LIVE: Download Festival 2018 – 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 from some huge headliners to debut performances, and to top it all off the sun was out in force!

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

Images: Penny Bennett, Words: Mark Johnson [MJ] / Chris Lee [CL]

Blackpool quintet Boston Manor have the honour of opening the main stage, and the organisers’ decision to put a pop punk band up first pays dividends. You’re guaranteed fast tempos and bouncing rhythms with this genre, and Boston Manor do it with style, not letting the massive occasion (and the equally massive stage) phase them at all. It’s unlikely their sound has ever sounded this huge, particularly the drums, which are pristine and punchy, getting the crowd tapping their feet whether consciously or not. Opening track ‘Burn You Up’ is a perfect introduction, the lyrics “You better get used to this” being a fitting way to kick off a festival that has plenty to more to come over the next three days. [MJ]

Employed to Serve state their purpose from the outset; guitarist Sammy Urwin shouting “it’s time to wake up Download. I don’t care how early it is, I want to see you move” as soon as he takes to the stage. A large space opens in the crowd immediately and as soon as the first notes of the guitar ring out, a circle pit is in full rotation. Tracks from their incredible album ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’ don’t sound as heavy as they should, with the guitars lacking their usual punch in the mix, but it’s more than made up for by Justine Jones’ incredible vocal performance, which brings the depth and power that’s needed to keep the audience’s energy levels up. During the outro of the final song, Urwin heads into the crowd in an attempt to surf his way out of the tent. He gets 90% of the way there, making it a fitting metaphor for this almost perfect set. [MJ]

The first standout moment of the weekend comes from Texas’ Nothing More. Front man Jonny Hawkins leads the band out barefoot and bare chested, and though his chiseled physique is impressive on its own, musically the band are in even better shape. The early back to back coupling of huge singles ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Go To War’ have the audience eating out of the palm of their hands, as Hawkins nails every note across a wide range of melodies. Before taking center stage, Hawkins started life behind the drum kit, and he finds time to occasionally pummel some skins using his custom-made percussion apparatus. But it’s the more weirdly constructed vocal equipment that emerges as the star of the show. Known as the ‘scorpion tail’, and constructed by the band’s welder-cum-bass player Daniel Oliver, it allows Hawkins to control midi samples, guitars and other strange effects using a series of levers and switches. For the finale of the set, Hawkins leaps onto it, gets lifted into the air, and produces an incredible live cover of Skrillex’s hit ‘First of the Year’. It’s inventive, visually impressive and musically perfect; it’s the perfect summary of a set that manages all of this from start to finish. [MJ]

Stray From The Path keep the energy high on the Avalanche Stage, adding more fuel to the circle pits with big riffs and infectious rhythms. Drew York commands the stage well, zipping from left to right as he barks out classics like ‘Outbreak’ and ‘Badge And A Bullet’. His energy makes up for the disappointingly low vocal mix, so although he can’t always be heard, he can certainly be seen. The sound desk at the Avalanche Stage is still warming up it seems, but thanks to this high energy set, the crowd are well and truly up to temperature. [MJ]

American Hardcore outfit Stick To Your Guns take full advantage of playing on the first day of this years festival by injecting an ominous sense of chaos into the Avalanche stage. Their brutal riffs ensure that there’s not a single person standing still throughout their set. The deep, ferocious breakdowns crash over the crowd like a storm hitting shore. The set is laden with tracks from the latest release ‘True View’ and rightfully so as that record was outstanding. All in all Stick To Your Guns do what they do best, tear it up! [CL]

Loathe are a band on the rise and this may be their biggest and best performance to date. Bereft of the technical difficulties experienced at Slam Dunk, the band’s visual imagery, signature tones, and staggering heaviness combine perfectly to form their tightest, most spectacular show yet. For all the bravado and menace of fronting a metalcore set, the band can’t help but crack the facade and show their genuine thanks to the packed out audience in front of them, and they’re humbled even further by the shouts of “Loathe as one” erupting organically from the floor as they finish their set. Loathe are bringing a fresh and inventive voice to metalcore, and to our delight, people are starting to take notice. [MJ]

It feels like the Cancer Bats have literally been everywhere imaginable since the surprise release of latest album ‘The Spark That Moves’ this coupled with an anniversary tour for the brilliance that is ‘Hail Destroyer’ have gone to show just how good the Canadian hardcore outfit are. Watching a packed tent scream “Hail Destroyer” at the top of their lungs will never ever get boring, How could it? The guys bring with them an almost unrivalled raw energy to their live sets that ensures their presence is felt across the whole festival. [CL]

It’s always a party when The Bronx roll through town and this set was no different, transforming the Avalanche stage into a sea of movement as frontman Matt Caughthran demands the biggest circle pits Download Festival has to offer, and the crowd duly oblige. The LA punks set flashes by almost taking us by surprise at the end, but they say good things come in small packages and hot damn are The Bronx not only good live, they’re masterful. [CL]

Donington Park has been home to the best in metal and rock music since 1980, with many of the alternative world’s titans having graced the stage. British rock has had its fair share of the glory over those years, and before our American cousins in Avenged Sevenfold close the first day, Bullet For My Valentine prove that British metal is still going strong. It’s a crowd pleasing set that’s a reminder of how much quality content the band has put out since their inception in 1998; even if you aren’t an avid fan, the band have put out enough singles over twenty years to allow even a passing listener the opportunity to sing along. Matthew Tuck and Michael Paget’s dual vocals interact brilliantly, both projecting their voices with power and precision, and with a strong instrumental mix working in their favour it’s an assured set that shows all their years of experience. The mid-set drum solo adds little to the performance and disturbs the impressive momentum they’d been building, but ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ gets the crowd back on side before they exit the stage. [MJ]

Californian punks Bad Religion simply emanate fun from the second they take the stage as an 8-bit version of My Sharona and launch straight into ‘Generator’. It’s the band’s first time back in a few years and as front man Greg Graffin points out the crowd look better than ever. The band, well they’re not exactly young these days but that in no way means they don’t know how to work a crowd. It’s Graffin’s energy that propels the band through an exquisite live set full of energy and exuberance in which the bands racing guitars and soaring solos are faultless. 38 years strong and still going Bad Religion don’t plan on simply lying down anytime soon. [CL]

The Zippo Encore stage played host to it’s first headliner of the weekend, You Me At Six who despite sharing the headliner mantle with metal power houses Avenged Sevenfold still managed to draw in a huge crowd. Gone were any signs of mosh pits and instead replacing these were a field full of people dancing and singing along to every lyric. This set may have been one of the softest over the whole weekend but those who had headed over were treated to some rasping vocals that seemed to match the epic sunset in the background. [CL]

Bullet For My Valentine may have brought a drum solo to the main stage, but if guitar solos are more your thing, then US metal giants Avenged Sevenfold have you covered. Synyster Gates immediately breaks into one as he enters the stage, and through the course of opening track ‘The Stage’, manages to squeeze in another four, with help from duelling guitarist Zacky Vengeance. It’s the kind of classic rock swagger that feels right at home at Download, and there’s a brief pause during the set while the band pay a touching homage to late drummer The Rev, plus other friends who have been lost along the way. The bravado of their performance, with the addition of pyrotechnics, fireworks and huge projected videography, makes Avenged Sevenfold worthy headliners of the opening day, and based on the number of heads banging and air guitars on show, no one would begrudge them coming back to headline again in the future. [MJ]