Earlier this month DiS made its annual pilgrimage along the A453 to Donington Park for the 15th edition of Download. Here's 10 things we learned from this year's finest rock and metal extravaganza.
I guess fans of Cream, The Dead Weather, and Last Shadow Puppets would say this already (although why anyone would choose to be a fan of the latter is anyone's guess), but supergroups really do rock. Like emptying all of your favourite ingredients in one bowl, giving them a good old mix then devouring the resulting concoction in one hedonistic mouthful.
Well, that could also be applied to a couple of the bands we saw over the weekend at Download. Not least the agitprop rap-rock crossover outfit Prophets Of Rage. Featuring members of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, Cypress Hill, and Public Enemy among their number, sure there are times when it maybe feels a little karaoke, but if there was ever a more appropriate time to be screaming along with Chuck D to 'Fight The Power' 24 hours after a general election, it is now. Not to mention the heartwarming tribute to Chris Cornell in the shape of a near instrumental version of Audioslave's 'Like A Stone' which saw each and every audience member out front sing it back word for word at Messrs Morello, Comerford, and Wilk in perfect harmony.
Top marks also for Krokodil whose six-strong line-up includes players past and present from the likes of Gallows, The Bloodhound Gang, and Sikth among a host of many others. Fusing influences ranging from 1970s prog rock to sludgey noise circa late eighties Seattle and elements of power thrash too, they're a rousing wake up call before Friday evening's headliners System Of A Down stir the political hornet's nest once more.
The Innovators Reigned Supreme
They don't come much more innovative as far as Exodus are concerned, the band cited by many as the very first band to combine elements of hardcore punk and metal, thereby creating the sub-genre known as thrash in the process. Their Friday night headline set on the Dogtooth Stage proved to be a masterclass, focusing mainly on material from their first three albums including a colossal 'Bonded By Blood' which opened the show. With the enigmatic Zetro Souza proving a formidable voice out front, aided and abetted by sometime Slayer guitarist and longest serving member Gary Holt on razor sharp guitar duties, their set makes for one of the weekend's biggest highlights.
Likewise Venice Beach skatepunk stalwarts Suicidal Tendencies, whose career spans a similar length of time having formed some thirty-seven years ago. While vocalist Mike Muir is the only original member left in their ranks, his presence creates an aura of brutal energy for the entire duration of their set. Playing songs spanning their entire career, the largest cheers are unsurprisingly reserved for older favourites such as 'War Inside My Head' and 'Subliminal' which spawns a several hundred strong circle pit in the process. Brutal? We said it...
Out With The Wellies, In With The Suncream
Having been mischievously known as Drownload in recent years and with errant weather forecasts in the week leading up to it predicting nothing but heavy rain, wellies, umbrellas, raincoats and all things waterproof were packed in preparation for the inevitable downpour.
Which never came. Instead, yours truly left Donington Park in the early hours of Monday morning with a bad case of sunburn and a bag of unused clothing still neatly packed from the previous Friday. If this is a sign of things to come, the summer of 2017 is going to be one hot glorious feast of sunshine. Don't forget to bring the factor 50 next year.
Live Wrestling At A Music Festival? OK!
That's right. WWE NXT had a stage this year and it was jam packed from the moment the festival opened on Friday right up to the final notes of Aerosmith's set on Sunday. Featuring several big names from the world of wrestling, including current NXT champion Bobby Roode, it sure as hell created an interesting and somewhat timely diversion from the music and looks set to return the festival next year.
Idles Are The Most Relevant Band In The UK
Really, they are. If ever there was a time for a band to stand up and be counted it's now, and for 25 unstoppable minutes Idles leave no stone unturned. Perhaps the most non-stereotypical "Download band" on the bill, that probably helped account for the huge crowd they pulled on Saturday afternoon.
While their set was shorter than normal due to Download's strict time constraints, the five songs they did play caused a rabble-rousing riot in the Dogtooth Tent. Frontman Joe Talbot forms the centre of attention, spitting vitriolic lyrics berating the Tory government ('Mother'), The Sun newspaper ('Divide & Conquer') and The Great British Bake Off's Mary Berry ('Well Done'). Guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kiernan's heavily animated performances throughout become focal points of attention, while the rhythm section of bass player Dev Devonshire and drummer Jon Beavis provide a steady backbeat that holds everything together forthwith.
Although still a relatively new band in many people's eyes despite their near decade-long existence, expect their name to be on the tips of everyone's tongues before this summer's festival season draws to a close.
Metal Crowds Are Most Welcoming
Despite taking place just hours after the Conservatives announced they'd be forming an alliance with the homophobic and downright distasteful DUP, the vibe here couldn't have been any more positive and welcoming. Indeed, every single person we spoke to whether they be punters, workers, or performers commented on the feeling of community spirit. Long may it continue!
Slayer: The Undisputed Masters Of Metal
If there's a better metal album than Reign In Blood I'm yet to hear it, while their live show is still a force to be reckoned with, even decades after their formation. Playing a career spanning set on the Zippo Encore stage on Sunday evening that's as notable for their relentless energy as it is for the songs they play, the five-piece roll back the years with consummate ease.
Although only Tom Araya and Kerry King remain from the original line-up, their dynamic is no less brutal as newer material off 2015's Repentless doesn't sound out of place nestled alongside the more familiar numbers off Reign In Blood, South Of Heaven and Seasons In The Abyss respectively.
The Avalanche Stage is in Tamworth
Alright, so maybe we're over exaggerating a little with this one but one question that's repeatedly asked over the course of the weekend appears to be, "Do you know where the Avalanche Stage is?" Over the course of the weekend, DiS manages to track down its location and while it can be something of a logistical nightmare, it is still worth the trek.
Sponsored by Kerrang! Fresh Blood, the Avalanche Stage plays host to some of the finest new talent in punk, rock, and metal with Southampton five-piece Dead! proving particularly engaging on Sunday lunchtime. Hopefully next year it will be within easier reach as some of the bands housed there fully deserve to be playing to larger audiences.
Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously
While there's little doubt metal fans take their music seriously - just one look at the number of band t-shirts proclaiming the names of acts both internationally famous and eminently obscure tells its own story - it's also probably fair to say metal audiences don't take themselves as seriously as say, your highbrow indie music snob either.
And judging by Steel Panther's incredibly well-received spoof metal performance on Sunday afternoon, neither do some of the acts either. Songs like 'Party All Day (Fuck All Night)' and '17 Girls In A Row' kind of tell you where they're coming from, and like the best moments of Spinal Tap, it's a tongue in cheek extravaganza of musical silliness that shouldn't be taken too literally, even if the one-trick punchline does start to wear a little thin after a while.
Aerosmith Are Still Kings Of The Grand Finale
Playing their last ever UK show, Aerosmith's headline slot on Sunday evening unsurprisingly attracts the largest crowd of the weekend. T-shirts adorning their logo and faces appear all over the site while a walkway is erected at the front of the stage prior to the band's appearance.
Having been regulars at both Download and its predecessor Monsters Of Rock, their most recent appearance being only three years ago in 2014, it's inevitable that tonight's two hours long set sees them reel out all the hits. And while the rumoured collaboration with Run DMC on 'Walk This Way' during the encore doesn't materialise, Steven Tyler and co. don't disappoint playing a show worthy of bringing any major event to its glorious conclusion.
Thanks for the memories!
Photos by Mick Carroll.