FestivalsLive Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Download 2023 – Thursday

Photo Credit: Abbi Draper

And so it’s already all over but the legacy of the 20th anniversary of Download remains with peeling skin after Donington Park was at the volcanic centre of a heatwave, our clothes are still full of dust and we are all still trying to shrug the festival out of our limbs on our return to ‘real life’ and our jobs.

The big four-day anniversary edition of the world’s premier rock and metal gathering won’t ever be forgotten both for good and bad reasons. The bad was the well-publicised road and travel issues getting into the arena both on the day and night before and well into the Thursday. A number of festival goers ended up spending long hours trapped in their cars or faced long walks with social media claiming a number missed a chunk of the bands on stage and even turned back home. The good was, as it always was, the action on stage which was arguably one of the most stacked line ups ever put together for us rock n’ roll lovers and metalheads which teamed with thoroughly Mediterranean weather and a legit sellout crowd combined to make Download 2023 an undeniable triumph. It was a year for the thrice-daily application of Factor 50, a year where you had to plan your schedule as darting between stages quickly wasn’t an option due to the huge crowds and a year to just pinch ourselves at how lucky we are to be on the hallowed Donington turf and see legends, giants and emerging talents from all over the world plug in and play for our pleasure.

Reading about the travel chaos and the roads issue meant we were munching on a Greggs pasty and on the bus from Nottingham to Download before 8am on Thursday and it was a wise move as we dodged most of the delays and we were on site and parked in front of the Opus Stage for the opening performance of 2023. Cherry Bombs were handed the keys to Download and they unlocked the musical doors for the weekend with a typically energetic and eye-catching display of fearless aerial tricks, heavy metal dancing and fire work. Led of course by Mrs Alicia (Corey) Taylor, the Cherry Bombs brought the drama, pomp and spectacle to the festival from the off. 7/10

A trip to the Dogtooth Stage – Download’s fourth heir to the throne – was next to check out the enigmatic Berlin doom-trap metaller Mimi Barks. Barks was born for this. Both for this genre smashing style of music which take a little bit of so many different genres and combines for an unforgettable eardrum explosion and she was built for Download. No-one looked more at home than she did here and after her set she stayed the whole weekend and was regularly spotted in the midst of the mosh and taking in other bands and the festival itself. Her stage presence and heavy hitting anthems worked so well in the shade and darkened tent space and Barks will be back. 8/10

The first band to hit the Apex Stage was Van Halen – Mammoth WVH that is and the son of course of Eddie Van Halen – and they brought a classic rock vibe in the style of Donington and Monsters of Rock years of old. Fast and furious on the fretboard, good songwriting and a strong voice means the Van Halen name will live long and prosper even now after the passing of Eddie. As the heat of the sun continued to send the mercury bubbling, enjoying Mammoth WVH’s Download debut with a cold pint in our paws was a lovely way to welcome the Main Stage into our Download schedule and Think it Over is an absolute cracker. 7/10

It was bone rattling, fist pumping time next with Jinjer hitting the Apex Stage. Frontwoman Tatiana Shmayluk has the kind of voice which can win hearts, crack smiles and most importantly make even the most involuntary gig-goer stomp a mudhole in the ground in time to their bad ass double kick drum and rattling rhythm section. 7/10

There can’t have been many Moana sing-a-longs at Download before so Punk Rock Factory probably made festival history this time around. The band is pure fun, taking all the Disney style bangers all us parents, aunties and uncles or older siblings hear on repeat and can’t help sing out loud and put a punk spin on them. The secrets out on the south Wales band too as by the time we reach the Avalanche Stage there is no way even inside the tent. Undeterred and joined by thousands more, we stand shoulder to shoulder outside the tent, packed towards the main part of the arena and enjoy the Disney themed punk jukebox, roar our approval and leave with a smile. 8/10

Halestorm was our next stop and they have cemented a position as one of Download’s favourite and most reliable acts. Third from the top here and surely a sub-headliner slot will follow next time out. Lzzy Hale was one of the most powerful voices in music, not just rock or metal, but any kind of music. She is the type of front person you can’t take your eyes off, patrolling the stage, owning it, bossing it and belting out banger after banger after banger. It’s easy to forget how many festival sized anthems Halestorm have but they reminded us all with a Thursday-stealing performance for us. “This is our church and you are our people,” Hale bellows during The Steeple and she couldn’t be more right. Halestorm are a heavyweight rock band with a CV packed with songs to move a generation and we wish Thursday’s always felt this good. 8/10

And the Thursday bandwagon rolled onto Alter Bridge next for a sub headline slot they seem to have secured a lifetime deal with. Not that we’re complaining as they are a great band, put on killer shows but they never seem to move up to headliner status or alternatively drop down the bill. It’s a set of big hitting anthems, frontman Myles Kennedy’s unmistakable voice, anthemic sing-a-longs but also moments of poignancy and never more so than when Kennedy dedicates Blackbird to a lost friend. 7/10

Of course, top of the card on night one and tasked with the job of banishing the early traffic and entry woes are the gargantuan Metallica – and if anyone can do it, they can, and they did. For the ninth time Metallica are at Donington Park with appearances at Monsters of Rock as well as Download on their CV. There is something for everyone on show from new songs like Lux Æterna, the classic Creeping Death, Reload favourite Fuel, epic ballad Nothing Else Matters, the bass shuddering Sad But True, Orion and the one-two knockout bangers Seek and Destroy and Master of Puppets brings the metal curtain down for night one – but there were three more nights to come at the biggest Download ever and we were just getting started. 8/10

Words By: Eric Mackinnon

Photo Credit: Abbi Draper

Photo gallery features Tigress, The Bronx, Hundred Reasons, Puscifer, Skindred, Metallica.

Eric Mackinnon
Long time journo who sold his soul to newspapers to fund his passion of following rock and metal bands around Europe. A regular gig-goer, tour-traveller and festival scribe who has broken stories of some of the biggest bands in the world and interviewed most. Even had a trifle with Slash once. Lover of bourbon, 80's rock and is a self-confessed tattoo addict.