(Words: Rachel Sandford)
I got my symphonic metal fix from Epica on the Saturday. This set, although slow at times, was a wild ride. The keyboard player Coen Janssen is hands down the craziest keyboard performer I’ve seen in my life. His keyboard was on wheels and twistable, and in any spare second between notes he’d literally drive it across the stage or do a few spins around. It got even better when he then pulled out a second hand-held keyboard so he could run around and let loose wherever he wanted. The clean vocals for this band are what you would expect from a symphonic metal band, ie, fairly operatic. Unfortunately, this is not everyone’s cup of tea, and so are likely to be the make or break point for people undecided as to whether they would enjoy seeing Epica live. As someone who does like this subgenre of metal, I would highly recommend their show. Even though they were on pretty early in the day, they included plenty pyro and showmanship, which really made it feel like a headline set.
During a break between bands I decided to check out The Sindrome. This is the small section near the Dogtooth stage where random performances such as Demolition Download, Air Guitar, Stunts and Puppets take place. I happened to go when The Caravan of Lost Souls were performing. They’re essentially a touring circus with attitude. They had people dressed as monkeys going through the crowd to create minor chaos and creep us out, and the performers themselves had a lot of humour. There were multiple performances involving whips, knife juggling, razor swallowing and a particularly stomach-turning stunt involving a performer putting some string in through her mouth and out through her noise. Considering this is included in the festival ticket price, I was impressed. This is a circus I would pay to see when on tour, and to think they had acts such as this performing all day, every day, I would definitely suggest visiting this area in future years when you have time to kill!
Going back to the music, next up there was Three Days Grace, your classic alternative rock band. Whilst nothing about their show or music is spectacular or unique, it is a good rock show. They play an even mix of old and new songs, all of which get the crowd singing along, even those of us right at the back. One of the best things about Three Days Grace is how they make the darkest lyrical themes extremely catchy, using their now classic combination of grunge and melodic sounds to give them an edge. Before seeing them at Download I don’t think I would’ve seen them at a headline show, but they’ve won me over and I now would for a good scream along!
And so we get to Die Antwoord, the controversial act that had many metal elitists mumbling “what the fuck is this shit” but got a lot of us having a damn good time. Now don’t get me wrong, there were times where I just stood in shock looking at the stage thinking…just…what. This was rare though and, for the most part, it was a lot of fun having just that one rave act at Download to have a dance to. The female vocalist of this duo, Yolandi Visser, is the reason why I personally like them so much. Her voice is crazy high, to the point where you can’t believe it isn’t autotuned, and her entire persona on stage is about not only having fun herself (she dances like I do alone in my room), but also about shocking and performing for the crowd. For those who have never seen photos or videos of Die Antwoord, she uses pitch black contacts which, in comparison to her pale white skin and white blonde hair, is terrifying. She also has the most unique hairstyle I’ve ever seen and the hand drawn graffiti on her face completes the look. This performance mixed with dance music is by no means bad. If you really hate dance music, fair enough, but I feel like many acts that incorporate similar music like Electronic Rock, Drum N Bass, Industrial and Nu Metal, are all accepted in our scene, so why not accept this too? If I had to pick a flaw from their show it would be the random girl just shaking her ass on stage, I know this is a hip-hop group, but this is not a hip-hop crowd, so it felt very out of place, and looked lost and isolated on the huge main stage. Overall, this was a good part of my day and I’d encourage festivals and audiences alike to continue stepping outside of their comfort zone.
(Words: David Steed)
With little in the way of rain over night, the stage was perfectly set for Alien Weaponry to come and blow the cobwebs of Fridays aging rockers off the main stage. For anyone unfamiliar with these New Zealand upstarts, their aggressive blend of their native Māori language with crushingly heavy grooves is one of the freshest sounds in the genre. Drummer Henry de Jong opened the set by performing a solo Haka, perfectly setting the tone for a raw and heavy set that obliterated the main stage and set the bar high for the rest of the day.
On the other side of the food vans, Bad Wolves took to the Zippo stage with the hyperactive bundle of energy that is their frontman Tommy Vext. I don’t think this early crowd were quite ready for him, and his instructions for everyone to start spinning their shirts above their heads for “Better The Devil” got a muted response to put it mildly. Other than the hardcore fans down the front, I suspect many people were only there to hear the phenomenally successful cover of “Zombie”, meaning that the tech-metal rhythms and aggressive vocals of “Learn to Live” and “Officer Down” may have been a bit of a surprise. That said, when “Zombie” was finally performed it was a genuinely emotional moment for many and got as big a singalong as any of the bands who graced the same stage the previous day.
If the heavy and intense start to the day got a bit much for you, then Royal Republic were there to provide the perfect counterbalance. Their upbeat pomp was a great remedy to the grim misery of the campsites, and songs like “Baby” and “Anna Leigh” drew smiles out of even the most hardened of metalheads. The band were hugely self-aware and flippantly pointed out the balls it took for them to perform dressed as they were (matching red suits and pearls) at a festival that would host the likes of Slipknot later that same day. Ever seen what looks like a group of casino hosts cover Metallica? Nope? Me neither. Not until Royal Republic absolutely nailed “Battery” and dared Metallica to play it as well as them when they next came around. I’m not convinced they were entirely joking…
Download isn’t a festival you’d typically associate with prog-rock bands, yet this was one of the most progressive line-ups it has had in years. Animals as Leaders were one of the big names on the bill (I’d unfortunately missed Opeth the day before and was queuing at the bar during Behemoth) and drew a sizeable crowd for their technically mind-bending instrumentals. Unfortunately, even a genius like Tosin Abasi struggled to get music like this to translate to a festival setting, and much of the musical intricacy was lost to the wind, leaving a dull blend of polyrhythms and single bass notes in its wake.
For many, it seemed bizarre that Skindred were as low down the main stage billing as they were. Regardless of the set-up, they yet again proved that they can own whatever stage they are given. Benji Webb will go down as one of the truly great frontmen of modern music, such was his mastery over both his performance and the crowd. Never has a lyric been truer than when Webb sang “I’ve got you in the palm of my hand” during “That’s My Jam”: he could have had the crowd doing anything he wanted. When it came to “Warning” the crowd already knew what that was, and everyone was ready to unleash the ‘Newport Helicopter’, with shirts spinning and flying around across the entire main stage crowd.
It’s no secret that Skindred are one of the best live bands in modern metal, so following them would be a daunting prospect for most bands. However, Trivium are not most bands. It was Download festival that basically adopted them back in 2005 when Trivium opened the main stage and by the end had one of the biggest crowds the opening set had ever seen. Frontman Matt Heafy refers to this regularly and you genuinely believe him when he calls the UK ‘home’. Six albums later and the set is a bit more diverse than it was back in 2005, covering everything from their classic Ascendancy album through to their most recent offering, The Sin and the Sentence. The latter is one of the best of their career, but it is classic tracks like “Pull Harder on the Strings of your Martyr” and “In Waves” that see the crowd erupt into a frenzy worthy of a headline set (just watch some of the aerial footage). The success of their recent album, plus the injection of energy from new drummer Alex Bent, meant that the adoring Download crowd were the beneficiaries of a band at the top of their game.
To get a brief respite before the nights headline set, many headed over to the Zippo stage to see modern rock giants Halestorm. Covered in leather and sporting huge platform stilettos, Lzzy Hale is every inch the modern rock star, with a voice to match. Indeed, rather than any introductory backing track, the band opened with Lzzy alone on the stage belting out the opening lines for recent single “Do Not Disturb”. Much of the between song talk centred on how it doesn’t matter who you are, we are all part of one musical family, a notion that culminated in the modern anthem “Freak Like Me”. The crowd were rarely whipped into a frenzy like you would see for heavier acts. Yet, when you watch Lzzy Hale completely dominate the expansive stage, coupled with her brother struggling to stay seated at the drum kit, you can see why Halestorm fully deserve their place at the forefront of modern hard rock.
The guttural roar of ‘HERE WE GO AGAIN MOTHERF*****S’ is a statement that feels just as apt for Slipknots return to Download festival as it did for opening their second album, Iowa. This is the fourth time that they have headlined the festival, yet they didn’t rest on their laurels. They stormed out as if they had a point to prove and didn’t let up for the entire set. Touches of pyro, plus a flaming baseball bat wielded by Clown for “Duality”, were as elaborate as the stage production got, but when you have Mick Thomson looking as terrifying as ever, Sid Wilson crawling around like some deranged hunchback, and Corey Taylor looking like a translucent demonic nightmare, the band make their own stage show. The new percussionist blends into the line-up without comment, much like new songs “Unsainted” and “All Out Life”, that slot seamlessly into the set list as if they are classics that have always been there. Corey Taylor is on the form of his life throughout, only betraying his advancing years once by telling the crowd that he ‘only has one good jump’ in him during “Spit It Out”. The intensity only really let up for “Vermillion”, the one respite in seventeen tracks of unabashed carnage that only Slipknot could deliver on a stage of this size. Closing track “Surfacing” completed the destruction, and the band left the stage having proven that Download is their stage, that this was their show, and daring anyone to try and top them.
All photographs by AmandaC Photography.