13 June 2023
Travel chaos! Epic four-dayer! Metallica playing twice! Biggest one ever! 20th anniversary! Completely sold out!
All of the above were completely true as 100,000 Metal Heads gathered in rural Leicestershire. For some, a six-mile drives takes six hours. But for most of us it was worth it to see Metallica headline the main stage twice, on both Thursday and Saturday.
Road Hounds were busy working backstage meeting artists and offering volumetric capture for those interested in performing in the metaverse. But we did get to see Metallica both times because everyone wanted to see them.
Size doesn’t come without its challenges though. Local residents close to Download Festival complained they could hear late night music “miles away.” Derbyshire Police confirmed they had received a number of complaints about the noise coming from the festival in a neighbouring county. We think that’s pretty cool actually! One resident posted online: “This is crazy. My walls are rattling during the Metallica set. Free gig I suppose.” That’s the spirit!
Thousands arrived at Donington Park, causing severe congestion on roads including the M1, A50 and A453. Some people reported queuing for more than seven hours to enter the site. Congestion around the site caused long delays and some East Midlands Airport passengers even missed flights. National Highways, which manages the road network, said plans would be made to stop this level of disruption happening again.
Anyway, back to Metallia. The Metal legends closed the first night of Download Festival. They first appeared here in 1986, at what was then Monsters of Rock, and have returned no fewer than nine times.
So they plan two different sets with no repeats from one night to the next. Their biggest song, Enter Sandman, doesn’t even make an entrance, freeing-up space for rare tracks like Blackened and Orion. It also gives new songs from their new 72 Seasons album a chance to breathe properly. Lux Æterna tore us all a new arsehole.
At one point mid set Lars, whose always understood how to talk to a crowd, said “You guys here in England have a thing called ‘home field advantage’, right? This right here may be Metallica’s home field.” Nailed it.
Buts it’s not all about the big boys. Road Hounds is all about sniffing out new talent. Most promising of the new breed we saw is Bloodywood: the New Delhi trio who imbue righteous nu-metal with Indian folk. Having scanned the band with 3D cameras ready for virtual gigs they were thinking about what they could do creatively in the Metaverse:
Bloodywood: “Can we have a giant elephant come charging through from behind the drums and run amok in the crowd?”
Who else tickled our fancy? Lorna Shore executed their punishing deathcore almost perfectly while local boys (Manchester) Hot Milk impressed with their emo-tinged, power pop-punk.
Ones to watch? 2nd stage openers Anti Saint fulfilled the dream of playing Download and it’s clear it was an almost overwhelmingly emotional experience for them. Still, with numbers like Who The Fuck Are You played with a blistering intensity, the reception received saw many new worshippers at the feet of these particular saints.
Bringing some much-needed heavy blues boogie, Clutch showed how intelligent and unfussy can be brought together in one brilliant whole. They managed to overcome adversity too, having lost a bass player to an emergency, by recruiting a stand in at 48 hrs notice. And nailing it.
Road Hounds would like to praise Download’s diverse programming too. Bloodywood from India opening to the biggest ever crowd, Lorna Shore’s new level of heavy, and then Behemoth’s cocktail of black and death metal seasoned with a heavy dose of religious provocation. It works!
And it’s the little things, isn’t it? Security teams being considerate and handing out water and escorting people where they need to be. That’s why there’s a real carnival atmosphere, with people being nice all weekend. Only Metal has a music community like that. Our security said they love working Metal shows because there’s never any hassle. Respect.
All good things must come to pass though and this writer was particularly keen to see Ghost. So after lobbying the Top Dogs was given a pass to do so. Over the course of an hour, the Swedes delight Download with a non-stop run of devilishly catchy tunes, bolstered by pyro, confetti and fireworks to complete the ‘big show’ feel. I’d back Ghost to be the next band to break into Download headliner status.
On the basis of what we saw and heard this year, the future of the event and its next generation of headliners (and potential headliners) is secure. Let’s hope it won’t take another six hours to get home.