The festival season for the past two years has been disappointing if you’re a metal fan in the UK. This year, we were all on hot coals and looking forward to it.
All we want is to go back to downloading. To us, it’s as British as a Chippy Tea, or if you don’t mind, Marmite. Yes, there are other metal festivals, with Bloodstock also being a favorite. But if you want the big guns, head to Donnington. The legendary home of the outdoor metal show.
One thing we forgot over the last 2 years is how far the parking lot is from the camp (in my case I had to park in the specific press parking lot and camp in the other hemisphere for the guest camping area…..) I had the brilliant idea of accommodating all types of weather and packing just about everything I own with the idea of going to the parking lot every morning to choose my wardrobe for the day.
Needless to say, I just opted for the obligatory black hoodie and boots, and shorts of course (calm down ladies). I thought that was a good idea, because if my colleagues needed to spot me in a crowd, I would stand out……
The download always has the big headliners. The Donnington event has always attracted large groups. In the past, we’ve seen some of the best turns in history shutting down daytime entertainment. Before it was Download Festival, it was Ozzfest.
The last Ozzfest I saw was in 2002. We had Tool, System of a Down in their heyday, Slayer and…..er……Lostprophets………..This year we have three scene heavy hitters. Kiss on Friday, Iron Maiden on Saturday, and Biffy Clyro wrapping up the entire event on Sunday night. There were some great bands headlining the other stages this year.
Saturday we had one of the best bands in the world right now, not even as a headliner! Mastodon was at 6 p.m. under Megadeath on the poster. It baffles me to be honest. But watching them in broad daylight, on a massive stage, was almost disappointing.
Half the crowd wasn’t in it. I feel like they would have done better as a main stage headliner. Maybe you all need to catch up on their level and maybe we can get them back on top with all the lights and fireworks. Rather than this awkward concert in a field.
I’ll write the reviews of the headliners in ascending order of quality.
Biffy Clyro. I don’t own any of their music. But I really appreciate that they have what it takes to entertain a crowd as a headliner. This is the second time they’ve headlined Download and this time they’re bringing down the average age of headlining musicians a bit.
The first time was seen as a questionable decision. But they proved they were worth it (Note this upload, there were bands on every other stage that could have had this slot and really nailed it).
The crowd left behind after a spellbinding 15-track set by Nu-Metal kings Korn know they’re in for a stellar performance and they’re sure to deliver. Playing crowd pleasers is essential for a festival. And to be a headliner, you have to be able to fill the stage with sound, movement and a performance to captivate those in the back who can barely see.
It’s not easy, the 2 previous headliners have massive props, clownish makeup and decades of music. Biffy Clyro can just rock and roll and command attention. There are ups and downs of emotion in the songs. I’ve seen people cry while singing the lyrics to “Machines” on stage, as the song means so much to people who have lost loved ones over the past two years.
At the start of 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 for everything. the weekend with “Many of Horror”. The Sunday Night Headline slot is tough.
The crowd is thin at the end of the show. Personally, I think this year’s headliners all played on the wrong night.
Biffy Clyro needed to play Friday night to open all weekend with a reminder that Rock and Roll is the way of all Metal.
Iron Maiden. Who doesn’t know they are one of the best metal bands to come out of the UK. I’m not a big fan, some of you might be surprised to know that I don’t really like Metallica either.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t understand or appreciate what these bands have done to the musical landscape. Even if that includes a frontman who voted to leave the European Union, thus making said landscape very difficult for bands that haven’t sold millions to thrive and build a career. “It’s been a shitty few years for all of us, but it all ended in this field tonight”…….Hmmm, just Bruce.
The set opens with an 8-minute track that not everyone knows, the title track from their latest album, Senjutsu. Four minutes later, I hear someone say “I hope it’s not all that boring”. It’s not. Definitely not (but I saw a sleeping guy).
The setlist is full of bangers. “Run to The Hills” is amazing to watch. The crows singing so loudly on the chorus gave me goosebumps. But that’s not part of the package until the Encore. Iron Maiden plays an exceptional show but the setlist does not quite correspond to the needs of the festival.
The show on stage and the level of energy they go on throughout do it though. The whole flag and patriotism feels a little different now. Some of the fun is gone. (that’s how I feel anyway). Then the 2n/a Encore began with Winston Churchill’s “Fight ‘Em on the Beaches” speech, causing members of the crowd to roll their eyes and begin to leave before the last runway and miss the Spitfire prop being unleashed. Iron Maiden should have been the Sunday headliner.
It would have been an exceptional way to end, and people would have stayed to watch it.
Embrace. Friday’s weather was great, and no matter what band you were watching, there was an air of rest and anticipation watching Kiss. All the walking and setting up your tent and walking and trying to find a beer that doesn’t cost the equivalent of a Megadeath box set on eBay, walking, dressing up like Kiss, walking, inflatable guitars , walking it, eating burgers, walking and of course walking, was worth it when perhaps one of the best shows in history is on stage.
So many people I spoke to weren’t there to see Kiss. But were there because it was the opening night headliner. Download is seen as a metal festival, but it’s a rock and roll festival, with a lot of metal. And you can’t get more Rock and Roll than Kiss. It’s spectacular right off the bat. The live entertainment is phenomenal, even in broad daylight when the band starts.
This is what a headliner should look like. Playing in front of the crowd, banger after banger, hit after hit, anthems galore. Lights, dry ice, lifting platforms, zip lines above the crowd. People in the crowd loudly exclaiming that they didn’t even know they liked Kiss sang along.
There was dancing, laughter (though not as much as on the set of Steel Panther which is 50% comedy) and gatherings of glam, rock and roller and metalhead fans. It was glorious to be part of it. And that’s what sets them apart, they make you feel 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 this the end of the road? How many farewell tours can a band do? The real Farewell tour took place 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 concert in one area, there’s so much more it can do. You have to be something other than music, burgers and beer. He must 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 for metal shows. They need to be intimate, they need that energy of being close to the crowd bouncing off the walls, even if they’re canvas. Even Zack Wilde spitting in the air while doing a solo on a podium would feel a bit lost out in the open in broad daylight. Download bands like Kiss for the Headliners.
So who should play next year? How many groups can achieve this? Noose ? Metallica? Ramstein? Maybe it’s time for Mastodon to try a slot machine? For my part, I can’t wait to find out.
Review by Mark Montgomery for MPM