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FESTIVAL REVIEW: Download 2019 – Friday

There are more encouraging build ups to a major UK summertime festival than an entire week of continuous, heavy rain, but for the regulars of Download Festival, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Lovingly nicknamed Drownload, it’s often plagued by inclement weather, but while clothes, bodies and campsites may be sodden before a single band has even played a note, it takes more than adverse conditions to dampen the spirits of UK metal fans.

Day one at this year’s event pays homage to classic rock with the likes of Slash, Whitesnake and Def Leppard scheduled to perform later in the day, but first we’re treated to a heavy hit of nostalgia courtesy of Skid Row on the Zippo Encore Stage. Sound balance issues underline a shaky start, making it hard to pick out a single guitar note or any vocals, and this continues for the first half of the set. Oblivious to what we can (or rather can’t) hear, the band members do a fine job of carrying the stage, pumping up the crowd with as much energy as they can now muster. Luckily the mix reaches optimum balance in time for the band’s two huge hits I Remember You and Youth Gone Wild. There’s something hugely ironic about JP Theart belting out the words “we are the youth gone wild” nowadays, but it’s great to see the band reliving their more spritely days and in turn helping a large portion of the audience relive theirs too. Judging by today’s line-up this is likely to be an ongoing theme of the day. 5/10 MJ

Sticking at the Zippo Encore Stage, Norwegian six-piece Kvelertak take Skid Row’s classic rock foundations and add a smattering of hardcore punk rock attitude. A barrage of noise from three guitars is just what the festival crowd needs to get their blood pumping and the occasional blast beat from drummer Kjetil Gjermundrød stirs up the first Zippo Stage moshpit of the festival. The band’s blend of classic rock riffs and guitar solos, with hardcore drum beats and shouted vocals takes the best of rock, metal, punk and hardcore and mashes them together for a unique and enjoyable cocktail. Playing the second stage at Download is a large enough occasion but it’s made even more special when vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen announces that it’s his birthday. He toasts the day with a fun, loud and energetic set, accented by an admirable amount of audience participation. The band are expected to release a new record this year, their first with Nikolaisen, and they’ll no doubt have a new section of fans anticipating its release thanks to this performance. 7/10 MJ

It’s a testament to Conjurer‘s growing popularity that we have to breathe in and squeeze to even get inside the Dogtooth Stage to catch their performance. 2018 was a momentous year of growth for the quartet, appearing at various festivals and turning heads everywhere they went with their brutal brand of crushing, heavy instrumentation and intelligent, complexly layered songwriting. The opening track is hampered by an overbearingly pulsating bass that drowns out the guitars, but fortunately the sheer heaviness of the band’s sound blows any gremlins away for the remainder of the set. Each track wields hammer blows of unsubtle heaviness which gives the crowd plenty of ammunition to lose their minds to. The band’s headlining run in October will offer more chances to see them showcase their full spectrum of talents again, and if you’re a fan of heavy music you won’t want to miss out on that. Conjurer continue to dominate every stage they hit and their relentless heaviness, neck-breaking riffs and superb drumming is well deserving of the attention they’re getting. 8/10 MJ

Clutch‘s hometown of Maryland is in the USA’s Northeast, but you’d be forgiven for thinking they hail from way down South upon hearing their set. Regardless of their roots, these guys really know how to bring it, which leaves us – and thousands of others – impressed. With roaring vocals and more than a little bit of swagger, these dudes happily experiment across genre lines with a little bit of Americana here, some down and dirty hard rock there, and even a little bit of the blues. 7/10 CLS

Whitesnake kick off an evening of classic rock on the Main Stage and they set a remarkable standard for the rest to follow. Despite the strength of the band’s back catalogue, you’re never quite sure what to expect from a live act containing two members close to their seventies in vocalist David Coverdale and drummer Tommy Aldridge, but as soon as the band launch into brilliant opener Bad Boys, it’s like the clock has been turned back and age is reduced to a mere number. Coverdale’s vocals are as smooth as ever and he’s lost none of his charm either; he holds the crowd in the palm of his hand through a tour of old classics like Still of the Night and the timeless Here I Go Again, as well as snippets from the band’s recent record Flesh & Blood. Amazingly, Alridge is feeling just as youthful, treating us to a drum solo at the set’s midway point that features a lengthy segment with just his hands, as he tosses away his sticks in favour of full-on bongo mode. Whitesnake have amassed an arsenal of classic songs over the years and as they unpack each one in style, you can’t help but sing along with a wide beaming smile on your face. 9/10 MJ

Guitar legend Slash returns to the Main Stage and while his set may only be a third in length of last year’s epic Guns ‘n’ Roses session, it’s still plenty of time for him to showcase his iconic guitar prowess. Helped by the vocal talents of Myles Kennedy and the sturdy, dependable backing rhythms of The Conspirators, the supergroup churn their way through riff after riff of classic rock swagger, inciting air guitars and devil horns a plenty across the Download site. Slash is his usual, super-smooth self, picking through riffs and solos with signature ease and Kennedy compliments him well with an impressive vocal display. The first half oozes bluesy swagger and feel-good vibes, but as the set continues into the second half songs, it becomes a little too repetitive and drawn out. 7/10 MJ

Def Leppard close out the opening day on the Main Stage with a playthrough of their best-selling, iconic album Hysteria. It’s an ideal record for this treatment, having remarkably released seven singles from it, and as the band knock them down one by one, the crowd happily sing along to the likes of Women, Rocket, Hysteria and of course Pour Some Sugar On MeThe band have been here before, this set completing their hat-trick of Main Stage headliners, and it appears that the novelty is not only wearing thin on the crowd, but on the band themselves too. Unlike Whitesnake before them, the quintet don’t show the energy needed to reverse the clock and end up looking a little dated and short of enthusiasm. Joe Elliot serves up a competent, yet somewhat subdued, vocal performance, and the lack of enthusiasm isn’t confined to him alone. While the band recreate their songs with precision, it feels as though they’re simply going through the motions, making this an admirable, yet forgettable performance. The novelty of hearing Hysteria in full draws the crowd in for the first half of the set, but as they return to the stage after a brief intermission, the crowd starts to disperse in favour of hearing the band’s less impactful, more recent material. The heartwarming, nostalgic videos on the giant screens have carried much of the set this evening; thanks to the staging, Def Leppard leave the Main Stage having done just enough to close the day on a high. 7/10 MJ

Written by: Mark Johnson (MJ) and Claire Louise Sheridan (CLS)