Download 2019 - Sunday
DOWNLOAD 2019 - SUNDAY
Anthony Firmin joins Phil Weller in the mud for the final day of this year’s festival shenanigans
Words: Phil Weller & Anthony Firmin
PW: With a breakfast of beer and tinned beans in my belly, I wander past the main stage as I Prevail’s modern metal noise blairs out, doing little to tingle my sense. With two vocalists, one dedicated to clean lines, the other for screams, they are doing what many bands do with one singer and neither is a specialist in what they do. Corey Taylor ran rings around them last night, so I make my way to the Zippo stage to see Dinosaur Pile-Up produce another fairly predictable set, musically speaking, but their grunge tinted alt rock is light and easy to digest so early on in the day. They don't set the world alight, but they get the crowd back into the swing of things for one more day of live music.
PW: With songs tailored to flaunt their singer’s incredible rasping siren song vocal style, the blues rock numbers dished out by Kim Jennet may lack in any truly inspiring individualism, but do allow one of Manchester's greatest talents of the last five years mark her Download debut in confident fashion. She looks at home on the stage, writhing in her snakeskin outfit, getting up in the audience's faces, looking like someone revelling in every last second of the moment and that feeds into the crowd, which greets her finale with a warm, excited response. Expect to hear plenty more of Jennet and her radio rock blues.
AF: One of the last times I came to Castle Donnington was when it was called Monsters Of Rock way back in 1987 and it rained all day. From the moment we arrived until the moment we left it either drizzled or rained heavily – I vowed never to go to a UK festival again. Fast forward almost 30 odd years and it looked like history was going to repeat itself, with social media buzzing with #Drownload and the closure of one campsite early causing some initial chaos on Friday. Regardless, I made the decision to just go for one day and upon entering the site it doesn’t seem that bad, yes there is mud, a lot of mud, and in places it is pretty bad, but the sun is shining and everyone is… miserable. Why on earth be glum? As I walk around, trying to get my bearings, Godsmack are on the main stage pumping out their corporate hard rock but that isn’t a reason to be unhappy, is it? Maybe the muddiness is causing the glumness as I get stuck in a quagmire and need to be helped on. Or maybe it is the band, I hear nothing new and it sounds too perfect, too formulaic, too catchy, but heads are nodding with the beat. I move on.
PW: From one of Manchester's best recent exports to one of Britain’s; bands in 2019 don't come much better than Black Peaks. An elegant, rapturous and soul-stirring blend of feisty hardcore, dreamy, passionate passages, adventurous, explorative prog and bags of energy, watching their set unfurl is a thing of beauty. With bursts of fireballs only adding to the temperature in the tent even more than their tight, collective performance, from the spinning riffs and gorgeous chorus of Eternal Light to their emphatic, engrossing closer Glass Built Castles, after a set like this and with support slots with Gojira forthcoming, the Brighton have the world at their feet. And you have every confidence they'll be smashing their size 9s straight through it. The stage compère said that every other singer at the festival had just "shit their pants" after Will Gardner's vocal extravagance and though we can't confirm that for the smell of the food stalls around the Avalanche stage, we reckon he's spot on.
AF: With warriors battling it out on-stage and a ridiculous stage set which gives rise to an obvious Spinal Tap comparison, Amon Amarth are raging with their Viking rock. As soon as I thought of the ‘Tap it is game over and I simply cannot take them seriously, it makes me want Godsmack to come back but I grab a beer instead.
PW: Bolstered by their ridiculous stage show - from battling soldiers, giant Viking horns and a steam breathing dragon - Amon Amarth do everything in their gimmick-riddled power to distract from how distinctly average their songs are. The theming is detailed and clearly a large focus for both the band and their adoring fans - indeed, this is an act with a reputable stock - but amidst drilling blast beats and NWOBHM inspired guitar rhythms, there is little engaging or unique about their music. Yes, they held the majority of the crowd well, but without their props, this is just an average, fairly predictable band.
PW: French artists Alcest craft beautiful, lucious post-rocks sounds; their atmospheres dreamy and alluring. The only problem here is that, well, it's here. Download is suited to party bands - as Municipal Waste will later prove - and as enjoyable as their set is, they seem a little out of place, their songs coming through a little thin. However, Anthony wasn’t in quite agreement.
AF: Another band and another tent – Alcest are delivering post-rock goodness which is being devoured by those there, Phil decided to leave after 20 minutes citing it’s sameness. “Tosh” I think to myself as I mentally chastise my friends although by the end of the bands set I can understand where they are coming from. Those minor keys and crashing power breaks can only work for so long.
PW: Without even looking, it is disappointingly evident that Chris Adler is not powering Lamb of God's industrious groove machine this evening. Redneck and Now You’ve Got Something To Die For still sound ferocious, baring their razor teeth and kicking up plenty of Download dust in the mosh pits, but in Adler's absence, the importance and unrivalled personality of his playing style is telling. Randy Blythe is however in fine, athletic fettle riling the crowd and making sure, as the sun begins to dip behind the enormous main stage, that the Virginian act leave their mark on the festival in style.
AF: Some of us, meanwhile, are caught in a mosh at the Zippo stage as Anthrax suggest we have a nice fuckin’ life: caught in the mud would be better description, although I can be over cynical I am a committed fan, having seen their first ever UK gig 30 odd years ago and initially this is like reliving that time as they trundle through cuts from Among The Living with ease. Judge Dread can rest easy without having to worry about dealing with the crowd here as the band plough through I Am The Law - they can’t run with all this mud! Before long we are Spreading The Disease with its nods to Iron Maiden whilst Mad House sees the sound is all over the place with the strong evening breeze but at least the sun is shining on Anthrax.
PW: From one band missing their talismanic drummer, to another, Dream Theater's intelligent, explorative and all round next level musicianship was showcased superbly on the second stage during a wonderfully arranged, career-spanning set. Whilst there was understandably a sizable focus on material from their new album, Distance Over Time, the inclusion of a heroically executed In The Presence Of My Enemies Part 1 and the goliath prog metal chops of As I Am helped make this a near perfect festival set. The evening glow made watching John Petrucci and bassist John Myung rattle across their fretboards look even more surreal than normal - for these two have interplanetary talents, because their abilities sure as hell aren't solely human - it was just the occasionally weaker vocal moments from James LaBrie and the mechanical drumming of Mike Mangini that saw them fall just short of top marks. Technically well beyond proficient, his clinical nature takes away from the already thin element of humanity behind their music and that, alongside LaBrie's squawking dampen what was an otherwise brilliant set from a brilliant band.
AF: Castle Donnington and the Infinite Mudness plays host to, for me at least, a bit of a left field major act with the Smashing Pumpkins as the penultimate act on the Main Stage. The dark clouds rolled in on cue too, although the rain stayed away.
Billy Corgan may have the look of a miserable bastard robed in his bishops cassock and make-up that makes him look like he should really be on the set of Game of Thrones, but his voice is on form and many in the crowd are really enjoying this, it’s certainly not melon collie as the slowly rotating blow up props on stage bob gently from the breeze.
The band are tight, Corgan’s guitar playing is great too, his solos fluid without being bloated; he doesn’t come across as being at home with this sort of festival crowd but at least he is genuine. Butterfly With Wings and Disarm getting huge recognition from the crowd. With Superchrist things get heavier and it is fresher than most of the music on offer on this stage today, Corgan is even throwing the horns, an unnecessary attempt trying to connect that comes across absurd. A cover of Sabbaths Snowblind featuring a heavily pregnant Amalie Bruun from Myrkur singing is an oddity before we teasingly get a few bars of Into The Grave.
PW: As Labrie's wavering vocals on Pull Me Under see Dream Theater's set out, party thrashers Municipal Waste are busy creating a shitstorm in a teacup. The Dogtooth stage is far too small for Waste's breakneck chaos, and yet it's also the perfect environment. Packed in tight and sweaty, the place becomes a sea of muddy bodies losing their minds. There's even a guy crowd surfing in a wheelchair, which tells you all you need to know really. One of the most ridiculous live bands going, every festival needs Municipal Waste.
AF: Back at the Avalanche tent Enter Shikari are pumping out their modern post-hardcore electronic rock, except you can’t get near the tent as it’s rammed. Songs about climate change denial go down like their bass drops... deep. The old school can be heard from the other stage but with the high levels of energy here it’s no wonder Slayer are calling it a day. The youngsters know where it’s at as the band pump out their lightweight Prodigy style synth driven anthems, a chant of “fuck off Boris Johnson you fucking cunt” has every voice raised in unison, my own included.
AF: Talking of Slayer, I wander back via the Zippo stage. It is their final UK performance but it is doing nothing for me; of the “big four” they were always the least interesting. I wave goodbye and move on.
For this otherworldly set, we’re letting both reviews run their length.
AF: The tales coming from Europe were of a stunning performance, those tales tipping the balance in my decision to go due to the reported brilliance of those shows. The contrast between Tool and Slayer couldn’t be greater, they are poles apart, a point that gets rammed home as the band deep dive into their set opening with Ænema.
From where we are stood it is a totally immersive experience, it is without doubt an aural and visual masterpiece with the usual band performances on the big screens replaced with their own videos, even the Download logos are gone.
“Raise your hands if you’re under 27. When this song was written you weren’t even a sperm” says singer Maynard James Keenan in a rare moment of communication with the crowd before the band launch into A Part Of Me. My personal highlight is Intollerance as I recall the first time I saw them back in 1993, it is perfect.
Their proto prog metal is all over new songs Descending and Invincible, they are a scintillating taster for the new album, supposedly landing at the end of August. Stinkfist is the perfect set closer but the crowd could have lapped up another hour of this, myself included.
PW: The world of music has changed almost unfathomably over the last 13 years, when Tool last topped the bill at this prestigious festival. And yet, a timeless veil seems to slip over the grey dusk of Download as soon as the stage lights dim and their towering quintet of video screens burst into vibrant life. What follows is 90 minutes of enrapturing, awe-striking beauty and brilliance from a band like no other. Andy Copping has been desperate to get the prog metallers back to Donnington in the years in-between then and now and with a set like this, it is no wonder at all. The stage is stripped of all its brightly lit Download branding, leaving no distractions from their engrossing storytelling, acid trip visuals.
Save for a slightly underwhelming The Pot, where Maynard missed a few lines - perhaps however, that was an invitation for crowd participation and their only one of the set - there was majesty to their performance. Ænema, rumbles into life with aggression and vivacity, each instrument spacious in the mix and sounding so big it could disintegrate planets. There's no preceeding Parabol, instead they thunder straight into Parabola, Maynard's mohawked silhouette a dark bruise cut against the skyscraper size screens behind him and it's not long until the maze like basslines of Schism slithers out into the darkening sky.
There's an overwhelming intensity to them tonight that has you puffing out your cheeks, gasping for air and respite between songs, as if they've intensified Earth's gravity tenfold just from the sheer monstrosity of their music. But no quarter is given.
At 13 minutes long, new song Invincible, from the most anticipated album the metal world has ever baited its breath for; the track had to be its namesake. For most of its playtime, it writes and contorts through villainous basslines and Danny Carey's ominously ill-intentioned drum patterns, floating in the space between the bubbling beginnings of an acid trip and its unassailable, mind-altering crescendo, this is a moment worth waiting a lifetime for. And yet, there's so much to take in that witnessing it almost becomes unbearable, an out of body experience you'll need to live over and over again to make sense of.
And that's why they crash you down to Earth with Intolerance. The opener from 1993's Undertow record, this is a moment for the diehards to lose themselves to, and yet the crowd is virtually motionless. Every simply stands and watches, tries to soak everything in, savouring a moment that feels closer to meeting God than watching a top class metal band close out a festival.
They leave us with Stinkfist and the feeling it was just an all too real dream. The kind that lingers long after waking, a dream you wish you could slip back into and damn ever leaving behind.