Now in its eleventh year, Download Festival arrived once again at Castle Donington for three days of music spanning the whole of the rock spectrum. With weather conditions best described as your standard ‘English Summer’, it was up to the music to brighten the weekend. Thankfully, the headliners more than lived up to their reputations, and with a stellar undercard, the 90,000 spectators lapped up a superb weekend of music.
Architects put in a blistering performance on the opening day, their set peaking with the sun’s reappearance at the climax of an excellent ‘Even If You Win, You’re Still A Rat’. Down keep the quality levels high later on in the day, with ‘Stone The Crow’ dedicated to the late Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman as the crowd dutifully bellow the lyrics back to the band in tribute.
Despite suffering declining popularity and critical respect of late, Korn perform an astonishing set that receives a rapturous reception from the Download attendees. Opening with the classic track ‘Blind’, Donington erupts and remains euphoric for the remainder of the set. The presence of former-now-current guitarist Head, only serves to bolster the group’s flawless performance.
A dash to the Pepsi Max stage allows one to revel in the ferocity of hardcore masters Converge. Whilst perhaps an unusual booking for a festival geared towards the more polished end of the heavy music scale, they perform a reliably breathtaking set, acting as a perfect warm up for Slipknot over on the main stage.
Having been doubted as headliners in 2009, Iowa’s angriest men went on to perform a set that would later go on to be regarded as one the greatest headline sets at Download. Returning this year minus fallen bassist Paul Gray, they perform an emotionally charged set that is halted twice in order to restore the barrier, torn apart by the explosive reaction of the crowd. Drawing heavily from their superior early albums, a stunning rendition of ‘Gently’ is accompanied by a creepily beautiful UV snow shower. An incredible performance with which to cap off the first day of music.
Due to their late start, Alice In Chains are unfortunately forced to shave a couple of songs off of their set. Despite this, they perform masterfully and treat the crowd to a career spanning performance of riff-heavy rock classics.
Later on, Southampton heroes Bury Tomorrow provide a surprise festival highlight. Having witnessed the band perform to supportive local crowds at the Joiners in their early days, it was heart-warming to see the band so enthusiastically welcomed by a crowd representing persons from beyond their hometown. This would however be fruitless were it not accompanied by a superbly crunching performance. Definitely a band destined for bigger things in the future.
From new blood to old blood, Queens Of The Stone Age act as Saturday’s main stage sub-headliners. Opening with ‘Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’ – its lyrics surely the menu of choice for many of the festival’s attendees – hit after hit follows, intercut with a few slices of their excellent new album, …Like Clockwork. Closing with the masterpiece ‘A Song For The Dead’, it cannot be long before they are accepted as worthy festival headliners.
Faced with the task of living up to Slipknot’s maniacal Friday night headline performance is Iron Maiden. Starting the set with a spitfire flyover is a great way to start. Unfortunately the set is somewhat hampered by a frustratingly quiet sound, yet the performance and spectacle are standard Maiden, and one is hard pressed to linger on any negativity towards a set that includes the title track from the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son album.
After enduring the ridiculous trek from the campsite to the arena for the final time on Sunday, there is time for an overpriced pint of ale before heading to the main stage to catch Australian bruisers Parkway Drive. Once again they can be relied upon to bring the mosh, and the set is topped off by the slightly surreal appearance of a man in a fox costume during set closer ‘Carrion’.
Having personally missed the majority of their set due to their clashing with Parkway Drive, Bleed From Within draw to a close with a savage rendition of ‘Uprising’ from their recent album of the same name. Presuming the rest of the set was of a similar calibre, their first Download for four years would appear to have been well worth the wait. Scheduling conflicts also mean that Ghost’s set is drawing to a close by the time one reaches the second stage. Accompanied by a rare burst of sunshine, the crowd is treated to a catchy set of wistful rock that belies the theatrically dark image of the group.
Making their second main stage appearances of the festival, Jim Root and Corey Taylor’s Stone Sour perform a solid set that is well received by the Donington masses. A very welcome cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Children Of The Grave’ shines in a set that sparks many a sing-a-long from the crowd.
Over in the Pepsi Max tent, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted performs with his latest band, the imaginatively named Newsted. As a man well used to performing to much larger crowds, he acts as a commanding front man and one can feel the goodwill emanating from a crowd sporting a good few Metallica t-shirts. Whilst his original material is solid enough, it is the brief snippet of ‘Creeping Death’ and closer ‘Whiplash’ that shine through.
The overwrought wannabe rock star fluff of 30 Seconds To Mars unfortunately disturbs the enjoyment of a pre-Rammstein pint, and Jared Leto’s gushing performance somewhat sits at odds with the speed and curtness with which he departs the stage following the conclusion of a painfully long 75 minutes.
Not to be outdone by Iron Maiden, Rammstein up the theatrics and then some. With every song accompanied by pyro of some form, one could accuse the group of being all style over substance. However, they deliver a hit packed set that maintains a heavy pace throughout, with festival destroying riffs thrown about like nobody’s business. The set flows excellently and the songs are allowed to speak for themselves, with no need for unnecessary in between song talk. As far as headlining performances go, you would be hard pressed to find another that even comes close to the spectacle of a Rammstein show. An astonishing end to a sublime weekend of music.