Download Festival 2023 Review – Saturday

Three days into Download Festival 2023. At this point in a standard weekend at Donington some people would be starting to wind down, pack up the tents ahead of going home but not at Download 2023! Anticipation was high ahead of Metallica’s second set of the weekend, while the day was full of other hugely anticipated bands from Fever 333 to Creeper’s (not so) secret set. Before we launch into the action from Saturday, please feel free to catch up with our full review of Thursday of Download 2023, and our full review and photos of Friday of Download 2023! With the recap over, and the sun still blazing down upon us all, it was time to reach for the factor fifty sun cream and get the day started with some Australian metalcore…

It’s midday and there is already a sizeable crowd in attendance for Download Festival debutants Polaris (7). Another successful band from the seemingly never ending Australian metalcore pipeline that has produced the likes of Parkway Drive and Northlane, Polaris serve up an energetic, highly entertaining thirty five minute set to start the day in the best possible way. The band are clearly enjoying themselves as much as the crowd are (especially frontman Jamie Hails) and with a setlist mainly powered by lockdown favourite The Death Of Me, tracks like Hypermania and Masochist go down a storm (with the circle pits producing ever growing dust clouds to boot). Finishing off with The Remedy, Polaris join the ranks of bands who have had a very successful Donington debut and who will definitely be welcomed back in the future. JG

Polaris – Download Festival / Matt Higgs

Bringing the fun in the sun over at The Opus Stage, we have thrash metal titans, Municipal Waste (8). The dust was flying as the crowd flailed around to opener Demoralizer – it’s fast, it’s filthy and we are here for it. The Virginian maniacs turn the heat up with fast fire bangers, Beer Pressure, Breathe Grease and The Thrashin’ Of The Christ. What feels like hundreds (but is really more like three) circle pits never let up. Municipal Waste sure know how to bring a party (they were born to do it, after all). Vocalist Tony Foresta appears to be having as much fun as the enraptured crowd, as he jibes that Metallica should have taken his band on tour instead of the notably missing Five Finger Death Punch. With a career that spans over twenty years (and still going strong), Municipal Waste are coming for you! LF

Fever 333(8) have gained themselves quite a reputation for their ferocious live shows over the last few years. With that line-up behind them though and Jason Aalon Butler accompanied by a fresh crop of faces, their early afternoon set is something of a wildcard. Any concerns are quickly waylaid however, because from the bombastic opening chords of Burn It, it’s obvious that this iteration is just as fearsome as the last.

Focusing mostly on material from Strength in Numb333rs. The band waste little time whipping the crowd into a frenzy with hits like Made in America, with ex-Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen in particular doing an admirable job behind the kit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like long until it’s time for them to bring things to an end. Butler has one last trick up his sleeve however, scaling the main stage rigging to deliver the final verses of Hunting Season in what’s sure to go down as the weekend’s most death defying stunt. Leaving an impression on Fever 333 fans both old and new! HL

Slotting in as another late addition to the line-up, Unto Others (7) have long been considered one of the most underrated bands in rock and metal and this set proved it. Their overall rating would have been several numbers higher if it didn’t feel like they were tucked away on the Dogtooth after their name appeared on the poster just days before the event. Whilst those in the know worship the ground they walk on, this was an example of a great band in great form not properly finding their audience on this occasion. That being said, they will have surely converted a decent amount of the tent to loyal followers but given the opportunity, this could have been the breakout moment they are looking for in the UK. KD

Announcing their biggest UK headline shows to date before taking to the stage, Stray From The Path (9) are in a great run of form this year. Supporting some big tours and making some sizeable movements off the back of 2022’s Euthanasia, the live shows have never been in doubt but armed with their strongest material to date, Stray are delivering and so are the crowds that show up for them. Raising the temperature with a high-paced setlist packed to the brim with everything you would expect from their brand of groovy hardcore, this set felt like a moment for them, a moment that sets them up perfectly for the UK tour later this year and an even more prominent slot on the bill next time around. KD

Stray From The Path – Download Festival / Sarah Louise Bennett (SLB)

After getting a great response at last year’s instalment, Ice Nine Kills (7) returned to Donington for their second year in a row, this time earning a main stage slot. With a setlist entirely composed of their horror-homaging Silver Scream albums, the big question was how does their singalongs and on-stage theatrics translate to such a big stage. On this occasion, they seemed to fare better on the second stage the year previous. Potentially falling victim to several factors such as the blistering heat and blinding sun at this point in the day, the crowd didn’t seem nearly as thirsty for blood as what INK usually draw out of their shows.

The theatrics were all great (definitely the first time the Download Dog has been killed on stage that we are aware of), if a bit hard to see, and the setlist is packed with huge choruses and breakdowns but none of it seemed to cut too deep. They put on a great show but this time around, it felt more like a side attraction double feature rather than Halloween night had arrived early at Donington. KD

“This is not a physique I’m proud of, but it’s one that prevents me from passing out” quips Casey (8) frontman Tom Weaver, stripping off in the sauna-esque Avalanche tent, which providing most welcome respite from the sun is still like an oven due to the huge crowd taking firm opportunity to enjoy a reunion and comeback so many present didn’t think would ever happen. The power of the performance is utterly ridiculous. Casey pore every drop of energy and sweat they have into this half an hour, sonically assaulting all present then gently letting them drift with luscious guitar melodies. And then they do it again and again. The reaction gets louder each time. They close with Little Bird off the Love Is Not Enough album, inciting a truly visceral response from the first several rows of the audience. Watching the emotion pour from both band and fans, Casey have shared with those in attendance a truly cathartic experience. Those present can count themselves very lucky to have been here. JG

Self proclaimed earth rockers Clutch (8) are a familiar sight at Download. Unfortunately though, the band are a member down this weekend, as bassist Dan Maines has had to remain at home and unfortunately it does show in the early going. With the band stumbling several times during House That Peterbilt and Escape From The Prison Planet while their stand in for the day, Fu Manchu alumni Mark Abshire finds his feet.

Undeterred, the four piece from Maryland plough on and eventually slip into their regular groove the further they dig into their back catalogue. Delivering tracks like Burning Beard, Profits of Doom and Mob Goes Wild with much greater precision. Neil Fallon remains completely unshaken throughout too, sermonising to the masses with all of his usual charisma. Making their early issues a distant memory by the time they’re closing things up with Pure Rock Fury. HL

There’s something to be said about daytime slots for bands with an aesthetic like Motionless In White (7) but the band smashed out a blinder of a set to a packed-out Opus Stage. A simple stage presence comprising of only a backdrop (and a handful of amps that would have had Yngwie Malmsteen appalled [!]) ensured all ears were firmly on the music, as the opening tones of ‘Disguise.’ accompanied by Chris Motionless telling Downloaders to ‘Get Up, Get Up and make some fucking noise’.

Donington rose from the dead as antics kicked up a notch from the front to the back as ‘Sign of Life’ and ‘Scoring the End of World’ dropped. ‘Another Life’ slowed affairs down somewhat whilst delivering one of the loudest singalongs of the set. The only drawback was the lack of old-school material in the band’s set, limited to a single blast of 2014’s ‘Reincarnate’.  ‘Eternally Yours’ closed out the day with its monumental, big chorus’ soaring over Donington as Chris Motionless dished out red roses to lucky fans down on the barricade whilst guitars squealed and the band took their final bow. CF

Having the self-awareness to announce on stage that they probably sound like Miley Cyrus compared to everything else the crowd has already seen that day is a great example of why Kid Kapichi (9) works in this environment. Not pretending to be anything that they aren’t, they will definitely win over anyone that might be put off by the thought of their sound with the sheer amount of catchy choruses and the authenticity behind it. Never once feeling like putting a poe-faced punk attitude to fit in, Kid Kapichi sound right out of a Guy Ritchie movie and whilst they aren’t going to start playing metal bills or anything like that, they’d still clip you round the mouth for looking at them funny. Tracks like I.N.V.U, New England and Smash The Gaff all carry enough us against the world energy to connect with a Download audience and if you haven’t got them in your head for the rest of the day, you might want to book a hearing appointment. KD

Kid Kapichi – Download Festival / Abbie Shipperley

Post-hardcore’s golden children Alexisonfire (8.5) are up next on the Apex Stage. Nobody is happier about it than bassist Chris Steele either, who is absolutely beaming as the band kick off their set with Dogs Blood. Thoroughly uncompromising and tighter than a band thats just returned from a decade long hiatus, the crowd seems just as pleased to see Alexisonfire back in the UK too. Bellowing back the chorus to follow up track Sweet Dreams of Otherness like it’s been part of their set for years and hanging on Dallas Green’s every word.

Sans Soleil and Familiar Drugs both make notable appearances as well. However, it’s their older material that hits the hardest. With mosh pits popping up left and right during Accept Crime and We Are The Sound, turning the front row into a dustbowl of sweaty bodies and flailing limbs.

Despite being nearly an hour long, their set absolutely flies by. Predictably, Alexisonfire save their best for last too. Bringing things to a close with a one-two combo of Young Cardinals and This Could Be Anywhere In The World. Leaving a lasting impression on everyone in attendance as the dust settles in front of the main stage. HL

Download Festival / Sarah Louise Bennett (SLB)


Placebo – Download Festival / Todd Owyoung

Disturbed (8) setting the scene for Metallica on Saturday night had the potential to be nothing more than a curtain jerker but they took full advantage of their spot. With a setlist full of singalongs that are so much fun in a festival environment, their booking is a home run. Whilst the set does take a few slowed down diversions that attempt to deliver some emotional haymakers, it could be make or break for fans that just want a rollercoaster ride of obnoxious metal bangers. For the overwhelming majority, David Draiman’s sincerity, particularly in talking about missing his departed friends, seemed to connect and really draw the crowd in deeper than the initial promise. Ten Thousand Fists has never felt more at home and whilst Disturbed aren’t ever going to take anyone by surprise, this was the perfect opportunity for them to do what they do best and they delivered. You can’t ask for much more than that. KD

Fitting in as a (not so) secret headliner on the Dogtooth stage, Creeper (8) showed once again that they can do so much with little time. With just enough time to fit in eight songs, they rip through huge singalongs back-to-back with most of the usual suspects going down an absolute treat as always. For long-time fans, the biggest draw is getting to see some new material and opening with their recently released single Cry To Heaven shows how ridiculously good (and overlooked?) this band are in the grand scheme of things. Along with the unreleased Sacred Blasphemy of their upcoming album Sanguivore, both tracks drip from head to toe in confidence and cool. It does feel a bit like a smash and grab with their late announcement and short set so here’s hoping that next time around, Creeper are given their full dues as one of the most consistently fantastic bands around. KD

The sheer fact that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance were about to see Metallica (9.5) for the second time in three days still hadn’t sunk in for many. As good as Metallica were on Thursday night (see our full review for details), this was on another level. The glorious refrain of the Esctasy of Gold complete, the legendary San Francisco quartet kick off night two by taking it back to the very beginning with Whiplash off Kill ‘Em All – thrashing all around indeed!

Metallica – Download Festival / Matt Higgs

Following straight into huge fan favourite For Whom The Bell Tolls was a great move, that bass line remaining one of the all time great bass lines In heavy metal history. Ride The Lightning was similarly greeted with a huge roar, and Until It Sleeps filling the King Nothing slot from night one was another popular choice. Of the new material, the title track from 72 Seasons sounded particularly excellent.

Indeed, the only thing preventing Metallica scoring the full 10 / 10 in this review was the plodding You Must Burn. Why this was chosen over great 72 Seasons tracks like Too Far Gone or Room Of Mirrors remains a mystery. It following on from a jubilant Welcome Home (Sanitarium) only heightened this as the one drop off in Metallica’s two hour celebration.

Metallica – Download Festival / Abbie Shipperley

From a majestic run through of The Call Of Ktulu onwards, Metallica ascend to another level of performance. The preceeding set and a half has been great, at times excellent. But this final hour shows Metallica can still hit the heights of their tremendous powers. Every song is a surefire home run. Black album favourites The Unforgiven straight into Wherever I May Roam sound as good as they did the album was released 32 years ago. Moth Into Flame has firmly secured its spot as both the best and most popular Metallica song released in the last 20 years and is greeted with a huge roar. And even then it still went up another level.

A furious rampage through Battery shows that yes, Lars can still drum rather well. Whiskey In The Jar is heard on UK soil for the first time in almost a decade, much to the delight of those all around. One sounds incredible (check the video below to experience a taste for yourselves) and the obligatory Enter Sandman would have blown the roof off Donington If such a thing had existed. 

“Donington, we will see you not soon enough” Lars Ulrich lamented at the end of Metallica’s tenth (and his ninth, as James’ kept ribbing him about throughout) appearance at Donington, setting a new record. The tenth Metallica show at Donington, and sixth at Download, had to be up there as one of their very best. As the thousands trudged back happily to the Download village and campsite, or to their cars, the significance of what Metallica have done over the last three days was really sinking in. We can only hope it is nothing like another eleven years before Metallica grace the hallowed Donington turf once again. JG

Early bird tickets for Download Festival 2024 are available and on sale now from Ticketmaster! Pick them up while you can to get next years’ festival at this years’ prices.

Reviews by Hank Leyland (HL), Kyle Dimond (KD), Jamie Giberti (JG), Claire Frays (CF) and Lisa Fox (LF). Photos by Jemma Dodd except where credited.

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