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Download Festival 2018: Ageless Anthems And ​Stunning Sunshine At The Ultimate Metal Party

Wednesday, 20 June 2018 Written by Jon Stickler and Dave Ball

Photo: Matt Eachus

So, Download is over for another year. After days of glorious sunshine (!), 100,000 people are now slowly readjusting to life outside the hallowed gates of Donington Park following another edition of one of the biggest rock, metal and punk parties in the world. Until we do it all again next summer, all that’s left to do is talk about the memories.

It’s Woking’s purveyors of feral, untamed technical hardcore Employed To Serve who are among Friday’s most talked about bands, attracting an impressive crowd to the Avalanche Stage. We’ve been spoiled for choice when it comes to extreme metal releases in recent years and their frighteningly brutal set draws from the pick of the bunch ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’. It scares the living shit out of those daring to venture out after a splash of morning rain. Decked out in matching jackets, the band are growing into a full-on force of nature.

The Avalanche Stage is a big deal this year, with another explosive set coming from Stray From The Path a little later in the afternoon. Their combo of Rage Against The Machine worship, bouncy nu-metal riffs and scathing sociopolitical lyrics is delivered with raw passion. Meanwhile, anyone who witnessed crossover alchemists Marmozets’ main stage debut will be talking about vocalist Becca Macintyre’s star quality for a long time. Having only just released their second album, ‘Knowing What You Know Now’, a few months prior, they overcome initial sound problems to hammer through bangers such as Play and Major System Error.

Back at the Avalanche stage a double header of sonic carnage from Cancer Bats and the Bronx is as wild as you would expect it to be. Riding the success of their blistering return to form, ‘The Spark That Moves’, everybody’s favourite Canadian party starters have the tent filled to bursting point for a greatest hits set before the Bronx take over hell-raising duties, with vocalist Matt Caughthran diving in and out of the circle pits, barely catching his breath.

Avenged Sevenfold are back to headline the Main Stage on Friday night, returning to top the bill for a second time after an underwhelming, wide-eyed performance in 2014 due to their newfound status. Just in case anyone still doubted their modern rock star credentials, the band, now at the top of their game, deliver a prop-filled feast for the eyes, complete with retina-burning pyro, that transcends their entire career. A thrilling triumph.

There’s plenty of broken bodies scattered around on Saturday morning but it doesn’t diminish the giddy hype around Guns N’ Roses playing for over three hours. Yup. Three. Hours. THREE! Will they be on time? Will Axl be up for it? Their overblown evening of anthems, which features several songs from ‘Appetite For Destruction’, plus ballads Estranged, Civil War and Coma, is a preposterous spectacle, but also a lot of fun.

The rock legends ultimately win over what is by far the biggest crowd of the weekend, but covers of Velvet Revolver’s Slither, as a nod to the late Scott Weiland, Wichita Lineman, The Seeker, Wish You Were Here, the Misfits’ Attitude, Layla, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door and Black Hole Sun, a touching tribute to Chris Cornell, push their set towards mind-numbing. They’re on for so long that many are left trying to remember a time in their life when Slash wasn’t playing a solo.

Photo: Sarah Koury

Earlier in the day, Texas natives Whiskey Myers offer some southern rock for those suffering through the morning after the night before, and it’s songs from 2016’s ‘Mud’ that receive the rowdiest response. The old-school contingent are content in front of the "Planet Rock" stage for most of the day, with everyone from old timers Thunder, hairy Canadians Monster Truck, Scotland’s the Temperance Movement, who seem a little nervous in front of a Download audience, and the Struts keeping the classic rock spirit alive. Meanwhile, Kentucky’s blue-collar rock MVPs Black Stone Cherry deliver southern-tinged anthems such as Me And Mary Jane and White Trash Millionaire alongside a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, but it’s all a little clichéd for such a big slot on the bill.

While on the subject of golden oldies Download is often accused of favouring heritage acts over newer bands, but the increased representation of fresh young talent in recent years is very exciting for the future. Having stormed their way through grimy pubs and clubs for years, Puppy, Dream State, Milk Teeth, Knocked Loose, Shvpes and Rolo Tomassi all threaten to take the top off the tent with ear-splittingly loud sets we’ll still be talking about come next summer. It’s also impossible to take your eyes off former Letlive. frontman Jason Aalon Butler and the Fever 333 during their not-so-secret, politically charged UK debut. When their album arrives, start paying them some serious attention.

All that and we haven’t yet factored in Parkway Drive pulling off the performance of the weekend on the Zippo Stage. They batter the crowd with pounding riffs, circle pits and airborne beer. They know what we want: raucous shoutalongs, the whole stage covered in fire and drummer Ben Gordon strapped into a revolving riser that leaves him soloing upside down. We get all of that, of course, but also a sense that the Brisbane metalcore merchants have staked a convincing claim to be future headliners.

Photo: Caitlin Mogridge

Sunday’s peaks include the joyous sight of Cradle of Filth’s Dani Filth snarling and howling like the last 25 years didn’t happen, and Turbonegro’s vivacious and downright daft glam-punk hybrid making a field full of sunburnt fans dance like idiots for 30 minutes. In fact, sun-drenched joy is in plentiful supply across Donington Park, from Zeppelin throwbacks Greta Van Fleet and gold-standard thrash gurning by German legends Kreator, to the cut-throat obnoxiousness of Ice-T’s Body Count and warbling along to Shinedown in front of the Main Stage. Downloaders have plenty to smile about.

Not even the prospect of an iffy Marilyn Manson set can dampen the spirits as Donington’s resident God of Fuck turns out a terrifying but chilled set, joking with fans: “Thank you for coming out in daylight – the opposite of our lives.” Anyone who attended Download in 2009 can attest to how forgettable his performances can be but riding the success of his 10th LP, ‘Heaven Upside Down’, Manson is on top form and even has time for an encore of The Beautiful People accompanied by Dani Filth on backing screams, closing with a cover of Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys.

Photo: Ross Halfin

It all ends with more immense fun courtesy of the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. In much better voice than his previous appearances with Black Sabbath, Ozzy delivers the hits. Bark At The Moon, Mr Crowley, No More Tears, Shot In The Dark and Crazy Train all pass by in a blur of massive singalongs and flying lager. Buzzkills might point to the overblown Zakk Wylde solos over number of songs in the set, but it’s all so amusing that the only reasonable response is to get out the air guitar and look forward to next summer.

Download Festival 2019 takes place between June 14 and 16, with various ticket packages on sale now. Highlights of this year’s event will be broadcast on Sky Arts on June 29 and 30.

Download Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Fri June 14 2019 - DERBY Donington Park
Sat June 15 2019 - DERBY Donington Park
Sun June 16 2019 - DERBY Donington Park

Click here to compare & buy Download Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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