I had wanted to go to Download ever since the spectacular 2012 line up. I was excited to finally see the UK’s second biggest festival, which is also one of the biggest rock and metal festivals in Europe. In the build-up to the weekend, there had been numerous reports of “biblical rain” and “people leaving before music had started” so a last-minute dash to buy a pair of wellies was definitely the best decision of the weekend. Whilst I was preparing to face the most awful weather I may have ever confronted – wellies, ponchos and bin bags all stashed away – “drownload” had cleared up by the time I arrived on Friday and, instead, I got nicely sunburnt on Saturday afternoon.
While the weekend was still pretty wet and the arena rather muddy, the staff and guest camping I was staying in was luxurious compared to reports we’d heard. Perhaps the main camping area saw the worst of the mud and rain, but I certainly didn’t and received the ultimate karma blow of coming home with a sunburnt face.
Missing a few bands on the Friday due to late arrival, I was lucky enough to catch the end of Clutch’s set, which was pretty thunderous and well received. Next, I saw Opeth – surprisingly in the sun – but despite the warmer weather and exhibition in musical ability, their set was lacking in energy and swayed too heavily from their jazz influences to their death metal influences. They lacked a basis to explore either spectrum, and played a disappointingly incohesive set. Rob Zombie’s set was a bit topsy-turvy. Having heard of amazing shows full of spectacle, I was slightly underwhelmed by the show which depended on flashing lights and videos on the screens behind the band. However, the band played some good songs and were full of energy. Closing on Friday we saw the hugely well received Swedish death metal band At the Gates, who played an electrifying set with a packed crowd.
Saturday started with the incredibly fun Royal Republic, bringing their Nordic comedy and style. Their onstage antics were genuinely funny, and their songs well written and listenable. Skindred gave a superb performance whilst the “biblical rain” returned, which could have been the heaviest patch of rain I’d seen all weekend. Despite the rain, the crown was undeterred in giving everything to show their appreciation to Skindred. During their set they get the crowd to perform the “Newport Helicopter”, which involves everyone taking their shirts off and swing them around their heads. With a crowd of nearly a hundred thousand metalheads, that was quite a sight. Die Antwoord graced the stage under a rainbow and bright sun (leading to my lovely sunburn) sending the crowd manic. Their set was an interesting mix of both shocking and funny. Whilst they might not have been the classic choice to play, they gave a great show and were a fantastic breakup from the traditional metal the festival is mainly used to. Headliners Slipknot brought new music and masks to Download with their usual crazy stage show, reminding everyone why Slipknot headline a festival.
Sunday was woken up with the emphatic show that Viking band Amon Amarth brought, with flame-throwers, Viking battles, and a blow-up dragon, turning Download once again into a drunken celebration, Viking style. One of the festival standouts were Lamb of God who under the hot sun again brought on the sunburn. Drummer Chris Adler was having Art Cruz standing in and despite no Adler, Cruz gave a stunning performance and helped the band smash it. Smashing Pumpkins, a rather unusual choice of band, (and my teenage favourites) gave a surprisingly good performance playing some of my favourite songs from my teenage years. Unfortunately, the worst clash of the weekend fell with Slayer and Tool, leading to only watching the first three Slayer songs. For their final ever UK performance at least I got to see three songs.
On the other hand, Sunday headliners Tool must have been a highlight of not just Download, but live music this year for me. They played an incredible set of material not only from their previous albums but added in a couple of new songs, mixing heavy hitting riffs with mellow psychedelic contrasts. Their first show in the UK since 2007 was long awaited and they certainly delivered, with an incredible performance. Tool, instead of the performance spectacle of Slipknot, bring an incredible visual show with animations and stock motion videos to accompany the music, many of which are done by guitarist Adam Jones. The band’s music videos, and the gritty stock motion captures the mood of the music.
Tool’s long-awaited return was highly anticipated and such a send-off for Download 2019. This too is potentially the last time we will see them if they spend another 13 years on the next album (the wait we’ve endured from “10,000 days” to the still-untitled album being released later this year). I don’t see them touring again with members approaching 60 unless more shows are added for this year. Hopefully so, as they were the standout of the festival and left me breathless.
Download was such an impressive festival. Well catered for all, and with quality in every direction. I was taken aback with the size of the arena and the number of people everywhere you looked; it was sometimes a little disorientating. Despite some unpleasant and jumbled weather, this didn’t dampen the mood for one second, and the rain added some interesting uncertainty about what the day had in store. While missing some of the bands I had set out to see, I came away feeling fulfilled with some killer music and killer sunburn. Festival done right.
Find out more about Download 2020.