After ten days of pretty much non stop rain in the build up to the festival at times bordering on the torrential, Rock Sins really wasn’t sure what we would find arriving at the 2019 Download Festival. Stories abound in the mainstream media of attendees having given up in the campsite on the Wednesday and Thursday, having been flooded out of their tents, people sleeping in their cars and a campsite village pretty much impassable due to the mud made for a fairly bleak picture. But since when have such things ever stopped the vast majority of Download goers from enjoying themselves at Donington? 3000 or so hardy folks happily endured the village conditions to celebrate with bands such as Neshiima, The Five Hundred and TheCityIsOurs at the boardie takeover on the Thursday night, and heading into Friday, there was just the odd sign or two that conditions were going to pick up in time for the opening of the arena. That, and the golf buggies full of straw that kept passing us on our way in told us that like every other Download, rain or shine, there would be many stories to tell afterwards.
Opening the Download main stage for the first of his 2 sets today Vivian Campbell swaggers into view with the rest of his Last in Line (8) cohorts, while vocalist Andrew Freeman marches down the ego ramp with a big “How the fuck are you doing?” before they explode into Landslide. It quickly becomes apparent what seriously talented musicians these guys are as every song is tighter than a ducks arsehole and drumming legend Vinnie Appice hasn’t lost any of his touch. With only a short set the quintet waste no time cherry picking samples from their 2 albums of material, one of the highlights being the heavy groove of Give Up The Ghost, from the album II, before they end their short but oh so sweet set with Dio classic Rainbow in the Dark and quite frankly it has never sounded so good. GL
Skid Row (7) are undoubtably among rock’s heavy hitters. Known as one of the leading 80s/90s hair metal bands, today the legends are fronted by the former Dragonforce vocalist ZP Theart. In a flash of hair, we are transported back in time as Skid Row kick off what is to be a set packed full of classics, ‘Slave to the Grind’ gives way to ‘Sweet Little Sister’ and ‘Piece of Me’ has heads banging merrily throughout the ample crowd. The tempo slows down a bit with ’18 and Life’, ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘I Remember You’ before closing with the anthemic ‘Youth Gone Wild’. While the sound is patchy at times, making it hard to make out ZP’s vocals over the roaring guitars and ripping drums, the crowd came here for one thing and one thing only – to mosh and relive the days when they were the youth gone wild. LF
When it comes to Symphonic Metal, few do it better than the Dutch. With just two Symphonic Metal bands on the bill, and hot off the heels of their Hunter’s Moon EP, Delain (8) made sure the genre was well represented. Frontwoman Charlotte Wessels, together with her colour-coordinated bandmates, who were all dressed in red and black without exception, led the bombastic charge in a set which cleverly navigated through the majority of Delain’s back-catalogue. The grandiose Hands Of Gold kicked off the bands 40-minute orchestral metal masterclass, driven by Wessels powerfully angelic voice. The classy, Masters Of Destiny brought waves of pure cinematic ecstasy to the Zippo Stage but it was the heavier side the band in the form of Pristine that tickled the taste-buds of Donington’s metalheads. Wessels and Schimmelpenninck van der Oije traded clean and harsh vocals as passages laden with strings and French horns boomed across the arena. Fan-favourite We Are The Others wrapped up Delain’s euphoric conquest of the Zippo stage in what was surely one of the weekends most effortlessly epic performances. CF
You can also find Rock Sins’ interview with Martijn of Delain, conducted a couple of hours at their set at Download, right here.
The crowd is amassing as Download and general live favourites Clutch (9) open with HB Is In Control and Ghoul Wrangler from latest album Book of Bad Decisions. As usual Neil Fallon gives it his all fronting the stoner rock blues groove band and the audience lap up everything they have thrown at them, especially when The Regulator gets a look in on the setlist. The biggest surprise of the afternoon though is when the final notes of Electric Worry ring out and instead the usual leaving the stage while thanking the fans action, the band launch straight into a frankly blistering X-Ray Visions, ensuring everyone is fully satisfied and tickets for the UK dates at the back end of this year will almost definitely sell out. GL
Finally, as the early evening beers start to kick in, Whitesnake (7.5) take to the stage and gawd bless ‘im David Coverdale has brought the sunshine! Admittedly, this doesn’t last long, but the reprieve from the constant showers is welcomed by all. Opening with the one-two of Bad Boys and Slide It In, Sir David leads the band through a glorious set of classic rock tinged tunes, including tracks from latest album Flesh & Blood, such as Shut Up & Kiss Me and Trouble Is Your Middle Name. Unfortunately, this is the part of the set where, for me personally, bands start to lose their interest at a festival. I can totally understand why you would play your newer material when your appearance is planted firmly in the middle of a world tour to promote said material, however, why do bands insist on including guitar and/or drums solos (or sometimes covers) in festival sets?
Surely, this is the time they are most likely to play in front of people who wouldn’t normally watch them (or perhaps not have listened to much) so, therefore, is it not better to fill your set with actual songs designed to win them over to pay for a future concert ticket or album (I know – I am so old fashioned…)? That said, the drum solo was equally as impressive as drummer Tommy Aldridge’s luxurious hair, which was giving Coverdale’s barnet a run for its money. Maybe these solos are designed to give David’s vocals a rest being as he is not as young as he used to be, but whilst it had moments of showing signs of that fact, at its weakest it was still better than most of today’s vocalists. The trio of classics that close out the set (Gimme All Your Love, Here I Go Again and Still of the Night) bring the proverbial house down though and everyone in attendance managed to forget how wet and muddy they were for an hour. GL
In typical dryly suave and sophisticated fashion, Opeth (7) went about their business as only they can. Mikael Akerfeldt, always an excellent story teller, treated us all to a story about dancing with Agnetha Faltskog from ABBA recently in-between blasting our heads off with a mainly old school Opeth set. After the opening Sorceress, wonderful renditions of the likes of Ghost Reveries and The Drapery Falls were enjoyed by a huge crowd at The Zippo Encore stage, before things were turned up another couple of notches for the closing Deliverance. The first of many performances that for one reason or another, was over far too soon. JG
As Download Festival continues to play through its traditional “Classic Rock Sunday “ theme on the Friday, sub-headliner Slash (7.5) leads The Conspirators and vocalist Myles Kennedy through a set mainly composed of tracks from last years’ Living The Dream album, a release that caused everyone to wonder if there is ever a time the hat sporting man is ever not on the road or in a studio. One must also wonder who’s idea it was to give the band a name AND separate out Myles Kennedy on all the posters and albums – we’re all there to see Slash and Myles Kennedy is hardly David Coverdale, so let’s just call it Slash and be done with it shall we? Good.
Now when Slash (as they will now be known) first started doing these shows it was all rather a lot of fun – you had his album (with just his name on it) to pull songs from with all those guest vocalists, a couple of albums from Slash’s Snakepit (why didn’t he just reform them?) plus, of course, all the Guns N Roses material, so it was a really great festival set, regardless of whether you were watching at a festival or as part of the indoor tour. Nowadays, some of that seems to have gone as The Name That’s Too Long To Even Acronym (SFMKATC?) have four albums of their own to pull from and, therefore, feel that’s what they’re making their name as and need to play. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I haven’t listened to half of them… The band perform everything brilliantly though and they are a great choice between Whitesnake and Def Leppard and bassist Todd Kerns does a more than passable job singing Dr Alibi, which as we all know Slash originally recorded with Lemmy on vocals. An almost contractually obliged performance of Nightrain begins to wrap up proceedings and the set ends on a fantastic drawn out version of World on Fire, from the album of the same name. Despite my earlier comments, it is good to see Slash clearly thinks of them all as a band and if they weren’t all enjoying themselves and working as well as they clearly are together then we wouldn’t still be seeing them rocking out on stages around the world and no doubt they’ll be back, be it at Download or elsewhere in the UK, soon. GL
Blasting on to the stage in a whirl of energy, The Interrupters (9) are a force to be reckoned with. Bringing fresh faced ska to Donington, the Los Angeles four piece quickly have the audience moving. ‘A Friend Like Me’ is a spectacular way to start off proceedings as it bursts in to ‘Take Back The Power’ and ‘Gave You Everything’. There isn’t any time for pleasantries, Interrupters are determined to pack in as many upbeat anthems as they can in to their short set, and wow do they impress us. Promising a cover of fellow California alumni leads to a cacophony of intros ranging from Metallica to Green Day, before going in to a cover of Operation Ivy’s ‘Sound System’.
Delivering a high octane, interactive and most importantly thoroughly enjoyable set, frontwoman Aimee Interrupter is a serious force to be reckoned with. ‘She Got Arrested’ is sublime, and has the crowd howling for more. The Interrupters have no delusions of grandeur, no musical snobbery, they’re just a bunch of amazing musicians giving a killer performance, and there’s a huge crowd absolutely loving it. LF
A tent that was absolutely bursting at the seems was sadly left disappointed, though not as disappointed as Twelve Foot Ninja (6) themselves were. With their set delayed for the best part of twenty minutes due to technical difficulties. It was “shit”, as they themselves described it, but made the most of what they could, ripping through three songs in quick succession to the delight of the rammed Dogtooth Stage crowd. A full chorus of boos that greeted their departure told you that three songs wasn’t nearly enough. JG
Fortunately for those in the Dogtooth Tent, it remained equally as rammed for the sonic assault that came from Jinjer (7.5). With the crowd outside the tent probably twenty deep and growing with each song, (was it the rain, the music or a bit of both?) Tatiana and the rest of the band were busy making heads bang so hard there were probably some whiplash injuries amongst those in attendance. Arguably the Ukraine’s most famous heavy music export of all time, it’s not hard to see why with songs like I Speak Astronomy and Perennial going down an absolute storm with the assembled masses. Like Twelve Foot Ninja, everyone definitely wanted more Jinjer. JG
The Avalanche Stage is jam packed for Reel Big Fish (9), which was just as well as a downpour of biblical proportions descended during their set. Whether this influenced people’s plans or not, there is no denying that Reel Big Fish are bloody brilliant. Standouts on the scene for many years, their new material holds up well alongside classics such as ‘Beer’ and ‘Everything Sucks’, and for the second time in as many hours the massive crowd are skanking their pants off.
The ska-punk stalwarts deliver a festival set worthy of a headline slot, with fan favourites ‘Sell Out’ and ‘Trendy’ proclaimed by the brass section and getting us well in the mood for partying. Closing with ‘Take On Me’ provides the best sing along moment of the day if not the weekend. We are left buzzing and hungry for more. LF
“This is a cover song” is a factually accurate, yet repetitive introduction to every single song performed tonight by Me First and The Gimmie Gimmes (8). Thankfully this tongue in cheek banter only adds to the fact that their performance is highly entertaining and enjoyable, after all, it isn’t often that you see a tent full of metalheads at Download dancing along to Cher classic ‘Believe’.
Belting out classic covers such as ‘Jolene’, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and ‘Heart of Glass’, the songs on show may not have been the most rock n roll but the band somehow manage to make it work. Although Fat Mike can’t be there, we are treated to incredible performances from CJ Ramone and Stacey Dee of Bad Cop/Bad Cop, the latter in particular demonstrating a stage presence that could rival the NOFX frontman. All too quickly the fun is over, and we are left dancing our way out in to the cold wet Donington evening, with smiles on our faces in spite of the weather. LF
It was business as usual for Rob Zombie (9) on his 3rd second stage headliner performance at Donington. Whilst there weren’t quite the epic robot pyrotechnics last witnessed in 2011, Zombie and crew still brought the trademark thunderous shock-rock in abundance under the nightfall. And let’s face it only Zombie and Ginger Fish would be able to get away with a Drum solo two songs into a set. Opening with Meet The Creeper into Superbeast it’s clear the band is on fine form this evening as they blast through a setlist loaded with a party-vibe to rival Andrew WK himself. At one point Zombie called out a chap dressed as a unicorn and made sure to shout out some of the food vendors and bizarrely a sock shop – he seemed to have a particular affinity for the steak and chips van at the top left of second stage though and made damn sure that the people up there were clapping along.
Whilst Zombie is obviously the protagonist, what’s thrilling with his band is that the likes of Piggy D, Ginger Fish and John 5 don’t come across as the typical session musician / hired gun no bodies treated with disdain – they are very much allowed to hold their own and bring their own characters to the stage show and you can see Zombie clearly appreciates their talents and really sees them as true band mates. Granted Piggy D and John 5 have been with Zombie for close to 15 years now but the performance is still all the richer as a result. Alongside a series of White Zombie classics ranging from More Human Than Human to Thunder Kiss ’65 the set also featured covers of The Beatles in the form of Helter Skelter and The Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop prompting deafening sing-alongs and a good old Donington bop.
The customary Dragula brought the house down and naturally scored major points with the crowd who absolutely lost it from the moment it kicked in until the final chorus. We conclude that you simply cannot go wrong with a Rob Zombie headliner set at Download. A perfect end to a thrilling first day of Rock and Metal on the Zippo Encore stage at Download. CF
Headlining the festival for the third time, albeit the first time in eight years, Def Leppard (8) had come armed (pardon the pun) with their diamond selling album Hysteria to be played in full and much more. With the strains of “Women” blasting out, Joe Elliott and co wasted no time in getting on with the main attraction. When you’ve been watching Def Leppard live for over fifteen years (which is probably half the time of what some in attendance at Download this evening have been doing), it’s somewhat surreal to see some of the biggest songs in their arsenal being unleashed one after the other so early in the set. It is also, as one might expect, completely wonderful.
The whole band are on superb form, Joe Elliot in particular, sprinting through a soaring singalong for Animal, and then stripping it back for a lighters and phones in the air moment for Love Bites (a shame the sky was the brightest it had been all day at this point – if only for this reason). The enormous reaction that greeted Pour Some Sugar On Me shows how it is one of the true British rock classic songs, before it was followed with a top notch version of Armageddon It.
The prospect of At The Gates (8.5) performing on the smallest stage at Download 2019 had had many Download attendees very, very excited for weeks, if not months before the festival, and had us trawling up the hill from Def Leppard brimming with anticipation. Expectations were high in the rammed Dogtooth stage once again, but they were swiftly melted when At The Gates proceeded to open with To Drink From The Night Itself straight into the timeless death metal classic Slaughter Of The Soul. It was like weapons grade plutonium had been detonated inside the tent.
Tobias Lindberg held every single person inside that tent (and many listening intently headbanging outside too) in the palm of his hand while At The Gates tore through the likes of Cold and At War With Reality. It was a piece of absolutely genius booking that topped off a thoroughly excellent days metal in The Dogtooth Stage on the first day of Download 2019. The only problem facing those present was how they were going to be able to headbang to anything else in the next two days after the power of At The Gates.
Skipping (figuratively speaking, definitely not literally) out of At The Gates a little before the end, Def Leppard were still in full flow and there was time to catch several more classics. When you can finish a performance with a triple whammy of Let’s Get Rocked, Rock Of Ages and Photograph, you know it’s something special. You couldn’t get two headliners more different than Def Leppard and At The Gates, but it merged into a wonderful combination that you could only get at Download, and it worked so well. JG
One day down, two to go. Sore heads – and necks were guaranteed as we head into Middle Saturday with just the small matter of Slipknot and their ridiculously good supporting cast to handle. For those who want to beat the rush and grab themselves an early bird, discounted ticket for Download 2020 – head right here. See you for part two of the review very soon!
Words by Jamie Giberti (JG), Claire Frays (CF), Greg Latham (GL) and Lisa Fox (LF). Photos by Jamie Giberti and Claire Frays except At The Gates photo by Sarah Koury and Clutch by David Dillon.