The weather forecast is rubbish and social media is awash with complaints that Download festival's new cashless system has failed, leaving early-bird punters unable to buy food and drink. It doesn't bode well for the UK's largest rock and metal weekend. Luckily for Clash though, the 'teething problems' seem to have been ironed out by our arrival on Friday morning.
Cashlessly-bought beer in hand, we're just in time to be wholly underwhelmed by All That Remains opening the main stage with their generic metalcore. Faring much better are Krokodil who, with a lineup including Daniel P. Carter and members of Gallows and SikTh, cook up a blistering brew indebted to Leviathan-era Mastodon, Pelican and Baroness. Over on main stage, Italians Lacuna Coil are working the hooks of their slickly polished, but musically pedestrian, pop-metal. It's just a shame they don't include more tracks from their strongest album, the ethereal 'Comalies'. Beartooth are up next and they provide the set of the day with a chaotic performance to a packed tent. Self-hate and references to alcoholism and suicide shouldn't work alongside anthemic sing-a-longs, but then choruses rarely come more exhilarating than those of 'I Have A Problem' and 'The Lines'.
Sadly, even the heaviest metal can't scare the rainclouds away and the heavens that have been threatening to open finally let rip, turning the site into muddy quagmire by the time headliners Slipknot hit the main stage. Disappointingly, pretty much everything from stage production to setlist is unchanged from their Wembley gig earlier this year but it's still brilliant fun to see vocalist Corey Taylor stalking the stage and Shawn 'Clown' Crahan swivel on his drum riser 15 foot in the air while we fist-pump to 'The Heretic Anthem' and "jump the fuck up!" during 'Spit It Out'. Cuts from latest album 'The Grey Chapter', especially the ferocious 'Custer' and meaty 'The Devil In I', are highlights of the night proving that even 18 years after their debut release 'Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat.', Slipknot still have plenty of gas in their tanks and fire in their bellies.
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The rain is still falling on Saturday afternoon but it's great news for Crobot who play to a packed out tent. They sound like a bluesier Royal Blood with Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy on vocals. On the main stage, not even rapidly rising mud can wipe the huge grin off Parkway Drive vocalist Winston McCall's face. The crowd have clearly decided that at this point a fuck it strategy is the best attitude to take and brutal pits open for the crisp riffs of 'Dark Days' and 'Home Is For The Heartless'.
Later, the majority of people are over at the main stage watching Rise Against run riot with their rousingly abrasive punk anthems, but those gathered at the second stage get to appreciate Yorkshire grindcore legends Carcass on suitably savage form. The rain only adds to the apocalyptic atmosphere with frontman Jeff Walker claiming "We might not have the biggest crowd of the day but we do have the ugliest and best one". Afterwards, we get to the main stage just in time to witness a field go ballistic to Rise Against's 'Prayer for the Refugee'. We manage a few songs of A Day To Remember's hammy 'stand-up-for-the-outsiders-of-the-world' frat-punk before we decide it's not for us and leave - just in the nick of time too - as vocalist Jeremy McKinnon straps on an acoustic guitar and proceeds to murder 'Champagne Supernova'.
Thank god for Faith No More who are as refreshingly bizarre and sardonic as ever. Against a backdrop of fresh flowers, a leering Mike Patton taunts us with barbed comments and his blindingly white, dry clothes. Recent album 'Sol Invictus' is short on immediacy and the tracks aired from it tonight lack that same crazed punch as 'Midlife Crisis' and 'We Care A Lot' but you can't take your eyes off Patton whether he's growling rabidly along to 'Separation Anxiety' or crooning through Commodores' 'Easy'.
When Muse were announced last year, metal fans reacted by jabbing their keyboards in anger. "They're a pop band," scoffed one reveller. "I hope they're prepared to get bottled," fumed another. Despite being outliers in a sea of guttural barks and camo shorts, the Teignmouth trio cut their teeth on metal growing up and plenty of revellers have turned up to hear them fire the heavier weapons in their arsenal. Tonight's set is a rare chance to see Muse stripped of their spaceships and moving stages, classical and operatic elements just thrashing the hell out their instruments for two hours.
Gripes that they're "not heavy enough" are silenced as soon as the glam stomp of 'Psycho', which apes Metallica's '2 x 4' and Marilyn Manson (headlining simultaneously over on the second stage), roars monstrously to life. Rage Against the Machine riffs are worked into the mix. Cuts from new "back-to-basics" album 'Drones' sound muscular and focused, crashing comfortably against the metallic scuzz of 'Dead Star' and 'Citizen Erased'. Bellamy wails, jerks and head bangs over a rare airing of 'Micro Cuts'. The unstoppable 'Stockholm Syndrome' is heavier than anything Sunday headliners Kiss have written in their lives. This may not have been Muse's usual crowd but tonight is nothing less than a complete triumph.
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As Sunday dawns we're all feeling the strain of being rained on for two days straight. Luckily things get very silly watching Evil Scarecrow who pull us out of our weather-based slump with the ridiculously fun 'Crabulon'; a pummelling dirge about the destruction of mankind by a large alien crab. The heavens open again, but not before we watch Cavalera Conspiracy blow chunks out of their floor with their crushingly aggressive groove metal and marvel at Tremonti's technical brilliance yet complete inability to avoid sounding like his old band Creed.
A salvo of aging rockers; Billy Idol, Slash, Motley Crue and Kiss, on the upper echelons of the main stage lineup has today harking back to hard-livin' hair metal of the '80s. Clash's weekend highlight is from a different era but there's nothing backward-looking about a newly reformed L7 whose sleazy, badass grunge sounds just as raw as it did back in the '90s. Most musicians mellow with age – not vocalist Donita Sparks who manages to look elated and disgusted to be here at the same time.
Since we're in the last stages of a very cold and soggy weekend the crowd can be forgiven for a limp response right? Hell no. Sparks is having none of it and those down the front comply with her orders to look alive, probably fearing she'll come down and kick their heads in if they don't. Vocally she's stood the test of time too and her larynx shredding snarl on 'Andres', 'Shitlist' and 'Fast and Frightening' sounds as uncompromising as it did over two decades ago.
It's left to Enter Shikari to close Download on the second stage tonight and despite concerns that vocalist Rou Reynolds won't perform due to ill health, they're on fiery, confrontational form. 'Destabilise', introduced by Reynolds as "music to confront and attack", is delivered with incandescent fury. Smashing together bludgeoning metal riffs, shrieking sirens and cacophonous electronic beats, 'The Last Garrison' and 'Mothership' sound ominously huge. But with all respect to Shikari, Lamb of God, preceding them, would have been equally worthy of the headline slot.
Receiving a hero's welcome they hit the stage with skull crushing force. Frontman Randy Blythe, all scrawny legs and matted hair, paces rabidly back and forth like a bear with a sore head, managing to look just as filthy as the rest of us. The pits that erupt during new tracks 'Still Echoes' and '512' are just as big as those for set staples 'Laid to Rest' and 'Redneck'. 'Walk With Me In Hell' sounds like the end of the world. There are few ways to end a weekend that are more thrilling. Download you have been wet and muddy and bloody brilliant. Let the countdown to 2016 commence.
Words: Dannii Leivers