Queen Zee

Download Festival 2019 at Donington Park, Leicestershire, UK, June 14th, 2019

Jun 21, 2019 Web Exclusive
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If the bright sunshine and soaring temperatures experienced during the previous two years at Download set pulses racing for another weekend of scorching rays and heavy rock, mud and rain dominated proceedings at this year's event. Heavy rain throughout the week turned parts of Donington Park into a swamp, particularly the main camping villages where revellers had been arriving since Wednesday morning-two days before the main arena and festival itself opened its doors. With rumours circulating the festival might even be cancelled (not a chance, we've experienced far wetter Downloads than this before) and people actually leaving the site on Friday morning while most of us were still arriving, the prospects looked grim.

But then this is Download, and its legion of devotees have become immune to such things as adverse weather having experienced their fare share of soakings and storms over its seventeen years of existence. While its four stages of music remain as with the previous two editions-the Main, Zippo Encore, Avalanche, and Dogtooth stages respectively-the WWE enclosure finds itself repositioned in the opposite corner of the arena to where it previously stood. Which doesn't detract from the numbers queuing both inside and out over the course of the weekend.

While none of this year's headliners match the profile or pulling power of 2018's big two Guns N' Roses and Ozzy Osbourne, they're all worthy bill toppers in their own right. For perennial favorites Slipknot, being elevated to the Main stage Saturday night headline slot is the culmination of two decades worth of dominating the nu metal scene. Having headlined twice before in 2013 and 2015 (on the lesser feted Friday slot), their set felt like a celebration of sorts, even for those of us not necessarily indoctrinated to Slipknot's musical wares.

Slipknot

 

Tool on the other hand might have seemed a strange choice to close the festival, particularly when pitched head-to-head with the mighty Slayer's last ever scheduled UK show over on the Zippo Encore stage. Nevertheless, this UK exclusive attracted a hardcore garrison of its own, many resplendent in Tool and A Perfect Circle T-shirts, clearly enthralled at the prospect of paying homage to Maynard James Keenan one more time.

Playing Friday's headline slot were Def Leppard, a band whose legendary status was assured three decades ago having been at the forefront of the new wave of British heavy metal back in 1980. Which is just as well because tonight's 32nd anniversary celebration of the band's multi-platinum selling fourth long player Hysteria proved just the tonic in combating the rain clouds and muddy posture under foot. While the annals of time and Spinal Tap may have rendered them slightly unfashionable, there's no denying the sheer ferocity in songs like "Animal" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me" to get even the dampest party started. Making their first appearance here in eight years, Joe Elliott and co's decision to bookend the encore with early singles "Let It Go" and "Photograph" with the likes of "Let's Get Rocked" and "Love Bites" proved an equally adept masterstroke, pleasing fans both old and new in the process.

Indeed, the first day belonged to the '80s hair metal era with both Skid Row and Whitesnake owning their respective afternoon slots on the Zippo Encore and Main stages. While only three members from Skid Row's commercial heyday remain, their flawless set of glam rock punctuated by the occasional, poignant ballad set memories racing back to a time when songs like "Youth Gone Wild" and "18 and Life" were anthems of rebellion. Having gone through more singers than a televised talent show audition and probably inherited some of the same incumbents, current mic slinger ZP Theart might just be their finest yet since Sebastian Bach during that aforementioned purple period.

Meanwhile, Whitesnake are also a revelation playing the Friday teatime slot to a boisterous crowd. Fronted by the effervescent David Coverdale, who at 67-year-old still possesses a sprightly demeanour not to mention crystalline vocal performance bands half his age would kill for. This year's Flesh & Blood ranks among the band's finest collections to date, so it comes as no surprise when the likes of "Trouble Is Your Middle Name" and "Shut Up & Kiss Me" find themselves despatched with gusto then rapturously received in equal measure out front. Whitesnake also possess a number of bonafide hits in their impressive canon and the closing, four-song gambit that incorporates "Is This Love," "Give Me All Your Love," "Here I Go Again," and "Still of the Night" proves as good as it gets all weekend.

Elsewhere, Slash and Miles Kennedy's collaborative efforts don't quite live up to each of their individual billings. While local(ish) heroes Conjurer make a valid claim for a higher placing on a bigger stage next year, their mid-afternoon set packing out the Dogtooth stage and in the process, becoming one of the most talked about performances of the weekend.

Saturday's early risers were in for a treat thanks to Sweden's Royal Republic. Making their second visit to Download, the Malmo based four-piece delighted hardcore fans and voyeuristic stragglers alike, not least when encouraging approximately 10,000 people to form individual circle pits with anyone standing in close proximity during a lively "Stop Movin'." Which the majority did without too much persuasion, before launching into a note perfect rendition of Metallica's "Battery" followed by 2016's breakthrough single "Baby" at the rip-roaring finale.

Royal Republic

 

Liverpudlian outfit Queen Zee also deliver a dazzling set to an ever-filling Dogtooth stage tent. Musically reminiscent of bands like King Adora, Rachel Stamp, or (whisper it) early Manic Street Preachers, they're something of an anomaly among the standard metal fare of a typical Download bill. Yet songs like "Loner," "Porno," and anthemic closer "I Hate Your Boyfriend" possess a raw sassiness that renders them surefire crowd pleasers whatever the occasion.

Also hailing from Merseyside but at the other end of the musical spectrum are Carcass. Their 1988 debut Reek of Putrefaction still ranks as one of the finest debuts any metal band has ever released, not to mention groundbreaking as well having given birth to numerous sub genres in its wake. While the frenetic energy of those early shows is omnipresent, unsurprisingly considering original members Bill Steer and Jeff Walker remain at the core of the band's progressive sound, there's also a refined depth to their repertoire here. Headlining any stage at an event like Download may have taken three decades to happen, but judging by the melee of bodies clamouring to get anywhere near the Dogtooth stage it was definitely worth the wait.

Die Antwoord

 

If metal and Download in particular has always been an all-encompassing scene where anyone is welcome that probably explains the inclusion of Die Antwoord so high up Saturday's Main stage bill. Playing as the penultimate act before Slipknot, they've amassed a huge crowd even if their shtick is sometimes a tad confusing. "It's like Aqua with guitars!" shouts one wag and to a large extent it's hard to disagree, but then they'll go and drop an A grade banger like "Ugly Boy" and all is forgotten. Better still are Pennsylvanian rockers Halestorm, a band who've seemingly been around forever yet only just started to reap the benefits in recent times. When singer and guitarist Lzzy Hale is joined on vocals by Asami from Japanese thrashers LOVEBITES for (inevitably) "Love Bites" the Zippo Encore stage goes nuts. Future Main stage headliners? You read it here first.

Halestorm

 

If Sunday is meant to be the day of winding down someone clearly forgot to tell Dinosaur Pile-Up. Having put out their first release a decade ago and enjoyed more highs and lows than a rollercoaster along the way, their energetic mix of council estate grunge and classic rock riffage provides the deafening wake up call most of us expect Berocca and coffee to produce after a heavy late night session.

We're also taken aback by Mancunian singer, songwriter, and performer extraordinaire Kim Jennett. Still something of a relatively unknown quantity outside of the metal scene despite having fronted the vastly underrated Voodoo Blood for three years, Jennett's brand of classic rock fused with the occasional foray into blues territories made her set one of the most dynamic of the day. Vocally reminiscent of both Robert Plant and Pat Benatar, Jennett has a proficiently taut band featuring Skin guitarist Myke Gray among others.

If you've ever wondered where shoegaze, post rock, and death metal meet and give birth to a new genre you probably haven't seen Alcest. While appearances on the touring circuit have become less frequent in recent years, they're still no less of a potent force in the flesh. "Autre Temps" off 2012's Les Voyages De L'Ame becomes even more overwhelming in a live setting than on record (think Sigur Rós if they'd been reared by wolves) while "Percees De Lumiere" off most recent LP Kodama raises the roof in more ways than one.

If there's one thing that's certain about Billy Corgan it's his constant unpredictability. With such an awe-inspiring canon of songs to choose from over the past three decades not to mention being surrounded by such accomplished musicians as he is this evening, what could possibly go wrong? Technically, nothing. With three-fourths of their original line-up back in the fold, The Smashing Pumpkins are indeed a formidable musical tour de force. Yet at times, Corgan's choice of songs can be as frustrating as it is baffling. A cover of Black Sabbath's "Snowblind" hands the spotlight to Danish artist Myrkur, whose duet with Corgan proves unnervingly beautiful. There are also welcome renditions of "Zero" and "Disarm" but too much of tonight's set is devoted to his more recent compositions and as a result, many of (The) Smashing Pumpkins' biggest songs are criminally ignored.

Say all you want about Slayer but there's never been a band before like them and probably never will be again. Emerging at a time when the metal scene was in need of a dynamic resurgence, Slayer provided a kick up the backside that's inspired just about every band worth their salt ever since. So it's quite fitting they get to play their final UK show at Donington Park, the unofficial home of metal since Monsters of Rock first opened its doors here around the same time as Slayer were laying down their earliest recordings. Unsurprisingly, the Zippo Encore stage is a hive of activity long before they appear, the audience stretching back as far as the arena concourse directly in front of the assembled food and merchandise vendors littered along its pathway. When they do eventually take to the stage opening with "Relentless," the title track off their final album, mayhem ensues out front with circle pits erupting in every given corner. Indeed, it's impossible not to get involved and when a brutal "Postmortem" gives way to an equally seismic "Hate Worldwide," team Under the Radar does just that. For the next hour or so they're a relentless force, a ferocious eight-legged beast who instead of using this as one last payday, play as if their lives depended on it. "Evil Has No Boundaries" and "Black Magic" off debut LP Show No Mercy sound as vital and cutting as when first recorded back in 1983, while a closing "Angel Of Death" renders everyone speechless including a clearly emotional Tom Araya before he leaves a UK stage for one final time.

So long and farewell Slayer, you will be greatly missed. A most appropriate way to bring down the curtain on the world's premier metal festival.

www.downloadfestival.co.uk

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