go…” start during ‘Nobody Cares’ then the tent know the festival has really started. Anyone looking for an Astroid Boys hole to fill since the Welsh band broke up, then look no further than PENGSHUi.
SUMO CYCO – 7/10
“I don’t think you’re riled up enough” vocalist Skye Sweetnam commands to the crowd in the middle of ‘Anti-Anthem’ as the Canadian band cut the song short to charge into their cover of System Of A Down‘s ‘B.Y.O.B.’.
Sumo Cyco are firing on all cylinders today thanks to Sweetnam having all the appeal of a classic vocalist that keeps the faithful in the palm of her hand; the to and fro with the busy The Avalanche Stage before the ‘Undefeated’ bridge is straight out of the frontperson guide book and is performed excellently. The crowd even attempt to mimic the lift Sweetnam gets from guitarist Matt Drake during ‘Fighter’ but are more excited by her adventure into the centre of the tent for ‘Move Mountains’. Sumo Cyco are full of fun and, thanks to superstar Skye Sweetnam, are getting the praise that they deserve today.
ZEBRAHEAD – 7/10
California’s pop-punks Zebrahead have just dropped their thirteenth record, but they’re still able to maintain their youthful and care-free attitude and charisma through their music and live show, and today isn’t going to change that. ‘Rescue Me’ kicks us off to the delight of the ‘MFZB’ fans who’ve jumped into the Avalanche tent before the newer material proves that they’ve still got it in their system; drinking anthem ‘Call Your Friends’ and swear fest ‘Save Your Breath’ are big hits that have earned their worth as set ever presents for the foreseeable future.
The hijinks is unavoidable throughout, with beer chugging aliens invading the stage, crowd surfing in inflatable spaceships, and chicken fight pits before crowd favourites ‘Falling Apart’ and ‘Anthem’ give the fans exactly what they want. Zebrahead may have been kicking around for over two decades now, but are still well capable of holding their own with the younger pop-punk bands that are gracing this stage this weekend.
THE INTERRUPTERS – 9/10
Essentially nothing has changed in ska music since the late 90s. The same bands are doing the same thing, and that’s good and all, but popularity is declining and we haven’t seen anything exciting in forever. But now The Interrupters are happening. The Californians are as excellent and exciting as Rancid were, and are single handily leading the new revolution of ska punk.
With a nod to their elders, the three smartly dressed Bivona brothers take to the stage to The Special‘s ‘Ghost Town’ before main attraction Aimee Interrupter joins to an expectedly big reception and launches into ‘A Friend Like Me’. Every song starts with the chorus, which is the perfect method to get the party started; whether it’s ‘She’s Kerosene’ or ‘By My Side’, the whole tent is dancing away to the perfectly tight 2 tone sound the band are getting a reputation for it. A cheeky combo cover of ‘Time Bomb’ and ‘Sound System’ blows the roof off, but ‘Family’ gets the full tent singing to their hearts content, repeating every word Aimee says back to her on their own accord. Most bands tell the crowd what to do, but for The Interrupters, they’re already doing it before a word needs to be said.
REEL BIG FISH – 7/10
Donned in their outrageously excellent colourful attire, Reel Big Fish are the life of the party and the perfect festival band to have a couple of beers and forget all of your worries to. ‘I Want Your Girlfriend To Be My Girlfriend, Too’ and ‘Everything Sucks’ are as fun as ever and even Aaron Barrett‘s horrible jokes about going ape shit for ‘Monkey Man’ are received glowingly.
Throw in the triple threat big hitters of ‘Sell Out’, ‘Beer’, and ‘Take On Me’, and you’ve got a full tent of metal heads who may as well be wearing chequered suits and braces. You can always rely on the ska punk legends to put on a show, and today is just another day in the office for Reel Big Fish.
ME FIRST & THE GIMME GIMMES – 7/10
A huge gold backdrop, tinsel wrapped around the microphone, and a black sequin suit is as understated as Spike Slawson is in 2019 as the Me First & The Gimme Gimmes stage show gets more extra every time we see it. ‘Believe’ and ‘Heart Of Glass’ are the perfect example of why The Gimmes work so well in this setting: a tent full of people singing pop songs that you’d never think they would know the words to but, oh boy, they do.
Every word of ‘Jolene’, ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’, and ‘Sloop John B’ echoes around The Avalanche Stage with every song getting a huge cheer when the intro riff kicks in. Fat Mike and Joey Cape aren’t with us today thanks to hefty NOFX and Lagwagon tours, so CJ Ramone and Stacey Dee of Bad Cop/Bad Cop are doing the honours, and a stellar job on the likes of ‘Uptown Girl’ and ‘Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp)’. Another solid festival booking on The Avalanche Stage for great sing-alongs and, as Spike says, Me First aren’t a cover band, they’re THE cover band.
A full photo gallery from the event can be found here.
Photos by Emma Stone