While many had already partied hard from Wednesday night it’s when the festival arena opens it’s doors on the Friday that Donington Park truly comes alive. This is when the new faces and old hands, the excited and the hungover all get to spend three days together watching the bands they love. This year there was the added bonus of the weather staying dry. Gary Trueman and Mark Bestford each picked out their five big hitters plus a round up of the best of the rest. They even managed to agree on one act they both thought shone brightly during the year they may rename Dryload.
Gary’s bunch of five.
The Devil Wears Prada – The Mr Consistent of Metalcore
One time main stage openers today playing an afternoon slot out on third The Devil Wears Prada prove to be still as tight and clean sounding as ever. There’s a togetherness about this band that sees them stand like giants in front of an animated and significantly large crowd clearly fired up for the occasion. Metalcore has taken a bit of a bashing recently but when it’s played like this it still sounds as fresh as a daisy. There’s no substitute for raw quality and this set has it running right through it like a stick of Blackpool rock.
Hacktivist – The new rap metal heros
Aerosmith and Run DMC helped start the rap metal revolution but it’s bands like Hacktivist who have moulded it into something fit for purpose in the 21st Century. The Brit rebels take to the main stage at an alarmingly early hour like ducks to water. So often a group can get lost on the massive stage but not here, not now. The very respectable crowd are treated to a little view of what music might look and sound like in the future with a hint of Grime in the mix fitting supremely well. New boy Jot Maxi slots in nicely in only his third outing with the band. Hacktivist don’t have their finger on the pulse, they are the pulse.
Wednesday 13 – The theatrical magician
Up in the Dogtooth stage Wednesday 13 has brought theatre, fire, brimstone and a bible. This is one of the most astonishingly accomplished 45 minutes of musical magic Download has ever seen. The costume changes and prosthetics are at the same time beautiful and frightening. Having Pyrohex up on stage must be a choreographic nightmare but the resulting spectacle of real fire burns the show into the memory even more. Wednesday 13’s rasping tones are right on point, the band playing a full part with granite like solidity. To produce a show like this at a festival is bordering on genius. It’s a show so many will never forget.
Drones – The new young upstarts
Drones are the very type of band that the music industry needs. They care not a jot about what other people might think of them, they just want to write about what they feel and play their music to whoever will listen. At Download it turns out quite a lot of people want to listen to them. Those people are treated to a half hour or so of full on punk rock with O levels. The sort of music that stirs the soul, that is inspired by great acts and is in turn inspiring. Those that think great bands have to be a certain age or have to play a certain way need to watch Drones and others like them. They are the next generation and they’re ready to take over.
Sick Puppies – This years pleasant surprise
Checking out a new band and being blown away is always a treat and although Sick Puppies aren’t exactly new catching them live for the first time proves to be a bit of a revelation. For sheer exuberance and movement on stage they deserve a medal. Bass gal and vocalist Emma Anzai almost seems to be made of rubber such is the way she contorts herself. Mixing NuMetal with elements of Grunge and Hard Rock the band manage to produce a groove laden heavy sound that isn’t Stoner in any way shape or form. Fast, furious and utterly unique Sick Puppies deserve to come back and rip it up again as soon as possible.
Mark’s high five
Lost Sociey – thrash ‘em all
Despite some amazing bands playing the Dogtooth stage over the course of the Friday it’s not until Lost Society take to the stage in the evening that we see any real movement from the crowd. The thrash metal foursome from Finland get the crowd bouncing in the confines of the small tent and do well to draw in such a large crowd from Prophets Of Rage who are tearing up the main stage while Download enjoys some unseasonably good weather. It’s a brutal set that that has the entire tent with their horns and fists in the air.
Stone Broken – the hard rock heroes
This last year has seen a bit of a resurgence in British hard rock and this foursome bring their blend of blues and rock to Download on the back of an amazing start to their year. Gaining radio airtime like no other band they pull in a huge crowd to the Dogtooth tent showing they’re destined for the bigger stages soon. The whole crowd is buzzing for this band and with the set closing on their latest single they get a rapturous finish with the whole crowd singing along so loudly you could be forgiven for thinking Rich Moss had turned his mic off.
Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics – the spirit of Freddie Mercury
Aaron Buchanan is no stranger to Download having been a regular over the years with his previous band, Heaven’s Basement. It’s this wealth of experience on the big stage that he brings to the Dogtooth tent and which cannot be contained to the stage alone. This isn’t a gig, it’s a full on show reminiscent of early Queen that needs a bigger stage to be appreciated. Needless to say it isn’t long before Aaron is over the barrier and crowd surfing. It’s not all about his new music though as he brings out the big guns with a song from his Heaven’s Basement days.
Greywind – the best of Ireland, screaming into a microphone
There’s a lot that’s been said about Greywind’s meteoric rise over the last 3 years but all of that is irrelevant once they take to the stage for their first Download appearance. It’s the passion that Steph brings to her stage performance that goes to show why, even on a Saturday lunchtime, the 3rd stage tent is overflowing. And while not everyone knows the lyrics to every song, by the time Afterthoughts comes on the entire tent is singing along. It’s a fantastic debut at Download for pop punk’s newest superstars who are currently riding high on a string of big festival appearances.
The Dillinger Escape Plan – The final huzzah
It’s billed as Dillinger’s final tour, so there’s a lot riding on their headline set in the 3rd stage tent. What ensues is a chaotic riot of a show, that unashamedly I’ll admit to feeling uncomfortable at. There’s a feeling of danger that I’ve never felt before, even in the crush of an Exploited show. It’s the heaviest mix of punk, hardcore, and metal blended together that I have ever seen with equipment being thrown on stage and the band members jumping around like the Sex Pistols in their heyday on speed. The crowd fucking love it!
The one they agreed on – This year Rob Zombie got both Gary and Mark nodding with approval.
Gary: Agreeing to disagree is something you have to do a lot of when discussing the merits of various band performances. The problem as Mark also says is that we agreed on two acts that were simply breathtaking at this year’s event. While Wednesday 13 should get more than just an honourable mention it is Rob Zombie who we finally settled on. His show was full of energy, supremely well put together and had a dash of something extra. With a set list running like a greatest hits medley it was impossible not to get drawn in and he had the best light show of the weekend. With a crowd worthy of a festival headliner I have to again agree with Mark, it has to be the main stage next time round. Rob Zombie has earned it.
Mark: It’s testament to how close mine and Gary’s tastes in music can be that this was a unanimous decision. It’s also telling just how close the decision was as for both of us as it was split between Rob Zombie and Wednesday 13. However, it was the ability of Rob Zombie to draw the largest crowd of the entire day that makes him the best show of the weekend. Pyrotechnics, surfing aliens, lasers, and gyrating women on the big screens. What more could you want? It was a show that could have been Rob Zombie in his heyday, full of energy and a crowd that was going wild for every song. Rob Zombie is clearly still at the top of his game and could easily have moved onto the main stage.
Gary: After a bit of rain on the Thursday it’s great to see the sun peeping out from behind a few light clouds. As it turned out this would be the driest Download for some time. Helping to make things toasty are She Must Burn who turn in an incredibly impressive set given that they have a new keyboardist and vocalist on board. Suicidal Tendencies belie their veteran status with a blinding show that would have more youthful acts out of puff after just a couple of songs. While Prophets OfRage prove to be more hit than miss it’s Sum 41 who live up to being all killer and no filler. Old school thrashers Exodus deserve a mention too. They start up at 10.15pm and have the Dogtooth stage full to capacity turning in a top class showing.
Mark: For most of the festival I find myself in the Dogtooth tent, not because of the weather this time but because of the sheer quality of the undercard. Friday starts off with She Must Burn who pull a respectable early afternoon crowd into the tent. Raven Age take to the 2nd stage and dedicate Trapped In The Shadows to the victims of recent attacks. Yonaka and Venom Prison both tear up the Dogtooth tent with their blend of punk and metal respectively, while over on the main stage 5 Finger Death Punch sound better than ever.
Gary: RavenEye show that if you have a bit of class and can play your instruments then you will get a following. Their blues tinged garage rock is the stuff dreams and what festival memories are made of and are a band both myself and Mark saw and loved. Kvelertak’s hard core punk mixed with black metal undertones never seems to get tired. The sheer enthusiasm of this band is quite amazing. The size of the crowd they pull means a swift return must be on the cards. Max and Iggor Cavalera are here celebrating their twenty year anniversary of the Roots album. Hearing Ratamahatta live is almost worth the festival admission fee alone. The fact that the band also pay tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister with a raucously brilliant rendition of Ace Of Spades is the cherry on the cake.
Mark: With the weather holding for a second consecutive day the bands are split between the second and fourth stages. In the tent Dead Label bring their own army of fans while pop-punks IDLES get a warm reception from the afternoon crowd. Meanwhile on second stage RavenEye are up to their usual stage tricks. Alestorm get the crowd singing along whilst attracting a trio of dancing penguins as well as forming the happiest circle pit on the planet. Coheed & Cambria finish up my time on the second stage while we wait for the headliners.
Gary: Red Fang prove to be less hairy than in the past but their music still rocks. Devildriver turn on the style with a set that is both brutal and brilliant. The Love Zombies play it fast and play it loud taking elements of punk and new wave and making it fir for the twenty first century. As a writing partnership Hollis and Davey have to be up there with the very best. Devilskin are a band on a mission and today they deliver a blindingly in your face performance that made them a whole bunch of new fans. Slayer might be going a bit grey but dear lord they can still turn it on. Their set is every bit as face melting as it ever was.
Mark: Sunday lives up to its name as the sun comes out for the third day in a row, are we seeing the end of days? Once again the Dogtooth tent rules with The Fallen State opening the day with their mature sounding hard rock punctuated with blistering guitar solos. The Charm The Fury get the mosh pit going with their female fronted death metal while New Zealand band Like A Storm introduce the Dogtooth stage to the didgeridoo. On 2nd stage The Dead Daisies return for the second year running. Closing the festival is Aerosmith who put on a fantastic show for what is billed as the last ever UK show (until the next one).
In the light of the tragic events in Manchester it would be remiss not to give a special mention to both the police and security staff this year. Both were doing a tough job and did it brilliantly and with great humour which made everyone feel extra safe while keeping the festival spirit intact. It also has to be said that the fans too played their part, showing a level of maturity and cooperation when needed that did the whole rock scene proud.
Roll on Download 2018 and let the sun shine once more.