Download 2019: the best, worst and heaviest bits at the magnificent, muddy metal marathon

Anita Bhagwandas braved the swamps, trenches and sticky brown expanses of Drownload in pursuit of something pure and righteous: metal. Here's the weekend in review

Donington Park, Leicester, England June 14-16, 2019

FRIDAY

The Interrupters kick things off with a packed Avalanche stage full of fresh faces who know every word to their catchy ska-punk melodies. What they’re doing isn’t new or clever – but it’s a hoot. Sounding like the offspring of Rancid and The Distillers, singer Aimee Allen belts through ‘She Got Arrested’ and ‘White Noise’ both full of punchy licks, and skankable fun. Even the seasoned metalheads can’t help but be into their infectious melodies – a ska-dance-meets-wall-of-death pit is particularly heart-warming.

Over on the main stage, Slash With Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators are plugging away like the Download stalwarts they are. They largely exist as an excuse for Slash to just wazz out guitar solos over the middling crowd, but ‘Anastasia’ and ‘World On Fire’ remain huge tunes. Slash is obviously great, but the highlight of their sets is always Myles Kennedy, whose nasal falsetto and compelling vocals ring out over the stage.

Eleanor Jane

Slash Credit: Eleanor Jane

Eagles Of Death Metal’s sets at Download have been largely forgettable in the past, but this year deliver the perfect early evening set bolstered by new band members. Tracks such as ‘I Only Want You’, and a cover of ‘Ace Of Spades’ sound glorious as the sun drops. Past appearances have been patchy, but they’ve finally hit their stride on Donnington turf, with ‘Speaking In Tongues’ being a weekend highlight. They’ll have won back some of their many sceptics.

Rob Zombie comes on stage to a giant crowd thirsting for his shlock horror visuals and boundless energy remain engaging decades down the line. Highlights include ‘Superbeast’ and ‘Living Dead Girl’, both of which are genre-bending metal anthems accompanied by entertaining horror visuals. Meanwhile, ‘Well, Everyone’s Fucking In A UFO’ might be terribly lyrically, but its catchy groove metal has everyone headbanging in unison.

Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie Credit: Eleanor Jane

Headliners Def Leppard do what they do and crack out hits including ‘Let’s Get Rocked’ and ‘Animal’ – but between them and Whitesnake, there’s probably a smidge too much basic dad rock today. There are thousands who have come to see Def Leppard alone, but the general metal hordes seem uninterested in their set, making it a lacklustre end to the first day. An early performance of ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ sees most of the crowd vacate the main stage early-ish as the band bore on until curfew.

SATURDAY

Texas’ Power Trip sound a little bit like all the greats – there’s evidence of Pantera, Slayer and Hatebreed here – but with a new edge. On the furious ‘Executioners Tax’ and ‘Firing Squad’, they’re a breath of fresh air in metal with a tight and memorable set. They played a semi-graveyard set today (anything before 4pm feels like it’s way too early here) but they’ll definitely be higher up the bill next time – and deservedly so.

Skindred

Skindred Credit: Eleanor Jane

Something magical has happened to Skindred while nobody was looking – they got good! Sporting spiky glasses and leathers Benji Webbe makes light work of busting through tracks off their six albums with ‘Kill The Power’ and ‘That’s My Jam’. The crowd is huge, dedicated and for the first time during this festival, the biblical rain doesn’t seem to thwart anyone’s enjoyment (you can actually see the steam coming off members of the crowd – no stage effects required). Webbe is arguably one of the best frontmen out there, and it does feel like, today, that’s been recognised.

It’s a shame, then, that Trivium are up next and so high up the bill. Their generic metal-by-numbers feels outdated compared to what’s just gone before on the main stage today (Power Trip, Skindred). They fail to engage much crowd reaction at all and whilst the technical level is there, the brilliance has never progressed beyond that. Frontman Matt Heafy fails to connect with the crowd repeatedly and when they end on 2005’s ‘Pull Harder On The Strings Of Your Martyr’ it makes you wonder if they should have called it a day after this one-hit wonder.

Over on the Zippo stage Stone Temple Pilots pull a big crowd desperate to see how the band fare in their latest incarnation, following the death of singer Scott Weiland in 2015. They remain incredible musicians, but without Weiland, it does feel lacking. Replacement Jeff Gutt is a two-time X Factor contestant and nu-metal band member, who not only looks, but acts and sings just like Weiland which seems like a bizarre move. This just feels a little odd and if anything, a little heart-breaking – because these are some of the best rock songs around. It feels like they’re doing themselves and Weiland’s memory a massive disservice.

Halestorm

Halestorm Credit: Eleanor Jane

Halestorm are a conundrum. On the one hand, Lzzy Hale has one of the best voices in rock and metal. But their songs are not up to that standard – with their songs like ‘Mz Hyde’ feeling completely outdated. However, songs like ‘I Am The Fire’, ‘Amen’ and ‘Chemicals’ show Lzzy’s vocals off to their true beauty and their growing live prowess. She has the talent to be one of the world’s best singers, but musically it’s just never been quite right, or heavy enough – and it’s a real shame.

Die Antwoord

Die Antwoord Credit: Eleanor Jane

There’s been a lot of discussion at Download as to whether Die Antwoord are worthy of this big main stage slot – but there’s a huge and curious crowd gather to see them. Metal has always had crossover with rap, hip-hop, dance but at times this feels like a bad joke that won’t go away. ‘Fok Julle Naaiers’ and ‘I Fink You Freeky’ are huge crowd pleasers and probably convert a tonne of reprobates to their bizarre sideshow. ‘Cookie Thumper’ is another huge hit, unsettling but catchy as hell. Was this the right choice before Slipknot? Ninja bares his arse as they exit the stage – a message to the crowd, the headliners or both?

SUNDAY

Godsmack

Godsmack Credit: Eleanor Jane

Starset bring their dark electro melodies to the Zippo stage early Sunday as they blast through ‘My Demons’ and ‘Satellite’, which are way heavier live than on their records, but people seem largely uninterested in their weird goth-emo Enter Shikari-esque mash up.

Godsmack, however, do pull a decent crowd. They’re not game-changers, but they’re a solid rock band, and always deliver live with some brilliant tracks – ‘1000hp’, ‘Something Different’, and ‘Speak’ sound huge. A bongo solo from Sully is fun but the lengthy drum solo and medley of ‘Back In Black’, ‘Enter Sandman’ and other seminal tracks just feels a bit cringe. And they don’t need other people’s tracks, they’ve got enough great songs themselves. ‘I Stand Alone’ is proof of that, which has the crowd singing every word in unison.

There’s a huge contingent lined up to see The Smashing Pumpkins (and the giant LED robots on stage with them), and for good reason. Billy Corgan, wearing what looks like a papal robe and face paint, is note-perfect on ‘Zero’ and ‘Solara’. James Iha’s shines with devilish grunge guitaring on ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’, providing a shot of ’90s nostalgia. By the time they get to ‘Disarm’ which sounds like the most incredibly beautiful soundscape just as the heavens open.

They play the lovelorn ‘Ava Adore’ before Corgan iniviting Amalie Brun of atmospheric black metal band Myrkur for a version of ‘Snowblind’ – the first on this tour. Everyone is a bit confused and underwhelmed by it, though it’s a nice change of pace. They close their set with ‘Cherub Rock’ and ‘Aeroplanes Fly High’ – good, if not slightly tame finishers. They leave the most perfect musical space open for headliners Tool – but they’ll be a hard act to beat today.