Live Review : Download Festival on June 15th 2019

And we awake to blazing sunshine and blue skies. It’s like Wednesday and Thursday never happened and the only sign of the atrocious conditions earlier in the week is the liquid mud all over the campsites. Today is the day that Download brings the heavy as we get the most Metal main stage bill for many years. 

Alien Weaponry are the openers and they pull the biggest eleven O’clock crowd I have seen since that Trivium show in 2005. There is a real buzz of anticipation emulating from the thirty or so thousand people who have put their collective hangovers to one side and ventured forth at this ungodly hour. From the moment their Haka opener blends into 'PC Bro’, it becomes obvious that Alien Weaponry are very special indeed and also very very very young. This may be their biggest show to date, but they utterly own the stage and their minimalist brutal thrash fills the entire field. The Māori influence is very much there but it is subtle and not overdone. This is not Maori metal, this is proper heavy thrashey Metal, it is just that it is influenced by the chants and posturing of their homeland. What grabs you most about these lads is their potential. They are coming up with stuff this good when they not long out of puberty, imagine what they will sound like in five or so years time? I spend most of the day saying this to people and I stand by it, within ten years time Alien Weaponry will headline Download. 

Royal Republic are next up and on any other day, they would be the sore thumb, the anomaly on this none more heavy line up. But today also features Die Antwood and in their shadow Royal Republic seem positively predestine and rather vanilla. They however turn out to be enormous fun and it may not be midday, but within a couple of tracks I am silly dancing like I’ve already got a number of pints in me (the truth is I had, at that point in the day you could get to the bar and back within the space of a single song, a situation I exploited to the full). There is something very The Hives about Royal Republic in terms of both the matching red velvet suites and also the jittery post-punky pop. But it also has a lounge core element and there are some places where you feel you are watching the best bar band in Vegas. It also feels very eighties and 'Anna-Leigh'‘could well feature on the soundtrack of a forgotten John Walters teen movie about a High School jock and his secret crush on the alt gothy girl Anna-Leigh (played by Molly Ringwald). We get a fun cover of 'Battery' (keep reading for more humorous covers) and the bouncing 'Baby' (a song so catchy that even though it is new to me, it feels like it has been an essential part of my life for years) and then they are gone leaving those that had stuck around with a great big grin on their faces.

And talk about grins, Elvana should not work but they do. It’s essentially a bunch of nerdy looking Geordies (dressed as priests) fronted by a shit Elvis impersonator doing Nirvana covers. Yes I know it sound utterly appalling but, but, god they are good fun! ‘Breed' and 'In Bloom' are delivered pretty much as they were originally recorded, aside from the fact the vocals are all Las Vegas circa 1969. There is a level of reverence to all of this (remember both Nirvana and the King are culture icons of the highest order) but it is also playful and rather daft and the sight of 'In the Ghetto' sequencing into the underrated Bleach track 'School' is something I will remember for a long time.

But however great fun Elvana are (and they are) I have an appointment back on the main stage with the best new thrash band to emerge in decades. Power Trip quite simply owned Bloodstock last year and they put in a considerable offer to purchase Download this year. They are utterly utterly magnificent, heavy, vital and full of primal passion. This is thrash as the teenaged me wanted it to sound, brutal, caustic and crushing. It is fast and furious and has so much weight to it. This is pulverising music and it floors you track after track with its sheer weight. Power Trip have the look of a band that have realised that this is the most important gig of their career and (the largest crowd) and they give it all that they have. Every ounce of energy that I have got is thrown into these nine tracks and they become a tornado of flaying limbs that you just can’t take your eyes off. They probably are a little too corrosive to achieve the headline status that beckons for Alien Weaponry, but they certainly make an impression and leave with a fuck load of new friends.

It’s a quick jog back through Zippo’s new back passage to catch ten minutes of Animals as Leaders who usually are majestic. I may only see a short slither of their set, Behemoth beckon, but what I do see doesn’t seem to connect with a small and rather bored looking crowd. In a small hall their intricate and highly technical brand of Metal usually sends me into spasms of ecstasy, in the gloomy sunshine of a Download Saturday however it comes across as a little dull.

I return to main stage (via the bar where the queues are sadly again starting to grow) to discover that Behemoth has pulled one fucker of a crowd. This is unrepentant Satan-worshipping, corpse paint adorned Black Metal band from Poland and yet they have managed to attracted a large proportion of the punters onsite. They pull no punches and we get a full on extreme Metal performance. Behemoth do not offer any concessions for that fact that there is still Def Leppard fans around, we get exactly the same set and production as they would give if playing to a field of Satanists in Scandinavia. Black Metal is sometimes too insular, harsh and darkly complex to translate to a wider audience, but this is stadium Black, still atmospheric and coarse, but full of stage presence and theatrics. We get the full horrific sideshow, skull masks for opener ‘Wolves Ov Siberia’a black mitre for ‘Bartzabel ‘ and enough pyrotechnics in ‘Ov Fire And The Void’ to put Rammstein to shame. Nergal is one hell of a frontman and exerts a commanding presence atop the vanity ram urging the masses below him to hail Satan (A bi-plane circles the site just after their set with a banner imploring us to turn to Jesus, a direct attempt to counterbalance the blasphemic nature of Behemoth’s set). ‘Blow Your Trumpet Gabriel’ is as widescreen as Black Metal gets, still based around taut distorted riffs, it however has a chorus that yesterdays’ hard rock outfit would give their perfumed perms for. We close with the frantic, gnarly and just plain evil ‘Chant for Eschaton 2000’ . The reception they receive is extraordinary, vindicating whoever made the decision to place the most extreme of extreme bands at the business end of the main stage bill.  But we are not quite done yet, the whole band return for one last lap of honour bedecked once more in skull masks, beating out the closing rhythms of ‘Coagvla’producing a final flourish to the most stunning of shows.

It’s another quick jog back to Zippo to move from one extreme of Metal to the other with the symphonic bombastic melodic strains of Epica. In Behemoth’s wake they have pulled a tiny crowd, far far too small for a band that on the continent headline festivals of this size. They are consummate show men and women and by the time I get there, Simone’s operatic wails and Coen Janssen’s keyboard flourishes are in full effect (topped by a synths on wheels!). The sound they produce is lush, bold and fills the stage with soaring riffs and choral majesty. They really are symphonic Metal royalty, it is just a crying shame that a band this wonderful is tucked away early afternoon on second stage. 

I pop my head round on Skindred, bloody hell! They have they pulled a magnificent crowd. It stretches for miles, from left bar all the way to the right one and all the way up the hill. The fact that so many people have chosen to spend an hour with Benji and co.’s brand of reggae Metal is testament to the hard slog that they have put in over the years. However I have other plans….

You see I have a bit of a country fetish and the inclusion of country music’s new crown princes Brothers Osborne had got me rather over excited. They play a fantastic hybrid of southern fried boogie and earthy country, described as “sometimes steely, sometimes twangy, sometimes rocking”, and in country music circles have been kicking up a storm. But how would they fair at a Metal festival? The answer is really well, yes the audience is select but it is not in any way embarrassing. Most importantly John and T.J., and their touring band, of course, deliver a great set of bluesy country rock that seems less out of place than you would think. By the end of their set, even John Osborne seems convinced that they belong here after all.

From here, it is off to Dogtooth, well somewhere in the vicinity of the Dogtooth as much lauded The Hu are on and you can’t get near the bloody place. In the slightly amended words of Roy Scheider “We are going to need a bigger tent”. All the weekend, the wonderfully diverse smorgasbord of bands in the Dogtooth has attracted over capacity and beyond crowds. Now with a band as feted as The Hu, it has all got rather ridiculous. I hear little and see even less, but supported by the personnel testaments of those who actually managed to get in I can report that they lived up to the hype and more. Hunnu rock could well have legs and this, fingers crossed, could be the first non-western heavy Metal band to go stellar since Sepultura, just put them on Main Stage next time please.

We used to talk about Trivium in the same fevered tones that we now use for Alien Weaponry. They were the prophesied one, the one that would bring balance to the (Metal) force and unite the light (power and trad) with the dark (black and death). Well it didn’t pan out that way and pretty soon we all got bored, deciding to take our second coming pronouncements elsewhere. Which is all a shame, as Trivium are still are darn fine band with (now) a pretty decent back catalogue and they fit really well in to what is essentially the Megadeth slot (five o’clock Saturday playing the hits for a tipsy crowd waiting for the headline). They may no longer be about to save Metal, but they manage to keep a decent crowd entertained for an hour with chunky riffs, scream-along lyrics and a real “we are one of you” vibe. Hell, they even manage to command an encore to unleash ‘In Waves’ on the crowd. Nowhere near to stealing the show but remarkably entertaining all the same.

It’s back, up to Dogtooth for Batushka. The place has been transformed into an Eastern Orthodox place of worship. Its also yet again rammed, though most in here seem to be hiding from either the rain or Die Antwoord (more on them later) or both. The staging really is stunning, there is a real air of bewildered expectation, but then the faffing begins and boy is there a lot of faffing. Cowl covered faceless minions light candles and more candles and more candles, in fact its candle lighting for a good fifteen minute of their allotted set. Then the rumbling, primal, frankly evil as bat shit Black Metal starts and over half the audience decided Die Antwoord is actually the better bet and escape pretty sharpish. We get one more dollop of coarse jagged Black stuff then it is time for more faffing as frankly we haven’t had enough. Pictures are uncovered and books opened and of course more candles lit and then there a third indistinguishable wave of inaccessible Black Metal (and remember I usually love this stuff). Then they are gone and you are left wandering what the fucking point of all that was. I adore atmospheric forbidding Black Metal, but frankly that was the shambles and a complete waste of a decent slot. Mr. Coppling, if you are really serious about bringing nasty stuff to the festival, I can give you a list as frankly that was embarrassing.

Die Antwoord are the most marmite of bands which manage to, Brexit like, split the Download crowd directly down the middle. Half think their scuzzy electro hip-hop is the bees knees and are lauding it up down the front with their glow sticks held as high. Half have scurried away from it like rats and have sourced sanctuary anywhere they can find it. Personally, I love Die Antwoord’s counter culture sensibilities and the fact that their inclusion has been so divisive. Musically, its not quite my thing (when it comes to Hip-Hop I’m strictly old skool) but I welcome any artist that uses their gifts to challenge and undermine. In my mind their inclusion is genius and just the sort of think that a Metal festival should be doing, I’ve just chosen not to watch it. 

After Black Sabbath and Iron MaidenCarcass are the most important and influential Metal band this country has ever produced. Every single note of every single extreme Metal track that has been produced since the mid-nineties can be directly traced back to their legendary first four albums. They are also a rare sighting. Since they reformed twelve years ago, they have played under twenty shows in this country, so tonight’s headline in the Dogtooth is pretty darn special. From the off they are magnificent. Ugly, confrontational and just so fricken heavy. Jeff Walker has evolved from an angry old man into an even angrier middle aged geezer, a grindcore Victor Meldrew, and he spits out his lyrics like they are toxic. Bill Steer who has been his faithful partner in crime for over three decade, remains probably the most underrated guitar player in extreme music. He fires tight taut riffs from his guitar like they are shells, he makes playing at this speed seem far simpler than it is. We get a fantastically balanced set that gives us a good splattering of nuggets from the extraordinary “Heartwork” (the other greatest Heavy Metal album of all time), their stunning comeback “Surgical Steel” and the underloved but equally wonderful “Necroticism”. There is also really old nasty shit in the shape of ‘Genital Grinder’ and ‘Exhume to Consume‘, that remind us just how repugnant, gruesome and brilliantly antisocial they were when they first appeared on the scene thirty five years ago. We get no new stuff but are instead teased by Jeff that the album is ready and (in his words) is something very special. Words are not enough to describe how magical Carcass are tonight. Once again, they prove the power that Death Metal has to unite and to blast your cares away. Just don’t leave it so bloody long to come back.

After a day of heaviness and oddities, it makes sense for our headlines to be the carnival of the bizarre that is Slipknot. Still to this day, they remain one of the most violent, messed up and belligerent thing that metal has ever produced. Yet, they have managed to become a household name that can commend an audience of hundreds of thousands. There is something primal and untamed in all of us that is attracted to the vitriol and undiluted fury that lies at the heart of Slipknot. As 'People = Shit' kicks in, the place explodes in a tsunami of bodies. I have been going to gigs since 1986 but I have never ever seen anything like this, as the entire front section becomes a heaving boiling pot of thrashing limbs. We are talking from behind the mixing desk, all the way to the stage. It is not just that everyone is moving, it’s more than this. Everyone is slamming into each other, screaming “What are you goanna do, I’m not afraid of you”. The whole crowd has become one all-consuming mega pit while the chaos on the ground matches the chaos on stage. Clown, and whoever is now on left side percussion, cling to nests of steel cylinders perched on pillars high above the staff, whilst Cory prowls menacingly up and down the ramp, shadowed for most of the set by Sid (whose new mask and cloak makes him look like the wicked witch from Snow White). One of the most captivating thing about Slipknot live is that they all look like they are just about holding together when at any given moment the whole thing could spiral out of control.   

We get a relentless and pulverising performance. The energy never let’s up on stage, which means that for a full hour and half the crowd remains a frenzied mess of screaming and lashing humans. It is like one long primal scream, as seventy thousand people decide to let out simultaneously every frustration they have with modern life. This is not a gig anymore, this is the messiest most anarchist therapy session you have ever witnessed. 

The main set technically ends with 'Duality’, but they are so psyched up that they don’t even bother leaving the stage for a façade of an encore, instead crash straight in a stunning 'Spit It Out’I’ve seen Cory get a massive crowd to crouch down many a time now, but on each and every occasions it still gives me goosebumps. It is such a spectacle. 'Surfacing' ends the set as every Slipknot members are everywhere, on everything. Climbing, jumping, hitting, it is hard to keep up with them all but still utterly hypnotic to watch. They are then gone, leaving us all sore and opened mouth. I’ll tell you something though that bloody walk back feels a lot longer when every bit of your body aches. But tomorrow is another day….

By Stewart Lucas