Download – 9 June 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson and Jonni D   
Friday, 23 June 2017 04:00

Without a doubt, the biggest event in the British rock and metal calendar is Download Festival. A veritable mecca for rock n roll fans of all persuasions, Download has pulled together a line-up culled from some of the biggest names in our world and to date upholds the grand tradition of excellent performances at Donington Park. If you ever needed proof that rock is most definitely alive and well, Download is where you’ll find it.


Sadly, not so well was the car of our Über Rockin’ brother Neville Brookes, resulting in a regretful last-minute announcement that our big review would go from a duet to a solo number – or so it first seemed, until Jonni D stepped in to once again double our reviewing prowess. Even more unfortunate (for Nev at least – sorry mate!), after what feels like an eternity of bad weather at Donington, the sun finally decided to show its face, an overcast morning soon giving way to a glorious June sunshine – a perfect set-up for Jon to catch Motionless In White. (RH)


Although fairly divisive within the rock and metal community at large, the fervency of Motionless In White’s fan base is undeniably one of the reasons they’ve garnered this slot today. A sizable crowd, the majority decorated with either the band’s shirt or goth-lite attire, it is indicative of just how big this band has become in the eyes of the youthful, Hot Topic contingent.


The choruses of ‘Soft’ and ‘Eternally Yours’ are clearly constructed for the festival scenario - crowd participation almost drowning out Chris Motionless’ vocals on several occasions. Even the more ridiculous lyrical content of ‘Loud’ and ‘Necessary Evil’ is overshadowed by the energy onstage, the band clearly appreciating this opportunity. While the material remains a Poundland knock-off mélange of Marilyn Manson and Korn, in the end, the anthemic sing-alongs and impassioned crowd response ensure a successful Main Stage debut for Motionless In White. (JD)


Gutted though I am that I miss the main stage start for MiW (after all, I did forecast that ‘Loud (Fuck It)’ would be the first bona fide singalong anthem of the weekend), I content myself with the knowledge that there’s still plenty of great music to see. Download Festival’s strongest suit (and unique selling point as far as the wider Euro fests go) is that it manages to stack the line-up with up-and-coming rock bands from around the world, a host of homegrown talent and international newcomers flocking to the festival to cut their teeth and earn a name months or even years before they get recognition overseas.


Otherkin are a prime example of this. An Irish band with radio rock sensibilities, Otherkin earn a slice of the pie with an enthusiastic set of songs which carefully tread the line between rock and indie. Whilst unlikely to go down as the moment that broke the band (not least because the band have only 25 minutes to win over the crowd), the fact remains that Otherkin put on a solid effort at Download Festival and already show plenty of promise, their insta-singalong tunes helping to set the mood for a brand new year at Donington Park. (RH)


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Singing voices fully engaged, it’s a quick jaunt down the hill to grab a spot for one of the festival’s biggest draws for this year – Mastodon. ‘Emperor Of Sand’ is undoubtedly one of the greatest records released in 2017, so the opportunity for Mastodon to seize upon this critical success and cement themselves as one of the most vital metal bands on the planet seems a foregone conclusion (on paper at least).


Reality soon kicks in though when it becomes apparent that the band are suffering sound issues is which unfortunately persist throughout the set. Even so, there’s no denying that the excitement the crowd feels when the jingling intro to ‘Sultan’s Curse’ enormous, a feeling which is doubled down when the band follow straight up with ‘Divinations’ from 2009’s ‘Crack The Skye’. While sound issues persist for the vocal performances throughout the set, the sheer musicianship of the band proves beyond a doubt that they hold the keys to something very special in the metal world with the right combination in place.


An almost peerless back catalogue of genuine bangers means Mastodon aren’t likely to struggle to fill their setlists with wall-to-wall hits anytime soon. Even so, the band opt for a somewhat restrained setlist which relies heavily on material from the band’s latest album and 'Blood Mountain'. This means that we get a music-heavy set which showcases the band’s great musicianship, but offers little in the way of the instant gratification that could have come from pulling out ‘Curl of the Burl’, ‘High Road’ or ‘Blood and Thunder’. Huge single ‘Show Yourself’ proves to be a monumental moment in the set, but (much as it does on the album) ends up feeling like an oasis in the desert when sandwiched into the instrumental-heavy set that soon eats up the band’s 50 minutes.


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The stacking of the line-up for this year’s Download Festival is pretty phenomenal, but with some real mean clashes thrown in. For that, the slight staggering between stages is a godsend. Perfect proof of this is that no sooner have Mastodon finished, Suicidal Tendencies are gearing up over on the Zippo Encore Stage. Jonathan bears witness… (RH)


Despite the measly turnout, Suicidal Tendencies deliver on their reputation as a reliable live act with a set of high-octane thrash/hardcore crossover anthems. Mike Muir is on ferocious form, rallying the initially apathetic crowd into action with an energy and gusto lacking in many frontmen half his age. There’s a notable shout out to new recruit, Dave Lombardo (you may have heard of him) on drums, who is clearly having the time of his life playing this rollicking paced set of fan favourites. It’s a short set, punctuated by a genuinely moving, yet uncynical acknowledgement of recent atrocities in the UK from Mike Muir. As ‘Pledge Your Allegiance’ brings proceedings to a close, Suicidal Tendencies have done a formidable job of winning over a formerly tepid crowd with a vigorous and adrenalized performance. Plus, you just can’t argue with ‘War Inside My Head’ and ‘Subliminal.’ (JD)


While Jon catches the phenomenal Suicidal Tendencies, for me its back up the hill to watch the first of two sets by US rockers Red Sun Rising. While the band will likely be a brand new name to 90 per cent of the Donington crowd, the fact is that RSR are anything but the new kids on the block, having spent a decade forging a career independently back home. Finally signing to independent label Razor & Tie a couple of years back, the band come to Download on the back of 2015’s ‘Polyester Zeal’ with a crowd-pleasing combination of big sing-alongs and cross-genre appeal, as well as some fairly impressive success back in the States (including number one singles in the US Rock charts).


Word has clearly spread fast, as the band attract a fairly impressive crowd who greet the band with buckets of enthusiasm and hint at plenty of potential success for the band should they mine the veins of UK rock fandom. Clearly the band haven’t frittered away the past decade and the showmanship of frontman Mike Proitch shine out from some of the flotsam of US radio-rock type bands. Careful not to fall into the pitfalls that made Shinedown such a chore to watch at the 2016 festival, Red Sun Rising pace their set perfectly, leaving out big single ‘Emotionless’ in favour of a choice Alanis Morrisette cover (‘Uninvited’, for those interested) to leave the crowd braying for more – which they’ll luckily be able to get over at the Firestone later on. (RH)


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Once again finding a prime position to enjoy the views and noises of the Main Stage, we settle down just as Five Finger Death Punch are getting into gear. Areas of rock fandom (and, in some cases journalism) have not been kind to Five Finger Death Punch as of late.. While rumours of the band’s imminent demise have been disproven, the fact is a morbid attitude seems to prevail towards watching the band, an unspoken yet cunty grim reaper waiting in the wings of every show in the form of murmurs and memories of a very publicised onstage ‘meltdown’. Just as well that the band are an utter tour de force to behold, then.


Firing on all cylinders from the off, FFDP are a conquering force to behold, rumours of their demise greatly exaggerated. Frontman Ivan Moody channels his frustrations against the haters into an arsenal of defiant ‘fuck yous’ in catchy-as-hell song form, the choruses soon picking up a sense of cathartic release as they are echoed en-masse back to the band. ‘Got Your Six’, ‘Never Enough’ and opener ‘Lift Me Up’ all showcase the band’s muscular prowess, but when they launch into the soulful cover of Bad Company’s self-titled track, you know for sure that Five Finger Death Punch are the full arena metal package. Sadly having to miss the end of the set to make sure we catch the next band at The Dogtooth (a stage which has fast become our home for the day), we head away to the one-two battering of ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ and ‘Burn MF’ happy to see that FFDP can still tear Donington a new one. (RH)


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Over at The Dogtooth, God Damn are limbering up for their first festival show of the season. Booked across Europe, and with a few domestic shows thrown in for good measure, Download Festival feels like the first opportunity to see the band begin their conquest of the music world in earnest, taking all they’ve learned from support slots with the likes of Red Fang, Thrice and Foo Fighters and turning it into pure performance gold.


Opener ‘Vultures’ howls right out the gates, the cacophonous riff/drum combination presenting the band at their most furious. And then, just when you think you can gauge what’s going to come next, the band drop into an alt-rock-via-indie verse that chucks the rule book out the window. Short and sweet might be the order of the day for the bands of The Dogtooth, but the truth is God Damn could easily have filled a 50 minute plus set, such is the impressiveness of their back catalogue.


An abridged greatest hits set follows with almost tactical precision, rolling from the mammoth stomp of ‘Horus’ through to the punky twang of ‘Dead To Me’, frenetic headbanger ‘Ghost’ and off-beat singalong ‘I’ll Bury You’ with barely a second to breathe between tracks. Vocalist Thom switches instruments with guitarist/keyboardist James each song, lending a sense of chaotic pacing to the set, furthered by Thom’s manic delivery and frequent crowd invasions.


Clearly jubilant at the election result, Thom gestures to his current tour-favourite tee (a Corbyn top), mouths ‘we won’ and kisses his pec in a display of pure punkish bravado that feels well-earned following the doom and gloom of recent months. Closing the set on the breakthrough song ‘Heavy Money’, God Damn leave no doubts as to just how great they can be at creating a monstrously brilliant racket. (RH)


If there’s a band that isn’t afraid to show how thrilled they are to be performing at Download this year, it’s Baroness. Playing a set mostly comprised of material from the critically lauded ‘Purple’ album, the band sound absolutely massive as they deliver their set of gargantuan sized rock songs. The new addition of Gina Gleason on guitar proves to be a fortuitous one; peeling out riff after mammoth riff, her stage presence exudes sleekness, as well as a notable sense of command. ‘Kerosene’, ‘Shock Me’ and ‘Isak’ could each easily be the highlight of a lesser band’s setlist, and yet they’re casual examples of the stellar material in Baroness’ arsenal. Expect to see this band grace the Main Stage in years to come. (JD)


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Back over at the Main Stage, an air-raid siren signals the arrival of one of the mostly hotly-tipped but also most-contested acts of the 2017 festival; Prophets of Rage. Featuring the rhythm section of Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave and vocals from hip-hop legends Chuck D (Public Enemy) and B-Real (Cypress Hill), the band haven’t existed for 12 months and yet have still been tarred as a legacy act, a karaoke type one at that. With only two songs currently released under the Prophets of Rage tag, it’s unsurprising that the band’s set is reliant on songs from the members’ past projects. But what fuckin’ projects they are.


Opening with the eponymous track, the band waste no time in showing just how great a partnership has been made between the individual members. The RATM rhythm section is (rightly) revered as one of the greatest in the rock canon, so giving them full reign to put together some hard hitting arena rock type riffs and hip-hop stylings for the first time in 17 years feels like a triumphant moment of genius. Add to this the distinctive delivery of Chuck D and B-Real and you’ve got the ingredients for something very special indeed and the band waste no time in just how great they can be together.


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And then, there’s the songs. You’d have to be living beyond the limits of the solar system to not appreciate the brilliance of RATM classics like ‘Testify’, ‘Bombtrack’ and ‘Guerrilla Radio’, the riffs speaking for themselves as they decimate the whole arena. Not once do D or B-Real try to ape De La Roche’s delivery and the band feels more bold for the decision, the songs given a slight retooling as they pick up extra licks, slightly elongated riffs and a heavier tone to truly compliment the man on the mic. The only song that suffers from this treatment is ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’, which loses some of its punky energy as it bounces along.


Of course, it’s not all dew-eyed nostalgia for RATM. Cypress Hill classics ‘How I Could Just Kill A Man’ and ‘Insane In The Brain’ both get Rage-ified, earning their own big singalongs that prove rock and hip-hop can co-exist brilliantly (just hear Body Count’s latest album if you don’t believe me). Public Enemy also get the Prophets treatment, with the eponymous song, ‘Fight The Power’ and ‘Bring The Noise’ getting some serious love from the crowd, the lyrics still as defiant and hard hitting today as they were on first release nearly 30 years ago.


Seven years might have passed since RATM headlined Download Festival, but the Prophets feel like very worthy successors. An instrumental tribute to Chris Cornell in the form of Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’ is an enormously fitting tribute to the iconic frontman, the choir of singing voices several hundred strong proving that Cornell’s brilliance has not gone un-noticed and he will be missed by the rock community.


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Elsewhere, original number ‘Unfuck the World’ re-visits the firebrand activism that made RATM and Public Enemy so vital in the first place, a much-needed anthem of rebellion to combat the bullshit of the world. A final blow is struck on closing number ‘Killing In The Name Of’, which elicits an enormous response as the whole crowd joins in for a chorus of ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!’ that echoes so far and passionately that it’ll likely leave half the crowd on a government watch-list. From one anthemic heavyweight to another, Jonathan is still camped over at the Zippo to catch Good Charlotte… (RH)


More than once during Good Charlotte’s set, Joel Madden asks the crowd to reminisce before launching into one of their old reliables: “Were you young? Were you hopeless?” he inquires as the opening riff kicks in to the title track of their 2002 breakthrough album. Indeed, there’s a permeating whiff of nostalgia throughout the entire performance. This is all too apparent when ‘Life Changes’ from 2016’s ‘Youth Authority’ lands like a lead balloon, threatening to prematurely kill all momentum to the set.


Aside from this egregious inclusion, the band are aware of what the audience wants, throwing out ‘The Anthem’, ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘I Just Wanna Live’ to rapturous response. Even older album tracks ‘My Bloody Valentine’ and ‘The Story Of My Old Man’ go down remarkably well with the surprisingly large crowd. The band themselves seem gratefully shocked by the goodwill that they are afforded, and capitalize on the eager interaction of those in attendance. The sure-fire closer ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ only serves as a reminder that although Good Charlotte’s best days are likely behind them, their fans are more than willing to look back on their former glories with great fondness. (JD)


Over on the pop-up Firestone Stage, Red Sun Rising prepare for their second set of the day. Unaware that the stage was supposed to be geared for acoustic sets, they decide instead to go full-hog and offer a second, different electric set. Once again showcasing plenty of promising potential, this time the band don’t pull any punches as they enter full rock posture mode to strut their stuff. Closing on the massive ‘Emotionless’ single, the band leave the stage up a lot of new fans, taking their first couple of steps towards replicating the success of fellow radio-friendly rock bands Alter Bridge and Breaking Benjamin.


A legendary modern metal band in their own right, the choice to put System of a Down on as headliners is an easy one. Although the band haven’t released any new material for over a decade, they have also played a spartan number of UK dates since officially reforming and still possess a discography that could make most bands sick with envy. This comes into full effect as they take to the stage. Compared to many other recent headliners, SOAD offer very little in the way of bombast, appearing on the stage with no fanfare, gently playing through ‘Soldier Side – Intro’ from Mezmerize.


Clearly going all out to surprise, the band follow this with ‘Suite-Pee’ from their self-titled record – and with that, it begins. The System of a Down setlist is an oddity, combining all the recognisable hits (starting with ‘Prison Song’, then ‘Violent Pornography’, ‘Aerials’, ‘Mr. Jack’ etc. etc.) with an odd-selection of tracks that would surely have die-hard fans frothing with excitement. Download tends to be at its best when engaged in a sing-along and for that, System provide by the bucket.


The thousands strong audience provides an enormous sense of communal enjoyment as all the big choruses fly by, but this sense of connection feels somewhat lost in translation as the band quietly move from song to song. Very little in the way of fan interaction creates a strange disconnect throughout the set. While the brilliance of the set doesn’t suffer for it, the performance itself feels odd as for once we don’t have the customary ‘Scream for me Donnington!’. Strange what you miss when its gone.


In spite of this, System’s set is enormous and prolific, cramming in a whopping 31 songs – that’s a hell of a lot of singalongs. The rock club anthems are out in full force for the likes of ‘Radio/Video’ and ‘Hypnotize’, while the guitar tones for ‘Dreaming’, ‘Lonely Day’ and ‘Lost In Hollywood’ prove that the band can throw out an incredible ballad just as well as they could any thrashing metal beast. A dazzling display of lights and visuals provides a rich backdrop for the band which helps solidify their status as one of the biggest bands in the modern metal world, the production values astounding as images flash up around the band throughout each song.


Closing on the epic trio of ‘Cigaro’, ‘Toxicity’ and ‘Sugar’, System Of A Down prove that they have all the necessary ingredients to still be one of the most vital forces in the rock world. While many bands dabble in politics and messages, bands like System and Prophets of Rage deal in these themes as second nature, making them both all the more vital for their ability to unite the music community under the banners of freedom and kick-ass songwriting.


Closing the first day of Download Festival 2017, System of a Down have proved themselves to be a dual-faceted musical machine, one part known entity (after all, there’s no denying their immensely impressive back catalogue) and one part enigma, quietly shunning the metal icon image they could so easily inhabit. (RH)


PHOTO CREDIT:  All photos © Darren Griffiths. Check out our full Download gallery HERE.


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