It’s been a month or so since we all went back to the rigours of reality… sometimes it’s fortunate to be busy and delay the required. Now you too can reminisce with a skeleton guide to how a festival usually goes; Rock Sins style.
For the first time in (my) own Download history, I arrived a day later than the opening and a day after fellow rockers Jim and Steve. This was going to be the 10th Download in a row, and whilst I missed the festival in 2011, it was my 10th year at Donington following my presence at the last ever full Ozzfest in 2002.
Well, as usual we headed up and made our way to the first ‘pit-stop’ at the Donington Services. We honked and had honks directed to us from fellow festival goers and the excitement become stronger as we ebbed each metre closer to the event.
It was, at this point, still raining since it had started a day and a half previously. Not so much of a hinderence or concern when you’re based on concrete, but word and images had already filtered back to the Download Forums and various social mediums and, to be quite frank, the general mood was teetering between massive elation and a unmentioned-for-fear-of-jinxing fear that we were going to arrive to a muddy bomb-site and would have little or no respite from the elements for the next few days. The air was electric… and dis-heartedly moist.
Nevertheless, we made it through to the West Car Park in what can only be described as the most fortunate and clean run I’ve ever experienced in getting to ‘Base Camp Alpha’ (that is, where one parks the car) in my festival going history. We were on concrete and whilst the weather had by this point improved ever so slightly, the sky was black with patches of grey and charcoal.
Once ladened up with all the equipment (a re-assuring position considering the distance to the actual festivities) we waddled off in search of the Main Entrance. Some to-ing and fro-ing eventually brought us to the Shuttle Bus and, by another stroke of incredible fortune, we were able to be the ‘last on’ to the bus, equipment and booze n’all.
It should be mentioned now that the reason we had managed to bring all our gear with us in one run was a trolley. Now, for those who have experienced such a wheely-assist, this can go one of two ways (save, of course, for the quality of the trolley in the first place!). You can either find that, much like in a supermarket, the trolley serves as a clunky but manoeuvrable basket on wheels or it’s like trying to control a fridge whilst rolling it downhill.
Needless to say, the Weather Gods had plans for us and after 2 hours of wrestling the tent and beer ladened iron-nemesis through the dirtiest quagmire I have ever experienced, we managed to get within metres of our reserved spot (thanks to the tireless efforts of Jim, who should again be commended for his reasoning skills with Security who had initially, and understandably, refused us entry to the camp-site we had quite literally battered ourselves aiming for).
Once in place, the traditional festivities of generally getting ruined commenced and the rest of Thursday was spent sulking and moaning about the potential of a solid torrent of rain. By this point, the ground had swelled and warped so that the mud went well above the shins; the outlook for all was bleak…
But “To hell with it!” we proclaimed; tomorrow we see some bands. Bands and beer will always make it better!
Whilst tradition suggested that the day after the first night was spent sitting down laughing at all the strugglers who arrived that day, I had, as mentioned, arrived later today so my first full day was, well, the first full day. As we were fortunate to be doing Press for the festival, Jim and I departed from our group at the main arena entrance in search of the specialist entrance. Neither of us wished to jinx anything by mentioning the possibility that we were very shortly about to have the rug of excitement yanked beneath our muddy feet… but our fears were allayed when we found not only that the Press Box Office were aware and ready for us, but that the journey into the arena via our dedicated entrance, whilst some distance from the camp-site, was a breeze to sail through with minimal fuss and effort.
The weather had, by this point, still been rather crud. It had rained rather gently, yet perpetually, throughout the morning and whilst it had started to look better, the less said about the state of the ground the better… Nevertheless, duties and entertainment awaited and standing in the mud moaning would not have been an ideal way to spend the day. And not least as you almost certainly would have been swallowed whole by the Mud Gods…
We ventured out into the realms of VIP and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of facilities and were even more excited by the glorious covered bar that greeted us. Not only was the atmosphere inside friendly and reserved, it was warm, hospitable and easily the best place to shelter from any unwanted elements.
Now, those that know him closely will know that our Jim doesn’t really drink. But today, we had good reason and with the mightiest grins we marched to the bar and ordered two Strawberry Mojitos. Now, there certainly weren’t of the visual class of a traditional Strawberry Mojito, but they sure packed a punch. This punch was strawberry paste flavoured and hummed immensely of alcohol. It also, with aplomb, “did the job”. It was so damn good that we took advantage of our situation and that of Steve being stuck in the queue to get in and had another glorious beverage. It has to be noted too that Steve was most gracious in his allowance of our drinking. We naturally had to see how he felt about our new found comfort whilst we waited, withering from hunger, in amongst a mass of dirty metal-heads all squeezing up to get into the arena!
By the time we made it through to the main stage, we realised it was closed off for a good 350m from the front as tractors and various sweaty security workers threw hay and quite literally sucked up the hoard of excess sloppy top-soil… To be fair to the masses, there didn’t seem to be too much impatience, chiefly as no bands were on…
Despite this, at around 14:30, a change of schedule (that is, a removal of the first few bands) meant that the band opening the festival would be the mighty Fear Factory, who’s guitarist Dino Cazeres I was to interview later that day.
They smashed out a brilliant set and it was one of the strongest performances I’d seen. A track off the new album ‘The Industrialist’ sounded utterly superb as did old school bastards ‘Self Bias Resistor’, ‘Demanufacture’ and ‘Replica’. Touring with them currently are Matt DeVries (Chimaira guitarist) on bass and Mike Heller on drums. As Dino is to tell me later, Fear Factory is, and always will be, Dino and Burton. Hmmm…
Anyway, a tasty way start to proceedings and a performance right up there with those I’ve seen of these guys – 8.5/10.
We wandered around, got some food and I stood with Steve moaning about the weather, which at this point had descended into annoying rain and wind that made it exceptionally cold. We laughed at the comical jingles of NOFX, a good, fun-time band who may have been re-hashing the same formula for over a decade, but still know how to please the crowd. I didn’t hear their whole set, but it was a solid performance from a band who know what to do – 6/10.
Now, we trudged through the quite literal crap to the second stage to catch power-wizards Europe, only to discover for some reason, quite possibly to do with an airport, were not to play. Boo, hiss… I fear I can give them nothing but the obvious, through no probably fault of their own… – 0/10.
So, back I wandered to Press for my interview with Dino. I caught the generosity of Billy Talent in giving a song to Cancer Bats, who’s set earlier had been pulled as they attempted to remedy the state of affairs at the main stage earlier that morning – 8/10.
I was waiting in the Press Tent watching the end of their set when I managed to speak with Burton C. Bell (Fear Factory vocalist) for a few minutes before my time with Dino. After a great 15 minute chat with guitarist Cazeras about the fortune of the festival opening slot, the recent album and techniques for guitar players, I grinned my way as far as I could with my Press Pass and saw the middle of Machine Head from a side platform overlooking the entire main stage from a comfortable, stable and un-obstructed (literal high point).
There’s only so much fun you can have in such a position, so I slugged my way to the gang and caught the end of the metal-force that is Machine Head. Whilst my opinion of their attitude and performances has wavered over the years, their music remains fantastic and powerful. Their recent live shows have also been flawless and I can only say I loved what I saw – 8/10.
Next up, the ever favourite Opeth. Because of timings in movement and the general obstructions faced at a muddy festival we didn’t catch all of their performance, but I don’t think I stand alone when I say I cannot recall any performance from them that has been poor. This wasn’t their strongest, but that may have come from my feeling of having no insulation in a deathly-cold and rainy sludge-pool for hours – 8.5/10.
Some further wandering took me back to the side-platform (with Jim) and I caught some of Chase & Status, who’s music I am only vaguely familiar with, who seemed to go down well and considering the festival, I think that had I not been physically sandblasted from the day’s walking (the mud conditions made it very tough on the ankles; wellies do not for comfortable shoes make…) I might have been even more impressed – 6.5/10.
As result of my utter weakness, I miss the almighty Devin Townsend (and The Prodigy, no less!). I do not need to state how disappointed I am, and I’d care for you not to mention it again…
The weather was starting to hold out but the ground remained a hazard and I opted for the drink rather than the early arena start. I ended up missing Saxon, though it’s somewhat lessened by the fact that I saw them recently supporting Judas Priest not too long ago at Hammersmith. Walking through the VIP Enclosure we heard the tail-end of Soil, recently re-united with singer Ryan McCombs.
I should highlight that at this point in the day, I was about 2 litres of wine down and I had a bottle stashed away for the day. I was, in a word, creamed. But nevertheless, I intended to make sure my next (venture) would be a highlight. I was early and so loitering with a hunter’s intent, I lurked and found my next interviewee, Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest. This is one to read.
Upon my wandering, I caught the last few bars of Steel Panther. Not enough to give them a vote, but as I’d seen them and had tremendous fun at their Brixton Academy recently I can only imagine their usual debauchery brought about a great performance.
I met up with Jim, who I am sure was thinking that I’d have been too smashed to make my appointment. We high-fived our situation and caught an interview with the Trivium drummer Nick Augusto. Awesome though it was to sit there and make sure of carpe-diem, I WAS missing Tenacious D
I think it was around this point that I met a man, nay a genius, who had donned a full PREDATOR get-up. It’s not very often these things happen and it was the best costume I’d seen all festival. There was, as there is most years, a man dressed as inflatable penis and a man wearing only a cardboard cup, but the Predator took it this time.
In a side-step from the musical direction of it all, I wanted to make note that this year, in my humble opinion of course, the quality of the food was the weakest in memory. Whilst I expect to pay £6-10 for a meal of some comical conditioning and substance, I have not recalled a time when it all seemed so much more… disappointing? Perhaps I’d let it slip how bad it can get, but kudos goes out at the least to the calzone store for it’s rather fair, fresh pepperoni pizza and garlic bread. In a word; you’ll always look forward to the first meal outside the confines of Donington.
Next up, I decided to mug off all else including Skindred to actually get through a Biffy Clyro set, and as will be no surprise to those who’ve seen then before, I was not disappointed. Despite knowing only one or two of the songs, I was mesmerised by the intricacy and diversity of a remarkably talented trio. A fantastic performance and a definite highlight for my festival memories. I couldn’t pick a favourite song, but I can definitely vote highly… 9/10.
Whilst they set up for the main showdown, we wandered off to catch the Download stalwarts Killswitch Engage. I’d normally be less than bothered if they clashed with somebody else I preferred to see, but this time it’d be special. What once put me off watching them was gone (sorry Howard, you just didn’t cut the mustard for me) and original front-man Jesse Leech was returning for their first tour in this country with him. A new ferocity was there and the band who I think we all secretly love smashed out a fantastic set. “I hear this one’s very special to a a lot of you…” he tells us before they blast the ever classic ‘My Last Serenade’ and a great feeling comes over me as I swig my lukewarm wine and realise who’s up next… 8.5/10.
There isn’t a person alive who can say they’ve never heard of Metallica. Every soul has heard at least something by them… even if it’s by a passing car, but almost definitely an advert or a cultural reference. But depending on your age, and luck, you will get a thousand different answers on their live performances. Don’t get me wrong; you don’t get a bad Metallica show. But imagine seeing in a small club with CLIFF? Imagine seeing them in the Snickers Tent at Download ’03? Imagine seeing them before they were global superstars… My point is, people of different eras experience a different quality and experience with them. I happen to absolutely love them, and tonight’s performance of the classics will live on in memory. It was majestic and awesome. I did feel however, that there’s just something that’s leaving them. Maybe it’s just that the years are finally catching up with them. But in truth, I don’t think the Metallica beast will roll on forever. I believe it will leave at a just and true time, and we’ll see each of the guys in various crazy TV positions. Nevertheless, I digress. I honestly expected something more, but of course, it was all in all, Metallica – 9/10.
Age is a funny thing. Experience comes with age, but even if you’re ‘young’, you can still start to feel the effects of days sleeping on the floor in poor conditions. Granted, conditions elsewhere exist that are far, far worse, but that’s definitely one for another website… By the time Sunday morning came, even those who optimistically claimed the weather would not break them had to admit the ground still really did suck… It had been better and the rain had slowly lessened to a few scattered showers throughout the night and early morning. But by early morning on Sunday, all was looking far better and it seemed as if we’d get one cheeky day of sunshine after all.
We again had ‘early’ plans and off we dragged our swollen limps via KYUSS LIVES! to the Press Area to interview Mark Morton of Lamb of God. Since I only had a brief chat with Mark, we caught some more of KYUSS! I never got to see them ‘back in the day’ but they certainly know how to write a song. Many an evening did I sit in a car, smoked out of my skull, listening to ‘Welcome to Sky Valley’. I wish I’d been able to give them more attention, but they’re a great band nevertheless – 7.5/10.
As for Mark, I am not sure if he had been awake too long or if the general rigours of being a rock-star had taken their toll that day but the man looked like he could do with just that one extra day off… Nevertheless, he was a great interviewee and we chatted about the usual and made pleasantries; I again hunted out the stars in a bid to catch a photo with the lot but I missed only on Randy.
There was a time when I was dead against the re-installation of Joey Belladonna to Anthrax, but namely because I thought it unfair that they’d continually chop and change. However, a few stellar performances later and a good re-listen to the entire back catalogue, I am in the club of many who think that Belladonna is the voice of Anthrax. John Bush is fantastic, make no mistake, and his legacy with Anthrax is superb. But he is a singer who makes any band great, whilst I think Belladonna would only sound as perfect as he does with ‘his’ band. The usual classics came thick and fast as is to be expected from a thrash metal band on a day such as this, and at a festival such as this. It was definitely the strongest performance I’d seen of them in a festival environment, which is saying something considering how mind-blowing they were at Sonisphere – 8.5/10.
As is customary with the festival; you WILL miss bands you want to see due to clashing. However, when that band is Black Label Society, it takes something special to divert. On this occasion, it was a personal favourite in Shadows Fall, a band in my eyes top of the pile in their ‘category’. I was gutted to miss Zakk Wlyde and company, but having seen them before and having a deep honour for the Fall, I had to catch them. Their blistering performance from a band who’s line-up has remained consistent in the entire time I’ve known them is a rarity but it makes for some truly stunning music. The tight melodic fury is as powerful as it ever was and not long after their set, Jim and I were fortunate enough to catch a few words with vocalist Brian Flair and guitarist Matt Bachand. Top guys from a truly top band – 9/10.
Beer flowed as the sun continued to shine down; I was even beginning to secretly feel a little crispier than I wanted to admit. But more drink is definitely an assistant to the situation and we gulped down cold cider to the background of the impeccably powerful Lamb of God. Every time I see or hear this band I recall the very first time I saw them at a Slayer gig in London in 2003. It was an incredible show that led me to jump straight on their street-team and I purchased a good 70% of their then web-store. I have admitted lessening my activities in recent years and have only just listened to the latest album, but I am nevertheless a keen fan and follower. Each song has it’s own character and whilst their sound is unmistakeably their own, they are a band who’s legacy will last for many years to come. They were every inch a band who are absolute metal legends – 9/10.
(It feels strange to write this now knowing of recent events involving Randy, but dare I say it, should this be the last gig of the band I and we all get to see, then it was a great send-off. Even as I look back on those words, they feel so wrong that I dare reason they are true. I wish all associated with Lamb of God every ounce of luck and good fortune; the truth will live longer than the lies.)
For the next band, I did things a little differently. The sun had ever so slightly nauseated me to the point of madness and my alcohol level had given me the suitable ‘armour’ to take on my next challenge; the Megadeth pit. I figured, as I should have done, that I had to go in at least ONE this weekend and what better time that the one I’d enjoy the most? I readied myself for battle and sped off with my usual gallop into the throes of the Deth pit. It was, aided by the now dry but putty-esque ground, a temple of misery and bruising. My shins instantly became target practise and the heat was something that will long live me. But there’s the typical rush of euphoria and adrenaline that keeps you fuelled. I almost came to crowd-surfing at one point but left it because I feared I’d miss the chance to once again pit my battered limps to the 10 billion notes of ‘Holy Wars…’.
Megadeth are a band I have long loved, and forever will. They never made the status of ‘others’ but each year that goes on, they get that one step closer to the headlining slot that I long for them to have. In reality, I doubt it will ever happen. But I’d love it to happen, even if just for Dave’s sake – 9/10.
I took a one-man wander at this point and had some relaxing, spaced out time to oneself to look at the sunset and look back on a rather quality festival. I was very eager for the bath I knew I’d be sitting in in just 24 hours time and after purchasing yet another seriously refreshing cider I wandered away from Soundgarden, who really didn’t do anything for me. I honestly don’t think it was anything to do with their music or performance, but rather that I just didn’t fancy it at the time. I was more interested in wandering, which turned out to be a blessing… – 5/10.
In the next stage, I came across a band I’d heard of, knew people liked but had not yet listened to; Ghost. Now, at first I thought they were the same, generic rock-esque gimmicky something that seems so popular in recent years, but after my initially hesitations, I really was quite impressed. I didn’t know their music and even since listening to their album and thinking that it really isn’t THAT strong, it’s still got something. And that something, along with the sunset, was enough and just a genuinely fine treat on the Sunday evening. A good performance, well suited for my mood – 8/10.
And so it comes to pass, that the journey ends, essentially, where it very much started. The history of music will forever remember a band who not only pioneered what you and I have always called heavy metal but set the foundations that has formed a backbone to much of our lives. I am fortunate enough to have seen Ozzy perform before at Ozzfest, and whilst he really isn’t the strongest vocalist (which is of course no surprise) he has a uniqueness to his style that means when he can be on form, he can remind us all of the wonder he once was. Tonight, there is an audience of mammoth proportions here to see the legendary Black Sabbath. It is a shame that Bill Ward is not drumming, for the usual ‘business’ reasons, but replacement Tommy Clufetos provides a utterly flawless and energetic sit-in. The eerie-chimes of ‘Black Sabbath’ enrapture Donington and as soon as Ozzy hits the first note, the crowd know; tonight, he has it.
Not only did Ozzy have it, he impressed us all with his consistency. Iommi riddled us all with his riffing prowess and Butler stood head-banging as he has long done, showing us how it all started with ‘N.I.B.’ and all the classic gems that we’ve come to know and, in some crude manner, model everything since around. There was an energy at this festival unlike others before it, and that didn’t just come from the bonus of being VIP. It could have been the wine, granted, but I genuinely believe that, standing there with tears in my eyes as Sabbath closed one of the best weekends of my life is one of the highlights of recent memory. I had enjoyed myself thoroughly up until this moment, save for the unholy nightmare weather, but this was without doubt the tastiest icing I’d ever had on my cake. I knew I’d witnessed something special, and with the announcement that we’ll get to hear at the very least one more Black Sabbath album, we might even get to experience the feeling of it all just once more as well… 10/10.
BEST BAND OF FRI : Fear Factory
BEST BAND OF SAT : Biffy Clyro / Metallica (TIE)
BEST BAND OF SUN : Black Sabbath
BEST BAND OF WEEKEND : Black Sabbath
HIGHLIGHT OF WEEKEND : Meeting Vinnie Paul / THAT strawberry
DOWNSIDES OF WEEKEND : Ground under-foot / quality of food was poorest in memory…
COMEDY GOLD AWARD : The Tackle