The brow of a Viking longboat protruded ominously from the Zippo Encore Stage as Amon Amarth summoned their otherworldly brand of Norse-themed metal to that sullied pasture on day 3 of Download Festival 2013. Drummer Nico Mehra held fort underneath the ship’s sail (with cymbals spilling over port and starboard), whilst his fellow barbarians lined up along the front in headbanging unison. The opening track – ‘War of the Gods’, from their 2011 album ‘Surtur Rising’ – was a merciless display of melodic death metal with .50 calibre double bass line and a soaring solo. Save vocalist Johan Hegg’s guttural growl, ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ had a pace and riff focus similar to that of some Megadeth tracks, whilst ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ was one continuous crescendo from the Swedish quintet. The relentless ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ turned out to be their final track, with the set cut short as a result of technical difficulties earlier in the day, sealing the gate to a portal the crowd were willingly throwing themselves into.
Metalcore five-piece Vision of Disorder shun the traditional trappings of spikes and leather as they take to the Pepsi Max Stage and, not for the first time, it’s sound system delivers a level above that of the Main or Zippo Encore stages. Unlike their studio recordings, loud seems to be the sole dynamic, but this only serves to feed the sense of release as the pit claims more victims. The chorus to the hook laden ‘Set to Fail’ was returned with fervour by the crowd, followed up by the likes of ‘What You Are’ and the pummelling marching beat of ‘Blood Red Sun’.
Red Fang might just snatch the award for the most underrated band of the festival, in terms of their spot in the line up at least. Frequently given as a second or third answer as a band fellow Downloaders wanted to see, the Oregonian four piece’s own brand of stoner metal had already received an unexpected recommendation from Motörhead’s own Lemmy Kilmister the day before. It took a while for most of the crowd to realise the people on stage were not, in fact, roadies, but they eventually slammed into their massive opener ‘Malverde’, which had echoes of Tool’s 2006 album ‘10,000 Days’ in its staccato verses. ‘Wires’ has a relentless, almost Queens of the Stone Age edge, with a killer key change on the chorus and mesmeric finale. It was followed up by ‘Into the Eye’, from their latest album ‘Murder the Mountains’, and ‘Sharks’ from their debut Sargent House EPs. Their final track, ‘Prehistoric Dog’, is arguably the biggest to date, and fans got involved the only way they know how; by smashing into each other in homemade beer can armour.
It’s safe to say that with Airbourne – musically at least – you know what you’re going to get. At Sonisphere 2011 lead vocalist and guitarist Joel O’Keeffe scaled the scaffolding of the second stage (20 metres or more), kicking their set to new heights, literally. They seem to keep a keener eye on the talent at Download, unfortunately, but the pace of the Aussies AC/DC-esque hard rock was just what the doctor ordered for a weary crowd. They rattled through staples ‘Ready to Rock, ‘Cheap Wine & Cheaper Women’, ‘Black Dog Barking’ and ‘Wave the Flag’ before ‘Live it Up’ had the fists pumping and the crowd warming their vocal chords. And, just in time. Next up was the infectious ‘Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast’, the most successful track off their 2007 album ‘Runnin’ Wild’. The eponymous single from this album capped off the set, sliding neatly into a rendition of the riff from Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’.
So many questions need to be asked about the involvement of 30 Seconds to Mars on the Main Stage at this point in the festival. Surely, this was Limp Bizkit’s slot; another band that had success in the early Noughties, and would have drawn the same crowd. Instead two almighty waves of people had to navigate through the detritus and up the hill to escape Jared Leto’s turgid peacocking. Having secretly camped among us plebs at the festival last year, you can tell he’s picked up some tips from Metallica and Slipknot (probably from 2 nights previous) on how to put on a decent stage show. Unfortunately, the personal spin he put on it resulted in nothing more than a flood of brightly coloured yoga balls being dropped onto a heavily spiked crowd, and a nonplussed reaction to attempts to get everyone down on their knees. They played the usual fluff, including: ‘Birth’, ‘This is War’, ‘Conquistador’ and ‘Vox Populi’, before the MTV2 Award-winning ‘The Kill (Bury Me)’. Leto doubled the precipitation count for the weekend by inviting a group of blubbing fans on stage for their final track ‘Up in the Air’, so someone appreciated them at least.
Limp Bizkit had the Zippo Encore Stage full to bursting as fans clamoured to catch a glimpse of singer Fred Durst and his new Gandalf look. And, with a set comprised largely of tracks from their 2000 breakout album ‘Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavoured Water’ – named ‘Worst Album of the Year’ by Entertainment Weekly whilst simultaneously becoming the fastest selling rock album ever – they could almost let the crowd tackle this one alone. Opening with live favourite ‘Thieves’, by second track ‘Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle)’ it was evident that these nu metal forerunners had matured, combining gut-shuddering bass with a willingness to experiment. Of course, “all the people in the house” did “put their hands in the air”, and by their third offering, ‘Nookie’, everything from bottles to bog rolls was being lobbed skyward.
A huge swathe of the crowd broke away like a tectonic plate at this stage as headliners Rammstein (pictured at top) were set to take to the Main Stage. The rest of Limp Bizkit’s set was peppered with classics, from ‘My Generation’, ‘Livin’ it Up’ and ‘Full Nelson’, to ‘Take a Look Around’, ‘My Way’ and ‘Break Stuff’. There was even time to squeeze in a couple of covers; the predictable spin on George Michae;’s ‘Faith’ and a rapturous version of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing in the Name’.
Somehow Rammstein managed to remain something of an unknown quantity until taking to the stage as the curtain closers of Download 2013. Their live antics are so legendary that it’s tough to separate the fact from the fiction. What transpired was an avante-garde opera; a jaw-dropping amalgam of industrial machinery, art school sexuality, Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. Vocalist Till Lindemann descended from the rafters on a spark sprinkling platform to their opening track ‘Ich tu dir weh’ (‘I Hunt You’), clad in a fluffy pink coat over his grimy overalls and folding himself into a ‘Silence of the Lambs’ stlye mangina (not the first that’s been witnessed this weekend). Next, ‘Wollt ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen?’ had 90,000 pumping their fists in marching rhythm to chants of ‘Rammstein’, and allowed them their first opportunity to indulge their passion for pyrotechnics. ‘Keine Lust’ saw sparks flying from the lead singers hands before the sinisterly vulnerable cries of “mir ist kalt” at the song’s climax. After, Lindemann and guitarists Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul H. Lambers all donned flame spitting masks and lit things up for the bombastic ‘Feuer frei!’.
Keyboardist Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz took his first beating of the night as he was wheeled out in an oversized cooking pot for ‘Mein Teil’, before being roasted with blasts from increasingly larger flamethrowers. The sadomasochistic Lindemann bathed unprotected under a shower of sparks for ‘Ohne Dich’, before chasing a (fake) rogue crowd member across stage with a flamethrower during ‘Benzin’, like some sort of cabaret golem. The set proper finished with a potent run of ‘Links 2-3-4’, ‘Du Hast’ and the rousing ‘Ich Will’. After a solo off with guitar mounted flamethrowers, their infamous live track ‘Bück dich’ saw Lorenz in a gimp outfit and chaps being buggered by Lindemann on a 20-foot riser, with the latter foaming everyone on the front rows with his prosthetic appendage. After the crowd had cooled off, they returned for an encore with a heartfelt piano-only rendition of the epic ‘Mein Herz brennt’ and the melodic ‘Sonne’, but Lindemann couldn’t resist pulling out an even bigger foaming appendage to violate the crowd during their final track ‘Pussy’. Even so, this audience had not been screwed.
So, as the piano rang out on an instrumental rendition of ‘Ohne Dich’, the writhing masses were left to reflect on a festival that promised so much, but delivered even more. No UK festival can match the passion and honest release witnessed every year on Donington’s hallowed fields. And, despite all the hype over next year’s potential headliners, for many, next June can’t come soon enough.