Slipknot’s blistering set at Download festival 2019 showed their reign is far from over

Download festival, Donington Park, Leicester, England June 15, 2019

Everyone is waiting for this. Slipknot’s return to Download festival is and will be an undeniable, unmissable highlight of the weekend. How do I know? Because they always bring everything live. And even when they’re a bit off, it’s still a solid 90 per cent performance. They’ve totally earned every member of the swelling crowd that has gathered at the main stage to watch them today – some 20 years after they first began donning their overalls.

Shawn “Clown” Crahan of Slipknot performs on stage on day 2 of Download Festival 2019 (Credit: Eleanor Jane)

It’s fair to say the band have been through a huge amount in the last few years. In 2010 the death of founding member and main songwriter Paul Gray left a giant void in the band – and you can still feel it lyrically and sonically. Joey Jordison left for health reasons after turbulent times in the group over the years. Percussionist Shawn Crahan, affectionately known as Clown because of his terrifying It-on-crack mask, lost his daughter a month ago. And other percussionist, Chris Fehn, left earlier this year due to feeling like a “second class citizen” in the band.

It does feel like so few of the original line up are in place but as Slipknot open with ‘People=Shit’ it just doesn’t fucking matter to anyone here. People in the crowd are still dressed in clown masks and boiler suits. And they likely will be for another 20 years to come despite more inevitable line-up changes.

The follow up with ‘(Sic)’, another classic, beat-filled track from their debut album ‘Slipknot’, which is iconic and life-changing to so many people here. Frontman Corey Taylor’s new mask might not be as malevolent as his old gruesome ones but he’s still every inch a master at connecting with the crowd in a truly unique and personal way. It seems like he’s always talking directly to you.

Slipknot pelt out ‘Get This (and die)’ from the same album before dropping ‘Unsainted’, a new track which is…y’know, fine. It leaves the crowd a little bit unmoved but there’s to time become maudlin because they’re right back with ‘Before I Forget’. The song is as vital and iconic as when it was released in 2004. Even a 6-year-old on his father’s shoulders next to me is singing for his life. That’s what this band has become to people over the years: life-giving. Slipknot broke all the rules, of which there’s barely any in metal, and it’s heartwarming to see that they still mean so much to people two decades on.

Slipknot fans were in full force at Download Festival, some even donning their own masks. (Credit: Eleanor Jane)

Visually things have had a switch up. The rotating drums are gone, replaced with led light barrels that get pulverised tonight. But it’s still a visual spectacle of the highest calibre. There’s a bit of a lack of big and spectacular metal bands at this year’s Download; the kind that you could watch for hours, the kind that melt your face off with pyro, the kind that put on a serious, world-renowned show. But Slipknot have stepped up into that space tonight, delivering their usual frenetic stage show with ferocity. ‘The Heretic Anthem’ gets everyone wound up as a cool breeze descends over the audience and the darkness aptly draws in for ‘Psychosocial’, ‘The Devil In I’ and ‘Custer’. Corey implores the crowd to stick together now more than ever before. Slipknot have never been a political band as such, but it’s still poignant.

They encore with ‘Spit It Out’with the usual crouch down and jump up in the middle of the track which sees the tens of thousands of people jump up in unison. ‘Surfacing’ finishes the set as people mill about waiting for ‘Wait And Bleed’. But it never comes. They band haven’t been playing the track on this festival round though it’s perhaps one of their most famous tracks. Later, as Crahan brings out two of his children to the stage and takes a bow, you can’t help but think it’s in homage to his daughter.

The message tonight is clear. Anyone who has ever thought this band was a joke, a novelty or not metal enough: hear them fucking roar. They literally cannot and will not be destroyed.