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Festival review: Download 2012


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‘Drownload’, ‘Downpour’ – the wit of the jealous online knew no bounds! And those stuck in hours of traffic or trying to park in the newly formed swamp (or ‘car park’) may have initially wished they were sat at home dry and joining in the hilarious, digital high-horsing of the masses.

MetallicaBut by the end of The Prodigy’s triumphant set at the end of the day, the wet seemed like a moot point. The Essex dance-warrior’s not only silenced the naysayers but relentlessly punched them in the face with a barrage of crushing beats, and heavy guitar licks. ‘Not heavy enough for Download?’, The Prodigy must have forgotten to read that particular memo!

And with the downpour subsiding the remaining two days, whilst muddy, were no more difficult to endure than other British festivals.

Metallica, despite being regulars, showed that each one of their shows is an event. This ‘event’ was particularly special with a full performance of their world-beating Black album. But even this isn’t enough for the metal legends to rely on as they started with four of their biggest and best.

Starting with the first track off their debut album ‘Hit The Lights’ – they sent Donington in to pandemonium in the mud. The following trio of awesome tunes, ‘Master Of Puppets’, ‘The Four Horsemen’ and ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ whilst marred by terrible main stage sound still proved ‘Tallica as a supreme live music force.

Playing the Black album in reverse, to start with the more subdued tracks and culminating in hit ‘Enter Sandman’ they produced a pitch perfect rendition of a classic rock record. In amongst the pure power (‘Sad But True’) we witnessed  the moments of beauty that show why this was the record where the band revealed their hidden depth’s, their soul.

‘Nothing Else Matters’ was a glorious, emotive sing-along of the highest order. Before it began a video reminded us how this album slayed the world selling copies in numbers that seem ridiculous in today’s music market and seeing 6 million people attend the following tour. This set proved why.

Everything was bookended by a final three-track encore, beginning the majesty of ‘Battery’, followed by the epic ‘One’ and the thrash power of ‘Seek and Destroy’. With a new album out next year, before looking forward Metallica took a look backwards to show exactly why they are the biggest metal band on the planet.

Despite this performance the weekend really belonged to Download’s booking coups in way of the reformed Soundgarden and Refused.

In 1998, Refused dropped an album that changed the face of punk music The Shape Of Punk To Come but the world wasn’t ready and the band disbanded amid a mediocre response to their music. Now in 2012, their legend has grown and they are considered a massive influence. The excitement was palpable as the band took to the UK stage for the first time over a decade. They didn’t disappoint. They played with pure energy, blending revolutionary ideals with complex song-structures that maintain their punk power. Front-man Dennis Lyxzén struted the stage, owning every inch of it. The break down to ‘Rather Be Dead’ as Dennis (and the crowd) repeated the line “Rather Be Alive” over a building bass-line was one of the most emotive moments of the weekend. By the time the band ended with ‘hit’ ‘New Noise’ there was no doubt they are BACK and more relevant than ever. Refused are definitely not fucking dead!

But even Refused cannot match the sheer excitement of grunge-legends Soundgarden coming back to our shores after 17 years away. Hardly energetic in their performance the Seattle rock-gods played a calmly cool and restrained set that let the tunes do the talking. They didn’t mess about banging through a ‘greatest hits’ set that burst into life with ‘Spoonman’. The band were exceptionally tight and Chris Cornell’s voice has lost none of its power or beauty over the years. Each track is a rock classic and none more so than ‘Black Hole Sun’ (the band’s biggest hit) which caused a mass sing-along in the mud. The band ended in a burst of crushing feedback and left with little show-boating or fanfare. If this was the last stint ever in the UK for Soundgarden it will be a more than fitting epitaph to one of the greatest ever rock bands.

Elsewhere an uncharacteristic level of humour for metal provided some other highlights. A inch-perfect parody of rubbish hair-metal was provided by Steel Panther. They are puerile and sexist but this is what this music always was. It is always perfectly played and brilliantly amusing. The problem is that a lot of people seem to take it rather seriously, becoming part of the joke. “Death to all but Metal” saw Slipknot’s Corey Taylor join the band on stage – the song and the set sent up the mindset of a scene that refuses to grow up and develop!

Tenacious D are a good rock band, with some pretty mediocre jokes. Without the showmanship of Jack Black it would be hard to see how they would have got so far. Is a phallic bird shooting confetti funny? If the answer is yes, then the D’s humour will have you in stitches. Black was engaging throughout and the band play better than any comedy band ever should – it’s enjoyable enough but is neither rocking nor funny enough to warrant their high billing.

The crowds fought the rain and mud to enjoy another edition of pure rock fun. Bands old and new (far to many to mention here) made this another successful Download.

image by Andrew Whitton

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