Download Festival 2018 - Sunday: The Review

 Photo: James Bridle

 

It's been a wild one at Donington Park this year but sadly all good things come to an end and the final day of Download 2018 dawns and people are struggling out of their tents for one last day capped off by the mighty Ozzy Osbourne.

 

If you where to ask any act who has previously played either tent at 11am on Sunday, the chances are the tale told might not be a positive one. It’s the final day, it’s already blisteringly hot and the majority of attendees are subduing lethal hangovers with poor quality coffee and overpriced bacon sandwiches of questionable origin. However, in contrary to the circumstances the Avalanche Stage is rammed and there’s an infectious level of anticipation for the rising post-hardcore outfit Dream State (8). Instantly, it’s easy to understand why this group have quickly garnered a committed following. It’s a set of tight, intricate and focused post-hardcore with an air of youthful emotion and coasting atmospherics that showcase contemporary dynamics typically not found within typical post-hardcore. Frontwoman CJ stands as a fantastic captain of the helm, radiating and personifying the charm and energy found within their art whilst lifting tracks from Recovery above the confines of the record. A promising snapshot of the youth led post-hardcore scene that shows that this act is destined for colossal achievements within their career.

 

It’s warm, there’s a gentle breeze sailing through the air and there’s friendly and relaxed vibes coasting above the Download arena. With this in mind, there couldn’t be a more perfect time for Cradle Of Filth (8) to bring their idealistic and lovely take on blasphemous extreme metal to the masses gathered at the main stage. Whilst there might be a plethora of tales around lacklustre performances by this act, such a set today only silences disbelievers. A shimmering wall of demonic symphony blasts forth contentiously, with vocalist Dani Filth channeling the hallowed screams of the damned with angelic clarity. In relation, the divine symphonies conjured interblend majestically with the hallowing barrages of sonic abuse. But for real, Cradle have truly brought their A game this Sunday, showcasing how uniquely brilliant extreme symphonic metal can be when removed of it’s pretentious conventions and atypical theatrics. Still, one of the greatest elements of this set this Dani dressed head to toe in demonic attire whilst reeling cringe inducing dad jokes to both the devoted and casually curious present. Ending on the theatrical ‘Her Ghost In The Fog’, it’s wonderful sermon of force and sacrilegious firepower.

 

Back under the tarp of The Avalanche, the London trio Puppy (8) treat both their follows and the curious seeking shade to 30 minutes of pure infectious riffery. Whilst their metal orientated aesthetics and foundation gleam, Puppy display a fresh, unique and homegrown take on riff focused metal without indulging into exhausting clichés, bringing the groove and melody from a genre often perceived as sterile and planting them within a sound that’s engaging and flourishing. Whilst the likes of ‘Entombed’ and ‘The Great Beyond’ ignites a sea of helplessly bobbing skulls, the premiere of new material showcases the evolution of their sound whilst still retaining their characteristic identity and subtle comedic value. One of the most charismatic elements of this act is the soaring and compelling vocals of Jack Norton, who’s pitched cries complement the enthralling structures and metallic beauty present. A fantastic half an hour courtesy of an act who embodies the DIY ethic whilst presenting groove laden infection.

 

Theoretically one of the pioneers responsible for bringing American hardcore to the European territories, if there’s any band capable of igniting a sea of violence it’s Hatebreed (7.5). In true vein to the genre’s foundation, there’s an emphasis on administrating blunt force trauma in a fashion that’s devastating and forceful. Candid and outspoken, it’s a bludgeoning excursion through their back catalogue, with the group performing a 14-track set list containing material ranging from 1997’s Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire all way to 2016’s The Concrete Confessional. With such contagious aggression and relative musical simplicity, it’s easy to see why this group were, and still are a major influence within the world of hardcore leaning music. Whilst hardcore is more stereotypically suited to more intimate environment, seeing tens of thousands of limbs flying to ‘Destroy Everything’ is truly a sight to behold and ultimately solidifies that Hatebreed are an act who can easily, almost effortlessly spur contagious vigour regardless of the environment.

 

Riding on the back of their recently released single ‘The Grey’, Thrice (8) display heaviness in a fashion in which such heft is projected in a manner more sleek, refined and tasteful. Often perceived as a cult favorite deserving of more recognition within the alternative mainstream, this an elegant tour of the group’s illustrious history through all-time favourite hits. Pitch perfect renditions of ‘Artist In The Ambulance’, ‘Black Honey’ and ‘Of Dust And Nations’ resonate beautifully with the crowd, with the later displaying subtle post-rock elements that amplify their signature sound. There’s no gimmicks or counterfeit conventions used, just straight forward and grounded transparency which in turn amplifies their honed and masterly created sound. With the aforementioned ‘The Grey’ sounding colossal whilst diverging from the speakers of the Zippo Encore Stage, despite their time away the future has never looked so bright for this fantastic act.

 

Photo: Matt Eachus

 

 

In the world of symphonic metal, there’s archetypically room reserved for theatrics and physical set pieces. The balancing of such theatrics is crucial, as too much or a heavy handed usage can quickly prove to be a distraction from the art. A prime example of failure of such a balance are In This Moment (3), a group who rely on unrestrained flamboyancy and cringe inducing gimmicks to amplify their lacklustre take on electric tinged symphonic metal. With a literal tent on stage reserved for costume changes, such self-indulgent and tacky theatrical elements swiftly overshadow their musical performance. Backed by prancing cloaked and masked models, it’s ultimately impossible to try to decode the relation between the sights and sounds present. Over exaggerated to the point of appearing satirical, every element of this set reeks of desperate yet fraudulent intensity. A case of style of substance, with neither elements containing any of their namesakes

 

Potentially one of the most decorated stars of the UK alternative scene, Jamie Lenman (8) is a character who radiates charisma, innovativeness, character and unique identity. Despite his formal attire and warm demeanour, Lenman is a figure who revels in sonic alternatives. Material from his most recent record Devolver carry the experimentation and concrete identity of his sound flawlessly, with the confident swagger of ‘Personal’ and ‘Hell In A Fast Car’ infecting very punter in attendance with equal amounts of bluster. Of course, whilst material from Devolver makes up the majority of his set and is the subject of colossal applause, it’s the select choice of surprises that truly animate this set. An unprecedented performance of the chaotic of mathcore leaning ‘One Of My Eyes Is A Clock’ drives fans awaiting musical extremism wild, with only such vigour peaking with a cover of Reuben’s ‘Every Time A Teenager Listens To Drum & Bass A Rockstar Dies’. Whilst such a cover may conjure thoughts of Rueben’s halcyon days and the adolescence of many a fan in attendance, the live premiere of ‘Long Gone’ shows his inventiveness and musical literacy has only been honed with age. Ending with the confrontational stomp of ‘Mississippi’, Lenman has solidified himself as a crucial figure within the UK alt scene.

 

Shinedown's (6) sound is tailor made for huge arenas and festivals; opening with 'The Sound of Madness', their groove-heavy take on hard rock takes on a life of its own on the Main Stage here at Donington. They ask for a singalong for 'Cut The Cord' and do they get what they ask  for - the crowd screams back the chorus at the top of their lungs and it's enough to give anyone the chills. Sadly they do get a bit preachy without saying anything of any real substance mid-set with irrelevant commentary on family and rock and roll. An overabundance of slower numbers bogs them down and robs the momentum and there's an unfortunate tendency for the songs to blend together somewhat, but they put on a strong showing and their fans eagerly soak up every word and note.

 

Whilst considered one of the originators of the technical metal movement long before it was a widespread phenomenon, it’s a bizarre sight to see Meshuggah (7) perform in the glorious sunshine. Despite this, such a translation to an open air environment doesn’t subdue their calculated metallic punishment dramatically, with the convulsing monolithic structures of ‘Born In Dissonance’ and ‘The Hurt That Finds You First’ awashing the Zippo Encore Stage with digital storm of frenzied heft and pain. Whilst some casual fans may been disappointed with the lack of hits such as ‘Bleed’ and ‘Combustion’, the biomechanical sounds of their cult hits perfectly paint a fluid and seizing portrait of their technical prowess as a group. Would this set have worked better within the confides of a sheltered stage, allowing the destructive winds of static to be channeled manually? Absolutely. However, given the limitations, it’s still a masterclass in technical diabolism.

 

 Photo: Sarah Koury

 

Myrkur (8) is the brainchild of Danish musician Amalie Bruun and was a relative unknown a few years ago when she released debut EP Myrkur. Since then she’s released two albums, M and last year’s rapturously received Meridt. She melds the seemingly disparate elements of traditional Scandinavian folk music and black metal, with ethereal vocals gliding overtop of the lush instrumentation. The meandering nature of the music has a peaceful, contemplative nature that really allows the mind to wander and be lost, and being in the shade of the Dogtooth tent allows for a genuine respite from the sweltering heat outside. One of the most unique and engaging bands on display this weekend, Myrkur draws a sizeable crowd and the haunting melodies go down a storm.

 

Canadian legends Alexisonfire (9.5) are back and there's a steady influx of people to the stage well before the band are due on. They waste no time getting down to business, opening with a brutal combo of 'Young Cardinals', 'Boiled Frogs' and 'We Are The Sound' and the crowd loves every minute of it. The band simply don't write bad songs and today they pull out the biggest guns in their arsenal to tear Download a new one; the setlist is flawless drawing heavily on post-hardcore classic Crisis and the crowd, while smaller than the band deserves, goes apeshit throughout. It's a sad sight to see the crowd visibly thinning as many make their way to Marilyn Manson on the main stage but the faithful are rewarded with an all killer no filler set including a final song crowdsurf from frontman and resident crazy bastard George Pettit that shows beyond a shadow of a doubt who the kings of post hardcore are.

 

Back over on the main stage, shock rocker Marilyn Manson (5)  is out for blood - infamously Manson is either great or awful but unfortunately today he falls toward the other end of the spectrum. Musically the band are tight and sound great but Manson himself is slurring his words more than a little and 'mOBSCENE' is less than half-hearted. His voice just isn’t there any more for older hits and his screams are more miss than hit but still sounds solid on newer songs. He might have had something of a return to form in the studio with the goth-rock stomp of Heaven Upside Down but live, today, he's just too inconsistent to recommend spending time watching.

 

Whilst Manson may be apathetic and mechanically routine in nature, Avalanche Stage closers Less Than Jake (8) are down to earth, humorous and perfectly demonstrate the life affirming bounce-based ethos and ideology of ska. Whilst some bigoted elitists may claim that ska or pop punk have no place within the grounds of Donington Park, such an immense crowd clearly contradicts such a false sentiment.  In the true spirt of a legitimate headliner, Less Than Jake treat the masses to a history lesson of their career, ultimately showcasing how ska punk genre and scene has evolved and shifted in time. Regardless of the age of the band, the contagious bounce spreads like wildfire under the cover of the Avalanche Stage.  Truly, it’s a phenomenal sight to witness thousands upon thousands packed into this tent, all signing, all dancing to the life affirming, jovial and light-hearted art being created. With numerous stoic and aloof acts performing, this is how a stage headliner should be, just fun simplicity which allows the masses gathered to truly appreciate life to it’s fullest extent. Ending on the ska power couple that is ‘All My Friends Are Metalheads’ and ‘Gainesville Rock City’, its transparent that ska is very much alive and simply doesn’t need defending.

 

Back at the Zippo Encore Stage we have political punk rockers and headliners Rise Against (8) who pull all the stops out. Vocalist Tim McIlrath delivers impassioned sermons to the backdrop of big hooks and even bigger choruses. The crowd are constantly moving with pits opening and closing and crowdsurfers appear with increasing regularity. Tonight songs like 'Welcome To The Breakdown' from latest record Wolves and 'Re-Education Through Labor' from Appeal To Reason carry even more weight than usual and have the crowd singing back every impassioned word. The band also lament the rise of intolerance worldwide and it’s clear it’s not for crowd reaction; it’s on clear display in every word and note that rings out tonight. 

 

 Photo: Caitlin Mogridge

 

Whilst it can be easy for some to forget, to underestimate the sheer influence and musical integrity of Dogtooth headliners Baroness (9) is downright criminal. Whilst their roots are firmly embedded within the world of progressive sludge, they have blossomed into a truly beautiful and majestic act who channel both melancholy and ecstasy though modern progression and focused melody. This is a set of pure focused and pinpointed art, with the soaring and starkly powerful vocals of John Baizely taking centre stage within this performance. Powerful, compelling and dynamically expressive, Baizely adds volumes to the group’s already multitextured and deeply layered sound, animating and bolstering live stapes such as ‘Moringstar’ and ‘March To The Sea’ beyond their expected capabilities. In relation, the chemistry between members elevates their sound, emphasizing an atmosphere of magic that is welcoming and tangible. Without question, this is live progressive metal at it’s best; welcoming to new comers whilst mastering the emotional and technical alchemy associated with the genre. Ending on the rousing and life affirming classic ‘Issak’, it’s hard to envision a band better suited to represent their respective genre.

 

For a lack of a better word, there was a lot of hullabaloo over this evenings main stage headliner and festival closer, Ozzy Osbourne (8). Whilst it's unquestionable that Osborune himself is one of the most recognizable faces within the global music scene and partly responsible for birthing one of the most popular genres on the planet, the amount of speculation regarding his legitimacy as a headliner solo was almost unparalleled. However, joined by an all onsamble band including legendary guitarist Zakk Wylde, not only does Ozzy present a magnificent show, but it may be the best main stage headline performance of the weekend. Shimmering with energy and charisma, Ozzy borderline effortlessly takes the tens of thousands in attendance on a tour of heavy metal history, presenting how the genre has shifted and evolved over the years. However, the musical contrast evident is one of the most alluring elements of this set is the musical contrast evident within the carefully selected setlist. From blues to country to classic metal, the setlist ebbs and flows from genre to style, with Wylde adding delighting metal tinged tones to amplify and bring a metallic modern twist to a sound typically perceived as being a product of the 20th century. Ending on the blues orientated epic that is 'Mama, I'm Coming Home' before unapologetically indulging in the Black Sabbath classic 'Paranoid', it's ultimately difficult to think of a better way to end another amazing chapter of the festival that is Download. 

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