This year marked Download’s tenth anniversary with perhaps it’s strongest line up to date. With Sonisphere cancelled and all tickets sold out, the stage was set for this years Metal equivalent of Glastonbury, as over 100,000 fans descended on Donington.
But a after few nights rain, the main arena had turned to mud, causing early openers Europe to miss their slot. But there were downsides too. There were delays, sitting down was not really an option and if you stood too long in one place you would become stuck. But things soon got off to a flying start with Fear Factory, followed by a rousing Machine Head. The addition of Dubsetp duo Chase and Status had caused a few wrinkled eyebrows, but they came through fine. I saw them at Kendal Calling last year and was impressed by the energy of their live show, and when it comes down to it, energy wins at Download.
Over on the Pepsi Max Stage Devin Townsend was blasting out his densely layered alternative prog metal…actually I can’t come up with enough adjectives for his music. The guy is a musical genius, unique, and hilarious to boot, but unfortunately the sound wasn’t doing him any favours tonight. Another time Devin.
So we sludged our way back over for The Prodigy who were banging out hit after hit. They are, at this stage in their game, an entertainment juggernaut. Just as Chase and Status’s addition raised a few eyebrows, there was a time when The Prodigy being featured in Kerrang did the same. But these days every metal head knows their back catalogue inside out, such is the ease with which they work the crowd.
Saturday brings clouds but thankfully no rain. A comedy one two punch from Steel Panther and Tenacious D breaks up the afternoon. Both bands are musically capable of paying tribute and poking fun at the genre, often in the same breath. Steel Panther’s set brings a bit of Hollywood glam to the mud, and they even bring out their old pal Cory Taylor of Slipknot to sing on ‘Death to all but Metal’ which is as fine a ‘up yours’ to every other kind of music out there as you could want. Tenacious D’s ‘The Metal’ has similar sentiments, but isn’t as much fun. But then the ‘D’ have ‘Tribute’; possibly the sing along of the weekend. Let’s call this one a draw.
Biffy Clyro? Didn’t see them, got hungry, Sorry. Metallica was coming up and we needed fuel for the fire.
So yeah, Metallica. What’s not to like? I have never seen them put on a bad show, and I’ve seen them a lot. Tonight we get the Black Album backwards, the return of the snake pit, Battery, One, Seek n’ Destroy. They seem to play the UK almost every summer, new album or no, and I for one have zero problems with that. Legends.
Sunday sees the Sunshine, the land is drying out, we can sit, we can get sunburnt we can watch Kyuss Lives! Their down tuned stoner rock is fine, but it does get a bit samey pretty quickly. This song’s in ‘D’ lads, just jam along ‘till I give the nod. Maybe it’s a bit early in the day but our attention wanders elsewhere.
Anthrax on the other hand are on fire. One of the highlights of the weekend. After a Scott Ian-less performance at last year’s Sonisphere they are back in full force opening with ‘Caught in a mosh’ which does exactly what it says on the tin, as a Pit immediately erupts. Track after classic track, until ‘I am The Law’, they leave us smiling like the battered sausage fest we are.
Over on the Zippo Encore Stage, Sebastian Bach is also reliving old glories, (it turns out I still remember all the words to ’18 and life’). With only really his Skid Row years to lean on though, it’s not quite as energising as Anthrax. Still, the man has a voice like a jet fighter taking off, can’t take that away from him.
Back on the main stage Megadeth put on a typically polished performance, shredding away to the likes of ‘Hanger 18’ and ‘Holy Wars’. Soundgarden follow and are more of an occasion, mainly as they haven’t played the UK for over 15 years. They play a mix of early obscurities and the bigger tunes from ‘Badmotorfinger’ and ‘Superunknown’ that made them massive. They also manage to capture one of those magical festival moments: mesmerising everyone with the dark beauty of ‘Black Hole Sun’ just as the sun begins to set. Absolutely fucking stunning.
So it only remains for the one band that started it all, to finish it all. The Godfathers, Black Sabbath enter with the song ‘Black Sabbath’. That’s the birth of Heavy Metal right there, the doom, the tritone interval, the haunting vocals, the energy, it’s all the ingredients that fed pretty much every other band on the bill. Too bad drummer Bill Ward was edged out of it, but Ozzy’s drummer Tommy Clufetos is more than able for the job, especially on songs such as ‘The Wizard’ and ‘War Pigs’ which are ALL about the drumming. A gleeful Ozzy keep the crowd going in his own slightly doddery style, and touchingly comments on Tony Iommi’s Lymphoma, describing him as ‘The Strongest guy I know’. By the time they get around to ‘Paranoid’ …we really couldn’t have asked for more. Even the weekend’s mud served to bring the crowd together, in a sort of we’re all in this together, spirit of the Somme kind of way. The smiles I saw all weekend from punters to staff said it all. Not bad work for the “Devil’s music”.
Download Festival specials will broadcast next month on Sky Arts with bands included in the programming including Slash, The Prodigy and Metallica, and interviews including Jack Black of Tenacious D. These will broadcast on Palladia and VH1 Classic in the USA later in the year
a limited amount of Download 2013 ‘early bird’ tickets will go on sale 9am Friday 15 June, from the official website www.downloadfestival.co.uk <http://www.downloadfestival.co.uk> . A new deposit scheme will be introduced, for more information check the website. Download 2013 will take place 14-16 June.
Download Festival 2012 main photo – credit Jess Gilbert
All other photos: www.markwilliamsphotography.com
(Here’s hoping for a photo pass next year, those shots were taken with a compact).