So…Download happened. The historic weekend hit it’s 15th birthday this year, with a truly stacked bill of younger talent as well as displaying a genuinely diverse breadth of genres across all the four stages. Before we fully dive into the review, someone needs to give thanks to whatever black magic occurred over the weekend to make sure no rain fell, as the sun made the weekend infinitely more enjoyable without the fear of trench foot and soggy clothing. So with those initial thanks out of the way, let us begin…
Walking into the arena at 11:30 on the Friday morning was a liberating experience, with a real sense of huge weekend just waiting to unravel in a flurry of enjoyment. Blessed with the job of not just opening the main stage, but the entire weekend, Norhtlane (7) bring their brand of melodic technicality to Download with great success. They sounded tight as you like and has a truly thunderous bass rumble throughout their set, with the low end being so heavy it would make the entire stage vibrate. Opening on new Paragon and closing on the classic Quantum Flux, Northlane provided enough of a push to truly open the floodgates. Over on the freshly named Dogtooth stage, Holding Absence (8) showed their small crowd just why those who know are getting very excited for this band indeed. With an ambient glow that provides the bed rock for some truly emotional moments, the band inject so much energy into their performance that it’s impossible not to sink into the post-hardcore musings. It is unfortunate then that their sound is affected by a muddy mix that does hinder their performance to a point. Swedish metallers Sabaton (6) take to the main stage in the early afternoon. As a huge crowd gathered to see them and for most, the battle hardened Swedes did not disappoint, but hardly impressed either. Die-hard fans would of course have a great time seeing Sabaton anywhere, but their unimaginative and slow set would cause the average listeners to be bored, even with all the pyro. The tracks Sabaton chose sounded much the same and didn’t really show off their varied abilities that would have really won the blasé fan over.
Over on the Avalanche Stage is where you would find Code Orange (9) absolutely levelling the entire tent. Boasting an insanely strong album in Forever, the American hardcore mob played a half an hour set of the most primally aggressive music on display the whole weekend. My World and The New Reality set the entire crowd alight before the final moments of The Mud damn near incited a riot with its twisted sounds and brutal beats. It’s a shame that Mastodon (4) are the first band of the weekend to truly drop the ball. If you were At the front of the crowd, then it was clear the group were encountering technical difficulties, resulting in vocalist/guitarist Brent Hinds storming off stage multiple times, the first of which causing timing issues in the opening Sultans Curse. Mastodon only really recovered from these issues during Bladecatcher, by which point they were halfway through their set and it was difficult to claw the show back.
For all that main stage disappointment, Suicial Tendencies (8) provide all the necessary bleach on the Zippo stage. With the legendary Dave Lombardo providing those unbreakable drum beats, the rest of the thrash punk icons play a set so invigorating and enjoyable it swiftly becomes a weekend highlight. War Inside My head, Trip To The Brain and You Can’t Bring Me Down all get the crowd moving and jiving in the sunshine with Mike Muir running around like a mad man from one end of the stage to the other, delivering snippets of wisdom in amongst the tracks. Keeping the good vibes going on the Avalanche stage are Four Year Strong (7) who play through a set of their best songs to a crowd who simply laps it all up. Four Year Strong are one of those bands who can be fill a room with nothing but smiles through one song, and the band do just that from opening song What The Hell is a Gigawatt. Looking across at the main stage shows Five Finger Death Punch (6) pulling an ridiculously huge crowd, and trudging through a pretty by the numbers set. They never really allow it to take off, with the set remaining at a pretty mid-paced speed, with tracks like Bad Company providing sing-alongs rather than outright warfare in the crowd. With the drama behind this band still very much alive, the chemistry between the members on stage was civil and Ivan did his job as one of the most recognisable frontmen of our generation, but this isn’t the set from a band who wish to prove anything to anyone.
Georgian group Baroness (7) drew the best kind of attention to themselves over on the Zippo Encore stage in the evening. Although only performing an 8-track set, the group had high spirits and energy that spread throughout the arena. New guitarist Gina Gleason was performing with Baroness, and unfortunately she suffered a few isses whilst settling into her new role. There were only a few noticeable occasions of timing issues, particularly at the beginning of the set, but overall she is a positive asset to the band. Where Baroness calmed and brought some level of serenity, Venom Prison (9) tore the weekend a new asshole. For 25 minutes, the new blood of the British death metal scene relentlessy tear through a set on the Dogtooth stage with no letting up and absolutely no mercy. Larissa’s vocals are demonic and the whole band have such an imposing presence as songs like Devoid and the opening Abysmal Agony erupt from the stage. This was, unquestionably, the most brutal and outright oppressive set of the weekend.
Easily one of the main draws of the weekend, and rightly so considering their pedigree, Prophets Of Rage (7) provided a masterclass in how to win over a crowd. Playing a set made up of mostly Rage Against The Machine covers, the band hand the crowd in the palm of their hand, with Chuck D and B-Real showing their quality as well adding their own identity to the classic songs that make up the set. This is where the main issues lies though, as the band are clearly so much better when playing their original content, and the Rage covers that play often bring back a longing for Zach De la Rocha to replace both the new frontmen immediately. When the band drop their debut, it’s fair to say that they will immediately rocket into the stratosphere, but until then, they are just a glorified yet utterly brilliant covers band.
90’s Nostalgia was in the air at the Zippo Encore stage at this year’s Download Festival ahead of the iconic pop punk rockers Good Charlotte’s (7) set. Opening with arguable their biggest hit with The Anthem, the crowd were extremely pumped and sang every word back at them.Their set was filled with classics alongside some new tracks thrown in for good measure, something that did hinder the performance as a whole due to crowd not entirely knowing he new material. They ended the set on the incredible track The Lifestyles of the rich and famous and it was clear the crowd weren’t done yet. Lucky then, that to end a hectic Friday on the Zippo stage is Sum 41 (8). As soon as the screens change and the entrance music begins the crowd erupt into applause and excited screams. The band finally take to the stage after what seems like forever, kicking off with an astounding The Hell Song. Mosh pits open after the first riff and don’t stop until the end of this fantastic first track. The set isn’t just filled with the band’s songs as front man Deryck Whibley introduces the lead guitarist (Brownsound) as a man that knows every song you could think of, before jumping into a mash up of tracks by Metallica, Iron Maiden, The White Stripes and Deep Purple, Along with a crowd pleasing cover of We Will Rock You by Queen. This amazing set ended with three of Sum 41’s biggest hits of Still Waiting, In Too Deep and Fat Lip.
After everything though, it’s time to buckle down and prepare for System Of A Down (8) to deliver another one of their reknowned headliner sets. Boasting a 30 song setlist, the band waste little time as they dig up classics like Aerials and Violent Pornography early on in the set. The stage production allows for the visual entertainment to be taken away from the band, who remain rather static for the majority of their set, instead relying on the reputation and the quality of their musical performance to see them through. The lack of personality in the set does make the headline slot feel somewhat empty, but the band play such a tight set filled with classics and obscurities alike that it’s enough to keep the packed out crowd intrigued right up until Cigaro, Toxicity and Sugar close out the set. The middle section of the bands set does falter with its pacing, as many deep cuts from the bands extensive back catalogue keep everyone guessing, but it is tunes like BYOB and Deer Dance that tear the house down and bring the Friday to an exquisite ending.