(Words: Rachel Sandford)
Starting off a rainy last day of the weekend for me was Underoath. These guys are well known as one of the original and best post-hardcore/metalcore bands of the 2000’s, but this is not a band relying on the “nostalgia” to keep them relevant. Their most recent album “Erase Me” was a brand-new sound for this band, heading more for a rock sound compared to their original metalcore roots. Their set at Download mostly comprised of songs from this album, but they performed them with a raw energy that would put heavier bands to shame. Whilst their newer tracks didn’t get as strong of a reaction from the crowd as the older hits, Underoath definitely showed that, regardless of what they are playing, they will put on a good show.
I then headed to the front of the Dogtooth stage for Crystal Lake and it was such a crazy set I’m surprised I made it out alive. Mosh pits were starting during their soundcheck alone and the second their actual set started chaos ensued. I was blown away by how heavy these guys are. I was expecting a by-the-books metalcore band, but vocalist Ryo Kinoshita never lets up on his screaming vocals. Anyone who likes hardcore or in general, heavy music, needs to give these guys a listen. Every member of the band was headbanging, jumping, stomping, sweating and eyeing up every member of the crowd to make sure we were all going just as nuts. The energy was infectious. I knew not a single word of any song and yet I felt myself cramming closer to the stage along with everyone else just to get closer to this great band playing great music. In case you can’t tell, I loved this set.
After a lot of convincing myself that, despite how dead I was from Crystal Lake’s set, I had to push on with my day, I went to see The Amity Affliction. This band are a bit bizarre in that their discography ranges from fairly slow metalcore to heavy metal to synth rock. They show this diversity in their short set by playing polar opposites such as “Feels Like I’m Dying”, which has a distinct electronic edge, and “Death’s Hand” which has a distinct hardcore edge with multiple breakdowns and deathly screams (pun not intended) from vocalist Joel Birch. This change in pace made the set feel a bit disjointed, but the band are good at performing all their different sounds live, ultimately leaving me sat on the fence about their set.
Fever 333 had the Avalanche Stage tent absolutely rammed. Everything about this band is unique, from the hip-hop sounds crossed with punk guitars to the mix of rapping and screamed vocals. Somewhat of a modern Rage Against The Machine, this is a trio determined to make a difference, stand up for what they believe, and show the audience that they are not alone in what they’re angry about. Every chorus is sung by the audience so loud I can barely hear the amazing vocals that Jason Butler gives, but that is kind of the beauty of this set. The crowd screaming for social equality and an end to corruption is exactly what Fever 333 want. They want us to scream about what we want from this world and everyone did just that during their set. The dancing, the jumping, the moshing was just another outlet for everyone in the crowd to let it all out. I hope I’m not alone in my view that a lot of metalheads are drawn to metal as an outlet. The anger of it appeals to us because we all have things that we’re mad or sad about, and metal music both lyrically and musically is a release for that. If you are one of those people but have yet to listen to or see Fever 333 live, do both as soon as you can, you won’t regret it.
After they finish a presenter comes out and announces something along the lines of “How can anyone follow one of the best live bands of our time? Oh I know, another of the best live bands of our time!” and I could not agree more. The atmosphere and sheer amount of people at Fever 333’s set felt like a headline slot, and damn it would be hard for any band to follow that, but Enter Shikari are known for their great live shows and thankfully they deliver again at Download! They play a range of songs old and new, all loved by the entire crowd. As normal, their electronic rock gets everyone dancing and their light show is incredible. Whilst having this set as the headliner for the third stage was a great experience for all who got to see it, not everyone was so lucky, and many people couldn’t get close to the tent let alone the stage! In 2015 Shikari headlined the second stage and they should definitely be headlining a stage above, not a stage below! They are still writing songs that are intent on educating the masses of our country on every social, political and environmental issue currently happening. When they first started doing this it was like a breath of fresh air compared to all the media outlets talking about who wore what dress better and all the bands singing about partying and sex. Years later and it is still not only a breath of fresh air but actually makes you feel patriotic and proud to be British because if people ever know Britain as “that country Enter Shikari are from” then we’ve done something right. It was a great way to end a great weekend. Same time next year?
(Words: David Steed)
No one wants to open the final day of a festival. You’re lucky if punters crawl out of their tents by mid-afternoon, let alone in time for the first band at 11:00am. As such, Cane Hill only performed to a sparse crowd, most of whom were little more than the walking dead. This didn’t put them off, and they roared through their short set of alt. metal bruisers, even getting a small circle pit going courtesy of that one giant that every crowd has (this one happened to be wearing a top emblazoned with ‘PIT TROLL’, so no prizes for guessing what he was there for). It was hardly the most memorable of performances, but it certainly woke people up.
The blend of electronics and modern metalcore peddled by I Prevail attracted a few more people to the main stage (being later than midday certainly helped). Music aside, I couldn’t quite grasp what angle their frontmen, Brian Burkheiser and Eric Vanlerberghe, were going for. One minute they were profusely thanking the crowd for the chance to perform on the main stage, the next they were getting overly angsty and threatening to ‘call out’ anyone not jumping to their next song. I understand bands pushing to get involvement out of a crowd, us British are a reserved lot after all, but I Prevail were getting far too wound up about what was ultimately a minority of the crowd. However, cringeworthy trash talk aside, they nailed all the songs they performed, from crushing opener “Bow Down” through to closing anthem “Come & Get It”. Burkheiser deserves extra credit for performing the whole set wearing an ankle brace!
For those who liked their vocals a little cleaner, Blurred Vision were over on the Dogtooth Stage. While their cover of Pink Floyds “Another Brick In The Wall” was morally applaudable (they have adapted it to target ‘Ayatollah’ in the Middle East), it was an unoriginal cover that did little to distinguish itself from the original, other than the slight lyrical change. They were followed by Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics, one of the most flamboyantly dressed bands at the festival. Buchanan is one of the best vocalists in the current hard rock scene, and proved his showmanship by enticing an otherwise sedentary crowd to crowd surf one of the stage crew around the entire tent in an inflatable flamingo! Stunts like this, combined with their infectious brand of theatrical hard rock, made this the best performance of the day so far.
When you see the main stage dominated by a drum riser crafted from a giant Viking helmet it can only mean one thing: Amon Amarth are in town. For any unfamiliar with these Scandinavians, they write melodic death metal anthems about Vikings and named their band after Mt Doom from The Lord of the Rings. You don’t get much more metal than that. There is always talk of the next lot of festival headliners, and between the insane amounts of pyro, Viking warriors fighting to the death (actors I hope) and huge stage props, Amon Amarth certainly have the stage show for it. It’s just a shame that their songs begin to blur into one after the first two or three. Their musicianship is on point, but lacks variety, even in things as simple as the pacing of vocal delivery, meaning that once the novelty of the performance has worn off there was little left to entice prospective fans. On the other hand, the established fans filling the front half of the arena were loving every Norse fuelled second, so who am I to comment?
Now Download 2019 had its fair share of organisational blunders: the queues for merchandise and booze were measured in hours rather than minutes, the number of toilets was horrendously inadequate (and the bizarre fencing system only bottlenecked queues for them) and the layout of the new village didn’t seem to shorten walks to the arena one bit. All of this is avoidable stuff that people can legitimately complain about. What is unavoidable is clashing performances. Normally, people just accept that they won’t be able to see everyone they want to and live with the consequences of their choices (I’m still not sure whether choosing to see Anthrax over Lamb of God was a good idea). Yet, on the final day of the festival, the Download organisers crossed a line. When you have Slayer performing their last ever UK show, and Tool performing in the UK for the first time in thirteen years, you’d think that you’d want to make them available to as many people as possible right? Wrong. The two shows overlapped by a significant margin, meaning you had to sacrifice a significant portion of one show to watch the other. Not to mention probably ending up in a naff viewing position for both in the process. This left many people understandably pissed off.
As for the performances themselves, Slayer did what Slayer do best, ie, a set filled with the kind of unrelenting and bludgeoning thrash metal that they themselves pioneered. The undisputed kings of the genre attracted the biggest crowd the Zippo stage had seen all weekend: one that stretched as far back as the food vans and as far out as to cross over in the main arena. In said arena, Tool kicked off their show while Slayer were still performing. The huge screens, usually used to show live film the performers, were instead dedicated to trippy visuals throughout the show. Giving a headline slot to a progressive rock band is a very, ahem, progressive move by Download Festival, I do not think that Tool were the band for the job, regardless of how exclusive their first UK show in years looks on paper. They have not been an active part of the music scene for more than a decade, leaving them alienated to a significant proportion of the audience. The front part of the crowd was filled with the fanatical, hardcore following that their albums inspire, but as for the rest, the progressive structures, trance-like melodies and heavy rhythms didn’t look to be winning over any new fans, and many began leaving in droves. For an established fan, this show would have been sensational. For everyone else, it formed an anticlimactic and subdued end to the weekend.
All photographs by AmandaC Photography.