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:
UNDEROATH – 4/10
It’s not overly busy at the main stage for Underoath‘s first appearance at the festival since 2005, but the band are going at it to build a big intro for their return to Donington. Guitarists Timothy McTague and James Smith and keyboardist Christopher Dudley are going well over the top with their instrumental arrival, but the actual musical output is extremely minimal before the band eventually get into the meat of ‘On My Teeth’.
‘Rapture’ and ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’ follow, and at least the latter has vocalist Spencer Chamberlain bringing out some classic 00s moves like swinging the microphone around, because the songs fall very flat and the reaction is generally muted. is a taste of the band’s new material since their comeback, and isn’t much better.
THE SMASHING PUMPKINS – 6/10
The return of James Iha to The Smashing Pumpkins has re-energised the latest reunion of the band, and their first ever appearance at Download Festival. The iconic quartet are travelling the world on their 30th anniversary tour, and share the stage with three massive inflatable representations of the band that change colour throughout the set. ‘Zero’ and ‘Tiberius’ sound dark yet powerful, however, ‘The Everlasting Gaze’ and a cover of Black Sabbath‘s own ‘Snowblind’ (with guest vocals from Myrkur‘s Amalie Bruun) are expansive and split the crowd opinion.
Billy Corgan‘s eyeliner starts to run before ‘Ava Adore’ and the excellent ‘Cherub Rock’, but it’s just another part of the unusual persona of The Smashing Pumpkins. The grunge rockers’ varied set was tailored for the biggest of fans and it was clear that many were lost in the middle, but the Chicago band hit the high points that show everyone what they’re capable of.
TOOL – 8/10
Thirteen years since they last played the festival, Tool are back to play in front of a field of endlessly devoted fans that are here for the diversely layered audio and visual experience that the LA band excel in. Many younger festival goers will be experiencing their first taste of the band tonight, but if you’re a follower of Tool in the UK then there’s no doubt you are in this field.
Mohican sporting Maynard James Keenan is tucked away at the back of the stage, and it gets harder and harder to spot him as the sun sets. The pentagram hanging at the back of the stage is the centrepiece of the visual show combined with the big screens that frame the band, all of which show mesmerising images that reflect the music.
Tool make use of their haunting and psychedelic guitar sound to great effect with ‘The Pot’, ‘Parabola’, and ‘Schism’ all sounding excellent individually, but it’s the show from start-to-finish that encompasses the intensity and artistry of this band. The return of Tool has been a dream come true for the die-hards, and the talk all the way to the car park was eagerly based around whether it will take another decade before the UK is graced with their presence again.
THE ZIPPO ENCORE STAGE:
DINOSAUR PILE-UP – 9/10
The small understated backdrop hanging matches Dinosaur Pile-Up‘s attitude: no unnecessary frills, just rock ‘n’ roll riffs. The power trio open with ‘Pouring Gasoline’ that tempts frontman Matt Bigland into a few little screams, and he even encourages an early morning handclap for the bridge that builds and builds for a riff heavy crescendo. The same goes for ‘Traynor’, which has such a huge ending that it incites a circle pit that carries on for the introduction to ’11:11′; naturally a cheer goes up when Bigland says “I am the rain…” in the latter, but the fans are way past caring about the rain this morning as the Leeds band are on some serious form.
The new material from their latest album ‘Celebrity Mansions’ goes down incredibly well for a record that has only been out a week, as you can tell by everyone eagerly awaiting the cheerleader chant turned breakdown in ‘Thrash Metal Cassette’ and all the woos landing perfectly during the radio-ready ‘Back Foot’. Dinosaur Pile-Up have always stuck to their raw and honest songs, and it looks like they’re finally getting the reception that they deserve with this new crop of excellent tracks.
STATE CHAMPS – 6/10
Happy go lucky pop-punks State Champs have been bumped up to the outdoor second stage after their impressive 2017 Avalanche Stage set, but now have the addition of latest record ‘Living Proof’. ‘Criminal’ opens the show, but is pretty weak as the New York band are still finding their feet on the large stage.
Singer Derek Discanio has gone full American with his Bulls jersey and backwards cap as the band stick to their clean aesthetic for a crowd that are preparing themselves for Slayer in a few hours. The set improves when ‘Remedy’ and ‘Elevated’ turn up, but the small crowd is a reflection on the interest in State Champs at Download, and they don’t do enough to turn any heads.
BEARTOOTH – 7/10
Can Beartooth take the leap from underground hardcore kids to blockbuster festival favourites? The Ohio rockers are being tested with a solid slot on the Zippo Encore stage on Slayer day, and it’s looking good so far. ‘Bad Listener’ and ‘Beaten In Lips’ win the crowd over early doors, with the screams of “Light my words with kerosene” in the latter echoing around the field with ferocity.
The bandana clad Caleb Shomo leads the band through tracks from all three records, with ‘Disease’ and sing-along ‘In Between’ sounding effortlessly great. Beartooth have a brilliant back-catalogue behind them, and are heavy enough to be accepted by the mainstream metal community; today showed that they’ll be on the big stages for the foreseeable future. Next up, Camden Roundhouse.
ANTHRAX – 8/10
New York thrash metal legends Anthrax are inexplicably gracing the second stage at exactly the same time as Lamb Of God hit the main stage, despite the two bands touring together in the UK last year. Despite this, there’s a huge crowd in to see the metal pioneers in action, and they’re thrown in at the deep end with ‘Caught In A Mosh’ and ‘Madhouse’ getting us off to the best start possible.
Joey Belladonna waltzes through the usual Anthrax tunes, and, although there’s an argument that the band are a shadow of their former self, they’ve got the charisma and the feel-good factor that makes the sing-alongs such a classic requirement of this festival weekend. Scott Ian prepares the mosh pit, or war dance, for the conclusion of ‘Indians’, and Anthrax once again reign supreme at Donington Park.
SLAYER – 8/10
Who would have thought that Slayer‘s last ever UK show would be a busy one? The thrash legends are headlining the second stage for what is billed as their last performance in the country, and the stage is packed. They delve right into ‘Repentless’ and ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’ to kick off the proceedings, with Tom Araya riling up the crowd with his trademark vocal delivery. The backdrop is laced with crosses and skills, and a large Slayer logo behind guitarists Kerry King and Gary Holt that sets on fire on regular occasions.
The amount of pyrotechnics is impressive throughout the set to ensure that the stage looks as heavy metal as possible, and it works perfectly. The Californians make their way through tracks that span their whole back-catalogue with a huge finale of ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Black Magic’, ‘Dead Skin Mask’, and, of course, ‘Angel Of Death’. When the music finishes, Araya stands silently and stares into the abyss of the crowd at the Zippo Encore stage with his hands in his pocket, soaking it all in.
Slayer‘s 38 year career means everything to heavy metal, Donington Park, and everybody standing in the field watching them. An emotional goodbye was expected, but it’s still difficult to stomach when it comes around. Slayer leave Download on a high, but will be remembered for so much more than just their performance here tonight.
THE AVALANCHE STAGE:
HEART OF A COWARD – 8/10
Vocalist Kaan Tasan isn’t letting the crowd have any time to rest during Heart Of A Coward set today. The frontman insists on circle pits throughout ‘Ritual’, and demands a sea of head banging when the breakdown hits during ‘Shade’. The new singer excels in both harsh and clean singing, and compliments the heavy technical metal sound that the Milton Keynes band have formed over the last few years.
The tent is packed out by the time ‘Hollow’ and ‘Collapse’ hit the setlist, showcasing that this new generation of Heart Of A Coward is very much alive and kicking.
OUR LAST NIGHT – 6/10
Post-hardcore mob Our Last Night are five records deep now, and follow the same structure that hundreds of bands do, but there’s a bit more of a bite to the New Hampshire band to some of the other conveyer belt bands. ‘Demons’ is a hard-hitting model example of metalcore, and ‘The Leap’ is pretty fun for this kind of thing, but ‘Broken Lives’ falls into the also-ran category compared to the rest of the bands that are gracing The Avalanche Stage today.
Our last Night are a decent example of the Vans Warped Tour metalcore scene bands that still kick about, but there’s a low ceiling of excitement that it can still bring in 2019.
THE AMITY AFFLICTION – 4/10
Australian metalcore royalty The Amity Affliction have never attracted the same crowds over here compared to their homeland, and The Avalanche stage is relatively sparse when ‘Drag The Lake’ starts. The song is packed with high pitched backing vocals but seems too slow as a set opener to get the Download audience on their side.
Metalcore bands will usually indulge in a gentler track during a set, but every track by The Amity Affliction sounds like that song. ‘Ivy (Doomsday)’ and ‘Shine Down’ feel like they’ve had the wind taken out of them, and ‘Feels Like I’m Dying’ has some unnecessary quiet electronics played over the top which ruins what seems like the best track of the performance so far. It doesn’t feel like the set ever gets going, and there’s a spark missing that prevents any excitement around the Queensland band today.
FEVER 333 – 6/10
After a hugely successful introduction to the band at last year’s festival, Fever 333 return to Download after the release of their debut album, ‘Strength In Numb333rs’. Once again, ‘Burn It’ opens the show, and the crowd are louder than Jason Butler although this is mostly due to the vocals being so quiet. The Avalanche Stage responds by chanting “333” at the top of their lungs before ‘Made An America’ stands up to the prejudice against cultures worldwide.
The set is very similar to 2018’s appearance, but the beatboxing and drum solo are less exciting this time around, and ‘Out Of Control’ and ‘The Innocent’ are not the best examples of Fever 333‘s debut record. It’s much busier in the tent than last year, but the same tricks are not as fresh this time round and the anticipation outweighed the performance.
THE DOGTOOTH STAGE:
KIM JENNETT – 6/10
The Dogtooth Stage is the place to be if you’re looking for the up-and-coming classic rock style singers like Mancunian Kim Jennett, who even has the honour of festival booker Andy Copping looking on.
The Voodoo Blood singer looks the part in a red leopard print combo, and performs her rock and blues tinged hard rock with tracks, with ‘Music Is My Remedy’ and ‘Unbroken’ being the best picks of the bunch. Jennett effortlessly owns the stage with her charisma and charm for a perfectly enjoyable Sunday afternoon performance.
MUNICIPAL WASTE – 9/10
There’s so much hair flying about on The Dogtooth Stage that you can only just about make out Tony Foresta shouting “I’m not going to tell you to crowd surf during this set, but you should”, which entices you know what during ‘Wave Of Death’.
Municipal Waste provide the perfect alternative to the other headliners tonight as the thrash is fast, fierce, and relentless, but Foresta manages to take a well-earned break during the instrumental ‘Under The Waste Command’. This is balls out hardcore, and it’s as fun as hell during ‘Unleash The Bastards’ and ‘The Art Of Partying’. The thrash crossover band ooze entertainment, and everyone in the small tent made the best choice by making sure they were there to see it.
A full photo gallery from the event can be found here.
Photos by Emma Stone