Download Festival 2013 has already been hailed as a behemoth of the recent festival age. In Iron Maiden, Andy Copping chose a headliner to both win the hearts of the Monsters of Rock festival faithful, and show the next generation the damage a well placed gallop rhythm can do. In Slipknot and Rammstein, he found two bands on the cusp of welding themselves into metal folklore; cocking the Download line-up like a double-barrelled shotgun. Beyond the headliners, Download promised everything from Viking metal to gypsy punk, with a gilded seem of truck rock to drive 90,000 people through what threatened to be the wettest of summer weekends.
And, that’s how it took off on Day 1. At the Zippo Encore Stage Monster Truck were relentless; vocalist Jon Harvey beat on his bass like a hydraulic jackhammer, and the Hammond organ of Brandon Bliss ground out a vintage climax in all the right places. Afterwards, Dir En Grey offered a scene of atonal Asian horror that was perhaps a little too gothic for the good time vibes of the first morning.
Uriah Heep and Europe were Friday’s elderly statesmen, the living embodiment of proto-metal and glam rock, respectively. The Heep, as they were being affectionately alluded to around the crowd, took the Zippo Encore Stage through soaring crescendos and thundering hooves, to their own stately pleasure dome of progressive head-banging metal. Classics ‘Overload’, ‘Stealin’’, ‘Gypsy’ and, of course, ‘Easy Livin’’ sounded just as crisp as they would have done at MOR 1982. Later on in the afternoon, Europe joyfully rattled off ‘Scream of Anger’ and ‘Rock the Night’ before the inevitable ‘Final Countdown’. Singer Joey Tempest proudly proclaimed, “we made it! Just five ordinary guys from the outskirts of Stockholm”, and the crowd lapped up the last track like a £4.50 beer. However, Europe still appear blighted by the possession of a keyboard riff more famous than they are.
A somewhat wild-card entry, The Sword took a glazed-eyed Pepsi Max Stage crowd on a sojourn into ‘60s psychedelia via ‘90s groove metal. The drawl of lead vocalist John D. Cronise was fattened by a bass level that sounded like the HMS Subwoofer leaving port, leaving onlookers clutching their reverberating ribcages to try and stop their internal organs turning to mulch. ‘How Heavy the Axe’ – the bands biggest single to date – took on an entirely new dimension in a live setting, whilst the reaction to tracks off their latest album, ‘Apocryphon’, suggests this desert rock four-piece will remain a cult favourite for the foreseeable.
As if to make up for the dour Dir En Grey, self-proclaimed gypsy punks Gogol Bordello lifted the mood back at the Zippo Encore Stage, providing an island of carnival spirit in the sea of mosh. But, just because a metalhead is suddenly confronted by syncopation, it doesn’t mean he knows how to dance. Half the entertainment in this hour came from watching the uncoordinated masses (of which I undoubtedly count myself one) pull out their best Cossack manoeuvres, occasionally switching to a do-si-do with their beer-free arm. Politicised numbers, such as ‘Ultimate’, ‘Break the Spell’ and the frantic ‘Not a Crime’, melded seamlessly with the likes of an extended ‘Start Wearing Purple’; a more eccentric number which, although infectious, missed some of the theatrics of their performance at Leeds Festival 2007.
For Download’s majority demographic, the 18 to 30s, nu-metallers Korn and Slipknot would arguably be the most relevant acts to play on Friday. Korn – with their low-fi dynamics, metal scatting and wandering slap-bass – have a somewhat chequered history with this festival. In 2006, just a day before they were set to take on the Main Stage, an announcement came over the Download tannoy that singer Jonathan Davis had been hospitalised with a serious blood ailment. The crowd were stunned, but the remainder of Korn played on, with other vocalists, such as Corey Taylor, Benji Webbe and Dez Fafara, all pitching in. Despite a successful performance in 2011, this still felt like unfinished business for many.
Fieldy’s bass wove a subsonic tapestry through old favourites ‘Blind’, ‘Falling Away From Me’ and ‘Got the Life’, but the baying masses seemed split over some of their recent dubstep-flavour offerings, such as ‘Get Up’, and ‘Narcissistic Cannibal’. The bombastic ‘Here to Stay’ provided total unification; the crowd left fissured and spiralling from the pressure of such a nu-metal standard. By the time they smashed into final track ‘Freak on a Leash’, the arena was eating from their hands.
Slipknot (pictured at top), a band that have matured into metal statesmen over the past 5 years, left the 90,000 jiving to Billie Joe Spears’ classic ‘Get Behind Me Satan and Push’ before exploding in a wall of pyro into opening track ‘Disasterpiece’, from their debut album ‘Iowa’. By the third track, ‘Wait and Bleed’, the Slipknot loyalists had begun dismantling the arena, and each other, piece by piece. ‘Before I Forget’ had to be postponed whilst Corey Taylor pleaded for calm as security repaired the barriers, but this only served to stoke the fires at this sadistic circus. Five tracks later ‘Left Behind’ had to be halted after another testosterone release, and Taylor again took to the mic to ask everyone to take a step back. Needless to say, he’s one of the few in the live music industry who commands such absolute obedience.
One subject that, understandably, is never far from the collective Slipknot consciousness is the pain caused by the tragic death of former bassist Paul Gray. This year the band struck a different tone to that of Sonisphere 2011, with Taylor promising a future for the band and declaring, “we have kept going for us. We have kept going for him. We have kept going for you”. “I push my fingers into my…” was all the crowd needed to hear to raise a toast to Paul with ‘Duality’. ‘Psychosocial’, a mainstay of site sound systems all weekend, was massive, as was the sight of the entire Main Stage crowd down on their knees to ‘Spit it Out’. Their performance – bursting with passion, energy, sex and anger – was topped off by the epic ‘People = Shit’, and percussive ‘Surfacing’.
So, with blistered feet and bleary eyes the crowd shuffled away from the arena in fervent anticipation of Day 2.