Download Festival 2023 Review – Sunday

Slipknot - Download Festival / Todd Owyoung

Day four of Download Festival 2023. The Download faithful are into unchartered territory here; Usually the Donington masses are on their way at home at this point in proceedings. Not this year. With a fourth full day to look forward to full of bands as varied as Slipknot, Ghost, Electric Callboy, Bloodywood and Avatar, it’s another day with truly something for everyone. To catch up on the first three parts of the Rock Sins’ Download 2023 review, we have some links for your convenience below:

Download Festival 2023 – Day One / Thursday Review
Download Festival 2023 – Day Two / Friday Review
Download Festival 2023 – Day Three / Saturday Review

Of all the great bits of booking at this years’ Download Festival, having Bloodywood (9) open the main stage on the final day to blow off the collective cobwebs was possibly the biggest masterstroke of all. The Indian Bhangra metal fusion maestros drew an absolutely mammoth crowd for their midday opening slot, bringing back memories of Trivium’s main stage opening iconic set in 2005. The size of the crowd wasn’t the only comparison either. Over the next thirty five minutes or so, the New Delhi six piece’s performance is equal parts ferocious and captivating.

Jayant Bhadula’s speech about putting an end to sexual assault and violence against women prior to the pulverising Dana Dan showcased the social justice that is at the heart of what Bloodywood are all about. Finishing with Machi Bhasad (Expect a Riot), it’s over all too soon. But what a statement they have made. Bloodywood will be back at Download, and don’t be surprised if they experience a meteoric rise like Trivium had nearly twenty years ago. JG

Bloodywood – Download Festival / Todd Owyoung

Deathcore sensations Lorna Shore (9) have quite the act to follow after Bloodywood’s stellar
opening performance on the Apex Stage. Will Ramos and co. take no prisoners either
though, launching into a pulverising rendition of Sun//Eater. Instantly causing multiple circle
pits to erupt from the crowd, with the clouds of dust that begin to rise up almost completely
eclipsing the stage itself.

The chaos reaches its peak during To The Hellfire, with Ramos sounding like a man
possessed as he spits verse after venomous verse into the mic. Austin Archey’s thunderous
double kick drum attack underpinning every growl and pig squeal with military precision. The
New Jersey natives aren’t done yet though. Finishing off their short but magnificent set with
Pain Remains I, II and III. Laying down the gauntlet for all that have to follow them and
hopefully ensuring a higher spot on the bill for their next trip to Download! HL

Lorna Shore – Download Festival / Abbie Shipperley

Stomping onto the Opex stage next are Swedish metallers Avatar (6). The theatrical five piece open with a strapping rendition of Dance Devil Dance, the first track from their latest release which bares the same name.

Vocalist Johannes Eckerström commands the stage like a twisted ringmaster as he leads the band through The Eagle Has Landed, Valley of Disease and The Dirt I’m Buried In. Maybe it’s because it’s the fourth day of bands, or maybe it’s the blazing sun making everyone lazy, but the crowd seems a little flat. The front rows are loving it, but further back most are simply standing and watching the festivities.

It’s a short set from Avatar today, and it passes by in a flash. It feels like things are just getting started as Smells Like A Freakshow blasts into Hail the Apocalypse. And just like that, Avatar is finished, with shouted promises to be back soon. LF

Mongolian folk metal curiosity The Hu (8) provide a welcome change of pace over on the main stage. By far the most unique and intriguing act of the weekend, the tribal drums and drone of their Tovshuur, backed up with a more conventional distorted guitar tone is one of the heaviest sounds heard from the Apex Stage all weekend. Especially combined with The Hu’s traditional guttural throat singing, with the resultant soundscape sounding more like an
ancient army marching to war than a metal band.

For those not familiar with the bands first two records, The Gereg and Rumble of Thunder.
There’s something of a language barrier to overcome. However that doesn’t stop a massive
crowd gathering to witness the sheer spectacle, all of whom seem taken in by The Hu’s
primal groove. Thankfully, the band slip their cover of Metallica’s Sad But True into the mix,
giving the uninitiated something familiar to latch onto. It’s a memorable moment and one
that’s sure to have more than a few members of the audience adding The Hu to their Spotify
playlists when they get home on Monday! HL

The Hu – Download Festival / Todd Owyoung

I Prevail (8.5) have been going from strength to strength since the release of their latest album, True Power. With one sold out UK tour already under their belt this year. The metalcore
group from Michigan come out swinging for the fences too with Bow Down, getting everyone
up on their feet and moving with conviction.

Sticking mostly to material from True Power, with the odd older number slipped in here and
there for good measure. Vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe prowls the stage like he’s on a mission.
Never missing a chance to hype up the crowd when his cohort Brian Burkheiser takes over
on the mic. There’s some nice little Download references sprinkled throughout their set too,
like the cover of Chop Suey by System of a Down the leads into FWYTYK and the ever
familiar intro riff to Reign in Blood by Slayer that morphs into Judgement Day. With the latter
generating a circle pit big enough to rival those of Lorna Shore earlier this afternoon.
Hurricane and Breaking Down provide some more introspective moments. However, for the
majority of their set, I Prevail are clearly in attack mode. Battering the audience with breakdown after breakdown until finally, a double bill of old favourites, Scars and Gasoline,
brings their set to a suitably raucous end. HL

One of the bands making their Download Festival debut, Set It Off (8), more than lived up to their name and well… set it off in the Avalanche. In what can only be described as one of the most energetic throwdowns of the weekend, despite being the penultimate band on Sunday (no less), just two songs in, frontman, Cody Carson was already front and centre on the barricade before being crowd-surfed during ‘Killer in The Mirror’.

‘Hypnotized’ saw the band switch instruments with Carson taking over the drums and the band’s actual drummer Maxx Danzinger taking over lead vocals. Other than Atreyu’s Brandon Sallar’s previous dual drummer/vocal duties, we can’t imagine many other bands who can just shove their drummer up front and their singer to drums, but these guys pulled it off exceptionally well. More Maxx, please! 

But it was the band’s trademark inclusion of a superbly ‘rocked up to the max’ rendition of the Backstreet Boy’s ‘Backstreets Back’ which saw things get wild. Download was definitely up for the ’90s boyband hype train that went off. It was simply brilliant and the perfect baton to pass on to Electric Callboy who smashed out ‘I Want It That Way’ just 30 minutes later. All that was missing was for them to launch into N*Sync’s ‘Bye, Bye, Bye’. Next time eh lads!? ‘Why Do We Worry’ scored the biggest singalongs of the set which seemed un-top-able until Carson and co raised the energy levels higher than the flaming furnace of Donington’s thermostat as ‘Punching Bag’, set things off for the final time. CF

Ghost (9) made a majestic return to Donington’s Opus stage, ten years to the day of their last stint on the very same stage (no less) back in the good old Papa Emeritus II era. The only difference is that this time they’re the headliners. Opening with ‘Kaisarion’ into ‘Rats’, Ghost hit their stride from the get go, but it was the thunderous ‘hit by a freight train’ bass roars and guitar wizardry of ‘Faith’ that shone even brighter.

Of course, with the recently released ‘Phantomime’ EP, it came as no surprise to see the appearance of ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ (a cover of Genesis) at Donington. It slotted so well into the bands setlist it was as though it had been there for years, and you know what, the fans absolutely loved it.

Ghost set staples in the form of ‘Cirice’ and the “Hail Satan” anthem ‘Year Zero’, stole the show, topped off with Papa Emeritus IV gliding across the stage almost biblically in a billowing cloak. The theatrics, the staging and showman ship (as ever) added character, seamlessly throughout the set. Whilst Forge has a seemingly revolving door of Nameless Ghouls, it’s refreshing to witness the evolution and added nuances to the bands music that the ghouls continually bring. Dashes of extra orchestrations from the keys, especially, injected new dimensions into the overall live performance.

The quips, charm and enigmatic qualities of Papa Emeritus IV dazzled throughout the bands set. The highlight however, had to be the rather unfortunate reason ‘Miasma’ was cut from the setlist – due to them not being able to inflate his old man apparently (ooer!). Whilst the wild saxophone shenanigans of Papa Zero were sorely missed (that’s showbiz for you folks), the band valiantly continued into his trademark song ‘Mary On A Cross’ without missing a beat.

‘Dance Macabre’ brought the disco to Donington, although we’ll be having stern words with Papa Zero’s protégé for removing the second verse ‘iconic’ spin antics (hardcore Ghost fans will know exactly what we’re on about!). ‘Square Hammer’ and its killer riffage brought the house down with Papa Emeritus IV returning to stage donning a classy red jacket. If Donington wasn’t down “on the square” before Ghost’s headline masterclass began, they most certainly left as newly converted disciples of Maestro Forge and his Nameless Ghouls. 

The only qualm was the lack of early era Ghost in the setlist. We get it, festival sets tend to favour the fan favourites but it’s a crying shame that ‘Opus Eponymous’ material got completely shafted. But make no mistake, this was (yet) again a precision perfect ‘Ritual’ that will surely be the ‘Prequelle’ that sends Ghost to the lofty heights of Mainstage headliners. CF

Electric Callboy bringing the party to the Avalanche Stage

Of all the potential headliners in waiting appearing at Download this weekend, perhaps the most was expected of Parkway Drive (9). Given the job of main support to Slipknot, it is a role that many bands have shrunk in, given the pressure of the situation. Parkway Drive, however, are made of different stuff. Any band that can drop an opening consisting of Glitch into Prey into The Void has serious audible firepower at their disposal, and Winston McCall and friends were just getting warmed up.

Speaking of warmed up, as one would expect with a live Parkway Drive song there was of course copious amounts of pyro on show, but with the power of Parkway live its always an addition to the live show, never a distraction or the main focus. Soul Bleach proved the pick of the new songs from Darker Still live as expected, its nomination as “the new Bottom Feeder” maybe not quite accurate, but it’s fierce as hell in a live setting. Winston was having the time of his life judging by his shit eating grin and many expressions of “holy fuck Download!” and similar.

The tradition of the string quartet for Shadow Boxing is something that’s been fantastic in recent years and it continued at Download courtesy of QueensTet, who stayed on stage to add some further impact to Darker Still as well.

The end of the set was quite frankly ridiculous. Bottom Feeder remains the heaviest breakdowns in the Parkway Drive arsenal, and is a highlight of any show. Crushed brought the maximum pyro levels, while hearing thousands of Donington devotees sing the riff to Wild Eyes over and over was an awesome way to finish things off. If this was an audition to headline Download in 2025 or beyond, Parkway Drive didn’t just smash it, they Crushed and obliterated it. JG

The lead-up to Slipknot’s (9) fifth Download headliner saw the band navigate some choppy seas that required some answers. With a founding member potentially absent, another departing the band just days before and the most lukewarm reaction to a Knot album to date all building towards Donington, there were questions being asked of Slipknot that would have never even been considered in the past. If there’s one thing that the final night of Download’s 20th anniversary proved that it’s that the hallowed home of metal brings the best out of the nine and that Slipknot never fail to bring the very best out of Download festival.

From the very jump, Iowa’s travelling masked circus put the doubters in their place. Whilst they have always had a fierce live reputation, if there’s one gripe that people have with the live experience it’s that the band don’t delve too deep into their back catalogue to give the fans a different show each time. If opening with The Blister Exists doesn’t give it away, your standard run of the mill greatest hits set this is not. Liberate, Eyeless, Left Behind, Snuff, Purity and enough time to triumphantly welcome Wait and Bleed back into the set are all fantastic additions. For anyone that said Slipknot again? Seeing the band rip through older material that you don’t get to see too often was a shot in the arm. Whilst Snuff doesn’t need to be in each and every tour set, this was the right time to break it out and share a cathartic moment with the crowd. 

The more niche cuts come as a result of a lack of newer material. Whilst it feels bizarre to have just two selections from the most recent Slipknot album getting airtime, The End, So Far isn’t the only casualty with one track from We Are Not Your Kind (2019) and two from .5: The Gray Chapter (2014). With WANYK especially being so well received, having just Unsainted in the set with the likes of Nero Forte collecting dust does feel like a strange omission but if you’re going to give that up, at least it’s for some rarer cuts from the back catalogue. When Before I Forget doesn’t even make it, no track is safe and all five of the modern picks sound great live.

The final run of People=Shit, Surfacing, Duality, Custer and Spit It Out is a relentless finish filled with the in your face, us against the world aggression that made the UK fall in love with Slipknot over two decades ago. Corey Taylor does make a point to say that he is struggling with his voice, hence a lot less talking than usual but does say he’s still giving his all and it’s clear to see. It’s just another example of how they always up their game when it comes to this festival, if anything, it was noticeable because it was announced over anything else. The band as a whole feel far more locked in to giving the best they got over putting on a show and that makes for a very streamlined Slipknot set. Whilst the forever nicknamed tortilla man is always good value for entertainment, the rest just rip and tear through the set whilst looking menacing. It’s always fun to watch what Sid Wilson can get up to in between playing but this time, there’s a point to prove.

Slipknot – Download Festival / Todd Owyoung

If there’s one moment that sums up the final day of Download 2023 it’s the return of the clown. Just several days prior, it was announced that Shawn ‘Clown’ Crahan would be sitting out from the European tour due to family emergencies back home. When Download calls, the Nine answer and Slipknot simply isn’t the same without their hive mind clamming bats into kegs at the corner of the stage. Somehow making it there in time, Clown and the sea of maggots in attendance share a great moment, prompted by Corey Taylor to show their love for Crahan and his family. It’s a moment that only a band like Slipknot whose history is so interwoven with the legacy of the festival could pull off, a moment where it’s clear that this weekend means as much to them as it does the fans. 

Having Clown rejoin the band for a set that felt full of passion, fresh air and defiance was the perfect way for Download to finish and for Slipknot to prove that they are still not going anywhere. Especially when it comes to Donington Park, they’ve proven time and time again that they cannot be taken for granted and neither can this weekend. Download is their home and this moment in time encapsulated just how important this festival is for all of the fans and each and every band playing across the weekend whether it’s in a side tent or their gift time headlining the top of the bill. KD

And so Slipknot brought the 20th anniversary of the Download Festival to a close. The biggest Download so far. One of the best? Almost certainly. It was a Download that none present will forget for a very long time.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.