In a whirl of pelting rain, mud and grimy punters, we trekked straight to the front of the Lemmy stage for Halestorm, the first of Sunday’s acts that we wouldn’t miss for struggling with tent poles and backpacks to get the car packed up early. There are were a few earlier bands on that would have been great to catch, but prior experience sitting in queues to get out of Donington until 3am in morning told us that getting packed up early was a savvy idea, and with the deluge not letting up, camping through until Monday didn’t seem remotely desirable.
Halestorm proved to be a big wildcard, starting with a crowd sparse enough that we were able to grab a spot at the very edge of the front barriers, but within two or three songs, Lzzy Hale’s voice had captivated an entire arena, and breathing space was scarce. There was no doubt at all that she took Download by storm, her voice carries a power that can compete comfortably on the level of most leading frontmen in the industry, something that a girl-fronted band will often have challenges with. You should definitely watch this space. Of course, I rave about Lzzy, but the whole band are excellent and on form. Fell in love just a bit with Arejay Hale, drummer and Lzzy’s younger brother, but what the heck were those big sticks about? #LaughOutLoud
We knew Iron Maiden’s Ed Force One had landed from an informative punter’s instagram post displayed on the Lemmy Stage screens, though we missed it’s arrival through our overhead sky thanks to the crap weather. Meanwhile, we wandered in the mud and sludge to catch a melodic moment of rock from Breaking Benjamin before high-tailing it back to the main stage to be both feet in solid place for Disturbed.
Hit pause for a moment here. Disturbed are up there in my top 5 of all time, and definitely maintain a cozy stronghold percentage over my 25 most played. They probably sit just beneath Rammstein and Korn, hence my pure, unadulterated love of the lineup that the Download team pulled together this year. I missed a couple of opportunities in my teen-hood to see them live thanks to a short supply of funding, and I have a black strike against my name with one of my besties from back then for allegedly scratching his CD of “Believe” (yes, back in the day when scratching CD’s was a massive, friendship shattering crime!), I don’t think he ever quite forgave me, because I’m not sure I believe I did it, and therefore never owned up.
Back to the future, and we were ready. I was ready. The whole arena was ready. The rain was pelting. We didn’t care. Disturbed have been on hiatus since 2011 during which time I thought I’d missed the moment in time allocated for their existence, but 2015 saw their return with Immortalised, and now, June 2016, Download Festival at Donington, another childhood dream of mine was realised. Their sound was massive. David Draiman has the voice of a dark, screaming horde; heavy, raw, and violently melodic. He commands the entire arena with effortless ease. And I can gush on this point, because I know I’m right, the crowd loved it. Their cover of “The Sound of Silence“, complete with orchestral accompaniment was beautiful, and we sung along to all our favourites, including “The Sickness“, of course.
In the aftermath, we ducked back to the Encore stage to catch the end of Billy Talent. I’ve never purposefully listened to the Canadian rockers before but there were a good few songs I recognised and I really enjoyed their set, another one to check out in better detail when I got home. It’s worth noting here that in between acts, the shopping is always fun. If you’re a little bit alternative then Download is the place to go to stock up on all your black lace, studded, spiked and patched clothing items. You’ll find band merch from almost every rock, metal and punk band under the sun (even the obscure Nordic heavy metal kind – pure brilliance).
A packed day of acts sent us straight back to the Lemmy stage like a bunch of yo-yos for the penultimate experience of Nightwish. Beautiful, operatic and dramatic as always, but am I allowed to be sad that they don’t play any of their old hits? It may be too nostalgic. I know they’ve had an up and down journey with leading ladies, and I do think Floor Jansen is quite wonderful, a towering Viking cum Amazonian goddess, but. But I miss Tarja. Sorry, I do. I miss the thrill of “Wishmaster” and “I wish I had an Angel” and it pains my inner romantic that I will never hear that live. Kudos that they still do “Nemo” and a few others, and their new music is still solid, still beautiful.
Having said all that, I understand and agree with progression in the industry of rock, and we all like to see new and younger bands coming through and pushing toward headline slots at staple events like Download, however there is great value for those of us of a slightly younger generation who get to see the likes of Black Sabbath live on their final tour, and of course there is nothing quite like seeing the empire which is Iron Maiden, live at a festival standing in a crowd of 85,000 stoic fans.
Which brings us to the ultimate set, of Iron Maiden on their The Book of Souls World Tour. It’s an understatement to say that Iron Maiden are a force to be reckoned with. That you couldn’t see the front 40-odd-thousand fans in the arena for the sea of raised fists, that I have no reasonable way of documenting the full variety of Maiden t-shirt variations I saw, that even at the very back of 85,000, people were still moshing along in the driving rain, and that in amongst their Aztec mythological journey they found the moment to write a song in memory of Robin Williams, didn’t see that one coming, did you?
Bruce Dickinson, vocalist, frontman, pianist, airline pilot (yeah, that doesn’t get old) and general jack-of-all-trades on a whole other level, is also a great talker. A proper talker. It’s rare to find a frontman now who will chat with the crowd like he knows you, tell you stories weaving grandiose tales into the rhythm of every single song, and there is something familiar and entertaining about it that draws us all in to the universe Iron Maiden create.
Of course, I will always drop my hat (if I had one) to the stage show they put on, changing backdrops for every song, bringing out giant Aztec warriors, ripping out still gushing hearts and creating sets of towering ancient temples complete with jungle vines and flaming torches. I loved it. We all loved it. We didn’t want to walk away from it.
And we didn’t want to accept at the final moment, that Download was over for another year.
ps, the cover photo is much attributed and credited to one of Download’s own amazing photographers, thank you? x