As of 2018, Download Festival has officially been running for more consecutive years than its legendary predecessor Monsters Of Rock at the grounds of Donington Park, and with it have solidified further its already firm status as one of the biggest and most prestigious rock festivals in the world.
With another trio of gigantic headliners yet again this year, with the Friday seeing a main stage headline set from Avenged Sevenfold, our team made their way down to the hallowed grounds of Download for another weekend of devil horns, head banging, and circle pits galore.
BOSTON MANOR – 7/10
You’ve got to be pretty ballsy to be a pop-punk band on the main stage at Download, never mind being the first up on the Friday when fans have already been on site for two days yearning for some heavy metal. Thankfully, Blackpool lads Boston Manor are up for the challenge and avoid being engulfed by the large setting. Vocalist Henry Cox owns the stage in his Cro-Mags shirt and proper geezer chequered trousers and belts out ‘Lead Feet’ with purpose. New track ‘Halo’ seems a little bit lazy compared to the material off the excellent ‘Be Nothing.’, but ‘Laika’ ends a great set that might hold out hope for pop-punk on the main stage yet. [MH]
AVATAR – 7/10
Swedish circus metal act Avatar are creeping up the Download Festival bill every time they return, and they’re upping the theatrics tenfold. As the band enter the stage, a golden throne raises from the behind the drum kit with guitarist Jonas Jarlsby donned in a crown and cloak as the “King” from the theming of their latest record, ‘Avatar Country’. He introduces the set with the riff from ‘A Statue Of The King’ and a picture of himself even hangs from his moving chair. When the song finishes and all guitarists return to common ground, ringmaster Johannes Eckerström, who is dressed in full face paint as per normal, introduces ‘Let It Burn’ to trigger the simultaneous whirlwind of hair from the whole band. Avatar are corny and ridiculous, but it’s heavier and better than most ‘gimmick’ bands; the nutters are perfect for Download and somehow seem to have headliner size budget despite playing at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. [MH]
MARMOZETS – 8/10
Marmozets are becoming quite the national treasure and have landed themselves a very tidy fourth down slot on the main stage at Download Festival this year, sandwiched between metal favourites Volbeat and DragonForce. As always, the band cater only to themselves and immediately throw themselves into ‘Play’ and ‘Meant To Be’ from this year’s phenomenal ‘Knowing What You Know Now’, showing the main stage diehards why they’ve commanded such a high slot that has seen so many greats over the last decade.
Becca Macintyre is an absolute superstar already and looks cool as fuck in outrageously bright pink trousers as she covers every inch of the stage and catwalk during ‘Move, Shake, Hide’ and ‘Habits’. Still only two records into their career, Marmozets have created a decent following and have their own look, sound and persona to boot. If they continue to write songs like closer ‘Major System Error’ then music fans better strap in for the journey. [MH]
BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE – 7/10
Bullet For My Valentine have had a few up and down years, and may have been hardly done by after the decent ‘Venom’ back in 2015, but they’ve been gifted a lifeline by Download to return to their sub-headline slot that they last played in 2013. With new material in tow, they kick off with ‘Don’t Need You’ and new single ‘Over You’ blasting out to the really quite sizeable crowd before them, but of course it’s the old favourites that get the fans in true voice. What better way to reel them in than with a ‘Your Betrayal’ and ‘4 Words (To Choke Upon)’ double header? Matt Tuck sounds excellent and completely nails the transition between singing and screaming throughout the set, but ‘You Want A Battle, Here’s A War’ stands out from the rest.
There may be a few too many new songs from an album that isn’t released for a few weeks yet, but Bullet For My Valentine have their tails up and are winning over a crowd that was already pretty impressed in the first place. ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ and ‘Waking The Demon’ are killer blows from the vault, and with it the band pass their test to maintain sub-headline status. All eyes are on new album ‘Gravity’ now. [MH]
AVENGED SEVENFOLD – 5/10
Back in 2014, Avenged Sevenfold joined an elite collective of bands when they headlined Download Festival for the very first time off the back of their record, ‘Hail To The King’. Naturally, the old school fans and keyboard warriors turned their nose up at the thought, and generally the set was met with a varied response. Fast-forward to present day and Avenged Sevenfold have dropped a progressive metal record out of nowhere avoiding all promotion whatsoever in ‘The Stage’, and are back to close the Friday once again.
The title-track from said record starts the party with M. Shadows very casually dressed in an Alice In Chains shirt and jeans, backwards cap, and aviators as he trots around in front of the huge amount of screens that lace almost the entire surface area of the main stage. The up-tempo metal blows it out of the water though and ‘Afterlife’ sends the batty crowd into all sorts of palpitations, but following it up with ‘Hail To The King’ dampens the mood and slows down the momentum that the Californians had just about built up. Thankfully, ‘Welcome To The Family’ relieves the set of any respite for too much longer.
When Avenged are delving into their best material, they sound exciting, fresh, and most importantly different, but there just isn’t enough of it tonight. These songs are very long, so two misses back-to-back really take a toll and it gets noticeably dull very quickly. ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘So Far Away’ are the best part of 15 minutes between them, and there’s only so much that the stage show can do to distract you from that. The place looks magnificent, with a constellation filled cube hanging above the stage that changes to match the song being played, and an astronaut for ‘The Stage’ material that has become a kind of mascot for the album cycle. There’s clear effort put in here to create an aesthetically creative visual display to compliment the music and feel of the record.
‘Nightmare’ has become a vital part of metal culture since its release, and it sounds so homely to hear it on the biggest UK metal stage with tens of thousands of metalheads bellowing out at their top of the lungs. It’s the best example of the night of why Avenged Sevenfold are at the top of the bill once again, and you’d assume they will be for all foreseeable album tour cycles, but a revamp in their song choices could make the full experience so much better. ‘M.I.A.’ is a great and bold choice, but the reaction to ‘Higher’ and a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ compared to main set closer ‘Bat Country’ tells you all you need to know about what the fans want to hear.
‘Shepherd Of Fire’ is a fitting start to the encore, and gives an excuse to turn on the pyrotechnics before a trip down memory lane to ‘Unholy Confessions’ shows how far the band has changed since 2003’s ‘Waking The Fallen’, yet it has the quality to remain in the setlist for years to come. Avenged Sevenfold are headliners whether the naysayers agree with it or not, but it could and probably should be a lot better than this. [MH]
ZIPPO ENCORE STAGE:
NOTHING MORE – 3/10
San Antonio hard rockers Nothing More have three Grammy Award nominations. That’s pretty amazing, right? Lead singer Jonny Hawkins is active around the stage and sounds particularly good on hit single ‘Jenny’,but the issue lies that they’re just not very good songs – oh yeah, and he’s very, very topless at all times; that’s his thing. And fair play to him, too. The set is very dragging as it seems the band are actively attempting to refrain from putting any emotion or effort into the heavier parts of the songs, and it all seems to lack any authenticity or interest. ‘This Is The Time (Ballast)’ is the exception at the end of their slot, but the crowd’s interest has disappeared by then and it falls on deaf ears. [MH]
ANDREW W.K. – 7/10
A fun game of spot the white t-shirt/jeans combo around the Download site proves the cult following that Andrew W.K. has created since his seminal 2001 record ‘I Get Wet’ brought the light-hearted fun of partying to the forefront of rock music. A big crowd gathers to hear hit singles ‘She Is Beautiful’ from the Michigan singer who rarely tours the UK with a full band like this. Fun is the only way to describe the set; there’s a sea of smiles from ear-to-ear watching the party master at work during ‘We Want Fun’. Of course, they’re all amazed at a ridiculous countdown for the most obvious finale of ‘Party Hard’ which Andrew W.K. discusses how he loves to be in not the UK but the “double UK” for double the festivities and, you guessed it, double the fun. Long live Andrew W.K. [MH]
HELL IS FOR HEROES – 5/10
It’s quite a sparse crowd for old London post-hardcore old schoolers Hell Is For Heroes, though in all fairness to them they are competing with Bullet For My Valentine over on the main stage. Still, it’s not quite the triumphant reunion many have hoped for after their hiatus. Everything feels very behind the times, from frontman Justin Schlosberg’s grey suit to the underwhelming lack of stage presence. There’s a few die-hards at the front singing along to some old favourites from 2003’s ‘The Neon Handshake’, but other than that, the band struggle to get anyone engaged. As Schlosberg dives into the crowd during the final song in a last ditch attempt to save the set, you can’t help but feel like maybe these guys have returned just a little too late. [LC]
YOU ME AT SIX – 8/10
Despite the fact their last album was 2017’s controversial ‘Night People’, You Me At Six are here to show that they’re not to be counted out just yet. Headlining Download’s second largest stage, they’ve come armed with a set list packed with fan favourites to remind everyone just how they got to this position in the first place. “Andy Copping called, and we came, and we enjoyed ourselves very much,” frontman Josh Franceschi grins, as he leads the crowd through a medley of hits spanning their entire career. ‘Lived A Lie’ sees crowd surfers flying over the barrier, oldie ‘Save It For The Bedroom’ inspires a huge nostalgic singalong, and a jubilant ‘Reckless’ ends in a brief cover of ‘When You Were Young’ by The Killers.
Sadly, their new song ‘Fast Forward’ fails to ignite the crowd, which is a shame as it’s got a trademark You Me At Six killer chorus, but slow burner ‘Nobody Does It Better’ soon gets arms waving again. Franceschi proudly proclaims closer ‘Bite My Tongue’ as the heaviest song of the set, which causes a few raised eyebrows – do You Me At Six do heavy? Not really, no, but it’s great anyway, and You Me At Six have proved that they’re more than worthy of such a prestigious slot. [LC]
THE AVALANCHE STAGE:
STRAY FROM THE PATH – 8/10
Hardcore’s Stray From The Path are pissed off. All the time. It’s great. Drew York is the current era epitome of Zach de la Rocha and that’s exactly what punk and metal needs in 2018. The bleach blonde frontman screams “Fuck this system!” during the chorus of ‘Outbreak’, and ‘Loudest In The Room’ continues the onslaught on the current state of the America.
The self-proclaimed outspoken band caused a stir with extreme right groups with their single last year ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’, but there are people of all ages enjoying the breakdown in the song today, and the noise of hundreds of people shouting “Nazi punks fuck off!” in unison is something to behold. ‘First World Problem Child’ concludes the anger, and if the hate across the globe continues into the coming years then expect this Long Island mob to be fuelled for the foreseeable future. [MH]
STICK TO YOUR GUNS – 7/10
Orange County hardcore heavyweights Stick To Your Guns are greeted by a packed out tent at the Avalanche Stage. Coming out to the hard-hitting barrage that is ‘The Sun, The Moon, The Truth’, it’s clear where the show is headed, and it doesn’t let up from here. Tracks from last year’s ‘True View’ make up the bulk of the set, but classics like ‘Nobody’ also make an appearance. Unsurprisingly for a politically charged band they’ve got a lot to say for themselves, with frontman Jesse Barnett frequently encouraging fans to open their minds and to question what they’re told, before a rebellious ‘Against All Odds’ wins a crowd-wide singalong and ends the set on a high. Riotous stuff. [LC]
CANCER BATS – 10/10
Cancer Bats are the unrivalled best hardcore band to have consistently toured over the last decade, and they’re back to their best thanks to ‘The Spark That Moves’ that surprised us all in April. Backing the record, Liam Cormier launches into the opening track ‘Gatekeeper’ as if they’ve been playing it for years. The set gets better and better as it goes on, with ‘R.A.T.S.’ and ‘Hail Destroyer’ creeping in early on, but ‘Sorceress’ sounds the best of the lot with the band intentionally slowing down the build up of “That you’re the worst is an understatement” just makes THAT riff afterwards so much more devastating than it already is. ‘Pray For Darkness’ is the best circle pit material that you’d expect to see all weekend and Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ gets the usual sing-a-long treatment, but ‘Bricks And Mortar’ is crisp and a perfect to finish to the set. [MH]
THE BRONX – 10/10
No other band has the effortlessly cool swagger that makes The Bronx the menacing force that they are. The Californians pay the sleaziest, punkiest, and heaviest old rock ‘n’ roll, and they do it with such consistency and ease that their fifth self-titled record last year was worthy of the four that came before it. ‘The Unholy Hand’ has the pleasure of starting us off with a sole guitar riff that sends the crowd into a frenzy at the thought of not just the track, but the onslaught that is surely to follow.
Matt Caughthran bounces around the stage with a huge grin on his face that’s as infectious as the words that he sings during the heavy golden oldies ‘Shitty Future’ and ‘Heart Attack American’, all of which are beautifully paired with the melodies of ‘Two Birds’ that show off the polar opposite strengths of The Bronx. Nothing matches the noise for the opening of ‘Knifeman’ that has the band at masterclass level, and all of it to be topped off with the usual finale of ‘History’s Stranglers’. [MH]
LOATHE – 8/10
An impressively sizeable crowd has crammed themselves into the tiny Dogtooth tent for Liverpool noisemakers, Loathe. Frontman Kadeem France quickly enraptures the crowd with effortless charisma as the band storm through a troupe of experimental bangers like the spine-tingling ‘It’s Yours’. The TV screens on stage add a nice theatrical element to their performance, as does a light show so dazzling that it’s sometimes hard to see drummer Sean Radcliffe giving it his all at the back. The fact that they leave the stage to frenzied chants of “one more song” proves that Loathe can only be destined for bigger slots than this. [LC]
BLESSTHEFALL – 6/10
Up next are Arizona metalcore heroes blessthefall, who are famed for their raucous live shows. Unfortunately, they fall just short of the hype. Frontman Beau Bokan is full of energy, whilst ‘Hey Baby, Here’s That Song You Wanted’ and ‘You Wear A Crown But You’re No King’ pack as much of a punch as they ever did, the likes of ‘Cutthroat’ and ‘Wishful Sinking’ from their most recent album ‘Hard Feelings’ fail to reach such great heights. Perhaps it’s unfortunate timing that their slot comes directly after the refreshing novelty of a band like Loathe, but something about blessthefall feels slightly lacking. [LC]
EMMURE – 7/10
Deathcore mob Emmure make a ceremonious return to Download, and they’re here to heavy things up right from the off. Armed to the teeth with chugs, bleughs, and breakdowns, they waste no time in whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Guitarist Josh Travis rips through one merciless riff after another, whilst Frankie Palmeri delivers gut busting screams on the likes of 2009 classic ‘R2Deepthroat’. The set comes to quite an abrupt end, and the crowd are left confused as to whether or not it’s really over. Give us some warning next time, guys, eh? [LC]
NAPALM DEATH – 8/10
Midlands grindcore unit Napalm Death have an iconic status having released 16 albums since 1987, and have been a consistent name on the scene due to their high energy and short songs. Barney Greenway is fresh from his cameo on the main stage with Volbeat to kick into ‘Scum’ introduction ‘Multinational Corporations’, which naturally leads into the destructive ‘Instinct Of Survival’.
The tent is heaving with old fans of the band, but there’s a fair number of the younger audience in to see what the fuss is all about, and you can see their eyes light up when the thrash driven ‘Control’. Napalm Death are still performing at such a high calibre this far into their career by doing exactly what their good at: fast, angry thrash metal, and their cover of Dead Kennedys’ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ is the perfect reminder of why they are looked on so fondly from all realms of any music scene and pop culture. [MH]
TESSERACT – 8/10
Despite clashing with Avenged Sevenfold over on the main stage, UK prog metallers TesseracT have attracted a crowd almost too big to fit under the blue canvas of the Dogtooth tent. They start with ‘Luminary’, the lead single from this year’s ‘Sonder’, the opening riff of which charges in like a juggernaut before Dan Tompkins’ sweeping, melodic vocals soar and swell around the tent. Mesmerising strobes and light pulses are a perfect accompaniment to the techy grooves on the likes of ‘King’, and you’re left wondering if this band would fare even better on the main stage with such polished production elements as these. The ambient ‘Smile’ breaks like a tidal wave, before the band end on the titanic ‘Acceptance’, whose delicate chimes give way to a tempest of crashing cymbals from drummer Jay Postones, and expertly textured guitars from James Monteith and Acle Kahney. Whilst TesseracT could probably deliver on stages bigger than this, a packed out tent seems to be where they feel most at home, and with a crowd only too happy to have them. [LC]
Written by Mike Heath [MH] and Lottie Cook [LC].