It’s day three, the sun appears to be shining again and nobody can quite believe it. There’s a reason they call this festival Drownload: it’s been years since there was a dry one.
By 2.30pm everyone’s hangovers are in full swing and Devildriver don’t plan on easing them. Their heavy metal assault is relentlessly noisy – their recorded stuff is malevolent, but live it’s louder than hell. Former Coal Chamber frontman Dez Fafara mans the helm as he snarls and growls through Daybreak from their new record Trust No One – screaming the final line “never relent” with so much gusto that your ear drums recoil a tad.
Tracks like ‘I Could Care Less’ are belted out with bile, but the catchy ‘Clouds Over California’ is the obvious highlight. It’s loud, super riffy and pulverising right until the final moments. And it’s a great warm up for what’s in store later – today is definitely going to be a heavy one.
That’s because Ministry is playing on the second stage. The crowd is small, but dedicated, and it soon begins to expand as they delve straight into ‘Punch In The Face’ which – like its namesake – takes aggro to the next level. ‘Golden Dawn’ is barked into a microphone by singer Al Jourgensen, who runs about the stage like a creepy little elf sporting serious amounts of metal through his face (he’s said to have had all 16 done in one sitting, fact fans…) It’s hard to imagine how any band even attempting to play on the nearby main stage can be heard over their noise.
By the time they play their classic 1992 track ‘New World Order’ the crowd has doubled in size. Jourgensen just has to do a circular motion with his hand and a sizeable pit magically starts. They’re an undeniable highlight of the weekend.
Clutch amble on to the stage, but are thwarted by sound issues as singer Neil Fallon realises his guitar isn’t quite plugged in: “Hey we’re Clutch, we’re professional musicians,” he quips. They start with ‘Boxcar Shorty’s Confession’ – bluesy rock ‘n’ roll perfection – followed by dancefloor classic ‘The Mob Goes Wild’. With its chugging speed riffs, ‘X-Ray Visions’ shows them to be the total pros they are. It’s the perfect time of day to be watching this band – the sun is beaming down, beers are in hand and the pits caused by previous act Ministry have now evolved into a bluesy dance party of the best kind.
Slayer don’t really need an introduction – they’re Download royalty, having played the festival since its earliest days in the ’80s as Monsters Of Rock. They launch straight into ‘Repentless’ from the 2015 album of the same name. As expected, it’s utterly devastating. Vocally, Tom Araya is on his A game today. ‘Disciple’ has thousands of heads nodding in unison as the line ‘God Hates Us All’ lacerates through the speakers.
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They pelt them out after that – ‘Fight Till Death’, ‘War Ensemble’ and ‘Dead Skin Mask’ – all sound incredible, but a little weird in the broad daylight. Still, despite the lack of brooding darkness, they’re memorable and completely on point.
Dillinger Escape Plan sadly clash with tons of great bands on the other stages – but that doesn’t stop them filling the Avalanche stage to the brim. It’s their last UK show – they’re about to split up – so it’s a big moment in rock history going down at Donnington Park. They don’t shy away from playing everything the crowd wants – namely ‘Black Bubblegum’, ‘Happiness Is a Smile’ and ‘Milk Lizard’. Though all good things must sadly come to an end, here’s hoping for great music still to come from DEP in various new guises.
Alter Bridge are nothing if not predictable. That’s not to do them a disservice in any way, because they’re reliably good and very rarely fail to deliver. They open with ‘Come To Life’ from 2007’s ‘Blackbird’, which always sounds little unmoving live. But before there’s even time to stew about it they’re already into ‘Farther Than The Sun’ – pacier and far more effervescent.
The crowd today is by far the biggest they’ve ever had at Download – and deservedly so. But that’s not to say they’re without detractors. So many people brush them aside as ‘boring’ or ‘safe’ – the kind of band you listen to to pass the time. And there are elements of that at times – they’re never super heavy or massively experimental. But they’ve always been a solid rock band.
They drop into ‘Addicted To Pain’, an audible crowd pleaser that shows the band at its fast-paced best. Slower tracks like ‘Ghost of Days Gone By’ end up being a little twee and almost verge on dad rock, but luckily they follow it with ‘Cry Of Achilles’, which is far more compelling and well-crafted, though it does highlight Kennedy’s voice as a tad on the nasal side at times – traversing a line between brilliantly theatrical and slightly annoying. Thankfully, ‘Crows On A Wire’ adds grooves and more heaviness to the proceedings and you realise it’s very much the former.