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Download Festival - Donington Park, Derby - June 13-15, 2014 (Live Review)

Tuesday, 17 June 2014 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Photo (main, inset): Andrew Whitton/Download 2014

Ah, Download Festival. That annual mid-June gathering where heads bang, ears ring and overpriced beer is chugged by the gallon. Held within the hallowed confines of Donington Park, the bash has long since established itself as one of the pivotal points on the UK festival circuit. This year, even with promoters tightening the rules on circle pits, moshing and general silliness, the faithful turned out in full force and fine voice.

Following Thursday's film screenings (a horde of metalheads giggling along to Despicable Me 2 is a sight that can't be unseen) and bloody awful rock karaoke, Miss May I smash the main stage open with ease on Friday afternoon. A vast improvement on their Brixton Academy support slots with Killswitch Engage and Trivium earlier this year, the Ohio metalcore troupe are damn entertaining, if derivative.

Speaking of originality, Crossfaith promptly stride on stage and threaten to steal the weekend. There are so many questions to ask: How does a Slipknot-cum-Prodigy hybrid work so well? Does Ken Koie possess the finest frontman skills in recent memory? What is Terufumi Tamano's job?

He's supposed to be playing keyboard but all he's doing is dicking about and necking Jack Daniel's. Every member of the band – and audience – is going wild, and by the time they whack out their cover of the Prodigy's Omen, they've got Donington in their pocket.

Powerman 5000's industrial stomp keeps the party going, and despite looking like Keith Flint after a few too many, vocalist Spider One proves to be quite the ringleader. But this is merely a warm-up for Skindred, who you may know as the ultimate festival band. The Welsh ragga-punks whip the crowd into an unparalleled frenzy, but it feels as though, by their own stellar standards, the band aren't firing on all cylinders today. That being said, the mass Newport Helicopter during Warning is something that still moistens the eye.

Photo: Steel Panther by Danny North/Download 2014

Within Temptation prove that symphonic metal deserves a place on the main stage, although the use of backing tracks to fill in verses from Xzibit and Howard Jones make for slightly awkward renditions of new tunes from 'Hydra'. Then again, at least they're not Rob Zombie. Stripped of all giant robots, flashing screens and fireworks, he is but a husk of the bogeyman he once appeared to be. The bloke's got some iron-clad, certified bangers, but when the set's stripped down and he's not even singing (shouting) in time... well, it's a bit pants. Try harder, Rob. Please.

Over on the second stage, Flogging Molly kick quite a sizeable chunk of arse with their Celtic punk party anthems, but as the evening progresses it's all about what's gonna go down on the main stage: Avenged Sevenfold. Headlining a UK festival for the very first time, the band copped a lot of shit in the build up to this day, but as soon as they start playing, all doubts are washed away. A shitload of fire erupts as, erm, Shepherd Of Fire heralds the Orange County crew's coming of age. We’re always wondering who's going to step up when Iron Maiden and Metallica are gone, and Avenged Sevenfold are the answer.

Performing to a meagre crowd to begin with, Sevenfold churn through Almost Easy, Nightmare and rarer cuts such as Second Heartbeat like it ain't no thang. M Shadows' vocals are ridiculous and even a wanky, slightly cheesy rendition of the British national anthem by Synyster Gates can't derail this incredible display of showmanship. Afterlife? A Little Piece Of Heaven? Bat Country? You must have heard these songs at some point, and the growing crowd most certainly has. The tribal shout-along to Unholy Confessions wraps everything up, cementing Avenged Sevenfold's status as a worthy – if slightly under appreciated – headliner.

Those up early enough on Saturday morning bear witness to the unholy racket of Dying Fetus, bumped up to a main stage slot via the monumentally silly #whynotdyingfetus hashtag. Fine, so Linkin Park fans are never going to truly appreciate a song like Grotesque Impalement, but it's cool to hear blastbeats and death growls at this time in the morning. Fozzy are a bit of a damp squib in comparison. Chris Jericho's fun and all that, but his stage banter gets a little grating and it soon becomes apparent that the band are yet to perfect their craft.

Photo: Feed The Rhino by Andrew Whitton/Download 2014

The same goes for Bury Tomorrow. The band's work on stage is nothing short of perfect, yet the actual songs are left in the dust by While She Sleeps. Having recently undergone throat surgery, Sleeps main-man Loz Taylor takes the stage as if it's a battlefield while flags emblazoned with the band's logo pop up from all over the audience as the Sheffield metallers level Donington.

Killswitch Engage play an equally formidable set despite guitarist Adam D's gear deciding to fail during half of the songs. Jesse Leach's soaring clean vocals resonate just as much as his trademark screams, throwing down the gauntlet for Bring Me The Horizon. Opinion-splitting vocalist Oli Sykes picks up said gauntlet, examines it and smashes it with all his Northern fury.

The singalong to opener Shadow Moses is a genuine, goosebump-inducing moment, drawing in one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. Sykes' stage banter does get a tad off-putting but you just can't mess with Bring Me The Horizon right now. Drawing mainly from 'Sempiternal', it finally becomes apparent that this band is one of the most inventive, exciting acts in Britain.

Over on the second stage, Twisted Sister suffer from terrible sound but still manage to kick a serious amount of bottom. Opening with Stay Hungry, the band celebrate the 30th anniversary of their breakthrough album of the same name in style. Guitarist Jay Jay French sarcastically moans about the band being shunned by the main stage, I Wanna Rock is played and everyone is left wondering how Dee Snider still hits those notes, and has a stomach like an ironing board, at his age. Shortly afterwards, Ginger Wildheart serenades a clutch of punters over at the acoustic stage with a collection of catchy ditties in preparation for the colossal disappointment soon to land on the main stage.

Photo: Sabaton by Andrew Whitton/Download 2014

That is, of course, Linkin Park. Their debut bombshell, 'Hybrid Theory', may be one of the biggest selling albums of the 21st century but, to be brutally honest, it sounds flat when played live. None of them really look like they can be arsed, with the exception of screamer Chester Bennington, so it's down to Behemoth to save the day on the Pepsi Max stage. And that they do.

There's fire, there's confetti and there's all sorts of evil going on here. Cuts from this year's 'The Satanist' are absolutely crushing, and it becomes apparent just why these Polish masters are fast becoming part of the extreme metal elite. Brutal, elegant and uncompromising, it's their year.

Viza's System Of A Down-esque wackiness is the perfect hangover cure come Sunday morning, treating all in attendance to a supreme slab of fun and their rendition of the Doors' Alabama Song, simply one of the coolest covers ever. Thy Art Is Murder and Feed The Rhino then keep the energy at an all-time high in the Pepsi tent, the former brutalising  everything in their path while the latter hurl themselves into the crowd with little regard for, well, anything.

Sepultura defy expectations over on the second stage, with the inevitable airing of Arise, Ratamahatta and Roots Bloody Roots evoking obscene amounts of moshing and fist-flailing. The same goes for Sabaton. In an unexpected turn, the Swedish power metal heroes turn up and play one of the most entertaining sets of the weekend. Every song they pump out is bursting with vigour, from opener Ghost Division to latest single To Hell And Back.

Photo: Dillinger Escape Plan by Derek Bremner/Download 2014

And then we have Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals. Despite claims that our Phil has lost it, the man seems to have taken no notice. He opens with Hellbound, for fuck's sake. His screams are on top form, taking the lucky witnesses through a special set littered with rarities amid his solo material. Obviously it's the Pantera stuff that gets the biggest reaction and Death Rattle is harrowingly harsh, while for A New Level ex-Pantera bassist Rex Brown is beckoned on stage. This is a truly momentous occasion that ends with an Agnostic Front cover. Why? Because he's Philip H. Anselmo, that's why.

Steel Panther tickle the funny bones of all in attendance at the main stage, interspersing puerile gags with top-notch glam metal. You can say whatever you want about the Panther, but they've eclipsed many of the bands that they're taking the piss out of in terms of both skill and size. There's a reason they're booked to play Wembley Arena next year.

Alter Bridge somewhat kill the party vibe, but it's all good. Myles Kennedy possesses one of the best voices in rock music, and songs from new album 'Fortress' go down an absolute treat in preparation for the arrival of Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. But, we had other things in mind.

Over the course of the festival, there's been a fair bit of variation: good bands, bad bands and bloody weird bands. And then there's Dillinger Escape Plan. There's not really any way to truly explain a Dillinger show without resorting to random, stream-of-consciousness babbling and expletives. It's just mad. The band look like a gaggle of fleas being electrocuted as TV screens flash with pulsating images while utterly terrifying strands of math metal are flung at the audience. A truly brutal – but necessary – end to the UK's premier rock event.

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