Festival Review: Download Festival 2019
The build-up to Download Festival 2019 was dampened by reports of weather warnings and the potential of flooded campsites for the first time since 2016. No chance of the mini heatwave that happened last year, then! Campers who arrived early in order to secure the best spots were met with long delays and sodden boots, but most people who go to Download are festival veterans who'd never let a little bit of water spoil their fun. Despite pictures circulating on social media of them being almost knee-deep in mud, the village was open for business and keeping spirits up until the arena opened.
We kicked off our Friday with New Jersey’s very own Skid Row who have been giving people hair envy since 1986. Despite the wind and the rain the crowd were incredibly receptive to songs like ’18 and Life’ and ‘Piece of Me’ and we couldn’t help but join in with the singing and clapping once the cowbell came out! After getting our fix of some vintage metal, it was time to see something new and Those Damn Crows – whose debut album only came out last year – brought a whole load of intensity to the Dogtooth stage which was almost bursting at the seams. They were the first band to coin the phrase and set the tone that would surround the entire evening – “who said rock and roll’s dead?” and really set in stone that crowds are more receptive to music when listening to it in tents and dimmer venues.
Nova Twins have been on our radar for quite some time, and whilst we’ve seen them play in tiny club venues, it was their first ever Download Festival and it would’ve been rude not to see their set. Dressed in matching red shorts and patent jackets that were covered in lyrics, you’d think it was all about the visual; that was until they began to play. Their set included a fair amount of newer songs, with Amy Love’s saccharinely visceral vocals being more piercing than normal, and Georgia South’s bass pedal set-up seeming to grow even more whimsical and muddier than normal. Despite it being the first day, it was obvious that their set was going to be a highlight of the entire weekend.
After being mesmerised by the light shows in the Dogtooth, it was time to catch some fresh air and enjoy the gritty Americana swagger of Clutch. ‘Evil’, ‘Gimme the Keys’ and ‘The Regulator’ were perfect deliverance as the sun began to break through the clouds. Neil Fallon’s huge stage presence made us wish that they were given a later set, but given they were the prelude to Whitesnake – who are fronted by David Coverdale of Deep Purple – we couldn’t really fault the organisers! It was hit after hit, with ‘Shut Up & Kiss Me’, ‘Still of the Night’, ‘Is This Love’ and ‘Here I Go Again’ taking lovers of classic hard rock to a state of pure bliss.
Eagles of Death Metal’s moustache master Jesse Hughes compared performing at Download Festival to “winning an award” and in being a winner, he was sure celebrating in style. Strutting around the stage; calling out for amens and insisting that “rock and roll will never die”. Jesse’s alluring stage presence made Eagles of Death Metal the perfect warm-up for Def Leppard. On their third headline slot at the festival – exactly ten years since the last time – cemented Def Leppard as true veterans in working the Donington Park crowd. They played their critically acclaimed Hysteria album in full, with a few treats like ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ and ‘Photograph’ thrown in for good measure.
Given the amount of time that Def Leppard have put into the music industry and the hardships that they have overcome, they seem full of invigoration and show no signs of slowing down. The combination of their timeless songs and the gratitude they have in still being able to perform, made for a magical evening. Throughout their set, there were old pictures and videos shown on the screens behind them and just before playing ‘Run Riot’ there was a video of their late guitarist Steve Clark playing the introduction, with a tribute to his life.
With Friday being all about classic styles of rock music, Saturday made for a more eclectic kind of day. The first band on our list were the mighty Polish black metal band Behemoth. If there were any sleepy people in the crowd, this was a sure-fire way of being woken up. Acting as the gatekeepers of the underworld, the stage was bathed in theatrics and fire with a hellish fury – it was truly fitting that their last words were “Hail Satan”. In complete chaotic contrast to Behemoth, was the reggae-metal sound of Skindred. Frontman Benji Webbe bounced around the stage full of banter and as the band plowed through songs like ‘Nobody’, ‘That’s My Jam’ and ‘Kill the Power’, the crowd were in the palm of their hands by the time Benji demanded that they take off their shirts to do the infamous Newport Helicopter.
In what was a slightly controversial choice to some, Die Antwoord’s performance on the main stage actually went down surprisingly well. Whilst their sound goes back and forth between EDM, rap and club music, there was no shortage of metalheads singing along to the likes of ‘Baby’s on Fire’, ‘I Fink U Freeky’ and ‘Ugly Boy’. It may have helped that the sun was out and it was about the time where hangovers were seeping back into happy intoxication with the aid of more beers. As the sun began to set, anticipations were rising for the indomitable rockers, Slipknot. With a fair amount of line-up changes as of late there were a few worries that this may have changed the way their set came across, but if there’s one thing to be said about the evening – Slipknot are an unstoppable force, gaining more and more traction.
Corey Taylor’s message for the crowd is togetherness – which seems a bit soft coming from one of the most dominant faces in the rock scene – “all around, this is family right here. It doesn’t matter where we come from or who we love.” The point being that despite whatever changes you may go through, remember those who came along for the ride. As always, the delivery is visceral and their setlist was ever varied. Classic songs like ‘People = Shit’, ‘Before I Forget This’ and ‘Custer’ were thrown in with older cuts like ‘Prosthetics’ and ‘Sulfur’. Pyrotechnics and huge stage platforms were just extensions of the larger than life personas that surround Slipknot. They really do know how to put on a great festival show.
Normally when camping at a festival, time seems to slow down – not this year! With the intention of cramming in as many bands as possible in order to make the most of the last day (and the sun!) we went straight to the Zippo Encore stage to catch Dinosaur Pile-Up and Badflower. Waking up at 12pm on any given Sunday is a challenge, so given that Dinosaur Pile-Up were due on stage at that time during one of the only showers of the day; it was surprising how many came out to see them. Vocalist/guitarist Matt Bigland was all smiles and full of energy when announcing to the crowd that he wanted to party because he’s been drinking since 9am. That’s what festivals are for right? ‘Pouring Gasoline’ and ‘Thrash Metal Cassette’ go down a treat but the fat riffs of ‘11:11’ and ‘Backfoot’ are what really got the crowd moving.
Badflower have had a good run on the festival circuit, and addressing the crowd for the first time, Josh Katz told us that it’s great “to be in a country that speaks English.” Whilst most of the songs are straight from their debut album OK I’m Sick – including ‘Promise Me’ which had its festival debut at Download – they also played ‘Animal’ and ‘Drop Dead’ from the Temper EP. Badflower are the kind of band that have infectious energy, and it has become signature for Josh to crowd-surf during ‘Animal’. The mud only seemed to heighten this experience of intimacy as getting gritty and up-close to a band doesn’t come around often. Especially when they only came to the UK for the first time, in April!
Beartooth ramped up the energy by telling the crowd to get their money’s worth and jump with all that they have left in them. Whether Lamb of God were watching them before they took to main stage, or if it’s purely coincidence, frontman Randy Blythe dedicated the song ‘512’ to all of the “crazy fuckers” who had been camping for 5 days, and also said that everyone else should be getting their money’s worth. Given that they had ended their set with ‘Redneck’, we were incredibly pumped up by the time we had legged it over to the Avalanche for FEVER 333. As well as cramming in bone-shattering songs like ‘BURN IT’ and ‘ONE OF US’ they took the time to celebrate giving back to cultures and women in music. “Tonight, there’s no room for that misogynistic bullshit […] everybody at once, say ‘thank you’ to the women in this motherfucking crowd.”
In our way to the Zippo Encore stage to see Slayer’s last ever UK show, we caught a little bit of The Smashing Pumpkins on the main stage just in time for Billy Corgan who, looking like a very gothic Lord Varys from Game of Thrones, brought out a very pregnant Amalie Bruun of Myrkur for a cover of Black Sabbath’s Snowblind. Whilst normally found singing Nordic folk songs, or being bathed in reverb for her ethereal metal; there was something quite angelic about her bare vocals over the biting riffs courtesy of The Smashing Pumpkins. It goes without saying that emotions were rife, amidst the black sea of bodies who had gathered for Slayer. Tidal waves of flailing body parts and a build-up of some of the best names in metal had all been building to this moment. ‘World Painted Blood’, ‘Postmortem’ all the way through to ‘Disciple’ and ‘Seasons In The Abyss’. The songs all bleed into one, in what feels like an attempt to make their set last longer, so that it doesn’t have to end. Slayer are thunderous and what a better way of calling it a day.
Tool are a completely different kind of beast. There is a mysticism that lies beneath syncopated time signatures and Maynard James Keenan’s distinct intonation and tone. ‘Ænema’, The Pot’ and ‘Schism’ are the perfect aural rapture that showcase Tool’s ability to make you drift away. Instead of having the stage and its performers shown on the big screens, there are trippy and obscure visuals that shroud the band in mystery. Busy with other projects, this was Tool’s first UK show in 10 years. They work through their sizeable back catalogue and after playing ‘Forty Six & Two’, Maynard – who spends most of his time in the shadows by drummer Danny Carey – takes a rare moment to address the crowd and asks who is 27 – why? Because “when we wrote this [song] you weren’t even sperm.” Maynard is a man of few words, but he definitely makes them count. With no goodbye and no encore, Tool are off just as quickly as they came and this is testament as to why they still have such a cult following after all this time.
Words by Tyler Damara Kelly
Photography provided by Download Press