Download Festival –LIVE REVIEW by Carina Lawrence / Dark Art Conspiracy
The UK’s biggest rock and metal festival returned to its full glory with its first full-scale event three years after the pandemic following the historic pilot event last year. It was a surreal and joyful feeling to be back at Donnington for festival goers and bands alike and was the sentiment of the weekend. We have all waited so long for live music to return, and it was worth the wait. The variety and calibre of music, the atmosphere and unusually stunning sunny weather made this anticipated return even better.
FRIDAY 10TH JUNE
British metalcore heavyweights Bury Tomorrow brought some of the first big moshing of the day on the main stage, kicking off with the energetic ‘Choke’. Lead vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates revealed that before covid, he would usually be told lots of rules by security like no circle pits. Still, he declared, “I don’t know if because of covid or just forgot this time, but they said nothing”. Hence, he challenged the crowd to set a new record for crowd surfers going over the barrier, and there were a lot of crowd surfers. Carnage ensued in the pit throughout their short, energetic, fiery set, the pyro only ramping up their charged metalcore. New members Ed Hartwell (rhythm guitar) and Tom Prendergast (keyboards and clean vocals) made their Download debut with the band since joining in 2021 and strutted their stuff confidently, creating a tight and formidable unit. Daniel reflected on the pandemic and was grateful to be back performing again, saying he had waited over two years for this moment. Their enthusiasm was evident, and they had a blast playing tracks such as ‘The Grey’, and ‘Earthbound’ before closing on ‘Cannibal’.
Italian gothic metallers Lacuna Coil took to the second stage and bought in a big crowd during the unusually blazing heat, donned in their signature dark black and white attire. They may have been better placed later in the day, with the backdrop of darkness seeming more appropriate. Still, that didn’t stop them from delivering a robust and memorable set with a great mix of songs spanning their career. Opening with ‘Blood, Tears, Dust’ from 2016’s Delirium, followed by ‘Trip The Darkness’ from Dark Adrenaline. Of course, they featured a few from their latest heaviest 2019 album, ‘Black Anima’, such as popular tracks’ Reckless’, ‘Layers Of Time’ and ‘Save Me’. They also played fan favourites ‘Heaven’s A Lie’ before closing out with ‘Our Truth’ and the commanding and appropriate ‘Nothing Stands In Our Way’, asserting how they were revelled to be back at Donnington again following the pandemic.
American metalcore act The Ghost Inside last played Download Festival in 2015, the same year they had the bus crash accident that left three members in critical condition and resulted in drummer Andrew Tkaczyk losing his leg. 2022 marked their much-anticipated return. The tent was packed, and they were given a respectful and warm welcome. Their determination is inspiring, and they deliver an energetic and triumphant set filled with their top tracks, including ‘Avalanche’, ‘Aftermath’ and ‘Engine 45’.
Florida hard rockers A Day To Remember delivered an explosive and glorious set. They were firing off anthem after anthem and displaying just how many catchy singalong tracks they have. They are straight down to business, kicking off with the well-loved ‘The Downfall Of Us All’ followed by ‘All I Want’, never letting up and delivering a confident and flawless set that they make look easy. The crowd were eager and enthusiastic to sing along to every song, and the band and the fans were all equally having a blast, with vocalist Jeremy McKinnon beaming with joy and looking comfortable and content to be back at Download. Their music is perfect for festivals, and seeing how sunny it was, they break out the beach balls to add to the entertainment for ‘Rescue Me’. The brilliantly delivered melodic and emotive acoustic ‘If It Means A Lot To You’ offers a slight pause to conceal some energy. They give us everything you could want and close on ‘The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle’. Some bands might be intimated to be on before the main headliners, KISS, but they were comfortable bringing their all, proving why they keep getting invited back to charm the crowds again. The festival mascot Download Dog even made a surprise appearance during their set to the delight of fans.
Iconic glam rockers KISS headline Download for the fifth and final time, making this a momentous occasion as their last UK show, but the band made clear this wasn’t a glum affair. This was a celebration and a chance to go out on a high note in style. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley hold themselves well vocally, but early in, it felt slightly underwhelming and didn’t pack a punch as much as you would expect, but it did improve later in their set. In their lengthy two-hour set, they pull out all their biggest and well-known hits, such as opener’ Detroit Rock City’ and later pulling out ‘Heaven’s On Fire’ and towards the end of their set, they play ‘Love Gun’ and ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ while Paul Stanley surprisingly zip wires across the sound tower in a very theatrical moment before the final explosive song ‘Rock and Rock All Nite’ which ended with a massive bang of fireworks. The band’s set and the stage were impressive as expected, with massive statues of the members and plenty of fire and flamboyancy as you would expect for their final headline set at the festival.
SATURDAY 11TH JUNE
Melodic British metallers The Raven Age opened the main stage Saturday but kept the early risers waiting as there was at least a 30-minute delay. However, this may have been an advantage as the hold-up resulted in more festival goers rocking up to see an impressive stage set up early in the day (the reason for the delay). They primarily played from their successful sophomore album, 2019’s ‘Conspiracy’. Opening with ‘The Day The World Stood Still’ and strutted their stuff confidently, showing off their rich harmonies before closing on their hit song ‘Fleur de lis’, which ended their set on a solid note, and I think the band may have earnt some new fans.
Groove metallers Dead Label from Ireland packed out The Dogtooth stage and bought lots of energy, jumping and bouncing to their fun and hard-hitting set. I wasn’t familiar with the band, but they were a welcome surprise, and I enjoyed their performance and was glad I wandered in to catch them.
American metal heavyweights Black Label Society, fronted by the revered Zakk Wylde, stormed the main stage with his signature look and guitar. They get straight to business with their no-nonsense tracks opening with ‘Bleed For Me’. Throughout their set, they impress and show their guitar mastery by playing with their guitars behind their backs with ease before closing with ‘Suicide Messiah’ and ‘Stillborn’.
I attempted to catch Scottish modern metal 5-piece Bleed From Within as they have a reputation for being a formidable force so I was eager to witness them live for myself as a fan of the band but unfortunately I arrived too late as by the time I got there I couldn’t get near as the Dogtooth stage was spilling out, proving they were obviously high on people’s lists to catch and for good reason. From what I could hear they were on point. Hopefully, they will come back on a bigger stage in the future!
Alternative metal veterans Deftones looked thrilled to be back at Download, and what a welcome they got with a massive turnout as expected. I managed to get in most of their set before heading off to Funeral For A Friend, and some of the best highlights were when they were playing fan favourites ‘Be Quiet and Drive’, ‘My Own Summer (Shove It)’ and ‘Diamond Eyes’. As a massive Deftones fan although I enjoyed what I saw of their set other than the above songs I feel they didn’t pick the best choices for a festival and their sound sometimes gets swept up in the open air. Although that is not exclusive to them, just the nature of outdoor music and some bands are better suited for outdoor festivals than others.
Welsh post-hardcore act Funeral For A Friend reunited in 2019 to play reunion shows after disbanding in 2016, but the pandemic forced them to postpone these. But fortunately, they made it to Download 2022, and as their status is unknown, I headed over to watch them headline the Avalanche stage as I didn’t know if this would be one of their last shows, so I even left Deftones set early to catch them. They didn’t disappoint, as they played all the tracks you wanted and expected, such as ‘Roses For The Dead’, ‘Streetcar’ and ‘Juneau’ and ended with ‘Into Oblivion’ and ‘All The Rage’. An enjoyable and satisfying set.
NWOBHM heroes Iron Maiden are no strangers to headlining Download Festival, and they looked and sounded like they belonged up there as always on their seventh run on top. They still manage to surprise after all this time. Their stage set-up was impressive as expected, sporting a Japanese theme to go with their latest album, 2021’s Senjutsu. They kicked off with the new album’s title track, followed by ‘Stratego’ and the popular new single ‘The Writing on the Wall’. The theatrics were in full swing, with a large Samurai Eddie roaming the stage to embrace the Senjutsu vibes. Following the showcase of newer material, they shifted up their set with powerhouse vocalist Bruce Dickinson declaring they needed to change house with loud motorbike revving sounds heard to a black backdrop to set things up for the Legacy Of The Beast set. A true highlight was the emotive and uniting ‘Blood Brothers’, which was more poignant than ever following the pandemic and how long it has taken to return to live music again. It felt like the perfect song to reflect on with everyone united in this singalong moment. More dramatics were seen during ‘Flight of Icarus’ with Bruce wielding flamethrowers and trying to use them in time with the song. An outfit change followed for the powerful and eerie ‘Fear Of The Dark’ with Bruce sporting a mask and top hat to add to the production, which strangely doesn’t come across as overly silly but adds to epic showmanship. Unsurprisingly later in their set, they pulled out all the classics, ‘The Number Of The Beast’, ‘Run To The Hills’ before ending on a high note for encore ‘Aces High’ with a Spitfire on the stage adding more awe factor, something not many bands could achieve. Still, for these veterans, they pull it off with ease and class, and despite the fact they have been going for over four decades, they show no show of slowing down now.
SUNDAY 12TH JUNE
German power metallers Powerwolf were on surprisingly early for Sunday, just before 1 pm on a sunny afternoon. But that didn’t stop the crowds pouring in, ready for the band’s Download debut. They were a personal highlight for me, especially as I hadn’t managed to see them live before, and they exceeded expectations delivering their dramatic melodic dark offerings, starting with ‘Fire and Forgive’. Unfortunately, being on early in the day, they didn’t have much time to play with. Still, they made it all count, even managing to spend time interacting and challenging the crowd to repeat chants and lines until vocalist Attila Dorn was content in a humorous and commanding manner. They had the crowd in the palm of their hands. With plenty of interaction and singalongs, especially during the infectiously catchy tracks’ Demons Are A Girl’s Best Friend’, ‘Blood for Blood’ and their ever-popular track to close their glorious and grand metal mass with ‘We Drink Your Blood’.
Scottish pirate metallers Alestorm are known for their silly swashbuckling antics, and some may not understand them or get it, but they are meant to be absurd, and that is what makes them so great. For me, their set was perfect for a festival, bringing catchy obscene tracks that everyone can dance and sing along to and have a laugh at. Their stage set-up consisted of a massive inflatable duck to drive this point home. They get straight to it with one of their finest tracks, ‘Keelhauled’ and then make sure to pick the best from their back catalogue whilst also showcasing their newest tracks which are instant fan favourites with ‘Magellan’s Expedition’ and “P.A.R.T.Y’. No festival or Alestorm set would be complete with more songs about drinking or being drunk. So the relatable ‘Hangover’ and ‘Drink’ go down a storm before they close up on two of their silliest yet brilliant tracks made even better by the audience chanting happily along to ‘Fucked With An Anchor’ and ‘Shit Boat’. Ridiculous and catchy fun.
American punk rockers Rise Against are no strangers to Download Festival and are always received well with their spotless delivery and driven anthems. They did it again, making it look effortless and wasted no time getting straight to the fan favourites. Opening with ‘Prayer Of The Refugee’ soon followed by ‘Satellite’ before airing a brand new track ‘Last Man Standing’, which was well-received, along with another new song ‘Nowhere Generation’. They cemented their victorious set with their most-loved song, ‘Savior’.
Metalcore supergroup Kill The Lights consists of James Clark, ex-Throw The Fight, on vocals, Jordan Whelan of Still Remains on guitar, Travis Montgomery, ex-Threat Signal on guitar, and two former Bullet For My Valentine members, with Jay James on bass and Michael’ Moose’ Thomas on drums. Their combined experience makes them a formidable force, which was undoubtedly the case on their Download debut. The Dogtooth stage was packed, and the band brought some serious moshing and energy along with their tracks from their debut ‘The Sinner’. They closed with their top track, ‘The Faceless’. It would be good to see them on a bigger stage in the future as they crushed their set.
Unfortunately, I had to leave early Sunday, so I missed acts like Korn, Descendents, and of course, the final headliner, Biffy Clyro, who took to the headliner spot for the second time at the festival. It sounds like they once again proved themselves more than worthy of the top spot.
With this year being a triumphant return, Download festival has announced to mark its 20th anniversary next year the festival will expand to four days of live music instead of three! It will start on Thursday, June 8 and end on Sunday, June 11 2023. The four headlining acts have still to be announced, with some tickets already on sale for the supersized festival. I think I speak for everyone when I say bring on next year!