Festival season for the last couple of years has been disappointing if you are a metal fan in the UK. This year we were all on tenterhooks and waiting on bated breath.
All we want is to go back to Download. To us it’s as British as a Chippy Tea, or if you’re not that bothered, Marmite. Yes, there are other Metal Festivals, Bloodstock being a firm favourite too. But if you want the big guns you head to Donnington. The legendary home of the open-air Metal show.
One thing we forgot in the last 2 years was how bloody far the carpark is to the camp, (in my case I had to park in the specific carpark for Press, and camp in the other hemisphere for the Guest camping area…..) I had the bright idea to account for all weather types and pack pretty much everything I own with the idea of popping to the carpark each morning to pick my wardrobe for the day.
Needless to say, I just opted for the obligatory black hoody and boots, and shorts of course (calm down ladies). I thought this was a good idea, because if my colleagues needed to spot me in a crowd, I’d stand out……
Download always has the big headliners. The Donnington event has always drawn the big bands in. In the past we have seen some of the best bends in history close the days entertainment. Before it was Download Festival, it was Ozzfest.
The last Ozzfest I saw was 2002. We had Tool, System of a Down at their peak, Slayer and…..er……Lostprophets………..This year we have three heavy hitters of the scene. Kiss on Friday, Iron Maiden on Saturday, and Biffy Clyro closing the whole event on Sunday night. There were some excellent bands headlining the other stages this year.
On Saturday we had one of the best bands in the world right now not even as a headliner! Mastodon were on at 6pm under Megadeath on the bill. This baffles me to be honest. But watching them in daylight, on a massive stage was almost disappointing.
Half the crowd weren’t into it. I feel like they would have gone down better as a main stage headliner. Perhaps you all need to catch up on how good they are and then maybe we can have them back as a headliner with all the lights and fireworks. Rather than this awkward gig in a field.
I’m going to write the reviews of the headliners in ascending order to how good I think they were.
Biffy Clyro. I don’t own any of their music. But I do truly appreciate that they have what it takes to entertain a crowd as a headliner. This is the second time they have headlined at Download and this time they bring the average age of musicians in headlining acts down quite a bit.
The first time was seen as a questionable decision. But they proved themselves to be worthy (Take note of this Download, there were bands on all the other stages that could have had this slot and really nailed it).
The crowd that remains after a spell binding 15 track set by Nu-Metal kings, Korn, know they are in for an excellent performance and they certainly deliver. Playing the crowd pleasers is essential for a festival. And to be a headliner you need to be able to fill the stage with sound, movement, and a performance to captivate those at the back who can hardly see.
This is not easy, the previous 2 headlining acts have massive props, clownlike face paints and decades of music. Biffy Clyro can just be a rock and roll band and hold the attention. There are peaks and troughs of emotion in the songs. I witnessed people crying while singing back the to lyrics to “Machines” back at the stage, the song holding a lot of significance for people who have lost close ones in the last couple of years.
Early on in their set they play what can only be described as Anthems like “Tiny Indoor Fireworks” and “Hunger in your HaHaunt” and end the set with newer tracks like “Cop Syrup”and a crescendo to the whole weekend with “Many of Horror”. The Sunday night Headline slot is a difficult one.
The crowd is thin by the time the show ends. Personally I think the Headlining acts this year all played on the wrong night.
Biffy Clyro needed to play Friday night to open the whole weekend with a reminder that Rock and Roll is the route of all Metal.
Iron Maiden. Who doesn’t know that this is one of THE best Metal bands to come out of the UK. I’m not a massive fan, some of you may be surprised to hear I don’t really like Metallica either.
But it doesn’t mean I can’t understand or appreciate what these bands have done to the musical landscape. Even if that does include a frontman that has voted to leave the European Union thus making said landscape very difficult for bands that have not sold millions to thrive and build a career. “It’s been a shit few years for all of us, but all that end in this field tonight” …….Hmmm, righto Bruce.
The set opens with an 8-minute track that not everyone knows, The title track from their most recent album, Senjutsu. Four minutes in I hear someone say “I hope its not all going to be as boring as this”. It’s not. It is definitely not (but I did see one guy asleep).
The setlist is full of bangers. “Run to The Hills” is amazing to witness. The crows singing so loud to the chorus gave me goose bumps. But this isn’t part of the set until the Encore. Iron Maiden play an outstanding show but the setlist doesn’t quite hit the festival necessities.
The stage show and level of energy they keep going throughout does though. All the flag waving and patriotism feels a bit different now. Some of the fun has gone. (that’s my perception anyway). Then the 2nd Encore commenced by the “Fight them on the beaches” speech by Winston Churchill, provoking crowd members to eyeroll and start to leave before the last track and missing the Spitfire prop that was unleashed. Iron Maiden should have been the Sunday Headliner.
This would have been an outstanding way to end, and people would have stayed to watch it.
Kiss. Friday’s weather was great, and no matter what band you were watching, there was an air of restfulness and eagerness to watch Kiss. All the walking and setting up your tent and the walking, and trying to find a beer that doesn’t cost the equivalent of a Megadeath box set on eBay, the walking, the dressing up like Kiss, the walking, the inflatable guitars, the walking, the burger eating, the walking and of course the walking, was all worth while when perhaps one of the best live acts in history grace the stage.
So many people I spoke to were not there to see Kiss. But were there because it was the headliner on the opening night. Download is seen as a Metal festival, but it is a Rock and Roll festival, with a lot of metal. And you cannot get more Rock and Roll than Kiss. This is spectacular from the outset. The stage show is phenomenal, even in daylight when the band start.
This is what a headliner should be like. Playing to the crowd, banger after banger, hit after hit, anthems a plenty. Lights, dry ice, elivating platforms, zip wires above the crowds. People in the crowd loudly exclaiming that they didn’t even know they liked Kiss were singing along.
There was dancing, laughing (But not as much laughing as there was at the Steel Panther set which is 50% comedy) and coming together of glam fans, rock and rollers and metal heads. It was glorious to be part of it. And that is what sets them apart, they make you feel you are part of it.
It was a very special event as it is one of the last gigs they will be playing as they embark on their End of the Road Tour. But is it the end of the road? How many farewell tours can a band do? The actual Farewell tour was over 20 years ago. So who knows?
Kiss should have been the Saturday highlight of the whole weekend.
As a festival, Download still feels like a gig in a field, there is so much more it can do. Thee needs to be something other than music, burgers and beer. It needs to take some notes from other festivals. That being said, the real magic of Download is in the tents. There are so many bands playing career defining gigs over the weekend.
The tents feel so much better suited to metal shows. They need to be intimate, they need that energy of being in close proximity of the crowd bouncing within walls, even if they are canvas. Even Zack Wilde spitting in the air whilst doing a solo on a podium would feel a little lost in the open air in daylight. Download need bands like Kiss for the Headliners.
So, who should play next year? How many bands can pull this off? Slipknott? Metallica? Rammstein? Maybe its time for Mastodon to have a go at a headline slot? I, for one, cant wait to find out.
Review by Mark Montgomery for MPM