I pitched up at Cosham station at 5.50am, ready to make the jaunt up the country to Donington Park for the first time since 2007. The journey itself was fairly painless (although the only opportunity of sleep was ruined by a guard needing to check my ticket en route to Derby). There was a slight moment of stress for me as the train stopped at Eastleigh for about 10minutes without any given reason (I had to change at Winchester for the train to Derby, so a lengthy stay at Eastleigh was not my idea of fun). One aspect of the journey that I really liked was the shuttle bus ride from Derby to Donington as it enabled me to revisit good memories from previous Download festivals. The village, Castle Donington, has not changed much (if at all). The bus got us close to Donington Park and kicked us out. What I didn’t count on was how long the walk would be from the bus stop to the arena. It was a good mile, perhaps longer. I had read people discussing the walk from the campsite to the arena and I can now see what they mean. One thing which pleased me was that the weather seemed like it was going to be quite nice. Anyway, got into the arena before any bands I wanted to see had started. The Devil Wears Prada had started on main stage but I just heard them as I went over to the second stage. Band ratings in brackets will be out of 10.
SACRED MOTHER TONGUE (7)
Pretty lively and loud way to start of my day at Download. I didn’t know a great deal of their set as I’d only listened to bits and pieces on Spotify. When they finished I decided to go get a decent spot for the next band. They didn’t draw a massive crowd but the first few bands don’t tend to – as it is usually hangovers that are being tended to.
ALL THAT REMAINS (8)
Another band who I didn’t know a great deal by but they really impressed me. I didn’t stick around for the entirety of their set, but I was there for most of it and it was really good. I ventured back to the second stage to see a band who I’ve managed to miss so many times.
RISE TO REMAIN (9)
Nepotism can only get you so far in life. I have no doubt in my mind that the reason Rise To Remain got their break was due to the fact the lead singer, Austin Dickinson, has a pretty famous father called Bruce (much in the same way we know who the Lauren Harris band is due to Steve Harris). However, the reason why they will become an important band in the metalcore scene is due to performances such as this one – they were superb. Austin said that he couldn’t believe how many people had come to check them out as well. This was a remark which confused me at first as when they started, I walked to the barrier at the front without issue to take photos. However I turned around in my new position and saw what he meant. There was a big crowd which saw an awesome performance.
STRAIGHT LINE STITCH (6)
I intended to go and watch Escape the Fate at this point, however they had already started by the time Rise To Remain finished and I decided to stroll over to the third stage to see whoever was on. It turned out to be Straight Line Stitch making their debut UK appearance. They were fairly entertaining and I enjoyed what I heard. I entertained the thought before the festival of seeing them but picked EtF as I figured I would enjoy them more. I have no idea now if that is so, but at least the band I chose weren’t shit.
This will sound strange considering the score I’ve given them, but this is probably ranks 4th out of the 4 times I’ve seen Skindred live. The two wedge gigs were insane and the set at Sonisphere last year just had something extra which I can’t quite put my finger on. I was pleased with the setlist as I had to miss the encore at this year’s wedge gig and they played all 4 of the songs from that encore. However there was no Bruises, which was a shame. I would have preferred that to Cut Dem to be perfectly honest but no matter. They were still awesome but I’ve seen them put on a completely mind-blowing set/gig – which this set didn’t quite match.
HOLLYWOOD UNDEAD (7)
I didn’t hang round for their whole set due to another band on the second stage who I hoped to catch. However what I saw of Hollywood Undead was pretty damn good. Opening with my favourite song of theirs, Undead was a fantastic way to start. One thing which I couldn’t put my finger on is why they switch so frequently between rap metal and pop-punk almost. Very strange meshing of styles by one band. Whatever though, they were good. One thing which did surprise me was that they unmasked themselves fairly early on. I don’t know if this is something they do every time or not, but it something I did not expect.
There wasn’t a massive amount of crowd interaction from Clutch, which is usually a killer for me. In this instance though it wasn’t, as Clutch came on stage and held a pretty large second stage crowd (myself included) in the palms of their hands. It was the 3rd time I’d seen Clutch and by far the best. Once Clutch finished their set, which came by seemingly quite fast, I headed back over to the main stage, where the next band on had already begun.
The second best band of the day were Down. From the moment I strolled over to the main stage right through until they finished their set – they were just on. I can’t name a weak moment. A set mostly made up from the first two (and in my opinion, better) albums, Down blasted through their classics with a very talkative Phil Anselmo addressing the crowd in-between every song. A personal highlight for me was the tribute to Dimebag Darrell, Anselmo’s former band mate in Pantera, by playing a bit of Walk. I’ve heard this song covered before but never live with Anselmo singing. It was a massive moment for me, especially as they launched into Lifer following Walk, which is my favourite Down song. A superb moment in a superb set.
DAN REED (3) – So dull. I actually left the Jagermeister stage, where I planned to see the band after him as I just couldn’t stand him. He wasn’t bad; he was just really really dull. I decided to take a walk over to the second stage.
MR BIG (8) – I only stayed for two songs of their set while trying to decide where to head next following Dan Reed. Mr Big were really good from what I heard. Fit in very well with the almost classic rock/rock and roll genres of the second stage to conclude the Saturday. I wish I’d seen more of them. I decided to head over to the third stage, knowing that there was a band on which I was going to miss in favour of Bowling For Soup acoustic. I was quite pleased when I walked in and saw the Evile banner hanging over the stage.
A short set from Evile saw 2 songs from their first album, one from the second album and 2 from the new album. The new songs sound really good and make me excited for the album. I was moderately excited for Infected Nations, but Five Serpent’s Teeth already sounds better. The songs from the first album did not include Enter the Grave, which surprised me as they’ve always played that when I’ve seen them. They played First Blood and Thrasher. They finished up strong with the song Infected Nation. Another great set from Evile, but still no Armoured Assault!
Instead of going to the main stage to see Skunk Anansie, I decided to walk off to get some dinner and head back to the third stage to see Sevendust. When I saw them at the wedge, they were superb so I was really happy to get to see them again. They were alright, but their setlist seemed quite short for the time they had allotted. I was hoping for much more of the stuff I knew from them which didn’t quite happen. Slight disappointment as they could have been much better. I was wondering if something blew up on stage as there was a period of no music and the band just talking which seemed to take quite a while. No matter.
AVENGED SEVENFOLD (8)
I’m not a massive fan of Avenged Sevenfold. I haven’t really liked their last two albums that much and thought when I saw them in 2008 twice (Twickenham and Wacken) that they were dire live. I had planned to see Twisted Sister instead of A7X, however when I got out of the third stage after Sevendust, I saw the crowd and decided to give them a listen. They were really good. I heard one song which I knew well (Unholy Confessions) and the rest I heard was all new to me (probably heard it before but didn’t remember it). The song “God Hates Us” was probably the highlight for me out of the songs I heard. One thing which warrants a mention as well is how cool their stage show was. 3 gates on the stage with the A 7 and X on, lots of fire and quite a few fireworks as well. This band will be a festival headliner soon, and based on this performance it will be well deserved. However, it was time for the day’s main stage headliner, and indeed the reason why I was at the festival.
SYSTEM OF A DOWN (10)
I had two major concerns about SOAD. The first concern I had was about the crowd and how nuts it was going to get. I generally get that concern when down the front at a festival so this wasn’t a major concern. The major concern for me was how many people had said SOAD were shit live. This was a pretty serious concern for me as I’d be gutted if it transpired that they were terrible live. However I guess it is down to individual opinion sometimes. I read reviews that they were terrible at Rock AM Ring. I watched that set and couldn’t disagree more. Anyway, after the rig was sorted, a curtain dropped down covering the main stage from view. They kicked into Prison Song from behind the curtain and when it dropped, the crowd (myself included) went nuts. All fears I had about their live performance were quickly eliminated as they were superb. There was some crowd interaction, but they would finish a song and straight away start into another one before giving the crowd chance to catch their breath. It was an intense set and packed with almost everything I love about System of a Down. The set was:
1. Prison Song
2. Soldier Side – Intro
6. Deer Dance
12. Chop Suey!
13. Lonely Day
15. Kill Rock ‘n Roll
16. Lost In Hollywood
19. Holy Mountains
Almost the perfect setlist for me. I would have loved to have heard some extra songs but honestly cannot think of what to take out to fit them in. I would have liked to have heard Violent Pornography. Boom!, ATWA, Darts (which was played at Rock AM Ring), Shimmy, Chic ‘N’ Stu, and Fuck the System. I am so happy with the setlist we got though as I’ve seen the one from a few nights ago and a lot got cut from that list. The crowd throughout the gig was pretty lively, including being caught in the middle of 3 circle pits (with a few people who looked petrified heh). All in all, I am so happy with how good SOAD were, how good the setlist was and generally how good the day at Download was. I would have probably felt cheated if SOAD weren’t good, but thankfully this isn’t something I have to consider as they were great. If they play the UK again (within reason), I will definitely go see them again.
The post-bands of the day can be summed up fairly quickly. I had planned to go to the casino in Derby but what I didn’t factor in was the fact I’d be walking on grass, mud and gravel all day. My trousers were a touch dirty by the end of the festival and I figured there was no chance of getting let in. I spent 6 hours at Derby train station, trying to find various bits of comfortable floor to sleep on. This was accomplished in small doses. Managed to sleep about 2.5 hours or so in the station, and another 2 on the way back to London. I feel I am too old now to be sleeping in train stations, but for the right band, I would do it all over again! I got a second wind of being awake when in London, which was quite helpful except it meant I couldn’t sleep on the way back to Fratton. The day at Download was superb. Awesome summer plan one complete. Up next – Foo Fighters at the MK Bowl.