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I got to the arena just in time to see the second half of CKY’s (3) set. They were just ripping into ‘Flesh Into Gear’, seemingly intent on playing only songs that they will have been remembered for back in their ‘glory’ days, following up with their most famous number, ’96 Quite Bitter Beings’ which went down a treat with the core of fans gathered around the front of the main stage. They then ended their set with a double hit of ‘Inhuman Creation Station’ and ‘Escape From Hellview’ from the band’s best known album, ‘Infiltrate. Destroy. Rebuild.’ The overall impression was that whilst this was a strong opening to Download, it was let down by a crowd that, other than the core at the front, seemed rather uninterested in the band. Next up was PUDDLE OF MUDD (3) who seemed to fare better in the crowd support section. Opening with a bang with ‘Out of My Head’ and ‘Control’ they seemed to have their audience much more involved in the festivities they were providing. They kept the crowd’s attention through their set and finally got everyone singing when they unveiled a brilliant cover of AC/DC’s ‘T.N.T’ before closing their set with one of their better known songs, ‘She Hates Me’. The third band up for me was YOUNG GUNS (1) on the second stage who, despite having a couple of songs the crowd seemed partially familiar with, came off as bland and very predictable; the only refuge from this being closing song ‘Weight of the World’ which still remains their best. Overall though, this was a quite boring set, which was disappointing as I at one point expected this band to get only better – it felt like they’ve done only the opposite in the couple of years since I first made that prediction.
Next up was a trip to the main stage, where I was in for a treat with three great bands up in a row. Firstly was BLACK STONE CHERRY (4) who stuck one of their anthems, the fantastic ‘Blind Man’ into the first two songs of the set, and carried on from there, unfurling great song after great song at their audience. BSC classic ‘Rain Wizard’ along with newbies ‘Blame it On the Boom-Boom’ and ‘White-Trash Millionaire’ all went down a treat with the crowd, and they only topped that when they got the biggest sing-along of the day in their closer, ‘Lonely Train’ from their self-titled debut album. THIN LIZZY (4) were next and they were just as good, if not better than BSC, filling their sets with such classics as ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Rosalie’, ‘Black Rose’ and their most well-known songs, ‘Whiskey In the Jar’ and ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ which both got mass sing-alongs, orchestrated by new lead vocalist Ricky Warwick, who seemed to be well-received by the band’s core fans. ALTER BRIDGE (4) were next up, once again proving why they are about to embark on an arena tour in November. They opened with just lead vocalist Myles Kennedy (who I believe to be the best singer in the world right now) on stage alone, singing the intro of ‘Slip to the Void’ from latest effort ‘AB III’. They chose to do their most anthemic numbers for this set, including ‘Metalingus’, ‘Come to Life’ and ‘Ties that Bind’, before ending with what seems to have become their regular set closer, ‘Rise Today’, sending the crowd mental and begging for more Alter Bridge, which they will get in November!
Next I saw the first half of THE DARKNESS’s (1) set, which started off well, with lead singer Justin Hawkins proving he still has a fantastic voice, but quickly descended into another bland performance. Even after half an hour of the set, it still felt like the first song – such is the band’s repetitiveness in a live arena. I arrived at the second stage in time to see an hour of KORN’s (3) set, who were impressive, playing what was essentially a greatest hits set with a few classics thrown in for good measure. A great line up of tunes came to follow with a compilation of ‘Coming Undone’, Queens’ ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Twisted Transistor’, ‘Make Me Bad’ ‘Thoughtless’, ‘Did My Time’ and ‘Clown’, before they sent it home with a full rendition of ‘Y’all Want A Single’.
The entertainment for the night was closed out by DEF LEPPARD (5) who played a set that can only be described as magical. The whole crowd was captured by just how amazing this band still are, singing the words to all 19 songs that the band chose to perform, which, among other memorable moments, included a 2 song acoustic set comprising of ‘Two Steps Behind’ and ‘Bringin’ On the Heartbreak’, an encore of ‘When Love and Hate Collide’ and ‘Wasted’, and an awe- inspiring speech from Joe Elliot about drummer Rick Allen’s losing of his arm and return to Donington Park for his first gig since, which was given despite Elliot’s fears of ‘repeating himself from two years ago’. All I could think of to describe the moment was that it was even more amazing the second time round, just as this band’s whole Download headline appearance was.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (1) and ALL THAT REMAINS (2) opened Saturday’s proceedings. Both bands play a heavy style, with DWP leaning towards the more ‘scene kid friendly’ of the two. Not only do they pander towards the ‘scene-kid’ crowd these days, their set has suffered immensely, unlike three years ago, when they were a lot more energetic and exciting to watch. ATR were also rather bland, but their set was saved by the fact that they have a couple of great sing-along anthems that got the crowd into them; ‘Two Weeks’ and ‘This Calling’ being the highlights of their set. The first real energy of the day was seen with ESCAPE THE FATE (4) who from their opener, ‘Massacre’, injected new life into Donington and kept it going by breaking out ‘Ten Miles Wide’, ‘Issues’, ‘Day of Wreckoning’ and ‘Gorgeous Nightmare’ from last year’s self-titled effort. They close things with ‘This War is Ours’ and ‘The Aftermath’ which comprise parts two and three of their ‘The Guillotine’ trilogy. The most impressive thing about this set though is the fact that they went down so well with their audience, despite not performing any songs from their days with Ronnie Radke as frontman, showing that band and fans alike have moved on from that tainted stage of their career. I saw ROCK SUGAR (4) next, who seem to have amassed a healthy cult following in the twelve months since I last saw them blow away a Download crowd – more than double the number of people watching this year. Their blending of different songs is still completely fresh and original from a rock and metal standpoint and gained sing-alongs every time they broke into a number, even on the ‘old new song’ they performed for the first time to a UK crowd. They topped things off with what they claimed was the photo shoot for their new album, posing in front of the crowd, leaving everyone feeling like they had been involved in something special.
HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD (4) were next up. Opening with ‘Undead’, they kept the party vibe going in their 40 minute set, proving to be the highlight among the afternoon bands and new singer Danny was comfortably fitting in with the other five members of the band. They closed things out with the first single from their second album ‘American Tragedy’, ‘Hear Me Now’, leaving the crowd still feeling the aftershock of the party-vibe they had injected into the arena. Next, I witnessed a great little acoustic set from BOWLING FOR SOUP (4) which will be remembered more for the banter between band and crowd, and the multiple mid-song drinking breaks, than the songs themselves. Jaret and Erik were intent on making the crowd laugh, which they did. Later on, I made my way to the Pepsi Max stage to catch SEVENDUST (3). They played an energetic set from the word go and from opener ‘Splinter’ to closer ‘Face to Face’, they were intent on getting their crowd to enjoy themselves whether they were familiar with the songs or not. AVENGED SEVENFOLD (4) were a notch above though, I arrived just as they started ‘Afterlife’ and, even though I had hoped to see Twisted Sister, was not left regretting my decision as Sevenfold played an energetic set that was filled with crowd pleasers; the highlight of which being when they dedicated ‘A Little Piece Of Heaven’ to former, and now deceased, drummer Jimmy Sullivan wanting to ‘keep the mood up’, before closing with another crowd pleaser in ‘Unholy Confessions’ and ’Save Me’, the final track from their latest album ‘Nightmare’. Finally, it was time for headliners SYSTEM OF A DOWN (4) who opened with ‘Prison Song’, immediately sending the whole crowd mental with a 27 song set that had mosh pits and bodies moving the whole time. The only small let-down that left this set from being a ‘5-star classic’ was the leaving out of ‘Violent Pornography’, one of their more widely known, and better, songs. However, the overall feeling after their set was that the audience had just been to a huge party, feeling the effects well into Sunday morning.
I was up early on Sunday morning as I wanted to catch SUICIDE SILENCE’s (3) set. Despite all of their songs sounding very similar to each other, they played a set that was brutal enough to cure most hangovers, whilst incorporating enough mind-blowing sub-drops to bring them back again. In comparison, YASHIN (1), who were second up on the second stage, did well not to put everyone back to sleep again – the most likely reason nobody actually did go back to sleep is that the rain had started falling constantly during their repetitive and really quite boring set which would have been so much better had they included their cover of ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears. The fact they didn’t left closer ‘Get Loose’ as the only real stand out moment of their set, other than the rain, of course. I went to hide in the Pepsi Max tent while I waited for another band to take main stage and was very pleasantly surprised by TRUCKER DIABLO (3), finding their Southern American style slice of rock ‘n’ roll pie to be the perfect solace for the rain, which had hit quite hard out of nowhere.
I then made my way back to the main stage for MADINA LAKE (3), who were another pleasant surprise, despite sounding fairly flat at first, slightly killing opener ‘Let’s Get Outta Here’. However, when they had warmed up, they sounded great and played songs from their first two albums, highlights being ‘House of Cards’ and, even more so, ‘Here I Stand’ before treating the crowd to a new song, which sounded great and ending their time with a rendition of ‘True Love’. Next was the full band set of the weekend for BOWLING FOR SOUP (4) who were even better than on their acoustic set the previous day. They played a set full of anthems, which included ‘The Bitch Song’, ‘Almost’, ‘My Weiner’, ‘1985’ and of course, ‘Girl All the Bad Guys Want’ (Jaret even went as far to claim it was ‘the greatest song ever written…’). Despite all the BFS classics on display, the highlight of the set came when Jaret requested an inflatable penis was passed onto the stage and placed in the anus of one of the band’s inflatable sheep, deflating it in the process. Jaret claims that the sight of ‘the sheep laying there dying while the penis is laying on the floor [being] the story of [my] high school career’, which just about sums up the BFS experience – it may not be clever, but it sure is genius. I was at the second stage next for GWAR (3) who, despite not actually being very good musically, kept the crowd’s attention by ripping off Osama Bin Laden’s head, tearing the breasts from the Queen of England and by having multiple ‘fights’ with robots and other monsters, all of which resulted in the first few rows of the audience being showered in (hopefully) fake blood. TURISAS (3) were a bit more focused on their music than their stage show, but with the quality of songs they have, they didn’t need a stage show to make this an enjoyable set – not that it stopped them, having dressed up in Viking battle gear as usual! The highlight came during the chant war between the two sides of the the audience during their cover of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’ (which by the way sounds better when performed by Turisas), as well as lead vocalist Mathias “Warlord” Nygård claiming that in every country they visit they try local beer, which led to him insisting on referring to Donington as Denmark, as the band were drinking Tuborg. BUCKCHERRY (2) sounded good at first, playing Rescue Me and All Night Long second and third in the set, getting the crowd singing along early, but their set faltered from there and seemed to drag along, before being partially rescued by their closer, the forever great ‘Crazy Bitch’. BLACK VEIL BRIDES (4) were the best band of the day up to that point when they left the stage, as from opener ‘Love Isn’t Always Fair’ until closing number ‘Fallen Angels’ they had the crowd that had turned out to see them enthralled, even with the new material from then-unreleased album ‘Set The World On Fire’. The performance, along with the personal introduction from Download promoter Andy Copping, served to show the audience, and the world, that BVB may well be the next big thing – and deservedly so. My final main stage band of the day was BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE (4) who were great as usual, providing just over an hour of sing-alongs and circle pits for a very willing audience, beginning and ending with songs from last year’s ‘Fever’. ‘Your Betrayal’ at the start and ‘Alone’ wrapping things up, they had the whole crowd in the palms of their hands, just as they did last year and throughout their recent arena tour.
The final act of my weekend was ROB ZOMBIE (5) who was nothing short of phenomenal, emerging from a giant robot to the first song of his latest album ‘Hellbilly Deluxe 2’, ‘Jesus Frankenstein’. He provided another great stage show, which will surely keep his stage show battle of sorts with Alice Cooper alive and well. Of course, it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t have the songs to do it, or the band to play them, and he does. John 5, formerly of Marilyn Manson on lead guitar, Piggy D, formerly of Wednesday 13 on Bass and Ginger Fish, also formerly of Marilyn Manson fame, on drums played Zombie’s songs perfectly, with the video screens behind them flashing up lyrics which helped even members of the crowd that didn’t know his songs get involved. Zombie performed many of his classics, including ‘Superbeast’, ‘Living Dead Girl’ and ‘Never Gonna Stop’, as well as newer crowd pleaser ‘Sick BubbleGum’ seamlessly, as well as throwing in a few White Zombie classics, ‘More Human and Human’, ‘Super-Charger Heaven’ and ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ just for older Zombie fans. John 5 also performed a great solo to plenty of support and applause from the audience, and it was all topped off by the band returning for an encore, complete with Rob on top of a giant robot podium, leading the crowd in a stunning rendition of his classic ‘Dragula’ to send everybody home (or back to their tents) amazed, having witnessed what must surely go down as one of the classic performances in Download Festival history. Overall a fun weekend, even if hampered by the bad weather, that left everyone excited for next year!