Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Music Download 20: The Highlights

Download 20: The Highlights

A weekend of sweltering heat and scorching performances at the revered home of rock and metal, Donington Park Circuit, Jack Avery, Print Music Editor, explores the highlights of Download 20.
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Download 20: The Highlights

Photo by Jake Avery

It was a weekend of sweltering heat and scorching performances at the revered home of rock and metal, Donington Park Circuit. This year’s 4-day special edition didn’t fail to bring an absolute onslaught of riffage, circle pits and headbangs. Kings of hard rock and thrash Metallica brought two nights of their classic material with some new cuts from April’s ’72 Seasons’, Bring Me The Horizon made their headline debut at Download with an extraordinary set that featured a storm of pyro and breath-taking set visuals, and returning Iowa misfits Slipknot maintained a full-throttle speed with an iconic closing set on the Sunday. It was a weekend not to be missed. Jake Avery, Print Music Editor, explores the highlights.

Slipknot

No word can summarize their set other than spectacular. The grotesque metal unit brought a stunning set to see out the weekend. Vocalist Corey Taylor, despite still recovering from a throat infection, brought his signature bark to full force and let loose upon the 100,000-strong crowd. Sweetening the metal meltdown was the return of percussionist Clown, having recently missed dates whilst supporting family back home. Taylor and company were more than thrilled to headline Download for the fifth time – the masked platoon brought a career-spanning set that featured some fantastic deep cuts from their debut album, such as the acidic ‘Liberate’ and rumbling Iowa anthem ‘Left Behind’. Infectiously catchy ragers ‘Custer’, ‘Unsainted’ and ‘The Dying Song (Time to Sing)’, all cuts from the latter half of their career, highlighted the metal outfit’s eclectic range. They’ve forged a relevance that only aggregates within the metal community, and this is a testament to their superb ability to innovate whilst never compromising on their barbarous bite. The elusive replacement for keyboardist Craig Jones also made an appearance – although there was no mention of Jones’ departure from the band. The bar was in the stratosphere given how superb their previous appearances are, and Slipknot still delivered the goods. The sea of circle pits that opened up within the first few seconds of opener ‘The Blister Exists’ demonstrated the crowd’s undying appetite for the signature, multi-genre brand of onslaught that the battalion bring – it’s more than fair to say that the band matched this enthusiasm with their phenomenal headline set.

Carcass

Stomping their way onto the Opus stage was the mighty Carcass, who rattled through an impressively chaotic set. If the uneasy nature of their lyrical content, often dealing with the mortality we face as walking flesh bags wasn’t enough to make your bones shudder, the band’s live presence certainly will. Opener ‘Buried Dreams’ kicked things into gear, riling up the audience with Jeff Walker’s aggravated growls and pounding bass wrestling elegantly with Bill Steer’s sporadic guitar melodies. There was no break in the aggression and unrelenting attack of the band’s approach to delivering a set that shook your ribcage and infected you with the chunky, overdriven grind of all their elements together, with tracks such as ‘Dance of Ixtab’ reeling in the audience and shaking them to the core. The brashness, abrasiveness and overall might of Carcass’s wretched symphonies were a sound not to be missed; nothing got the adrenaline pumping as much as Jeff Walker brandishing his bass like a sword vertically in the dusty air before unleashing his might onto the crowd. Terrifying, gruesome, and without a doubt – brilliant.

Bring Me The Horizon

Staggering. The only thing that outmatched the Sheffield post-hardcore outfit’s set design was their monumental sound and ability to ensnare the hearts of the audience. Defiant trailblazer Oli Sykes paced around the stage like a panther on the prowl, his vocals being catapulted with boundless energy. Enhancing the fantastic musical delivery of the band was a simply brilliant set design, based on ideas sketched by Sykes himself. A post-apocalyptic landscape formed throughout 2020’s ‘Parasite Eve’, and mutant creatures joined Sykes on stage, with nightmarish demons and hellscapes haunting the background as the band ploughed through an iconic setlist.  The showmanship of Sykes, in addition to the uncompromisingly hard attack of the band, incited a performance that teemed with elegance, edge and heaviness. This wasn’t so much a first dip into the metal community as it was a victory lap – everything was brought to form the Sheffield band’s arsenal in order to provide a set that crowned the festival a weekend not to be missed. The efforts of Sykes’ vocals in tandem with Jordan Fish’s keyboard work and the sonic thrust of Lee Malia’s guitar proved to be more than enough to satisfy the audience, but things heated up even more with a simply excellent appearance from Nova Twins throughout hardcore emo belter ‘1×1’ from 2020’s ‘Post Human: Survival Horror’ EP. The ‘Twins brought an astounding burst of electricity to the set, with Amy Love’s slick vocals shining whilst also fanning the flames of Sykes’ brilliant leading lines. Throw in another surprise appearance from Evanescence’s Amy Lee later on for an acapella duet with Sykes, and you’ve got a headline performance that set the precedent for brilliance. Phenomenal set design and production in conjunction with a great setlist will only take a band so far; it was Sykes’ and the band’s adventurous and bold spirits that pushed the needle forwards, breaking the boundaries of contemporary rock and cementing the band’s approach to heavy music as a sign that metal and rock are morphing into soundscapes previously thought impossible. It was an exceptional debut into Download headliner history.

Alexisonfire

Basking in the mid-afternoon heat and delivering a punchy set, the Canadian post-hardcore ensemble served audiences their signature mix of aggressive vocals, soothing harmonies and caustic punk riffs. Cuts from the latest album, 2022’s ‘Otherness’ cushioned the set with an ethereal expression of their melancholic sound; ‘Sans Soleil’ allowed for George Pettit and Dallas Green’s vocal harmonies to blossom, offering rich melodies that diversified the mammoth, multi-faceted waves of emotion that the band encapsulate within each track. Regret, sorrow and longing shone through whilst the Canadian group maintained the pressure on their post-hardcore and punk roots. ‘Accept Crime’ served as an opportunity for Pettit to open the track with a scathing condemnation of homophobia, transphobia and racism, bringing to attention the focus that the hardcore band have on being progressive and championing people’s rights. Alexisonfire reinforced their status as one of the most versatile and yet acutely powerful post-hardcore bands on the scene, and they exemplified that their relevance and importance in the genre is just as potent, if not even more so, than when they debuted two decades ago.

Unsurprisingly, their two-night metal quest was a triumph.

Metallica

Firing up the Apex Stage for TWO headline sets is a feat only a titan in the metal sphere could achieve, and there’s no other band monstrous enough to deserve this title than Metallica. Given that these appearances brought their Donington tally to a whopping 10 performances, it would be obvious to state that there were high expectations for the band, even despite being heralded as the kings of thrash and rock. Unsurprisingly, their two-night metal quest was a triumph. Bringing the metal guillotine down to set the festival alight on Thursday, Hetfield and the rest of the troupe wasted no time in delivering the hits; ‘Creeping Death’ set the crowd off like a live wire, and from there on the Metallica machine blazed through career-defining hits such as ‘Leper Messiah’, ‘Sad But True’ and ‘Blackened’. Sweetening the deal was the inclusion of a number of trinkets from the 1996/’97 ‘Load’ and ‘Reload’ days, with ‘King Nothing’ and ‘Fuel’ heating things up with their deliciously feel-good, heavy-hitting alternative rock march. These tracks broadened the setlist fittingly, as paying homage to the era that settled their transition from thrash heroes to mainstream rock darlings was an exciting, and perhaps even essential, component for a successful celebration of the band’s career. Night two continued the trend and raised the bar again – this didn’t feel like leftovers from the previous night, instead providing a fresh and even more charged setlist that heightened the mayhem. ‘Ride The Lightning’ and ‘Wherever I May Roam’ were two of the many legendary tracks to grace the stage, and Metallica’s classic rendition of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ from the ‘Garage Inc’ LP even made a welcome return. Both sets served as remarkable reminders that Metallica doesn’t just dominate rock and metal history, but that they helped inscribe the genre into existence.

Ramping up events to a perhaps surprising level, however, was the band’s new material from April’s ’72 Seasons’. ‘You Must Burn!’ and ‘Screaming Suicide’ brimmed with electricity, possessing the spirit and hunger that Metallica have always been synonymous with. Of course – any new Metallica will naturally possess a lively eagerness – but it was throughout these songs that the metal icons felt like they were really blazing a new trail, and not just recalling the greatest hits. Material old and new combined to create a cracking double headline act from the world’s most famous rockers.

Powerful and wielding a massive sound, Amy Love and Georgia South gave Download a walloping, with already iconic tracks such as ‘Choose your Fighter’ inspiring an awesome wave from the audience.

Nova Twins

Dazzling the audience with an explosive set, the revolutionary duo unleashed a wrecking ball of sharp bass riffs and vocals that possessed a tenacious edge. Powerful and wielding a massive sound, Amy Love and Georgia South gave Download a walloping, with already iconic tracks such as ‘Choose your Fighter’ inspiring an awesome wave from the audience. The London duo made clear that they can compete with other metal heavyweights, swinging for the fences and landing every shot with ease. Already kicking up a storm with just two albums, Nova Twins will no doubt inspire and innovate with whatever path they carve in the years to come.

Bloodywood

Summoning a gargantuan crowd of rockers in the baking heat of midday Sunday, Bloodywood wasted no time and kicked straight into the final day of Download with a mighty performance. Opener ‘Gaddaar’ introduced the band with a frenzy that sent shockwaves across the arena. Other than their ability to provide an impressive array of tracks infused with their Indian folk metal style, Bloodywood possessed an indomitable spirit predicated on optimism; Jayant Bhadula and Raoul Kerr brought along inspiring messages, raising awareness of the battle many people face against depression, and they also placed an ample focus on stamping out sexual assault within society, and the importance of speaking out. The discussion of such distressing contemporary issues was executed well, as the band channelled each issue through their setlist, interweaving the music with the meaning in an incredibly compelling way. On top of all of this greatness, the band’s unique instrumental components flourished, with searing guitar leads complementing flute sections, and gorgeously melodic clean vocals providing breathing room for tightly packed rap verses. Bloodywood is settling the score with metal tropes and is forging a brilliant new path with its union of melody, heritage, and killer riffs.

Haken

Exotic, heavy and ascending through a previously unchartered prog-rock jungle were Haken. Delivering a melodic selection of tracks ranging from the opener (‘Taurus’) from the recent album ‘Fauna’ in addition to tracks spanning through 2020’s ‘Virus’ and beyond, audiences in the packed Dogtooth tent were witness to a wonderful display of genre-bending mastery. Every second of the band’s short set time was utilised masterfully, with each member’s supreme level of musicianship proving that they possess both the heaviness of an elephant stampede and the dexterity of a hummingbird. Vocalist Ross Jennings swept the audience away with the sheer magnitude of his cries, the chorus of ‘Prosthetic’ proving his status as one of the finest lead vocalists on the scene. Haken’s showcase was simply magnetic.

Neck Deep

Buried neck deep in fantastic pop-punk soundwaves were the audiences surrounding the Apex Stage on Saturday. Ben Barlow brought a joyous spirit to the performance, catapulting the atmosphere to the summit of the feel-good peaks of pop punk. Barlow also brought a rebellious and defiant attitude in tow, as he utilised the set to call out the destruction and selfishness that the ruling elite bludgeon society with. There was also room for some mellower tracks too – heartbreak ode ‘December’ flexed the band’s muscles when it comes to more sorrowful topics. Classic tracks such as ‘Gold Steps’ and ‘Can’t’ Kick Up The Roots’ rounded off a fantastic exhibition from the Wrexham crew.

Cancer Bats

Faced with the daunting task of being the first band on (not to mention they were borrowing instruments from Graphic Nature), Cancer Bats overcame the challenge and delivered an exceptionally powerful punch to get things heated up for the following days. Granted, it took a few tracks to sink into the groove, but as soon as ‘Gatekeeper’ was cut loose onto the crowd, Cancer Bats stepped up and only increased in their thrash and fury. Liam Cormier’s charisma was perfect for the cold open; with his boisterous and brazen punk rock attitude, he didn’t just break the ice with the crowd – he shattered it. By the last stretch of the set, Cancer Bats had raised the temperature in the crowd significantly. The set ended in true punk fashion with Cormier getting almost hauled offstage as the sound engineers cut their set for allegedly overrunning. Despite the stage technicians scurrying around dismantling the stage as the band still played, Cormier continued singing with his mic cut out. What a legend.

Placebo

Lighting up the Opus stage with an outstanding array of colours, both visually and musically, Placebo treated audiences to a sonically rich fizz of electronic elements and alternative rock. Brian Molko’s vocals were phenomenal and retained their buoyancy amidst the streams of melodies that accompanied him throughout each track. ‘Beautiful James’ showed off the band’s vibrant energy, captured through a fantastic marriage between Molko’s vocals and Stefan Olsdal’s fuzzy electric guitar. Moodier tracks such as ‘Surrounded by Spies’ and ‘Song to Say Goodbye’ allowed Placebo to sail through a multitude of complex tones, bringing forward bold ambient and noise rock influences to solidify the conspiratorial and despairing tone of each track. Placebo’s set really did feel like a joyous deep dive into discography; the crowd were like fireworks, and by the time the inevitable ‘Nancy Boy’ was let off the hook, it was apparent that the band had nailed their Download debut. Throwing in their cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ for good measure only further solidified this. The alternative rock pioneers aced their Opus stage headline set.

Evanescence

Swarms of fans circled like moths around the Opus stage, eagerly awaiting the return of the band that was present at the very first Download back in 2003. Amy Lee greeted the crowd with a warm welcome before diving into a rich catalogue of Evanescence classics – ‘Going Under’ and ‘Bring Me to Life’ gave audiences the full nu-metal treatment, but there were plenty of fantastic cuts from the band’s recent catalogue. Enchanting and venomous tracks like ‘Wasted On You’ proved that the band haven’t lost their charm and that they’ve only grown into the wider rock and metal scene since their initial plunge into nu-metal. Lee paused through the set, bringing attention to the importance of standing together and using your voice for good. She dazzled the crowd with her charisma and uplifting message and was as elegant on stage as the red ribbon on her dress that floated through her hand and into the breeze.

One of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, The Hu stormed in and delivered a thunderous dive into the world of their Mongolian folk rock.

The Hu

One of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, The Hu stormed in and delivered a thunderous dive into the world of their Mongolian folk rock. Exhibiting their native guttural throat-singing technique to full effect was a mighty display to witness, and it was hard not to feel transported to a distant land. Their apt and almighty cover of ‘Sad But True’ portrayed their confidence in covering classic material too; with a string section as compelling as their guitar and vocal arrangements that left you in shock, The Hu expressed exactly how metal’s cultural relevance only grows stronger across the world.

Municipal Waste

It was impressive that Municipal Waste made it to their performance at all, never mind the fact they managed to deliver a set that was as frenetic and rebellious as the one they did. With their bus breaking down on the way to the gig, it was a close shave – and frontman Tony Foresta’s unbridled enthusiasm illustrated that the band were thankful they made it. A cluster of beer-charged party rock anthems was to follow, with the decadent ‘Beer Pressure’ just one of the many tracks that riled the audience up ready to party for another day. Not even the hottest period of weather stopped them from getting the audience to cut loose, with mosh pits forming as the thrashers marched through their set. Foresta provided quite a few one-liners amidst the performance – it definitely was a party.

Architects

Sparkling flares glinting in the later afternoon sunlight, Sam Carter brought attention to the fact that he never dreamt he’d be standing on the main stage of such a renowned festival, or that he’d be doing so in such glitzy attire. He orchestrated a raucously heavy but masterfully articulated set – the precision the band brought to big-swingers such as ‘Doomsday’ and new tracks such as the more streamlined and hooky ‘Deep Fake’ was mightily impressive. There’s no sign of slowing down for Architects, and their ability to conquer the crowd with such a fantastic catalogue of metalcore classics in conjunction with more arena-rock-oriented anthems proves that the open road is theirs to take; from here on, they can go in any direction they desire.

Download ’24 is set to take place from the 14th-16th of June next year.

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