Donington Park, UK9-11 June, 2017
By Mark Johnson
Download Festival is the UK’s largest dedicated rock and metal festival, located at Donington Park. The venue has a rich history in the UK’s music scene dating back to 1980 and over the years, the likes of AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses have all performed here. This year, System of a Down, Biffy Clyro and Aerosmith join the list of legendary names to have headlined this iconic venue. As well as rock and metal royalty, Download also welcomes a host of up and coming bands, making for a well balanced mix of new and old acts to enjoy across a huge, well organised event.
Australia’s Northlane open the main stage and their technically intricate instrumentation is a joy to watch. The talent across the band is clear as they work through tracks across their whole back catalogue but with a constant mid-tempo to their songs, the intricate nature of Northlane isn’t the best choice for a warm up act. The band remain largely static on stage and as a result, so does the crowd.
Holding Absence’s deeply emotional, engaging style is perfectly suited to small, intimate venues, so adapting to a large tent at a festival was always going to be a challenge. The band take a risk by opening with a slow tune, not something usually advised at a festival where holding the interest of fickle fans with plenty of choice is usually left to hard-hitting anthems. However, frontman Lucas Woodland wears his heart on his sleeve and as he feels every note, the emotion is written all over his face, keeping the bystanders firmly planted, transfixed on the stage. The band have power and real talent and with Woodland’s vocals sounding pristine throughout, they proudly leave the stage having pulled off a fantastic set that’s sure to have won them some new fans.
The first band of the day to truly embody the festival spirit are Issues who bring their most vibrant, up-tempo singalongs to the party. There’s not a stationary person left in the packed-out tent as Issues blast through favourites like “The Realist”, “Never Lose Your Flames” and “Hooligans” and whenever Tyler Carter takes a break from delivering his note-perfect vocals, the crowd are on hand to shout the words back at him. It’s a phenomenal performance from a band as heavy as they are accessible and the crowd leave with broad smiles and a spring in their step.
State Champs keep the party atmosphere flowing with a highly contagious set of pop-punk anthems. The band’s songs are perfect for jumping around and singing along to and the crowd are happy to oblige, helped in no small part by the band’s flawless execution and engaging stage presence.
The opening acts of Saturday morning are mainly hangovers and lethargy, but right behind them come Sweden’s Normandie who do a great job of waking the crowd and getting the blood moving. The band’s set is slick, perfectly executed and full of foot-tapping singalongs that help bring a warming atmosphere to start the second day. Vocalist Philip Strand belts out favourites like “Collide” and “Fight” as well as new single “Ghost” with note-perfect precision and the crowd sing them back to him with equal volume.
Irish duo Greywind are backed by a full band on stage but all are overshadowed by Steph O’Sullivan’s immaculate vocals. Greywind’s debut record Afterthoughts is packed with impressive arrangements and high notes that may seem unachievable live but Steph O’Sullivan performs every note to perfection and with a surprising amount of power. Unfortunately though her excellent voice is backed by tepid songs that coast along at a tempo that fails to inspire a drowsy Saturday morning crowd. There’s real talent in this duo but more engaging songs are needed to retain the interest of a festival crowd.
SikTh have made a triumphant return this year with recently released The Future In Whose Eyes? – their first full-length since 2006. The band hit the stage like they’ve never been away, the instrumentation as tight as it’s ever been despite the complexity of the band’s pioneering brand of technical metal. Dual vocalists Mikee Goodman and new addition Joe Rosser command the stage, doing a fantastic job of generating energy from the crowd as the band work through tracks across their whole catalogue. Former vocalist Justin Hill makes a surprise cameo on final track “Bland Street Bloom” and his presence is a great reminder of the history of this important band. It’s fantastic to see they’ve found a worthy replacement in Rosser because SikTh have still got plenty left to give and based on this performance there are plenty of people wanting to receive it.
There’s a lot about The One Hundred that shouldn’t work. Whether it’s the band’s Hawaiian shirt wardrobe selection, a mullet-wearing front-man in orange shorts and t-shirt with terribly cheesy dance moves, or the rapping and electronic beats over metal riffs – nothing seems right on paper. However, the charm of The One Hundred is that they couldn’t care less whether it fits or not, they’re just doing what comes naturally to them and on the stage, it really works. Vocalist Jacob Field does a great job getting the crowd moving and his swagger on stage, though seemingly out of place at first, adds to the attitude of their music, making for an enjoyable set.
If you like your music intense and emotionally charged then look no further than Casey. The Welsh melodic hardcore quintet carry so much passion that you lose any awareness of your surroundings, making it seem that despite the large circus-tent staging, you’re at an intimate show in a tiny room. This intensity mixed with the hugely atmospheric instrumentals and heartfelt vocals makes for a definite “you had to be there” moment for the weekend. For those present there was a mutual understanding that we’d all been witness to something very special indeed.
The ever reliable Every Time I Die tear up The Avalanche Stage with a hard-hitting, high octane performance. These guys know exactly how to stir up a crowd, charging left and right across the stage to generate as much energy as they can muster while
pummeling the crowd with track after track of heavy riffs and guttural screams.
Coheed and Cambria bring nostalgic vibes to the Zippo Encore stage with a full play-through of their third full-length ‘Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness’. Pockets of the crowd link arms and sing at the top of their lungs to one of the band’s finest records and it’s a joy to see how much fun the set brings. As everm Coheed and Cambria produce a flawlessly executed set, Claudio Sanchez sounding as good as he ever has and it’s great to hear a classic album unfold on stage.
Blood Youth are Sunday morning’s hangover cure and their raw power is just the tonic.
Ripping through a set full of high energy hardcore, the band are a perfect way to start the day and clear any lingering cobwebs.
Sunday at Download is often host to a plethora of classic rock bands and today is no
different with the likes of Fozzy, Orange Goblin and Airbourne on show. Fitting in with the style but with a personality all their own, Steel Panther produce one of the most amusing, entertaining and unique performances of the weekend. Even funnier than their obscene, sexually orientated lyrics is their on-stage banter and antics, reminding us how joyful music can be when it’s truly tongue-in-cheek. Despite all of the crazy antics of inviting women to flash their breasts and the provocative gyrating of the band members, at the heart of the band is still a fantastic core of classic rock that’s played remarkably well. With traditional lyrics, this band would be easily good enough to earn the same status as the classic rock heroes before them, but then that wouldn’t be Steel Panther and it wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining.
The weekend is brought to a close by the legendary Aerosmith and while they don’t look as energetic as they did in their prime, their music still sounds as fresh as ever. A video montage of the band’s colourful history precedes their walk onto stage, stoking the flames of nostalgia and after some choice hits of “Love in an Elevator”, “Living on the Edge” and “Cryin'”, it’s obvious how Aerosmith have managed to sustain a long career with such impressive songs in their arsenal. Mid-way through the set, the band take a tactical half-hour detour down a blues-rock avenue, which allows them to get their breath back with slower, country-tinged tracks that see Joe Perry reaching for an acoustic guitar and Steven Tyler jamming on a harmonica. It makes the middle of the set drag a little but it’s understandable why, with the majority of the band nearing 70, and in return the final stint of the set – and the whole weekend – gets a proper send off with a final flurry of energy and classic-rock brilliance. While Aerosmith will have played much better than this throughout their superb history, it’s still a pleasure witness them live and they deserve their place in the pantheon of rock.
Every year, Download Festival provides fans at the heavier end of the musical spectrum with a dedicated weekend of great bands and even better experiences, and 2017 has been no different. Having been an established festival since 2003, the organisation is second to none, leaving festival-goers free to enjoy themselves hassle-free. For the opportunity to see the biggest names in rock and metal in one place, there’s no festival that does it better than Download.