Review: Download Festival 2014

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Friday

Miss May I get the weekend off to a solid start on the main stage: Their short set succeeds in readying the crowd for three days of rocking out. Tesla deliver an electrifying set of hard rocking tunes drawn primarily from their back catalogue, but also treat us to a couple of tracks from their latest album, Simplicity. Turbowolf’s usual high-energy show generates plenty of movement in the Pepsi Max tent. The Bristolian crew treat us to a bunch of new songs and fan favourites, and even invite a member of the audience up onstage to play the keyboards! Another band famed for their stupendous live performances are Skindred. Frontman Benji Webbe’s off-the-cuff crowd interactions (“Everybody wave like the Queen!”) and a guest appearance from Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda on ‘Warning’ ensure it is a show to remember, and indeed a tough act for Black Label Society to follow. While Zakk Wylde and co put in a decent enough performance, their lack of communication with their audience means the connection between the two is never fully established.

Likewise, the crowd seem fairly tame when Within Temptation hit the stage: Their reliance on recordings of absent guest vocalists loses them some momentum, and their symphonic metal seemingly does little to impress those waiting for Rob Zombie. “If it seems like we’re a little confused up here, it’s because we are” offers the man, after a somewhat out of time run through ‘Superbeast’. Clearly there are some issues with the monitors, but Mr. Zombie et al do the best they can without their usually extensive stage show.

Tonight, however, truly belongs to Avenged Sevenfold: This headline slot at one of the world’s biggest festivals is surely just the next step on their ascent to the upper echelons of metal stardom. Synyster Gates caters the British audience with a few bars of ‘God Save the Queen’ worked into his guitar solo. After being welcomed back for two sets of encores, the band leave the stage triumphantly. Hail to the kings, indeed!

Saturday

There has been much speculation about the mysterious Iceman Thesis: who they are, what they sound like, and just how they plan to play on two different stages at the same time. Two of these questions were answered today; the masked band appear on the Pepsi Max stage to a soundtrack of white noise, play a single, five minute song, then leave to do the same over in the Red Bull tent. Weird. Dying Fetus were only booked after a joke on Twitter (#WhyNotDyingFetus?), but they certainly aren’t mucking around. Their brutal death metal assault wakes up the main stage early-comers in fine style, and leaves those waiting for Fall Out Boy looking a little bewildered.

“Who here reads Kerrang! Magazine?” asks Lawnmower Deth’s Pete Lee to those gathered in the Pepsi Max stage. “You’re in the right tent!” comes the reply after nobody raises their hand. Onstage fights between sumo rabbits, the band’s constant piss-taking (primarily of themselves), and three runs through ‘Ooh Crikey’ ensures they’re impossible to watch without a massive grin on your face. While She Sleeps have plenty of support at the main stage, with several flags bearing their logo visible towards the front of the crowd. Their Steel City metalcore goes down a storm.

And now for something completely different: Bowling For Soup treat us to a selection of pop-punk hits. During their set, a knight in armour is invited onstage to sacrifice a giant inflatable sheep. Obviously. On the Zippo Encore stage, Orange Goblin keep the party going with their beer-soaked grooves, before making way for stoner kings Monster Magnet. Meanwhile on the main stage, metalcore titans Killswitch Engage lay waste to the crowd, playing a fine selection of their greatest hits. After that, Bring Me The Horizon put on one of the most hotly anticipated sets of the weekend. From the very beginning the band gives it their all as they plough through ‘Shadow Moses’ to a rapturous response. After putting in a performance such as this, BMTH have gone one step further towards headlining the festival themselves someday.

Celebrating 30 years since the release of their classic Stay Hungry, Twisted Sister run through the majority of that album. “You gotta sing this extra loud so all the people watching Fall Out Boy go ‘Shit, we’re missing ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It‘!’” says distinctive frontman Dee Snider before the final chorus of their signature tune. There is a collective shriek of excitement as the opening beats of ‘Papercut’ are heard, signalling the beginning of a complete play-through of Linkin Park’s legendary debut album Hybrid Theory. Following this spectacle, some tracks from their new album The Hunting Party are previewed, and the only CD copy in existence (at the time) is thrown into the audience. All in all, a brilliant end to the day.

Sunday

Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel get the Sunday off to a fine start: Ozzy’s former guitarist reminds us of his past with ‘Bark at the Moon’ and ‘The Ultimate Sin’, alongside a few Badlands tracks and the current RDC material. Winger are up next; the rain provides a nice setting for hit ballad ‘Miles Away’. We Came As Romans fans sing along to every chorus, including a bizarre metalcore cover of The Wanted’s ‘Glad You Came’. The Graveltones completely tear up the Pepsi Max tent with their bluesy hard rock, but Buckcherry seemingly fail to hold the attention of many beyond the first section of the main stage audience; perhaps the rain has dampened spirits?

This lull in attention extends to Richie Sambora’s short set: most people are stirred only by the couple of tracks made famous by the former Bon Jovi man’s old band. Modern master of Blues Joe Bonamassa caters to the Download crowd with a set of his heavier material. Why Volbeat aren’t as massive over here as they are in Europe remains a mystery, as they provoke a huge response from everyone watching. One of the must-see moments of the weekend occurs during Philip H. Anselmo’s set: The singer reunites with his old Pantera bandmate Rex Brown for a spectacular run through ‘A New Level’, to the joy of everyone with a good taste in metal.

Steel Panther are hilarious as ever: Guitarist Satchel praises all the parents in the crowd who’ve brought their kids to see them play such family-friendly tunes as ‘Asian Hooker’ and ’Seventeen Girls in a Row’. Alter Bridge’s position on this bill is testament to their well-deserved success of recent years: Their loyal fanbase are out in force to sing along to every word. Perhaps it isn’t too long before they could fill the top slot themselves.

Tonight’s main event though is the untouchable Aerosmith. Shown backstage on the big screens as they prepare to take the stage, the buildup is almost unbearable. From the first chords of ‘Train Kept a Rollin’’ to the final encore of ‘Mama Kin’, they have the crowd completely at their mercy. The sheer number of stone cold classics brought out by Steven Tyler and co is astounding: ‘Walk This Way’, ‘I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing’, ‘Dream On’… The list goes on! Aerosmith have managed to surpass themselves once again, and have proved that they’re still one of the best live bands in the world. There couldn’t have been a better closer for this fantastic weekend of rock. Roll on Download ’15!

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