However once inside Donington Park, attendees were treated to the biggest ever Download, featuring over one hundred acts across four days from right across the rock, metal, and alternative spectrum, and beyond.
An extra day added to the normally three-day event, Thursday saw Ukrainian heroes Jinjer, firebrand rockers Halestorm, and last minute additions Skindred put in killer sets against the idyllic leafy backdrop of the sun-drenched park.
Following Alter Bridge wowing the crowd on the main Apex Stage, Metallica topped the bill for the first of two performances. Featuring a special 'no repeat' set, night one dug deep into the bands catalogue, featuring tracks from right across their career.
Opening with a monster 'Creeping Death', before stomping 1988 single 'Harvester of Sorrow', and 'Master of Puppets' deep cut 'Lepper Messiah', old school fans were enraptured. From new album '72 Seasons', speed metal revival 'Lux Æterna' meanwhile proved just as popular, with the crowd singing along to its infectious refrain.
A poignant 'Orion' meanwhile saw a reflective James Hetfield admit; "we miss you Cliff" as the instrumental epic reached its climax, in reference to their late bass player Cliff Burton.
Closing out with 'Seek and Destroy' and a rousing 'Master of Puppets', the four-piece proved an explosive headliner.
With Metallica family duo Taipei Houston proving popular on the Dogtooth stage, and act of the moment Nova Twins attracting a sizable crowd on the Apex, Elvana's mid-afternoon set on the Opus stage attracted huge numbers who strained to witness their Elvis-meets-Nirvana schtick. Steadily growing as a Download Festival favourite, the parody act had the crowd singing, laughing and dancing until they overran and sadly had the plug pulled prematurely before closer 'Lithium' could reach its celebratory end.
It wasn't the only disaster of the day, as gore legends GWAR had to postpone their appearance for 24 hours, as some of their equipment had failed to arrive on site in time.
Having a better time, VV (former HIM front man Ville Valo) crooned to a crammed the Avalanche tent, where a capacity crowd sang, screamed, and cheered to songs from his past, as well as debut solo release 'Neon Noir'. Keeping the on stage banter to a minimum, the charismatic singer charmed with his goth metal anthems, including 'Right Here in My Arms' and 'The Funeral of Hearts'.
Mid-2000s Download Festival favourites Pendulum meanwhile returned for their first Download appearance on over a decade. Bringing on Bullet For My Valentine's Matthew Tuck for a run through of techno-metal banger 'Halo', it was the first of a fistful of main stage guest appearances of the day.
However the day arguably belonged to Sheffield metalcore supremos Bring Me The Horizon, who took on their first ever Download Festival headline slot with explosive results. Focusing heavily on their 2020 'Post Human: Survival Horror' release, BMTH lit up the arena with stunning visuals and emotive music.
Bringing on Nova Twins for a pulverising '1x1', and Evanescence's Amy Lee (whose own band drew massive crowds earlier in the day) for a show-stopping 'One Day the Only Butterflies' the five-piece were, for many, the band of the weekend.
While post-hardcore act Ice Nine Kills proved one of the most popular acts of the day, British death metalers Carcass made their main stage debut, and duo Bob Vylan filled out the Avalanche tent.
Stoner rock leaders Clutch powered through their short set, encountering sound issues, and missing bass player Dan Maines. "This is Brad Davis from Fu Manchu on bass at twelve hours' notice", said front man Neil Fallon. Going on to reveal that the band had rehearsed only just the night before in a Birmingham hotel room, and with persistent monitoring problems, he declared; "let's just slog our way through it. Fuck it!"
Disturbed meanwhile returned for their first appearance since 2016, repeating their show-stopping performance of Simon and Garfunkel's 'Sound of Silence', as well as their faithful take on Genesis' propulsive 'Land of Confusion'.
With Placebo closing out the day on the Opus stage, Metallica returned for their second appearance of the weekend. Going right back to the start, 'Whiplash' opened things up at breakneck speed, before a brace of tracks from 'Ride the Lightning' in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', and the evocative title track. Dropping in underrated 'Load'-era single 'Until it Sleeps', it was an arresting start.
Going on to perform a ferocious take on Thin Lizzy classic 'Whiskey in the Jar' - perhaps the stand out party-atmosphere moment of the entire weekend - Hetfield declared; "that was for my hero Phil Lynott. We miss you, brother."
Reaching a climactic crescendo midway, 'The Unforgiven' and 'Wherever I may Roam' proved exactly why their 1991 eponymous album has gone on to become one of the biggest selling of all time.
Closing out with some of the more obvious omissions from night one in 'One' and 'Enter Sandman', the four-piece took their bows on what had been a phenomenal two night stint. With thirty-two songs spanning ten albums and four decades, nobody does it as big or boldly as Metallica.
Kicking things off on the Apex stage, US deathcore act Lorna Shore shook the Saturday night cobwebs away, while alt metalers Hawxx raised the roof on the Dogtooth stage.
The Hu declared; "we are so happy to be here!" from the main stage while comedian Frank Skinner looked on from side stage, as their epic widescreen soundtracks married to irresistible beats.
With Avatar putting in a short, sharp set on the Opus stage, front man Johannes Eckerström admitted to eonmusic; "it's weird when you have just a thirty minute set. Now I'm just about ready to go on stage!"
German electronicore outfit Electric Callboy proved a huge draw over on the Avalanche stage, while Aussie metalcore heroes Parkway Drive brought the pyro, and the passion on the Apex stage.
Ghost meanwhile, returned for their largest UK festival congregation ever, with a biblically epic second stage headline slot. Greeting his weary patrons in typically tongue in cheek form, main man Tobias Forge (in his current Papa Emeritus IV guise) said; "Sunday night at Donington, huh? Are you going home after this, or are you going to stay another week?"
Cramming as many of their infectious hits as possible into their hour-long slot, the theatrical outfit also brought out the second Genesis cover of the weekend, with their flawless take on 'Jesus He Knows Me'.
And so it fell to Slipknot to to close out what had been an epic weekend. With founder member Craig Jones' shock exit earlier in the week, fans were relieved to see Shaun 'Clown' Crahan back on stage, despite an earlier announcement that he was to sit out the festival run. Tearing up the stage as only they can, the nu metal lynchpins put in a simply ferocious performance, proving the perfect act to bring the curtain down on Download 2023.
With the dust settling as the weary attendees left the arena to go their separate ways, organisers can rest easy that despite the extreme challenges that gathering that many people in one space brings, they once again played a blinder.
Download Festival returns from 14th - 16th June 2024. Early bird tickets are available now.