Download Festival. Donington Park, 12-14 June 2015.
The Download Festival is a firmly established highlight of the year for those with a penchant rock, metal and beyond. With three days of music and more spread across four stages, this year’s event had something for everybody.
With a cautious sun in the sky, things kicked off on the main stage with a melodic metalcore set from Massachusetts five-piece All That Remains, before fellow Americans Hell Yeah took to the stage. With more than a little in common with fellow Texans Pantera, both sonically and in number (drummer Vinnie Paul being a member of both bands), their afternoon set was rabidly received by the devoted fan down in the front rows, despite a muddied sound.
Away from the main auditorium on one of the festivals peripheral stages meanwhile, rising stars The Wild Lies tore up Jake’s Stage with an impressive twenty minute set. Iron Maiden might currently be taking some well earned time off, but they were in part represented, by Wild Lies’ bassist Dylan Smith; the son of legendary Maiden six stringer Adrian Smith. Playing an inspiring set of classic hard rock infused with a contemporary bite, the five-piece proved that they have a bright future ahead of them.
Back on the main stage, in what deserves to go down as the quote of the weekend, Clutch singer Neil Fallon announced his band’s arrival by proclaiming; “alright Download, let’s put some gravy on them biscuits!”. With a grooving stoner metal set that included a preview of forthcoming new album ‘Psychic Warfare’ in lead single ‘X-Ray Visions’, the band were the first to really capture the spirit of the day. Those fancying more of the same immediately headed for the second stage (the Zippo Encore stage) to catch Corrosion Of Conformity, who reminiscent of their first appearance at Donington back in 1996, tore through a set that concentrated on tracks from their celebrated 1994 release ‘Deliverance’.
The threatening overhead clouds had thus far abated, however with plucky Londoners Thunder’s timely arrival on the second stage singing about “drowning in a river”, the heavens opened. The show must go on however, and at the other end of the arena Birmingham metal legends Judas Priest took to the main stage as returning local heroes. Bringing with them a dazzling lcd screen, a Harley Davidson and a back catalogue stuffed full of hits, the band proved just why they are so revered. As far as singalongs go, their closing one-two of ‘Hellbent For Leather’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ was hard to beat.
Judas Priest may have been a hard act to follow, but Friday night’s final act Slipknot are no shrinking violets, and the masked Iowa nine-piece brought with them a show that was a theatrical spectacle. An explosive ball of energy both visually and sonically, the band were worthy Friday Night headliners. Addressing the crowd a fiery Cory Taylor proclaimed simply that; “Slipknot is home”.
Come Saturday morning, and the look of sheer hopelessness on the pale washed out faces of those trudging their way through the swamps of the campsite told a very sorry tale; that of the utter relentlessness of the merciless monsoon-like overnight weather. In the main arena however, spirits weren’t dampened as Testament arrived on the second stage to an enthused welcome. With an impressive production worthy of headliner status, the Bay area Thrashers ripped through a half hour set that focused equally on their later work as well as classics from their early period. A lesson in brutality, it was apparent just why the band are regarded as the fifth member of the ‘Big Four’.
Over at the Maverick stage meanwhile, the anticipation awaiting Ice-T’s Body Count was palpable. Opening with ‘Bowels Of The Devil’, their incendiary set was a joy for those witnessing a rare UK appearance by the band. Never short of a soundbite, Ice himself was in fine form, not least with his hilarious bemoaning of the “pussification” of men. Evidently filming their performance for a presumed future release, both band and crowd were on fire, and as an explosive ‘Cop Killer’, aided by guesting Upon A Burning Body brought the show to a close, it was clear that Body Count were most definitely in the house.
Clashes are an inevitability at festivals, and overlapping with Body Count were Faith No More. For a band renowned for their barbed sense of humour, their virginal white stage presentation was a cruel irony for those who by now were having no problems blending in with the muddy landscape. Having been reunited for over six years now, the band’s set was understandably weighted towards new album ‘Sol Invictus’. Closing with ‘We Care A Lot’, as the weather-beaten neared the end of their second day, they could only concur with the song’s sentiments that, “it’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it”.
Closing night two, Muse had been pitted against Marilyn Manson who was over on stage two, causing a conundrum for many, not least one girl who, dressed in a Marilyn Manson t-shirt had opted watch the main stage headliners. Whilst the Devonshire trio dazzled the crowd with tracks from the just released ‘Drones’ opus, as well as classic material like the ecstatically received ‘New Born’, the pulpit-preaching ‘Antichrist Superstar’ was tearing it up as only he could at the other end of the arena. Closing his set with a cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’, Manson proved that his show is still a spectacle worth seeing. With fireworks signaling the end of the night, it was a long day that was worth it for those that had stuck it out.
As has become traditional, Sunday was Classic Rock day on the main stage, with the likes of rock icons Billy Idol and Slash treating the crowd to such well-known classics as ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Reble Yell’ (Idol) , and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and ‘Paradise City (Slash). Elsewhere, The Darkness arrived for their surprise Maverick Stage set with customary subtlety; with the crowd parting and a conquering Justin Hawkins making his way (eventually) to the stage through the sizable throng. Joining his band mates, who were accompanied by a horde of barbarians for their similarly titled opener, it was without doubt the entrance of the weekend.
The weekend might have been drawing to a close, however Download 2015 still had a pair of aces up its sleeve. As the penultimate act, self proclaimed ‘Saints Of Los Angeles’ Mötley Crüe performed an explosive set that focused on the hits, from ‘Live Wire’ to ‘Dr. Feelgood’ and everything in between. With an indecent amount of pyro that sprung from the most unlikely of places, including Nikki Sixx’s bass, it was a hard act to follow.
Kiss however, know how to rock ‘n’ roll all night, and with their closing set they proved an apt choice of final night headliner. Announcing their arrival with their “you wanted the best, you got the best” mantra, it was an ott performance that rounded off what had been an incredible weekend. A show high on theatrics, from Gene Simmons breathing fire and spitting blood, to Paul Stanley’s acrobatic jaunt across the audience, and a dazzling light show and stage production, Kiss brought Download 2015 to a close in spectacular style.
You may not be able to depend on the ‘bloody English weather’, but you can always depend on Download to make it worth the endurance that it sometimes takes to make it through the weekend. Same time next year then? Don’t forget your wellies.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 15 June 2015.