DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL 2011
Donington Park 10-12 June 2011
Ross Baker’s Download Festival
The roaring success that was Download 2010 was always going to be a hard act to follow and was not without some initial warning signs. For a start the event was certainly more sparsely attended than the previous year and the price of a pint was raised by another 20p but there were still some great acts to see although this year’s headliners were of a much weaker calibre than the titanic trio of AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine and Aerosmith that had the rock public frothing at the mouth with anticipation last year.
Friday headliners Def Leppard pulled off a set of well crafted arena rock which had its pleasing moments but didn’t feel quite on a par with their triumphant set in 2009. The ballads were delivered extremely well, however, with the excellent “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” being a particular highlight and “Rock of Ages” which will always be a powerful anthem.
Onto the second day and Taiwanese black metallers Chthonic delivered a dramatic performance early on the second stage. Bassist Doris is a firebrand of energy and despite her diminutive stature oozes cool and sex appeal. Numbers from last year’s “Mirror of Retribution” opus are delivered with a confidence and precision that should see their reputation continue to grow more and more in years to come.
That’s more than can be said for St. Albans mob Rise To Remain whose appeal continues to escape me. Their lumpen screamy metalcore has little in the way of hooks and you can’t help but wonder where they’d be if front man Austin Dickinson wasn’t the son of Iron Maiden front man Bruce. While energetic enough, there are so many American acts doing this kind of thing right now that it begs the question “Why do we need a British act emulating the drearily likes of Underoath et al”?
Following an excellent three song acoustic set in the press tent, courtesy of Skunk Anansie, it was time to catch a couple of numbers by Welsh raga metal crew Skindred who got the main stage bouncing before I departed early to catch a couple of numbers by mysterious prog doom band Ghost. Wearing black robes and playing a 70s style set of hypnotic and satanic majesty, they were certainly the best new band of the festival, a sentiment clearly echoed by Down’s Phil Anselmo who would later invite the band to guest during Down’s set later that day!
It was then back to the second stage, having chosen to forgo Hip Hop rockers Hollywood Undead on the main stage and Heights over on the Jägermeister stage. It was up to Dan Reed to entertain a thinning crowd. Clearly many punters were having a beer break mid-afternoon during Reed’s set of turgid balladry which was reminiscent of Bryan Adams without the flair or drama. Reed plugged his return to our shores in October but it appeared that very few cared. It was surprising to see an act like this at Download when Reading would clearly be a more suitable target audience for this guy.
Thank fuck then for Clutch! Neil Fallon and co were in storming form, tearing through a set of hip shaking rock ‘n’ roll to get the crowd moving again! “Mice and Gods” and “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” were huge grooving monsters which you couldn’t help throw yourself into with reckless abandon and while this hard grafting Maryland rock machine may tour pretty often, they always mix up the set nicely so you never feel they are going through the motions.
This warmed us up nicely for another fearsome performance from Down. Guitarists Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein possess riffs that could topple mountains and shaven headed vocalist Phil Anselmo looks like he’s having a blast. A pleasant surprise was that they used the chorus of Pantera’s “Walk” as an intro to the mighty “Lifer” which had the audience explode and saw some serious crowd surfing action. Anselmo may have been suffering from a sore throat which he had “Blessed by the Bishop from Ghost” but this was still an awesome set which ended with Ghost going with the Down guys onstage for a visceral “Bury Me in Smoke” which threatened to tear the main stage apart. As they say “The power of the riff compels you!”
Opting to stay with the main stage for Brit rockers Skunk Anansie because of their highly enjoyable short acoustic set in the press tent, I was hoping for great things. One thing was clear, however, that while the likes of hit singles “Charlie Big Potato” and “I Can Dream” are fantastic crowd pleasers, the material from their comeback album “Wonderlustre” lacks the depth and zest of their earlier work. Skin is certainly a great front woman with a powerful voice but the new songs are by and large slower and tamer, preventing their show from becoming a real scorcher.
With that I abandoned the main stage early to march over to the Pepsi Max stage to catch thrash juggernaut Evile who turned in a powerful, if brief, set with new track “Cult” going down exceptionally well.
Heavy metal has birthed so many great singers but only a few showmen like Dee Snider. The Twisted Sister vocalist continues to perform at a high level. The ‘Sister kept the energy levels high, eschewing the ballads for a set of high octane party metal capped off with the timeless “I Wanna Rock” which feels like the national anthem for Donington.
That left shock rocker Alice Cooper to bring his rock and gore show to round off Saturday with a pleasing set. It’s a wonder how the old chap keeps going after so many years considering he dies after every other song! Mr. Furnier at age 63 runs rings around many younger acts with his theatrics but it’s classics like hit single “Poison” combined with newer numbers like the pleasingly heavy “Brutal Planet” that keep the audience screaming for more. Long may he continue.
Sunday morning brought with it torrential rain which unfortunately managed to stick with us for most of the day, leaving many a punter drenched and complaining. Those who opted to stay in their tents, however, missed a powerful early set from Biohazard who, despite the departure of Bassist/Vocalist Evan Seinfeld, held their own with a mighty rendition of “Punishment”.
Continuing with more aggressive acts on the bill, U.K. crew October File delivered a set of snarling quasi Killing Joke post-punk metal which fared well despite a muddy sound mix.
Following the disappointing no show by stoner instrumentalists Karma To Burn, I passed by the main stage during Bowling For Soup which was a detour I’d rather have avoided. Their one joke pop punk becomes tiresome very quickly which was thankfully relieved by the arrival of Norwegian wrecking machine Kvelertak. Combining hardcore bluster with black metal parts and an almost rock ‘n’ roll feel in places, they were everything B.F.S. were not; fresh, exciting and chock full of dynamite riffs with a swaggering stage presence that converted many a new fan to their cause on Sunday.
Back on the main stage we got the blue collar punk of New Jersey song smiths The Gaslight Anthem. Singer/Guitarist Brian Fallon is a charming chap whether he’s waxing lyrical between songs about listening to Metallica, even pausing to give us a blast of the riff from “Master Of Puppets”, to turning out heartfelt numbers like the powerful “Bring It On”. The rain didn’t seem so bad when they were on nor where the sleaze bomb that is Buckcherry. I only managed to catch a couple of their later numbers but any act that can get the ladies gyrating the way Josh Todd and co do with numbers like “Crazy Bitch” get my vote.
By contrast Black Veil Brides seem somewhat lightweight. “Knives and Pins” is ok but they clearly ride their image as the songs lack danger and bite. Sure they have a couple of moments but compared to Buckcherry they just feel too saccharine and clean.
No one could accuse Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy of lacking substance. With a new album on the way later this year, the band look in better shape than they have for many years. They tempted fate opening with “Rain” which thankfully didn’t see the heaven’s open up again but even if they had it wouldn’t have made their mesmerising performance any less memorable. With former White Zombie man John Tempesta pounding away behind the drumkit, the band looked revitalised concluding their set with a rousing version of “Love Removal Machine”.
That left only monster man Rob Zombie to cap off the evening making his first U.K. festival appearance in over a generation. Shock and awe was the order of the day with giant robots, pyrotechnics and all the props you could hope for. From the dirty stripper grind of “Living Dead Girl” and “Pussy Liquor” to White Zombie’s “More Human Than Human” and set closer “Dragula” Zombie had the crowd eating out of the palm of his ghoulish hand. It was a dramatic conclusion to a decent if not classic year at Donington.