Download Festival has always guaranteed one hefty alarm clock, and with Kent based hardcore crew Feed The Rhino arriving on stage before midday on the Sunday, any punter left remotely dazed from previous shenanigans is in for a hell of a wake-up call. The band clearly have no intention of taking note of the early hour as they thrash through their dirtier incarnation of British hardcore. Those brave enough to manoeuvre their way to the front of the crowd are treated to frontman Lee Tobin performing perched on their raised hands, quickly followed suit by various other band members. The showmanship is undoubtedly impressive and manages to separate Feed The Rhino from many of their friends on the bill.
Almost immediately following the departure of frontman and screamer Dan Brown, We Are The Ocean face one of their most difficult performances to date. Marred by poor sound levels throughout the opening songs, Liam Cromby never has the opportunity to regain his confidence and become the frontman the band is now in desperate need of. The loss of screams in tracks that were written with dual vocals in mind limits the power of the performance, although there are occasional hints that the band may be able to grow into something new. Bringing the set to a close some ten minutes early, it’s a bit of a strange one for WATO today, and the learning curve looks pretty sharp right now.
On the main stage, Kyuss Lives! put lawsuits to the back of their mind as they sludge through low paced heavy duty tunes to a captivated crowd – we only caught a bit of the set, and marched onwards to August Burns Red refraining from letting the pace drop for a second. As they create an extravagant atmosphere on the open air second stage, it is at times difficult to distinguish between tracks from their back catalogue, but they are discernibly competent musicians and far from second rate showmen.
Another rising UK unit gracing the Pepsi Max stage on the Sunday, The James Cleaver Quintet deliver a typically invigorating display. Theatrics are the business of the day with the band throwing themselves over and into the crowd, and disregarding a couple of minor technical issues, the band sounds absolutely stunning. There may be an overt showy nature to this performance, but when the music is this effectual it is entirely justifiable.
La Dispute follow The James Cleaver Quintet with an equally as memorable set, taking songs from their most recent albums ‘Somewhere At The Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair’ and ‘Wildlife’. The minimalist instrumentation perfectly supports the cracked and broken vocals of Jordan Dreyer; himself visibly involved in the intense narrative of every song. Perhaps the defining moment of Download Festival arrives in the rare appearance of crowd favourite ‘King Park’, a track delivered with such honesty that many are left standing in awe.
Swedes Refused make their UK return finally, moving from the cancelled Sonisphere Festival. Originally booked for the Knebworth event, they unfortunately find themselves third down on the second stage due to previous timetabling confirmations. This, however, did not stop them treating every second as if they are headliners, running through ten songs from their most critical acclaimed releases. Somewhat unsurprisingly, ‘New Noise’ gains the largest crowd reaction and closes the set, but it is the more traditionalist punk infused numbers that allow the band to show their true colours. The flamboyance and eccentricities of frontman Dennis Lyxzén elevate the raw attitude of ‘Rather Be Dead’ and ‘Refused Are Fucking Dead’ heavily, and the sheer contrast between the humility and arrogance of the band is relatively confusing – the band exclaim their surprise in regards to their propulsion since their demise, but moments later deliver a mid-fixture encore – however their passion is relentless. This is a band that truly needs to be seen before they really are fucking dead.
Political punkers Rise Against top the weekend bill on the second stage, but you would be mistaken for believing this were the middle of the day from the crowd reaction. There is nothing inherently wrong with the performance barring the lacklustre demeanour which befalls the majority of the band members, and the lack of political preaching is immediately obvious. The occasional move away from centre stage by frontman Tim McIllrath makes the band feel a bit static at times, but tracks such as ‘Ready to Fall’, ‘Help Is On The Way’ and ‘Give It All’ manage to bring the show to life briefly but the spirit and fire is lacking in tonight’s performance.
It falls to the one and only Black Sabbath to round off the weekend. During the massive set the metal behemoths deliver tonight, the reformed (minus original drummer Bill Ward) powerhouse manages to subdue all other bands to the level of amateurs, and although Ozzy is not pitch perfect, this is categorically the best he has sounded in years. Combined with musicians who remain firmly at the top of their game, classic like the anthemic ‘Iron Man’ and ‘War Pigs’ and the filthy southern rock inspired ‘Dirty Women’, they produce an enthralling end to the weekend – even if Ozzy’s banter on-stage is a bit silly when it’s not incomprehensible.
Following some ironically mistimed pyrotechnics and fireworks, Punktastic is left exhausted and ecstatic at the bar, reminiscing about what actually happened in the last three days. See you next year Donnington.