When Iron Maiden announced their only UK date in 2016 would be at Download we dutifully purchased tickets as soon as it was announced and finally that day had come. If you go to a Festival for a day it’s always going to be a long one. Ours started at 7am in very foggy Yorkshire and a 2 hours drive. We had obviously heard all the reports of rivers running through the campsites and seen the usual false reports of the place being under siege (Glastonbury pictures from a few years ago anyone).
The day started bright enough, the sun was out and shining as we checked into our B&B and started the day with a beer. Of course, this was all just a short lived illusion and as we got dropped off at the site and started the long trudge to the entrance the heavens opened up. At least the ground didn’t seem too bad. We were of course wrong about that as well and the whole arena was covered in about a foot of mud and water. To be honest the water was so horrible and the conditions so bad that you couldn’t help but have a laugh, so the spirits remained high.
We started our day by heading to the bar (obviously) and the Lemmy Stage to see Amon Amarth (Lemmy Stage 12pm). The first two things that is going to strike you is that the stage set for the stage openers was brilliant, complete with long boat dragons and the second is that the lead singer talks like that between songs as well. This was the first time that I had seen Amon Amarth and musically they were great. Just the right band to start the day off with. It was loud, fast and energetic and perfect for the rain – the band know how to get a crowd going. The band themselves were in full spirits and there were plenty of “Skols” all round. If you have not seen a Viking Metal band before then all of this can seem a little odd and over contrived. Without the Viking theme (they are Swedish, so definitely acceptable) these would be a pretty good thrash / metal band in any case and in any genre this is what is important. Definitely a great start to the day, a great set and performance.
By now, we were already drenched so we decided it was time to head over and check out the bands in the tents and dry out for a bit. I had already checked out Witchsorrow online so was interested to hear them (Dogtooth Stage 12.40pm). There was a big crowd to see them out and overall our group were all impressed. Lead vocalist Necroskull has a very powerful voice which suited the doom laden riffs very well. We only got to see about half the set because we wanted to head over to the Maverick Stage to check out The Dirty Youth. Musically Witchsorrow were very tight and the sound in this stage was good. In retrospect I would have loved to have stayed and seen the set out. Someone I will be on the lookout to see again. I particularly love their more metal moments where they play fast and hard.
So due to seeing Witchsorrow I only caught a few of the last songs of The Dirty Youth (Maverick Stage 12.50pm). On the whole musically they are probably not my cup of tea to be honest. However, I couldn’t fault their performance. By the time we got down there the crowd were already eating out of their hands and they were making a really good impression. Lead singer Danni Monroe seemed to be everywhere and it came across as a very polished performance. The constant touring seems to be really paying off for them and hopefully this will have introduced them to a new crowd as well.
All was going well so far. We had so far not managed to lose anyone and it had stopped raining for a while. This gave us an opportunity to wander over, get something to eat and enjoy the break in the weather whilst The Temperance Movement’s (Lemmy Stage 1.10pm) set was in full swing. This is a band I have heard a lot about recently and I enjoyed their White Bear album. Live they came across as strong as the album promises they could deliver. Funnily enough they suited the Lemmy stage well and live actually reminded me in some ways of a more rock Kasabian. Which is in no way an insult Kasabian are an absolutely storming live band. The Temperance Movement to me were everything you want from a midday main stage slot.
One of the bands I was looking forward to seeing was Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes (Maverick Stage 2.50pm). The former Gallows frontman was looking still refreshingly young and resplendent in a suit and shirt. I was definitely not disappointed. The 2015 album was great and they played most of the set off it (all except new single “Snake Eyes”). It is the charisma and showmanship of Carter though that kept everyone completely engrossed. Everything from walking at top of the heads of the crowd during “Trouble” and “Paradise” to crowd participation. He was chatty and worked the crowd. During “Jackall” he got the mosh pit to run around the outside the tent and back in again but completely misjudged the size of the tent and the band had to play the song twice. This was all building up to an absolutely killer version of “Juggernaut”. The crowd at this point was running around like loons, covering themselves and everyone else in mud and when Carter got the crowd to start the Wall of Death the plug was pulled on the band much to the annoyance of the disconcerted crowd. Carter was quick to apologise to the festival organisers explaining that he did not know that he was not allowed a Wall of Death and that everyone was here for the music and that was what was important. To calm things down he got the crowd to sit (rather sportingly in the mud I thought) and he went out into the crowd and sang a heartfelt rendition of “Beautiful Death”. Finishing the set with more of the last album this was an absolutely storming set that had everyone buzzing. One of the highlights of the day. Go and see them if they tour near you.
Obviously we were going to lose someone at some point and after a short search for “Gibbo” we were able to resume the day. This part of the afternoon started to get a little messy, as festivals have a way in more and one and before we knew it we found ourselves in front of the Encore Stage and Breaking Benjamin (Encore Stage 4pm) who were amid a festival friendly set. Breaking Benjamin were the first of two bands I saw that day that went for a festival friendly cover version section but the crowd seemed to love the Tool / Nirvana etc mash up mid set.
One of the bands I really wanted to check out during the show was Disturbed (Lemmy Stage 5pm). Again I really enjoyed their latest release Immortalized so was looking forward to them. I have a pretty mixed reaction to them to be honest. I know that overall the group I was with was impressed. I suppose I like something a little more visual and on that front Disturbed are more stand and deliver the set and little dramatics on that sense. There was also a danger of the set sounding a little samey at times. That said there was some highlights that really stood out for me. Obviously, they played “The Sound of Silence”. Yes, they sat down and had a live cello and violin and yes, live, it was as heartfelt as you could imagine. Other songs that really stood out were “Stupify”, “Indestructible” and “Down With the Sickness”. Disturbed themselves though were determined to put together a memorable show and brought out three special guests to join them on stage. First up was Lzzy Hale whose own band Halestorm had already performed on the Lemmy Stage earlier that day. Her duet of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For” really suited her range well. It was also good to see the ever popular Blaze Bailey who performed a version of The Who “Baba O’Reilly”.
It then started to rain even harder than it had so far. There were now streams of water flowing down towards the main stage and we wisely headed for the first undercover bar to try and stay a little dry, at least on the outside. I had been looking forward to GHOST but they had to cancel due to illness. So following a strange trip to the wrestling stage and some hammy acting at its best (or worst) we headed to see Jane’s Addiction (Encore Stage 7.25pm). My love of Iron Maiden only predates Jane’s Addiction by two years and “Been Caught Stealing” is still one of the main anthems of my youth, so a little scary going to see them live for the first time. However, there was no way that I was going to be disappointed. Jane’s Addiction are just as beautiful, talented, strange and unexpected as I could have hoped for; the rain stopped and there was even blue sky! I think when you think of JA, you think Perry Farrell and perhaps forget that they are actually a shit hot band. Also, some of the guitaring and general musicianship on show was outstanding. The vibe was just exactly as you could have hoped. Set list wise it was classic Jane’s – “Stop”, “Just Because”, “Three Days”, “Been Caught Stealing”, “Jane Says” all got an airing. There simply was not a bad song in this set. They also threw in a cover and a very appropriate one at that, David Bowies “Rebel Rebel”. So back to Perry, he was on form chatting away and dancing with the scantily dressed dancers. Yep, you heard correct it wouldn’t be Jane’s Addiction without something strange going on, first off it was the dancers, around the stage and then towards the end, two tattooed ladies had a line attached to a link in their skin of their backs and they were swung above the stage and audience, part dancers, part meat at a butchers. All in all, everything I had hoped for and more.
The rain had stopped and we were ready for Iron Maiden (Lemmy Stage 8.50pm). Not sure how, but this is the first time I have ever seen Maiden live and on one level they were exactly as you imagine, Steve Harris doesn’t even appear to have aged for the last 20 years or so. There were lots of cries of “Scream for me Donington” which has come part of the Donington folklore in itself. Setlist-wise it heavily leaned on the excellent The Book of Souls as you would imagine with some fan favourites like “Fear of the Dark”, “Powerslave” and “The Trooper” thrown in for good measure. Musicianship-wise, Maiden really are second to none and they are old hands at working the crowd. Basically it was faultless Maiden performance. It was great in places, had the theatre, costume changes you would expect. Perhaps all it really lacked was that extra spark of unpredictability you sometime like to see from any band.
So “Drownload” as it was dubbed ended with clear skies and plenty of memories to think back on until it all happens again next year, but this is one to remember not just for the weather but for the great festival spirit shown by all and some classic performances.