Live Review: Download Festival @ Donington Park, Castle Donington

With an excellent line-up and exclusive press access, The Mic's Managing Director Jake Longhurst reviews metal's biggest weekend.

Friday, June 10th

It all started at 6:00 on Friday morning. I woke up horrendously early, as I always do, and waited till about 7:30 before I woke my mate Rishi to start getting ready. We packed up, showered, ate, and left by 8:30 to pick up some more mates, arrived by 9:30, at which point we parked in guest parking and sorted our press passes. Rishi and I then completed an arduous walk to the guest campsite (but mercifully, we only had to take this long route the one time); and then from there we were free to sort ourselves out in the press tent. This is where the weekend really began, with us speaking to members of As Everything Unfolds, Press Club and The Ghost Inside, as well as chatting to some very interesting members of the industry. However, the real reason we were there was still the music.

The first band I saw of the entire festival was Heriot, who brought their caustic brand of metalcore from Birmingham into the Dogtooth Stage with searing fashion, decimating the entire tent with casual yet precise style. The Dogtooth Stage is very much the heaviest stage of the festival and so the band slotted in absolutely perfectly, crushing everyone’s eardrums in wonderful fashion. In particular, I’d love to give massive kudos to their frontwoman Debbie, who I also chatted to and was absolutely lovely, even after screaming her lungs out to a crowd of already semi-drunk festival goers. Later on, the second band I saw of the weekend were the inimitable Skindred on the Main Stage. They are, as Rishi and I said many times this weekend, nigh on the best live band in the world for bringing the party. Considering that at a heavy festival the music can get a bit dour and morose, this band’s unique brand of infectious energy with killer riffs and bouncy electronic samples is always welcomed with open arms. The crowd for them was already very impressive, stretching well back into the fields of Download, and the legendary Newport Helicopter was especially excellent with so many people partaking.

"The Dogtooth Stage is very much the heaviest stage of the festival and so the band slotted in absolutely perfectly, crushing everyone’s eardrums in wonderful fashion."

We saw a few other bands after this, but the big highlight of Friday for me was without a doubt the headline act of the Second Stage, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. They supplied us with their pulverising set at about 7:30 in the evening for an hour- and what a set it was, featuring hits such as My Town; Crowbar; and the big singalong for me Kitty Sucker (I must confess, I did end up on my friend’s shoulders screaming my lungs out for the final minute and a half of this or so and did end up on the screen, which I was ecstatic about); as well as also having a brief moment of reflection and melancholy with my favourite ever song of theirs Angel Wings, before again shooting into the rest of their incendiary set. Later on when KISS were playing, I was a little underwhelmed and decided to venture my way towards the Dogtooth Stage again to watch doom metal veterans Electric Wizard. I’ve been aware of the band for a while but never seen them, so when I arrived to hear the syrupy riffs and see the brilliant lighting effects, I was utterly enthralled and could have easily kept watching for hours. After this we made a move back to the campsite and got some well-deserved rest, ahead of the next morning.

Saturday, June 11th

On Saturday, I had definitely slept better than Rishi, with the planes coming out of East Midlands airport keeping him up a fair amount. We got up fairly early to grab breakfast and make a quick trip to the car to get our kit ahead of doing a live broadcast on URN (University Radio Nottingham) and LSR (Leeds Student Radio). We prepped and set ourselves up, and bar a few technical problems had a brilliant broadcast, interviewing four separate artists! We had the highly enjoyable and very easy to chat to Punk Rock Factory; the incredibly interesting electronic/hip-hop artist grandson; the Australian rock group The Faim; and finally an impromptu but very welcome chat with Paul Barrow of Death Blooms. We also made time to chat to Dragged Under, an American metalcore band, before we headed out to hear some more excellent live music. The first artist I saw was grandson on the Avalanche Stage, which is the alternative tent, and grandson may well be the most 'out-there' artist on the line-up. However, he also showed up with one hell of a show, and had the crowd bouncing along the whole time. His final song Blood//Water was mental to see live, with half the onlookers seemingly getting into the mosh pit and going absolutely crazy.

Later that evening came possibly the best run of acts I’ve ever seen at any festival to date. I went to watch Shinedown on the Main Stage, who played some brilliant songs, but left early to watch Bleed From Within completely obliterate the Dogtooth Stage in a spectacular display of their Glaswegian metalcore. Afterwards, I waited around to catch a bit of Dying Fetus, and promptly had my arse handed to me in a mosh pit, which was excellent fun. Deftones were playing on the Main Stage by this point, so whilst I waited outside the Dogtooth I watched them play what was also a phenomenal set on the Main Stage, before heading back into the tent for Napalm Death, to well and truly destroy any and all hopes I had of not being bruised. After being suitably battered I walked my way over to the Second Stage to watch the last band of 'The Big Four' of thrash metal that I needed to see: Megadeth. They arrived on stage in a frenetic visual display, and within mere seconds our ears were being ripped apart by technical solos, brutal riffs, and bombastic drums. The highlight of the set was surely the one-two combo of Peace Sells and Holy Wars… The Punishment Due, both of which were ridiculously tight and powerful, and by the end I was pretty much just being hit across the pit more than getting myself there.

"They arrived on stage in a frenetic visual display, and within mere seconds our ears were being ripped apart by technical solos, brutal riffs, and bombastic drums."

The finale of Saturday was the headline act for the whole weekend, one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time, Iron Maiden. They opened their set with some new songs off of their album Senjutsu, with a majestic stage set up that rotated to something new in almost every single song. To start with, they had an ornamental Japanese garden and temple stage set up, and midway through the second song a twelve foot tall version of their mascot, 'Eddie', came out in full samurai regalia to ‘kill’ half the band. They moved through a few great songs, albeit taking a second to warm up, but by the third or fourth song they were well into the swing of things. The crowd was absolutely gargantuan, with barely a patch of grass visible even as far back as the entrance, about 400 metres back from the stage itself. From song seven we knew this was going to be a legendary set too, with the immortal riff for Fear Of The Dark ringing out across the landscape, and being sung back at the band by tens of thousands of loyal fans, young and old alike. Mere moments after the song finished and we had all had grins firmly slapped across our faces, one of the greatest songs in the metal lexicon began with its trademark ominous bell - it was time for the undeniable Hallowed Be Thy Name to begin its course. I enjoyed this immensely, and with the following song being the title track of the same album I was made up! The Number Of The Beast is not only a brilliant song, it’s also a brilliant album and quite possibly the band’s best, so playing plenty of hits from that did not go wasted on me! At this point the band took it upon themselves to up the ante, with a 25 foot tall animatronic head of a demonic 'Eddie' rising over the stage to gaze down on the crowd. The band took an encore not long after this, but came

back with yet more phenomenal tunes in The Trooper, The Clansman, and Run To The Hills, before taking one final break and playing their usual set opener, Aces High, to finish, complete with a full scale Spitfire above the stage. The sexagenarians well and truly smashed their set, and walked off having successfully defended their claim to the name of Donington’s house band.

We somehow found time to watch one more set, as Holding Absence were playing an acoustic set in the Village in the campsite, which was a surprisingly intimate and fun way to finish the evening. Whilst the scale and drama and volume were dramatically reduced from the headline act, they managed to keep everyone enthralled nonetheless with a few brilliant acoustic renditions of some of the best of their back catalogue. After seeing that, I was very annoyed we had to miss some of the other acoustic sets!

"The sexagenarians well and truly smashed their set, and walked off having successfully defended their claim to the name of Donington’s house band."

Sunday, June 12th

Sunday morning greeted us with a lot of pain, mostly on on the soles of our feet from all the walking we had been doing so far, and we did ourselves no favours by doing three trips to the car with all our equipment. We headed into the arena to the press tent for about 10:30am to sort ourselves out and record some extra footage, before we headed to see Wargasm on the Main Stage at 11:00. They played a (predictably) awesome set, including a new song that is presumably from their upcoming album, as well as old classics like PYRO PYRO, Lapdance, and Spit, getting plenty of movement from the crowd at such an early hour of the day (relative to a festival crowd anyway!). Later on, the pirate metal band Alestorm returned to plunder the Main Stage and had a brilliant time whilst doing so, eliciting a massive crowd reaction for basically anything they happened to do on stage with enjoyment being plain to see on everyone’s faces, and also a massive rowing pit, as is to be expected at such a gig.

We then had some more press to do throughout the afternoon, making time to talk to YONAKA’s frontwoman Theresa, as well as Tim, the frontman for Rise Against, Trash Boat’s frontman Tobi, and the Boston Manor frontman Henry. Each interview was absolutely fascinating in its own way, however having the opportunity to talk to a member of Rise Against must be up in the top moments of our weekend for sure! After this set of chats, the first band we saw was in fact Rise Against, who provided a top tier setlist, and I was very pleased when for the final song they played Savior, as it was my first time seeing the band so hearing such a classic song live was a very cool moment.

We only had four more bands left that we were going to see now, but the next one may have been the single biggest moment of the weekend: Spiritbox’s first ever UK performance on the Avalanche Stage. The Canadian four piece have taken the metal world by absolute storm and so they were upgraded from the Dogtooth Stage to the Avalanche, but even then, there were fans spilling out of the sides of the tent still. They also more than smashed it, with only a half hour set to use they grabbed Download by the throat and thoroughly destroyed any and all doubts that they would be anything but exemplary. The next band we saw were the godfathers of nu-metal, the one and only Korn. We had to miss half of their set due to sorting our stuff out, but my goodness what a set it was that we saw. They sounded incredible, and they played some classics as well as some of the best of their new music, showing themselves off excellently, and if we hadn't been so busy I would’ve absolutely loved to stick around for the rest of their set. YONAKA were our penultimate band of the weekend, and their show was excellent, with the usual fiery energy you should expect from the band, and plenty of expectation left for the next time I see them!

The final band of the weekend was Biffy Clyro, and I will admit that I was not really all that excited for the Scottish group. I will also admit that I was eating my words within a few songs, as the set they played and the show they put on was one of the very best of the entire weekend. They played new songs, they played hits, they played light stuff, they played heavy stuff, and most of all they were uncompromisingly themselves. They could easily have changed their set to be much heavier and more Download appropriate, but by standing tall and being a bit defiant of expectations they created a set that will last in the minds of the onlookers for a long long time to come. After their set, we left the festival feeling thoroughly satisfied with a good weekend's work behind us, and more wonderful memories of friends and live music.

My ultimate highlight reel from across the entire weekend is the next five moments, in chronological order. The first is the Newport Helicopter during Skindred’s set, which is always going to be a highlight of any festival you see Skindred at! The second one is a tough call, as I’ve chosen a song from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ set, and I very nearly chose Kitty Sucker simply because of how ridiculously good it was, but I’ve instead chosen Angel Wings as it is such an emotional song for me, and it really was beautiful hearing it again live. The third is when grandson played Blood//Water, which I thought was insane live and would recommend anyone to go see if they can. The fourth is when Spiritbox played Holy Roller, the song that really blasted them into the stratosphere, and decimated every single audience member in attendance. And finally, the fifth is absolutely Biffy Clyro playing Unknown Male 01. I don’t know what it was about this song in particular, but something about it just stuck with me like nothing else in their set quite did.

This weekend was a truly wonderful return to Download proper, and I would be loathe to ignore the people that helped me with this experience. Thanks go to Rishi, the Student Music Network, everyone at LD Press, everyone who helped with the URN Live Broadcast, and also all the wonderful people we met in the press tent. This weekend wouldn’t have been the same without them all, and I’m massively appreciative of each and every one of them.

Jake Longhurst

Footage of Jake Longhurst and Rishi Shah's press coverage of Download Festival can be accessed here: Dream 3 Download Festival Headliners


Edited by: Jodie Averis

Cover image and in-article videos courtesy of Download Festival and YouTube.