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:
POWER TRIP – 7/10
Dallas metallers Power Trip are bringing back thrash metal with their classic sound and attitude. Their critically acclaimed 2017 release, ‘Nightmare Logic’, has proved that the band can take the reigns of the genre going forward, and the Download crowd are impressed with the raw power of the riffs on show during ‘Executioner’s Tax (Swing Of The Axe)’ and ‘Crucifixation’.
Vocalist Riley Gale uses the huge stage to his advantage, goading the crowd on at every opportunity at the bottom of the catwalk, wielding the mic stand. Set closer ‘Manifest Decimation’ earns a circle pit that lasts the entire song, and earns a few fans from the older generation who are looking to live on the 80s thrash era.
BEHEMOTH – 7/10
Behemoth are quite the alternative booking for such a high slot on the Lemmy Stage at Download, which shows the widespread popularity the Polish blackened death metal band have gained since their hit record, ‘The Satanist’. The masked and hooded members of the band take to the stage for ‘Wolves Ov Siberia’ while flames and smoke are fired up from the front.
The masks are removed for ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’, but the sound of impending doom continues for 45 minutes with no respite. The painted face of Nergal leads the death metal band with an unnerving presence that matches the haunting theatrics during the set, and when the music arrives for ‘Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel’, you can hear the excitement throughout the field. Behemoth have taken the leap from being the top band in their sub-genre of metal to being an elite name that will be taking up the evening slots at rock festivals internationally.
SKINDRED – 8/10
Skindred are the kings of metal festivals with their eccentric antics and feel good tracks, and are honouring their biggest slot at Donington yet by walking out to the ‘Imperial Death March’ before starting the set with ‘Sound The Siren’. Benji Webbe is donned in a studded military style suit with his signature shades, and is insulting the crowd when they aren’t meeting the standards he expects, as per normal.
‘Pressure’ hits the set early with an added bonus of the ‘Back In Black’ breakdown, and Reef‘s own Gary Stringer joins the stage for the band’s unlikely duet in ‘Machine’. There aren’t many frontmen in metal that could rival Webbe for his on stage interaction, and he proves that he’s still the king during ‘That’s My Jam’ as he berates the rain soaked fans for their crappy singing. A Keith Flint tribute is a nice touch with ‘Out Of Space’ before the knockout one-two of ‘Nobody’ and ‘Warning’ brings it home for Skindred. The Welsh titans should be applauded for their individual and distinctive qualities that make them one of a kind as they conquer Download Festival once again.
TRIVIUM – 7/10
Florida’s Trivium are enjoying a huge resurgence thanks to a spell of decent records, and have been rewarded with a tasty spot on the main stage with only two bands to come. They jump through a bunch of new material from 2017’s ‘The Sin And The Sentence’ early in the set with a somewhat excitable reaction, but the show starts to get going when fire erupts from the stage during ‘Strife’.
Matt Heafy has a bucket load of compliments for Download Festival, and refers to today as a homecoming after they were adopted by the UK when they opened this stage back in 2005. There were seven circle pits that day when they played ‘Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr’, so Heafy demands eight – and the crowd do not disappoint. The amount of £6 pints thrown into the air when the singer blasts into ‘In Waves’ is eye-watering, and shows that Donington really is a second home for the heavy metal band.
DIE ANTWOORD – 9/10
“We got asked to play this festival and we were like… why?”, Ninja explains after belting out ‘Pitbull Terrier’ and ‘Fatty Boom Boom’. The South African hip-hop group are introduced as “not metal but hardcore”, and, although they seem like an unbelievably left-field choice to warm the crowd before Slipknot, Download represents the alternative and everything about the show is unique, bizarre, and excellent.
The large toothed geezer mask wearing DJ god compliments the juxtaposition of Ninja and Yolandi Visser and is the engine for the whole set, curating the tempo from his decks on top of a massive screen where he’s joined by back-up dancers as well as the band from time-to-time. ‘Baby’s On Fire’ and ‘I Fink U Freeky’ are iconic tracks that sound incredible live when performed with the insanity and conviction of the zef duo, and are just so far removed from anything in music, ever. ‘Happy Go Sucky Fucky’ is fast, exciting, and has the attitude of heavy metal if not the music and has the whole crowd shouting “Fuck your rules! Fuck, fuck your rules!” at the top of their lungs.
The rappers are in their trademark oversize hoodies for most of the set, but take the option to strip off at any opportunity that adds to the over sexualised nature of the set, with tracks such as ‘Cookie Thumper’ setting the tone. ‘Enter The Ninja’ brings the absurd set to a close, and most of the confused looks have turned into smiles, even if it is from the sight of Ninja mooning the crowd on the way out. Download Festival never shies away from a controversial booking and this will split opinion more than most; Die Antwoord are a truly one of a kind experience.
SLIPKNOT – 10/10
Anticipation has been building all day for the Iowa modern metal legends to take to the stage, and the large Slipknot logo curtain is only adding to the excitement. The reveal represents more than just the show, but the start of the ‘We Are Not Your Kind’ chapter of Slipknot, and the first chance for the UK to see the new stage, masks, and personnel. The set starts with a dive into the vault, smashing through ‘People=Shit’ and ‘(sic)’ to really get the maggots excited.
Frontman Corey Taylor‘s new Phantom And The Opera-style hooded cloak gives him a dominant presence around the front of the stage, and his ignorance to DJ Sid Wilson‘s antics adds to the performance. “Do you want some more?”, Taylor shouts before ‘Get This’, and the new single ‘Unsainted’ that everybody in the crowd knows all the words to already.
The stage is a more industrial setting than we’ve seen previously, with different gadgets to keep the band members occupied; the travelator keeps some of the members entertained, and percussionists Shawn “Clown” Crahan and the unnamed new member now have kegs hanging from chains added to their arsenal. The fire is unleashed during ‘Before I Forget’ before Taylor leads us through the hand signals for ‘The Heretic Anthem’, but everybody is already well ahead of him. There’s no such warning for ‘Psychosocial’ though, which ironically seems to be the only time all day that the rain hasn’t fallen upon the Donington Park crowd, but on this showing, the track has certainly cemented itself as a modern-day classic.
Slipknot have taken another step towards legendary status tonight: the appearance is more than just a show, it’s an event. ‘Custer’ and ‘Duality’ sound monstrous, but it’s ‘Spit It Out’ that makes the biggest impact, and undoubtedly Taylor felt a shift change when he asked Download if they were ready to go down in history, again. Slipknot are the metal act that defines this generation, and today was a flawless example of how to headline a festival. All eyes are now peeled on the cryptic posters that say Slipknot Live 2020.
THE ZIPPO ENCORE STAGE:
BAD WOLVES – 7/10
Tommy Vext has fronted his fair share of bands over the years, most notably filling in for Ivan Moody of Five Finger Death Punch in 2017, but seems settled with his latest adventure. Download has flirted with bands outside of the metal genre in recent years, with Muse and Biffy Clyro getting an underwhelming reception because the regulars here like a certain type of metal, and it sounds exactly like Bad Wolves.
The LA band are unbelievably sprightly for a Saturday morning and sound like a combination of Killswitch Engage and Trivium on ‘No Masters’ that has a groovy riff that gets those breakfast fists in the air. Vext encourages a Game Of Thrones themed wall of death, but it’s the finale of platinum selling cover of ‘Zombie’ by The Cranberries that gets the crowd going along with a touching tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan. Look out for Bad Wolves returning to Download regularly in the future.
ELVANA – 8/10
Eyebrows were raised when seemingly “Elvis fronted Nirvana” novelty act Elvana were booked on the Zippo Encore, but the cover band’s popularity has soared in recent times and is there honestly much you’d rather see more than a guy in a cape singing Nirvana and Elvis songs in the middle of the day?
The set is mostly just Nirvana covers, and the Big Chief doesn’t really sound much like Elvis, but songs like ‘Breed’ and ‘In Bloom’ are outrageously fun, and the whole experience with back-up singers, giant Nirvana smiley face balloons, and banter between songs makes the set. A mash up of ‘Rape Me’ and ‘Love Me Tender’ is a particular highlight in the silly yet surprisingly entertaining performance from the tribute band.
HALESTORM – 6/10
It’s a first ever second stage headline slot at Donington for Halestorm, and Lzzy Hale looks the part as she takes centre stage in jet black with what must be the highest of heels to ever grace the festival. The band haven’t got much to do during ‘Do Not Disturb’ as the song is 95% vocals, and, although Lzzy sounds great, the song is extremely simple and dull. Nevertheless, the hefty guitar in ‘Uncomfortable’ is great and a more complete sound makes the Pennsylvania rockers really fill out the huge stage they find themselves on.
The crowd is really jumping for ‘I Am The Fire’, and the groovy chorus in ‘Skulls’ means the dancing shoes are out this Saturday night. Lzzy welcomes Asami from Lovebites on stage to sing ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ as a nice nod to the origins of the Japanese band’s name, which ends up being one of the highlights of the set. Halestorm certainly have the fanbase to back up their slot tonight and aesthetically look great, but have sounded pedestrian without the guitar heavy tracks that bring that real rock ‘n’ roll atmosphere.
THE AVALANCHE STAGE:
PALISADES – 5/10
Metalcore is still rife in America, with the likes of Palisades waving the flag for the genre on the predominantly pop-punk themed stage. The band are dressed head-to-toe in black and delve straight into crowd favourites ‘War’ and ‘Shed My Skin’ with the same polished routine for each song.
‘Player Haters’ Ball’ gets the crowd swaying their arms from side-to-side and has electronic music blasting over the top of the band. Palisades aren’t doing anything wrong per se, but it’s the same metalcore shenanigans like simultaneous jumping we’ve seen a hundred times before. The lack of originality is tiresome, but the smattering of Palisades die-hards are enjoying ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Erase The Pain’ to their hearts content.
NOTHING,NOWHERE. – 6/10
The Avalanche Stage is quietly waiting for emo rapper nothing,nowhere. to take the stage, and a few curious faces are peering the heads in to see how an alternative rapper fits into the decor of the festival. Joe Mulherin walks to the microphone playing guitar where he joins a second guitarist and a drummer for an extravagant introduction before setting the instrument down for ‘Clarity In Kerosene’ and ‘Dread’.
The rapper is quiet and timid, but explains that he was ill all day so might need some help from anyone who knows the words, and there are plenty down in the front that lend a hand. The live show is certainly more relatable to The Avalanche Stage than the phrase ’emo rapper’ suggests, and you can tell that the set means a lot to the cult followers down the front. ‘Letdown’ is received ecstatically, and is certainly the best of the tracks on offer, but it misses a certain energy that draws in the casual onlookers.
A full photo gallery from the event can be found here.
Photos by Emma Stone