Like it or not, the British summer weather is part and parcel of the festival experience and at the end of the day, it’s the music that matters. So, we’re not going to get bogged down in the muddy conditions that others have honed in. As we said, the thousands in attendance at Download Festival 2019 were in good spirits and here for three days to celebrate all things rock, metal, punk and beyond.
On paper, Friday didn’t hold much promise with the main stage heavily leaning on classic rock, whereas the Avalanche stage had a favourable ska-punk flavour. Yet there were a handful of noteworthy sets that made up for the somewhat uninspiring billing.
Nevertheless, after trudging up the hill at Castle Donington, finding Skid Row (2/5) gracing the Zippo Encore Stage didn’t make for a promising start. On a day where you had the likes of Def Leppard and Whitesnake on the main stage, Skid Row could be forgiven for getting lost in the shuffle. Classic hair metal riffs and vocals that didn’t bring about any major excitement.
In stark comparison, Kvelertak (5/5) stood out greater than their placing on the second stage. The Norwegian six-piece made full use of the stage, with the three guitarists throwing their instruments high into the air then continuing to sherd and pitch-perfect solo. And to make the occasion that little bit more special for the band it was vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen’s birthday.
On the Dogtooth stage, the gates of hell opened as midlands natives Conjurer (4.5/5) showed why they are one of the most exciting bands in the UK right now. The dual assault of Brady Deprose and Dan Nightingale’s vocals is ferocious, weaved into down-tuned riffs that make it sound like wading through the Download mud would be an easy task. Even though the four-piece have gained a reputation in the UK scene, this felt like them announcing themselves to the metal world.
Fresh off the back of a successful outing at Slam Dunk, The Interrupters (4/5) showed that ska punk had its place at Download. With highlights from all three of their albums, the L.A. quartet provided a fun, upbeat set that captured the united oi! punk spirit. Aimee Interrupter’s raspy vocals shine throughout, while guitarist Kevin Bivona serves as the playful leader with snippets of Metallica, Rancid and Green Day.
If Friday was a day for nostalgia, then Whitesnake (3/5) were just the ticket. For a band that has been going since 1978, there were no signs of showing their age. Guitarists Reb Beach and Joel Hoekstra both had their opportunity to showcase their talents with an axe. But the highlight was drummer Tommy Aldridge’s insane solo where he threw his sticks away and continued on using just his hands before launching into the bands next song.
Although The Interrupters pulled in an impressive crowd in the Avalanche stage, Reel Big Fish (3.5/5) were always going to be a bigger draw. Having been standouts in the ska-punk scene for years, know what a festival crowd wants and they duly delivered. The mix of tongue-in-cheek humour, rich brass instrumentation and undeniably catchy songs made for a winning combination that had the packed out tent dancing and skanking away with longtime hits ‘Sell Out’, ‘Beer’ and their legendary cover of ‘Take On Me’ proving to be highlights.
Closing out the Zippo Encore stage on day one was Satan’s favourite cowboy Rob Zombie (3.5/5) . Before even stepping on stage, the big screen backdrop displayed a “greatest hits” of Zombie’s music videos before greeted by a rapturous roar by fans. As well as the elaborate wardrobe of Zombie and his crew, the visuals behind them almost acted as an aid to get the crowd singing along to songs like ‘Living Dead Girl’ and ‘More Human Than Human’.
During the set guitarist, John Five must have had at least six instrument changes and showcasing his technical prowess. Zombie himself had the Donington crowd eating out of his hands declaring he was there to party and busting out a cover of the Ramones’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop‘. In true rock and roll style, Zombie kept the crowd hanging on to the bitter end to close out the day with ‘Dragula’.
Although main stage headliners Def Leppard were rocking away, At The Gates (3.5/5) managed to pack out the Dogtooth stage tent. The death metal band from Gothenburg smashed through a blistering set with vocalist Tomas Lindberg commanding the crowd to do his bidding. With a vast back catalogue to choose from, the band delved deep into their bag of tricks playing a mixture of new and old material.
There was a cultural flavour to the start of Saturday as New Zealand three-piece Alien Weaponry (3/5) opened the main stage with their drummer Ethan Trembath coming out doing the Hakka. For a relatively young band, they oozed confidence and definitely woke up anyone that was nursing a Friday night hangover. Leaning heavily on their native roots, the band use Maori heritage laced vocals to fuel their aggressive sound.
Whether you consider them a novelty act or not, Elvana (3/5) certainly livened up the mood with an early afternoon slot on the Zippo Encore stage. With throes of people watching on, the “Disgraceland” based band put a fun, energetic spin on classic Nirvana songs with frontman Elvis Cobain fulfilling his role as the charismatic frontman.
Manchester quartet Hot Milk (3/5) seem to be on a mission to play every noteworthy festival going this summer. Their brand of pop-rock might be a bit too slick for some but in their short time together, it’s clear the vocal pairing of Jim Shaw and Han Mee can work their way around an insatiable hook. On the Avalanche stage, the pair showcase their ‘Are You Feeling Alive?’ EP admirably with Shaw’s smooth vocals proving to be a highlight.
In a change of pace, crossover thrash band Power Trip (4/5) were a band on a mission set to win over the crowd. Vocalist Riley Gale’s stage presence was infectious and was bleeding out into the crowd as a wave of spontaneous mud rows emerged in the bit. The five-piece brought dive bombs galore and had the crowd banging their heads and pumping their fists, with many people leaving the stage having discovered a diamond in the mud.
At Download the smaller stages are used at times as a place to give up and comers a platform, that was exactly what the Dogtooth stage did for Queen Zee (3/5). The Liverpool punk outfit may not by the stereotypical Download band but they showed they were there to kick ass. With hooky choruses and catchy riffs, there were people nodding along and having a dance along with the Queen.
If Queen Zee weren’t the usual Download offering, Behemoth (4/5) were. The Polish blackened death metal band brought riffs, theatrics and pyro, everything you could want from a metal festival. With the technicality of the music the band plays, it could easily get lost on the size of a main festival stage, but Adam “Nergal” Darski and co managed to pull it off.
For Trivium (2.5/5), returning to the Donington main stage was a celebration for the quartet, stating that Download was the festival that made them. In terms of hard work in the music scene, the band are very much deserving of their place on the main stage. However, there seemed to be something lacking in the band’s performance. And in comparison to some of the big hitters on the main stage today Matt Heafy’s vocals didn’t sound at their strongest. That being said the band managed to rile the Donington crowd into a circle pit frenzy.
Partway through The Wonder Years’ (4/5) set on Avalanche Stage, vocalist Dan Campbell states the band are only in the UK for thirty hours. Having landed in the morning, the Philadelphia band rip through an upbeat set of fan favourites. Although Campbell’s vocals showed fatigue early on, by the time they closed with ‘Came Out Swinging,’ he had their dedicated follow soaking up TWY‘s sincere and anthemic greatness.
While controversial South African rap is proving to be a draw on the main stage, the Dogtooth stage is treated to English grindcore in the form of Carcass (4/5). Despite numerous member changes and time away, the band proved why they are one of the pioneers of a genre. With blast beats at a premium, the band smashed through their headline set on the Dogtooth stage at full throttle.
Back at the Avalanche Stage, you have to wonder why Simple Creatures (3.5/5) are headlining a stage off the back of just one EP. Nevertheless, Mark Hoppus and Alex Gaskarth aren’t fazed by it. Throughout they exchange vocals and instruments while showcasing a set of annoyingly hooky songs. With a smattering of organic humour between the pairing, a commendable cover of ‘Personal Jesus’ and a cameo from a group of unicorns, Simple Creatures deliver a strong outing.
Closing proceedings at Donington once more was Iowa’s finest Slipknot (5/5). For many purists, the band are no longer the same entity they once were, with many original members no longer among the ranks. However, when you are able to play ‘People = Shit’, ‘(sic)’ and ‘Get This’ as your opening triplet of songs without a blink of an eye you are on to something special.
With a new look, it was still the same old Slipknot. Corey Taylor leading from the front with his loyal companions all showing why Slipknot are one of metal’s finest. The nine-piece managed to weave together fan favourites, with heavy hitters as well as new songs ‘Unsainted’ and ‘All Out Life’ getting huge reactions. And despite the mud, it wouldn’t be a Slipknot set if they hadn’t got the whole field jumping the fuck up to ‘Spit it Out’ before closing with “Download’s National Anthem” in ‘Surfacing’. If there were any doubters of why Slipknot was once again closing the main stage, then this performance blew them away.
Whether it’s suffering from fatigue, being hungover or a combination of both, Cane Hill’s (3/5) have a difficult task of opening the main stage. With a subdued, small crowd in attendance, the New Orleans band soldier on with their brand of wiry metal. Songs such as ‘Lord of Flies’, ‘It Follows’ and ‘Too Far Gone’ do stir up some members of the crowd, while frontman Elijah Witt rallies them to wake up albeit slightly unsuccessfully.
For a band that was synonymous with the sound of the early 2000s and built up a huge legacy, Underoath’s (2/5) comeback maybe hasn’t gone according to plan. With a set dominated with material from last year’s ‘Erase Me’, their [slight] stylistic departure leads to a frustrating main stage outing. It’s clear the masses wanted a blast from the past and despite ‘It’s Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door’ and ‘Writing on the Walls’ filling that void, it’s a disappointing set from the Florida group.
After having to, unfortunately, cancel some recent European dates, Black Peaks (4.5/5) seemed to be back to full strength with an outstanding half-hour on the Avalanche stage. The all too brief outing saw the Brighton quartet deliver a thunderous set with Joe Gosney’s dizzying guitar leads and Will Gardner’s scathing and harmonious vocals being complimented by roaring rhymic pairing of bassist Dave Larkin and drummer Liam Kearley. On top of that, the use of fire merely added to the impressionable set. Black Peaks continue to be one of the UK’s most exciting bands.
Ohio’s Beartooth (3/5) have a proven track record of delivering at Donington. With today being their third outing at Download, the quintet considerably play it safe, relying on single cuts and fan favourites with a varying degree of conviction. Sure, Caleb Shomo can pull off angst-driven vocals, it’s left to guitarist Zach Huston to deliver the soaring hooks. Nevertheless, they have plenty of satisfying mosh-ready to leave a positive footprint.
While some main stage bands failed to deliver what crowds expected, Lamb of God (3/5) certainly didn’t fall into that category as they brought about an onslaught of their back catalogue. With vocalist Randy Blythe running around the stage like he had been supercharged by the energizer bunny, the crowd responded with a sea of mosh pits and circle pits aplenty.
12 months from a chaotic Download debut, Fever 333‘s (3/5) return to the Avalanche stage proved to be in comparison somewhat underwhelming. Nevertheless, the trio don’t falter in delivering a captivating show with a three-way drumming solo, Jason Aalon Butler’s crowd surfing in a barrel, and impassioned speeches on the black and proud community and gender inequality. Proving to be more thought-provoking than disorderly, Fever 333 don’t quite fulfil our expectations.
If there was any sign of festival fatigue it could not be found on the Dogtooth stage as Municipal Waste (4.5/5) were not done partying. Thrash metals finest showed exactly why they are just that. Even though going at things full pace, the band just seem to emit a sense of fun like no other. Blasting through songs like ‘Sadistic Magician’ and ‘Beer Pressure’ they were the perfect appetiser before Slayer.
When it came to the aforementioned legends of thrash this was a bittersweet send-off for Slayer (4/5). Even before the four-piece stepped on a UK stage for the last time there were chants of “Slayer!” from the biggest crowd the Donington second stage has seen. Blasting into ‘Repentless’, ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’ and ‘World Painted Blood’ made an already muddy field a mass of mosh and mud. With flames, satanic symbolism and shredding this was classic Slayer. With a final run of songs of ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Black Magic’, ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and ‘Angel Of Death,’ the band have cemented their place in Download history.
Closing out the whole weekend and appearing at Download for the first time in 13 years was Tool (4/5). While the band may not be about chaos and mosh pits, Tool gave a cinematic experience to end the festival. Rather than using the main stages big screens to display the band on stage, Tool took the decision to project breath-taking visuals to accompany their progressive metal music.
Opening with ‘Ænema’ with water imagery was fitting as it was a theme throughout the weekend. Maynard James Keenan and co were flawless in their performance, with the vocalist voice sounding pitch perfect blasting across the thousands of spectators. Songs such as ‘Schism’ and ‘Part Of Me’ sounded massive, but it was the closer of ‘Stinkfist’ where all the elements which makes Tool so intriguing came to the forefront.
It can be argued that 2019’s lineup wasn’t the strongest. However, where it did succeed, Download Festival thrived. From fitting farewells to outstanding headline slots to noteworthy sets from emerging and reliable names, Donington’s annual gathering showed the festival’s future has a bright outlook.
Download Festival 2020 takes place at Donington Park from 12th – 14th June.
Tickets are available here.