This year was the 13th Download festival, which is undoubtedly the UK's biggest Rock and Metal festival, taking place at the spiritual home of rock music, Donington Park. Previous years have seen absolute legends of the industry headline, including Metallica, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath. This year saw Download favourite's Slipknot, Muse, and glam-rock icons Kiss headlining. Unfortunately due to volunteering at the festival, I only managed to catch a limited number of bands, but in this post I will recap all that I saw!
Clutch were a band I was unfamiliar with before Download Festival, but are certainly one I will continue to listen to. Clutch brought their good old hard rock to the main stage and owned every second of it. The entire crowd was on their feet, dancing and singing along to their catchy choruses, banging their heads to every bluesy riff. Frontman and guitarist Neil Fallon cycled through an impressive range of psychedelic guitar effects throughout the set, before ending on the brilliant 'One Eye Dollar'. Clutch are definitely a band to see live.
It became clear to me after watching Judas Priest live exactly why they are consistently in the discussion when talking about the greatest Heavy Metal bands. Halford struts across the stage with confidence, the entire crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. Throughout the set he went through many costume changes, all of which were extremely leather-based. Halfway through the show, he left the stage, returning on an old Harley Davidson motorcycle, much to the delight of the thousands of metalheads, who were loving every single minute. Their set was packed with some insane guitar shreddery and heavy metal anthems, including Hell Bent for Leather, Breaking the Law, and Living After Midnight, which they finished their set with. Being one of the only British metal bands to be high on the line-up, Halford spoke of how proud he was to be flying the flag for Britain - and I felt proud to be represented by Judas Priest. One of the best bands of the weekend.
When you're going to a Slipknot show, you know you're going to have a good time. They always put on an incredible show, with pyrotechnics and theatrics on a level that you won't see at any other concert; rotating drum sets on platforms, fireworks and explosions, not to mention the 9 unhinged men jumping around stage in eerie horror masks. They also have one of the best frontmen in metal - as well as having one of the most diverse vocals in music, Corey Taylor is a true showman; he oozes charisma and commands the stage with ease. As soon as he shouts 'Scream for me, Donington!!!', all the 70,000+ people at that show erupt. Moshpits open up left, right and centre, and feet and fists start flying everywhere.
Slipknot's show at Download this year, unfortunately is very average. It is average by their standard - which by the way, is still very, very good. But having seen them on their UK tour 6 months ago, I was anticipating something special. Instead, we got a bog standard gig, with only one or two differences in their setlist from the one they played on tour earlier in the year. Slipknot have headlined Download 3 times - Download has almost become their British home - so you would have expected them to pull out all the stops, and play a few rarities that don't get played as often as you'd like. There were still an abundance of great songs - Wait and Bleed, Spit it Out, Sic, Eyeless, Surfacing, The Heretic Anthem, Duality, Before I Forget - but there were also songs such as AOV and Killpop, which I felt could have made way for something different. I'm all for them playing songs from the new record - The Negative One, Sarcastrophe, and Custer are all more than welcome into my dream Slipknot setlist - but it would have been awesome if they played something like No Life, Only One, Purity or Me Inside. It's also worth noting that they only played two tracks from arguably their darkest and heaviest album, Iowa (The Heretic Anthem and People = Shit) - My Plague, Left Behind, Disasterpiece, or Gently would fit in perfectly at the countries biggest Metal festival.
They've shot themselves in the foot in a way by being so good live - they've set the standard so high, that an off day comes across as poor, even when by other standards, its still an amazing gig. Perhaps this is why this review is so much more negative than the one I did of their January shows - they've set the bar so high that they can't top it themselves. It may be worth noting that my opinion of Corey Taylor had soured 3 or 4 hours before the show - a friend of mine queued to meet him, and was forced to buy his new book for £18. After queueing for 3 hours, he was told that Corey wasn't going to see anyone else. This may not be Corey Taylors fault directly, but they still let hundreds of people queue and got £18 each from them when they knew too well that they were never going to get to the front of that queue.
Despite the disappointing setlist, Slipknot still put on an amazing show. Jay Weinberg and Allesandro Venturella have given the band a new life - their shows seem that bit more energy that the shows from 2 years ago or so seemed to lack. The whole band sounded fantastic and there were mosh pits from the front to the back, many of which I got involved in. Regardless of the songs they play, Slipknot could headline Download every year and I would go and I know they'd put on a damn good show.
Due to working at the festival I had to give Saturday a miss, which is unfortunate because there's a few bands we'd have loved to have seen.
Opening the main stage on the Sunday is none other than Cavalera Conspiracy, a band conceived by the same minds who created Brazil's finest gift to the musical world, Sepultura; Max and Igor Cavalera. The crowd is small as it is so early in the day, but the devoted few who show up are enthusiastic for the entire set. They only play 8 songs including 2 Sepultura covers, but the whole show is well met. One of these covers, which is probably the high-point of the set, was Roots Bloody Roots (the other was Refuse/Resist), during which numerous circle pits open up, and hundreds of the Cavelera Conspiracy faithful headbang in unison. The band sound great and guitarist Marc Rizzo in particular impresses, playing some captivating guitar solo's and not hitting a note wrong.
Formed by Mark Tremonti of Creed and Alter Bridge, Tremonti are essentially Alter Bridge cranked up to the max. On record they sound pretty impressive - similar to Alter Bridge, but slightly heavier and with a bit more fret wanking - but live, they are a tad uninspiring. Mark Tremonti isn't a bad vocalist, but he will always be compared to Myles Kennedy and frankly, he isn't even in the same league. The songs are ok and the performance is to a good standard, but Tremonti fail to really engage the crowd, so whilst they are entertaining, their performance doesn't really stick in your head.
They take their name from an Alice in Chains song, and it is clear that this is their biggest influence, with deep, grungy guitar riffs and some Layne Staley/Jerry Cantrell-esque vocal harmonies. Highlights of their short but sweet set include Crying Like a Bitch, I Stand Alone, or Whatever, during which, what has to be the biggest moshpit of the weekend opens up. Godsmack are one of a few big bands who still make Grunge music, and they carry on the legacy of the Grunge pioneers of the 90's successfully. They deserve to be mentioned along with bands like Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice in Chains. This was my first experience of Godsmack, and it's fair to say they made a very good impression.
Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the weekend. One of the biggest icons in the world of music paired with arguably the greatest voice in modern rock. Playing the Velvet Revolver song 'Slither', a whole bunch of Guns 'N Roses hits as well as a few tracks from Slash's solo albums ensure a great festival set. Some of the songs they play from Slash's own album are on par with songs from his previous bands, particularly opener 'You're a Lie'. Myles Kennedy's wailing voice compliments the music, the perfect replacement for Axl Rose (he's probably a much better singer these days in all fairness.) The highlight of the set is undoubtedly the final song, 'Paradise City'. In a set packed with classic rock anthems, this one still manages to stand out, as it has one of the greatest singalong choruses of all time. After seeing Slash and Myles Kennedy live, i'm convinced they could do a half decent job of headlining the festival as every single track is brilliant.
Playing what is billed as there last ever UK date (although they announced a UK tour for the end of the year about 3 days before this show), the Glam Rockers play a set filled with hits, including a cover of The Sex Pistol's Anarchy in the UK. The band sound great (although Vince Neil's voice has deteriorated with age), and they look like they are having a great time on stage. They bring with them the sort of stage show that you'd expect from Motley Crue. Joining them on stage for a lot of the set are two scantily clad women, dancing and singing along to all the hits. Nikki Sixx's microphone hangs from the top of the stage, with a giant metal pentagram about halfway up the wire (which of course, he sets on fire with a flamethrower attached to his bass). Showcasing anthems from their entire career including 'S.O.S', 'Dr. Feelgood', 'Shout at the Devil' and 'Girls, Girls, Girls', Motley Crue provide the perfect opening for Kiss's set.
Download has had some brilliant Sunday night headliners in the past - usually a classic band with a vast array of hits that has the entire download faithful singing along all night - and Kiss are the ideal band for this slot. With countless hits across the years and the best stage show you'll ever see, Kiss are the perfect festival headliner. The wait between Motley Crue and Kiss seems to last forever, but eventually a curtain is slowly raised at the front of the stage, as a prerecorded message from Gene Simmons blares out - 'You wanted the best? You got the best! The hottest band in the world - KISS!' The band begin to play 'Detroit Rock City' and the curtain drops, and the band emerge. There is an explosion on stage about every ten seconds, but this is only the beginning of the ridiculous amounts of theatrics. Throughout the show, various members of the band are raised high in the air on platforms. After 'War Machine', Gene Simmon's spits fire across the stage. Tommy Thayer has a flamethrower attached to the head of his guitar which engulfs the entire stage in flames. After 'Lick It Up', vibrant green lights cover the stage, and Gene Simmon's plays a bass solo whilst spitting fake blood. The best part however, is during 'Love Gun' - Paul Stanley zipwires from the stage, over the pit, and onto a platform 50 metres into the crowd. He then proceeds to play the entire song from there (backed by a firework show, of course). Kiss's stage show is ludicrous, but it doesn't matter as they are without a doubt one of the most entertaining acts of all time. Musically they might not be great but you hardly notice, as you're grossed by the pyrotechnics and the confetti. Some people who we've spoken to since are of the opinion that Kiss were pretty weak - but down at the front, it didn't even matter how they sounded, as you were having a good time. They end the weekend with 'I Wanna Rock n Roll all Nite', and then as the 85,000 fans depart, 'God Gave Rock n Roll To You' plays over the sound system, which feels like the perfect way to end a great weekend of Rock music.
Now that Download 2015 has been and gone, it's time for all the predictions for next year to come in. It's hard to call, but we're going to give it a go and try and predict some of the bands that will appear (and just some that I really hope do).
Download is in danger of getting into the routine of recycling the same headliners. Slipknot seem to headline every other year, and most of their headliners these days have headlined at least once before. Therefore they should put someone new on the Friday night. They did it in 2014, bumping Avenged Sevenfold to headline status for the first time. Some thought it was a gamble, but they stepped up and put on a hell of a show. There are rumours floating around that Andy Copping wants to bump Bullet For My Valentine to headliners. They're about to release a new album so they'll be able to play songs old and new, so they're definitely in with a shout. However, I also think Bring Me The Horizon are a possibility. Quickly becoming one of the countries biggest young metal bands, it would certainly be a risk putting them as headliners. However, this year they're subheadlining to Metallica at Reading and Leeds festival, so they're obviously ready to make that breakthrough. It could be the case that one of them subheadlines to the other. Either way, it would be good to have an all-british Friday night.
Saturday night in the past 2 years has been headlined by a band more accepted by the mainstream - Linkin Park and Muse are 2 of the biggest bands in the world, not just in the metal scene. Why not carry on this tradition next year? Foo Fighters are a band that have never done Download, and are undoubtedly in the very elite of rock bands. Anyone who has seen them live knows they put on an incredible show, and it doesn't matter what you listen to, everyone loves a bit of Foo Fighters. Another band which could be a possibility, although not quite as big, are Biffy Clyro. They started off as quite a heavy underground band but have evolved and slowly risen to be one of the biggest bands in the country. They have widespread appeal and are an incredible live band. I was unsure about them as festival headliners until I caught their 2013 Leeds Festival set, and they completely converted us.
The Sunday night is for the most part headlined by an older band, one that can finish the weekend with plenty of anthems and draw fans from all over the world. Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Kiss have all taken the slot in the past. Next year, our money is on one of two bands - Black Sabbath once again, as they are widely believed to be calling it quits very soon - or Iron Maiden, who have announced a new album and are probably going to be playing some massive shows soon.
Other than that, who knows who could play. I would love Tool to headline again and with rumours circulating that they're currently in the studio, it could happen. Disturbed have recently announced their return and i'd be surprised if they didn't have a fairly big slot next year. System of a Down have headlined before, although I think they may drop down to a sub-headline slot if they appear (again, they're working on a new album so they could likely be doing the festival circuit next year.) A couple of bands who haven't appeared in a couple of years who I would love to see (who are also both in the studio) are Deftones and Alice in Chains. Alice in Chains could headline the second stage one night, and a Saturday of Tool, System of a Down and Deftones would make for a brilliant weekend.