Download Festival –LIVE REVIEW by Carina Lawrence / Dark Art Conspiracy
Download Festival is the UK’s biggest, friendliest and most diverse rock/metal festivals and it gets bigger and better each year. This year particularly had a strong theme of environmental sustainability, with their new recycling scheme for beer glasses, using plastic reusable cups which you could keep and reuse or give back and made for a nice memento along with the introduction of Greenpeace’s Eco Campsite. Viewing platforms for wheelchair-users were available across all stages and British Sign Language interpreters on two, again highlighting the festivals diversity and how it accommodates for everyone which is great to see.
Having been to the festival four times now, it certainly does have a special atmosphere and is dubbed as the spiritual home of rock for this. Thousands gather together to witness rock and metals finest and up and coming acts from all over. There is something for everyone here, beyond music as the festival hosts a variety of other events such as WWE wrestling, comedy acts and an endless supply of great food vendors and more. This year felt like the biggest and most varied yet in terms of all of this along with musical depth and of course historic appearances from Guns N’ Roses and Ozzy Osbourne…
Friday 8th June
To open the Dog Tooth stage was new wave folk-rock act Cellar Darling from Switzerland, who formed following their departure from popular folk metal band Eluveitie. They were captivating throughout and had a great turnout early on, with the crowd happily interacting and cheering, as they were equally impressed by their beautiful yet dark sound. As they had a short set, they made sure to pack in fan favourites ‘Avalanche’ and ended with ‘Challenge’. Anna Murphy’s vocals were simply stunning, flawless and very distinctive, setting them apart, along with their use of folk instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, so they definitely offered something very different and refreshing. The band were clearly humbled to be there and the crowd were very appreciative of their Download debut. This was one of my favourite performances of the festival and therefore couldn’t have asked for a better start to the weekend.
Miss May I on the Zippo Encore (second stage) smashed it, which was especially impressive given their early set time but that didn’t stop them from causing chaos and carnage, as they conjured up some insane mosh pits with their high impact set which included their most popular fan favourites such as ‘Hey Mister’, ‘I.H.E’, ‘Lost In The Grey’ before ending triumphantly on ‘Shadows Inside’.
The first band I witnessed on the main stage was Dragonforce who I had never seen before and was really looking forward to seeing. They announced they were recording their set as they don’t get to play the UK as much as they would like, so they were expecting it to be a great show too, unfortunately, they suffered some technical difficulties, meaning their lead guitarist Herman Li couldn’t be heard very well throughout and then had no sound except for the bass and drums, who filled in with an impromptu and appropriately version of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ while we waited. Luckily they managed to end on a high with their most popular song ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ which was glorious and bassist Frédéric Leclercq managed to inject more humour, as when the epic dual guitar solos set in, it cut to his sad face and turned his bass around to reveal the words ‘Fuck Off’. When they were in full swing with no sound issues they were powerful and brilliant but the issues were a massive set back which was a real shame.
Over at the Avalanche stage, Canadian hardcore heroes Cancer Bats dominated with a packed tent and lots of crowd engagement. They opened with new song ‘Gatekeeper’ from their latest album ‘The Spark That Moves’ and went on to play some more new tunes like ‘Winterpeg’ and ‘Brightest Day’ along with their popular cover of Beastie Boys ‘Sabotage’ and ‘Hail Destroyer’ making for a well rounded and crushing set as you would expect from them.
Performing a UK exclusive set was Jonathan Davis, who is best known as the frontman of nu-metal kings Korn. This was his first solo appearance in the UK and given his status there was a big crowd in to see his set. He treated fans to ‘Forsaken’ a popular song taken from the soundtrack of vampire film Queen Of The Damned which was a special treat. He ended his set with new single ‘What It Is’ which was flawless, taken from his debut album ‘Black Labyrinth’. His set offered a change of pace, being dark, melodic and beautiful. Jonathan has such distinct, soaring and brilliant voice so it was great to him excelling on his solo adventure.
Welsh metal titans Bullet For My Valentine played a solid and memorable set which marked their eighth appearance at Download and with their longer set as second headliners they performed a well rounded set covering their career, including three new songs ‘Over It’, ‘Piece Of Me’ and ‘Letting You Go’ which went down a storm, but their older songs like ‘4 Words’ (To Choke Upon) and ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ and closer ‘Waking The Demon’ made it an excellent powerful set. Bassist Jamie Mathias delivered faultless harmonies with frontman Matt Tuck, who possessed massive stage presence and charm as ever. They looked extremely comfortable and confident like they were at home, back on the main stage at Download where they belong. Their set felt fresh, energetic and they were seamless.
Some people may have been sceptical about Avenged Sevenfold headlining even though this was their second time headlining, their first being in 2014 but if there was ever any doubt, there won’t be now. I have seen the band twice before this at their own headline shows and I have to say that this festival set was the best I have seen them and they fully stepped up to be the headliners that they needed to be, with massive fiery production and stunning visuals. Their setlist was their most varied and pleased the masses, spanning their career, playing songs from nearly all their albums, from newer songs ‘The Stage’ to 2003’s ‘Waking The Fallen’ era with ‘Eternal Rest’ and impressive closer ‘Unholy Confessions’ to crowd favourites ‘Bat Country’, ‘God Damn’ and ‘Afterlife’. Other notable and touching highlights, included an emotional performance of ‘So Far Away’ as a tribute to deceased founding member ‘The Rev’ Sullivan, along with a cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ which was dedicated to celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who was reported to have committed suicide in the early hours of the morning and M Shadows highlighted the importance of mental health and sticking together. This headline set was flawless and explosive, ending the first day on a massive bang and proving that they are worthy of such status.
Saturday 9th June
The first band for me on Saturday and to open the day was Death Blooms from Liverpool, UK on the Dog Tooth (rising blood) stage – it was an early one but definitely was worth getting up for and they impressively managed to create an energetic and mental crowd for an early hour. They had the crowd in the palm of their hand and everyone was headbanging and grooving along to the heavy melodic sounds with songs like ‘Sick’ and they managed some great pits, making you forget just how early it was. They certainly proved that they are ones to watch after a fun, dynamic, crazy engaging set before midday nonetheless!
Melodic metalcore act Bury Tomorrow are known for their blistering sets and this was no exception, despite the slight delay they quickly fired through their set with well-known tracks, ‘Man On Fire’ and ‘Earthbound’ as well as treating us to the new title track song ‘Black Flame’. A short and sweet set which delivered some good mosh pit action as you would expect and maintained their solid and fun live reputation, especially given their time limit and early slot which they joked was thanks to headliners Guns N’ Roses.
American grunge rockers from LA L7 announced that their drummer Demetra Plakas had broken her arm 48 hours before but that didn’t stop her from turning up and rocking out on stage with them while Adam Ant drummer, Jola filled in for them. The band had a good turnout and offered something a bit different. They ended their enjoyable set with their most popular hit ‘Pretend We’re Dead’.
I managed to catch some of Southern rockers Black Stone Cherry and caught enough to know that they were killing it and they drew in a massive crowd and churned out all their best hits, including ‘Blind Man’, ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’ and ‘Lonely Train’, winning the crowds with their charm and swagger. This band seem to get bigger and better as they go.
Australian heavyweights Parkway Drive had the honour of closing the Zippo Encore stage as headliners and they certainly rose to the challenge. They had impressive fiery displays throughout to accompany their crushing sounds with the likes of ‘Carrion’, ‘Vice Grip’ and ‘Karma’ and at one point even had their drummer upside down, with a rotating drum kit which was quite special and unexpected and added to the already overwhelming visuals. Of course, having just unleashed new album ‘Reverence’ they played a number of new hits from this such as ‘Wishing Wells’, ‘Prey’ and ‘The Void’ all going down a storm amongst their older material also. It wouldn’t be a Parkway Drive show without some mental pits, and there was no shortage of them – what a superb and exciting set and they certainly stepped up as headliners of the second stage.
Everyone in the world has heard of Saturday headliners, the legendary Guns N’ Roses who are considered rock royalty since forming in 1985. It had been an incredible 12 years since they last headlined Download festival so this was a very special occasion, more so given that it to marked their first UK Festival appearance of the classic line up featuring the imitable Axl Rose, guitar legend Slash and original bassist Duff McKagan, plus Dizzy Reed, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer and Melissa Reese. Never has a headline band played so early at a festival, starting at just after 7pm, with the sun shining and anticipation was running high with a massive congregation of rock fans which could be seen far and wide. They played an incredible three and a half hour set, which prior to starting had people worried but the end result was a massive success and amazingly seemed to fly by and flow nicely. This was a big highlight for me personally, having never seen them before live and they didn’t disappoint, with their long set managing to get in all their classics like ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘November Rain’ and the spectacular firework frenzy ending with ‘Paradise City’ which was an impressive and fitting way to end their momentous set. As well as their original songs, they are known for their cover of ‘Knockin On Heaven’s Door’ which we were thankfully treated to but there was also some brilliant surprise covers that pleased the masses with Velvet Revolver’s popular hit ‘Slither’, a skilled instrumental version from guitar legend Slash of ‘Wish You Were Here’ and a touching and emotional cover of Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’. Guns N’ Roses exceeded expectations, playing on time and with precision, boasting lots of energy and sounding on point, whilst playing the songs everyone wanted and more. This was a set that no one will forget and will go down in the history of the ever-expanding festival.
Sunday 10th June
It was a surprisingly early start on the Sunday of the festival and I was up and ready to see rising Welsh alt-rockers Dream State and what a start to the day! There was an impressive amount of energy from the fans and the band, with vocalist CJ getting in the crowd and fans crowd surfing and jumping and rocking out throughout, something you don’t expect at 11am on the last day of the festival. The band were clearly humbled by the reaction and how many came out so early and posed for a stage photo at the end to mark their triumphant Download debut. Although a short set, they made a huge impact and ended with their most popular song ‘White Lies’, along with a heartfelt and inspiring speech about mental health and additions. This band are only going to get bigger and better especially if this set is anything to go by, they were a standout act for me.
It was unusual to see extreme UK metallers Cradle Of Filth so early in the day with their black-clad gothic gear and crazy mannerisms (especially from guitarist Richard Shaw) in the beaming sunshine but that didn’t stop them from delivering a harsh and brutal set, with many fans coming out early to witness them. They opened with ‘Gilded Cunt’ and later played the hauntingly beautiful ‘Nymphétamine’ with Lindsay Schoolcraft getting to show her impressive vocals to accompany Dani Filth’s contrasting growls and characteristic shrieks. Dani Filth, although he looks menacing, is a rather humorous and charming fellow, attempting to tell jokes and a highlight of the set was when Dani referred to someone in the crowd dressed as Jesus, saying “Good to see old friend Jesus out there”.
California rockers Thrice hit the Zippo Encore stage and given their short set, unfortunately, didn’t manage to get in all their best most well-known tunes but ‘Artist In The Ambulance’ went down a treat with die-hard fans along with newer song ‘Black Honey’ from their latest 2016 release. They also played their new single ‘The Grey’ which sounded great in the live setting. Their sound was flawless and precise, but it was a shame they didn’t have a longer set to play more of their top songs.
Mrykur is a black metal musical project of Danish musician Amalie Bruun who has caught everyone’s attention with her unique sound and style. Making her Download debut on the Dogtooth stage in a dark tent provided some refreshing relief, offering something very different with a mysterious and atmospheric sound which drew in a good crowd.
Canadian post-hardcore act Alexisonfire were a band I was very hyped for as I had never seen them and feared I never would, but fortunately for us all, they reformed. Known for the heavy yet melodic sounds which make for good anthemic singalongs, they didn’t disappoint one bit, many singalongs were had and they were short, sharp and to the point, firing off all the songs we expected and wanted, such as opener ‘Young Cardinals’, ‘Boiled Frogs’, ‘Accidents’ and their biggest hit ‘This Could Be Anywhere In The World’ which sparked big crowd engagement. They were one of my favourite acts of the whole festival for their energy, engagement and delivering only their best tracks with no distractions.
Second headliner and shock rocker Marilyn Manson is no stranger to Download, but it had been a while since he last played and there is always an air of mystery and anticipation with someone like him. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to catch all of his set, but saw enough but given his known shocking antics and behaviour in the past, it felt like everyone was expecting more controversy and weirdness, yes he was certainly weird and strange as always, but he seemed rather tame, perhaps it was down to it being daylight, which he didn’t seem to agree with, but the sound was on point and featured fun tracks like ‘This Is The New Shit’, ‘mOBSCENE’ along with older hits ‘The Dope Show’ and he pulled in a massive crowd as you would expect and played a varied set.
I was lucky enough to attend Download 2016 too and caught Black Sabbath’s farewell headline set and now two years later, Ozzy Osbourne was back but doing his own solo set this time and for the first time. Sadly I didn’t get to see Ozzy’s closing set but from what I heard Ozzy done everyone proud and lived up to his legendary status. Having Ozzy close the festival was fitting giving his rock stature and along with other headliners Guns N’ Roses amongst other acts, secured Download 2018 as a historic and highly memorable event as always, and fortunately enough we were graced with decent weather yet again. Bring on Download 2019! I for one can’t wait to see who will be on the line-up for next year.
If you can’t wait for Download 2019 already like us, don’t worry you can buy your tickets for next year now! https://downloadfestival.co.uk/tickets/
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