Nekrogoblikon almost felt like light relief after Slipknot the night before during day 1 of Download Festival 2013. Not that they were mellow, far from it; the ‘folk’ aspect of their ‘folk metal’ tag manifested itself only through an untamed baroque synth line and the orc-like vocals of the one-and-only John Goblikon. A hideous green mask perched between hunched shoulders and mangled hands; he shuffled from wing to wing in gothic splendour, warming the souls of the drenched masses lining the perimeter of the Pepsi Max Stage.
Back on the Main Stage, Mastodon unleashed their gargantuan sound on the waiting masses. A stalwart of the metal festival scene, Mastodon have become a new beast since the release of their latest album, ‘The Hunter’, in 2011. Launching into the primeval ‘Black Tongue’, it became apparent that this was a set more for appreciation than involvement. Lashings of rain compounded the situation, beating down through the likes of ‘Oblivion’, ‘Stargasm’ and ‘Blasteroid’. A menacing chorus of “just close your eyes, and pretend that everything’s fine” rose from the crowd during ‘All the Heavy Lifting’, before the band exploded into ‘Curl of the Burl’ and the classic ‘Blood and Thunder’, from their 2004 album ‘Leviathan’.
Alice in Chains silenced a core of naysayers when they took to the stage at Download 2006, just a year after reforming with William DuVall stepping up to take the mic from the late Layne Staley. Now, in 2013, the Seattle grungers seem more at ease with themselves, with a catalogue of new material from their 2009 release ‘Black Gives Way to Blue’, and this year’s ‘The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’. But, where else could they start, other than the bombastic ‘Them Bones’? As the last chords rang out, making way for the angst driven ‘Damn That River’, the arena was back in 1992 at the release of their seminal album ‘Dirt’. Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney’s metronomic rhythm section rolled on through ‘Hollow’, ‘Check My Brain’ and ‘Again’, before lulling into the melancholy majesty of ‘Down in a Hole’. A final foray into old favourites ‘Man in the Box’ and ‘Rooster’ gave a nod to the old faithful, and Alice In Chains left all comers happy, but the set was just too short to include the likes of tracks from their ‘MTV Unplugged’ album – a tactic that Chris Cornell pulled off so effortlessly with Soundgarden at Download 2012.
Surely Motörhead have planning permission pending on some kind of treehouse tavern in the woods behind Main Stage? How else could they be relied upon with such regularity to turn a sodden Leicestershire afternoon into a homage to early three-chord speed metal (and potentially an advert for the health benefits of Jack Daniel’s)? No discerning Downloader would be surprised to hear that the set list included the usual mainstays: ‘Metropolis’, ‘Over the Top’, ‘Rock It’, as well as the slurred verses of ‘Killed by Death’. ‘Ace of Spades’ could do no worse than bronze in most Best Metal Songs of All Time lists, and sent the crowd into a 2-minute frenzy. But, the most poignant and memorable part of the set was the introduction of founding member and ex-drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor, who has given his body for the Motörhead slogan: “Everything louder than everything else”.
Josh Homme has something of the Midas touch when it comes to assembling musical ensembles, and the most recent incarnation of Queens of the Stone Age (pictured at top) has proved a satisfyingly complex prospect, despite mixed reactions to their latest album ‘… Like Clockwork’. With all five members framed by a screen that filled a little over half the stage, their set felt more compact – even intimate – than anything that had come before. ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’, a lyrical list of narcotics set to a pugnacious bassline, worked as an opener because it summed up in seven words the ethos behind the old QOTSA, and most likely matched the requirements given to the runner as soon as Homme’s tour bus arrived – such was his amusement at a man-sized Super Mario in the crowd. ‘You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar, but I Feel Like a Millionaire’ was the first link in a chain of tracks from the 2002 album ‘Songs for the Deaf’ that tied their set together. ‘First it Giveth’, ‘No One Knows’, ‘Hangin’ Tree’, ‘Go With the Flow’ and ‘A Song for the Dead’ were all delivered clinically with Homme’s trademark sneer, but without Nick Oliveri swinging a bass round his head in his birthday suit, it lacked an element of the danger of old. The band’s new visuals added a distinctive dimension that is likely to become a stock feature of future shows, enabling them to enact their visceral sound through hypnotic patterns and bloodied avatars.
Almost all Iron Maiden fans born after 1978 harbour an unspoken desire to re-live the epic journey that was their ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ world tour, and what better time than on the 25th anniversary of their Monsters of Rock stop off? Vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s passion for the aeronautical was indulged before a chord had even been sounded, when a Hawker Hurricane roared over Main Stage, leaving fans to gawp in awe as the plane made its second and third flypast. Maiden kicked off with the debut from their acclaimed 1988 album, ‘Moonchild’, to a rapturous response, before ‘Can I Play with Madness’, ‘Two Minutes to Midnight’ and ‘Afraid to Shoot Strangers’ kept the set on its rocketing trajectory. Dickinson played the conductor in a heavy metal orchestra, emerging for ‘The Trooper’ in Redcoat garb and waving a massive Union Jack.
A Pan-like devil emerged for ‘The Number of the Beast’, and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ lived up to its theatrical roots. ‘Run to the Hills’, ‘Wasted Years’ and the ominous ‘Fear of the Dark’ tested the crowd’s vocal chords to the extreme, before their eponymous track sounded time for an encore. Continuing the military theme, Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech gave way to ‘Aces High’, and on to a tempestuous rendition of ‘The Evil That Men Do’. Maiden had the crowd from the flypast, potentially even from the credit card confirmation on Ticketmaster, and as they dissipated to the tune of Eric Idle’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, it was clear that the gods of metal have gifted Maiden with immortality.