We were there last year for Download 2015. That’s right – the rainy one. We were in front of Priest when the skies opened and we kept the throttle jammed open until Slipknot had done their thing. We doubled back to the campsite through brand-new rivers and thousands upon thousands of bedraggled metal-heads then waited out that shitty night of torrential rain.
We thought we had seen the wettest Download there was likely to ever be. We were wrong. And by the morning of 13th June, the air would once again be filled with 80-odd thousand voices asking why God/Satan/Other had forsaken them in such a cruel and unusual manner!
Still, let’s rewind to the beginning and it was ironically as hot as hell on Thursday the 9th as we rolled into the Metal Meadow in my Brother’s black Dodge Challenger with 100 cans of cider, 5 bottles of Jagermeister and assorted other goodies stashed in the boot. So far, so good. Spirits were high and shirts were off and the ladies of the UK heavy metal community didn’t have a single droplet of mud splattered up their wet-look leggings.
Not yet anyway.
With a bit of time to spare early in the day, I found myself able to survey the land a bit before the big guns fired up. I walked across to the Zippo Encore stage and was immediately confronted by what appeared to be Russell Brand, singing in a bluesy yowl, while chucking out some Sabbath-tinged guitar stuff.
While I admit, I may have initially uttered something along the lines of, “Fuck off, posing rock toss-bag,” surprisingly, within a song and a half, I was fully on-board!
These boys come on like a British Soundgarden but with a cleaner, blues kinda feel. The Russell Brand dude [that’ll be the Joe Satriani approved Oli Brown – Ed] played one song using only his left hand to fret the notes on the guitar while clutching the mic with his right….that was cool. He then ended the set standing shakily atop the bass drum (luckily he was built like Brand too!). It worked. RavenEye won me over. Everyone was happy.
Despite the withering words of the indie metal press, there has been a fair bit of interest in this new project helmed by Austin Dickinson – AKA the fruit of Maiden front-legend Bruce Dickinson’s loins (maybe that should be As Loins then?). They don’t even have an album out yet and yet here they are making an appearance at Download; funny thing that, eh?
Cynicism, nepotism and several other ‘isms’ aside, As Lions, very much like young Dickinson’s previous band – Rise to Remain – purvey melodic heavy metal with a few angular edges that lend a slightly metalcore feel. His voice, as you’d expect, has been well schooled but his lyrics are pretty insipid. They’re a solid band with a couple of decent tunes and come over as fairly likeable, yet it’s almost as if they know they haven’t really earned the right to stand on that stage. Were it not for who their singer was, would they be there?
No way Pedro.
It was Babymetal who were the unfortunate recipients of Mother Nature’s opening salvo during the weekend. What initially looked like one of the predicted ‘showers’, quickly went apocalyptic to the point where I swear I saw some dude named Noah, hammering planks of wood together. Indeed, Babymetal’s kick off was delayed by 15 minutes while bemused Japanese people mopped down the front of the stage and threw plastic covers over amps. The rain drops were about the size of golf balls by the time the big screens on each side of the stage burst into life with a cute video about the ‘Fox God’ and the ‘legends of heavy metal’. Suddenly, we were off!
To all Babymetal’s naysayers, eat this: This band is fucking heavy. Yes, you heard me right. Manufactured and yet utterly anomalous they may be, but the chances are they kick more ass than the CD you have on your stereo right now. Or MP3 or whatever…
Opening with “Babymetal Death”, their act comes across on two levels. First, you have three girls deploying impressive harmonies at breakneck speed, interspersed with tight choreography and second you have an incredible display of musicianship by four masked men from the top-tier of technical ability. They ripped through “Gimme Chocolate!!”, igniting one of the most frenetic mosh pits of the weekend. That done, the girls swished off stage leaving their band to open “Megitsune” with an outrageous solo trade-off featuring the kind of bass playing you normally only hear coming out of Billy Sheehan’s home studio. Of course they dropped “Karate” on us and when they did it was almost big enough scare the rain into submission.
Almost, but not quite…
After a quick beer it was time to welcome Havok to the Dogtooth Stage and to the UK.
Timings had slipped a bit. We had to run. Actually, we had to sprint, like fuck, from the guest area to that little red tent on top of the hill just in time to see them hit the stage. As they ripped into “Point of No Return”, I am proud to report that Worship Metal initiated a pit of unholy fuck before Dave Sanchez even had time to request one!
Havok’s brand of Big 4-influenced, genetically engineered-thrash is at the very backbone of what modern metal is about. They are young, hungry and technically superb. You can tell they mean every beat, every note and every word. It was a short set – taking in “D.O.A.” (obviously) and “Claiming Certainty” before climaxing with “Give Me Liberty …. Or Give me Death” – but it sure was sweet. They band walked off to the sound of every person in that tent chanting their name. I left the tent with a burst nose and a massive cheesy grin. Fuck yeah, that’s living!
Friday afternoon belonged to Havok and while big business draws in more ‘rock’ bands to maximise ticket sales for festivals like Download, we must never forget the power of true metal to excite and unite an audience.
22 years on from their tearing up of the rule book and totally changing the definition of what metal could be, Korn still have the power to enthral. Most of all they have the power to make the average human dance/mosh/head-bang like no one is watching. Their appearance on Friday night, despite the worsening showers, was no exception.
Unlike some of their peers (I’m looking at you Deftones, more on them later) Korn dutifully gave the crowd enough of the tunes that put them where they are to satisfy everyone. They also delved into their mid-era material, playing “Somebody Someone”, “Did My Time”, “Hater” and “Y’All Want a Single?” alongside the compulsory “Freak On A Leash”, “Blind” et al.
Like fellow big-leaguers Metallica, Korn have come to realise how lucky they are and these days portray a sense of grounded contentedness and of pleasure and professionalism in everything they play. Korn were always tight, but this night they were positively machine-like with Jonathan Davis both looking and sounding healthier and happier than ever.
A quality performance from head to toe and one that may well have had Rammstein picking nervously at the labels on their beer bottles backstage!
Speaking of whom; few bands could have stepped up to Korn’s challenge with such cold, clinical assuredness as Rammstein, armed with 40 tonnes of explosives and an old lady costume. They cranked out a show filled with all the Teutonic haughtiness and unashamed eccentricity that we have come to expect from them. Till Lindeman held the crowd’s attention and enthusiasm in the face of endless sheets of rain – far better than some of the bigger bands who would follow him throughout the weekend – and highlights included an appropriately rousing “Reise, Reise”, “Du Hast” (naturally) and a nifty cover of Depeche Mode’s “Stripped”.
Visually the show felt a little restrained in comparison to previous tours. The word from hard-core fans in our campsite was they had been forced to tone down some of the pyrotechnic effects because of the nearby flight path into East Midlands Airport. Others claimed they had technical problems while a few dismissed the reconvened Germans as being “a bit lazy.”
Just goes to show, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!