Back in 2003, I went to my first Download festival following the last ever Ozzfest at Donington in 2002.
Whilst memories of IRON MAIDEN, SIKTH, DEFTONES, STAMPIN’ GROUND, SEPULTURA and of course those cheeky chaps in METALLICA remain steadfast as being some of my greatest, throughout the years many of the following Downloads have involved many a fine memory.
This year however, my 10th Download and 14th festival in total, was a slightly different affair…
Arriving on the Friday for the first time ever (usually I’m a Wednesday-kinda guy), we settled and my weekend-companions HANG THE BASTARD set off to prepare for their biggest show to date on the Pepsi Max stage.
Being that nothing else but relaxing at camp interested me until their set, they were the first band I saw at the festival, and by Noah himself, I have never had a better beginning.
With yours truly crammed on the front barrier, the riff-kings stepped onto a stage fronting a tent that was almost bursting (through support rather than the weather) before launching into the splendid ‘Interplanetary Portals’ and quite literally ripped the air to bits. The fact that I’ve watched these guys in various places and forms numerous times over the many years I’ve known them (my brother has even filled in on occasion) only enhanced my enthusiasm as I screamed, bellowed and thrashed my way through their blisteringly brilliant set. With ‘Rivers Edge’ and ‘The Year is One’ especially whipping the crowd into a mess of headbanging and circle-pits, I’ve seldom seen a band so tight so soon after yet further line-up changes, but the long-standing union of Simon, Sam and Sina continue to drive the brutal essence of a band that are going to be absolutely huge; as reported previously, they’ve only gone and signed with Century Media. The highlight of my day without question and a memory that will long remain inspirational. This is a band to watch very closely .
Shortly after wobbling back to my tent, I was summoned through the rain to the Press area where I had the absolutely honour of interviewing the legendary ‘Godfather of Southern Metal’ Jimmy Bower with com-padre Jamie before wobbling back again to the Arena in time for a cider (or two) and the chance to again catch DOWN without needing to sprint 600m through a crowd-cluster. As you mostly definitely should know, there is just something about Phil Anselmo (aside from his fame with fronting PANTERA) and his effortless and menacing command of the stage. Few bands pull off the stoned-sludge mastery like CROWBAR, CORROSION OF CONFORMITY and EYEHATEGOD, so put them into a pot together (through pot? ;)) and it’s little surprise that DOWN are the absolute tits. Sludging through classics like ‘Hail the Leaf’, ‘Ghosts Along the Mississippi’, Dimebag-dedicated ‘Lifer’ and the ball-crunching ‘Bury Me in Smoke’, even the absence of Rex (replaced in 2011 with GOATWHORE bassist Pat Bruders) doesn’t lessen the crowd’s obvious delight at watching the best supergroup around .
Considering my earlier antics, I retreated to Press and camp for the rest of the day until it was time for first headliners. It has to be said, much discussion took place throughout the weekend on the leap in respect and support for SLIPKNOT over the years. They’ve truly established themselves as not only pioneers, but pretty brilliant song-writers too. With all the usual trimmings of brutality, they tore through all the classics with all the expected conviction and power. Corey is not only on form tonight, but slowly becoming one of the greatest metal vocalists and frontmen in history.
It’s clear that the absence of #2 has changed the feelings many have towards SLIPKNOT, but in many ways, Paul’s passing served as a hugely poignant moment in the metal community. This night, as will more than likely be the case forever, his ‘role’ was hidden, with founding and original guitarist Donnie Steele filling obscured from view. Despite this, the magnificent stage show lights up the soggy sky and surely pisses the locals right off. Whilst I don’t think this was their strongest performance to date, it was certainly one that will be a timely reminder that there is a reason SLIPKNOT headline festivals .
Catching EARTHTONE9 was also on the ‘Must See’ list and though the many people sheltering from the elements prevented me from getting quite where I wanted to be in the tent, I had a great position to hear their awesome set. Whilst most may not have heard one of Nottingham’s finest groups, enough people clearly enjoyed their accessible set, and new offering ‘The Tide of Ambition’ got plenty of horns a twiddlin’. I have to say, there aren’t many bands like EARTHTONE9 that I listen to these days, but I can’t picture a time when I won’t be happy to dig up their albums .
Whilst the aforementioned fell onto the ‘Must See’ list, the next band propped-up the triple headed ‘Not Missing for Shit’ list. I’ve been a pretty much obsessed fanatic of MASTODON ever since I first heard ‘March of the Fire Ants’ and promptly took the proverbial ‘elevator to the sky’ the first time I heard ‘Crack the Skye’, so to say I was eager would be the largest understatement of 2013.
By the time they’d finished opener ‘Black Tongue’, the weather slowly dissipated from dreary gloom into a glorious and atmospheric affair; much like the musical path of the band. Considering all four members (though Bill less so) perform interlacing and opposing vocals throughout, their multi-textured rhythmic genius only sounds more perfect each and every time I hear any of their songs.
Their 13 song set features 11 from their new album ‘The Hunter’ and though many are pleased, the majority are baying for the might of ‘Blood and Thunder’; the delay (though pleasantly filled) serves as a simmering anticipation for when it finally comes and Donington crack their backs, thrusting harpoons, horns and fold-up chairs to the sky before their utterly beautiful closure with ‘The Sparrow’. A resounding and inspiring performance that I will cherish .
Now, one of the bands I’ve been into the longest is ALICE IN CHAINS. Ever since I first heard Layne’s voice, I was captivated and connected to their music (with their ‘Unplugged’ performance remaining a mainstay of my teenage years) and I am sad to say that as a result, I fell into the category of ‘dismissive miser’ when it came to the announcement they were to reform with a new vocalist.
Despite this, I grew to understand and appreciate the transition and thoroughly enjoyed their set at Download a few years prior, as well as the impressive ‘debut’ ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’, but this time, I’m ravaged with disinterest. Their set doesn’t grab me, the sound doesn’t seem as good as it should and Jerry Cantrell’s haircut coupled with my dodgy eye-sight leaves me feeling I’m watching a covers band featuring my mate’s Dad. It may seem harsh, but there is an essence that has been lost over time with the band. The late-90s and early-2000s’ resurgence of grunge brought about many bands who came, conquered and disappeared but despite this, ALICE IN CHAINS‘ revival and subsequent reception may be be influenced by their already guaranteed status as legends of the craft. Reading back on this it seems harsh, but they will always be a band that have a place in my heart, but today’s offering leaves me wishing for the first time I was 18 again… .
Having not seen some of my friends for a very long time, I take the afternoon to relax and drink a little. I sit on the hill to watch QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, who despite being fantastic on record, never seem to entice me at festivals. Alas, today it’s much the same. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was slightly bitter that the disappointing ALICE IN CHAINS had followed MASTODON and that their times should have been switched. That said, Josh Homme and Co. deliver a strong, resounding performance that I’m sure 90% of those watching spent most of the time squinting to see if Dave Grohl was drumming (as it goes, he was not). I didn’t catch it all, but that which I did I enjoyed, if only for a few fleeting sing-alongs… .
After much chilling, drinking and wandering, I took a place for my 6th viewing of IRON MAIDEN. It’s not really very often, nor in the realms of ability, for bands to pull something new out of the hat to surprise people these days, but I’m pretty sure getting a friggin’ SPITFIRE to fly over the metal-heads of Download will feature near the top of amazing starts to a show through Donington’s history. Unfortunately, this was more or less the highlight of the show and it came before the show even properly started.
Before I stop to try and re-think a better summary, I’m going to run with this because it has to be said; their performance was pretty disappointing. Yes, I know, many a metalhead will be hunting me down but age catches up with all of us, and whilst Steve Harris will continue to play bass faster and heavier than any one else long into his 100s, IRON MAIDEN are showing it. After 40 years of rock, it’s hardly shameful or unsurprising (it seems only THE PRIEST, SABBATH and SAXON manage to keep on truckin’ after all these years…).
To start with, the sound was awful no matter where you stood. Granted, it improved when you got closer and more central, but unfortunately 90,000 people can’t all do that and having seen them before when it has been done right, it only looked to me like something wasn’t quite kosher. I might be going mad and slightly deaf, but they didn’t have the clarity or power of SLIPKNOT and aside from the rumble of Harris’ bass, there didn’t seem much power at all.
Bruce Dickinson, whilst a fantastic singer, is not who he used to be and all the usual banter (even a few upgraded curses to contain ‘fuck’) doesn’t really save their performance. There are many, many classics churned out and I sing my beans along to ‘Wasted Years’ as if I was 13 again. The ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ stage-show is fantastic and the visuals, videos and atmosphere are brilliant, but strangely (and frustratingly), the music and the energy simply doesn’t captivate me.
Don’t get me wrong, they have some literally fantastic songs (some of which are some of my all-time favourites) but they just didn’t look or sound like a band of their stature should. Again, I am sure some will consider this opinion jaded and unfair, but it’s my thinking that IRON MAIDEN have become much like MOTORHEAD; a band consistently riding high on a near untouchable legacy but for whom the ideas, the fire and the attraction are slowly waning… they have slightly stagnated and on this performance, I can only declare supreme disappointment .
As far as reformations go, some are brilliant and others are pointless. Then there are those which simply serve a purpose; LED ZEPPELIN’s 2003 reunion was, let face it, all about the money. The unexpected reformation of COAL CHAMBER at Download 2013 was, I wager, as a result of the deserved success for Dez with DEVILDRIVER and the subsequent opportunity to bring back a band that many of us mid-to-late twenty-somethings listened to and in some cases worshipped before we discovered SLAYER (I even imitated a picture of Dez I’d seen with a padlock and chain around his neck… and promptly smashed my chin when I wore it to a gig that I really shouldn’t have headbanged at…).
Whilst listening to the back catalogue on very rare occasion when it comes up on shuffle, I quite enjoyed their last album ‘Dark Days’, though those prior in hindsight sounded much the same, and really, not that much to shout about; DEVILDRIVER they are not. In fact, there really isn’t anything remarkable about COAL CHAMBER at all and whilst it was good to see them and re-kindle pleasant memories (the first song I ever jammed with others was ‘Loco’), their set sounded much the same but it was an undeniably enjoyable one regardless .
Now, where my friends and I have exchanged music back and forth and discovered and recommended new bands to each other, I have to admit, it’s very rare that I’ve been pushed onto a band I’d overlooked entirely. I’d lumped FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH into the ‘generic American-rock’ group and promptly avoided actually listening to much of their material; yup, very mature Matt.
However, when I saw them at Download in 2010 and was mightily impressed, I made sure that I wouldn’t overlook them at the next opportunity. So, I did just that and as a result they quite literally drop-kicked my nuts. There is a power about them and a sound that is very much American through and through and the flawless fury of Ivan Moody’s vocals give the band a fantastic edge over bands of the same ebb. If PANTERA had come about 15 years later and had decided to focus on the radio market, then they might well have sounded a lot like FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH (although I remain certain that it’s a pretty terrible band-name).
So, going down a storm is always a bonus to a band, but getting a load of kids on-stage to headbang and swear will generally raise the bar that little higher. Standing up for the crowd and threatening to smash in the face (and specifically nose) of an over-zealous security guard, however, will only improve the reception ten-fold. In my eyes, there are gaps forming at the top of the Metal League with a number of big artists stuck on hiatus or dipping in popularity and I genuinely feel that 5FDP are poised and capable to slot right in .
Along with MASTODON, there was another band playing Download that I refused to miss in Swedish viking-masters AMON AMARTH. Ever since I first heard ‘Once Sent from the Golden Hall’ and religiously listened to ‘The Crusher’, I grew hugely attached to the band before dropping off into a gothic-industrial stage, returning back to the fray when I accidentally stumbled upon ‘With Oden on Our Side’ which not only re-awakened my love of the band, but also made me desperate for a different heritage altogether.
With the stage adorned with a bloody longboat (as is the standard these days), the Swedish titans of war launch into ‘War of the Gods’ and annihilated the first two rows. Unfortunately, “technical difficulties” caused their set to be cut short, but not before they belted out one of my favourite tracks, ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’. The sound was crisp and Johan’s brutal, brutal vocals almost enticed the masses into forging a war against the hordes foolish enough to be elsewhere. I absolutely love AMON AMARTH and following their showing with DIMMU BORGIR in London a few years ago, so does my Dad. Whilst a longer set would have truly satisfied me, another brilliant performance left me hugely glad I’d dragged my weary ass across the site to see it .
Now, one act was always going to attract many watchers regardless of who they clashed with. Ever since the mess and fallout which caused ruptures in the METALLICA and forced Jason out, his return was fleeting in the rather disappointing ECHOBRAIN and then more or less non-existent save for very rare appearances here and there. So, his return as NEWSTED was not only eagerly awaited, but long, long overdue.
Crammed into the Pepsi Max tent, 1000s of fans grinned, horned and headbanged along to a refreshing performance from the long-standing bassist; his vocal talents always gave METALLICA that extra jolt of energy and here, fronting his own band, there is a definite air that this is not only a man doing what he was destined to do, but a man who genuinely appreciates the fans and the opportunities that have come his way. Whilst of course the METALLICA legacy cannot be ignored, I have always felt that Jason was not only short-changed, but that his absence was hugely, hugely influential in the musical nose-dive that followed for the band. As such, seeing him here today is a timely reminder that whilst one man may never outsell his former employers, he can certainly stand tall and proud as a more-than-equal.
Being as his past dictated his future and the fan-base before him, it was a fairly concrete guarantee that he’d pull out a riff here or there and so it was to be with ‘Creeping Death’ making a brief appearance. However, finishing his metallic set with a version of ‘Whiplash’ that I don’t think even METALLICA could replicate (nay, Lars) pretty much sealed the deal; Jason Newsted is back, bolder and ballsier than ever and this time, there isn’t a soul alive that will stand in his way .
As it was almost 7 on the last day of the festival before the last headliner, I took the opportunity to dash back to Press and my camp-site for a much needed charge-up. I was preparing myself physically and emotionally for what was on the horizon. The last headline act; the primary band on the ‘Not Missing for Shit’ list.
In short, whilst writing this review and indeed preparing for it, my thoughts pretty much always lead to one place and one band. I’ve considered how best to begin the paragraphs and I’ve considered how best to summarise them… but alas, one’s mind essentially turns to mush even looking back for just a moment.
There has been talk of this event long in the circles of friends and family with those who know what to expect passionately insisting that this is absolutely not an opportunity to pass up. Those who aren’t in a position to have seen them before sense and long that for once, there is a diamond foundation in the rumours.
As the tension rises, I take my place quite literally shivering in anticipation before the synthesised melody start of ‘Ich tu Dir Weh’ belts out the flawless PA. The banner drops and the hereby dubbed ‘Commanders of Jinn’ launch into the greatest headline opening in living memory. Heads and arms thrash around as almost 200,000 feet pound the floor under the fireworks, pyro and house-lights, all synchronised with rhythmic perfection and union.
Hardly anybody has the foggiest clue what they’re actually singing about (although simulated sodomy to the tune of ‘Bück Dich’ shouldn’t take too much effort to work out) but it matters not one iota. There is a beauty in the German language that mutually lends itself to the raw angry command of their music and a heart-wrenching acoustic version of ‘Mein Herz Brennt’, featuring the poetic aura of Flake on piano and the savagely emotive singing of Till, truly touches something inside despite it being in a language I scarcely understand…
There is comedy and awe as the theatrics and mind-blowing pyro-technics of the perfectly crafted masterpiece flow seamlessly as classics such as ‘Du Riech So Gut’, ‘Wiener Blut’, ‘Links 2,3,4’, ‘Ich Will’ and even ‘Benzin’ among others smash every molecule of reality and sense out of the crowd. I can only imagine what the doubters and first-timers were thinking at this point, but it was surely a defining moment in their festival and indeed live performance adventure. As each member plays off each other with military precision, it’s amazing to think how a band so unique in what they do have managed to continually evolve and grow better and better with every sequential piece of work. Such a huge and sustained operation can only the result of a rare collaboration of visionary geniuses.
(If at this point you are somehow not familiar with their work, I suggest you put aside a few hours before sitting on YouTube and watch the dozens of incredible, hilarious and artistic videos they’ve made over the last 20 years (in particular ‘Ich Will, ‘Mein Land’, ‘Onhe Diche’, ‘Keine Lust’ and ‘Seeman’).)
LIMP BIZKIT headlined the 2nd stage overlapping half of RAMMSTEIN’s set, which seems a strange choice in my eyes considering the cross-over in potential fans; I know of at least 5 people who regretted their choice of options after catching the latter part of the performance on their return to camp (though naturally, it would have been impossible not to have heard and seen the majesty of what was transpiring on the main stage).
A rousing encore of ‘Sonne’ and ‘Pussy’ pretty much sent the assembled many into united-orgasm and as I sensed the end was closing in, a great deal of emotion washed over me. I knew that what we had witnessed would live with all of us forever; as the house-lights lit up the departing thousands, conversations were overheard that pretty much repeated verbatim what I had muttered the first time I saw them live… awe and appreciation magnified forty-fold.
Even those who’d opted for LIMP BIZKIT and had only caught the latter half of RAMMSTEIN were clearly gutted; that’s not to take anything away from Fred and friends, but this is just untouchable.
I’ve seen KISS, AC/DC and GUNS N ROSES. I’ve seen BLACK SABBATH and I’ve seen ROB ZOMBIE. I’ve even seen bleedin’ LIONEL RICHIE, and whilst they all feature in the ‘Top 10 Live Acts’ and pretty much every band I’ve ever wanted to (save for PANTERA, RUSH and FARMER BOYS), but they all (incredibly) are merely imposters to the throne in comparison to the Germans.
This is without doubt the greatest ‘live’ moment of my life .
BAND OF FRIDAY : Hang the Bastard
BAND OF SATURDAY : Mastodon
BAND OF SUNDAY : Rammstein
BAND OF WEEKEND : Rammstein
BEST OVERALL DAY : Sunday
HIGH POINT : Rammstein / Hang the Bastard / ‘The Sparrow’ / The Zip-Wire Bottle Fight
LOW POINT : The walking… and the shitty, expensive food and beer!