So much has been made of Download festival’s unerring ability to attract rain clouds that this year will go down as one of the driest in recent times. The festival has worked very hard on not only how it deals with passing monsoons but also how it interacts with the public and the environment. So the first thing you notice when you arrive are the little things that matter, better loos, more bins and surface improvements. Later on it’s heartening to see how much is being laid on for disabled rock fans and just how effective the move to going green is with cup recycling and the involvement of Greenpeace leading the way. As ever though it’s the music that counts and this year will go down as one of the best ever with all three headline acts fulfilling their status superbly.
Here are Gary Trueman and Mark Bestford’s top five acts of the weekend followed by a round up of the best of the rest from around the village and arena.
Gary’s five of the best:
Marilyn Manson – The unstoppable god of fuck
Often frustrating, always controversial and never boring Marilyn Manson is in the full glare of the crowd and sun today thanks to a breeze whipping away his smoke screen. While watching a goth melt might appeal to a few Manson simply delves into his box of self confidence and pulls out a magnificent show. Assured, angry and robustly defying his critics he struts and screams his way through a greatest hits collection perfect for the occasion. The god of fuck is back to his best.
The Hyena Kill – The northern noisy upstarts
Playing as a two piece but sounding like there’s a couple of extra band members hidden somewhere are Manchester’s The Hyena Kill. They play metalcore with O levels, a natural and fresh extension of a well trodden path. While all eyes are mostly on drummer Lorna Blundell and her quite astounding ability to sound like she has a bass guitar hidden on her you have to doff your hat to Steven Dobb too for his stirling work on guitar and huge stage presence. Metal now has it’s own Royal Blood.
Powerflo – The supergroup with extra super
It’s astonishing that Powerflo are opening things up on the Saturday at 11am given their line up includes Sendog (CypressHill), Billy Graziadei (Biohazard), Christian Olde Wolbers (ex Fear Factory) and Roy Lozano (Downset). Naturally they have a good crowd and those there are treated to a blinding set of original music that takes your breath away. Clearly enjoying themselves the Powerflo guys lap up every moment. A swift return to Donington Park must surely be on the cards.
Dragonforce – The smoothest band at the festival
You have to tip your hat to Dragonforce for simply being such a well oiled machine. They’re one of those bands that just ooze class in every department. Their set this year is one that shows just why metal works so well out in the fresh air. With the sun high in the sky and Herman Lee juggling his guitar it’s moments like this that make lifelong memories. Dragonforce have always been a big stage band, today they take it too a whole new level.
Cradle Of Filth – The filth and the ecstasy
Someone had a bit of a laugh putting on the lovers of all things dark at midday. You suspect they wanted to watch Dani and co combust, which in a way they do, just musically. This is a set full of all the things that make Cradle Of Filth such a great band, just with added sunshine and a festival party atmosphere. The vocals are spot on, both Dani’s lead and Lindsay’s backing, the music is tight and the set itself works like a dream. Cradle didn’t just play, they put on a show, and a fantastic one at that.
Mark’s five of the best:
It may by a tad controversial as they played on the Thursday but InVisions earn an honorary spot by being stunningly brilliant. The Boardie Takeover headliners had everything going for them, with a dedicated fan base in the tent chanting “Yorkshire! Yorkshire!” right up to an amazing show of energy both on and off stage. They manage to turn the centre of the Doghouse tent into a swirling vortex, creating one of the largest circle pits witnessed this year. Without doubt this is a band that will be back and when they do return there will be chaos and destruction not seen since Municipal Waste.
The new wave of rock
For so early in the day Massive Wagons manage to pull in a phenomenal crowd, with people having to stand eight deep outside the tent to watch them. They’re just one of several bands showing that traditional rock music is not just surviving, but thriving. There’s a great vibe in the tent as they plough through a radio friendly playlist of songs that have the crowd singing along. Who knows who is louder at this point, the crowd, or the band, but it’s certainly maximum attack from both.
How to make someone’s jaw drop
From the opening notes the crowd is rooted to the floor, pure soprano vocals stand out cutting into the air. At the other side of the stage there’s a more traditional black metal growl and scream, and then the music switches again. From black metal, grinding guitars, to a techno beat, all with this ethereal soprano counterpointed with a primal growling. It’s classical, operatic, post-apocalyptic, all thrown into one gigantic melting pot. It’s like a mad French scientist with no knowledge of music took everything that had ever been created, from medieval folk to Cannibal Corpse and created what he believed to be the essence, the soul of all music combined.
Welcome to the circus
Avatar have come a long way since they last played at Download. The circus inspired makeup and costumes are still there, as is Johannes’ manic personality, but there’s something else thrown into the mix. There comes a point in a band’s lifetime that they have to up their game. With the release of their latest album Avatar have done just that, adding a level of pomp and ceremony to their stage show that takes them above the general crowd. This Swedish metal band are no longer the joker on stage, now they are the full freakshow.
The return of a legend
The songs may be different but for a short while old men turn nineteen again and the tent becomes the student union in Sheffield. Toby Jepson has not lost any of the energy and stagecraft that made Little Angels one of the biggest bands at the end of the 80s. With no rain to drive people into the tent this year it’s still standing room only and the crowd turns the set into a sing-along for the whole thirty minutes. With such a short time available there’s no room to play anything from past times this is strictly a Wayward Sons set list, but it doesn’t matter, Toby is back and he’s still on form.
The one we can agree on: Babymetal
Mark: Just a few short years ago this would be seen as unthinkable, Babymetal being the best show of the festival. But this isn’t about what people think of the band, it’s about what the band are like on the day, and on Saturday Babymetal simply blow everyone away. No other band had the style, the sound, the control, all in one package. Everything comes together in one perfectly choreographed set, every note sung, every note played was spot on. And the crowd was played like a conductor plays an orchestra. There are plenty of bands calling for circle pits and not getting them, Babymetal got multiple ones. And when demanding them to be bigger they simply merged into one gigantic pit. This was an audience from front to back at the band’s beck and call and loving every second of it.
Gary: How do you go from being a novelty act in many peoples eyes to something much more substantial? In the case of Babymetal you don some suitable armour and rock the living daylights out of the Download crowd. The music is right up there and the vocals are pitch perfect, but the thing that really hits home is the choreography of the show and the maturity of what the group have put together. Babymetal have managed to keep the cute but now they have a swagger about them, and they look like girls empowered. The entire set is a masterpiece of music and theatre, the rhetoric is that Babymetal are going to be around for a long time and they’re not going to take prisoners.
The best of the rest. Daily round-up
The entertainment is bolstered by a stage set up in the RIP camp site which means that some early birds get to see bands play on the Wednesday evening. Effectively opening the festival this year are London three piece The Kut who rip it up so well they end up with a stage invasion. Don’t rule them out of an arena appearance next year. Later on over at The Doghouse we’re treated to the Circus Of Horrors and Dis-Grace with Suicide Girls who both put on eye popping shows. Weather report: Warn and sultry. There’s a surreal night of comedy in the Side Splitter tent headlined by Jason Rouse.
It’s a case of the calm before the storm with anticipation rife on the campsites. There’s much talk of how Axl and Ozzy will perform, real excitement for Avenged Sevenfold and the booze and party atmosphere runs well into the night. The Boardie Takeover sees some great band performances in the Doghouse. Black Orchid Empire show there worth with a formidable show. Next up are Departed and Altered Sky who both, who put in great shifts. The quality of the bands playing is clear, but it’s InVisions that really gets the tent pumping. Andrew O’Neill entertains the packed tent with his musical musing, getting a particularly good response from the crowd with Jesus Was A Cockney. Into the early hours and rain starts to fall but it’s the only time over the weekend it does. Weather report: Hotting up with umbrellas need to return from the bar.
Cellar Darling kick the day off in fine form sporty delicious vocals and an electric Hurdy Gurdy. The rock meets folk and classical vibe are a perfect intro to open up the festival proper. Marmozets are on a roll at the moment and their set has the crowd going wild. Now they’ve calmed down a bit Becca MacIntyre and the guys are starting to look like they could go all the way to the top. Volbeat add to their reputation with another great festival set. Jonathan Davis puts in a typically solid shift using no gimmicks, just that unique voice and a fine set of songs. It’s when you see such an understated show you realise what a musical gem this guy really is. Napalm Death have what seems to be a less than enthusiastic crowd until you see how many people are in the tent. Maybe there’s just not enough room for a circle pit. Avenged Sevenfold close the night on the main stage with a truly magnificent performance. You have to ask though, is that Iron Maiden’s Eddie they’ve borrowed for the backdrop? Weather report: Pass the sunblock, factor 25.
Pink Slips and Duff’s daughter, Grace McKagan, puts on a show reminiscent of Debbie Harry or Wendy James in their prime. McKagan ticks all the right boxes and looks set to become a rock star in her own right. Death Blooms go straight for the jugular with their sharp, modern and distinctly angry set. Where there is a chilled out vibe generally this year, acts like this give fans an outlet to go crazy, and crazy is what they go. Sleep Token seem to hold a suitably hypnotic effect over the crowd on the Dogtooth stage. When you talk about acts that are timeless you have to include L7 on the list. Decades after they became a thing of wonder to many the veteran grungesters are still producing musical magic everywhere they go. Parkway Drive rule the roost headlining the Zippo Encore stage. They put on a show full of passion and fire. It’s a statuesque performance that many will see as a dress rehearsal for a shot at closing the main stage one day soon. Guns and Roses not only aren’t late, but actually start their set a full minute early. It’s a three hours full of classics and covers and throughout the star is Slash. Axl’s vocals hold up remarkably well, so much so if you close your eyes it might be 1990 again. Pulling out all the stops this is a classic Download performance .Weather report: Scorchio, sunblock factor 50.
It’s the Sunday sermon in the Avalanche tent with Dream State. They get a great turnout for such an early rise and Charlotte’s crushingly honest lyrics resonate with the crowd. Greta Van Fleet, are on the Zippo Encore stage sounding like a young Led Zeppelin. With the wind whipping her hair around Maria Brink looks even more bizarre than normal. Her voice is on point though and In This Moment are a highlight of what turns out to be and extraordinary day. Bonkers but also lovable Brink and co. don’t just play a show, they do the whole damn circus. Shinedown step onto the main stage armed with just their instruments and music in what proves to be a triumph of style and song writing. Once again we may be witnessing the emergence of a band who could one day top the bill at Donington Park. Onwards and upwards is the order of play for melodic hard core outfit Rise Against. They’re the perfect act to close the Zippo Encore stage for the weekend and put on a suitable energetic show. At last it’s time for the Prince of Darkness. Expectations are tempered by Ozzy’s last show here with Black Sabbath. In the late Sunday sun this is him at his best though. He starts off strongly and shows real stamina to the end of the evening. It’s another memorable headline performance in a year where all the top acts have delivered. Weather report: Too hot to handle, forget the sunblock and find some shade.
Download 2018 was the year the sun shone and the bands shone brighter, the year they will call Dryload. Let’s do it all again next year.
Download 2019 will take place at Donington Park June 14th – 16th.
Tickets can be bought here – Download Festival tickets
Words: Gary Trueman and Mark Bestford
Photos: Gary Trueman