Download Festival 2016 - Friday
Following several days of blazing sunshine, grey clouds began to lurk ominously above the hallowed turf of Donington Park. However, as the sight of the main stage came into view, a famous and homely spot so rich in rock history, excitement and anticipation for the 14th annual Download Festival peaked.
Words: Phil Weller & Ben Armstrong Photos: Matt Eachus (view more of his work here)
A lighthearted and frivolous band who never shy away from a good time, Sweden’s Royal Republic  were the perfect band to get the proverbial party started. Their danceable, tongue in cheek rock n’ roll was delivered with a pomp and swagger, the sing-along of Tommy Gun spreading a cheesy grin across the crowd’s collective mug.
Nostalgia was in the air as California’s Alien Ant Farm  played a short set of upbeat funk-rock. Only Movies and closer Smooth Criminal received a significant crowd reaction, but what more could you expect from a band which is essentially a two-hit wonder? Disappointing but spirits remained high and the sun was still (barely) shining.
Inevitably the heavens opened and oh how they opened. Yet, as people scrambled for their ponchos – and those without looked skywards glumly - Graveyard’s  melancholy, overcast blues-rock couldn’t have been more fitting in the miserable, torrential rain. Slow Motion Countdown was gloriously bleak and emotionally vulnerable, the rapid fire snare of From A Hole In The Wall syncopating with the tumbling droplets. However, as the weather worsened the band were forced off stage amid safety concerns, cutting another excellent Graveyard set disappointingly short.
After more rain delays, Babymetal  finally took to the stage. It’s a testament to the band’s entertainment value and musical ability that the crowd remained fixated on the show despite the weather, it would be hard to imagine another band being able to keep smiles on faces. With show highlights Megitsune and Gimme Chocolate! in their armoury, the girls proved once again why they’re taking the UK by storm. It seems Andy Copping, in his previous reluctance to book them, might just be eating his own chocolate flavoured words.
For all their criticisms of “making a mockery” of the heavy music we love, the talents of the musicians that stand behind these three young girls is astounding. Technical and at the cutting edge of modern progressive metal, with djenty moments and crushing Slipknot inspired riffs and pinpoint musicality that darts off into a myriad of angles and destinations, there is definite substance behind the phenomena. In fact, their sugary, almost sickly vocals act as their niche and the ying and yang combination is, for me at least, a winner in the live format.
After taking a couple of hours to regroup and get our waterproofs on, we returned to the Arena to watch Friday night’s special guests. Given a hefty hour slot to hammer home their riffs, Korn  suffered from a lack of diversity despite the bagpipes and gas mask shenanigans. This was a perfectly played forty minute set bloated to sixty, long minutes. It’s a shame because Jonathan Davis delivered as impassioned a performance as I’ve ever seen him give, truly commanding the stage like a seasoned, rabid veteran. I’m sure devout fans of the band were lapping this up, but there’s only so much of the same thing I can take.
And so with the nu metal titan’s set over, there was still a hunger grumbling in our bellies. The question of whether or not Rammstein  would round off the night with anything other than an explosive masterclass was never in doubt, and come 11pm we were thoroughly stuffed.
Fireworks? Check. Gratuitous pyrotechnics? Check. Flawless, mechanical performance? Check. Rammstein’s set this year was simply the band doing what they do best. The new stage show was suitably dark and industrial, with the awe-inspiring light show carrying them when the pyro ran dry. Sadly some speaker issues caused the bass drum to clip, but this was definitely Ja > Nein. Heil Rammstein!
What Rammstein and Baby Metal show is that the English language isn’t quintessential to a good metal show; metal is its own language and it has a powerful transcendental nature. The majority of the crowd will have no idea what the band are actually singing about – even if they’re singing along – yet they still produce a stunning spectacle of fizzing pyrotechnics and abrasive riff work. Till Lindemann’s guttural Germanic tongue compliments and accentuates their industrial sound brilliantly and, while their set it perhaps too savage to call true theatre, it is clear you are witnessing a band who convey themselves as the complete package of sound and vision. Always a band with a sense of humour within the seriosity, Lindemann then steals the show when, having stalked the stage with a sly smile and wearing a large overcoat, he opens it up to reveal a firework lavished suicide vest: Satire at its finest, accompanied by a band who sound like no one else.