Saturday, July 13, 2024

From Metallica to Slipknot: Highlights from Download Festival 2023

For its 20th anniversary, Download Festival needed to up the ante and extend the event by an additional day for a four-day extravaganza. The lineup boasted Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot, and two Metallica performances as headliners. It’s no surprise that tickets sold out in record time, resulting in a jam-packed weekend full of dust, long lines, sunburns, but most importantly – unforgettable music.

On Wednesday, there were numerous accounts of traffic jams lasting 7-8 hours just to get into the car park. The West car park had already reached maximum capacity by noon that day. By Thursday, most campsites were completely occupied at this point. Jess Bland, out RAMzine writer who attended the event, was in the access camp. Despite opening two additional access campsites, they were informed that their designated site was full and it took several hours for staff to rearrange tents and remove gazebos in order to accommodate them and others waiting in line.

Regrettably, we were unable to catch the majority of Thursday’s performances due to the unforeseen circumstances. However, after resolving the campsite situation, we ventured towards the Opus stage where Skindred was set to perform as a last-minute replacement for Five Finger Death Punch. Even if one may have been disappointed by FFDP’s absence, it was difficult not to revel in Skindred’s performance. The band’s frontman Benji Webbe exuded an innate talent for captivating audiences with his abundant charisma and wardrobe changes that included various pairs of stylish sunglasses.

There is never a silent transition between songs, as Webbe either performs a sketch, 80s synth on his keytar or warms the crowd up with lyrics for the next track. Even when telling a heartfelt story about his parents passing from a young age, he turns it into an inspirational message to not let anyone get you down, before playing ‘Kill The Power’.

If you want to keep your hands down you’ve come to the wrong place, as you’ll be encouraged to put up your fists, rockers, peace signs, claws, and even wave like the queen (RIP). ‘Nobody’ goes as hard as you’d expect, and the set ends with much anticipated ‘Warning’ featuring Lzzy Hale from Halestorm, with people swinging their t-shirts in the first five seconds for the iconic ‘Newport Helicopter’. At one point Webbe exclaims “Come with Skindread and leave your troubles behind”, and that’s exactly what it feels like, forgetting the chaos of the morning and starting the weekend on a high.

One act that we were not able to catch, though were able to speak with after their performance was Cherry Bombs (see interview here). This group of fierce female performers is breaking barriers as the first of its kind to grace a Download Stage. Their show features an array of impressive acts including dance, aerial performances, and fire displays.

Metallica took the stage for their ninth headlining performance at Download Festival on Thursday. As soon as you hear ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ an AC/DC song you knew they are on their way, but he crowd erupted in excitement when they played Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Ecstasy of Gold,’ humming along in unison. Their first set of the weekend included fan favorites like ‘Seek & Destroy,’ ‘Nothing Else Matters,’ and ‘Fuel.’ They kicked off with ‘Creeping Death’ and closed with the classic hit, ‘Master of Puppets.’ Fans couldn’t get enough of frontman James’ banter with drummer Lars. While we know that one day Metallica won’t be playing at Download Festival anymore, this 20th anniversary will always be remembered as the year they graced us with two unforgettable performances.

Metallica | Photo by Todd Owy

Friday rolled around and British duo Nova Twins were the second act to perform on the main Apex Stage, with tracks that dip into grunge rock, rap and metal. Matching blue outfits complement the smooth bass lines of Georgia South and the heavy, catchy guitar riffs of Amy Love in perfect harmony. The duo have an irresistible presence that oozes confidence and their talent is definitely big enough for the main stage.

Next were British power-pop band Hot Milk. Guitarist and vocalist Han Mee is a powerhouse of energy, running up and down the main stage while managing to pull off her pop-punk-esque vocals. Mee has an energy similar to Yungblud in both confidence and charm, plus the heavy northern accent. “I don’t like violence but I wanna see you move” shouts Mee before playing pop-rock ‘Candy Coated Lie$,’ and I can respect the anti-violence messaging. The band are clearly proud of their roots, shouting “0161 Manny on the map” as they exit stage.

Continuing the pop-punk vibe are leaders in the scene Neck Deep, hailing from Wrexham. The set starts strong with ‘Motion Sickness’, ‘Lowlife’ and ‘Kali Ma’, as vocalist Ben Barlow displays energetic, slightly abstract dancing, and the crowd is equally as hype. Barlow “accepts all forms of moshing”, including two-step, crowd surfing or an “old-fashioned push pit”, but demands a circle pit for fast-paced STFU, and the crowd obeys. Hearing Barlow’s mismatched Welsh accent is always amusing, and he uses his time on stage to “get a bit political”, dismissing the evil money-hungry corporations that we all hate and affirming that we’re “better than the CEO c*nts in their offices”, who hopefully weren’t in the crowd with it being a Friday.

Over on the Avalanche Stage, Liverpool-based British indie rock band Crawlers enter to Charli XCX’s ‘Vroom Vroom’. Although the band play grungey indie rock, frontwoman Holly Minto isn’t afraid to demand a pit to ‘Too Soon’stop taking it so seriously!” she yells. Crawlers’ strength lies in their powerful hard hitting-lyrics that speak for a younger generation, and Minto’s low, raspy vocals deliver them well. This is the band’s first Download, and Minto compares their appearance to “when Katy Perry did Warped Tour”, before playing a special ‘metal version’ of viral hit ‘Come Over (Again)’. While their music is softer than other performers, they’re certainly not out of place, the crowd welcomes them to the Download family with open arms.

Back out into the sunshine for Australian electronic rock band Pendulum. Opening with ‘Driver’ and straight into ‘Propane Nightmares’, it’s not long before the pits open. A band that can play both Creamfields and Download is definitely unique, and Pendulum are just an undeniably fun act to see live. Matt Tuck from Bullet for My Valentine joins to perform ‘Halo’, which is an incredible moment, before ending with ‘Watercolour’, although ‘Tarantula’ is noticeably missing from the setlist. 

British metalcore band Architects open with heavy track ‘Nihilist’, appeasing fans of their older work, before going into ‘Black Lungs’ and ‘Giving Blood’. Vocalist Sam Carter explains the bottle of tequila in his hand is because he’s “sh*tting himself”, seeming genuinely humbled and surprised by their late slot on the main stage, despite the band being giants in their genre. Carter talks fondly about his relationship with Bring Me The Horizon, and hopes that everyone appreciates his “sparkly-f*cking-arse trousers”, which we do. Crowd surfing is encouraged for ‘Impermenance’, and continues with tracks from their new album including ‘A New Moral Low Ground’ and ‘When We Were Young’. Sadly their set had to be cut two songs short due to Pendulum running over their set time.

It was almost impossible to get anywhere near Evanescence for their headline slot on the Opus stage with the crowds this year, and it’s clear they should’ve been on the main stage. Nevertheless, they packed an incredible twenty two songs into their set, with many featuring only a chorus and/or verse to efficiently play all the hits alongside newer material. ‘Haunted’, ‘My Last Breath’, ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Everybody’s Fool’, ‘Weight of the World’ and ‘Whisper’ are all seamlessly blended into a medley, before ending with ‘My Immortal’ and ‘Bring Me To Life’. Amy Lee’s vocals are nothing short of legendary, and hearing them live is a testament to her insane talent.

Headliners Bring Me The Horizon tease the start of their set with AI character ‘Evel’, introducing the ‘NeX GEn research programme’, a reference to the band’s upcoming album. All across the grounds you can see posters and adverts on the big screen teasing the ‘Church of NeX GEn’, turning the entire festival into a part of the world they’ve created. The set starts with newest single ‘Amen’, a release which reassures fans that the band haven’t lost their heaviness. With a giant skeletal microphone stand described as a mix of a bird, goat and a snake, the stage is set up as a burning church, and it’s a truly epic start to the performance.

Bring Me The Horizon | Photo by Andrew Whitton

“Pit” barks frontman Oli Sykes, “real, Northern metal f*cking pit- that is embarrassing.” If you’ve been to a Bring Me show before you’ll be expecting the famous ‘push it back’, and this one is particularly creative – “come on you little f*cking p*ssy holes- pull the tampon out!” Following with ‘Teardrops’, ‘House of Wolves’, ‘MANTRA’ and ‘Shadow Moses’, the setlist flips between the best of their past four albums. Nova Twins join for 1×1, before newer single ‘LosT’, which leans slightly into pop-punk but is received just as well.

Amy Lee joins for her feature on ‘One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will Be in Your Chest as You March Towards Your Death’, which is the first time she has performed the track live. Lee also fills Grimes’ parts in ‘Nihilist Blues’, which sounds just as beautiful as you’d expect. 

Bring Me The Horizon | Photo by Andrew Whitton

“If you’re not moving to this you’re a special kind of knobhead” says Sykes, and much to everyone’s delight the familiar ‘da da da da da’ leads into J-pop inspired metal banger ‘Kingslayer’. With an encore of ‘Down’, ‘Throne’, and ‘Can You Feel My Heart’, Bring Me The Horizon’s headline debut was long overdue, as the band can easily take a performance of this size and drive it home. “This means a lot to us”, says Sykes in a heartfelt moment, and although Bring Me feel like a newer band, it’s easy to forget they’ve been around for almost twenty years. The journey to the top of the bill at Download is certainly well deserved, and a sign of great things to come.

It’s a scorching afternoon on Saturday and American metalcore band Ice Nine Kills play a gruesome, theatrical performance to a sweaty but excited main stage crowd. Horror-inspired tracks like ‘Hip To Be Scared’, ‘The American Nightmare’ and ‘The Shower Scene’ feature props and actors to rival the London Dungeon, with suited-up frontman Spencer Charnas even murdering the poor innocent Download dog during ‘Welcome to Horrorwood’. It’s a set-up that would work better in the dark but the crowd squint their way through, and the band has what it takes to put on an morbidly entertaining show and easily move their way up the bill in the future.

Back to the Opus stage for Motionless in White, aesthetically matching in all-black and dark makeup. Bursting onto stage with ‘Disguise’, opening lyrics “Get up get up” rip through the crowd. Frontman Chris Cerulli has some of the best ‘bleghs’ in the game, and Motionless offers a solid blend of heavy metalcore tracks and slower, emotionally-charged ballads like ‘Masterpiece’. Cereulli notes that it’s “pretty f*cking cool” that the band are sharing their one year anniversary of album Scoring the End of the World today, as they play Download for the first time since 2017. Guttural ‘Slaughterhouse’ has a tantalising buildup before Bryan Garrison’s part, savouring the moment before letting everyone go nuts. 

Legendary Disturbed play to a sea of excited fans over on the Apex stage, opening with ‘Hey You’ and ‘Stupify’, before ‘Ten Thousand Fists’ which today looks like fifty thousand. ‘A Reason To Fight’ is sang with intense emotion, as vocalist David Draiman appears to shed a tear at the end. The moment continues with a heartfelt speech about struggles with mental health and addiction, shouting out the likes of Keith Flint and Chester Bennington which tugs on the heartstrings of many. After asking how many people have struggled or know someone who has, Draiman exclaims “look around you, you are not alone”, and it would be a tear-worthy moment except ‘Land of Confusion’ lightens the mood somewhat. ‘The Sound of Silence’ is accompanied by strings and a piano, before powering their way through ‘Stricken’ and ‘Unstoppable’. One of the most recognisable riffs prepares the crowd to “Ooh ah ah ah ah” into ‘Down With The Sickness’, which is just an undeniably catchy anthem, ending by chanting “We are disturbed, we are all disturbed.” Bravo.

Metallica returned to headline Download Festival on Saturday, marking their tenth time headlining the event. They kicked off their set with the iconic ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ before launching into a tour debut of ‘Whiplash’ from Kill ‘Em All. The band played an impressive lineup of classic hits including ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘Ride the Lightning’, and ‘One’. They also managed to fit in newer tracks like ‘Moth Into Flame’ and ‘72 Seasons’. It was truly a special experience to witness Metallica’s second performance at this legendary festival, one that we will surely cherish for years to come and pass the memories down through generations.

Metallica | Photo by Matt Higgs

American hardcore punk band Soul Glo are lucky enough to play in one of the few indoor tents on Sunday, and curious punters are drawn in from all angles to seek shelter from the heat. Their salvation is met with breakneck drums and impressive screams that ripple through the Dogtooth stage, as the three-piece play to a crowd made up of exhausted sunstroke victims mixed in with eager fans. At the front though there is no such thing as rest, as the pits don’t stop for a single second during tracks such as ‘F*cked Up If True’ and ‘Driponomics’. The crowd only gets more ravenous for chaos as frontman Pierce Jordan climbs one of the stage pillars, only to have his mic cut as punishment, but kudos for trying. 

American rock/metalcore group I Prevail have gained significant traction over the past year, which is clear given their late evening slot on the Apex stage. Opening with ‘Bow Down’ and ‘Body Bag’, the satisfying blend of Brian Burkheiser’s clean vocals mixed with Eric Vanlerberghe’s unclean sound exactly like they do on record. The band are versatile enough to pull off multiple genres, mixing rap and metalcore with ‘FWYTYK’, and taking it down a notch with emotive rock tracks ‘Hurricaine’ and ‘Deep End’, where Burkheiser’s vocals shine. For those holding their spots at the main stage, the band throw in covers of ‘Chop Suey’ and ‘Raining Blood’, which are unexpected but go down a treat. Often compared with the likes of rap metal Icons Linkin Park, it’s exciting to see where the band will go from here.

Australian metalcore giants Parkway Drive are the final act on the main stage before Slipknot, and they certainly do not disappoint. Frontman Winston McCall follows a flaming torch as he enters stage in all-white, and the rest of the performance carries this momentous energy. McCall exclaims that it’s “unreal to be here” and that he can taste the dust from the stage, likely conjured up by unstoppable movement from pits during ‘Glitch’ and ‘Prey’. Probably one of the most legendary moments from the entire weekend sees McCall run into the crowd during Idles and Anchors, seemingly levitating in the middle of a circle pit that forms around him. A violinist performs in front of a path of fire for ‘Shadow Boxing’, and all-in-all it makes for a truly epic watch, and a show well worthy of a future headlining slot. 

It’s time. It’s been a long, sweaty, dusty weekend, and the final headliners of Download 2023 are about to take to the stage. The crowd is buzzing with anticipation; those who have made it this far are about to be rewarded with heavy metal legends Slipknot. There’s an underlying curiosity regarding the lineup changes, having recently parted ways with pinhead keyboardist Craig Jones, and the ongoing absence of percussionist clown Shawn Crahan following family issues.

Crowd | Photo by Todd Owy

A sigh of relief as the band enter the Apex Stage to ‘The Blister Exists’, as Crahan takes back his coveted spot. ‘The Dying Song (Time to Sing)’ and ‘Yen’ from new album The End, So Far are played within the first four songs, and the rest of the setlist makes way for a barrage of older material that is lapped up by the insatiable sea of movement, who are loving every single minute. “It’s so good to be home” roars frontman Corey Taylor, who is unusually quiet as he utters his first word around five songs in. “I’m mad at you guys,” he continues, explaining that he lost a bet that we would be “still just as crazy without me running my mouth”. No force on Earth can tame a Slipknot crowd, but now that Taylor is back in full antagonising force the energy is unstoppable. “I’ve never been as happy to lose 20 quid in my life” he laughs, and launches into ‘The Devil in I’,The Heretic Anthem’ and ‘Eyeless’.

It’s the band’s fifth time headlining Download and they never fail to deliver, even with Taylor apologising for his voice due to being sick, which is virtually unnoticeable as he powers through the performance and gives it his all. There’s a moment to welcome back ‘Clown’ Crahan, the longest-serving and only original member of the band. The extra screens set up for Metallica’s performance provide an epic multi-angle shot of the performance and Clown gets plenty of screen time to honour his return. 

Taylor announces they’re about to play songs they haven’t played “for a very long time”, and ‘Left Behind’ sends the audience into a frenzy. The surprises don’t stop there as they even play ‘Snuff’, allowing a moment of calm as the crowd is mesmerised by hauntingly beautiful vocals.

With an encore of ‘Duality’ and ‘Custer’, the crowd eagerly awaits the finisher ‘Spit it Out’ – Which is known to be an unforgettable live experience, with one of the most famous ‘jump ups’ in metal history. “J-peg, let’s take these motherf*ckers home” growls Taylor, before tens of thousands of people lose their minds, screaming “f*ck me, I’m all out of enemies”. It’s a live performance masterclass and an absolute must-see.

Download certainly delivered for their 20th anniversary, even opening a special megastore for fans to purchase memorabilia including gaming chairs, picnic benches and rubber ducks. With an absolutely stellar lineup it made for an incredible weekend to remember, as future editions return to three-days which will now sadly feel short. Download do it big and they do it well, solidifying the reason they’ve been around for the last twenty years, and will be for another twenty years to come (unless the sun gets too hot). Long live Download!

Photo by Todd Owy

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