Download Festival 2016 - Sunday
Come sunrise on Sunday it’s hard to believe that it’s been five days since we arrived at Castle Donington, with crates full of beer and heads full of optimistic excitement. But the final day arrives with some degree of trepidation. Will the rain hammer us again and will the mud be so bad it literally swallows one of us whole? We haven’t washed or consumed anything healthy since Tuesday either. But, truthfully, we care very little, especially when faced with a day amassed with a shedload of premier metal bands.
One such band is Amon Amarth  who open up today’s billing with a rock solid performance and a stage show which is barely equalled all weekend. Two smoke breathing dragon heads and pyro warm up a wet crowd and help take the edge of the band’s music which, though passable, is still pretty generic. That bit when Johann brought the hammer out during Twilight of the Thunder God was stellar though. They told us to get drunk – we did, they told us to brave the rain – we had. At the very least, Sweden’s premier Vikings resonated with a tired, drowned crowd which is more than can be said for today’s headliners.
Over on the second stage Delain  deliver a performance that, musically speaking, is nothing too compelling. But, fronted by an animated Charlotte Wessels, they play with enough energy, heart and humility to keep you entertained. We Are The Others, a tribute to Sophie Lancaster and a unifying song for the alternative scene a definite highlight.
Periphery  follow up with a set that could have gone too much the other way. A band chocker block with songwriters and fresh, innovative ideas, modern Periphery songs have a tendency to suffer from too many cooks spoiling the broth. As a result, it could have been one of the most lacklustre performances of the weekend, a glimpse at a band on the wrong side of their prime. So not only are we please that it was brilliant, but they leave one of the most lasting impressions on me this weekend. They open with the accelerated tech-metal grooves of Make Total Destroy with Spencer Sotelo dominating the stage, his vocals switching from rough growls to smooth, soaring singing with a clinical execution. Where TesseracT had yesterday failed to arouse the senses with a live sound that was too pristine and perfect that it became mechanical and lost the human aspect, Periphery have found a Midas Touch. The savage riff work of Icarus Lives! and the delectable fun and infectious pop metal of Alpha take the place by storm – even if new song The Price Is Wrong fails to convince.
‘I’ve waited my whole life to see you!’ read a fan’s sign as Breaking Benjamin  took the stage. This was the band’s first ever venture outside the US and felt like a truly special moment across all three days of Download. Personally, I didn’t grow up with the band, so I can safely say, nostalgia aside, that these guys played a blinder. Yes, it’s a bit derivative – archaic, even to hear fully fledged, Christian-happy Nu Metal in 2016 but it pushed all the right buttons sonically and as a fully-fledged performance was exceptional. The real highlight was a bizarre cover medley featuring Nirvana, Pantera and Tool (yes, you read that right) which even got non-fans singing in time for Diary of Jane. I’ll be seeing them on tour.
From a Mancunian standpoint – a city where the doom city is simply massive – it’s surprising there aren’t more acts of the same ilk as Electric Wizard  present this weekend. Playing an hour later than originally planned due to Ghost’s last minute cancellation at the mercy of laryngitis however, they do little to convince you otherwise. As ever their droning sludge riffs are impenetrable, but slow burning and disappointingly dull. They just don’t suit the mood.
Watching Disturbed  was never really on the cards today and only happened because Ghost were sadly forced to cancel earlier that morning. That said, the band were on top form and Draiman delivered a performance I thought had been lost in the mid 00’s. With all the swagger and looks of a Persian king, his voice boomed over Donington, culminating in a spectacular Sound of Silence cover that should have be bad but, just… wasn’t. It’s strange that, with pipes like his, he’s not broadening his musical horizons. Disturbed also played a cover of Killing in the Name with the Breaking Benjamin singer which must have been a truly special moment for him, the crowd loving it as though Rage themselves were dishing it out. Guilty pleasure of the weekend – but Ghost cancelling still sucked.
Succeeding Electric Wizard on the third stage, Gojira  capitalise upon a welcome change of pace with one of the most outstanding sets of the weekend. While new singles Stranded and Silvera may divide opinion on record, in the flesh they are feral and virile, a different beast altogether. The old staples, scattered throughout, reek of a band on a different level, each song explosive and deadly. From the offbeat rhythmic assault of Toxic Garbage Island to Flying Whales, which turns the tent into a beacon of mass hysteria and crowd surfers, they ooze an awe-inspiring degree of confidence and charisma. This was a crowning moment for the French band and in such a prestigious territory too.
“Just in case you’ve wandered into the wrong fucking tent, we are Napalm Death ,” quips Barney Greenway to a horde of cheers. As Nightwish set fire to everything they possibly can on the main stage, the flames flickering in the distance, Napalm’s headline performance on the fourth was sheer brutality. It’s a mess, it is, as Barney himself admits “an awful racket” and it’s anarchistic, but what the Birmingham punks create is the perfect storm.
It’s about as honest a performance as you could ask for, with a strong focus on just how shit the human race can be and the consequences of everything we do. It became apparent during Barney’s rant on consumerism and mass-production that the band do actually live their philosophies – there were no Napalm Death shirts for sale; Iron Maiden had shedloads. This was a set, in many ways, dedicated to and perfectly juxtaposed with the one which would come after it. No bullshit, no compromises, no spectacle, no commercialism – just a strong message and some deafeningly heavy music. Top class.
Walking out of the ramshackle fourth stage tent and towards the immense production that is the Lemmy stage, it occurs to me that no-one has mentioned tonight’s headliners yet today, a band who have flown in on their own private jet and have it written into their contract that they are not to clash with any other acts. It is a remarkable contrast to Sabbath’s treatment yesterday when each and every band I saw asked if we were looking forward to their show. Looking back towards the red tent, it feels like the battle lines have been drawn. Reality vs. Pomp.
Much is said of aging rock stars and the lack of new ones, especially ones people consider worthy of headlining festivals as giant as this. Indeed, whileIron Maiden  have their name, had this been your first encounter with the British metal act, you may well be scratching your head as to why they are so popular. This never feels like an event, just another show for a band starting to take playing in front of 60,000+ people each night for granted. Playing six new songs off new record The Book Of Souls – which amounts to 48 minutes of their set – this feels more like an album tour than a grand occasion at the top of one of the world’s most famous rock festivals. To boot, Bruce’s voice is struggling, Powerslave lacking the magic of yesteryear and, in short, it looks, feels and sounds like you are watching old men. They struggle to keep you amused – people slowly filtering out throughout their set tells you that – and songs like The Red And The Black just feel like Iron Maiden by numbers with far too many repetitious loops in a vein attempt to claim a progressive experimentalism. When a tired Bruce says ‘Welcome to Donington’, a part of me can’t help but feel offended, having been surviving in this muddy field for five full days whilst the band fly in, no expense spared. Iron Maiden clearly feel like this place is theirs – it isn’t, it’s ours.
The real shame of it is that there are plenty of younger, hungrier bands who would kill for their slot and would do everything in their mortal power to give you the show of their lives. 2016 has already claimed the lives of so many people we idolise, and here is proof positive, alongside KISS’ drab and frankly embarrassing set in the same slot last year, that we need to start focussing on the next generation, before it’s too late.
Words: Ben Armstrong & Phil Weller