Photo Credit: Abbi Draper
And so we began the final countdown. The fourth and final day of the biggest, most stacked, sweatiest and one of the best Download Festival’s ever was once again hosted in a heatwave under the relentless rage of the great fiery ball in the sky. But the bill was piled high with must see bands and don’t dare miss them acts and so off we hiked for one more Donington rodeo for 2023.
Booting the Sunday morning lock off the Apex Stage are the big thundering beats, and meat-soaked riffs of New Delhi’s Bloodywood. A hybrid of nu-metal and east Asian traditional flutes and drums shouldn’t work as well as it does but it is bad ass. It means a lot to the band too who confess on stage that they dared to dream about playing Download but had been told it would never happen but here they are. Frontman Jayant Bhadula is emotional as he thanks the crowd from the stage in-between their crunching riffs and messages of positivity. 7/10
Blind Channel keep the nu-metal Sunday theme rolling as the on-time Eurovision entries for Finland work tirelessly to chase away the scaries of a three-day festival hangover. Like Bloodywood before them, Blind Channel are a melting pot of styles and genres but all hinge on a foundation stone of nu-metal. A few sketchy dance moves from the stage prompt a mirror image, or attempt, at some shapes being thrown in the dust bowl below and they are lots of fun. 7/10
Off we popped next to the Avalanche Stage for Taylor Acorn and another of the most pleasantly surprising sets of the day. The Nashville native is like a breath of fresh air, and a country infused Avril Lavigne with the hooks of Matchbox-20 and we’re all in. Psycho is a great song, with hilarious lyrics but as she confesses after the show to us, based very much on her own life and a real-life relationship she lived through. The crowd love Psycho too as evident by their lung bursting sing-a-long they bellow back to the stage. Taylor is all energy, prowling the stage like a panther with singed paws on a tin roof, she can’t stand still and is clearly buzzing off the reaction of the crowd as she belts her way through half a dozen tracks. 8/10
Back in the heat-soaked open plains of Donington Park and it’s time for some Mongolian folk music entwined with metal. That can only mean The Hu. The Hu are a sight to behold and a sound unlike anything over the four days. Fiery metal riffs with the traditional sounds of Mongolia make for happy musical bedfellows. The Apex crowd have been in the sun now for hours but there is no slowing their enthusiasm and a superb cover of Sad But True – lyrics translated into Mongolian of course too – sees them give a nod to double headliners of the weekend – Metallica. 8/10
At least a dozen inflatable dinosaur costumes are waddling past as we turn on our heels and Dinosaur Pile Up hit the Opus Stage. Sadly, some technical gremlins meant their set was cut short and they lost a couple of planned tracks leaving frontman Matthew Bigland visibly and naturally pissed off and venting briefly when they did hit the stage. When they did get going, they were great with hints of the early grunge movements in their sound, think Insecticide era Nirvana, and the crowd are with them but they will be disappointed with the gremlins souring their big moment in the sun. 6/10
A generous helping of melody but locked within the cage of crunching guitars is the best way we can think to describe the wall of sound coming from the Dogtooth stage as Soen let rip. A band who openly confess to taking their musical inspiration from across the rock world they are even partial to a ballad of sorts and there is more than a hint of Pink Floyd about their slower offerings. Steeped in the best of the prog genre, Soen stomp on the throttle from the off, grab the crowd by the jugular and don’t let go until they have made the most of every single second of their 25-minute set. 6/10
The riff Lords from the land Down Under are the sub headline act on the Apex Stage and if you know anything about Parkway Drive then you’ll know that if anyone can give Slipknot a hard act to follow, it’ll be them. We only managed to take in the first hour of the solo smashing, pyro kings which is jam packed full of big hits as we were desperate to catch as much of Electric Callboy too before Ghost. The worst triple crossover clash of the entire weekend arrived on Sunday night with three of the bands we wanted to see most over the festival. But such is life, and first world problems and all that. 6/10
With much difficulty and slithering and squeezing we make it inside the Avalanche Tent for Electric Callboy and it is worth every effort. Confetti cannons, on stage declarations of love on their Download debut, an epic light show and a pure metal rave. It is just simply WUNDERBAR! The Germans are so, so, so much fun and it’s as if Rammstein had a three-way with Scooter and Rick Astley. It’s over the top and it’s perfect. If you can listen to Electric Callboy without swinging your hips, without pumping your fist in the air and without flinging your gig going neighbour around then we can’t be friends. They have a huge production and enough pyro to rival Metallica or Slipknot and more screens than BMTH and the sea of bodies and smiling faces stretches further than we can see beyond the tent and towards the main arena. The darkness of the tent is ideal for Callboy’s production and light show but it is way too small for a band of their pull now and of the Downloaders desperate to see them. Main stage next year please Livenation. Spaceman, Hypa Hypa, Tekkno Train, Arrow of Love and even a pair of covers in Darude’s Sandstorm and I Want it That Way from the Backstreet Boys keep the Electric Callboy show powered at full pelt. 9/10
It’s so good we miss the start of Ghost because we just couldn’t pull ourself away. We make it to Ghost who are two songs deep on the Opus Stage and it is impossible to get anywhere near the front. There is an ocean of people ready to worship at the altar of a band who have been long touted as future Download headliners. Some reckoned they could have had the shout this year and judging by the numbers at the Opus they might be right. A massive stained-glass backdrop fills the fading East Midlands light as the epic and grand Ghost rampage through their repertoire. Rats, Circe, Spillways and Jesus He Knows Me are all festival bangers but it’s the final trio of tunes which really showcase the best of the band. Kiss The Go Goat, Dance Macabre and Square Hammer is arguably as good a closing trio of songs that any band blasted through all weekend long. If this was an audition for future headliners, then Ghost nailed it and will be closing the Apex at a Download near you sooner rather than later. 8/10
And so the final band of the final night of the twentieth Download festival saw Donington favourites, the Iowa nine man wrecking crew, Slipknot send us all home happy and fulfilled. Headliners for the fifth time but never does it feel undeserved or too often. Corey Taylor and the crew are undoubtedly one of the genres big boys, a heavyweight headliner with more hits than Tyson Fury’s punchbag in their rear view. The return of Clown was a wonderful surprise for all us Maggots and the circle pits, mosh piles and clenched fists were in overdrive for this epic set. The black clouds circling overhead threatened rain and during Psychosocial we half expected the heavens to open as Taylor roared ‘And the rain will kill us all … throw ourselves against the wall,’ but the stubborn dry spell continued and the band rolled through the hits. Wait and Bleed, Eyeless, Snuff, they are all there with barely a second to catch breath. All through it all Taylor is talking to the crowd and professing his love for the people and for Download. And it feels genuine. He has spoken at length about his connection to this festival and the chance they took on them being headliners back in 2009. The feeling is more than mutual though and we love Slipknot right back. Here it is having been nothing short of hold onto your ass, balls to the wall and incessant break neck pace. But that’s Slipknot style and we will always ‘jump the fuck up’ for the nefarious nine. What an end to a very special weekend and special anniversary Download. 8/10
Words By: Eric Mackinnon
Photo Credit: Abbi Draper
Photo gallery features Lorna Shore, The Amity Affliction, Avatar, I Prevail, Parkway Drive, Touche Amore, Ghost.