By the time we arrived on site at Download Festival on the Friday afternoon the more horrific side of the weather had swept through and the atmosphere in the arena was as electric as any other opening day at this festival. First up for us were Clutch (10/13), a highly revered and followed band who have always gone down well at Donington. This year was no different as they attracted a pretty vast crowd, all of which were fully engaged from the first note right until the last. When you're going to a Clutch show it is very difficult to predict what kind of set-list you're heading towards as they've never been afraid to change it up at the drop of a hat. For their Download show a lot of attention pointed towards their latest record Book Of Bad Decisions and for the most part it garnered a good response. Towards the end of their set the enthusiasm definitely picked up for the strong closing one-two of Electric Worry and X-Ray Visions, both tied together by a brilliant explosion of technical brilliance from JP Gaster.
Next up for us were one of the handful of 'super-groups' dotted around the Download Festival bill this year. Deadland Ritual (8/13) are made up of Geezer Butler on bass, Matt Sorum on drums and vocals and guitars coming from Apocalyptica's Franky Perez and Steve Stevens from Billy Idol's band respectively. What transpires from this collection of musicians is a live show containing about 80% Black Sabbath tunes, a dabble of Velvet Revolver and a minimal amount of original material. It's fun enough, and it's always great to see Geezer slapping down those Sabbath riffs but there was something about it which just didn't quite land with the incredibly sparse crowd. It didn't bode well either that the original material they did play felt completely laboured.
Following this was a completely different change of pace in Opeth (11/13). To be honest, glancing across the top two stages on the Friday, Opeth felt completely out of place, so it was interesting to see just how vast a crowd they attracted. Of course with a catalogue of songs mostly hitting around the ten minute mark, there's only so much they can get through in a 40/45 minute set. Mikael characteristically referred to this and on the whole seemed to be having a great time with it genuinely being a bit of a shame they didn't have a bit longer. A lot of people look at Opeth's career in two parts - the growling heavier period and the latter more melancholic time so heading to one of their shows they're again one of those bands where it's difficult to predict what exactly you are going to get. All in all though, with the limited time they had, the band were able to blend together a unique mix, all of which sounded incredible and ended up being a great dose of dark brooding proggy heaviness.
It hadn't been long since Slash (11/13) was last at Download and whilst this year his slot on the bill didn't carry as much hype and bombast as Guns N' Roses in 2018, as expected he did put in a very strong performance with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators in tow. With the fact that last year's set was a three hour onslaught of GNR classics, for the most part Slash avoided turning his set in to a full career spanning greatest hits medley with a lot of attention shone on his own material and tracks from his latest record Living The Dream. Towards the outskirts of the crowd there may have been a few feeling a little forlorn that there was nothing more than Nightrain out of his GNR arsenal, but truth be told this was a truly excellent sub-headlining slot and probably the strongest overall performance across the whole day.
Closing out the Friday night then were British Rock institution Def Leppard (8/13) bringing their very special Hysteria anniversary tour to Download. This was a bit of a weird set in that for the most part it actually all just felt quite flat - especially the case if you start doing direct comparisons with their headlining counterparts this year (more of that later though). A lot of the big time hits on the Hysteria record come early on in the record so some of the bigger sing-along moments were here and gone again in what felt like no time at all. Obviously the core purpose of the set was to play through the classic album but it all just felt like it epitomised why 'album shows' are so difficult in a festival environment. As the show rolled on it began to drag and they struggled to keep any level of momentum with the atmosphere across the crowd. They're a legendary band who have definitely had better nights at Donington.
What better way to destroy the Friday fatigue and Saturday morning hangovers than a dose of Elvana (11/13) on the second stage? Seriously though? Tell us a better way than watching a Nirvana covers band fronted by an Elvis impersonator. The sound for them throughout was absolutely impeccable and their high energy, non-stop onslaught of classics provided an absolutely brilliant festival set to kick off any day. Probably their biggest show in the UK, the group seemed genuinely bowled over by the size of their crowd and the kind of reaction they were getting. Refreshingly non-serious and excellent fun - DEFINITELY go and see this lot live if you get the chance.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were a band punching, kicking and fighting effectively to prove why sticking them on the Main Stage was absolutely the right choice. Power Trip (11/13) ferociously smashed through their short set in front of what is quite easily the biggest crowd they've ever had on these shores. The sheer audacity of them cracking out their popular, modern day Metal anthem Executioner's Tax (Swing Of The Axe) second on the set-list was frankly admirable. With the likes of Slayer heading in to retirement it's very refreshing to see exciting bands like Power Trip grasp their opportunity without a shred of intimidation.
On what was already proving to be a very strong day, next up on the Main Stage was easily one of the true highlights of the weekend. Delightfully evil and bringing a genuine sense of menace, Behemoth (12/13) simply never fail to put on an incredible show and today was absolutely no different as Nergal and co. tore in to Wolves ov Siberia and Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer to kick off 45-50 minutes of pure unbridled chaos. Each track felt like its own spectacle, all presented with savagery and precision by a band who are absolutely on fire at the moment. Speaking of fire, Behemoth brought ALL of the fire during their performance; it's really great that Download allow for this level of stage show for lower to mid placed bands on the Main Stage. Towards the latter part of the set Nergal highlighted how important a moment this was not only for Behemoth but for the entirety of Extreme Metal. They weren't hidden away in a tent somewhere, they were front and centre on one of the most iconic stages on the festival circuit and hopefully paving the way for more of the same in future years. Absolutely triumphant from start to finish.
Next up were a band who have surely now laid claim to being one of Download's 'house bands'. That is in no way slating this lot because Skindred (11/13) deliver live performances with such a high level of consistency you'd be bonkers not to book them if available. Despite the heavens opening up in a big bad way during their set they once again proved why they're the perfect 'festival band'. With a set filled with some gigantic crowd favourites, of course the Newport Helicopter and the inclusion of a jam of Tupac's California Love and a Keith Flint tribute by way of Out Of Space it all went down rather well indeed. Following on from them on the same stage, Trivium (10/13) were a band who many before the festival speculated and anticipated may well provide the set of the entire weekend - everything was in place for them, their own Download history, their recent resurgence and well documented current run of form live. In all honesty though, whilst they certainly put on a good show it wasn't really anything more than that, just 'pretty good'. They seemed to be a little hampered by bad sound for parts of the set, especially in comparison to the bands directly before them on the day, but altogether it felt like there was this constant jagged atmosphere between the overwhelming reception they got when they delved in to a bit of Ascendancy history and moderate, polite head-banging to newer stuff. Of course the exception for this is an absolutely crushing In Waves which sent the place in to chaos to close out the set. A good show but didn't quite hit the heights it perhaps threatened to.
Closing out the Saturday night came a very special performance indeed. Incredibly Slipknot (12/13) have now broken the record of being the band who have headlined Download Festival more than anyone else - and that's all in the space of ten years! Every time Slipknot have turned up at Download it's been very special indeed, this is their festival, they headlined it for the first time in 2009, delivered one of the most iconic sets ever at Donington and simply haven't looked back since. Ten years down the line, departures through untimely death, illness, and legal disputes means that Slipknot have changed quite a bit on the surface but as tonight's performance absolutely proved, there is still a dark, brooding menace around everything this band do. With a new album on the way in August, the Iowa legends are about to launch in to a brand new era - in recent months we've had new masks, new tracks and a renewed level of darkness. Opening the set with People = Shit straight in to Sic and then Get This is a STATEMENT of intent beyond anything most bands can even strive to achieve and it kicked off a set which frankly didn't hit a lull at any point. Corey and Clown's screams of "Get this or die" felt like a superb precursor for the next song in the set, their most recent release Unsainted. This isn't a song that has been out for very long so for the crowd to erupt the way they did as soon as that main riff kicked in was just further proof at the kind of power Slipknot still wield and looking across the field and watching the entire place screaming "WE ARE NOT YOUR KIND" as the band smashed through their other new one All Out Life was honestly a sight to behold. This tour feels like the start of something very special from Slipknot in the next few years - there genuinely felt like this fresh, exciting new atmosphere to their entire set and we cannot wait to see what comes next. Slipknot are back and they're back in a BIG way.