Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Download Festival 2016 (10-12/06/2016)

My first trip to Download was much muddier than I'd been anticipating, but you've probably already seen the pictures to prove that! After three days of wading through ankle deep mud in the torrential rain, I was feeling emotionally and mentally drained - that's why it's taken a few days longer than usual for this review to be finished.
I'm hoping the wait will be worth it, so come with me on a whirlwind recap of the bands I saw at Download over the weekend...


The first band I saw at my first Download festival was Hill Valley High, who opened the Maverick stage Friday afternoon. I've been keeping an eye on vocalist Phil Marsh and the gang since 2013, when they released the super catchy 'All Fall Down' and followed it up with a slot supporting McBusted on their arena tour. To go from McBusted to Download is a bit of a jump, so it wasn't surprising that the tent wasn't stuffed when they started their set, but it did fill up well during their stage time - it's something that the boys should be very proud of.
Opening a festival stage must be intimidating, and if you've had a break for a few years that will add to the nerves, but Hill Valley High owned their moment. Phil enthusiastically encouraged the crowd to participate, jokingly asking how many people were already drunk and not seeming surprised at all when the majority of the people in the tent started cheering. It was a very fun way to start off the weekend, and I would have loved to have seen their full set - sadly I needed to make my way up to As Lions.
Because it's been a few years since the band have been active I didn't hear about the release of their new self-titled album, but after hearing the songs live I definitely need to dive into the newer music. If you like pop-rock, they'll definitely appeal to you: try Hill Valley High if you like Don Broco, Kids In Glass Houses or Lower Than Atlantis.

As Lions have only been together for a year and a half, reincarnating from the ashes of Rise To Remain. If you haven't heard of As Lions, you'll definitely have heard of their vocalist Austin Dickinson - yep, he's the son of Bruce Dickinson, whose band Iron Maiden just happened to be headlining the Sunday night at this very festival.
A lot of people have accused Austin of using his father's name to get where he is, so I wasn't expecting too much from this set. That was wrong of me.
From the first note of 'Last Ones Left' I was impressed, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of their set. I was already familiar with 'The Fall' - the song that they used to launch the band - but because they only have two songs officially released at the moment (that and newest single 'White Flags') it was great to get an idea of what their upcoming EP will sound like with the unreleased songs that they played. 
By the sounds of some of these songs, when the EP releases in July it's going to force people to start taking As Lions seriously. Yes, metalcore is an overdone genre and the majority of songs can be described as generic, but with Austin's soaring vocal he elevates the band to another level. There were a few rusty moments and missed notes that left me flinching, but the majority of the performance was flawless; everyone is allowed a couple of mistakes, particularly when playing to a crowd with such high expectations. 
Whether it was respect for Austin or for his father, the majority of the audience were eagerly participating in their set: early on, when Austin called for everyone to "drink up, get a nice fucking circle pit going!", and when he told the crowd to throw their arms around each other's shoulders, making lines of people all joined together to headbang in rows. 
If you wrote off As Lions when 'The Fall' was released, give them another chance. They're definitely doing all they can to stand out in an over-populated genre. 

I'm not sure of the names of the first and last songs they played in their set, so I've nicknamed them for this setlist! 

Last Ones Left
The Suffering
The Fall
White Flags
One By One
Fade Away

Wandering back down the hill, I was elated to see Zoax finally drawing the crowd that they deserve. They've been bubbling under the surface for a couple of years now, but following the release of their self-titled album and that Funeral For a Friend support slot, it looks as though they're finally about to erupt.
While a lot of the tents over the weekend were filled with people finding a reprieve from the ceaseless rain, Zoax were lucky; the rain didn't start until very close to the end of their set, so the stuffed to the seams crowd at the start were all there to actually watch them. With Adam Carroll sharing that it was their third time playing Download - the second time playing the Maverick stage - I'm betting a lot of the crowd were people who had already seen one of their other winning performances, because once you've seen Zoax you need to go back.
I was surprised that 'The Wave' made it into their set - it's a stripped back song compared to the undeniably catchy 'The Bad Blood' or 'Roses All The Way', and that makes it a brave inclusion for a festival set. You could feel the crowd's attention waning, so it was a good choice to play it in the middle of their set rather than towards the end, or it would have been a bad call. Zoax really do know something about crafting setlists, because they can make their songs work wonders in any environment; they definitely know their audience and the reaction that they can expect.
Despite the size of the crowd that they attracted, Adam didn't think twice before jumping down from the stage and wandering into his loyal supporters for 'Devil Dance'. After seeing this move played out at Takedown in a much smaller room, it was a little bit intimidating to see him slinking through the sea of people, but I had a front row seat when he encouraged the crowd to crouch down and leap back into action towards the end of the song.
As this was their third time playing Download, Adam was very thankful to the people who turned up and expressed that he couldn't wait to see everyone again - he didn't have to wait very long, as they played a second set later in the day over at the Firestone stage (which I sadly missed).
I arrived at Zoax's stage a few minutes after the start of their set. Based off of the songs other people have been talking about, it seems as though I only missed the opener - that being 'Lonely Souls', from their 2015 EP 'Is Anyone Listening?'. If you were there and this is incorrect, please contact me!
Lonely Souls (*)
Roses All The Way
The Wave
Devil Dance
The Bad Blood

(*) first song of setlist thanks to

The only Skillet songs I knew prior to their set were 'Whispers in the Dark' and 'Monster', so I was surprised when they mentioned they were releasing a new album in August (to which one person cheered immediately, and vocalist John Cooper joked "I heard that, the one person that was excited, I love you!") and I discovered it was going to be their ninth full-length release. The played two songs from the upcoming album, 'Unleashed', but you'd never know that it wasn't out yet; based on the crowd reaction these new tracks are quickly going to become fan favourites.
I hadn't been planning on sticking around for Skillet's full set, but they aren't an easy band to walk away from. Whether it's John's stunning voice and charismatic stage presence, the chemistry between him and Korey Cooper (his wife, and Skillet's guitarist/keyboardist) or the effusive energy pouring from drummer and vocalist Jen Ledger, they drag your eyes and ears to the stage and hold them there the entire time they're on stage.
I'm not normally a fan of Christian rock, because it's often bordering on preachy rather than inspirational, but Skillet strike the balance perfectly between their music and their message. You can tell from the song titles that they use their platform to say something, whether it's the uplifting 'Feel Invincible', the beautiful co-vocal of 'Awake and Alive', or the climactic 'Rebirthing'. They started early in their set by getting the crowd involved with the chant for 'Sick Of It', John stating "everyone has something they're sick of: violence, loneliness, depression, sickness, abuse" to a multitude of cheers. The reaction improved through their set despite the rain becoming heavier: when John was teaching everyone how to sing along to brand new song 'Back From the Dead', the chants of the crowd were the loudest I heard on Friday.
Considering the amount of people who stayed for their set through the rain storming down, the crowd steadily increasing rather than decreasing as people sought shelter, Skillet are certainly still relevant and cared for despite being a band for twenty years. I count myself lucky to have seen Skillet live; it's something you don't want to miss, and next time they tour I'll definitely look into attending a headline set - particularly if the rest of 'Unleashed' is as good as the two songs they used to showcase it.

Whispers in the Dark
Sick Of It
Feel Invincible
Awake and Alive
Back From the Dead

I love Daryl Palumbo's side project Head Automatica, but I never really listened to Glassjaw. I turned up to their set because of who he was, rather than for their music; he's a legendary frontman I wanted to see on stage at least once, and with there being no update on new Head Automatica music in four years... Glassjaw seemed to be my only chance.
I wasn't expecting to fall in love with them as rapidly as I did. Moments into 'Mu Empire' they'd already completely surpassed my expectations, and as I slid through the mud towards barrier I was struck by just how compelling Daryl is when he's up on stage. Gliding from side to side and hardly staying still, he might not have interacted with the crowd too much verbally but you could see the precision of every movement he made when he was up on stage.
The crowd wasn't as big as I'd assumed it would be, but the only music the band have released since 2005 was two EPs back in 2011, and their third album looks less likely to ever reach completion with every passing year... Both of those aspects make the lack of crowd turnout almost acceptable. Glassjaw are brilliant, but they aren't particularly relevant any more.
Yes, new tracks 'New White Extremity' and 'Shira' both appeared in the set, but because neither of those have officially been released the majority of the crowd didn't seem familiar with them, and the response to their set can be described as lackluster at best.
Hopefully the band will hurry up and finish that third album, even though they seem to think that full-lengths are "irrelevant" because I really think that would have helped their set be successful rather than just great.

Tip Your Bartender
Mu Empire
Pink Roses
Ape Dos Mil
The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports
Jesus Glue
New White Extremity
Two Tabs of Mescaline

I'm actually seeing Twin Atlantic when they headline Scala next month, so I'm not sure what possessed me to stick around for their full set. I could have been seeing Korn, for Christ's sake! There's just something about Sam McTrusty and co. that make me want to support them and see them succeed, particularly after their tent-filling performance at last year's Reading festival (of which I arrived to see the last two songs of their set...) and the quickly approaching release date for third album 'GLA' (that's pronounced Gee-Ell-Ay, not Gla as I'd incorrectly assumed!).
I'm hoping that their performance at Scala will be better organised, as there were multiple moments throughout the set where none of the band members really seemed to know what was going on. Sam jokingly addressed the crowd during one of these awkward silences, claiming "it looks like this is chaos, but we fucking know what's coming next!".
You could have had me fooled. With the end of each song a pause began that seemed to drag into infinity, as there was hardly any interaction with the crowd; for my first proper encounter with Twin Atlantic live, that disappointed me. If you're this high up on a stage you need to put on a memorable performance or you'll be lost from people's minds the moment the headline set starts, and if you have a lot of people standing in the pouring rain to watch you, you need to keep them entertained or they will go elsewhere. If it had been sunny and warm, these hitches might have been easy to overlook and forget, but in this weather the dragging breaks were the focal point.
Or at least they were for the first half of the set.
As soon as Sam McTrusty started roaring the end of 'I Am An Animal' ("I sold my soul to Satan, I sold my soul to Satan, 'cause I am an animal, I am an animal") he kicked the show up a notch, even managing to get the soggy and grumpy crowd participating in a sit down and jump up response that was life-threatening due to the ground rapidly turning to slushy mud beneath them (even if Sam did promise "I won't drag this out, it's fucking raining!" before playing one of the longest guitar solos in the world to allow everyone to jump up). After the chilled out rock songs played at the start of the set, they suddenly became a formidable foe and established themselves as a worthy challenger for All Time Low's headline position. Sam shared that the last time they played Download was back in 2009, and they had about 400 people watching them - next time they play they deserve to either headline a stage or sit quite far up on the main stage.
The second half of their set was no holds barred, hit after hit after hit. Brand new song 'No Sleep' fitted seamlessly in the centre of all of their well-loved singles, and compared to 'Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator' - which had me doubting that I'd arrived at the right set, wondering if I'd taken a wrong turn and stumbled to the wrong stage - 'No Sleep' is quintessential Twin Atlantic, but it also shows the musical development that they've gone through since 'Great Divide' was released almost two years ago. This is a much more mature band, and they're intending to write arena fillers this time around: don't be surprised if 'GLA' leads to a headline show at Wembley Arena before the end of the touring cycle.

Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator
The Ghost of Eddie
Hold On
Edit Me
I Am An Animal
Make a Beast of Myself
Yes, I Was Drunk
No Sleep
Brothers and Sisters
Heart and Soul

I was worried when All Time Low announced that they were playing Download. I thought they'd get bottled for certain (even more so when it was announced that they were headlining the second biggest stage at the festival!). While Rammstein were setting fire to the main stage, 5 Seconds of Summer's idols were rocking out to their more-pop-than-punk tunes mere metres away.
There is something very odd about that juxtaposition.
The crowd was not large. In fact that's an understatement: All Time Low drew one of the smallest crowds that the Zippo Encore stage saw all weekend. This could be partly blamed upon the rain that was still bucketing down, but I just don't think All Time Low were a sensible booking - they're definitely a Reading festival band, and based on the turnout they're going to stay that way.
But All Time Low triumphed over this adversity. I haven't enjoyed their live shows that much for quite a while: their banter is recycled and uncomfortable, the stage tricks are all predictable and it's always a standard setlist. While the latter was definitely true, you could tell that the band didn't feel as comfortable as usual because they weren't playing to their own dedicated crowd, and it meant that the genitalia jokes were toned down (slightly: there were some rather inappropriate comments about the "Great day for face painting" tent opposite the stage...) and there finally seemed to be more of a focus on the music.
There were a few technical hitches towards the start of the set, but where songs like 'Backseat Serenade' and 'Weightless' have felt overdone and lifeless in recent months, this festival seemed to breathe the life back into them. It could be because I normally have seating tickets - the atmosphere at the barrier was heightened and made for a completely different experience - but I think taking a couple of months off to start working on the follow up to 'Future Hearts' has made all the difference for the band. For one thing they seem to be taking themselves less seriously; when a plane taking off from the nearby airfield interrupted the introduction of 'Something's Gotta Give', Alex Gaskarth quipped "Goodbye Dad!" and let the plane have its moment, the band falling to silence on stage until it had flown far enough away and then all cracking up with laughter. They normally get the childish banter down to a tee, but it feels rehearsed and static - when they stay in the moment and use the things surrounding them, the band comes alive.
As the guys themselves said, "If you think two dogs making love is weird then I don't know why you're watching us!". To enjoy All Time Low you do need a certain level of immaturity, but if they can continue playing shows like this - aiming at a harder to please and mature audience, rather than taking it easy with the bra-throwing regulars - they could finally find themselves taking that final step up to stadiums.

Kids in the Dark
A Love Like War
Dancing With a Wolf
Backseat Serenade
Lost In Stereo
Old Scars/Future Hearts
Damned If I Do Ya (Damned If I Don't)
Time Bomb
The Reckless and the Brave
Jasey Rae
Something's Gotta Give
American Idiot cover
Dear Maria, Count Me In

The second day of Download started off less slippery than I'd expected - with the rain holding out all night, the ground had hardened up again and I had no trouble at all speeding around to all of the early bands that I was interested in.

I nearly saw Palisades last year when they played a tiny venue in Reading (the 300 capacity Face Bar) but transport issues stopped me from being able to attend. As soon as I got my Download ticket they were at the top of my list of bands to see, and I was ecstatic when I found out that their set didn't overlap with any of the other bands that I was interested in.
Getting to the tent early I was surprised to see that it was practically empty, but I took advantage and squeezed my way right to the front. Playing Jack U's 'Beats Knockin' as an intro track, the crowd started jumping and dancing as soon as it kicked in, and that didn't stop for the 25 minutes that Palisades were on stage.
With their brand of electronic hardcore, Palisades are perfect for festivals; they blend their style very well and effortlessly appeal to fans of a multitude of genres. When they asked the crowd to get down for 'High and Low', the entire room did it without question - it was one of the biggest reactions I'd ever seen to that request, and definitely showed how much the people in attendance were enjoying the band.

Beats Knockin' intro
Bad Girls
True Blood
Player Haters' Ball
High and Low

As well as it being my first time at Download, it was the first time for Milton Keynes rockers Tesseract. Vocalist Daniel Tompkins whipped up the crowd, announcing "This is your festival, these are your songs, let's hear some voices today!", before playing through a set that was equal parts brilliant and confusing.
I didn't have the best knowledge of Tesseract before I went to Download (in fact I only knew 'Survival', the penultimate song that they played and one of their most recent releases) and I was struck by the odd musical timings they used in every song. It's definitely a unique style, but it felt discordant; particularly when used with Dan's voice, which is almost operatic in tone and intensity. I wasn't sure at the time whether it was bad musicianship or if the recorded songs sounded the same, and after looking further into their back catalogue I've discovered it was definitely the latter, but it wasn't really to my taste.
That being said, compared to the jarring sounds of the two songs played from 'Concealing Fate' (their first EP, which they played in full on the Firestone stage later in the day), 'Survival' is harmonious and spine-tingling in a live environment. If this is what Tesseract's upcoming release, 'Errai', is going to sound like, it's certainly up my alley.

Concealing Fate Part 2: Deception
Concealing Fate Part 3: The Impossible

I'd seen Dead! less than two weeks before when they performed at Slam Dunk South, but due to poor organisation and the area getting closed off, I'd missed the beginning of their set. I was expecting them to play the exact same setlist - it would be pointless to change it with the two festivals being so close together - and I was overjoyed when they did.
I hadn't been expecting to stay for their entire set, but as soon as Alex Mountford gets up on that stage you can't walk away. With the stage presence of Tyler Joseph and the charisma of Gerard Way, Alex was born to be a frontman, utilizing every inch of the stage and throwing himself into their set.
The band don't have too many songs officially available (14 on iTunes when I last checked) and playing unreleased songs 'Enough Enough Enough' and 'Up For Ransom' (which I was only familiar with after hearing it at Slam Dunk) were brave moves - particularly kicking off the set with the former, which carried a brilliant message regarding the media and culture today.
I definitely enjoyed finally getting to hear 'Phantom' live again, with its strange pacing and irrepressibly catchy dance backing. When I first saw Dead! live - at Thekla way back in April 2014 - I was having fun watching their set but I didn't feel any connection to them; that was until 'Phantom' started, and Alex sauntered off of the stage and into the middle of the crowd, pumping everyone up and getting the boat shaking. A song like that is a memorable experience, and hearing it again - complete with two years of live experience that's made it sound so much sweeter - made me extremely proud of how far the Southampton boys have come. The tent had been stuffed to the brim for previous band Milk Teeth, and the crowd had certainly diminished by the start of their set, but they easily managed to get people pouring in.
If Dead! don't release an album soon I'm going to kill somebody, because I need more than a collection of five or six songs from them. This band are changing the UK rock scene from the inside out, and if they have their way it's going to be a much more exciting prospect a couple of years down the line.

Enough Enough Enough
You're So Cheap
Up For Ransom

It had been three days since I'd seen Escape The Fate in Bristol, but because they didn't overlap with anyone I decided to go along to their set and sit outside the tent for a brief reprieve from the running around (luckily at this point it wasn't raining!). I was surprised by their setlist choices, only playing one of their old songs (closer 'This War Is Ours (The Guillotine II)') and cutting 'The Flood' and '10 Miles Wide' from their show - both of which are firm fan favourites.
I know some bands do the hipster thing at festival sets and refuse to play popular songs (*cough* Deftones refusing to play 'Back To School', and Iron Maiden omitting 'Run To The Hills' *cough), but when the songs are that good it feels like a mistake. It just makes the set feel incomplete, like there's a big part missing.
Yes, the newer material sounds wonderful live - particularly 'One For The Money', with its dance-esque backing track asking "Are you ready?" and the chant of "Are you ready, motherfuckers? Are you ready? Let's go!" - but this didn't feel like an Escape The Fate set to me.
I'm extremely grateful that I managed to go to their headline show, because otherwise I would have been severely disappointed with this first time seeing them live.

Just A Memory
Remember Every Scar
Live For Today
Gorgeous Nightmare
One For The Money
This War Is Ours (The Guillotine II)

It's not been an easy life for Slaves (the American band, not the UK punks or actual slaves...). Featuring Jonny Craig (ex-Emarosa/Dance Gavin Dance: you've definitely heard of him!) the band started off fighting - due to Jonny's reputation they already had quite a lot of bad press surrounding them, and everyone assumed they were destined to fail.
They've fought those assumptions well, managing to release two absolutely brilliant full-lengths, but after getting kicked off of Warped tour last year due to assault allegations it seemed that all was not well in their camp once again. In March, guitarist Alex Lyman announced that he was quitting the band as soon as their American tour was finished, then soon afterwards it seemed that the band's break-up had been made official. That put this - their first appearance in the UK - up in the air, but after two months of confusion they confirmed that Jonny and bassist Colin Vieira were keeping Slaves going, and they would be playing those shows on our soil after all.
I've heard a lot of things about Jonny Craig: he's become more of a myth than a man. The rumours that he's constantly high on stage, that he's abusive towards people in the audience, that he thinks he deserves more than he's earned. But I couldn't see any of that in this performance. Jonny seemed extremely grateful, beaming when the crowd started singing his words back to him (particularly those of 'Drowning In My Addiction') and he mentioned multiple times that it was a "fucking honour to be here". He didn't speak to the crowd too often, but with their 25 minute set time and this being their first festival appearance in the UK, it seemed sensible for there to be a focus on showcasing as much of their music as possible.
I listed to Slaves debut album a lot when it was released, but hadn't listened to too much from 'Routine Breathing'  - I was glad that they crafted a setlist with an equal mix of old and new songs, because it gave a great opportunity for me to try out their newer material. All of it works extremely well live, and Jonny sure can sing: some of the long notes that he was holding out took my breath away, and the vocal tricks could easily rival Brendon Urie. He's a performer too: throwing himself into the crowd at the end of 'My Soul Is Empty and Full of White Girls', he proved he wasn't afraid to get down and dirty with the audience, which was not what I'd expected at all based on the stories I'd heard.
If you haven't listened to Slaves you should definitely do that. If you aren't listening to them because of Jonny's past actions, you need to give him another chance - you can see that this is a man who's trying his hardest to keep a band afloat despite all of the hurdles he's had to leap. Yes, their future is up in the air at the moment, but if there's one thing that Jonny has proven over the years it's that he can persevere. I wouldn't be surprised if Slaves release a third album with a new permanent line-up by this time next year.

The Fire Down Below
Burning Our Morals Away
Running Through The !6! With My Soul
The Upgrade Pt. II
Those Who Stand For Nothing, Fall For Everything
Drowning In My Addiction
My Soul Is Empty and Full of White Girls

After Architects pulled out of Download, I didn't think it would end up being Against The Current that replaced them. From one of the most successful British metalcore bands to a straight-up pop band who found fame posting covers on Youtube? It was not the most comfortable fill for that huge vacant slot.
Vocalist Chrissy Costanza wasn't afraid to admit that the band were intimidated, explaining that the reason they were offered the slot was that they were at the Kerrang! Awards and decided to ask if they could have tickets to Download. Because Architects' cancellation had just been announced, they were asked if they would like to perform instead: it meant that they had 36 hours notice of the show, couldn't practice and needed to overnight one of their members in (only two of them were attending the awards show). Chrissy shared that they were just "stoked to be here", but jokingly asked the crowd "So who here has no idea who the fuck is up on this stage right now?!" and didn't look at all surprise by the roaring cheer that went up from almost the entire crowd.
Despite the fact that Against The Current were such a late minute addition (and definitely didn't fit the bill musically!) they managed to draw quite a crowd - possibly because of the appeal of a completely unknown band - and Chrissy thanked everyone who had chosen to see them, stating that there were "more of you that I actually expected". I can imagine it would have been terrifyingly nerve-wracking, getting up on stage in front of thousands of people who had no idea who your band were, but Chrissy didn't seem phased in the slightest: she joked with the crowd about the tight-fitting leather jeans she was wearing, and when introducing 'Talk' mentioned that it was an old song, quipping "but it doesn't matter that it's older, bcause you don't know who we are anyway!" to another cheer.
At the beginning of the set nerves were definitely getting the better of them musically, even if they were successfully keeping up the stage banter. Chrissy's vocal through 'Paralyzed' was a tad on the shrill and squeaky side, while 'Running With The Wild Things' didn't have as much energy as it usually manages. However, by the time they'd gotten through to 'Forget Me Now' and 'Runaway', they seemed to have managed to get everything under control: instead of trying to be someone they weren't they were being unapologetically pop, and that seemed to fly better with the crowd because the disconnect was very obvious at the start of their stage time.
There was a tender moment towards the end of the set, when Chrissy dedicated 'Another You' to her friend and former The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie, who was fatally shot at a show mere hours earlier. Even though the crowd had been talking openly through the majority of the set, they were respectfully silent while Chrissy eulogised about Christina; no music fan wants to hear about someone being shot dead at a show, particularly following the events at Le Bataclan last November. Such meaningless attacks on the music industry - particularly on a young girl - are harrowing, and it definitely added a sombre tone to what had been an otherwise buoyant and bubbly set.
I wouldn't be surprised if this was Against The Current's only appearance at Download festival, but it was certainly a memorable one.

Running With The Wild Things
Forget Me Now
Another You

As the mud grew higher and the rain poured down, my ability to fit as many bands into my day as possible drowned.
We started our Sunday with a twenty minute shuttle bus journey which rapidly grew to over an hour (followed by almost an hour walk to avoid another two hours stuck on the bus) due to the amount of people attempting to drive to the festival and the fact that they'd closed off one of the parking sites because of the insane sludge. This led to me missing The Dirty Youth and The Temperance Movement, both bands that I'd been looking forward to since they were added to the bill.
Then came the news that Swedish metallers Ghost had pulled out due to illness: another of my highly anticipated bands. That meant that the last band that we really cared about seeing in the day was Billy Talent - we decided to see the beginning of their set and then leave early, because the awful weather conditions really did dampen our spirits.

I just managed to arrive in time to see Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes almost destroy the Maverick stage. Thrashing through new song 'Snake Eyes', the second it finished Franch started trying to convince the crowd to create a giant circle pit that could go around the outside of the tent - yep, out into the slippery, sliding, death trap of mud, around the entire tent and back in on the opposite side. The opening chords to the song started up and Frank had to stop the band, shouting "Excuse me, the man with the microphone is talking! Stop, you have not listened to instructions. Quit fucking about. We're here to party, stop trying to ruin it. [...] They learn how to do this in Austria quicker than this, if I can communicate with them I can fucking communicate with you!".
I'm not quite sure what song it was that Frank orchestrated this activity during, but they had to play it twice because the tent was that big - Frank chuckling "Play it again, they aren't even back in yet!".

I'd been expecting to see their full set, but because of the mud slowing down my walking I had to leave fairly early to make it up to the end of One OK Rock (who were absolutely superb), so I have no idea what happened at the end of the set: if it was as riotous as the middle, Frank Carter owned yet another festival without blinking.

Snake Eyes
- (played twice)
Beautiful Death

I only knew a handful of Shinedown's songs before seeing them, but with Brent Smith's country tone complementing their hard rock sound, I'd always intended on listening to more of the band. That's why I stuck around for their entire set, and I enjoyed every moment they were on stage.
Brent was definitely focused on making sure that the audience had a memorable experience, climbing down to the barrier and convincing all of the cameramen to put their video equipment facing towards the crowd rather than the stage. He announced "This is your show, it's no one else's! Today is your day!", and the streamed footage playing up on the giant screens bordering the stage showed every single member of the audience having fun and joining in. Shouting "I say jump, you show the world what a real rock show looks like!" evoked a massive cheer, and proved that even though the weather was awful and the mud was ankle deep, the crowd were still willing to have a good time.
I hadn't known what a wonderful frontman Brent was until seeing him up on stage, because it really is where he belongs. Choosing to do a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Simple Man' was a brave move, but performing it acoustically towards the climax of a festival set would normally be one step too far. It's a testament to Shinedown's appeal, and to the Download festival crowd, that it had such a roaring response: there wasn't a single person not singing along, and it was a standout moment from an extremely successful set.

Asking For It
Diamond Eyes
I'll Follow You
Cut The Cord
Second Chance
Simple Man cover
Sound of Madness

I was surprised that Don Broco managed to draw the crowd they did: compare the music at Download to line-ups of Reading festival, where Don Broco are always successful, and they seem out of their depth. When vocalist Rob Damiani shared that it was their return to Download I couldn't really believe it, so finding out that it was the "first festival [they] ever played" certainly was a shock!
The reaction towards the beginning of the set was lukewarm at best, with Rob shouting "I wanna see you jumping right from the start already" and not getting much response at all. Asking "anyone who's willing to take a knee in the mud" to get down during 'Automatic' worked much better, but I found myself questioning whether that was for the song or for the sheer "fuck it, I'm already muddy" value of the move.
However, in the middle of the set the band managed to redeem themselves. The reaction for the much thrashier 'Fancy Dress' was aggressive, and with Rob calling "I wanna see some pit action right now, a circle pit, a push mosh, I wanna see it get fucking violent!" it wasn't surprising when people were suddenly pulling each other over, rolling around in the mud and the mosh. Following that up with a brief cover of 'Killing in the Name' was a genius, tongue-in-cheek move: Don Broco know that they don't belong at Download - particularly following so closely from that 5 Seconds of Summer support slot... - and they're not ashamed to mock themselves in the name of rock.
The best response by far was to 'Thug Workout', Rob introducing it by saying "if we'd never written this song we never would have been booked that first time we played Download". If you aren't familiar with Don Broco, they play very well into the lad culture phenomenon with their fans the Push Up Squad, who get down during 'Thug Workout' and often start push up pyramids, casually working out in the middle of the crowd. Even through the ankle deep mud, there were still members proudly getting down and dirty, and Rob applauded them, yelling "fair play Push Up Squad! In the fucking rain as well!".
Don Broco were certainly one of the most varied bands I saw all weekend: going from the sickly sweet, falsetto chorus of 'Superlove' through to a muddy mosh pit is not a spectrum of sounds that normally work together, but there's something about these four that makes it appeal. They're playing their first two albums, 'Priorities' and 'Automatic', back to back on a tour coming up in August - if you haven't already gotten tickets you should hurry and purchase them for Bristol, because that's the only place that hasn't completely sold out. It should be an impressive, and wildly contrasting, couple of evenings.

You Wanna Know
What You Do To Me
Fancy Dress
Killing in the Name cover
Thug Workout
Money Power Fame

The first (and second) time I saw Billy Talent, they were performing at Alexandra Palace as one of the highest billing acts at Warped UK, way back in 2013. I wasn't impressed with their live show, which was static and tiring, and vocalist Benjamin Kowalewicz just didn't seem to be able to perform the songs to the standard that they deserved. I'd only decided to pop along to a couple of minutes of their set because it was the stage closest to the exit, and due to the weather I had had enough for the day.
However, as soon as I heard the opening chords to 'Louder Than the DJ' I could tell that this was going to be a much better performance. The new songs seem to have breathed life into the band, and whereas before they seemed stale and a little bit outdated, it finally seems as though they might have another hit album on their hands in the form of 'Afraid of Heights', which is releasing towards the end of July.
Speaking of which, the title track from the album is absolutely beautiful. I hadn't heard it before, but Benjamin dedicated it to the victims of the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, announcing "We need to love each other, we need to respect each other, we need to have empathy. This shit has to stop soon, it has to end now". It was the second poignant moment to occur on this stage during the weekend (the first being Against The Current's dedication to the murdered Christina Grimmie) and it really made everyone stop and think about the state of the world at the moment - particularly the status of the American gun laws, which seem to be the complete opposite of what they should be.

Devil In A Midnight Mass (*)
This Suffering (*)
Louder Than the DJ
Rusted From The Rain
Surprise Surprise
Afraid of Heights
Devil On My Shoulder
Red Flag
Try Honesty
Fallen Leaves (*)
Viking Death March (*)

(*) setlist according to

After hearing 'Red Flag' and 'Try Honesty', I stumbled through the mud to catch a little bit of the operatic and impressive Nightwish, but then I called it a night myself and went back to my lush, dry hotel.

I saw a lot more bands than just these over the weekend (over 60!) so if you're interested in my thoughts on any other bands just leave a comment and I'll get back to you if I managed to get to their set.
I hope you enjoyed this Download review - hopefully there will be a follow up next year!

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