Review by Sheri Bicheno for MPM
It’s almost hard to fathom that just a mere two years ago, we were inundated with rules and regulations about taking measures to avoid one another, shops were closed, schools were closed, the health sector was in absolute chaos and of course, many industries suffered including our imperative music industry.
This year, Download Festival vanquished all memory of such times for the music industry, adding on an extra day and selling out for the very first time to celebrate their 20th birthday as Download.
Metallica, having just released their first album (72 seasons) since 2016’s Hardwired…to Self Destruct were booked to headline twice this year amongst a stacked line up with 5th time returning Slipknot and Bring Me The Horizon’s first headlining set at Download.
With 100,000 descending on Donington Park in a bid to get set up on Wednesday, chaos ensued and there were people struggling to get on site. However, by Thursday mid morning, things seemed to have settled and everyone was unpacking or getting into the festival flow in the gorgeous sunshine.
After collecting my press passes, I set up camp and then explored the area to find the quickest route to the Arena.
I could see some people going the long road past the Village, though there was a shortcut underpass that took you right across the carpark of the track right by Disabled Camping that let you follow the road across and down to the Guest entrance about ten minutes away. So off I popped and made it just in time to catch Canadian hardcore legends Cancer Bats tear up the Opus (second) stage.
A sea of people were already gathered and then out echoes the winding intro to sludge riff infused Pneumonia Hawk.
I find that straight off the bat Cancer Bats immediately showcase a diverse style in their live delivery, Liam Cormier displays punk infused vocals amongst the sludgy riffs and hardcore style of Mike Peters’ drum thrashing before the more speed induced Trust No One slams into the crowd where Liam takes on a pitch of visceral screams and the riffs storming out of the guitars makes the atmosphere chaotic, flirting with the elements of hardcore and punk.
“That is WHAT’S UP!!” Liam addresses the crowd with a burst of energy. “We’re all slowly waking up, I feel like everyone’s getting loose. Here’s the thing I love about this festival, everyone is partying together. All over the world, people travel here to be together. Now I need every motherf*cker in this field to JUMP!”
Immediately, the battering ram of riffs come hurling in for Radiate and the gorgeously unhinged blasting of the kit commands the pace and see’s the Opus stage floor create a mosh pit of bodies flying everywhere. Jay’s bass chugs loosely and gives this live track so much depth alongside the winding and pure rude riffs that hurl the track into some venomous paces before my favourite track of the set Winterpeg raises hell amongst the stage.
The doomy-hardcore-esque riffs that rain down create an absolutely EVIL atmosphere amongst these guys. Liam’s vocals take on a brazen deathly vocal style that queue in with the sledge hammering riffs and low rumble of bass.
Sadly, during the last track, Hail Destroyer, the set was cut due to overrun stage times but this left the crowd chanting lyrics back to the guys and creating a supportive and warm aura from the band.
I started my way over to the Apex (main) stage to catch Jinjer. Although, I was happy to see that Hard Rock outfit Mammoth WVH hadn’t quite finished.
Recent released single Another Celebration at the End of the World was in full swing and delivered upbeat and positive energy fuelled guitaring. Summer Rock riffing and drumming that absorb feel good vibes and fun melodies completely emit from the stage. Wolfgang Van Halen has vocals that range into the track superbly and delivers a performance for this song that I believe much of Black Stone Cherry fans would adore.
To conclude the set, the most popular track from Mammoth WVH Don’t Back Down winds it’s way out of the stage and there are a huge amount of people jumping to this. Energetic and full of wonderful and relentless riffing and pounding beats.
Now hearing the familiar intro chimes to Perennial, I could feel the energy stirring. Whenever I have seen Jinjer, they have delivered nothing short of a breath taking set.
Tatiana skims effortlessly across the stage with the energy of a hunting lioness and delivers her stunning clean singing that soar into energy stealing heights and melt into gutturals that tremble through the grounds beneath us. Sticksman Vladimir Ulasevish showcases this set with tumbling and twisting paces of the track that glue together the signature progressive sonics that we all know and love about Jinjer.
Tatiana talks to the crowd and thanks everyone for their support and addresses the 1 year anniversary of the Ukrainian sufferings of war and that Ukraine is still in need of support. And let me tell you… there was no shortcomings of support being shown in the crowd with several Ukrainian flags waved and featured on the screens before Ape generates energy from the band into the audience.
The stepstones of Roman Ibramkhalilov heavy riffs blending with purely brutal wielding of the kit that command not only the pace of the track but showcase another display of multidirectional notes to pull the listener inside out and from side to side.
If you listen to the lyrics of this ferocious track, you’ll see it is immensely apt to what Tatiana was mentioning before…
Additionally, witnessing the range of energy that Colossus bestows see’s the circle pit down the front centre stage create the shape of a dust tornado rising into the air. Eugene Abdukhanov’s bass does exceptional work here, commanding the depth of pace on this song and energising that chugging sonic sense through the stunning maddening riffs and insane blastbeating from Vladimir.
“Are you still here, Download? Can you make it LOUDER?”
Tatiana stuns with rage throughout Call Me A Symbol and makes space to for the stunning guitaring to let loose groove infused melodies and hard hitting riffs before next track delivers the familiar entwining melodies and bassy tone that intros I Speak Astronomy.
The melodic groove riffs and threatening drum double pedals that run alongside eachother here are stunning and encourages another dust kicked up circle pit in the crowd before mellowing down a little with that gorgeous melodic moment that see’s clean and beautiful vocals to intervene in this track. That pause before Tatiana delivers her stunning Mezzo-Soprano range holds that suspending energy in the audience and then comes as a crashing wave before settling into silence.
The unmistakable djent side of Jinjer rings through the air with familiarity as the groove infused strings introduce Teacher! Teacher! from the stage.
What an absolute track to harness that brutal energy and unleash with so much intensity – this track is brutal and talks to us of people that dictate their agenda by means of their position in power in order to force their ideologies on to others without base of their own knowledge or experiences.
The crowd around me applause from all the way from the front to the very back of the Arena before Jinjer deliver the stunning last track As I Boil Ice.
One of my favourite bands of the day by far.
Having some time to kill before Halestorm, I head to the DogTooth Stage to watch a little of Alternative Rock A.A Williams – this was a new artist to me and I enjoyed so much of what I caught.
First song Evaporate gave me some beautifully melodic sludgy ambience. There are notes that conjure up some melancholy energies though beautifully laced with atmospheric and hypnotic guitaring. Alex Williams has a beautiful vocal range which doesn’t strike me as overpowering.
Murmurs was another example of the soul touching ambience that came from the stage pouring the emotionally charged elements into your pores. Guitaring and cello infused arrangements using melodies deliver a technique that tap into the strongest of emotions that A.A Williams force you to confront.
Heading back to the Apex stage, Pennsylvanian Rock leviathans Halestorm had just taken to the stage and we were greeted with a HUGE rush of power.
Lizzy Hale’s vocals reach insane levels during first track I Miss The Misery. She has huge charisma in her voice and her range reaches powerful heights to deliver a hard hitting and intense sonic assault to the crowd.
Love Bites (So Do I) pummels out in an almost thrashy demeanour introducing the track and turns slowly into a more power-esque metal upbeat and fast paced anthem. Polished riffs Joe Hottinger wield come crashing through that melt into a seriously mega solo and end together in a chaotic wonder that talks to us of loving who the hell we want and not to listen to mainstream media about what or who are the right kind of people to fall for.
“Lift out ladies up! Raise them high! If you have a lady next to you, lift her on your shoulders… this is for them.”
I gotta say, I love Lizzy’s positive reinforcement and encouragement for the crowd to interact with each other during this set.
So when I Get Off was played off towards the female identities of the audience, this made for a really fun and brilliant vibe. And a TONNE of people popping up in the crowd that got seated on shoulders and danced around by their partners, friends, peers, strangers haha.
Freak Like Me comes in as a battering ram of riffs and blasts of Arejay Hale’s kit. This track came in at number 1 on the US Mainstream Rock Charts in 2021 and it is plainly obvious why.
This Arena filling anthem is massive and has everyone around headbanging, moving and body surfing – it’s punchy energy and insanity driven guitar shredding makes this track stand out in so many ways. Lizzy uses an absolutely unbelievable technique with her voice in this track to really push the energy of the song to it’s limits.
Arejay displays an absolutely jawdropping drum solo during the set before newer track Back From The Dead comes to take ownership of the atmosphere. This track to me, displays a certain more maturity to Halestorm than that of much of the other songs during this set. It exemplifies facing mental health battles and the aftermath of coming through the dark moments during redemption and still maintaining positivity.
Musically, there is a more adjusted shift towards the groove notes of Halestorm which catapults the feeling of determination through the message of the song. There are moments of pure feeling and encapsulation of emotion that comes with it’s message.
Last track offering, The Steeple is also another example of this – and which makes sense as this track makes up the same 11 song album that was released last year. This track has more feel of inclusion, of people facing the demons together and living together with more acceptance, understanding and compassion for one another’s inner battles.
The bass here from Josh Smith is hugely prominent in this track – the backbone of the track where the depth is kept as upbeat and fun as possible but with feeling.
A mindblowing track to leave Halestorm’s set.
With the January release of Pawns & Kings still in the air, Kings of modern rock, Alter Bridge kicked their anticipated main stage set right off with recent single Silver Tongue. This only thrust thousands of people into a purely ecstatic energy. The main stage was nearing completely full and the general atmosphere of people were in party, music loving moods. From this intro track, thunderous riffs from the conjunction of Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti washed through the fields, demanding that the new and revitalised Alter Bridge be taken notice of. Myles’ vocals are unmistakable – he has such unique ranges and tones to his voice and this, as the mouthpiece of the band brings a sense of excited energy through the crowd.
Blending into Addicted To Pain from 2013’s album Fortress, there is no doubt that we were going to be in for some absolute bangers of this set. The melodics of the intro to the track rings out in a stunning guitar offering before Myles soothes us over with a gentle range of vocals before the powerful motions blend together to deliver a beautiful song amongst power infused riffs and Scott Phillips’ jaw dropping double pedals of the kit that provide some subtle breakdowns with Mark Tremonti’s stunning guitar solos.
Nostalgia hits when the heartfelt intro of Ghosts of Days Gone By fills the air – and my gods – the feelings are very raw.
Watching this track live hits so different and that right there, sets a bar as it’s a song on many a playlist that is played by those that need to revist memories and thoughts that no one else can follow. The crowd around me pelts this out at the top of their lungs and I can see a sunset soaked silhouette of Mark Tremonti playing his heart out next to bassist Brian Marshall, who crafts the undertone magic to this stunning track.
We’re bestowed another new track from last years’ freshly released Pawns & Kings – a gunshot march riff for This Is War rings out and Myles absolutely reaches some sonic heights of what his vocals can do. His riffs are stomping and the power aligning with Mark absolutely intensifies the rhythms.
Alter Bridge are absolutely mesmerising, though I decided it was time to go and catch the ever amazing Reggae Metal legends that are Skindred.
Approaching the Opus stage, i could see that Skindred were already in full swing. The whole second stage floor was jumping – and it doesn’t much surprise me. Its a testament to the showmanship of this colossal band and how they constantly interact with the crowd. I have never seen a band as interactive as Skindred are and this just amplifies the fun and emotional element of them.
Benji Webbe always dressed as fabulous as always on stage, was busy commanding the atmosphere… getting a whole field of people to sing a rendition of Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now is quite something to behold… until a series of Sirens pierce the air and the frantic bass of Daniel Pugsley commands the undertone of menacing Sound The Siren.
Firing on all cylinders, the crowd are erratic and jump to the progressive and brutal beats that Arya Goggin displays between switching to more Reggae style intervals.
‘DOES EVERBODY KNOW KUNGFU?’
Benji shouts towards the crowd just as the spoken story of the brothers echoes from the stage. Queue the unmistakable tech infused riff from Mikey Demus introduces Ninja – so chaos amongst Doningtons second stage floor ensues.
‘ENTER THE NINJA…’
Benji marches across the stage with rhythm and that riff from Mikey channels into a tornado of heavier riffs and rhythm that blend into the headbanging infectious energy we all love. There’s a wave of intense and fun energy throughout this track amongst the crowd which sees bodysurfers and mosh pits breaking out left right and centre.
Soon after, Benji again addresses the crowd and is master of command to the crowd as he waves his magic and splits the crowd in two with one half tasked with shouting “Woop Woop” and the other with “That’s My Jam”.
After all this, the further playful side of Skindred comes out with false sense of security.
‘Nah, it’s Nobody, ya w*nkers’
Before launching straight into That’s My Jam, a mega fun, Reggae infused anthem that still encourages the crowd to chant the chorus.
The electronica dubby intro of Pressure reverbs through the field, leaving nostalgic Skindred lovers bouncing until it comes to a point where it wouldn’t be a Skindred show without either their rendition of ACDC or Star Wars Imperial March… and we’re not left disappointed. As Pressure starts to unwind, in mixes one of the coolest covers of Back in Black by AC/DC which creates a bubble of positive moments in the crowd – people sing back to the stage and join in Benji’s shared energy.
Benji then asks the crowd to repeat spelled out L.O.V.E and reiterate back to him on queue. And then newly released L.O.V.E (Smile Please) comes as an upbeat, happy and totally new style track that we’ve seen from Skindred in a long time. A sing-a-long style Reggae number that has a feel good and uplifting mood that doesn’t focus on the metal and dub elements of the guys. Instead it brings something fresh and new to their setlist and has people around me dancing with a hip hop beat, drinks in hand, sunshine smiles and feel good vibes.
Extremely wholesome and humbly happy track.
Benjis’s banter with the crowd is part of what makes experiencing Skindred shows so incomparable. He tells us a story about an evil brother called Clifford and it transpires into standing up to negative people who try to take away your self confidence and sense of self perception before the dub intro comes skidding into Kill The Power.
This is much more of a Reggae and dub style of Skindred that displays how they are so diverse. Caribbean inspired rap verses entwine with some of the harder metal elements of the band.
Daniel has such subtly of bass in this track, however when you hear that winding undertone to this track in a live setting, it delivers such power that glues the rest of the heavy elements together.
For the finale of Skindred this of course wouldn’t be matched without the iconic next song… though this time, Benji invites Lizzy Hale to the stage and they both deliver a unique version of Warning.
Lizzy’s huge vocals take over the bridges of the track which gives the song an injection of further huge energy to absorb with the continuously supersonic assault. Everybody’s queue to take part in the signature Newport Helicopter comes as a suspension of kitwork from Arya Goggin before the sky is filled with thousands of tshirts and hoodies go spinning through the air.
What a set.
Waiting for the finale of Thursday, Heavy Metal titans Metallica have not long released 72 Seasons and showcase much of it through tonight’s set.
Hyping the crowd to AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Wanna Rock n Roll, the Alex stage is brimful of people … and I mean positively stuffed full of souls getting ready to welcome Metallica back to Download Festival for the 9th time.
We’re first taken through introductory track from waaaaay back to the Ride The Lightning days with nostalgic opener Creeping Death.
Old school vibes ring through the crowd and already we know it’s going to be a show to behold.
James Hetfield’s voice is still as powerful as ever alongside the monstrous riffs he wields with Kirk Hammett.
It’s old school thrashing bludgeons it’s way through the track seemingly effortlessly. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Metallica, many years ago and I have to say that they are still sonically tight and haven’t rested on their laurels over the years.
Harvester of Sorrow blows in vapours of intoxicating melodic riffs and here is where we can fully absorb the skill of Lars Ulrich on the kit as he commands the pace of this track with his marching beats with intervals of twist around pedals which gives the overall feel of the live setting on this track its old school 80’s metal feel to it.
Stunning fret singing winds out from Kirk Hammett whilst James power chords kick up the introductions to King Nothing – arguably one of the best tracks on album Load, released in 1996. It’s a punchy and heavy deliverance that talks to us of one’s overwhelming wish to gain power and control however facing the impending consequences.
The stage flashes some impressive lighting matching the yellow theme colours of the new album and flashes screens of old photos of the band from back in the day and then a speed bullet drum and riff maelstrom descends to open Lux Æterna– a brand new track taken from 72 Seasons.
Snare fuelled bests and thrashing riffs outline this track through James’ high notes and passionately delivered message for this new track before we are given another turn of nostalgia with the respectively stunning and melancholy Fade To Black and Nothing Else Matters.
These being two of my favourite Metallica tracks, I couldn’t help but stand in awe as once again, listening to this track live after so many years was something to behold.
The emotion and still beautifully dark edges that touch upon these tracks were stunning. Fade To Black always adds a new depth to any Metallica set and instantly encapsulates your deepest feelings whilst Nothing Else Matters throws one of music’s all time emotionally immersive songs at you to completely take you back to memories that we all relate to this track, myself this being a song from my childhood and I wished so much that my Da were with me in that moment.
Beautiful and less brutal elements of Metallica shine through here and I will never forget the feeling of not being alone in this feeling.
James cracks jokes with Lars about not breaking the snares for the drums before breaking into a blistering solo for around 15 minutes before epic ballad fuelled The Day That Never Comes Rings through.
‘GIMME FUEL, GIMME FIRE, GIMME THAT WHICH I DESIRE”
Offfft. This was certainly not what I expected but I was absolutely hyped for Fuel.
Robert Trujillo really wields his basswork magic to this track. It’s chuggy and unmistakable bass emit another level of energy to the crowd and the fun and punchy riffs never get old for this track as it sees body surfers galore.
Coming towards the end of the set, a huge roar from the crowd comes to the surface of Download as the winding and rhythmic guitars from James turn into a march of lethal riffs from Kirk to make their own undertone of strings before the evil and ferocious energy of Seek and Destroy captures the ball of atmosphere through thousands of people watching before the crowd demands an encore.
Metallica wouldn’t be Metallica without this next track… I heard that the riffs of Master Of Puppets could be heard from up to EIGHTEEN miles away.
Now if that isn’t making a statement, I don’t know what is…
Photography by Pete Key for MPM
Feature Image Matt Higgs for Download
Photography for Jinger / Halestorm / Alterbridge / Metallica by Myke Gray Photography