After months of hype and discussion, a sea of rock and metal fans arrived at Donington for the annual Download Festival. When we weren’t powering through the mud or being busy in the press room, we headed out to see a plethora of bands.
Friday 10th June
Friday afternoon’s sunny main stage was greeted with the nostalgic chimes of Alien Ant Farm’s nu metal rage. With a dwindling crowd, however, it’s clear the numbers are only here for one iconic song. Sometime hit ‘Movies’ strikes a decent chord as frontman Dryden Mitchell receives a rather warm welcome from the dedicated fans at the barrier. Closing on the timelessly contagious cover of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’, the Download crowd responds with glee and appropriate dance moves. While not as sonically tight as on record, Alien Ant Farm are a nice flashback for Friday. (3/5) (AC)
Photo credit: Kennerdeigh Scott
With grey clouds dominating ahead, the Maverick tent seemed like an ideal place to take cover, where London up-and-comers Puppy are taking advantage of the first drops of rain of the weekend as they pull in a impressive crowd. With their interesting blend of Weezer-esque melodies and Maiden-like riffs, they put a good account of themselves. ‘The Great Beyond’ and ‘Waste Away’ sees them going back and forth from scaling riffs and hi-pitched harmonies. Probably not the most “metal” band to kick things off, but with Jock Norton bringing plenty of riffs to the occasion, they show plenty of promise. (3/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
Surprisingly this is ZOAX’s third time at Download, yet it shows as Adam Carroll works the crowd in his ever charismatic way, all the while his bands produce an urgent brand of hard rock. ‘Roses All The Way’ envelopes the tent with its big chorus and rushing guitar. Whilst ‘The Wave’ allows Carroll to show his impressive vocal chops before ‘The Devil Dance’ brings a party atmosphere to proceedings. ZOAX continue to be one of the UK’s under-appreciated new rock bands. (3.5/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
Whilst a downpour has led to Babymetal being delayed, HECK aren’t holding back. Always scrappy and frantic, the Nottingham quartet are reckless yet satisfying with guitarist Matt Reynolds quick to explore the packed out tent. Through the thick, bombastic blasts and soaring screams, the Nottingham quartet are on hand to deliver an experience that defines rock ‘n’ roll in it’s rawest form. With no disregard for their own safety, Heck show why they’re still an exhilarating live act despite a lack of progression. (3/5) (SR)
Photo by Dana Distortion, © Amuse Inc.
Despite a late appearance on stage as a result of the sudden weather change, Japanese metal novelties Babymetal graced the Lemmy stage with a set packed with choreography to incomprehensibly heavy instrumentals. Opening on ‘Babymetal Death’, it’s clear the Donington crowds have waited impatiently for the band’s arrival since their low-key Dragonforce guest slot last year. ‘Gimme Chocolate!!’ makes for an incredible singalong throughout the drenched Downloaders and it’s not long before eldest member Su-metal signals a request for a circle pit – a large one, at that. As her demand is met with eagerness, ‘Road of Resistance’ bellows its metal lungs out to prove that a little bit of rain never hurt these festivalgoers and their eastern visitors. (4/5) (AC)
Photo credit: Matt Eachus
As leaders of modern metalcore Killswitch Engage proved to be on form on the Lemmy stage. With a pulsating mix of old and new material, the Massachusetts five-piece embrace their return to Donington with full conviction. Jesse Leach is flawless as he displays vicious screams and soaring melodies, whilst guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz is on hand to bring a plethora of powerful riffs, as well as amusing, and at times, distasteful stage banter. (3.5/5) (SR)
True to the stage name, Lemmy Kilmister is remembered with sombre reverence with a 40-minute tribute video. As an ace of spades balloon is released from behind the scenes, clips of Motorhead’s last appearance at Download 2013 are played to rapturous applause from the present numbers. Segments of interviews with Lemmy’s metal compatriots play out their memories of the frontman, including Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Queen’s Brian May. With laughs and tears in equal measure, Lemmy’s son Paul makes a particularly heart-wrenching dedication to his father’s love of Jack Daniels, hard drugs and loose women. To the tune of their last ever performance in Germany before Lemmy’s untimely death in December, the Motörhead rebel was given a Donington farewell worthy of a legend. (4.5/5) (AC)
Nu metal royalty Korn confidently take to the stage after 3 years absence as if they’d never left. Fronted by Jonathan Davis’ powerful command that rarely ever fails, this Download set pays homage to the greatest hits of the band’s phenomenal back catalogue. Opening with ‘Right Now’, it’s clear that the line-up is as comfortable as ever, performing so true to track that it’d be difficult to tell the difference. Punching through ‘Shoots and Ladders’ and ‘Blind’, the dull weather doesn’t seem to put off the diehards as nostalgia hits like a shovel to the face. Davis’ vocals prove to be outstanding throughout fan favourites ‘Got The Life’ and ‘Freak On A Leash’, which would happily suggest to the present numbers that these classic icons are going nowhere. (4.5/5) (AC)
Whilst there was some hesitation to how Glassjaw would be in a slot in between The Amity Affliction and Twin Atlantic, the Long Island group provide an impressive set dominated by Justin Beck’s scaling guitars and an underlying groove, courtesy of their rhythm section of bassit Travis Sykes and drummer Chad Hasty. With highlights coming in the form of ‘Ape Dos Mil’ and ‘Shira’, vocalist Daryl Palumbo blares out each word with confidence, even if there a lack of atmosphere within the second stage crowd. Undoubtedly, Glassjaw are more at home in an intimate setting yet tonight they do their best to leave a good impression. (3.5/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Jen O’Neill
Armed to the teeth with pyro and metal structures beyond all comprehension, Rammstein make their triumphant headlining return to Friday’s Lemmy stage. Their usual vaudeville theatrics include frontman Till Lindemann’s costume changes from rags to ridiculous, keyboardist Flake’s now traditional treadmill and fire-breathing guitars – just your average Friday night then.
Storming anthems ‘Du Riechst So Gut’ and ‘Du Hast’ blast the living daylights out of Donington with as much fire and brimstone as possible, but ‘Feuer Frei!’ and ‘Ich Will’ strike a few bum notes as sound quality falls out of line and crackles incessantly. It’s clear throughout that something isn’t right for the German icons and at times the band appear vividly concerned – none of these failures are their fault but they certainly let them down. Closing on Till’s heaven-sent performance of ‘Engel’ attached to mechanical and explosive wings, this set is missing the usual incendiary sparkle attributed to the metal legends. Whether it’s the rain, the confusing setlist or the audible niggles throughout, Rammstein haven’t hit all the right notes but they’ve tried their utmost to overcome them. (3/5) (AC)
Saturday 11th June
Saturday’s Lemmy stage is opened masterfully by a now typically insane performance from Avatar. Frontman Johannes Eckerstrom commands the increasing crowd with his stage persona, filled with haunting cackles and his trademark vaudeville hand gestures. Opening enthusiastically with ‘For The Swarm’ and bursting into ‘Paint Me Red’, the outfit seem confidently proud to hit the Download stage with their circus-inspired stage show. Closing fittingly on ‘Smells Like A Freakshow’, their set is over all too soon but the passion with which they deliver is enough to set the tempo for the rest of the day. (4/5) (AC)
Having made the jump from third to main in the space of a year, Beartooth have a lot to prove. Nevertheless, they don’t hold back as they deliver a rapid hat-trick of mosh-made jams; ‘The Lines’, ‘Aggressive’ and ‘Hated’. Caleb Shomo’s presence is commanding as he controls a sea of people throughout, even at midday. Add to that synchronised head-banging and ideally muddy riffs, and you’re left with a band who have solidified their place as the up-and-coming hard rock band. (4/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Kennerdeigh Scott
Have you got up on the ‘Right Side Of The Bed’? Metalcore heavies Atreyu blast onto Saturday’s Lemmy stage with an eclectic mix of their hits to celebrate their return from hiatus last year. New tracks ‘Long Live’ and ‘Do You Know Who You Are?’ are met with an incredible audience response, suggesting their dedicated fanbase still have a soft spot for the OC outfit. ‘Lip Gloss and Black’ and ‘Ex’s and Oh’s’ provoke incredible scream-alongs from the present fans, but somehow it’s their now traditional cover of Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ that steals the show. It’s an honour to have Atreyu back on festival line-ups and long may this return continue. (4/5) (AC)
With a growing set of noteworthy songs, you would think 30 minutes isn’t enough for Bury Tomorrow. However, they make the most of their time on the second stage with a fine display of metalcore. With Architects having to unfortunately pull out, Bury Tomorrow make up for their absence through their endless energy, onslaught of riffs and blastbeats. Their set is made up of heavy anthemic numbers, with new cuts such as ‘Memories’ and ‘Last Light’ being welcomed alongside older tracks like ‘Lionheart’. As a collective, the quintet show presence on the big stage with vocalist Dani Winter-Bates especially looking at ease. (4/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Jen O’Neill
Megadeth festival slots are always dependent on what side of the bed Dave Mustaine emerges. Luckily for Download 2016, it’s by far the best side as the frontman puts his all into every note, from the timeless ‘Sweating Bullets’ to the catchy ‘She-Wolf’. Even new tracks ‘The Threat Is Real’ and ‘Dystopia’ prove jam-packed with gorgeous energetic riffs to hold back the inevitable festival rain. Welcoming Nikki Sixx on stage for a rendition of Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’ flaunts itself as a fantastic move for this set, and of course the now traditional closer ‘Holy Wars’ ends proceedings on an unexpectedly impressive set. This is Megadeth, and if you didn’t like them before this Download appearance, you certainly should now. (5/5) (AC)
Photo credit: Jen O’Neill
Having “owned” Wembley Arena just over a week ago, Deftones’ return to Donington was welcomed with heightened expectation. Nevertheless, they don’t hesitate and deliver a sea of “hits”. ‘My Own Summer (Shove It)’, ‘Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)’, and ‘Swerve City’ are delivered in quick succession. All the while Chino Moreno is animated, bellowing out melodies and screams effortlessly, with Steph Carpenter bringing a domineering display on guitar. Like we said in our preview, if there was a band that should be labelled as “future headliners” then Deftones prove they are that band. A career-stretching set wrapped in a satisfying wall of sound. (5/5) (SR)
Rain never stops the Welsh badboys Skindred from putting on a fantastic show for a traditionally huge crowd to the Zippo Encore stage. New tracks ‘Under Attack’ and ‘Sound the Siren’ fit perfectly into a heart-stopping set fronted by the sheer unadulterated charisma of Benji Webbe, and even the odd soundbite of Justin Bieber doesn’t put off the punters despite the torrential downpour throughout their stage time. Paying reverent tribute to the losses of musical icons Lemmy, Bowie and Prince, Benji leads the crowd in a poignant memorial soon blasted away by the familiar notes of ‘Kill The Power’ and the now customary Newport helicopter through ‘Warning’. Download just isn’t Download without Skindred, and it’s always worth braving the elements to catch their captivating set. (4.5/5) (AC)
Photo credit: Ben Gibson
Beyond a visually stunning intro video paying respect to their Birmingham roots, the demon rises from the steelworks as heavy metal idols Black Sabbath take to the Download stage for the first time in four years. Accompanied by psychedelic camera effects to reflect the changes since this band began all those years ago, Osbourne, Iommi and Butler are heralded by an overwhelming crowd response for an appearance that will signal the beginning of the end for them. As the bell tolls for the inimitable ‘Black Sabbath’, Ozzy’s vocals sound more content and composed, breaking into ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ just like old times.
While the Donington rain batters the crowds into submission, ‘War Pigs’ and ‘N.I.B’ set the devastating scene for the two most memorable moments of their career – ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ are conveyed with as much fervour on stage as the fans’ melodic cries back to them. While not the most memorable of Sabbath sets given ‘After Forever’ falls pretty much on deaf ears, this is of course the end of an era and an emotional return for a band that perhaps nobody ever expected to return in the first place. (4/5) (AC)
Sunday 12th June
With the heavy rain unfortunately putting a damper on the weekend, along with a somewhat unappealing line-up, our final day doesn’t truly kick-off until the mid-afternoon as a visit to the fourth stage tent sees us be acquainted by Exeter indie punks Muncie Girls. Undoubtely not be the most “metal” band on offer, that doesn’t stop them from putting on a solid set of blissful indie punk. With a mixture of older cuts alongside songs from their favourable debut LP ‘From Caplan To Belsize’, Lande Hekt and company are humble by the admirable turn out. ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Gas Mark 4’ are delivered with heart. Whilst ‘Learn In School’ is complimented by Hekt’s impassioned and encouraging comments about the UK staying in the European Union. Overall, they’re a plesant alternative to array of riffs and scream merchants that have dominated the festival site this weekend. (3.5/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Derek Bremmer
Whether it’s the miserable conditions or general interest, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes has the Maverick tent crowd spilling out. Donning in a floral-patterned suit, Carter is charasmatic as ever as he and his bandmates play through a rugged set of hardcore punk, whilst new single ‘Snake Eyes’ roars with pride and conviction. ‘Jackals’ is momentarily stopped as Carter encourages a tent-busting circle pit, per upsetting the health and safety folk. Nevertheless, the compelling ‘I Hate You’ rounds off their time with fierce passion. (3.5/5) (SR)
Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
Disturbed present themselves to the Lemmy stage at first with a rather underwhelming opening. ‘Ten Thousand Fists’ and ‘Stupify’ admittedly don’t sound as punchy as on record, but the second their iconic cover of ‘The Sound of Silence’ kicks in, the crowd falls hushed in reverence. David Draiman’s haunting notes swirl across the arena and earn a rapturous appreciation from the present numbers, as if Disturbed have changed their fortunes with their last album ‘Immortalized’.
Unexpected collaborations fill their set as Lzzy Hale joins for a rendition of U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, while Blaze Bayley graces the stage for a cover of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’, and ‘Killing In The Name’ echoes its way around the Donington arena thanks to Breaking Benjamin’s frontman Benjamin Burnley. From a set that at first feels forced, the motions sweep Disturbed towards an iconic set that witnesses will not be forgetting in a hurry. (4.5/5) (AC)
Photo credit: Ross Silcocks
Continuing their phenomenal ’Book Of Souls’ tour as the final act to hit the Download 2016 stage, Iron Maiden ensure no other performances clash with their Donington farewell. The stage is set with Mayan ruins and an epic intro video drops the crowd in the middle of the rainforest, as the familiar opening notes of ‘Doctor Doctor’ play the heavy metal giants to the stage. New tracks ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ and ‘Speed Of Light’ receive as rapturous a response from the crowd as epic classics ‘The Red and the Black’ and ‘Fear of the Dark’. Performed with the utmost expertise expected from them, ‘The Trooper’ storms its way through the present numbers and ‘Iron Maiden’ establishes the outfit’s resounding success as a concrete name in the hallowed halls of heavy metal.
If there’s one band that can headline Download with the right atmosphere, charisma and crowd energising set, it’s Iron Maiden. Paying homage to Robin Williams with ‘Tears of a Clown’, dedicating ‘Blood Brothers’ to the victims of the Bataclan attack last year and closing on a moving rendition of ‘Wasted Years’, there’s not a dry in the field as Iron Maiden pull the curtain on a Download that will go down not only as the wettest but as one of the most profound. (5/5) (AC)
Overall, Download 2016 offered a lot but didn’t quite fulfil it’s potential. With occasional questionable sound quality issues, a lack of truly career-defining sets, recycled headliners and, of course, the difficulity of getting around the swamp-like site, has left us with mixed thoughts. When it was great, it was perfect and when it lacked that something special, you certainly noticed it.
View more of Already Heard’s coverage of Download Festival 2016 here.
Words by Sêan Reid (SR) and Ali Cooper (AC)