What a difference a bit of sun makes! For the first time in three years, rather than resembling a cesspit, Download Festival is basking in blue skies and blazing sunshine. Sadly, Clash can only attend this years' rock and metal bash on Friday (boo!!) but even then there's a vast amount of heavy goodness on offer.
Our day begins with Aussie’s Northlane who open main stage by melding techy textures with whopping, anthemic choruses and monstrous riffs, no better than on set standouts 'Rot' and 'Savage'.
Over the last four years, Motionless In White have steadily worked their way up the Download ladder, finally making their main stage debut today. And now they're here, they look like they absolutely own the place. Towering frontman Chris "Motionless" Cerulli stalks the stage in floor length black and ghoulish makeup (no mean feat in this heat) while the band's Manson, Splitknot and Zombie-inspired metal goes down an absolute storm. Songs from recent album ‘Graveyard Shift’ sound great, and while the band's biggest bangers, ‘Devils Night’, ‘Reincarnate’ and ‘Abigail’ already sounded massive, now more than ever, they seem like they were made to be played on the biggest of stages.
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It's exciting to see new blood emerge to take the torch forward...
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Having already toured with and won over Iron Maiden's famously dismissive fan base, second stage at Download must seem like a breeze for The Raven Age. Even so, there's no sign of complacency, just the knowing swagger of a band fully aware of their own potential. Although their metalcore has been inspired by that genre’s golden age; Bullet For My Valentine, Trivium and Killswitch Engage, it's exciting to see new blood emerge to take the torch forward - these guys are one to watch.
A few months ago, progster barbarians Mastodon released ‘Emperor Of Sand’, their seventh album and perhaps the best of their career, if not the best metal record of the year. Festivals aren't always the best arena for airing new material but Mastodon have never shied away from the bold statements. Unfortunately though, as powerful and monstrous as the quartet sound, there's a breeze on the air and at times the dazzling little intricacies and jaw-dropping complexities of tracks like ‘The Wolf Is Loose’ and ‘Andromeda’ quite literally drift out of earshot. Saying that though, by now Mastodon have got so much gas in the tank they simply aren’t capable of bad performances.
Over in the Avalanche tent, Code Orange are being introduced by WWE NXT wrestler Aleister Black in front of a packed tent. Recent album ‘Forever’ is a devastating show of force and aggression and it sounds absolutely rabid live. As the Pittsburgh quartet hit those first opening notes of track ‘Forever’, a roar goes up in the crowd that lets you know exactly how this set is going to go down. ‘Kill The Creator’ and ‘I Am King’ are furiously uncompromising and grungy belter ‘Bleeding In The Blur’ incite the most savage pits of the day so far.
Later, we manage to catch a few songs of Suicidal Tendencies’ set. The party-loving, hardcore punks are always great fun and their sun-drenched afternoon set is a righteous of constant pits and “ST! ST!” gang chants.
Over on main, the vast crowd that meets Five Finger Death Punch is easily the biggest of the day so far. You have to wonder if FFDP are quickly becoming the metal equivalent of Babyshambles where part of the draw is wondering if unpredictable frontman Ivan Moody will turn up given his seemingly constant proximity to either quitting or being fired.
Of course two days after Download Ivan will announce he’s temporarily leaving the band, revealing a battle with addiction, but today, everything seems to go without a hitch. The Vegas metallers have been playing basically the same set list at every gig for years but no one here seems to care and every word to the bands knucklehead, meat and potatoes metal is bawled back at the band. They could headline Download one day if they don't implode first.
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You have to wonder if FFDP are quickly becoming the metal equivalent of Babyshambles...
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Moving into the evening, we catch the start of Venom Prison's rabid set in the Dogtooth stage. Easily the most vicious band of the day, opener ‘Syllogism’ is a hellish and violent hardcore racket that draws metalheads to the pits like moths to flames.
Back on main though, Prophets Of Rage are hands down the best band of the day. Comprised of Rage Against the Machine members, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford, with Public Enemy's Chuck D and Cyprus Hill's B-Real on the mic, playing the best of all three bands, sure it's a bit karaoke-esque, but make no mistake, its fucking banging. ‘Guerrilla Radio’, ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’, ‘Fight The Power’, ‘Insane In The Brain’… it's just classic after classic, bam, bam, bam, with a massive crowd going batshit for every single second.
Watching Rage tracks without Zach De la Rocha blazing upfront is never going to be the same, but there is no better person to perform these politically charged rockets then Chuck D who’s made a few political protests of his own over the years. And given the current climate, there's no better time to dive into these back catalogues.
Chuck D tells us to raise our fists and "rage like Corbyn," while Tom Morello lifts up his guitar to reveal the words "Fuck Trump" on the back. Later he plays a heartfelt, instrumental rendition of Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’ in tribute to "fallen comrade" Chris Cornell who died a week ago. A touching moment in an otherwise incendiary set that leaves the crowd pumped up for what's the follow.
Three songs into System Of A Down's set, it hits you just how many absolute stone-cold killers the Armenians have in their back pockets. Their opening salvo alone trots out ‘Suite Pee’, ‘Prison Song’ and ‘Violent Pornography’ and after that they just keep coming. ‘Aerials’, ‘Bounce!’, ‘Chop Suey’ ... every track causes pits of pandemonium, every one of them a reminder of just how utterly unique a proposition System Of A Down are: huge riffs colliding with Middle Eastern rhymes, batshit vocal melodies and demented lyrics.
This should have been a furious triumph – but while the tracks themselves sound perfect, transcendent and as ahead of their time as they were back in the day, the band themselves look bored to tears. Guitarist Daron Malakian seems irritated while vocalist Serj Tankian is merely going through the motions, sapping the white-hot heat that underpins their politically-charged fire. A closing trio of ‘Cigaro’, ‘Toxicity’ and ‘Sugar’ have the crowd in spasms but it’s not enough to save the end of Clash’s Download 2017 from being a strangely disappointing experience.
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Words: Dannii Leivers