Photo Credit: Tom Donno
Ah Download Festival. It’s all about The Mud, The Sweat, The Beers - and with the level of rain at this year’s event never has an idea rang so true. Most will have arrived in the blazing sunshine of Thursday, but by Friday afternoon all hell broke loose and Drownload was in full effect once again. This didn’t stop 2016 bringing the ruckus across the arena, as bands big and small did their part in helping people forget about the shitty weather and just have a good time. There were a few surprises along the way in a year which truly felt like it could be the start of the new guard taking over from the old. (Review written with support from Nick Spooner)
We kick things off on Friday then (obviously you moron) where the first act we checked out were the Swedish Rock N’ Roll band Royal Republic (8/13) who had been tasked with opening the Main Stage at the biggest Rock Festival in the UK. At this time in the day it was still a bit sunny which fitted perfectly with the general vibe they were generating on stage. They’re an interesting group whose chemistry with the crowd helped a huge amount on a stage which has often swallowed opening acts up before spitting them back in to obscurity. A fun enough opening act.
Up next we headed up to the Fourth Stage where an old favourite of ours at Room Thirteen were taking to the stage. In Search Of Sun (9/13) as a live band have improved with every single performance over the last few years and it was genuinely great to see them granted this opportunity on the hallowed Donington turf. The tent was busy, and this was before the first of many mega rain showers, which again clearly served as great motivation for a band who just tore in to their set without even a hint of hesitation. The guitar work on top of their general bounce served as an excellent warm up for the weekend for many only just drifting in to the arena.
As In Search Of Sun were going through the latter stages of their set, the threat of rain became very real. As downpours go, that Friday afternoon shower was like a shot of Absinthe on a night out, once it’s down the gullet, there’s absolutely no going back. This rain shower battered Donington to a point where for the rest of the weekend it could only spiral further out of control. The adverse weather conditions at this particular point meant that Babymetal (8/13) were forced to come on late with a reduced set time so that the stage itself could have all the water cleared. When Babymetal did finally hit the stage, despite the weather, the crowd was absolutely huge - a size arguably only rivalled by some of the bands towards the top of the bill. They rattled through with their now familiar level of chaos and weirdness but in comparison to previous festival sets we’ve caught them at, the interest was far more subdued.
Over on the Maverick Stage (Third Stage) one of the most exciting British bands on the whole line up were tearing the place apart. We had already been treated to some more up close and personal Heck (11/13) performances the week before at Camden Rocks Festival, and at Download we were able to catch them play a huge, packed out, tent and absolutely slam. With the fact that they have got such an excellent album in Instructions now in their arsenal, the overwhelming reaction when certain tracks were played showed clearly that the momentum for Heck is deservedly picking up. On this big stage the level of danger and unpredictability wasn’t lost, with the double whammy of Powerboat Disaster and The Great Hardcore Swindle at the end leaving the place applauding long after they’d gone.
Going back over to the Main Stage we seen probably one of our most disappointing performances of the weekend. Disappointing because we know that this band are capable of delivering so much more, and have done very recently. They were hampered somewhat by bad sound caused mainly by the weather conditions but Killswitch Engage (8/13), despite playing through some undeniably massive tunes, just didn’t quite hit the sweet spot this time round. Jesse Leach was probably the only exception to the rule here as his performance alone was absolutely phenomenal despite all the reports that he’s currently suffering from throat issues. The run of hits at the end of the set did save it somewhat, but for the most part there was a generally ‘uninterested’ feel in the air.
After Killswitch we headed over to the Second Stage (or Zippo Encore) for the first time this weekend to check out Glassjaw (10/13). We noted in our preview features that with a band like Glassjaw there was a natural concern for the sound, etc. on such a big stage, especially in those conditions. Well any concern or pessimism was brushed aside quicker than a hiccup as they sounded absolutely massive. The crowd size for them was pitiful, which did affect the band’s interaction somewhat, but as far as the actual music was concerned they showed exactly why they’re often considered one of the most underrated bands in heavy music.
Returning back to the Main Stage we watched a band who have been on a phenomenal run of form live in the last few years. The anticipation for Korn (12/13) was absolutely huge at Download this year, mainly due to this amazing run of form they’ve been on recently, but also because of the level of history this band has at Donington. As they tore in to their set they just blitzed through hit after hit after hit all whilst sounding absolutely gargantuan. The rain really came down during their set but it didn’t stop everyone having a great time, because let’s face it when you’re able to casually drop Blind halfway through the set how can you not expect to see everyone lose their minds? In this kind of form, and with the kind of crowd reaction they were able to generate, Korn seriously staked their claim for one of the performances of the weekend.
Just before heading over to check out tonight’s headliners we caught some of the Gutterdammerung (5/13) show on the Maverick Stage. The basic concept of this was a silent film featuring a host of legends including Lemmy, Iggy Pop, Josh Homme and more with a band on stage playing music to accompany. We didn’t know too much about this going in, and there was a lot of speculation as to what exactly it was going to involve, but to have a band basically play cover songs to some visuals (as cool as some of these were) was unbelievably disappointing. Save this kind of stuff for the Village entertainment, not headlining the Third Stage - a slot a lot of bands would have relished in grasping the opportunity to make their own impact.
Rammstein. Photo Credit: Tom Donno
Last but by no means least we had Friday’s headliners in the mighty German Industrial machine that are Rammstein (12/13). Let’s just say that right off the bat, this is a review being written after all three days have been played out, and to say that Rammstein blew the other two headliners off the stage at Download this year would be a gross understatement. As a spectacle Rammstein never fail to deliver, and opening with a new track Ramm 4 where the band systematically list through all of the tracks they’ve written alongside riffs as a call back to some of them, it was already a show you couldn’t take your eyes off. The simple chorus line of “JA, NEIN, RAMMSTEIN” echoed throughout the arena even as they threw themselves in to the next couple of tracks. The set was hampered somewhat by sound issues, which we’ve learnt since were directly caused by the weather (unfortunately won’t be last time we mention it), something which we found especially prevalent during Ich Will where for a lot of it you could audibly hear the speakers straining and crackling away. One of the real highlights from the show actually came from the acoustic Ohne Dich towards the end of the set where the band all sat together in a group on the edge of the stage whilst Till stood over them singing like an old school bandleader. They genuinely looked to be having a great time, joking and jamming along together before returning to the grander spectacle of Engel as a set closer. Yes there were sound issues, and some big tracks missing, but this was still frankly a brilliant performance.
Photo Credit: Tom Donno