Download Festival 2015 Friday Review: Metal Gods

Slipknot at Download Festival 2015 from the Sound Tower by Danny North

Words by Jamie Giberti, Sam Dignon, James Halstead, Fran Dignon and Lisa Fox. Photos by Jamie Giberti except where credited. Featured image of Slipknot (above) by Danny North.

After all the build up, the waiting, the queuing at the gates of Donington, the tent assembling, the BBQ’s and the drinking, Friday arrived and it was finally time for the music to start at the 2015 Download Festival. Rock Sins’ team were spread far and wide across the fields of Donington Park to catch the best of the action from all the stages across the day so let’s get started with the reviews!

Opening up the Maverick Stage this year, Counterparts (8) got the day off to a great start. They brilliantly balanced aggression with emotion with some of the best melodic hardcore songs right now. “Outlier” and “The Disconnect” certainly stood out as highlights but newer material from their upcoming album sounds incredibly promising. The band might not do anything different with the genre and manage to tick all the boxes you’d expect a melodic hardcore band to, but the quality of their music and performance shines through and Brendan Murphey really stands out as a frontman. SD

Krokodil (8) bring the riffs to Download 2015 in a big way early on the Maverick stage. Three guitars creates a horrifically brutal wall of sound which greatly augments Krokodil’s music which sounds like Mastodon went on a Morbid Angel binge. The band themselves take few prisoners blasting through their set with the minimum of crowd interaction and the maximum of riffage. It’s a potent display and one that’s sure to have garnered them several new fans in the process. JH

Next up on the Maverick stage today are Gnarwolves (7). The three piece waste no time before firing into their set and getting the packed out tent moving. The band cut some of their bigger hits today to make way for tracks off their newest album, but even with this decision they play an excellent set. It’s clear Gnarwolves have pulled in a lot of fans today and they’re just one of the many bands this weekend to prove how significant punk and hardcore have become at Download in 2015. FD

Back on the main stage, Gothenburg metal royalty are making their eagerly awaited Download debut. Yes, of course, it’s At The Gates (8). The riffs from Anders Björler and Martin Larsson are enough to blow the head off anyone in the first fifteen rows and as they mix material from their new album At War With Reality such as the title track and Death & The Labyrinth with face melting classics like Slaughter Of The Soul, the ever increasing Download masses roar their approval. A most welcome debut, let’s hope At The Gates return to Download very soon indeed! JG

At The Gates at Download Festival 2015 by Danny North
At The Gates owning the main stage. Photo credit Danny North

Bringing more melodic hardcore to the Maverick Stage, Defeater (9) managed to top Counterparts when it came to emotional intensity. After having to pull out of last years festival it was great to see Defeater return this year so such a great reaction. Defeater are one of the most interesting and thought provoking bands within their scene, with their songs all being based upon the lives of people in the post-World War II era. This is not a cheerful set and might not seem ideal for a festival stage but several fans seems to enjoy a bit of sadness on a Friday afternoon as the front rows are filled with people screaming along. Even as Derek Archambault’s voice starts to crack midway through the set the band power through to deliver one of the standout sets of the day. SD

Lacuna Coil (7) have the unenviable task of trying to follow At The Gates over on the main stage, but they fare much better than many might have expected. Italy’s most well known metal export have a varied record at UK festivals but today they strike almost all the right notes. Christina Scabbia is on top form and the setlist is well balanced across Lacuna Coil’s substantial career. The likes of Die & Rise and Spellbound from more recent times hold up well alongside older favourites like Heavens A Lie and the closing Our Truth, and this performance can be considered a job well done. JG

Blood Youth (8) are a revelation, although it does seem a little odd that they’re onstage at the same time that Beartooth play the Maverick stage given such obvious similarities between the two bands sound. Nonetheless Blood Youth attract a sizeable crowd and show considerable talent both in the the writing and delivery of their songs. Certainly one to watch, Blood Youth are an unexpected highlight of Download 2015’s Friday. JH

Following Defeater was going to be tough for Beartooth (8) but they don’t struggle at all. The tent is absolutely packed as the band arrive onstage and it doesn’t take long for people in the crowd to start losing their minds. This was easily the most chaotic set on this stage so far as a near constant stream of crowdsurfers come flying over the barrier (including this reviewer) and the pits never stop moving. Beartooth drop all the best songs off of their debut album as well as fan favourite “I Have A Problem” and every song is met with the same great reaction. For a band who have only been coming to the UK for a little over a year, it’s amazing to see Beartooth get this kind of reaction. They are certainly going to be one of the most exciting bands to watch over the coming years. SD

Beartooth on the Maverick stage at Download Festival 2015 by Scott Salt
Beartooth: one big tent party. Photo credit Scott Salt.

Back at Jake’s Stage, Allusondrugs (7) have been one of the fastest rising newcomers to be discovered recently, and this is clearly proven by how busy the tent is this afternoon. Their psychedelic grunge music captivates the crowd while the band throw themselves and their instruments all around the stage. On this performance it is clear Allusondrugs are set for bigger stages than today’s and they’re not going to let anyone stand in their way. FD

Over at the Zippo stage, Blues Pills (9) bring a little bit of Woodstock to Download. Ok so the sun isn’t shining and the weather is far from sweet, but the young American-Swedish-French quartet illuminate the Zippo encore stage with their unique brand of unassuming, melodic soul. Opener ‘High Class Woman’ provides the perfect opportunity for Elin to show off her skills as a high class front woman, as her soaring vocals interwoven with towering riffs from Dorian Sorriaux ring out across Donington. If you have never listened to ‘Devil Man’ then you need to, the balls that Elin has behind her voice are way bigger than some of her male colleagues. Figuratively speaking, of course! Blues Pills are the hottest band of 2015, and their star certainly shines the brightest today. This is the perfect act to start our weekend. LF

Clutch (8) burst on stage to enraptured cheers from the mobbed crowd. The jubilation is infectious and frontman Neil Fallon clearly thrives on the energy as he bounces around the huge stage. This is Clutch’s first time on the Download main stage, but the task does not appear to daunt them at all. So much is the delight that the bearded front man struggles to contain his grins during the breaks in to ‘The Mob Goes Wild’, and boy do they- not just for that song but for the entire show! Rarely is a singer so drowned out by the crowd on every word, but that is the case for Clutch today at Download. ‘Earth Rocker’, ‘The Wolfman Kindly Requests…’ and ‘Electric Worry’ are stand out performances. Bringing the show to a close we have ‘One Eye Dollar’, the sun has come back out and Clutch are glorious. LF

Clutch Download Festival 2015
Clutch: The mob went wild.

Sylosis (7) put in a solid showing, with a setlist heavily focused upon their later, more progressive output. Sounding as tight and as focussed as ever, there might be a slight lack of charisma on-stage but this is more than offset by just how tight a group of musicians they remain. Of course, it’s not all chin-stroking as there’s still time for a gigantic circle pit during set highlight ‘Teras.’ JH

Five Finger Death Punch (7.5) are their typically abrasive selves and waste no time launching a metal assault on Download with the opening Under and Over It. Ivan Moody’s traditional effortless mastery over a large crowd is once again in effect today, only with added dry humour. As with their last Download appearance a bunch of young metal fans are brought onstage to huge cheers to have the time of their lives while FFDP’s Jason Hook and Zoltan Bathory shred as if their lives depend on it. The only problem with this set is that it’s almost identical to the one they played two years ago, and felt at least fifteen minutes too short considering how high they were up the bill. Their Wembley show with Papa Roach in November will show will offer the full Death Punch experience. It was great, but could have been even better. JG

As people scramble into the Maverick Stage for shelter from the rain, Dragonforce (6) end up with one of the luckier slots of the weekend despite them clashing with Judas Priest. Unfortunately the band are plagued with horrendous sound for the first half of their set. The first three songs sound very messy and it looked like this would be the most forgettable set of the day. Fortunately the sound dose improve and “Cry Thunder” shows how great Dragonforce can be live. Still the real highlights are a surprise appearance from Babymetal performing “Gimme Chocolate” and then “Through The Fire And The Flames” closing the set as several people bust out their best air guitar moves. SD

The rain may be substantial by this point but thousands care not because, in the words of Rob Halford, “Oh Download, The Priest is back!”. British metal legends Judas Priest (9) demonstrate for roughly an hour just why they’ve influenced almost every metal band going in some fashion or other with a performance that is so good, it even manages to make the rain stop for half an hour. A thunderous rendition of Dragonaut begins proceedings with an array of classics to follow, but it’s at the airing of the magnificent Halls Of Valhalla (from newest album Redeemer Of Souls) that things kick up several gears.

Download Festival 2015 - Judas Priest on the main stage
Judas Priest: The metal gods in the rain.

From that point forward it’s a lesson to all in unleashing a succession of hits in epic style. Perhaps the only thing preventing Judas Priest from scoring a 10 in this review is Rob Halford’s consistent refusal to sing Breaking The Law properly (always letting the crowd do chorus vocal duties). All in all it is but a minor niggle when the likes of Turbo Lover, Painkiller and Livin’ After Midnight are being shredded to pieces by the young jewel in the Priest crown Richie Faulkner. Halford and co couldn’t have picked a better successor to KK (retired guitarist KK Downing) if they’d searched for another three years. Rob Halford’s closing address to the Donington masses is “see you on the UK tour”. It’s the best news we hear all day. JG

Returning for another headline slot on the Zippo Encore Stage (and as with 2014, clashing with Slipknot) we have Download veterans Black Stone Cherry (9). Past performances at Download have proved that the band can easily entertain a large audience; but tonight they excel themselves. The rain can’t put a damper on our good mood as the Kentucky rockers blast on stage with the aptly chosen ‘Rain Wizard’. Chris Robertson‘s vocals are on point, as he belts out banger after banger, including ‘Blind Man’, ‘Me And Mary Jane’, ‘Whitetrash Millionaire’, ‘Maybe Someday’ and new song ‘Roadrunner’ with his usual Meatloaf-y gusto. On drums, John Fred Young gives it his all as he savagely pummels his kit, while Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon‘s energetic guitar and bass work keeps us enthralled throughout the show. Black Stone Cherry are an exceptional, yet humble, band. They have worked hard to build a strong relationship with their UK fans over the past eight years, it really can’t be long before they are called to headline the main stage at Donington. LF

Playing while Slipknot are unleashing hell on the main stage will never be easy but Young Guns (8) don’t seem troubled by that. Packing out the Jake’s Stage the band play their “secret” set and pack it full of tunes from their brilliant new album Ones And Zeros. Despite the band spending most of the last two years breaking America it seems like people in the UK haven’t forgotten about them. New songs are already greeted like fan favourites while closer “Bones” wraps up the set brilliantly. It might have been short but it’s great to have Young Guns back. SD

Slipknot (8) in many ways simply cannot fail tonight, and in many ways they don’t. The sight and sound of tens of thousands of people singing every word of XIX before they launch into opener proper Sarcastrophe was truly memorable. As with their arena tour at the start of the year, old songs and new (including the much welcome new addition of “AOV”) mesh the setlist together seamlessly. Meanwhile Corey Taylor (and at times Chris Fehn and The Clown) prowl the stage and the ramp with menace and aggression, exacting every last drop of energy from the torrentially soaked maggots.

The second half of the set was wall to wall metal anthems of the highest quality, even though by this point the rain was so heavy the audience can barely see the stage. Download 2015 may well have gone down in history as per Corey Taylor’s wish, but in this instance for the wettest ever “Jump the f*** up!” during Spit It Out as more than a few ended up caked in mud. There was no time to care about such things as the always phenomenal Custer brought the main set to a close before the encore’s knock out punches of (sic), People = Shit and Surfacing one after the other.

Download Festival 2015 - Slipknot's Crowd in the blinding rain. Credit Danny North
The rain will kill us all indeed. Photo credit Danny North

The problem with Slipknot tonight, if it can be called such a thing, was a feeling of over-familiarity about it all. While the songs from The Gray Chapter have brilliantly revitalised Slipknot as a live entity, anyone who saw their fantastic arena tour in January will have felt they got almost exactly the same show, just with a monsoon on top for “added enjoyment”. Even Corey’s promise that they’ll be back to do this again at Download at some point were echoed word for word from their previous visit two years ago. This may be a case of sometimes you CAN have too much of a good thing.

And so came to an end a quite brilliant yet very soggy first day of Download 2015. Team Rock Sins will return soon with our Satuday and Sunday reports so please stay tuned!


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