As a self-confessed rock, punk and metal music aficionado, ‘Festival Season’ often leaves me with very little enthusiasm and interest. The sight of this year’s Glastonbury line-up didn’t excite me; I have never been interested in going to T in the Park (even though I live about 30 minutes away from the venue site); and while Reading-Leeds have Metallica, Royal Blood and The Marmozets in their line-ups, even they can’t force me to part with my cash… Download Festival, however, is a completely different matter!

From June 12th-14th, the UK’s premier rock festival returned to the spiritual home of rock at Donington Park in the middle of the peaceful and serene English countryside. The peace and serenity didn’t last long though as over 100 acts turned this little pocket of England into a musical battleground of epic proportions with a kick-*ss soundtrack. Sadly, I couldn’t see every single band. Nor can I talk about every band which I managed to see. So, here are some of my musical highlights.

Friday

Five Finger Death Punch (17:50-18:35) Main Stage

During a weekend which included the likes of headliners Slipknot, Muse and KISS, you and many others may be surprised to know that I was in fact excited for another band more than any of those mentioned. That band being Five Finger Death Punch.

After a scorching hot day was facing ruin from incoming stormy weather (Spoiler: It rained on Friday. You’ll probably find this out throughout the rest of this day’s review), Ivan Moody and co. took all of our worries away with an energetic, good ol’ festival sing-a-long experience with one crowd pleasing hit after another. From “Under And Over It” to “Never Enough”, “Bad Company” to “The Bleeding”, the mosh pits were aplenty and the vocal chords and bodies were shattered. A hugely enjoyable performance for 5FDP die-hards and newcomers alike!

 

Judas Priest (19:20-20:20) Main Stage

The word ‘legend’ is sometimes used too frequently. Funnily enough, that phrase questioning the use of ‘legend’ is also used to often (… bear with me here…). But no other word could possibly describe Judas Priest. The innovators of heavy metal in Britain and across the globe graced the Main Stage with a performance that showcased the best of Judas Priest and further solidified their legacy as heavy metal Gods.

Rob Halford and his seemingly limitless vocal range was as phenomenal as ever. The 6-minute spectacular “Painkiller” was quite possibly my favourite song from the entire weekend and their newest material from Redeemer of Souls sounded just as great as fan-favourites “Breaking The Law” and the rest of their classic catalogue. Definitely deserving of their title as one of the greatest heavy metal bands ever and if this performance is anything to go by, they don’t intend on slowing down.

Halford came out on stage riding a motorcycle too – that was pretty sweet!

Bombus (20:30-20:55) Jake’s Stage

A Swedish friend of mine once told me: “If you’re not in a metal band, then you know someone who is”. Scandinavia, in particular Sweden, is the heavy metal capital of the world! Groups like In Flames (more on them later!) and Dark Tranquility were influential in creating melodic death metal. So can you imagine how excited I was to hear that Bombus had crashed onto our shores on their Viking longboat of destruction?!

Although not strictly “Gothenburg Metal” and perhaps more comparable to Motörhead, Bombus swung a heavy metal hammer akin to the power of Thor in a very short but very impressionable set beneath the orange glow of Jake’s Stage. Having released two studio albums Bombus (2010) and The Poet and The Parrot (2013), this 4-piece are on the rise.

P.S. Check out “Apparatus” and “Let Her Die”. They will quench your musical cravings like a nice bowl of Swedish meatballs in your rumbling tum!

 

Slipknot (21:20-22:50) Main Stage

It has been two years since Slipknot have performed at Download Festival. In that time, long-time drummer Joey Jordison had departed the group, Alessandro Venturella had joined the group following the passing of the late Paul Gray and their fifth album .5: The Gray Chapter was released in 2014 to critical acclaim. And judging by the number of ‘maggots’ (Slipknot fans) who braved the torrential weather which swept through the festival on Friday night, everyone was eager to make up for lost time.

In an explosive set which comprised of material from all five studio albums, the Main Stage – reduced to what could only be described as a swamp – soon became a portal to a fiery, riotous pit of oblivion… and it was perfect! Slipknot anthems “Wait And Bleed”, “Before I Forget” and “Psychosocial” were incredible. The offerings from their new album “The Devil In I” and “AOV” proved that the true Slipknot had returned. Whilst the sucker in me for stage design and visuals couldn’t help but adore the spectacle that took place under the watchful eye of Satan himself whose image loomed from the rear of the stage. A truly triumphant return to Download Festival.

Saturday

Stray From The Path (12:50-13:20) The Maverick Stage

For those who have been to a music festival before, it is more than likely that you will have found a little musical gem. Someone who you had no idea what to expect from them prior to the start of their set, but by the time they finished you simply couldn’t get enough of them. Well, this is mine!

Hailing from Long Island, NY., Stray From The Path combine the pedigree of the forefathers of New York hardcore punk like Agnostic Front and Sick Of It All with the politically-probing, anti-establishment sound of Rage Against The Machine. The result: a morbid combination of ruthless aggression and a high-energy stage presence, with crowd surfing, circle pits and head banging galore. With their new album Subliminal Criminals set for release later this year, SFTP are certainly a band you need to keep a very close eye on.

Faith No More (19:05-20:15) Main Stage

I felt the most youthful as I have done in a long time when Faith No More took to the Main Stage on Saturday night. As previous headliners in 2009 and veterans of the music industry with more than 30 years of experience behind them, they were an attraction for all ages. Their debut album We Care A Lot was released in 1985 and released two more by 1989 – I wasn’t even born yet! However, if I had been, I probably would’ve been a Faith No More fan.

Donning crisp matching white shirts and trousers upon a stage filled with beautiful bouquets of flowers, the San Franciscans’ mixture of hard rock and funk ushered in an hour of blissful matrimony and a little bit of Californian sunshine to boot. Our ‘yoga instructors for this evening’ tore up the stage with their classics “Epic”, their rendition of Commodores’ “Easy” and “Midlife Crisis” (that song from GTA: San Andreas’ “Radio X”. I know! I never knew that either!). Fantastic showmen with incredibly catchy songs to pump you up or mellow you out, listen to Faith No More now….

Well, finish reading this review first. But listen to them straight afterwards! I mean it!

Muse (21:05-22:50) Main Stage

Although considered one of the biggest bands in the world and the recipients of numerous “Best Live Act” awards, the inclusion of British rock giants Muse initially turned a few heads within the metal community as they weren’t considered as being “metal” enough. After this headline (and debut!) performance in front of possibly the largest crowd of the entire festival, however, the 3-piece from Teignmouth in Devon more than justified their inclusion and further cemented their place at the top of the musical mountain.

Rumours of a set-list consisting of rare tracks and ‘heavier stuff’ were confirmed in an interview package with vocalist Matthew Bellamy shown on the giant stage screens before they took to the stage which received rapturous applause.

Then… the lights came on! Cue the opening riff to “Psycho”. Cue crowd insanity!

This performance was exactly what could be expected from a band of the calibre of Muse. There was fire; confetti; streamers; giant inflatable balls which were unleashed upon the crowd; and a MASSIVE firework display to close the Main Stage. There was the live debut of “The Handler” and a whole host of other material from their new album Drones, including “Reapers” and “Mercy”. There was a joyous amount of the previously promised rare and ‘heavier’ material (“Citizen Erased”; “Micro Cuts”; “Agitated”; “Dead Star”) and, of course, festival favourites including “Plug In Baby”, “Time Is Running Out” and the closing “Knights Of Cydonia”. This headline performance was, however, unlike any other Muse performance. Playing at a brand new venue, in front of a number of sceptical onlookers, this had to be a showcase to prove the non-believers wrong. They proved them wrong.

10/10 doesn’t quite do this justice.

Sunday

In Flames (18:25-19:10) Zippo Encore Stage        

Blue and yellow flags, t-shirts and inflatable bananas were in abundance as Sweden’s greatest heavy metal export returned to Download Festival for the first time since 2008. After pulling out of last year’s festival to finish their new album Siren Charms, I think it is safe to say that all is certainly forgiven as In Flames set the standard for the rest of Sunday’s Zippo Encore Stage with a fantastic 45-minute slot.

Kicking off with their massive anthem “Only For The Weak”, sending the sizeable Scandinavian contingent into pure metal frenzy, their set was filled with ‘heavy metal hits’ (as vocalist Anders Fridén so rightly put it) including “Where The Dead Ships Dwell” and “Paralyze”. Although an unknown quantity for many who are unfamiliar with Swedish metal and a completely different animal in comparison to their “melodic death metal” roots, In Flames are a MUST SEE for any metal fan – and if you’re a hot girl in the front row with a camera then you’ll more than likely be invited on-stage (note to self!).

Mötley Crüe (19:00-20:10) Main Stage

Download Festival is a time of celebration for the rock and metal community. A chance to come together, leave your cares behind and have the greatest, most “Rock N’ Roll” time imaginable. This year, however, was also a time for commemoration as on Sunday night, before the glitz and the glamour of KISS brought this year’s festival to a close, L.A. hard rock royalty Mötley Crüe performed for the last time at a British music festival on what is their final tour – the aptly titled “All Bad Things Must Come To An End”.

Although a somewhat sombre occasion, the crowd was pumped! And, unsurprisingly, they were not left disappointed as Vince Neil (vocals), Tommy Lee (drums), Nikki Sixx (bass guitar) and Mick Mars (lead guitar) offered one final reminder of why they are widely considered one of the greatest rock bands ever with a set filled with fire, blistering guitar solos and… girls, girls, girls! “Dr. Feelgood” and “Smoking In The Boy’s Room” were just some of the many classics from throughout their 30+ years catalogue which were engulfed in a sea of devil-horns that filled the Main Stage. And in a classy gesture to their love and appreciation of the UK punk scene, a cover of The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” with an American twist made sure that our singing voices were working (I WANNA BEEEEE ANARCHYYYYYY!).

This was a fitting send-off to a band whose like may never be seen again; from a golden era of rock which has taken its place in the annals of music history. Upset that you missed it? Well, have no fear! Mötley Crüe return to British shores for the final time later this year for huge shows in Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester and London for the epic conclusion to their phenomenal legacy. Plus, the equally phenomenal Alice Cooper shall be their very special guest. Need I say more?

My body was broken. My voice was sore. I’m not sure if my hearing will ever fully recover. I had the five worst sleeps of my life. And my plan to limit how much I spend was abandoned as soon as I got a sniff of the food stalls and saw the merchandise tent…

But who cares?! Download Festival (no pun intended) ROCKED!!! See you all there next year!

Want more of the best in rock, punk and metal music? Of course you do!

Tune in to Matthew Kirk from 9pm for Maximum RPM – rock, punk and metal to the maximum – EVERY Sunday night on Queen’s Radio.

Matthew Kirk

Matthew Kirk

Host of 'Maximum RPM' 2014-2017
Winner of 'Radio DJ of the Year' at Oxygen.ie's National Student Media Awards (SMedias) 2017 - three cheers for heavy metal!
For opportunities, please contact: matthew.kirk@queensradio.org
Matthew Kirk