Castle Donington. (June 13 – June 15)
You don’t have to dress up like alien sex pandas and fly across the night on wires to cut the mustard at Download. It just means you’ll get the biggest crowd.
This year’s Donington rock carnival is under-attended, amid whispers that Reading and Leeds have bagged the ultimate metal line-up, but it’s got more to do with the fact that however much people might like The Offspring and Lostprophets, nobody can really survive in the shadow of KISS. On Friday, a good one in five punters are face-painted up, and as KISS’ Alive/35 tour rolls into the UK, they’re the only thing on anybody’s lips.
The thing is, if you strip away the make-up, and the rocket launchers, and the ropes that make Paul Stanley fly like an eagle the length of the crowd, and Gene Simmons’ tongue, and the fireworks, and the tickertape, you’re left with an LA pub-rock troupe neglecting to play ‘Crazy Nights’ and ‘God Gave Rock & Roll To You II’. We do get the lion’s share of their 1975 breakthrough ‘Alive!’ and, while there might be those here who think pyrotechnics are no substitute for musical accomplishment, we’re not among them.
Download front-loaded its proper monsters of rock this year, which means we’re subjected to the entertainingly pointless Judas Priest riding motorcycles around between cuts from rock opera ‘Nostradamus’ and the multiple entrendres within ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, followed by the forever-brilliant Motörhead.
A day later and Biffy Clyro are back with fresh tunes: uproarious newie ‘Mountains’ is both bonecrunchingly heavy and heartburstingly uplifting. It’s staggering to witness how confidently they’ve stepped up to the top table and they’re welcomed like heroes – their Main Stage crowd is bigger than that for most of the headliners this weekend. Across the field, Ash admit to being a “guilty pleasure”, but there’s no arguing with hits spanning from ‘Kung Fu’ right up to last year’s proggy ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’. Their pop genome is only matched by Jimmy Eat World (a day later), who may not be much to look at among all the hosiery on show, but who spill forth a no-nonsense flurry of propulsive power-pop rarely beaten elsewhere.
New bands? Elliot Minor bridge the emo/metal gap impressively; Kids In Glass Houses are fast-becoming the British Paramore; Miami’s Black Tide channel the greats (actually covering Maiden and Metallica), but nobody does baby metal with more relish than Municipal Waste, except for perhaps Rolo Tomassi, who channel a similar spirit. And having seen off The Darkness, we’re not going to let it happen again just because they’ve possessed the bodies of some sexy young Australians, added a keyboardist and called themselves The Galvatrons.
By Sunday, things have gone completely feral: Lethal Bizzle’s torrential bottling feels like an inevitable shame (the troubling reasons behind it are for another day), while The Wildhearts – after dissing KISS and calling for the head of Nickelback fans – actually encourage their own bottling to the point where they’re pulled offstage. By the final lap, with the metal faithful off watching Cavalera Conspiracy, featuring
ex-Sepultura legend Max Cavalera himself, Lostprophets’ crowd is so meagre that Ian Watkins reverts to fighting form, happily admitting to being a controversial booking, but never letting that get in the way of a triumphant show. They’ve always looked the part, but their arsenal of songs such as ‘Burn Burn’, ‘Everyday Combat’, ‘Last Train Home’ and the nuclear climax of ‘Shinobi Vs Dragon Ninja’ leaves the people in no doubt that they now sound it as well. On the strength of new track ‘It’s Not The End Of The World But I Can See It From Here’, they plan on bothering stadiums for some time to come.