Words by Sam Dignon & Jamie Giberti.
After months of build up, anticipation, debates, celebration and complaints over the line up (as happen every year), Download Festival 2014 was finally upon us. Rock Sins descended en-masse to the hallowed turf of Donington with our best staff turn out yet to enjoy and report back on the best of the action across the weekend for our readers. So let’s get started with our first band of the three days….
Opening the main stage (named this year after the heroic cancer fundraiser and metalhead Stephen Sutton) is never the easiest task but Miss May I (6.5) seem up for it. Drawing heavily from their latest album Rise Of The Lion the band succeed in getting some early mosh pits going and keep the majority of the crowd entertained for their 30 minute. Unfortunately they struggle with some early sound problems too meaning Levi Benton’s vocals fail to overpower the bands onslaught of riffs.
Following Miss May I were the UK’s favourite exports from The Land Of The Rising Sun, Crossfaith. This is how you begin a festival in true style. From the first bar to the last of their thirty minute set, Crossfaith were a whirlwind of metal energy that swept the crowd along with them with each song. Frontman Koie Kenta told the assembled masses (a large crowd for early in the day) that it was a dream come true for Crossfaith to play the Download main stage and their performance reflected that. We Are The Future and their renowned Cover of Omen went down a storm but the whole performance was hugely significant. Expect Crossfaith to be much higher up the bill next time (8).
Powerman 5000 were something of a surprise addition to the line-up and those gathered to see them were hoping to relive some of their choice nu-metal anthems from the early noughties. Unfortunately a combination of setlist (leaving all of the songs everyone knows until the end rather than spacing them out), indifferent sound and a somewhat lacklustre performance from Spider and co meant that by the time the likes of Bombshell and When Worlds Collide were aired, the majority of people were far less into it than they could have been. The complete opposite to the bands who played either side of them on the main stage (4).
Over on the Pepsi Max stage Turbowolf (7) are getting a party started with their crazy brand of rock and roll. Mixing in a few new songs with some older fan favourites, Turbowolf keep the large crowd dancing and singing for the entirity of their set and Chris Georgiadis proves himself to be one of the most entertaining frontmen around.
Skindred are about as reliable as you can get in terms of bands to book to play festivals of any genre and once again today they do not disappoint as the supremely charismatic Benji Webbe conducts the crowd effortlessly throughout. There’s plenty of anthems to be heard and as Skindred run through songs like Pressure, Ninja and Kill The Power, complete with the first ever heavy metal harlem shake (which had dubious results), a huge feel good factor spreads across Donington Park. With Nobody and Warning (featuring a welcome guest turn from Crossfaith’s Koie Kenta) bringing things to a satisfying conclusion, Skindred once again prove why they’re a band every festival want on their line up (7.5).
Within Temptation’s profile in the UK has grown enormously over the last few years. A symphonic metal act charting in the UK album charts top 10 would have been unthinkable not too long ago but that’s exactly what Within Temptation did with Hydra earlier this year and their biggest Download slot (complete with a fair amount of production and pyro) was their reward. They took the opportunity firmly with both hands with frontwoman Sharon den Adel on top form on songs like the opening Let Us Burn and Covered By Roses.
The excellent songs from Hydra such as Paradise (What About Us) and Dangerous were slightly awkward minus their guest stars (it would have made sense at least for Sharon to sing Tarja’s parts on Paradise) but that was a minor niggle in an otherwise very entertaining performance. The setlist was mostly concentrated on Hydra and previous album The Unforgiving but there were airings of the band’s two most famous songs – Stand My Ground and original breakthrough single Ice Queen to keep the long time fans happy. Within Temptation are an incredibly tight live band and seem destined to only get bigger and better from here, they likely won themselves many new fans on this showing (7.5).
What more can be said about letlive’s (9) live show that hasn’t already been said? Today is no different for them even if Jason Aalon Butler did emerge onstage on crutches his performance was still as chaotic as ever. It’s a good thing letlive have the tunes to back up this live show too and today the likes of Muther and Pheromone Cvlt sound absolutely huge. Jason ends their set climbing up to the lighting rig as the entire crowd cheers him on, definitely one of the stand out sets of the day.
Baby Godzilla (8) kept up the chaos but on a much smaller scale. The reputation these guys have built up meant a lot of people headed over to the Red Bull stage to see what they were really like. Unfortunately security seemed intent on stopping Baby Godzilla every time they tried to climb something or make their way into the crowd. Still this didn’t stop guitarist Jonny Hall from playing Powerboat Disaster on top of a bin outside the tent.
Immediately following Baby Godzilla, Jamie Lenman (7) played his second set of the day on the Jagermeister Acoustic stage instead this time he was backed up by a full band and was playing a set of ridiculously heavy hardcore tunes. A big surprise for anyone who’s only previous experience with him was the earlier acoustic set. Despite the small crowd I’m sure Jamie Lenman succeeded in winning over a few new fans this weekend.
Compared to previous shows (and the Within Temptation performance just before his own), Rob Zombie’s staging seemed somewhat more low key than one would have expected from The Lord Of Horror (especially compared to his second stage headline performance at Download 2011). While there was plenty of movement and enthusiasm from Mr Zombie and his band (including guitarist John 5 complete with a couple of interesting costumes) it felt like something was just a little bit lacking from the performance.
Most of the hits and favourites for the Zombie hardcore faithful were present including Superbeast, Living Dead Girl, Scum Of The Earth and Never Gonna Stop, plus the obligatory nod to White Zombie (More Human Than Human, Thunder Kiss 65) but neither the band or the crowd never quite got going with the intensity one might expect from a Rob Zombie show. A slightly off day for one of metal’s most reliable performers (6).
Easily the most anticipated performance of the day was from Download’s Friday night first time headliners Avenged Sevenfold. Their fans were desperate for them to pull it off in style and their critics were desperate to see them fall flat on their faces. With a fantastic stage set in the form of a castle complete with video windows and death bats breathing fire from the turrets, not to mention pyro launchers all over the place, Avenged Sevenfold came with the production worthy of headliners, and that was just the start.
Throughout their near two hour performance, Avenged Sevenfold demonstrated all the necessary qualities one would expect from festival headliners. They were energetic, frontman M Shadows interacted well with the crowd and most importantly, they brought the big songs by the bucket load. This was an Avenged Sevenfold setlist with something for all fans of the band old and new, and thankfully was not too dominated by most recent album Hail To The King with only three songs including the title track being aired.
From early songs Critical Acclaim and Bat Country through to So Far Away (dedicated to The Rev) and the biggest sing-along of the night with the excellent Nightmare, Avenged rarely put a foot wrong. Even some rarities like Waking The Fallen’s Second Heartbeat were pulled out of storage to thunderous reactions. A hugely popular sprint through Beast & The Harlot brought the main part of the set to a close in style before a first encore of Seize The Day & Almost Easy was equally as well received.
In something of a rarity these days, A7X decided one encore wasn’t sufficient and that two encores were required. Not only that, but that the second would begin with their nine minute epic A Little Piece Of Heaven in full, which made many, many Avenged fans dreams’ come true to hear that song in full in the flesh. Even after that there was still time for the obligatory finale of Unholy Confessions to bring things to a very satisfactory close (9).
So as Avenged Sevenfold brought day one at Download 2014 to a very satisfying conclusion only the harshest of their detractors would not acknowledge the show they put on was worthy of a headliner’s slot. Coupled with excellent performances elsewhere all across the day and everyone was very excited to get started with day two after a few drinks and some partying in the doghouse!
Stay tuned to Rock Sins for full coverage of days two and three from Download 2014 as well as Matt’s in-depth “Matt Report” and numerous interviews with the stars of the 2014 Download Festival! You can also check out our first thoughts after returning home from Donington as we highlighted six things that we learned over the course of this year’s festival.