Crikey! It’s the first day of Download and the sun is shining. Yes. THE SUN. It’s out, and it’s shining, and there’s no rain whatsoever. IT’S ACTUALLY WARM. Switching out the wellie boots and waterproofs for shorts and weather-appropriate shoes, the faithful are out in their hordes on the holy ground of Donington Park.
Motionless In White’s gothic Marilyn Manson-aping industrial-tinged metalcore is tamed tenaciously by the shining sun, yet still comes off with a certain edge. Whilst their newer material has lost the shine they’ve gleamed with over the last five years, it still garners a fair reaction from the still-forming crowd on the Lemmy Stage. Helpings of oldies Abigail and Devils Night spark movement from the massive’s whilst the majority of festival-goers are still setting up camp.
Bringing the symphonic power metal to the main stage lies in the hands of Sabaton, armed with a tank for a drum-riser and utilising the sun as a super-weapon. Opening with fan-favourite Ghost Division, the Swedish maestros deliver a masterclass in making the most of a short set in the early hours of the afternoon, leaving you with a sinking feeling that these should be far higher up on the bill then they are. Frontman Joakim Broden plays to the moment, speaking highly of the hordes watching them despite the perils of the recent attacks in Manchester and London. Ending with the poignant To Hell And Back, Sabaton set the bar high.
Mastodon are quite honestly one of the most important bands in heavy metal right now. That’s a fact. But today, as they have time after time, fall a little flat on their faces in the front of a festival crowd. Having learnt somewhat from the failings of their Bloodstock headline set last year they’ve picked up their pace when it comes to stage presence, utilising the reinstalled ramp to slide out some solos, however they still find themselves struggling to adapt to festival crowds in way of setlists. Throwing out one too many cuts from new album Emperor Of Sands, and straying away from the well-known hits – you know, Curl Of The Burl, Motherload, Blood & Thunder – in favour of rocking horse poo-rare helpings of Mother Puncher from their debut Remission, which unless you’re a die-hard, you wouldn’t be familiar with. Missing yet another chance to highlight why they’re truly a heavy metal heavyweight, it leaves you begging the question: why are they selling themselves short?
Last time Five Finger Death Punch played Download on the main stage, tens of thousands of people were screaming “burn motherfucker burn” whilst a handful of kids were moshing around on stage shouting the words themselves. They were banished as a band from the festival after that. Today, only two years later, they’re back and they’re ready to roll. Exploding on stage with Lift Me Up, they deliver a Death-Punch-for-Dummies set elevated by the on-stage antics of frontman Ivan Moody and guitarist Jason Hook. An acoustic airing of Remember Everything and a rip-roaring rendition of that Bad Company cover see their packed-out crowd singing along word-for-word. Ivan seems a little on-edge, as if he’s attempting to bury all the bad press he’s been getting over the last two years and awkwardness between members of the bands shows, wet blanketing the set somewhat.
Over on the Avalanche stage, new-wave-of-pop-punk stalwarts State Champs deliver a dazzling and daring set that shows why this year’s influx of pop-punk at Download isn’t the worst decision the bookers have made. Straight out of the gate with Remedy and Losing Myself, the pace is set and the band are on fire making the stage their own. Chucking in tracks old-and-new back-to-back, their songs sound at home here at Download.
Meanwhile on the Zippo Encore stage, State Champ’s forefathers Good Charlotte are also making their Download debut, riding high on the wave of last year’s touring and recording comeback. Unlike some of the bands playing this weekend, they stray away from their new album – 2016’s Youth Authority – and opt to play a solid half of their sophomore super-album The Young & Hopeless. Opening with The Anthem, it’s a clear-cut message from the start that Good Charlotte are here to bring the party. Whilst nostalgia is high and the setlist is tight, there’s something special missing from this set. Perhaps it’s the somewhat shifty vocal performance of Joel Madden, or the lack of a stage presence from any member of the band, however, looking past the semi lacklustre performance and focusing on the sheer quality of the songs they’re playing and at the end of the day, Good Charlotte are doing what they’ve always done and they’re doing it well.
Nobody deserves to headline the Zippo Encore stage tonight more than Sum 41, who’ve been on a baptism of fire since their return last year with frontman Deryck Whibley very much alive, well, and revitalised after his well-publicised hospitalisations, struggles, and near-death experiences with alcoholism. Taking to the stage with guns a blazing, firing on all cylinders, they get the 40,000-strong crowd singing, dancing, jumping, and moshing to golden-era cuts The Hell Song and Over My Head (Better Off Dead) before diving directly into a double-whammy of Fake My Own Death and Goddamn I’m Dead Again from last year’s fiery rebirth 13 Voices which updated their pop-punk with an alt-rock sheen. 41 salutes, song-chants, and rapturous applause abound, this is a special set made even more special by the crystal clear chemistry shown between the band, particularly through the return of Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh whose return has clearly impacted them. Closing with a trio few bands could proudly play – Still Waiting, In Too Deep, and Fat Lip – following a raucous rendition of We Will Rock You, this is proof that you can climb back up from rock bottom.
Over on the Lemmy stage, Armenia’s biggest export System Of A Down take to the stage for their headline set, one ultimately marred by the same reasons they’ve been irrelevant to heavy metal for quite some time. It’s been a solid six years since they reunited, and twelve since they released an album, and it’s too far gone for them to still be playing the ‘greatest hits’ card. It’s an astonishing achievement to have a 30-song set that is all killer and no filler and yet there really is a lack of that pizazz that they once had. Serj Tankian does his best to recover the piss-poor presence fellow vocalist Daron Malakian creates simply by brooding brutally in his corner of the stage, never moving once, but it’s to no avail as Serj’s vocals are being tested tonight, slightly off-balance. They’ve never been one for a stage show, and when you’ve got a back catalogue as strong as theirs, you don’t always need one, but right now even the likes of Violent Pornography, Aerials, Chop Suey!, BYOB, Toxicity, Sugar and so on can’t rescue them from what feels like a pointless set that someone else could’ve headlined.
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