It was with great anticipation that I looked forward to this year’s Download festival, with a much improved line-up to last year’s billing. This year, the festival was a complete sell out with Download obviously benefitting from the cancellation of the SONSIPHERE festival. The crowd at times swelled to the levels seen at AC/DC‘s headlining performance 2 years ago.
Heavy rain in the run up to the festival meant that entry to the site was considerably delayed resulting in thousands of pissed off fans, especially those who had turned up to see main stage performances by CANCER BATS and RISE TO REMAIN, whose sets were both pulled at the last minute.
For those lucky enough to get through the gates in time, it was left to industrial metal stalwarts FEAR FACTORY to open things up. It was very strange though, as half of the festival arena was closed off for most of the set as the Download staff worked hard to spread the hay across the surface. FEAR FACTORY frontman Burton C. Bell has never been the best of live singers, and he often went out of tune today. Perhaps it was a bit too early for him? Still, the power of FEAR FACTORY‘s material fortunately does enough to make up for Bell‘s vocal inadequacies.
It was over to the 2nd stage next where TERRORVISION and LITTLE ANGELS both put in decent performances, with the latter being the more impressive. LITTLE ANGELS’ ‘Too Much Too Young’ was the afternoon’s best song.
Sandwiched in between those two should have been Swedish rock band EUROPE, and despite getting most of their gear on stage, the band themselves didn’t arrive in time, and unfortunately, their performance was cancelled. Quite why their slot couldn’t have been swapped with another band, I don’t know. The disappointed crowd had to make do with their very own spontaneous rendition of ‘The Final Countdown’.
The main metal attraction on the main stage today were California’s finest MACHINE HEAD. Unfortunately though, with the wind picking up, the sound for MACHINE HEAD was blowing all over the place, and at times it was difficult to even make out what song was being played. Due to this, I had to abandon the set, safe in the thought that it will be considerably easier to get a better view of what should be an absolutely storming headline set at the Bloodstock festival in August.
The alternative option to MACHINE HEAD was OPETH. Although I think OPETH have produced some fairly decent material over the years, I found their set tonight extremely lifeless and boring. What OPETH lacked in power and pomp, Finnish symphonic metal heroes NIGHTWISH certainly made up for in style.
The NIGHTWISH set was a bombastic hour of great songs, and fantastic musicianship. Surprisingly, the star of the show was Troy Donockley whose guest appearance on the uilean pipes added tremendous atmosphere to the set. The highlight of the show was the tribute to Gary Moore, a rousing rendition of his classic hit ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’.
Headlining the 2nd stage was the legendary SLASH, whose set was as enjoyable as ever. Why anybody would want to see the current line-up of GUNS ‘N’ ROSES really does escape me. Why wait 2 hours for that idiot Axl Rose when Myles Kennedy is in another league as a vocalist? His performance on the Gun’s songs was absolutely superb. As for SLASH, you can’t deny he’s a star and he always entertains, wherever he goes.
On departing the venue, I caught a brief glimpse of THE PRODIGY. Whilst certainly not my musical cup of tea, I can say that their light show looked absolutely amazing – and they certainly pulled a good crowd. I didn’t hang around for long though, beating the traffic was a much more attractive proposition than listening to the likes of ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Smack Your Bitch Up’.
The main aim on Saturday was to be back inside the venue in time to catch SAXON. Midday seems a ridiculous time for such a legendary band to be on stage – the very same band that is headlining Germany’s massive Wacken festival in just a few weeks time. Short and sweet it may have been, but SAXON‘s set was nothing short of stonking! Biff Byford is an awesome frontman, and loved very minute of exploring every corner of the massive Donington stage. ‘And The Bands Played On’, a song written about the Donington Monsters of Rock Festival was a fitting end to what according to Byford is likely to be SAXON‘s last every appearance at the legendary venue.
Next up on the main stage were BLACK VEIL BRIDES whose on stage swagger is just too over the top for me. Their material is lukewarm at best, and I really think that this is one band that won’t be hanging around for too long. Cocky frontman Andy Biersack needs to get a good meal down him before he wastes away!
Modern thrash metallers TRIVIUM have had a dip in popularity in recent years, but now seem to have found the right sound again, ditching the more commercial direction that has dogged some of their albums. Today’s set was ferocious, and reminded me of the power they had in their early days when they were vying their trade, playing the small clubs in the UK. This band was born to play songs like ‘The Deceived’ and ‘Rain’. Finally they seem to have realised that they are not going to be the next METALLICA, and they’re all the better for it!
Next up were two comedy acts, by far the better of which were Glam Rock Parody band STEEL PANTHER. This is actually a bunch of talented musicians, who call on their 80′s influences for their music, swapping the lyrics for something that Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown would be proud of. ‘Party All Day’ steels the talk box from BON JOVI‘s ‘Livin on a Prayer’ and the chorus from Y&T‘s ‘Contagious’. In terms of lyrics, how on earth they get away with songs like ‘Just Like Tiger Woods’ is beyond me! STEEL PANTHER‘s set really was a highlight of the weekend, and that’s not just because of the mass showing of boobies on the big screens!
As for the other comedy act, TENACIOUS D – only one word is needed to describe their set…..awful! Sorry Jack, the joke is dead, and without the joke, your band just isn’t worth the time of day. While everyone around seemed to be enjoying their set, I just couldn’t help thinking what the big deal was about. The majority of their banter between songs wasn’t that funny and alot of the material offered was just boring to say the least. Maybe it’s just a bit of fun to them, but I can think of plenty of bands more worthy of such a high up and prestigous slot on the main stage, at a festival, at Donington Park.
Fortunately, a good alternative to the dross on the main stage was over at the Jagermeister stage. This tiny stage played host to many bands over the weekend that performed an acoustic set, in addition to sets on the other stages. I was fortunate enough to catch a brilliant set from THE QUIREBOYS.
Playing right before the main headline act on the main stage were BIFFY CLYRO. A band I had not heard before, they certainly had some catchy numbers, but nothing that blew me away. I’m sure the METALLICA fans who made up the vast majority of the audience would have preferred something a bit more metal to get them in the mood for their heroes.
So onto the headline act, and you couldn’t really ask for a bigger metal band than METALLICA, and tonight’s set was made that little more special as the entire 1991 ‘Black’ album was to be performed in its entirety. OK it may not be the favourite album of many hardcore METALLICA fans, but it certainly is the album that promoted the band into the worldwide superstars they have been in the last 20 years.
Despite coming on a few minutes late, it’s needless to say that METALLICA delivered. After a few classics up front, including an immense version of ‘Master of Puppets’, it was into the ‘Black’ album, which was played in reverse. It was great to hear some of the lesser played songs like ‘Through The Never’ and ‘Don’t Tread On Me’.
Once the ‘Black’ album was done with, there was still time for the epic pairing of ‘Blackened’ and ‘One’, before ‘Seek and Destroy’ wrapped up proceedings in fine style. METALLICA had let no one down tonight, and had done a stellar job of headlining the Saturday night of the festival.
On entering the venue, hellraisers DEVILDRIVER were whipping the main stage crowd into an early frenzy. The perfect band to start a lazy Sunday afternoon. The early risers who made it to see these were treated to a blistering half an hour of groove-laden death metal, with plenty of headbanging and pit action as the likes of ‘I Could Care Less’ and ‘Clouds Over California’ were lapped up by the fans.
One of the highlights of Sunday though was a hat trick of excellent bands on the 3rd stage. I always enjoy seeing bands on the 3rd stage as you can get up close to the band, and the sound is usually spot on. Retro rockers HEAVEN’S BASEMENT impressed with a performance full of energy and swagger. Next up Finnish party glam rockers RECKLESS LOVE went down an absolute storm. Their hits such as ‘Hot’ are incredibly catchy, and had everybody singing along.
Next on the 3rd stage were German power metal heroes EDGUY. In most festivals around Europe, EDGUY would be pretty high up on the bill, and main stage material. However, in England they are underground, and unfortunately the Donington faithful had to put up with only a 30 minute set. Still, there was time for some of the usual jokes from frontman Tobias Sammet. I think he should definitely start doing standup comedy.
Whilst EDGUY were strutting their stuff, thrash metal legends ANTHRAX were tearing things up on the main stage. Having caught their headline set at Hammerfest earlier in the year, I was eagerly waiting to see if they could replicate the atmosphere at an open air gig. I need not have worried as they delivered an awesome set with punishing devastation as they tore up every last inch of the stage and the pits were ferocious. Opening up with ‘Caught In A Mosh’, ANTHRAX had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand. Joey Belladonna maybe getting on a bit now, but he can still hit those notes with ease, and classics like the sing along cover of ‘Antisocial’, ‘Madhouse’ and ‘Indians’ showed this before ‘I Am The Law’ wrapped up their 40 minute set.
Onto a band who, whenever I have seen live, just don’t do it for me. BLACK LABEL SOCIETY may have one of the world’s greatest guitarists at its helm in Zakk Wylde, but the majority of their southern style influenced brand of metal is not to my taste, never mind the mind numbingly boring guitar solos that are part of any BLS show. Still, I can appreciate that a lot of people like them, and they performed a decent set with my only gripe being, again, with only 45 minute set, why do a solo? We all know he’s a great guitarist, but by the time he’s finished frigging about, you could have gotten another song or two in. Alas, eventual set closer ‘Stillborn’ was the highlight of another average BLS set for me.
Ready to liven things up again were groove metal maestros LAMB OF GOD who whipped the crowd up into a frenzy again, as circle pits broke out instantly with frontman Randy Blythe leading the assault. A crushing 45 minute set was full of crowd pleasers which included the likes of ‘Walk With Me In Hell’, the fist pumping ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’ and ‘Redneck’, before an ear bleeding rendition of ‘Black Label’ rounded off a brutally superb and probably quite literally for an unlucky few, bonecrunching set.
Next, a huge crowd gathered for former SKID ROW frontman SEBASTIAN BACH who was performing on the 2nd stage. Unfortunately, due to technical issues, Bach‘s already measly set allocation was cut further. As usual though, Bach was full of youthful energy, and still had the voice to deliver kick ass renditions of ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘Youth Gone Wild’. The highlight though was the mass sing-a-long to the beautiful acoustic ballad ‘I Remember You’.
Riding quickly on the tails of Seb Bach were the reformed California rockers UGLY KID JOE whose set never came close to reaching the heights of Bach‘s performance. Still, unsurprisingly, the famous cover of ‘Cats in the Cradle’, and set closer ‘Everything About You’ went down pretty well.
Donington veterans MEGADETH were up next on the main stage. Dave Mustaine and his merry men delivered a typically tight performance with the usual crowd pleasers like ‘Hangar 18′ and ‘Peace Sells’ present in the set. The thrash metal madness of ‘Holy Wars’ closed a strong set from MEGADETH.
Next up on the main stage were 90′s grunge superstars SOUNDGARDEN. The crowd reaction was a little muted for SOUNDGARDEN, but then this is a band that has spent a good proportion of recent years out of the spotlight. Still, ‘Black Hole Sun’ is a classic song and the crowd gave it the recognition it deserves.
With Ozzy‘s current (Gus G of FIREWIND) and previous (Zakk Wylde of BLACK LABEL SOCIETY) guitarists playing elsewhere on the bill, there was always a plan B in place in case Tony Iommi wasn’t well enough to perform. The great news is though that Iommi did perform, and it’s great to see that he is fighting his disease, just like every metal fan knew he would.
Predictably, SABBATH‘s set was a ‘best of’ from Ozzy‘s classic 70′s period with the band. Amongst the highlights were the haunting opening of ‘Black Sabbath’, and the crunching riff of ‘Iron Man’. The real moment of the set, and of the entire weekend was the sound of 100,000 people singing along to ‘War Pigs’, which must have been heard for miles across Derbyshire.
There’s no doubt that the weather of the great British summer made Download 2012 a bit of a challenge at times, particularly on the first day. Also, the sheer number of people made for difficulties getting on, off, and around the festival site. However, we all know that the weather never stops the Brits having a good time, and all in all, the festival was a success.
Review by James Allman and Adam Fredericks
Best Bands: BLACK SABBATH, METALLICA, ANTHRAX, MEGADETH, RECKLESS LOVE, SEBASTIAN BACH
Festival Rating: 4.5/5.0
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