What a weekend. The sun shone across Donington Park throughout the three days as one of the best line-ups the event has ever produced brought together legends and exciting up and coming acts in a fusion of delightful heaviness. In part one this year we'll be taking a look at both the Friday and Saturday, kicking off our biggest EVER review coverage of Download Festival. Without any further ado then....

Review by Tom Donno (Editor) and Nick Spooner (Writer)


With the metal world still reeling from the sheer genius that is Code Orange's (12/13) latest album Forever, the band had Download's third stage eating from their collective palm even before a note was played. Half three in the afternoon seems like an inappropriate time to host such sonic violence, but featuring a set heavy on new tracks with a couple of classics thrown in for good measure, Code Orange laid waste to everything that stood before them, as expected. The title track made bodies contort in half and Kill The Creator ignited the first circle pit, whilst My World and The New Reality produced sheer pandemonium. This band will be on a much bigger stage next time they play Download. If they aren't, we will eat a portaloo.

One of the most consistently brilliant bands in metal, Mastodon (8/13) fell rather flat on the main stage on Friday afternoon. Maybe it was something to do with the heat, perhaps they were exhausted from travelling, or potentially it was as a result of a set list heavily reliant on new tracks which haven't quite had time to connect with an audience prepared to flail around to Blood And Thunder and Iron Tusk. Whatever the answer, it didn't quite come together in the spectacular fashion that we have come to expect from one of the greatest bands our genre has spawned. That said, drinking beer whilst headbanging to Steambreather as the sun warms your face is a special feeling.

Moving over to the second stage, legendary New York Hardcore unit Suicidal Tendencies (8/13) were treating a decent sized crowd to their hit heavy set list. Despite the short set time, Mike Muir kept up his lengthy monologues which alongside the band's tendency to "jam" at the end of certain tracks did leave you feeling like they could've packed in a bit more. Fan favourites like War Inside My Head and Cyco Vision had everyone amped up and showed just how energetic this band still are live, helped along of course by the brilliance of Dave Lombardo behind the kit. Following them on this stage were Baroness (10/13) who first and foremost had a sound that was so good and crystal clear it felt unbelievable that it was at a festival. As probably expected the set list did lean in favour of their latest record Purple - to be expected because these are tracks written exactly for shows like this. Shortly before the festival the departure of guitarist Peter Adams was announced with Gina Gleason stepping in to take over but the recent shuffle didn't seem to nudge Baroness off their stride in the slightest.

There has been legitimate scepticism surrounding the RATM/Public Enemy/Cypress Hill hybrid Prophets Of Rage (11/13) in recent months, however when your set consists of some of the most enormous, angriest and mosh-worthy anthems ever committed to record, it's going to be pretty hard to cock it up too badly. And so it was here, on a sun-soaked mainstage: Bombtrack, Testify, Know Your Enemy, How I Could Just..., Bulls..., Bullet... and of course Killing In The Name Of all received the kind of reception bands dream of, all delivered with a pleasing amount of bite and ferocity. The hip-hop mash-up is sure to have got up some purists' noses (but who cares), and the instrumental Like A Stone tribute to Chris Cornell was extremely moving. Although Chuck D struggled with some of ZDR's legendary flow in places, this was a hugely enjoyable 70 mins. Bring on the album!

Prophets Of Rage. Photo credit: Matt Eachus - Download Festival

Following what ended up being one of the true festival highlights this year was a headlining set which in the immediate aftermath triggered some very mixed responses. For System Of A Down (9/13) this was all about being a redemption mission - their first go at headlining in 2005 was lacklustre as the band showed signs of their break up in the near future with their returning 2011 performance also lacking in the fact that it was a band trying to get back in to their stride and Serj Tankian's disappearing dog affecting his output that day (we're not taking the piss). Following recent far more earth shattering shows at both Reading Festival and Wembley Arena the expectation for this was huge but yet again there was just something missing. From the outset it was clear that Serj Tankian was really struggling with his voice, apologising to the crowd at one point for it. You could see the frustration in his body language and facial expression almost throughout so there was no question he fully appreciated the scope of the show. Daron Malakian proved an interesting figure to watch as he randomly exploded in to short bursts of enthusiasm whilst largely appearing completely disinterested - the engagament between the four of them was also non-existent. All of these distractions didn't dampen the crowd's fervour too much with the singalongs for the likes of Toxicity, BYOB and Sugar being some of the loudest all weekend but the SOAD/Download experience continues the apparent tradition of being a little straining.


On at the same time as the utterly abysmal and bafflingly-popular Alestorm, SikTh (11/13) absolutely nailed their chance on the main stage, and twisted onlookers into a nightmarish tech metal labyrinth. With a set that payed homage to their three major releases, as well as chucking Philistine Philosophies in there off the Opacities EP, SikTh's performance was simply hit after hit, before ending on a rambunctious rendition of Bland Street Bloom which welcomed the arrival of previous vocalist Justin Hill on stage. Bloody good fun from one of the most ripped-off bands in metal. Considering the, frankly over the top, reaction Suicide Silence (10/13) have generated since the release of their latest record it doesn't seem to have affected their fire during live shows in any way. Opening with You Only Live Once they absolutely launched out of the blocks but as the set progressed there was absolutely no intention of shying away from playing the more divisive material. Doris actually sounded absolutely huge, Run fell VERY flat and choosing to close out with Conformity before trashing the stage in a monumental sized middle finger to their critics was one of the moments of the festival.

Kvelertak's (10/13) latest record may not be even close to their best, but live they are still an undeniable treat. Although at the beginning they were forced to do battle with the sound demons that occasionally plagued the second stage, the Norwegians nevertheless now have an arsenal of tracks that are simply made for drinking beer in a field with your mates and having a lovely time. As always, Blodtorst drew the biggest reaction, but this is a band that, if they get back to winning ways on their next album, should be much higher up the bill. Massive shout to guitarist Maciek Ofstad who played the whole set stood up with a leg in plaster, and occasionally hopping around as though he couldn't help himself. That's the kind of dedication that wins you fans pal.

Sticking with this stage, next up were Max & Igorr Cavalera Return To Roots (11/13) - a band name that delivers exactly what it says on the tin. The Cavalera's have recently been celebrating the anniversary of the Sepultura classic by utilising the Cavalera Conspiracy make-up to tear through the album from front to back at live shows. With this being one of the most important Metal releases of all time it has been baffling to hear the confusion over the small size of AFI's crowd who were playing at the same time. There's no doubt that Max can be incredibly touch and go when it comes to live shows these days so it was great to see him looking so energised and pumped up for this. It's rare you'll see Roots Bloody Roots as an opener to a set but it instantly kicked the crowd straight in to gear as they rattled through the album's tracks at what felt like an incredible pace. With the fact that the set time meant they had to cut it a bit short (before launching in to a cover of Ace Of Spades to finish!) it was obvious they were literally going to rage through as much of it as was humanly possible. Incredibly fun set.

Coheed And Cambria. Photo Credit: Sarah Koury - Download Festival.

We dared to dream. In the US, Coheed And Cambria (12/13) have been on tour playing their staggeringly amazing Good Apollo... album in full, turning fans of the prog/alt rock champs in other parts of the globe the same colour as an unripe banana. Well, dream no more people: Download was blessed with the same treatment, and it was as incredible as we had hoped. Welcome Home sounded as apocalyptic as ever, whilst the sing-a-longs that greeted Ten Speed..., Apollo 1... and The Suffering made the hair stand on end. What an album, what a performance. Pop punk tykes The Story So Far (11/13) have, both on record and in the live environment, consistently proven why they have that genre sewn up at the moment. Irresistibly catchy, with bounce and swagger, whilst also occasionally embodying a hardcore ethos on stage, TSSF proved to any naysayers in attendance how worthy they were of being so high up the pill. Quicksand sent the tent into a particular frenzy with repeated crowd surfers giving the security a bit of a shift. Parker Cannon's statement that TSSF enjoy playing the songs to their fans more than the actual life of being in a band matches the relaxed way his band mates approach live performances. A great band in a scene virtually bereft of them.

Over on the Main Stage the Saturday night was offering up a great double whammy at the top of the bill. First off in the sub-headlining slot A Day To Remember (11/13) truly cemented their bid for becoming a future headliner at Download (even if that does mean in a co-headline arrangement). The crowd for them was huge with people engaged and singing along all the way across and right to the back. Opening with All I Want the band had the whole place in the palm of their hands right from the off with the crowd response almost deafening. From here the band pulled out tracks from across their back catalogue with the newer cuts fitting in perfectly. As The Downfall of Us All came to a close there was a real sense of triumph.

Following this came headliners Biffy Clyro (12/13) - a band who had been unjustifiably treated quite poorly by certain corners of the Download audience after they were announced, but also a band with a point to prove. There's absolutely no denying that this was one of the smallest headliner crowds Download Festival has ever seen but performance wise this isn't a a group who do anything by half. Much like with Muse two years ago, Biffy Clyro were no mugs in realising exactly who their audience were as they leaned towards the heavier cuts from across their back catalogue. Even with the crowd being very thin in sections the singalong for numbers like That Golden Rule and Mountains was immense. Fact is, they absolutely smashed it. There's no doubt that out of the three headliners this weekend they took the crown, rattling together a show which was powerful, heavy, tight and raw in equal parts - such a shame so many neglected to even give them a chance.

Biffy Clyro. Photo credit: Matt Eachus - Download Festival.