Download Festival 2018
An exceptional instalment of the rock and metal symposium...

Erm, what the hell is that? That yellow thing in the sky? In recent years, “Drownload” festival has been as synonymous with mud and sordid conditions as riffs and devil horns. This year though, we’ve been blessed with baking sun and blue skies - even if some punters are looking as crispy as a sausage cooked in Satan’s fire pits by the end of it.

Friday can be loosely categorised as watching great bands step up to the mantle. The first to blow Clash’s pants off is Yorkshire terriers Marmozets who pull a blinder on the main stage. Aiming for the tricky middle ground between their earlier mathier material like ‘Vibetech’ and the mainstream fire of second album, 'Knowing What You Know Now', is something many bands would muck up but the quartet nail it head on.

Over on the Zippo Encore Stage, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis is making his solo Download debut accompanied by a bunch of cellos. It’s a different vibe to his day job but Davis seems at home and his new material, which borrows from the 80s Goth rock of The Cult and The Cure, feels like a real labour of love.

Bullet For My Valentine could have headlined this fest by now if it hadn’t been for 2013 clanger 'Temper Temper', their fourth album, which stopped progression dead in its tracks. Today though, the Welsh metallers sound and look confident, emanating a swagger that’s been missing for a long time even if the jury’s still out on their new, poppier material.

Progressive tech metallers Tesseract arrived early today to set up a lighting rig that apparently cost their yearly production budget. It was worth every penny: there’s a real sense of occasion surrounding their headline Dogtooth stage slot. The tent is so rammed people are congregating outside, craning necks to watch the band, led by the honeyed vocals of Dan Tompkins, pull out a mesmerising performance. Material from new album 'Sonder' has added real darkness and depth to their set, which also cascades off down beautiful avenues.

Saturday is of course all about Guns N' Roses and is by far the busiest day of the weekend to the point where it becomes a tiresome task to navigate the site. The main stage is an Axl Rose-approved all day warm up of ballsy rock (fabulously on form Black Stone Cherry), vintage rock (Thunder) and brawny rock n roll ( Monster Truck) but elsewhere, the line-up covers all musical bases, from Asking Alexandria’s taut stadium anthems, to Knocked Loose’s incendiary hardcore and instrumental tech metal from Plini.

Sleep Token are gimmicky for sure - a masked dude who worships an ancient deity called Sleep - but the music is stunning. Tracks like ‘Nazareth’ and ‘Calcutta’ merge weightless Justin Vernon-esque vocals with crashing, doom-infused tech-metal and melancholic post-rock. It makes for an atmospheric, cathartic sonic experience.

So far, L7’s reunion has been the antithesis of “doing it for the money”. The grunge stalwarts’ all round badass-ness hasn’t dimmed a bean and ‘Fast And Frightening’ and ‘Shitlist’ sound Just as feral as they did back in the 90s.

You could say the same about Guns N' Roses. Usually when bands this size reunite, it reeks of ego boosting or looming tax bills but the Not In This Lifetime tour has surpassed all expectations. Axl Rose is on fine vocal form and there’s even a faint whiff of that same danger that first made the band such a sleazy, masculine thrill back in the 80s.

The set is perfectly paced so that the band hold the crowd - a huuuuge crowd at that - spellbound for a full three hours. Juggernauts like ‘It’s So Easy’, ‘Mr Brownstone’ and ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ are followed by beasts like ‘Live Or Let Die’, ‘Coma’ and ‘Rocket Queen’.

Yes Slash’s solos go on a bit. And yes the band probably play too many covers - although a shout out goes to Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Slither’, a call back to Slash and Duff’s ex- band Velvet Revolver. But only a heart of concrete could remain unswayed by the sheer joy of 80,000 plus people bellowing ‘Paradise City’ while fireworks explode overhead. Guns N' Roses were bloody brilliant.

Sunday offers the most by way of musical variation. We catch excellent sets from doom-grunge-indie hybrid Puppy and lysergic stoner rock from All Them Witches. Meshuggah put in a reliably challenging and powerhouse performance which sends their crushingly heavy extreme tech metal crashing off in myriad directions, addling brains in the process.

Back in the Dogtooth tent, Myrkur is an ethereal delight. Her fusion of Danish folk and piercing black metal on tracks like ‘The Serpent’ and ‘Ulvinde’ is a sensory, almost dream-like experience.

Marilyn Manson seems disgruntled with the blazing weather, stopping the show to complain about the sun in his eyes, but musically he’s on form. His two recent albums, 'The Pale Emperor' and 'Heaven Upside Down' could be classed as career heights and the crowd reaction to ‘SAY10’ and ‘Deep Six’ is just as rabid as for ‘mOBSCENE’ or ‘This Is The New Shit’. The set ends with an industrial glam cover ‘Cry Little Sister’, a gothy classic that suits Manson right down to the ground.

It’s up to Chicago punks Rise Against to bring Clash’s weekend to a close. And what a close it is. You can’t fault the band, led by Tim McIIrath, for their heart. These are songs that clearly mean the world to people and force even the weariest of fists into the air. Fired up and frantic, ‘Survivor’ and ‘Satellite’ have us bellowing our lungs out as the sun sets on another excellent, albeit sunburnt, Download.

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Words: Danni Leivers

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