Written with contribution from Marta Tavares.

We've covered many Download Festivals over the years but we've never walked in to one on the Friday where there was so much pent up anticipation in the air. Due of course to recent events, this was the first full-scale Download Festival since 2019 and there was a melting pot of excitement, buzz and people forgetting which way they were supposed to be going (although this was probably more due to some of the site updates). From kids in KISS make-up to teenagers running from stage to stage to the Download long-term alumni taking it all in all the way through to the golden oldies watching the "last ever" tour by KISS for the fifth time, there was something special about returning to the hallowed grounds this year.

After a bit of a kerfuffle getting on site - mixture of Friday campers arriving but mainly diabolically poor signage and general disarray outside - we kicked things off with the Welsh reggae veterans of Download Skindred (9/13). In the blazing heat, the band's set started very strong indeed with Pressure in particular kicking some life in to the crowd. Midway through the set there was a bit of a lull - the sound struggled a little and the Download crowd were staring up, struggling and pointing at the big ball of fire in the sky usually well hidden in these parts of the East Midlands during a Donington event. A new song was greeted with fair reception but it wasn't until the conclusion of Nobody and Warning the crowd kicked back in to gear.

We then wandered back up towards the Dogtooth Stage (or Fourth Stage) to catch the majority of Bokassa's (8/13) set. The Norwegian rockers certainly sounded great (this will be a running theme for this particular stage) but struggled in parts to keep the crowd engaged. After a weirdly lofty couple of years on tour with the likes of Metallica, it feels like the reset button has been hit with Bokassa and we're intrigued to see what comes next. Following this, Airbourne (6/13) hit the second stage to deliver a lacklustre version of what was once good and exciting ten years ago before Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes (11/13) arrived to completely steal the day.

The opening jaunt of My Town, Sticky, Tyrant Lizard King and Juggernaut set the scene for a performance in which Frank Carter had every single person in attendance clasped in the palm of his hand for just over an hour. Frank's stage (and often crowd) presence is infectious beyond belief and he rightly sings the praises of his Rattlesnakes often with the band sounding nothing short of excellent throughout. A cover of Drain The Blood by The Distillers was a nice touch with the LA Punk's originally billed in this timeslot before the Carter anthem of I Hate You triggered a sing-along moment so loud Frank himself barely needed to take up vocal duties. Back across the field on the Dogtooth Stage, another real gem of the Friday were smashing through their short but very sweet set. Red Fang (11/13) sounded absolutely gigantic throughout and by the end of their set had drawn a very large crowd - a huge shame therefore they were one of many affected by the "make space for British Lion" mess and only had 25 minutes to shine.

Onwards then to the first main stage headliner of the weekend in the form of veteran Rock N' Roll icons Kiss (6/13). What may come as a bit of a surprise to many, this particular set, billed as being the last time ever the band will grace us with their presence at Donington, certainly didn't reach the heights of previous appearances and didn't even really come close to the UK arena leg of this tour pre-pandemic. The fireworks and explosions were there and the gigantic inflatable versions of the band members were a fun distraction when it got particularly boring but there was just something altogether lacking. Gene Simmons sounded like he was gargling salt down the microphone when he unwelcomely interjected here and there, Paul Stanley was fairly persistently out of breath and Eric Singer seemed to lose himself at key moments. Highlight of the four was quite clearly Tommy Thayer who nailed his guitar parts when called upon. The crowd hits were of course there, and there were singalong moments but even that felt a bit half-hearted at times. Apparently their last foray at Download - can't say we're that disappointed.