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 Saturday seeing a main stage headline set from and almost completely reformed original line-up from Guns N’ Roses, our team made their way down to the hallowed grounds of Download for another weekend of devil horns, head banging, and circle pits galore.
WHISKEY MYERS – 6/10
The main stage is certainly tailored to thousands of Guns N’ Roses fans today, and it’s plenty busy despite the morning start and that most of the crowd don’t seem to know much about the first few bands on the bill. Most old-style radio rock in 2018 seems to be Southern and have a country twang for some reason, and Texan group Whiskey Myers are certainly one of the better bands shoehorned into that category. ‘Early Morning Shakes’ is very apt for today and has a relaxing tone to it, but the best showing comes from ‘Home’ which has some great solos, and even sees one of the drummers (yes, one of them) go virtually insane with a cowbell whilst one of the guitarists picks his instrument with a spare drum stick. It’s enough entertainment to give the early birds a decent wake up. [MH]
MONSTER TRUCK – 5/10
There’s so much hair on the stage. It must be getting in the way of all four members of Canadian rockers Monster Truck as they float through tracks from their upcoming record ‘True Rockers’ that takes up basically all of the set. It’s possibly a decent tactic as the regular Guns N’ Roses fan that paid £95 for the day has no idea of Monster Truck’s old material anyway.
‘She’s A Witch’ and ‘Evolution’ sound fine, but it’s not overly exciting and there’s going to be so much of this kind of thing today that’s far more interesting and superior. ‘Sweet Mountain River’ is a treat for the longer term Monster Truck followers to finish the set, but it’s all very safe and uninspiring. [MH]
THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT – 2/10
Having The Temperance Movement on the main stage at Download seemed a very bizarre booking. They’re essentially a glorified pop band, and can’t possibly represent many of the Donington Park tickets holders from the last three decades. The Scottish wet blankets ponder through their hits like ‘Caught In The Middle’ and ‘White Bear’ with minimal interest from anyone. Naturally, there’s plenty of time for a few acoustic numbers before ‘Built-In Forgetter’ finally puts us an end to the predictable garbage, and everyone turns around and gets back to whatever they were doing before they came onstage. [MH]
BLACK STONE CHERRY – 6/10
The sun is trying its best to make its way out through the clouds in time for Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry, but there’s still a bit of a haze hanging over the main stage. They’ve wangled themselves a pretty big slot, just underneath the mighty Guns N’ Roses, and seem determined to make the most of it. They power their way through hits like ‘Me And Mary Jane’ and the country tinged ‘White Trash Millionaire’, and it’s clear that they’ve got more than a few fans here just for them. There’s a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ in there to spice things up a little, but aside from that, it’s a pretty predictable medley of hard-rock-by-numbers. There’s no denying that Black Stone Cherry have earned this slot through sheer hard work, and they do what they do well enough. But, much like the weather, it could be a little brighter. [LC]
GUNS N’ ROSES – 7/10
It’s approaching 7:20pm, and there’s still a cautious feel in the air. Will Guns N’ Roses be on time? Will Axl be up to it? The people of UK have been stung too many times before, yet the excitement of seeing Axl, Slash, and Duff all on the same stage together again for the first time in years is the ideal Saturday night. Believe it or not, it’s 7:19pm and we have lift off. A cheesy introduction video seems to be the norm for heritage bands now, but it’s doing the business for the fans waiting with baited breath until the bass introduces ‘It’s So Easy’ to begin the event. Download promised a full Guns N’ Roses, show and that’s exactly what they’re getting: three and a half hours of unrivalled rock classics.
The iconic ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ riff appears out of nowhere very early into the set, and the place completely implodes. Axl sounds great tonight, and connects up perfectly with Slash and Duff. It’s fun to think about what happens backstage between the three of them, and of course the assumption is they;re all smiles for the pay day, but they at least grin and bear it during the ‘Chinese Democracy’ material, and it’s a nice touch to see them play ‘Slither’ by Velvet Revolver as a nod to the late Scott Weiland.
It’s essential that Download book the biggest bands in the world, or it wouldn’t be able to sustain as an alternative music festival of the size that it is. It’s always an event when the celebrity status acts come, and the ‘Not In This Lifetime’ tour feels exactly like that. The LA rockers work their way through a good chunk of the ‘Appetite For Destruction’ material, and it’s no surprise that ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ gets the biggest sing-along going, with the masses singing every vocal, guitar line, and drum beat with perfect timing.
Despite the standard shit video on the big screens at the back of the stage where the band logo rotates and the like, the tour show is fun and has all the classic rock nooks and crannies for the guys to parade around on it whilst they blare out a whole host of covers in the second half of the set. Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is the best a headliner has played it since Avenged Sevenfold yesterday, Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ pulls hard on the heart strings, and Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ is once again a nice touch to a great who has graced Download many a time over the last couple of decades. ‘Paradise City’ beckons the end of the show, but not until fireworks have the last word on the performance, and you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who expected more than that Guns N’ Roses actually turned up on time tonight. [MH]
ZIPPO ENCORE STAGE:
BURY TOMORROW – 7/10
Southampton metalcore outfit Bury Tomorrow have become a pretty constant act at Download throughout their career, and they’re improving every single time they turn up. Today they’re playing an earlier slot in the day than they normally would have due to the extra-long Guns N’ Roses set later, which singer Dani Winter-Bates mentions a few times with his tongue firmly in his cheek. ‘Man On Fire’ is a great choice of opener and entices a mosh pit early on, but it’s the ‘Earthbound’ material that seems to have elevated Bury Tomorrow to a perfect fit for Download today, and they’re now looking at a fan base of all ages.
Dani loves his time speaking to the crowd, and he uses his time to explain his gratitude to the onlooking faithful and how being with them means more than any back stage pass ever could. ‘Black Flame’ now finishes the set as they prepare for a full album cycle to kick off, and they’re sure to conquer more and more over the next two years with their perfect combination of a hard-working and authentic mentality, and killer heavy riffs. [MH]
BABYMETAL – 8/10
Long gone are the days where Babymetal were an internet fad and Download booker Andy Copping said that he would never book them… the kawaii metal band are now a huge sell around the globe having played some of the biggest stages, and with that deserve their slot sub-headlining the second stage. Always with the theatrics, it seems like an age before anything happens, but after the normal Fox God reminder at the beginning, the band begin with ‘In The Name Of’ until Su-metal and Moametal appear from the back wearing pharaoh gold and black costumes reminiscent of the baddies from Power Rangers. Yuimetal is inexplicably missing but is replaced with two backup dancers that work well to compliment the two vocalists throughout the set.
As the instrumental finishes, the most viable to sing-along to ‘Megitsune’ plays to a roar of approval from what is easily the biggest crowd that the stage has all weekend before the original ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’ continues the bangers. When the girls remove their headdresses, you can see that they’ve grown up and got badass. They’re cool, confident rock stars now, and when they’re smashing out new tracks like ‘Distortion’ there really is no sign of this going away. The band sound as heavy and as tight as ever and entice the crowd into kitsune hand signs at their own will. This isn’t just a band, this is a global cult. [MH]
PARKWAY DRIVE – 8/10
Australian metalcore legends Parkway Drive have made their way to the top of the ladder for the first time at Donington Park, and now headlining the second stage following the success of their genre alteration to full blown heavy metal. The change between ‘Ire’ and ‘Reverence’ is even more evident in the live show, with the full majority coming from the last two records. ‘Wishing Wells’ and the somewhat Pirates Of The Caribbean influenced ‘Prey’ lead us into the fire fueled set, and the best of the new singles ‘The Void’ is the most entertaining of the lot, which sees drummer Gaz Gordon spinning in his hamster wheel drums whilst Winston McCall feeds the crowd from the palm of his hand.
Oldie ‘Karma’ doesn’t get the same reaction as the newer, chuggier material, and it doesn’t take too long at all to see why Parkway Drive are sticking to their new persona. Too many of the new songs have McCall whispering/speaking to the crowd, and even has live requests embedded within the lyrics; the ‘Writings On The Wall’ chorus states “Put your hands up”, and even set closer ‘Bottom Feeder’ has a mosh call in the breakdown telling the listener to “Snap your neck to this.” Parkway Drive have essentially dumbed down their music to become more palatable to a larger audience, and that primary audience is Download Festival.
The perfect part of their new style is that they’re such a good live band that they easily wipe the floor with their contemporaries of Amon Amarth, Kreator, and the rest of them so they will keep chug, chug, chugging their way to the top of the main stage over the next few years. What does leave a bad taste is the last and loudest bang at the end triggers a massive advert for their new tour to appear hanging in front of the stage for everyone to read as they leave the area. You can smell the corporate input from a mile away. [MH]
THE AVALANCHE STAGE:
THE BOTTOM LINE – 6/10
London upstarts The Bottom Line have the unenviable slot of opening one of the smaller stages on a Saturday morning, but a fairly sizeable crowd have braved the hangovers to make it down. Grinning from ear to ear, frontman Cal Amies leads them through a set of good old fashioned New Found Glory style pop-punk bangers, and by the time set closer ‘I Still Hate You’ kicks in they’ve got the whole tent singing along. Occasionally, it feels a bit dated – no-one plays their guitar behind their heads anymore, lads – but it’s a promising and enjoyable start to the day. [LC]
TIGRESS – 6/10
Up next are Essex alternative rockers Tigress, who with their new ‘Who Cares’ EP freshly in tow waste no time trying to win over new fans. “Who wants a free t-shirt?!” cries vocalist Katy Jackson, flinging merch into the eager crowd. They power through new material, like the grungy ‘Over Your Love’ and moody slowie ‘Hangman’. Jackson has some seriously powerful pipes, and there’s some groovy leads from guitarist Tom Harrison, but sadly there’s nothing particularly memorable. A solid performance without a doubt, but Tigress will need a little bit more bite in their live shows if they want to stand out from their peers. [LC]
WSTR – 6/10
Liverpool fourpiece WSTR don’t do vowels – but what they do do is bouncy and lively pop-punk, which they jump straight into with the punchy ‘Lonely Smiles’. Zeal and energy abound as Sammy Clifford, Tom Hawkes, and Alex Tobijanski leap about the stage, and a good number of crowd surfers seem desperate to grab a piece of the action as well. Whilst the likes of ‘Footprints’ and ‘Bad To The Bone’ are certainly good fun, it’s honestly difficult to tell WSTR apart from the dozens of other bands that sound… well, exactly the same. In terms of sheer enthusiasm, however, they’re a cut above. [LC]
THE FAIM – 8/10
Adding to the long list of Australian bands dominating the scene currently, Perth’s The Faim are possibly one of the poppiest bands on the line-up. Don’t let that put you off though – these guys have been working with the likes of Pete Wentz and Mark Hoppus, and know how to write a damn good rock song. Despite having only released a handful of tracks, they steam through a setlist full of upcoming material that proves there’s a lot to look forward to.
Frontman Josh Raven oozes stage presence, and his vocals shine on ballad ‘Make Believe’, but it’s set closer ‘Saints Of The Sinners’ that really stands out; a high energy crowd pleaser reminiscent of Panic! At the Disco. Ones to watch. [LC]
ROLO TOMASSI – 10/10
With a career spanning thirteen years, Rolo Tomassi seem to have finally hit their peak having released their most recent album ‘Love Will Die and Time Will Bury It’ to rave reviews from just about everyone. Fronted by the spellbinding Eva Spence, who almost looks too dainty and pixie-like to posses the brutal scream that she does, the band plunge straight into a setlist consisting largely of new material, which sounds nothing short of colossal. Keyboardist James Spence also shares vocal duties with sister Eva, the latter of whom possesses soaring cleans in addition to screams, showcased perfectly on the melodic ‘Aftermath’. ‘Alma Mater’ is a discursive riot more reminiscent of old school Rolo, and the shimmering synth on the epic ‘A Flood Of Light’ is coupled with Eva’s haunting vocals in a truly breathtaking crescendo. Stunning. [LC]
THE FEVER 333 – 10/10
There’s a buzz in the air for The Fever 333’s very late addition to the line-up, and for what will be their first ever UK performance. A large white sheet ominously hangs in front of the stage with old news bulletins of far-right movements projected onto it; cue Jason Butler who walks in front of the makeshift screen and stands still with a black bag covering his head. The sheet drops to reveal ten other people standing stationary with bags over the head, each with one fist raised to the sky. Butler makes a dash for it to grab a microphone and heads straight into ‘Burn It’, which involves the singer running all over the place and immediately kicking through a mic stand. In fact, the energy is high throughout, with Stevis Harrison covering any ground left untouched by the eccentric vocalist who has the microphone taped to his face during ‘Made An America’.
The Fever 333 have plenty to say and hit it home with their attitude, but it’s the authenticity and passion behind what they’re saying that makes it feel like you’re a part of their movement. The band have massive, massive shoes to fill to rival the quality that letlive. brought to the table, but on this showing you wouldn’t bet against them doing it. Butler still has the same hunger that he did with his old band and has every pair of eyes inside the tent glued to him at all times, from when he’s singing the hook to ‘Walking In My Shoes’ up until the closing moments when he’s climbing the stage structures. He’s one of the best of this generation, and we should all be excited for whatever project he is putting his energy into. [MH]
BEING AS AN OCEAN – 7/10
The Fever 333 are a tough act to follow, but California’s melodic hardcore four-piece Being As An Ocean are up for the challenge. Regulars on the Warped Tour, they’re no stranger to festival crowds, and it shows as they take the stage with aplomb for melancholic opener, ‘OK’. A swarm of fans reach for frontman Joel Quartuccio during the huge chorus of ‘Dissolve’, as he alternates between spoken word style vocals in the verses. The set consists almost entirely of tracks from latest record ‘Waiting for Morning To Come’, with the exception of fan favourite ‘The Hardest Part Is Forgetting Those You Swore You’d Never Forget’, which sees the crowd erupt. A strong set from one of the genre’s front runners. [LC]
NECK DEEP – 7/10
If seven minute guitar solos aren’t really your bag, then Neck Deep might be an attractive alternative to Guns N’ Roses on the main stage. At the very least, you have to hand it to them for having a sense of humour about the whole thing. Coming out to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and a mock up of the GNR logo as their backdrop, the band come out beaming, with vocalist Ben Barlow joking, “We thought there’d be no one here!”. The crowd are quick to quash those fears, however, with massive sing-alongs to the likes of ‘Gold Steps’ and ‘Motion Sickness’.
A full band version of ‘December’ is a welcome surprise, considering the song’s soft acoustic roots, (“We weren’t going to play this one!”, declares Barlow), but emotions really run high during an angsty rendition of ‘In Bloom’. As the entire tent starts pogoing for ‘Can’t Kick Up The Roots’, Neck Deep show off what they do best – having a good time. And hey, it has to be more fun than 15 minutes of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, right? [LC]
HIGHER POWER – 8/10
Higher Power are the rising starts of British hardcore, and you can see the respect from their peers as the sides of the stage are packed with fans to see the energetic lads let rip. The band aren’t big talkers and quickly smash through a host of songs from their sole record, ‘Soul Structure’, showing why they’re creeping up on tours with Every Time I Die and Comeback Kid. The rhythm section are tight as hell and conjure up some absolutely filthy riffs that form the backbone of every one of the songs that Higher Power play. Ones to watch, that’s for sure. [MH]
SLEEP TOKEN – 8/10
Mysterious masked weirdos Sleep Token have been described as Bon Iver meets Meshuggah. Frankly, it’s a pretty apt description, and the result is mesmerising. Hefty, thudding breakdowns collide with delicate falsetto from the vocalist known only as Vessel. The likes of ‘Jericho’ start out with nimble, jazzy keys, alongside wispy vocals from Vessel, only to descend into glorious, unrestrained chaos.
With only a small arsenal of songs to their name, it’s a short set, but it’s enough to make their mark. Who actually are Sleep Token? We’re not sure, but what we do know is that they’re bloody brilliant. [LC]
SHVPES – 5/10
Metalcore is dying out, and that’s mainly because there’s a stale influx of new acts coming through time and time again. There’s not really anything wrong with SHVPES, and they’re relatively interesting within this live environment, but it’s just metalcore for the masses full with nice breakdowns, woahs in all the right places, and painfully saccharine choruses. Griffin Dickinson confidently takes ownership of the stage and all activities in the Dogtooth tent, which one would assume is chaperoning bassist Grant Knight who’s wearing a prison jumpsuit. ‘Shapes’ is an okay end to an okay set from the Birmingham band, but it’s hard to get much more excited than that. [MH]
KNOCKED LOOSE – 7/10
Knocked Loose must be the biggest and best breakthrough band in hardcore over the last couple of years, with their disgustingly sludgy beatdown hardcore album ‘Laugh Tracks’ scooping in the fans with ease. “For the next half an hour, you are mine!”, screams Bryan Garris to a tent of people that have already started a mosh pit before the action on stage has begun.
The Kentucky punks are the modern masters at hardcore; ‘Billy No Mates’ fits their pattern perfectly as it gradually builds up to a mosh call at the end, and everyone waits for Garris to shout “But I’ll never call your fucking name” before replying “ANGUISH!” at the top of their lungs. The carnage cannot be stopped with ‘Oblivion’s Peak’ and ‘Counting Worms’ sounding particularly brutal, but ‘All My Friends’ has the tent poles shaking in fear and concludes the set with the perfect example of a slow-tempo breakdown. [MH]
THY ART IS MURDER – 7/10
It’s time to get heavy – deathcore legends Thy Art Is Murder are back at Download, this time taking over the tiny Dogtooth tent, which is full to bursting by the time the band take the stage to the thundering rampage of ‘Dear Desolation’. CJ McMahon’s trademark blistering screams are on form, particularly on the savage ‘The Purest Strain Of Hate’.
This band are truly impressive musicians; resident riff master Andy Marsh turns in a spectacular performance, whilst drummer Lee Stanton is nothing short of a machine. An impromptu cover of Rammstein’s ‘Du Hast’ sends the crowd into a frenzy, before the raging ‘Reign Of Darkness’ brings the set to a close. Brutal. [LC]
Written by Mike Heath [MH] and Lottie Cook [LC].