Heads are sore, feet are weary but that matters not because there is one full day of Download 2019 left to go. The Donington masses collectively dust themselves down as they head towards Tool, Enter Shikari, Slayer’s last ever UK show and much more, so let’s get straight to it.
I Prevail (7), through no fault of their own land the awkward Sunday morning main stage slot and do their best to rouse a flagging Donington crowd. Opening with the ballsy Bow Down, the Michigan Rockers, early or not, mean business. Playing almost exclusively a set dominated by latest album Trauma the band packs as many punches as they can in their short set from the catchy chorus’ of Deadweight to the furious, full out, wake-the-fuck-up anthem Gasoline all whilst Clean vocalist Brian Burkheiser spins one-legged on a broken foot! Vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe’s get the crowd going at all costs mentality finally pays off when the band is rewarded with a sea of headbangers up front for Come And Get It. But it’s still not enough. In the breakdown of the song, referring to himself as a greedy motherfucker, he calls for all the energy and for the crowd to show him why the band should come back to the UK again. The crowds respond with huge mosh pits, much to his delight. They end with the crowd firmly on their side for a storming rendition of DOA. CF
There is a certain awe and mystery surrounding American Rockers Starset (7.5) who are another of the bands making their Download Festival debuts in 2019. A concept band based on The Starset Society the band presented their space-infused cinematic rock with much conviction. Opening with the emotive Unbecoming into the oh so catchy Monster, Starset gave a masterclass of how to mix varying genres and bring it in the live arena dressed in what can only be described as post-apocalyptic attire. Frontman Dustin Bates lets his musical art speak for itself commanding the stage with ease without having to say a word, exuding the swagger of the big gun frontmen – the Cardinal Copia’s, the Jared Letos and the Chester Bennington’s of the rock/metal world. My Demon wraps up a brief but impactful set on Zippo. Starset is a band to watch over the next few years. Their sound is already massive, refined to perfection and they have the stage show to match. If they can build momentum this side of the pond, they certainly have the potential to knock on the doors of arenas within the next five years – you heard it here first. The only downside was watching this space-themed band perform in the daylight. CF
When Godsmack (8) last played Download they were midway up the 2nd stage, this time they are only a slot or 2 lower, but on the big boy main stage and still draw an impressive crowd. I am personally a fan, was looking forward to this and am always pleased by how many turn out for them, but often wonder whether it’s genuine popularity or because Godsmack being in the UK is about common as Tool being anywhere. After an extended intro jam the boys launch into latest album title track When Legends Rise, following it up with the certified banger title track of the last album 1000hp and we are up and running.
Interestingly their previous set, which was a couple of tracks shorter featured cuts from every album released up to that point, but this set is much more about showcasing the new material – Something Different is the only other track performed from 1000hp and bar 2 songs from Awake, the rest of the set is all made up of new material. Apart from That Drum Battle. Once again, I find myself wondering why with such a short stage time any band would spend time doing anything other than playing actual songs, especially as it probably took the crew the same amount of time the band spent on stage to actually get all those drum mics onto both (massive) drumkits! That’s not to say it isn’t impressive and fun, but I always tell people who haven’t seen the band live about the cool drum battle between Shannon (Larkin, actual drummer) and Sully (Erna, vocalist who used to be a drummer back in the day. Kind of like a metal Phil Collins), but anyone who saw it at Download has now seen it and has no real special reason to pay for a ticket for a show. It was still fun though, especially as 10 mins before stage time we actually saw the last of the rain for the weekend and as Sully works the crowd from the ego ramp the band sign off with their biggest hit over here I Stand Alone and everyone goes back to the bar happy. GL
If you were playing a game of metalcore bingo, you would have a full house by the end of Heart of a Coward’s (6) first song. This isn’t to say that the set is without merit, as they play with an impressive amount of energy and determination. Material from new album, The Disconnect, slots in well amongst more established tunes, and the set itself is well paced keeping the energy levels high throughout. The calls to ‘open up this circle pit motherfuckers’ may be as trite as you can get at Download, but despite hackneyed stage patter the band give it their all and provide a decent amount of entertainment. SS
Ahead of their set America’s rising stars, State Champs (8), promise us big sing-songs and happy vibes ahead of their second trip to Download. And the East Coast contingent certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard delivering Pop-Punk anthem after Pop-Punk anthem. Their energy is simply infectious and you would be hard-pressed to find a band having so much fun all weekend. Period. Tracks from 2018’s Living Proof shine brightly whether its set opener Criminal, Mine Is Gold or the strike of Lightning with its almighty chorus. It’s all well fused in with fan-favourites from Around The World and debut The Finer Things though. Secrets and Elevated are thrown in there for good measure too in the champs afternoon Pop Punk Party. Put it this way, when your encore is a double-whammy of “big guns” in the form of All You Are Is History and Dead And Gone accompanied with a spinning bass player, you can’t really go too far wrong. It’s refreshing to see one of the genres newer faces giving the more established bands a very good run for their money. Proof that Pop Punk is very much alive and well in 2019 and has these Champs ready to contend for its throne. CF
Future festival headliners, Black Peaks (8.5), were pulling no punches. Opening with the colossal Single, Can’t Sleep, proceedings are whipped into a frenzy from the off. Unfortunately for the first few songs, Will Gardener’s voice seems a touch off the mark, but he is a man who even at a tenth of his powers remains one of the greatest vocalists at the entire festival. As the set hammers on, fire engulfs the front of the stage, adding an extra slab of gravitas to the wonder of Say You Will, and elevating things from phenomenal to positively incendiary. A truly momentous set and one that will remain talked about at the festival for years to come. SS
The sudden abundance of drinking horns in the audience and the massive viking helmet stage setup can mean only one thing – the metal world’s favourite Vikings Amon Amarth (7) have arrived to do battle with Download. Quite literally in this case, as part of their set involved two warriors reenacting a battle while Johan Hegg and co thundered through The Pursuit Of Vikings. A set mainly drawn from the past two albums, Jomsviking and Beserker, was very well received, although the odd curve ball like opening with The Fate Of Vikings from 2004’s Fate Of Norns was a wonderful bonus for the longtime fans. Whilst not quite on the earth shattering form that they are fully capable of at times, there’s no such thing as a bad Amon Amarth performance, and the ever swelling metal masses in particular greatly enjoyed Shield Wall and the always excellent Guardians Of Asgard. Closing as it is written in law that they must with one of the greatest metal songs of the last fifteen years, Twilight Of The Thunder God, this performance should see Amon Amarth continue their steady ascent up the Download festival line up. Second stage headliners next time perhaps? JG
Evening is beginning to draw in as Anthrax (7) start their 2nd stage set by jamming along to a Cowboys From Hell intro tape and then opening proceedings properly with Caught in a Mosh, showing that they mean business today. Clearly feeling nostalgic about being back at Download (“but we all know it as Monsters of Rock!” Scott Ian) the all too brief set is mostly made of classic pre-John Bush era tunes such as Madhouse and I Am The Law. The set seems to almost dip a bit when they play In The End from Joey Belladonna’s comeback album Worship Music, not coz it’s a bad song, just everything else had been so “classic Anthrax”. It’s a real shame after all his years of service we never get to hear any of John’s songs anymore, but I have no idea if that’s a band decision or some other diva activity. They still kill the old way though and after the staple closer of Indians, the assembled throng is more than ready for Slayer to close the day in this particular corner of Donington. GL
Instrumental post metal is a hard sell at Donnington, but if anyone was going to do it bar booking Russian Circles, it was Toska (7). Their music is deftly performed and exploratory, expanding ad infinitum across the four or so songs they play for their set. The physical performance is surprisingly energetic given the genre within which Toska exist, and provides another layer of enjoyment to an already hearteningly well attended set. It’s a no frills, no bells and whistles affair, just an immensely talented band playing vastly interesting music. SS
In a day that featured some of the greatest heavyweights of the rock and metal world, it comes as something of a surprise that Alcest (9) would pull such a deeply devoted, sizable crowd and play one of the best sets of the day. Neige, the frontman and progenitor of Blackgaze, stands with his thousand yard stare and seeming discomfort at being the focal point for a huge audience, but when the performance erupts he comes into his own as a proper rock star. Shimmering, glittering guitars juxtaposed with the dirt and bile of blackened music make for a dynamic and enrapturing set that goes pretty much unrivaled across the Sunday. SS
They may have less elaborate staging than their Viking metal brothers Amon Amarth but Lamb of God (8) did not come to fuck about, they came to lay waste to Donington Park and all those within it. Randy Blythe was on particularly cutting form, roaming the stage with something approaching murderous intent – but then when your opening consists of Omerta, Ruin and Walk With Me In Hell, that’s one hell of a dose of enjoyable punishment for the huge throng of people watching. Making special reference to three special numbers, 512 was perhaps the highlight of the set (as it often can be), while those who have seen Lamb of God recently (such as on the Slayer tour) will have been pleased to see new additions to the set like Descending and Hourglass. Ending with the one-two uppercut combo of Laid To Rest and Redneck, Lamb Of God’s most high profile position on the Download line up was fully justified, and they may well not be done climbing yet.
Recently reformed rock legends The Smashing Pumpkins (5) are making their eagerly awaited debut at Download Festival, and they have brought with them what appear to be enormous statues of giant illuminated Russian dolls. Opening with Zero we have high hopes for tonight’s performance, unfortunately from then on it’s all just a little bit flat. Not even a superb rendition of Bullet With The Butterfly Wings or a beautiful light show can breathe life in to this show. Barely cracking a smile, Billy Corgan looks like he would rather be anywhere else in the world than on the hallowed grounds of Donington Park as he stalks around the stage donned in black robes that put Ghost to shame.
In an attempt to do something special, we are given a cover of Black Sabbath classic Snowblind complete with a guest appearance from a heavily pregnant Amalie Brunn of Myrkur. Unfortunately, this feels so random that it just does not work. Why not duet on one of the classic tunes from The Smashing Pumpkins extensive back catalogue, rather than give us a fairly average cover? Omitting Today, 1979 and Tonight, Tonight is unforgivable, as is Corgan messing up the words to Ava Adore. By the end of the set we’re left feeling totally disconnected from the band on the stage, which is a real shame given The Smashing Pumpkins are such a magnificent band on record. When you’re that high on the bill you have a lot to live up to. Must try harder. LF
After their secret set at last year’s Download, expectations were sky high for Fever 333 (6). The set is undeniably explosive, with Jason Butler in particular proving why he is such a revered frontman. The pedigree of the members speaks for itself and goes to explaining just why it is that people flock to see Fever 333 in their droves. However, how little of what happened on stage that was actually played live is downright shameful. The over reliance on backing tracks makes for a disjointed and inauthentic set, detracting from the power of the words and message that the band try their damn hardest to evoke. A drum solo in which the drummer does not remain at the kit, but the percussion keeps pounding, speaks volumes as to the lackadaisical attitude the band have to their musicianship. SS
Dream Theater’s (9) first appearance at Download in a decade was eagerly anticipated, and the perfect warm up for the farewell to Slayer, despite the musical contrast. They were on absolutely scintillating form too. Dream Theater’s live performances generally live and die by the form of James Labrie, but it was evident from the opening Untethered Angel that the mass of Dream Theater devotees gathered at Download had nothing to worry about – he was flying. The intro to As I Am had heads banging and fists flying, while you could see minds being blown by the looks on the faces of those present watching Barstool Warrior and in particular The Presence Of Enemies Pt 1. If minds were blown at this point, they were positively melted by The Dance Of Eternity, whetting appetites for the potential Scenes From A Memory 20th anniversary tour later in the year or next year (for more on that, stay tuned for our exclusive interview with Dream Theater’s resident wizard Jordan Rudess very soon). Flipping from old to new to old with Lie, Blue Dot and then the epic conclusion of Pull Me Under, it has to be hoped it’ll be a lot less than ten years before Dream Theater return to Donington next time. JG
Headlining the third stage and packing it to the rafters were Enter Shikari (8.5). Few bands are as hardworking and dedicated as the perennially underrated quartet, who deserve a far bigger slot than they are given. There is however no hint of contempt or envy in their performance or their greetings to the “carbon based lifeforms” making up the massive crowd. Using throbbing synthesisers to create their unique brand of post hardcore in a set that ups the ante on the heavy side of their sound makes for a tent shaking wild ride. The likes of Arguing with Thermometers and the blast beating Juggernauts make for a thrilling and dynamic performance, as pyro and confetti cannons burst out into the audience time and time again. Rou Reynolds is a wonderful frontman, bringing a genuine feeling of love and togetherness to the crowd, herding them through the genre blending journey their set takes you on. More than just a hit brilliant, Shikari are sure to become a staple of the festival, and deserving of far more exposure in the hallowed grounds. SS
Our review of Slayer’s UK farewell performance ran just a couple of days after the festival. For those who haven’t yet had the chance to read it, you can read our review of Slayer’s last UK performance here.
Finally. After thirteen long, long years, the moment had come. Tool (9) graced the main stage of the hallowed home of rock and metal. From the opening ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’ whispered by Keenan into the microphone the set is a transcendently beautiful affair, with vivid technicolour lights and swirling psychedelic imagery adorning the back and side of the stage. It is a sight to behold and one that goes unparalleled by ninety nine percent of bands who have ever set foot on a stage. The quartet smash their way through a career spanning set in the truest sense, playing from as far back as the Opiate EP, all the way up to currently unreleased songs from their upcoming fifth studio album. It goes quite some way to explain the grandeur of Tool’s music that in amongst huge hits and fan favourites, the new songs almost take precedence as the highlight of the set, in particular the latter of the two, Invincible.
As the sun sets into a distant shadow and night descends upon the arena everything begins to make all the more sense. The band are silhouetted against the aforementioned kaleidoscopic backdrop, shadows dancing off the light in a sweet symphony of sound and sight. The only real bugbear about the set is that it lacks a real moment of total wonder, there is no ‘Oh my God’ feeling, just one prolonged emotion of hushed reverence and quiet contentment. The performances themselves are pretty much spot on, though it is noticeable that Maynard James Keenan struggles to hit some of the high notes from his younger days, instead electing for a lower register harmony. This is a minor critique of course in what is a set that most bands could not dream of performing, and stands testament to the wonder of Tool. A perfect way to see out another mightily successful Download, and we can only hope they won’t be away for so long next time.
If you’ve not yet had a chance to read the first two parts of our extensive Download Festival 2019 coverage, you can catch up on the links below:
Words by Jamie Giberti (JG), Claire Frays (CF), Greg Latham (GL), Lisa Fox (LF) and Sam Savigny (SS). All photos by Jamie Giberti.