Last weekend, metal, punk and rock fans all gathered in their masses to go f*cking crazy (to borrow a phrase from Ozzy Osbourne) and Edwin McFee was there to report back on some of the highlights from one of the heaviest festivals around.
Ever since the dawn of time, well, the 80s, the hallowed turf of Castle Donington has been sacred ground for those who love their music heavy. Initially starting out life as Monsters Of Rock before taking a break due to the masses briefly falling out with metal during the mid to late 90s (what was wrong with you people?), the festival was reborn in 2003 as Download and since then it has remained a Mecca for any self-respecting head-banger ever since. This year's bash sees some of the genre's innovators and inventors all perform for our aural pleasure, but before we get to the titans of titanic riffage that are Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, there's a whole shed-load of other acts to catch to bother our necks.
Juliette Lewis and the Licks are an absolute treat over on the Zippo Encore Stage. Clad in an Evel Knievel inspired jump suit, she dances with the security staff, belts out punk and sleaze rock informed stompers like 'Hot Kiss' and generally acts like the bastard offspring of Iggy Pop and Lux Interior. Her cover of 'Proud Mary' at the end of her set may be a surprisingly soft way to end a festival renowned for its hardness, but it's an undeniably bright moment on a soggy day.
Speaking of strange happenings, comedy thrash veterans Lawnmower Deth joined forces with Kim Wilde (yes, that one) for a handful of grindcore songs before a run through of 'Kids In America' while Megadeth (who turned in a decidedly Marmite performance) teamed up with former WWE champion Triple H as the latter accepted his “Spirit Of Lemmy' award from the good folks at Metal Hammer. Much to our disappointment, the D-Generation X member didn't put Dave Mustaine through a table though....
Deftness do what they always do over on the Lemmy Stage-excite a sizeable minority yet bore this reviewer to tears with their stodgy, samey riffola and mediocre melodies. Punk veterans Pennywise though, on the Maverick stage, are a joy and their headlining set features more hooks than a party at Pinhead's house.
Performing for the very last time at Donington (so they say anyway), Black Sabbath AKA the founding fathers of metal, make their way onstage in a sea of flames, looking every inch as evil as the dark lord from down under (that would be Beelzebub by the way and not Nick Cave.....). Kicking off with that primal, tooth-rattlingly heavy riff that opens 'Black Sabbath,' it really does feel like the beginning of the end for the Brummie legends but if they're going down, they're going down swinging as the likes of the thunderous heavy (and groovy) 'Fairies Wear Boots' and 'N.I.B.' prove.
Ozzy himself seems a little out of sorts during the set, straying off key and sometimes berating the weather which has us considering building an arc. Clearly (and understandably) pissed off that the rest of the Sabbath boys have decided to call it a day, he sometimes looks like a frustrated figure but all that disappears when they belt out evergreen classics like 'Iron Man' 'War Pigs' and the 'Children Of The Grave.' Expect their final Dublin show in January to be an emotional experience.
Ah, Sunday. Normally a day for rest and relaxation, for Downloaders, Sunday means only one thing-seeing the band who helped build Donington's global reputation in the first place-Iron Maiden. Earlier on in the afternoon we managed to catch some of the stars of WWE's developmental brand NXT kick seven shades of shite out of each other for our entertainment. Headlined by Bray's own Finn Balór, the wrestler is perhaps more of a rock star than many other bands on the bill at the moment and frankly he will be one of Ireland's biggest exports in a matter of years. Boasting a no expense spared production, NXT and Download go together like Jack and Coke and the electric crowd, who sing Proclaimers songs, chant about Susan Boyle and generally lose the run of themselves over former footballer turned grappler Hugo Knox (“It's Knoxy!”) are as entertaining as watching Samoa Joe,Nakamura, Bayley and more and it was good to see former Gallows man Frank Carter serving as a guest time keeper at one point.
Fair play to Finn Balór for keeping the Irish end up too with a true superstar performance (though we would be remiss if we didn't confess our disappointment at the absence of Irish bands on this year's bill. We have no doubt that acts like Therapy?, Kerbdog, Primordial, Mourning Beloveth, Wounds and many more would've torn Download a new one).
Elsewhere, Disturbed, NWOBHM icons Saxon and Halestorm all turn in suitably amped up sets, but all of which pale in comparison with the arrival of Iron Maiden to close the weekend. Bringing a bit of sunshine with them, this evening's show feels like a triumph and they haven't even played a note yet thanks to frontman Bruce Dickinson successfully beating cancer, going on to sell-out stadiums and festivals around the world and then parking their own, fuck-off, Eddie adorned 747 plane next door at East Midlands Airport.
Performing as part of their Book Of Souls World Tour, the band make it clear from the get-go that they aren't a nostalgia act like AC/DC or the Stones and play a large chunk of their storming double album, critics be (children of the) damned. Opener 'If Eternity Should Fail' has the kind of chorus you'd hear ringing out around the banquet halls of Valhalla, while the Robin Williams dedicated 'Tears Of A Clown' has hooks you could hang the moon off and is a touching tribute to the sadly departed funnyman.
One of their most theatrical shows I've seen from them in quite some time, Dickinson performs open heart surgery on an axe wielding Eddie (who's dressed in Mayan attire) before chucking the blood-spurting vessel out into the crowd, wears a luchador mask for a thunderous rendition of 'Powerslave' and makes a hangman's noose look cool during 'Hallowed By Thy Name.' It must also be said that the band once again perform with more energy than men half their age and 'Fear Of The Dark' and set highlight 'The Book Of Souls' are simply spell-binding in the open air. 'Blood Brothers,' dedicated to the victims of the Orlando shootings, is even more poignant and powerful than usual.
With Bruce promising the band's return in 2017 “to annoy a town near you,” here's hoping that Eddie and the boys make their long awaited return to Irish shores shortly.
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