Donington Park, June 8-10
Mud! Chaos! Traffic! Inclement weather is to be expected during British festival season, but the 10th instalment of Download festival commences in full-on crisis as water from the skies delays stage start-times and bands fail to get on site for their official slots. Cancer Bats are rescheduled to clash with The Prodigy, and the devil’s doo-doos strewn abundantly over Donington Park make it impossible to stage hop. NME hasn’t seen this much mud since it walked in on Frank Black in a face pack.
It gets worse: Europe have cancelled! Is this a bad omen for the Eurozone or just a terrible day for heritage poodle-rock? Either way, the metal fraternity will be denied ‘The Final Countdown’ because Joey Tempest is stuck on the A453. Machine Head are here, though, and they’re in punishing form. “I am hell,” sings Robb Flynn, and you believe him, especially as guitarist Phil Demmel is a dead ringer for Linda Blair in The Exorcist. At any moment you expect his head to rotate and project vomit.
From the Godfathers of modern metal to a band that will upset the purists: Chase & Status bring a more urban vibe to the East Midlands heartland. MC Rage interjects over hard drum’n’bass, while previously recorded guests (Liam Bailey, Plan B) appear on screens. Unfortunately the multimedia experience feels more like an awards show where the recipients apologise for not being there.
Elsewhere, it’s a joy to witness only the second UK appearance of fledgling supergroup AxeWound (and what an ebullient racket they make), but it’s all about The Prodigy on Friday. It’s easy to forget just how enormous they were in 1995 during all that Blur Vs Oasis business, and while it would be fair to say this festival has a nostalgic feel, The Prodigy are having none of it. Having terrified middle-Englanders in their own homes in a way only the Sex Pistols had managed previously, the Braintree dance collective sound more dangerous now than then. Keith Flint looks re-energised and adrenalised while Maxim pays homage to his ‘warriors’ at the front in full voodoo regalia. He struts through the crowd like a prizefighter with Keith stood onstage in a boxing belt. It’s pure Caesars Palace. An incendiary ‘Firestarter’ is a highlight of an unforgettable comeback.
Muddied but unbowed, there’s another bout to be had on Saturday between Black Veil Brides and a crowd not famed for its inclusivity. Singer Andy Biersack is taking the bottling personally, though in fact the confused teens are merely unsure whether to fight or fuck him. “I don’t care how gay you think we are!” he shouts defiantly. “We get to play up here while you get to stick a bottle up yer ass.” During the set he moons, ‘takes the power’ out of the middle finger by getting his own fans to bird him, and performs Billy Idol’s ‘Rebel Yell’ (without Sir William’s chutzpah).
Lower Than Atlantis would be within their rights to believe forces are against them, as technical glitches blight their set. First up the bass doesn’t work, then Mike Duce breaks a string. They prove themselves to be troopers though, and you suspect even a Janet Jackson-style wardrobe malfunction wouldn’t keep this lot down. Another band who can’t keep it down are hair-rock wiseguys Steel Panther. Sexist they may be, puerile most definitely, but are they funny? Frankly they’re hilarious.Lead singer Michael Starr has the voice of Jon Bon Jovi and a mouth you hope he doesn’t kiss his mother with. And you wouldn’t catch Jack Black taking a blow-up doll roughly from behind would you? Tenacious D are the masters of the single-entendre, but a giant blow-up parakeet on stage that looks like a cock-and-balls from certain angles is about as funny as it gets.
My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way might be LostAlone’s biggest fan, but they garner many more with a pulsating set on the Encore stage. The Queen-influenced three-piece are a formidable unit and Steven Battelle is emerging as a genuine talent who can finger-tap, sing and run around all at the same time. This multitasking is in contrast to Corey Taylor’s midlife crisis under the Pepsi Max awning. An army of Slipknot devotees struggle to get in to witness a middle-aged man in a flat cap playing NIN covers on an acoustic. Metallica haven’t gone soft though. After an uncharacteristically sloppy Sonisphere, the biggest of all thrash metal beasts pulverises with a rendition of ‘The Black Album’, played backwards. Lars Ulrich is in indomitable form and James Hetfield looks like a man enjoying every nanosecond of this, their seventh Donington appearance. They can’t have bettered this juggernaut display, ever.
The sun has its hat on for Sunday, which makes up for the average Kyuss Lives!, a so-so Anthrax and an abysmal Sebastian Bach. Then Refused steal the weekend. Imagine a singer who looks like Thurston Moore with the snake hips of Bobby Gillespie and the moves of Jarvis and you have Dennis Lyxzén, one of the most hypnotic frontmen you’re likely to see. Awesome. Soundgarden look bored during an underwhelming ‘Spoonman’, but they soon hit their stride.
Chris Cornell, a man who’s shat on his own legacy so often he should be dubbed the Tony Blair of grunge, admits he’s more excited about playing ahead of Black Sabbath than actually being here, and when Sabbath arrive it’s easy to see why. They may be without Bill Ward on drums but Tony Iommi still has chops and a frail-looking Ozzy Osbourne has a voice that could cut down a diamond mountain. A festival that began in chaos could hardly have concluded more triumphantly.