Festival season has come again, and the first of the major rock and metal festivals that OneMetal has deployed boots on the ground for has been and gone. OneMetal’s Mike Perry and Zakk Appleyard were present for the 2011 edition of perhaps the best-known current festival in the modern rock scene, the Download festival – which of course took place in the legendary home of the Monsters Of Rock festivals of yore, Donington. After giving the guys sufficient time to heal their hangovers, soothe their sunburn and gather their recollections of the weekend, OneMetal presents the final part in a three-part review of the acts that graced Donington’s stages for another weekend of riff-fuelled excess. To see the guys’ verdicts on the acts who played on Friday, click here. For their takes on the bands who graced Saturday’s stages, click here.
Riding on a wave of critical and commercial success, Suicide Silence (4/5) are making their debut on the Donington main stage. Despite the beginnings of Sunday’s soon-to-be torrential rainstorm showing its face, the Californians held the meagre main stage crowd in the palm of their hand throughout. New tunes ‘You Only Live Once’ and ‘Fuck Everything’ kick as much arse as anything from No Time To Bleed, and the pit swells accordingly. It’s a shame that barely anyone seen this, as it was a bold statement of intent for a band that definitely won’t be opening in years to come.
Despite the fact that most people have made their way to the Red Bull tent for the sole purpose of getting out of the rain, they were about to get a surprise, in the form of Portsmouth’s Belligerence (4/5). Peddling pure down n’ dirty rock and roll in the vein of Alabama Thunderpussy, their flat out live show gets a surprising number of heads bobbing. The void of charisma that is their guitarist is more than made up for by the dead-on vocalist, and the fact that the bassist looks so intense it’s almost scary. The Red Bull stage has been a real showcase for new bands this weekend and Belligerence are a great find for anyone who’s found their way to the little stages.
Opening with the title track from their forthcoming album Awaken The Tides, all the signs are pointing to another solid performance from Reading metal mob Malefice (3/5). That is, until the next track is also from the aforementioned new album, and the next, and the next, all the way until Malefice bid farewell to a slightly bewildered Download crowd. That isn’t to say the new tunes aren’t rocking – ‘Dead In The Water’ and ‘Delirium’ are righteous, heads-down bangers – but crowd reaction is understandably dulled when nobody has heard the songs before. Could have done with shot of ‘Risen Through The Ashes’ or ‘An Architect Of Your Demise’ to kick the set into gear.
The weather that had been threatening to put a dampener on things all weekend finally arrived on Sunday, and no sooner had I stepped off the bus at Donington than out came the rather fetching blue poncho and on went the wellies. The biting wind and the driving rain seemed to be the final straw for a a great deal of campers, as on the walk in to the festival site, a lot of rather sorry looking people were heading for the bus stop or car parks in their droves.
However, it would take a hell of a lot more than a bit (OK, a lot) of rain to keep me from watching Kvelertak (5/5), a band for which I’m honestly beginning to run out of superlatives to describe. Not only is their debut self-titled album an absolute banger (and your humble writer’s favourite record of 2010), they’re also one of the best live bands doing the rounds at the moment, and I don’t just mean on the toilet circuit; these guys would give a great deal of academy and even arena-sized bands a run for their money, such is the size of their tunes and the tightness of their performance.
It sounds like it shouldn’t work – punk-meets-black metal-meets-rock n’ roll, with all the lyrics sung in Norwegian – but it just absolutely does. Every song is crammed full of memorable guitar licks, infectious grooves, and the odd blast beat or two for good measure. What’s more, in Erlend, they’ve got one of the most compelling frontmen in the business: within the space of the opening couple of songs, the shirt is off, and he’s down at the barrier, clambering into the crowd and bellowing his lines directly into the faces of the baying hordes, all of whom are absolutely loving it. I had a tiny concern that maybe Kvelertak‘s incendiary live show wouldn’t translate to a festival stage, but these worries were alleviated within the first couple of bars of the band’s opening track, “Fossegrim”. This band’s stock just keeps on rising, and all I can say is long may it continue.
Following Kvelertak on the second stage is GWAR (3.5/5), who, if you take away all the monstrous regalia and blood-spattering shenanigans, do actually have some decent music. However, despite the strength of the likes of ‘Let Us Slay’ and ‘Hail Genocide!’, let’s not kid ourselves here: the songs are secondary to the band’s on-stage antics, and while there may have been one or two die-hard GWAR fans there who genuinely love their music, I’m pretty sure 99.999% of the people in the crowd were there purely to see what kind of crazy shit the band got up to.
This year’s highlights include: Oderus Ungerus ripping the face off of a guy dressed as Osama Bin Laden, who then spurts gallons of fake blood into the crowd; Oderus Ungerus ripping the breasts off of someone dressed as Queen Elizabeth II, who then spurts gallons of fake blood into the crowd; and a sword fight between two guys dressed as aliens, who wound each other and both spurt gallons of… well, you get the picture. With all this going on on stage, the band run out of their allotted time and have the plug pulled, just as Oderus is about to pull off the pièce de résistance: “pissing” out of his “cuttlefish” on to the crowd below. What a shame. It’s not exactly high-brow entertainment, but it at least raises a much-needed smile among the wringing wet people in the crowd.
The fact that Disturbed (3/5) announced a short hiatus following this show says a lot about why the performance fell so flat despite the number of blockbusters the band have in their arsenal. David Draiman was visibly frustrated when he didn’t see ‘Ten Thousand Fists’ during the song of the same name, but the whole thing seemed a little metal-by-numbers. Of course everyone knows ‘Down With The Sickness’ and it’s most definitely the highlight of a set that was too focused on so-so new album Asylum. Hopefully when Disturbed return from their break they’ll have their vigour renewed once again.
After witnessing the bloody spectacle that was GWAR, there then followed a rather lengthy gap, during which time the order of the day was to shelter by the Guinness Bar some more, making the most of an unexplained warm breeze emanating from around that area (I was no doubt just breathing in exhaust fumes for an hour or so). After a while though, I get press-ganged into watching a bit of Disturbed (eurgh) and Black Veil Brides (3/5). I didn’t watch enough of, or pay sufficient attention to, Disturbed to give them a fair review, although I can at least confirm that David Draiman’s on-stage shtick is as corny as ever, and that their music still sounds to me like an extended WWE entrance theme tune. I did, however, manage to watch enough of Black Veil Brides to form an opinion, and that opinion is: why? From what I can tell, they’re actually all fairly competent musicians – particularly the guitarist, who can most certainly shred – but to me, all of their hard work is undone by their overly contrived image, which to me smacks of a band formed by committee:
Record label exec #1: “They sound a bit metalcore, a bit like Avenged Sevenfold; that should sell, right?
Record label exec #2: “Yep, but we need an image…”
Record label exec #1: “Well, the goth/emo look seems popular with teenage girls…”
Record label exec #2: “Done. Here you go lads: industrial strength hairspray, black and white face paint and some torn leather trousers. Now get the f**k out of my office and don’t come back until you’ve gone platinum.”
…But I digress. Back over on the Red Bull stage is Canadian metalcore-meets-party-thrashers Baptized in Blood (3/5), who are enough fun to make you forget about the rain for half an hour or so, and by the time their set is finished, the deluge appears to have subsided.
Many are suggesting that Bullet For My Valentine (2.5/5) are spearheading the new generation of festival headliners, and the band themselves have stated that they “won’t be happy until [they] headline” the prestigious Donington main stage. Despite an impressive stage show including fireworks and HUGE beach balls emblazoned with the band logo, the gimmicks are a thinly veiled disguise for the fact that BFMV don’t actually have that many memorable tunes. Relying heavily on the popularity of new offering Fever, the Bridgend boys’ live show suffers from the same problem as their albums; it builds and builds but never actually goes anywhere. ‘Hand of Blood’ and ’4 Words To Choke Upon’ are still heavy as you like, but the newer material seems so bland in comparison that it’s hugely disappointing when they head back into the middle of the metal road. Oddly eschewing traditional set closer ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ for Fever album track ‘Alone’, you can’t help but to feel that BFMV are a big step from being the main attraction.
After Baptized in Blood, I made it back over the second stage to catch the latter half of The Cult (3.5/5). Or, more accurately, I get there in time to catch the one song I know (‘She Sells Sanctuary’) and to be baffled by Ian Astbury’s accent for about 20 minutes (Glasgow by way of California, by the sounds of things). Joking aside though, they’re still remarkably tight some 28 years after their inception, and Ian Astbury’s stint with The Doors has given him time to perfect his Morrison-esque swagger and stage presence, making him rather compelling to watch.
Having seen Linkin Park twice before without even really wanting to, and having missed Rob Zombie’s (4.5/5) tour earlier in the year, the decision of who to watch as the last band of Download 2011 was an easy one. Zombie had promised a live show to blow his earlier UK gigs of the water, which, according to a friend who was at the Brixton show, wasn’t quite the case tonight; however, it was still a mightily impressive performance, and short of bringing Rammstein levels of pyros or actually setting fire to the second stage, I’m not sure how he could have made it much bigger and better anyway.
Out of all the headline sets I caught over the weekend, Zombie‘s was simply streets ahead of the rest. Whereas Def Leppard were met with a less-than-enthusiastic crowd response and System were themselves just less-than-enthusiastic, both the crowd and Rob Zombie (and his band, for that matter – John 5 has got some serious chops) were on fine form. The stage show, complete with flame throwers, confetti cannons, giant demons and robots walking on stage, and a hypnotic B-movie video backdrop, was visually stunning, and the music itself isn’t half bad either. I’ll admit, before tonight, I didn’t really credit Zombie with having as many tunes as he does, but there’s no denying the quality of the likes of ‘Mars Needs Women’, ‘Superbeast’, ‘More Human Than Human’, ‘Sick Bubblegum’, ‘Scum of the Earth’, and of course, ‘Dragula’, especially when you’ve got several thousand people standing beside you singing their hearts out to them.
Whilst most of the remaining Downloaders were over at the second stage witnessing the triumphant Rob Zombie, those who remained at the main stage were treated to an unexpectedly enjoyable set from the Nu-metal kings, Linkin Park (4/5). Sprinkling the standards of ‘Numb’ and ‘Crawling’ in-between the more polished alt-metal of Minutes To Midnight and A Thousand Suns, playing such a big event seems second nature to a band that seem to have never performed anywhere smaller. And although the newer songs don’t really capture the imagination, that isn’t what this is about. What Linkin Park bring is a real spectacle. It’s impossible not to be lost in the gorgeous visuals on the immense screen behind the band, be it abstract images or a genius chopped up version of Oppenheimer’s ‘I Am Become Death’ speech. While a crowd-surfing Chester Bennington and an ice-cool Mike Shinoda hold the eyes of the crowd, it’s the diminutive Mr. Hahn (who looks suspiciously like Mr. Miyagi these days) that is the heartbeat of the band. Chopping and mixing everything with razor sharp precision, it’s his musicality that adds personality to the newer songs. Bringing the weekend to a close with ‘One Step Closer’, and cheekily walking off stage to the Richard Cheese lounge version of the same song, Linkin Park can be confident that they’re at the top of their game right now.
That’s it for Mike and Zakk’s reviews of the bands they saw performing for the gathered masses at the 2011 Download Festival! After coaxing the nearly 7,500 words of reportage out of them, we at OneMetal feel it’s time to thank them for their hard work in enduring the inclement weather, crippling hangovers and severely sore necks that were undoubtedly suffered in bringing us this coverage, and allow them to get some hard-earned rest. To relive what the lads thought of the first two days of the festival, you can check out Friday’s review here, and Saturday’s review here.
Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you in the pit next year!