Having experienced torrential rain for three days prior to the weekend it’s frankly ridiculous that the organisers failed to put hay down on the mud soaked ground before the event which resulted in the shameful cancellation of both Rise To Remain and Cancer Bats. Let left Fear Factory the task of opening the festival which unfortunately turned out to be one of the most anticlimactic moments of the weekend. Burton C Bell struggled to hit any of the high notes and a god awful sound neutered their machine like procession. A terribly disappointing set from an act capable of so much more.

Machine Head however couldn’t be more empathic as they crushed the main stage severing up slabs of fantastically brutal yet melodic tracks such as the awesome ‘Locust’ although the absence of staple track “Davidian” was unfortunate. Serving up a prog masterclass on the Zippo stage, Opeth delivered a set cut equally from recent platter “Heritage” as well as tested classics. “Slither” was excellent with its “summer’s gone” hook sounding very prophetic considering the dreary weather conditions. While the absence of heavier material from Opeth’s recent performances has been a letdown for many, the inclusion of the blistering “Demon of the Fall” had the audience in awe.

Electing to skip the lackluster Chase and Status on the main stage, it was time for a dose of symphonic metal from Nightwish. Why Tuomas Holopainen persists with Anette Olzon as vocalist is a mystery. While by now means an awful singer she is no match for her predecessor Tarja Turunen ultimately Nightwish have two choices either pair down the operatic aspects Olzon struggles with or get another singer as continuing like this will only harm the band’s legacy.

The Zippo stage needed a shot in the arm with some classic rock ‘n’ roll which Slash supplied in abundance. Miles Kennedy fronting the band full time was an absolute coup. Arguably the finest vocalist in modern rock he oozes charisma and has a voice which handles the Guns ‘N’ Roses material arguably better than Axl can right now.  Tracks from standout new platter “Apocalyptic Love” rub shoulders with classic G’N’R material like “Rocket Queen” and the man himself was loving it! Ripping through a set of raunchy 70s inspired noise which had the audience in ecstasy. Axl who exactly?

Further genius was evident on the Pepsi stage with yet another masterful performance from Canadian legend Devin Townsend. Haven taken the stage later than expected Dev ploughs through a set of hits that puts The Prodigy’s main stage performance firmly in the shade. “Seventh wave” washed over the audience in a wave of pure joy and the scorching “Bad Devil” had the audience jigging around like their lives depended on it. While many acclaimed acts turn out inconsistent performances it seems there is still no stopping this prolific maverick.

Thankfully day two see’s the ground start to dry out a bit allowing for a more pleasant and cheerful atmosphere. A feeling that could be summed up in one word: Turbonegro! New singer Tony “Duke Of Nothing” Sylvester was great replacement for Hank von Helvete, preening like a peacock while guitarist Euroboy electrified us with storming party anthems like “Wasted Again”. Concluding with a rousing “I Got Erection”, they brought some glitter and danger to Download today.

Jesse Leech’s return to the ranks of Killswitch Engage has breathed new life into the Massachusetts metal act. His hardcore bark and soaring clean vocals inject vitality and meaning into the likes of “Life To Lifeless” and closer “My Last Serenade”. It’s just a shame that guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz had to spoil the atmosphere of the occasion with his puerile and idiotic ramblings between songs.

While they have only turned out one decent record in over a generation Metallica still remain a fantastic live act. Resplendent in a leather waistcoat full of old school metal patches, James Hetfield was in commanding form. Over two hours of classic hits from “Hit The Lights” to “Sad But True” ensured that no one could complain with the Bay Area acts ability to put on one hell of a show! While it was indeed a treat to hear all of the “Black Album” in its entirety the daunting question remains will the Bay Area titans will ever record anything great again? For tonight however the biggest band in metal put on another masterclass in entertainment.

Finally day three and kicking off the day in style are trad metal warriors Kobra and The Lotus. Vocalist Kobra Paige is a warrior queen leading her troops into battle. Her commanding stage presence coupled with a sound which references the likes of Judas Priest there could be a bright future for this promising new act.

Refused seemed somewhat shocked at the response they received. “We used to be a tiny Hardcore band from Sweden” Dennis Lyxzén humbly commented before mutating into the dejected love child of Iggy Pop hurling himself around the stage. Numbers like the fiery “Refused Are Fucking Dead” and calling card “New Noise” truly lit up the stage showing they are on more than a nostalgia trip.

It had been fifteen long years since Soundgarden played the U.K. Opening with “Spoonman” they held Donnington Park in the palm of their hands to begin with but seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the reception they are greeted by. Chris Cornell’s vocals weren’t always note perfect but when you have a catalogue of songs like “Rusty Cage” and “Black Hole Sun” to fall back on it was still a welcome return from the Seattle mob.

Having caught only a couple of numbers from Satanic masters Ghost it was time for Black Sabbath to bring the curtain down on the weekend. While Ozzy Osbourne is looking extremely frail and misses many notes he still faired better than expected. Having toned down the clown prince act sans one bucket of water thrown during “Sweet Leaf” Ozzy was as good as he has been in the last fifteen years. While this was a pleasant surprise special mention must go to lord of the riff Tony Iommi who put in a noble shift here following his recent cancer diagnosis. “Children Of The Grave” has one of the finest riffs ever written with Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes spotted in the crowd headbanging enthusiastically.  Despite all the hyperbole and bullshit surrounding the absence of original drummer Bill Ward Sabbath did themselves justice closing a year of fine performances from bright new stars and returning heroes.



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