Download Festival: Heavy Metal Mecca

Friday, 10 June 2016

Wear wellies, alliterated advice fell on stubborn deaf ears as we lived to regret the mud that will seep into our fortunately waterproof* boots.

This was not how the day started. Earlier that morning, throngs of black-clad metalheads had happily settled on stretches of dry ground and green grass at Donington Park.

Then, torrents of rain poured in the way only British weather could. Soon, we were wading to the Lemmy stage through wet, thick soil, unprecedented in my twenty-five years of city life…

And it was worth it.

* Note: Alysa insists on clarifying that mud did not seep through our boots, but had entered from the open top, ergo, Columbia delivered on its waterproof promise. Choose Columbia.

Download
Exhibit A: Dry grounds.

Under the relentless spatter, we waited with the practised patience of self-proclaimed Jedis. It was a little short of an hour before Babymetal finally emerged to the furious blast beat. In an instant, the odd lovechild of J-pop and heavy riffage launched into an aggressive ritual dance.

How many had spoken so fondly of the girls, that what happened next seemed preordained. Sheathed in black and red, the three teenagers managed to command massive mosh pits of grown men – with frantic motions of twisting, turning and pointing.

Exhibit B: It’s never sunny in Castle Donington.

I don’t get it, I decided.

“ARGHHH,” the surrounding chaos disagreed.

The conclusion hardly mattered; all subjective things must come to an end. Killswitch Engage took over the trio with a solid set of nostalgic metalcore anthems.

Barely escaping their larky banter, we schlepped through the downpour to watch Havok under shelter. Give me liberty or give me death. Wet and murky meant nothing to the diehards. Hordes had dutifully gathered before the brilliant thrashers in the small tent, frenzied headbanging from start to end. 

The Lemmy tribute was on screen by the time we returned to the main stage. Between interviews, the audiences rocked out wholeheartedly to Motörhead recordings in a wonderful farewell for, and by the fans.

We left reluctantly, fished out wet pounds from damp pockets, and bought a dozen shirts at the merch booth. Our brief intermission ended in time for Korn. Are we glad not to have missed a second. On form, Jonathan Davis delivered the greatest hits of the nu-metal outfit, or genre to be honest.

T-minus 1 hour to Rammstein. We were psyched. Any time now, signature pyrotechnics – Feuer Frei! – would send the crowds wild. Zehn, neun, acht, sieben… A countdown to Ramm 4 realised the prediction.

As their mad theatrics came into play, it was easy to see why. This was a band beyond the label of gimmick, showing off mad talent beyond explosive vests and bondage gear. There was not a dull moment. When a fiery-winged Til Lindemann elevated on wire, the sheer beauty of both song and set overwhelmed.

Rammstein. (Photo by Alysa)
Ja, nein, Rammstein! / Photo: Alysa

Saturday, 11 June 2016

How could Day 2 get any better? The Lemmy Stage’s answer was Rival Sons. After being melodiously told to get ourselves together and rise by Sixx:A.M., we closed in towards the stage for the masters of modern blues.

It was hard to watch Rival Sons live for the first time without losing my mind. Harder still not to describe them as anything other than perfect. This is, and will be for years to come, one of my favourite bands of all-time. From the magnificent riffs of Pressure and Time to a stunning preview of Hollow Bones, the cracking set was phenomenal in its entirety.

I still think about this every day.

Barely recovering, we saw Megadeth live… again. Not complaining, of course. These guys were on fire. No matter how many times we have seen them, the band’s pulsing symphonies of destruction never fail to defy expectations and dismiss unfair critics. Inviting Nikki Sixx on to pay tribute to the Sex Pistols, anarchy did indeed briefly befell the UK.

The thrash veterans were hard to beat, though a woman in the crowd did try with a drunken dance and threatened to outperform Deftones. Neither party really stood a chance. After all, The End of Black Sabbath was finally nearing. Ecstasy replaced anticipation for the long awaited performance.

From Into the Void to War Pigs, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler led into the iconic notes that pioneered a genre. The decades since 1968 did nothing to douse their energy. As fireworks launched and dark skies burst in shades of purple, celebratory cheers tinged with a trace of blues. Immortal as their music would always be, Black Sabbath was now one tour date closer to the finale. We miss them already.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

“Move, you shitheads!”

On the shuttle bus to Donington, a series of choice expletives had replaced the spontaneous Queen sing-along. There was a traffic delay – the very antonym of fun. Patience ran out as the bus started to empty.

We walked the rest of the way. At the gates, we accepted the fact that we had missed Amon Amarth entirely. Echoes of The Temperance Movement’s Take It Back taunted at the gates. More bad news: Ghost had cancelled their show due to illness.

And it was muddier than ever.

But the day turned around, as I saw the best thing I had ever seen in my life.

Picture this: Frank Carter of The Gallows is standing before you. He demands the biggest circle pit ever, out the Maverick Stage tent, all around and back in. You look down at your white Converse sneakers, now dyed the colour of fresh dung. How much worse can it get? 

The audiences are shouting and screaming now. It is an absolute riot. The drum beat starts. You run. Mud splashes onto your legs and you get some on your face. Sure, the song is 45 seconds long, but… how big is this tent?! By the time you are back in, you are disgusting and I like your spirit.

Impressed by the sight and less bothered by the muck, we made our gradual way back to the Lemmy stage. Ten thousand fists in the air welcomed David Draiman, who reciprocated the energy tenfold. Familiar Disturbed originals crossed into a fantastic cover medley, where Lzzy Hale led the audience in a U2 sing-along.

Fists turned into apropos middle fingers for Ben Burnley, who ripped into the classic rage anthem Killing in the Name Of. Former Iron Maiden frontman Blaze Bayley completed the trinity of guests, drawing loud cheers with Baba O’Riley. No surprise there; the troopers were already gathered, keyed up for the performance of the night.

“Scream for me, Donington!”

The troop roared in response. Two men behind me went mad, eager in proving their infallible knowledge of the metal lyric catalogue. From Number of the Beast through to Book of Souls, Iron Maiden delivered masterpiece after masterpiece, not that anyone was expecting anything less. The ravishing set kept the arena rapt, with the knowledge that the probability of a better live band was close to none.

It never matters where Ed Force One lands. Iron Maiden would never fail to thrill and stir masses into endless chants of “Maiden! Maiden!” in pure euphoria. No exception here. Wishing the show could last forever did not work.

On stage, Bruce Dickinson was now rechristening the festival “Drown-load” and promising a drier show in the near future. Blood brothers finally conceded to the inevitable closing of Download, collectively celebrating the ambivalent end.

To the sound of Monty Python, we echoed the whistles and marched out the sludge-filled venue to amazing Arnie impressions and alcohol-induced curses. The longest three nights of my life, were bound to be some of the best. All we had then were memories and that had to be good enough. Until the next festival, that is.

Next up: Edinburgh.

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7 thoughts on “Download Festival: Heavy Metal Mecca

    1. I have gotten so used to watching concerts on dry grounds in Singapore, this came as a complete shock. The mud rose above our ankles at some areas! Bluesfest sounds lovely, though. Have an amazing time.

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    1. Absolutely, ‘Drownload’ isn’t quite the same without the rain and mud! Thanks for reading, Steven. I’ll be sure to check out your posts. 🙂

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  1. I have never been to a metal fest of such a large scale, but I have been to as many local ones here as I could get to, and had a total blast at all of them. Lamb of God played here a few years back, and that was something to see. I loved every second of it. I am also prepared to sell ninety percent of my possessions to see Rob Zombie live. For reals. Such a pity you missed Amon Amarth 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was my first big festival! I usually stick with local gigs too, and they are still massively fun. Besides, the smaller the crowd, the more likely I get to see the band up close. 😉 I’ve seen Lamb of God live once when they opened for Judas Priest. Absolutely brilliant!

      Rob Zombie would be really cool to see. I missed his gig the last time they were here… I know, I know. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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