The week preceding the UK’s biggest Rock and Metal music festival, Download, did not look good. The non-stop rain was scheduled to continue all through the weekend, and even though it was surprisingly sunny in parts (especially in the Sunday), the damage from throughout the week had already taken its toll on Donington Park, with the mud being as sloppy as ever, especially for those campers who moved in on the Wednesday. While many reports have given it the dreaded “Drownload” title originally given to the unholy conditions seen in 2016, it was nowhere near as bad, and thanks to improvements in irrigation and an abundance of straw, it was manageable. Despite all of this, the spirit of the Metal community remained high as they prepared for a killer line-up.
The Friday mainstage was headlined by the triple threat of 80s Glam nostalgia of Whitesnake, Slash and headliners Def Leppard, who were celebrating their 1987 classic Hysteria album by playing it in its entirety along with other hits.
Whilst that isn’t every Metalhead’s cup of tea, the other stages had some killer alternatives, most notably Rob Zombie, who headlined the second stage. The former White Zombie frontman and his band of merry men, including guitar virtuoso John 5, put on an absolute show with their brand of Groove-tastic Industrial Horror Metal that would give Alice Cooper a run for his money, performing classics such as Thunder Kiss ’65 and More Human Than Human, and even a rendition of The Ramones’ Blitzkreig Bop. Another Friday highlight was Swedish Prog/Death Metal legends Opeth. Singer Mikael Åkerfeldt brought his usual stage banter, quipping about how the band could only play about five songs due to their over-the-top progginess and telling stories of dancing with the ‘blonde singer from ABBA’ – “She looked good. She felt good too.”
Clutch were also a standout, bringing their bluesy southern-fired boogie rock to the mainstage with songs like Electric Worry. Whilst Def Leppard headlined the mainstage, Swedish Melo-Death pioneers At the Gates closed out the Dogtooth Stage, playing tracks from their classic Slaughter of the Soul album and from their acclaimed release To Drink from the Night Itself album from last year.
Not only did the festival offer music, but the recent tradition of having WWE NXT live wrestling shows continued this year with appearances from Adam Cole, Pete Dunne and Matt Riddle, further building the relationship between the wrestling and Metal communities, whilst also offering a nice alternative.
The Saturday kicked off with bands like Texas Thrashers Power Trip, the uber-technical instrumentalists Animals as Leaders and Blackened Death Metal superstars Behemoth, who proved the strength and popularity of Extreme Metal with their powerful limelight mainstage performance filled with corpse paint and fire. Other highlights included Liverpool’s second most influential band, the Death Metal innovators Carcass, with classic songs from their critically acclaimed Heartwork album from 1994 and their more recently successful comeback album Surgical Steel. The band even revealed that they have finished recording their new album which should be out later this year. Welsh Reggae-infused Nu Metallers Skindred, possibly the ultimate festival band, brought their party (and unfortunately the worst rain of the weekend) with them. However, despite the weather, people still took their coats and shirts off for the infamous Newport Helicopter.
When looking at the Saturday line-up, there is one name that stands out, not only because they are very much not a Metal group, but because of how high they are on the bill despite this. South-African Rave-Rap group Die Antwoord are the last thing one would expect to see at Download, but here they are only one spot away from headlining. Even the band themselves seemed surprised, with Ninja asking, “why the fuck are we here?”. Then came the much-anticipated return of headliners, the masked nu metal kings, Slipknot, who absolutely tore the house down. The band played new tracks like Unsainted and All Out Life in preparation for their upcoming album, We Are Not Your Kind.
The Sunday definitely had the most offer with its laundry list of big-name bands, which unfortunately led to some tough decision making when they clashed. Slayer or Tool? Smashing Pumpkins or Dream Theater? Lamb of God or Anthrax?
The day started off with bands like Godsmack wowing fans with their chugging riffs and sing-along choruses, and singer Sully Erna even whipped out a second drumkit to burst into a bongo jam-sesh before going into a full-blown drum-off with drummer Shannon Larkin. Then came beer-drinking Viking Metallers Amon Amarth, who were baffled by the crowd’s devotion to epic Viking rowing pits despite the mud.
Whilst Dream Theater somewhat failed to keep fans interested with their technically proficient yet slightly tedious Prog-Metal, Anthrax did the complete opposite, playing hit after hit of old school Thrash Metal, reminiscing of the old Monsters of Rock Festival days. Although the highlight of the night, and the whole weekend, came from their big 4 brothers, Thrash Metal overlords, Slayer, whose performance would be their last ever in the UK. Whilst somewhat bittersweet, it was a triumphant last show. After playing more modern tracks such as God Hates Us All and Repentless, the final 30 minutes was Thrash perfection, playing absolute classic song one after the other creating some of the biggest mosh-pits of the entire weekend. Instead of giving a soppy goodbye speech, Slayer’s farewell was left unsaid, they simply soaked it all as everyone knew this would be the last time.
To finish off the weekend, the mighty Tool made their highly anticipated return to the UK after 13 years with their polyrhythmic prog and hypnotic visuals churning out classic tracks such as Schism, The Pot and Stinkfist.
What a jam-packed weekend.