Ah, Download. For me, this is Christmas. Who cares about presents and seeing family once a year when you can spend five days in a field watching some of the best bands rock and metal have to offer.
Thursday I always find is a slow day. You’re camped and waiting for the bands to start the next day. However, there was one band playing on Thursday I wanted to see. A band called Estrella, at the Boardie Takeover. I’ve not seen Estrella in almost two years. With my Estrella t-shirt and a few of my campmates, we strolled along and they were a perfect way to start the weekend. Firing on all cylinders, Estrella proved that in the time I’ve missed them they’ve been honing their already high quality performances. With old favourites like “Whatever It Is”, “Shout – I Wanna Hear You” and “Do It ‘Til We Drop” interspersed with new songs like “Rock City”, “Here I Am” and “We Will Go On”. Regardless, by the end of every song, they had the crowd singing along and come the end of their set, they had a whole new set of fans, my friends included. It was a blatant reminder of how good they are. I’ll try not to leave it two years next time.
With the main arena opening on Friday at midday, the first order of the day was Blues Pills. As tight as ever and their best performance I’ve seen from them yet, they got a crowd of all ages to groove with their bluesy melodies. Elin Larsson’s yells preceding the start of “Devil Man” still make my neck hair stand on end. With a short set, they managed to rattle through a good portion of their debut album and despite the Swedish lyrics, “Bliss” proved you don’t have to sing the language of your audience to encourage them to enjoy a show.
After a quick glimpse of Lacuna Coil suffering poor acoustics on main stage (a common occurrence that weekend), it was back to second to watch The Cadillac Three. Having missed them in Glasgow a few months back, I had to see them this time around. From the start, they were out to show they weren’t messing around. Like their predecessors, they weren’t hanging about in playing as much from their debut as they could. Angling for a heavier set, they went down a storm with songs like “Tennessee Mojo” and “I’m Southern”. Despite the jetlag and having to borrow equipment from Black Stone Cherry and Aaron Keylock, they weren’t letting that dampen their spirits. A great atmosphere and warmly welcomed for their debut, I can see them further up the bill in the near future.
A quick jump over to the main stage for Clutch and whilst I’m a fan, I couldn’t name many of their songs. That said, when I saw them at the O2 ABC last year, I was blown away. With a setlist comprised mainly from their recent Earth Rocker album, it was equal parts bluesy and heavy. “Electric Worry” was naturally the song which had the crowd at their most energetic. It speaks volumes of the popularity of the song that an already captivated crowd decided to kick it up a notch for a fun forty minutes.
After a – ahem – personal altercation, it was time for Five Finger Death Punch. One of the bands I was looking forward to all weekend. And I can’t remember much of it, mainly because a friend and I were in hysterics for most it. I think I prefer them on album to a live show but that could be my mind being elsewhere. That said, they were suitably heavy given the bands following them and entertaining, welcoming young children onto the stage and have them headbang and sing along to a rather foul-mouthed chorus.
Back to second stage, one of the best bands of 2013 had the introduction of AC/DC’s “Thunderstuck”. But that’s because their name is the first part of that word. Yes, Thunder. Rattling through 14 songs with some of their biggest hits like “Backstreet Symphony” and “Love Walked In” mixed in with songs like “Black Water” and “The Thing I Want” from their latest album, Wonder Days. It just highlights how good the new album is that those songs stand shoulder to shoulder with their classics. Despite the pouring rain, they didn’t let that unnerve them. What you hear on an album from twenty-five years ago is what you hear now with Danny Bowes’ voice. It’s easily one of the most under-appreciated voices in rock. However, normally where he would scream and yell, he invited the crowd to fill in for him. Which makes me think his voice is slowly starting to fail or he’s trying to preserve it as long as possible, especially now Thunder are back full-time. I sincerely hope it’s the latter.
With persisting rain, it was the turn of the first headliner of the weekend. The best band of 2013 (suck it, Rammstein) had returned to headline for the third time in six years. Masks, jumpsuits, pyro and a healthy dose of metal. Slipknot. A brilliant way to set the tone and rev the attendees for the rest of the weekend. They were nothing short of unstoppable, hitting every mark and ignoring the rain. With a slightly different line-up from their last headline slot, they were out to continue the mayhem from their January tour. As high-octane as the previous times I’ve seen them we were treated to such songs as “Psychosocial”, “Duality”, the moment to “Jump the fuck up!” with “Spit it Out” alongside new heavy-hitters like “Custer”, “AOV” and “Killpop”. With .5: The Gray Chapter close to the one year anniversary, it’s brilliant to hear new material slot in so easily with old favourites and the afore-mentioned “Custer” may be one of Slipknot’s best live songs.
One day down and the sunshine was a thing of the past for the remainder of the weekend and the mud was ever-present. A slow trudge back to the campsite, knowing it was an early start tomorrow, my voice slowly dying having shouted at the top of my lungs for Slipknot. I had a grin on my face, knowing it was going to be hard to top their set. But I knew that the minute they had been announced.