Next time you take a train to a festival, remember that the looks on the commuters’ faces are usually a good indication of whether or not they’ve been expecting you. Those that haven’t will look confused, or even horrified (“My goodness, dear! Why are there all these sweaty, long-haired types on our train?”); those that have will usually look resigned (“Oh, great, festival time again. Looks like I won’t get a seat until Loughborough.”). Those that take the time to talk to you are usually pleasantly surprised, but unfortunately, such folks are few and far between. Still, Donington awaits.
After a brief trip into the very picturesque Donington village for some extra supplies, I return to the festival site in time to catch BUCKCHERRY recreating the spirit of 1987 Sunset Strip sleaze-rock to a slowly growing crowd. Songs like ‘Crazy Bitch‘ may amount to little more than a throwback to times gone by, but they sure make for a good sing-along. If you’re after something a little more seedy and dangerous, however, then you won’t find much better than TURBONEGRO. Today Hank Von Helvete and his boys are on fine form, with deathpunk gems like ‘Deathtime‘ and ‘Sailor Man‘ sounding as dirty, decadent and utterly deranged as ever. But what’s that hanging from Hank’s crotch? A dead squirrel? Answers on a postcard, please.
Over on the mainstage, MEGADETH are making the task of utterly dominating Download look painfully easy. Dave Mustaine and his cohorts have recently released their best work in over a decade in this year’s ‘United Abominations’ album, but today they keep the new material on a tight rein, in favour of a non-stop barrage of ‘Deth classics that – at last – whip a decent-sized pit into action. The grin on Dave’s face as the crowd roar along to every word of ‘Peace Sells.’ says it all.
DRAGONFORCE vocalist ZP Theart certainly isn’t lacking in the enthusiasm stakes, but his band start to sound somewhat repetitive after half an hour of non-stop widdly guitar solos and cheesy synths. Still, ‘Through The Fire And Flames‘ sounds suitably epic, and prompts plenty of air guitar action from an increasingly drunken crowd.
Over on the smaller Tuborg stage, SANCTITY prove that lack of originality needn’t be a problem as long as you’re very, very good; and their powerful cocktail of thrash and groove influences is deservedly greeted with a sea of devil horns and a warp-speed circle pit. It sets the scene nicely for their US brethren JOB FOR A COWBOY to obliterate the packed tent with their savage death-metal attack. There’s something genuinely unsettling about this lot, and it just makes their painfully short set all the more compelling. Be sure to keep an ear out for them.
VELVET REVOLVER‘s main stage appearance draws a huge crowd, but one that clearly enjoys the band’s choice of Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots covers more than VR’s own material. Add that to vocalist Scott Weiland’s unusually surly presence and a handful of rather uninspiring new tracks (from forthcoming second album ‘Libertad‘), and the overall impression is that VR need to put their past glories behind them before they can truly become a force to be reckoned with.
Either there are a lot of punters keen to avoid the emo and nu-metal thrills of the other two headliners (My Chemical Romance and Korn, respectively), or SUICIDAL TENDENCIES are enjoying a resurgence in popularity on this fair isle. Either way, Mike Muir and his cohorts are a genuine thrill to watch; kicking off with an incendiary ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down‘ that sets the tone for an hour of thrash-core classics. They may be getting long in the tooth, and Muir himself may dance like an octopus fighting its way out of a blancmange, but make no mistake: ST are indeed still cyco after all these years.
Self-proclaimed ‘battle metal’ pioneers TURISAS make for a spectacular start to the day; covered in red and black war paint, and boasting a fiddler and accordion player amongst their ranks. A tad silly, yes, but they sound hugely impressive; with a repertoire of anthemic songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on the soundtrack to ‘Braveheart‘. Plus, it’d take a churlish punter not to smile at their folk-metal reworking of Boney M’s disco classic ‘Rasputin‘.
HELLYEAH‘s chunky, mosh-friendly grooves are somewhat mundane in comparison, although they do sound impressively brutal in the live setting. Their set also marks the return of former Pantera/Damageplan drummer Vinnie Paul to Download, and the cheers that greet his arrival are as touching as they are deserved.
Over on the Tuborg stage, BEYOND ALL REASON are clearly enjoying playing to a festival crowd, with vocalist Venno’s high-pitched screech sounding remarkably powerful for this time of day. Musically, theirs is a more melodic, glam-inflected brand of metal; not to everyone’s taste, but ‘Love Crossed Pistols‘ is undeniably catchy.
Just when you think GALLOWS can’t get any crazier, they go and push things to a new level. Quote of the festival has to go to Frank Carter: “Say hello to my fuckin’ mum!” he shouts, holding up his mobile, shortly before hurling himself into the crowd for a vitriolic feedback-drenched ‘Six Years‘. God bless these boys; long may they remain a volatile, unpredictable thorn in the side of this industry.
MACHINE HEAD‘s main stage slot is arguably one of the most anticipated of the weekend, and the Bay Area boys don’t disappoint. Robb Flynn may seem genuinely humbled by the heroes’ welcome his band receives, but there’s nothing bashful about the way that brutal renditions of ‘Imperium‘, ‘Halo‘ and ‘Davidian‘ whip the crowd into a churning, bouncing mass.
Like sex, SLAYER are still pretty damn good even when they’re not amazing; and even though they seem a tad workmanlike today, ‘Disciple‘ and ‘Dead Skin Mask‘ are still shot through with enough sinister fury to batter our eardrums into submission.
Goths and daylight generally don’t mix, and hence MARILYN MANSON is already at a disadvantage, having to take the stage with the sun still beaming brightly behind him. ‘Sweet Dreams‘ and ‘The Beautiful People‘ still sound as good as ever; elsewhere, however, there’s too much lumpen new material and too few elaborate theatrics to lift this performance above adequate.
Ultimately, the real Saturday night party thrills were only ever going to be provided by MOTLEY CRUE. Yeah, they’re getting on a bit, and Nikki Sixx’s stage banter is a tad embarrassing, but if the idea of a packed tent going crazy to a Motley greatest hits set doesn’t excite you, then you’re either boring or just not drunk enough. Big? No. Clever? Not in the slightest. Fun? Oh yes, and then some.
Sunday morning arrives, and the last couple of days’ partying is clearly starting to catch up with most of the crowd. Not that THE GHOST OF A THOUSAND care, as they blast away any remaining cobwebs with half an hour of hardcore rock n’ roll fury. Over on the Dimebag Darrell stage, stoner-punk merchants the CANCER BATS boast not only a impressive arsenal of bowel-loosening riffs, but also a brilliantly hyperactive frontman in vocalist Liam Cormier. The small but appreciative crowd love them, and so they should.
From here on in, things can only get harder and heavier, as UNEARTH‘s scorching metalcore attack turns the tent into a war-zone. The music is impressive enough, but what truly astonishes about this lot is that there’s absolutely no let-up in intensity throughout their entire set. DEVILDRIVER take that ball and run with it, unleashing scathing metallic hell on a grateful crowd that eagerly honours frontman Dez Fafara’s request for a giant circle pit; one that stretches around no fewer than six tent posts. If you missed it, go look on Youtube now.
Back on the main stage, LAMB OF GOD show just why they have frequently been hailed as the finest groove metal crew since Pantera’s heyday, treating the crowd to a truly – ahem – vulgar display of power. As ‘Redneck‘ ignites no fewer than five circle pits, plus a thick volley of crowdsurfers, it’s clear that these five Virginia boys are onto something special.
KILLSWITCH ENGAGE‘s stage presence suffers somewhat due to the absence of lead guitarist/band comedian Adam Dutkiewicz (due to ongoing back problems), but it’s obvious from the epic sing-along to ‘The End Of Heartache‘ that the crowd is very much on their side. No wonder vocalist Howard Jones can’t stop smiling. No such warmth from DIMMU BORGIR, though; who rip through forty minutes of prime Finnish black metal at cranium piercing velocity. They’re tight as hell, as harsh as you could want, and although you may laugh at their stage garb, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer aural brutality on show.
Donington has long been IRON MAIDEN‘s home from home, so it’s a shame that tonight, Bruce and co. merely entertain where they should electrify. Last year’s ‘A Matter Of Life And Death‘ album was their finest effort in years, but only ‘These Colours Don’t Run‘ truly gels with the rest of the set, which is largely made up of classic – but somewhat predictable – tunes from the band’s ‘Number Of The Beast’ era. The sound of the crowd joining in for ‘Run To The Hills‘ and the closing ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name‘ is still an awe-inspiring experience, and there’s clearly no end of adulation for the band, so here’s hoping that next year’s tour will see Iron Maiden slaying stages like they have done so many times before.
All photos courtesy of Niki Kova’cs