Sunday 11th June 2017 review only.

Download is always a marmite festival for me, it either has loads on offer to draw my interest, or it is a weekend, I will happily swerve at a blink of an eye. While this year has intermittent gems dotted throughout the 3 days, I couldn’t pass by the opportunity to witness the thrash behemoth, and true god fathers, that are SLAYER.

So, I arrive on site, after a trek from the car park, which seems to get longer with each year I attend the unofficial Mecca, of Rock and Metal, and truly hallowed ground, Donington Park.

Once through the gates, a massive steel sculpture of the download dog meets you, piercing through to your very soul with its red laser pupils, which seem to be fixated on you, whichever corner of the field you decide to park yourself on.

First off, it’s the important task of securing the merch, so I make my way to the second stage merch stand, only to be completely gutted to be told that the slayer shirt I had my eye on, only had ladies’ shirts and smalls left, I quickly decline as I would have more chance of completing an iron man, than model a small. It does beg the question as to why bands insist on bringing merch and selling it, before the actual day that they are playing, and therefore disappointing the fans who have purchased a ticket for that specific day.

I then decide to get an understanding of the layout of the site, so I go for a wander before my first target, In Flames are due on, and make my way around the perimeter and come across the main stage, where Cadillac 3 are rocking on the colossal structure, which is flanked by sculptures of matching totem pole type towers, adorned at the top by another rendition of the download dog. I decide to stop and check them out just as they have finished a song in order for frontman Jaren Johnston to chat to the relatively impressive crowd, considering the time of day. They then launch into another tune which is delivered well with a certain bluesy country rocky feel. A couple more and they then self-declare that they are the only red necks at Donington today, with that, I decide to make my way over to the second stage so that I can get a feel for it and potentially scope out a prime vantage point for the bands of real interest later in the day.

The second stage,  is tucked away and has a barrier separating the first section of the crowd, from the larger section behind it. As I approach, there is a band on stage playing a relatively upbeat sludge style, and while there is no back drop for them, I quickly consult my grid to try and work out who they are, and just as I have decided it must be Red Fang, the band conveniently announce that their banner has fallen down, and they are indeed, Red fang – cheers guys. I inadvertently stop until the end of their set, and while I am not a massive fan of sludge, I find myself quite enjoying their set and make a mental note that, while I wouldn’t necessarily check them out at one of their own gigs, Id happily give them another go if they were supporting a band Id got a ticket for, or even if they sprung up at another festival.

So, my first real choice for the day has reared its head, 2 bands I’m keen to check out, Devil Driver on the second stage and In Flames on the main stage, and with a slight stagger in start and finish times (Devil Driver starting before In Flames, but In Flames finishing after Devil Driver), I decide to set up camp on the spot I’m stood, to wait the relatively short 25 minutes until Dez Fafara et al take to the stage.

The crowd has now visually swelled and is a respectable size for when the Californian quintet unleash their heavy brand of groove upon the gathered masses, who seem to be lapping up every note blasting from the impressive speaker stacks. They open their set with a formidable “End Of The Line”, quickly followed by a particularly heavy rendition of “Not All Who Wander Are Lost”, and just don’t seem to let up through their brief 7 song set, until the last chords of “Meet The Wretched” reverberate through the crowd.

I quickly make my way over to the main stage to catch as much of In Flames as I can and I find a pitch, stage right, just as they launch into “Paralyzed”. The massive back drop on the stage means there is no denying who is dealing out the near perfect example of how to mix melody with massively crushing guitars, drums, and bass in equal amounts. While In Flames are now in their 27th year, the quartet sound as vital and relevant, as the day they emerged from Gothenburg. The band then swiftly unleash “Cloud Connected” and “The End” onto the crowd below, and then tie their set off nicely with a fantastic “Take This Life”. Simply put, we need more In Flames !!

It’s another sprint up the hill to catch the start of Anathema, who I was keen to grab a slice of today, I just hoped they wouldn’t lose me at all as I haven’t had chance to pick up their new album yet. I arrive just as they are taking to the stage and I luckily find a spot against the barrier, prime spot to witness this British rock band, hopefully at their best. Vincent Cavanagh then quickly declares his dislike for the conservatives (really is there any need to bring politics to the party, whatever your views) and the band kick into “Leaving It Behind” from the latest opus “The Optimist”. Anathema are technically brilliant today, and I think the sound guys must have played a part in the flawless sound which the band are treating the crowd to today. From my vantage point, the crowd seems to have thinned a little, which a bit disappointing, as I think they could have gained some new fans from their performance in this field, today.

Now I have a dilemma. As much as Airbourne are taking to the stage earlier than Ministry and Devil skin, I am keen to catch all 3, so I decide to make another journey to the main stage to catch the first half of Airbourne, and then decide ref Ministry and Devil skin once I’ve had my fill of Joel and his fellow Aussies.

I take up a vantage point on the other side of the walkway which is protruding from the main stage infrastructure and the band emerge bang on time. The band jump head first into “Ready To Rock” followed closely by “Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast” Technically the band are point on form with their fast-paced rock. Joel then has a wander out down the ramp, straight down the middle of the crowd, and slams down his mike stand so he is now camped out with the people. Another 2 – and I must, with a slight disappointment, leave the rockers to it and make my way back up the hill, en route, I decide to stop by the tent, for the first time today, to check out Devil Skin, as they have been highly recommended, I’ll give them a few songs and then move over to the second stage for the industrial legends, Ministry

As I approach the tent, I can just see a wall of black shirts and long hair, surely the tent can’t be packed out with 2 other decent bands on the other 2 main stages? Or am I truly underestimating this band which until the last month or 2, have been unknown to my world. Nope, I’m not seeing things, the tent is over flowing and the band are well underway. I see an opening down the front of the tent and slide my way in to the front corner of the tent. The crowd is rocking, the band is rocking, and everyone seems to be going mental for it. The sound isn’t overly great and is very patchy, not sure if that’s down to my position, but no one else seems to mind.

The crowd on the second stage seems to have grown by some size for the legends Ministry and they take to the stage and launch straight into “Psalm 69”, closely followed by “Punch In The Face” and a new offering “Antifa”. Al stalks the stage with some charismatic frontman ship, at times, looking a little confused. Al’s statements to the crowd are probably the most confusing of the weekend, as he is introducing the new song “Atifa”, he encourages the crowd to throw stuff at him if they don’t like it, and then as a prelude to walking off stage post set, he declares Mary-F””*ing-Poppins !! Hmm, strange

I have a slight break in proceedings as Steel Panther and Clutch, absolutely do nothing for me I’m afraid, Opeth on the other hand, I feel like I should enjoy but they have never clicked with me in all the 8 times I have seen them live, apart from once, at Bloodstock, as the sun was going down, and then they really clicked. Anyway, let’s give them another shot, and once again, I manage to secure a spot against the barrier. Mikael Akerfeldt takes to the stage under a simple Opeth symbol back drop and flanked by the rest of the band, and they launch into “Sorceress” followed by “Ghost Of Perdition”. While I find the heavier elements of Opeth’s work mesmerising, I still can’t get into the more enchanting fragments. They continue with “Cusp Of Eternity”, “Era” and finish their time on stage with “Deliverance” and then they clear stage for my main event, Slayer !!!

I’m keen to grab some of Alter Bridge’s set again as I was really impressed last time I saw them, so have a wander down to find them finishing “Ties That Bind” and jumping head first into “Crows On A Wire”. They truly are technically brilliant, and Myles Kennedy is a captivating front man. The crowd down on the main stage is now colossal and I’m sure it won’t be that long before we see Alter Bridge headline Download. Massive riffs and a captivating voice combine flawlessly to keep the crowd in the palm of their hands, and I think they have warmed the crowd up nicely for the legends that are to follow them, Aerosmith.

So, I’m back at the second stage, centre stage, about 6 rows back and I’m faced with a back drop which covers the whole of the back of the stage, depicting the cover of the latest Slayer album “Repentless” which is now in a sinister black and white. The opening bars of “delusions of saviour” pound out of the speakers and the crowds’ intensity and volume are cranked up to 11. Tom, Kerry, and Gary stride out onto stage while Paul takes his place behind the impressive drum kit, risen off the ground, and they pounce into a blistering rendition of “Repentless”. The crowd goes rabid. While Tom stands and almost delivers a sermon-esque performance to his congregation standing before him. Kerry and Gary tie it all together with amazing fret work and solos a plenty.  A massive pit then opens to my left and this kicks dust and heat up, as bodies are flying to the floor, each one being picked up by at least 3 “friends” before they can get acquainted with the earth.  Tom then addresses the crowd in his infamous soft tone, which is hard to believe, is coming from the same pipes which seem to growl and scream straight from hell, when needed within the anthemic masterpieces, we all know and love. Tom thanks everyone for coming to this side of the park, which is met with one of the biggest cheers of the day, before they launch straight back into one of the best sets I’ve heard in the 36 times I been lucky enough to witness Slayer live, and one of the biggest pits I’ve seen in a long time. This just so happens to be to my right, so I am now flanked by 2 massive, demented mosh pits and I love it !!  All the classics are here “Disciple”, “Mandatory Suicide”, “War Ensemble”, “Post Mortem”, “Dead Skin Mask”, “Hate Worldwide” and “Seasons In The Abyss”, and they have mixed these up with absolute masterpieces “Fight Til Death”, Captor Of Sin”, Born Of Fire”. They then finish the set off in the best way possible – “South of Heaven”, “Raining Blood”, “Chemical Warfare” and “Angel Of Death”.  AS Slayer exit the stage, people are left battered and bruised – whether this be physically or just aurally, But Wow – Just Wow !!!

Aerosmith take to the stage, 20 minutes late, and to a barrage of intro tapes, but no one seems to care as these are true legends standing before us, and with nearly 40 years in the business, and Steven Tyler being 69 years young, all eyes at download are firmly fixed on the main stage, and there is a true anticipation in the air, for a true rock and roll party. The quintet look at home on the big stage and every move looks effortless, and they don’t disappoint the crowd below, as they pelt out classic after classic, “Cryin”, “Livin On The Edge”, Love In An Elevator”, Janie’s Got A Gun”, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”, “Rag Doll” and “Dude Looks Like A Lady” to name but a few. They even have time to throw in a few covers, a double whammy from Fleetwood Mac, “Stop Messin Around” and “Oh Well”, and a James Brown cover “Mother Popcorn”, as well as an outstanding cover of The Beatles song “Come Together”. They then tie the whole evening off with a flawless “Walk This Way”. Rock and Roll !!

(Review and photos Phil Pountney)