LIVE: Download Festival 2017 – Friday

By Penny Bennett

Download Festival is arguably the biggest and best heavy metal festival in the UK. The hallowed grounds of Donnington have seen just about every band ever grace it over the years. And this year was no different with some huge headliners, debut and last ever appearances alike, and on top of it all the rain actually held off for the entire weekend.

The Punktastic team headed up to the Donnington Castle site to check it out.

Words: Rhian Wilkinson, Christopher Lee, Becky Mount / Photos: Penny Bennett

Astroid Boys hit The Avalanche Stage on Friday with a resounding bang. With a high turnout considering the early hour, and their unique positioning on the lineup, the show is everything you could hope to kick off your Download with. It’s loud. It’s heavy, though not in the traditional Download sense, and there are big riffs in it. Even the newer tracks like ‘Foreigners’ have everyone jumping and singing along. Astroid Boys are not out of place in the heavy world, and they prove that diversifying lineups with genre-subverting options is a good idea. When they go from ‘Minging’ into a woop dat ass breakdown, it’s clear that they can do no wrong. 5/5 set from a band many fans probably wouldn’t consider belong on a Download stage. [RW]

If Code Orange aren’t one of your favourite bands, you’re doing something wrong. No really. And their performance on The Avalanche Stage is so very important, the most vicious reminder that there is hope yet for the scene. To be fair to them, Code Orange destroy any preconceptions and expectations of whatever genre you want to try to pin them too. And therein lies their appeal; they have redefined what noise is. It’s 2017 and everything you thought you knew about the term heavy is just a distant memory because Code Orange are doing wonders for a sometimes dated, prehistoric mindset and we absolutely welcome that unsettling ferocity. This is a performance we won’t be forgetting anytime soon. [BM]

Mastodon on the Main Stage is a very, very good thing for all those involved. Emperor of Sand fills the headline stage at Download easily, it is a delightful return to form for them. The transitions between old and new material aren’t uncomfortable and as Download’s black-clad masses shrink from the oh so foreign sunlight, Mastodon opens with 2006’s ‘The Wolf Is Loose’. Horns and beers are raised to the skies in a salute to all that is metal. In weather that absolutely no one is dressed for, Mastodon make the most of the sunny afternoon and deliver a performance worthy of Download’s biggest stage. [RW]

Hitting the Avalanche Stage like a force of nature Four Year Strong arrive to a huge roar and immediately Dan O’Connor screams “We’re here to have a good fucking time!” and funnily enough, that’s exactly what we’re gifted. 40 minutes of exhilarating pop punk goodness, it might not be the ‘Rise or Die Trying’ in full show the guys have been plugging of late but instead incorporates a number of tracks from across their back catalogue. The one thing every track has in common is that the crowd lap up every single one with constant mosh pits and endless bouncing. The highlight of the set comes when every single person in attendance sings back ‘Wasted time’ at the top of their lungs, simply beautiful. [CL]

Holy hell. Baroness have always been special, but this set was on another level. Surprise new member Gina Gleason, who has replaced long-time guitarist Pete Adams is phenomenal. To see another woman killing it on stage with some of the best musicians in metal, is a great thing. No one sounds like Baroness, and if you missed this set, I am sorely sorry, because it was beautiful, and melodic, and unlike any other band on the bill for Download in 2017. With Gleason supporting on vocals too, Baroness have added another level to what was already a multi-layered listening experience. The stage chemistry of the band is fantastic, and you wouldn’t guess that things have ever been any different. Whilst the departure of Adams is a shame, it’s nice to see that Baroness are forging on. [RW]

What’s better than pop punk? Two huge doses of it in a row. Following Four Year Strong on the packed Avalanche stage are State Champs with their own infectious brand that can’t help but put a smile on the face of everyone here, including the band themselves. And just like with Four Year Strong the tent is transformed into a huge sea of movement throughout. Sure Download festival is traditionally a heavy metal festival but it’s credit to these two acts that both draw in huge crowds and in turn deliver electric performances, Pop Punk was well and truly defended this weekend. [CL]

Once in a while a band appears from nowhere and absolutely destroys everything in their way, and this year Prophets of Rage were that band. Yes, together they’ve only had one EP and single released but with the combined might of the legendary Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill you’d have been a fool to expect anything else. The set is full to brim of every track from the three acts and then some but the most emotional moment comes when they play through an instrumental version of Audioslave’s ‘Like a Stone’ as the crowd take over vocal duties creating beautiful tribute to the late Chris Cornell. If you looked at this project and presumed it would be a bit gimmicky you couldn’t be further from the truth. The guys mean business and deliver a stand out set of the weekend. The Prophets are here to take the power back. [CL]

You can always count on Good Charlotte for your dose of the most pop-addled nostalgia and their set on the Zippo Encore Stage is no exception. Their recent reformation has been great, and despite releasing ‘Youth Authority’ last summer, they’re not ones to turn their backs on the career and the songs that made them who they are. The huge crowds lap up a banger studded setlist that takes it all the way back to 2001, and that’s no mean feat for a Friday night. Say what you want about Good Charlotte, but they sure as hell know how to put on a show. And don’t pretend you don’t know the words to Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. [BM]

We get our prog hit in the form of Krokodil over on the Dogtooth stage. Their unapologetic sound is sludgy as hell and perfectly executed. Whilst it’s hard to ignore the fact that the band is made up of members from the likes of Gallows and SikTh, they don’t rely on any cliches that you might expect from what is arguably a supergroup. Instead it’s just a riff heavy set that leaves us wondering when we’re going to get a follow up to 2014s ‘Nachash’. [BM]

I hate to say it, but Sum 41 were a big fat disappointment. ‘Fake My Own Death’ delivered some high energy mass crowd involvement, as did the Sum 41 salute, but if you’re going to headline the second stage at Download you probably need a few more than 3 or 4 giant balloons to really get a crowd going. ‘God Damn I’m Dead Again’ featured a shredding guitar solo that was impressive, but overall the impact was just a touch subpar. Sum 41 is 21 years old this summer, and it feels it. When frontman Deryck Whibley shouts out that ‘Motivation’ goes out to all the old Sum 41 fans, they sure are stoked about it, but the rest of the crowd felt a bit lost. The weighting of the set was a bit off, and could have used a few more bangers in the beginning, rather than just counting on ‘Fat Lip’ to end on a high note. [RW]

As far as the three headliners of the weekend go, System of a Down are the heaviest by a long, long way. From the moment the Californian rockers adorn the main stage and explode with ‘Suite-Pee’ the huge crowd laps up every single second of a mammoth 30 track set that spans their entire career. Interaction between the crowd and the band might not be that of the traditional chit chat but Serj and co are here to do one thing and one thing only, melt minds. And that’s what they do as their army of fans sing every lyric back at them while immersing themselves in the fantastically unique plain of existence System of a Down have created. There’s no need for pyro, or overly produced light shows here, the quality of their technical brilliance speaks for itself. System are everything a headliner should be at Download. [CL]