LIVE: Download Festival 2018 – Saturday

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]

Now there’s no doubt that we all love metal, it’s the reason 100,00 people descend on Donington each year for this festival. But kicking off Saturday morning in true country fashion are Whiskey Myers. Pulling in a huge opening crowd on the mainstage they’re exactly what the doctor ordered for all those hangovers out there. Their set is full of perfect harmonies and feet stomping beats but for us the star of the show simply has to be the bands percussion and resident cowbell player Tony Kent. We’ve never seen a cowbell played so vigorously before now and it was a joy to behold. [CL]

Continuing where Whiskey Myers left off on the main stage, Monster Truck roll through Donington like, well just like a Monster Truck. Their deep almost soulful rock sound ups the ante perfectly in the blazing sunshine, and they fit in perfectly with a Saturday Main Stage line up that includes more than its fair share of country rock with Black Stone Cherry also playing later in the day. It may be one of the more chilled out days of the festival’s biggest stage but there’s no taking away that the Canadian band deliver a well-oiled display and lead singer Jon Harvey’s rasping vocals leave everyone humming along in their heads for the rest of the day. [CL]

The Faim attempt to liven the crowd at the start of day two with a party atmosphere, and their dancing rhythms and catchy choruses are seemingly fit for the occasion. After an awkward start with a few uncomfortable falsetto notes and no guitar in the mix, the band warm into the performance, and as they grow in confidence the crowd respond with movement and clap-alongs. For a band that only have three single to their name, getting a slot at Download is a massive achievement and is a fine way to celebrate their 50th gig. As they continue to play more live shows, the sheen and polish of their recorded material will bleed naturally onto the stage, but there’s no doubting that when they get it right, you can’t shake the uncontrollable urge to throw your arms in the air and move your feet. With this kind of sound and the trajectory they’re on, they may be playing arenas sooner that you’d expect. [MJ]

Drawing in a huge crowd on the Zippo Encore stage are Bury Tomorrow, the south coast outfit bring the metalcore and unwavering sense of pride along to suit. Having just announced their fourth studio album the guys took their set by the scruff of the neck and took the thousands in attendance along for the ride. With sporadic circle pits appearing throughout, to the backdrop of technically advanced riffs and deafening vocals, Bury Tomorrow prove that the UK metal scene is alive and kicking. [CL]

We last saw Sleep Token at The Great Escape, in a venue by the seaside, lit up gloriously by the afternoon sunshine. It wasn’t the best environment to contain the mystique and intrigue of this masked, anonymous group of musicians, making it seem more of a gimmick than a fully realised concept. In the dark confines of Download’s Dogtooth Stage however, the murky atmosphere allows Sleep Token to fully flourish, and they take full advantage of the opportunity, captivating the crowd from start to finish. Vessel, the voice of Sleep Token, is a phenomenal vocal talent, expertly navigating pristine falsettos before unleashing a powerful full voice that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. His acolytes, dressed in white masks and black cloaks, provide intelligently crafted and well varied instrumentals, ranging from soft, post-rock ambience to low, djent rhythms that flow seamlessly, emphasising the songwriting talent and creativity of the group. With the atmosphere perfectly matching Sleep Token’s concept, the performance stands out as a highlight of the weekend and as we leave the tent, there’s a palpable sense that everyone in the tent witnessed something truly special. [MJ]

If you attached a generator to Rolo Tomassi‘s set, it could’ve powered the whole weekend. From start to finish they bring raw power to the Avalanche Stage, squeezing every last drop out of the speakers, managing to sound the heaviest band so far on this stage. Though they’ve been around since 2005, their recent release ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’ realised all the potential they’ve shown over the years into one practically flawless album. This performance is every bit as impressive as the record, bursting with low end aggression that’s partnered brilliantly by keyboards that add a layer of atmosphere and breadth to their sound. Eva Spence switches seamlessly from throat tearing screams to angelic clean harmonies to produce a spotless vocal display that’s up there with the best of the weekend. Rolo Tomassi are having one hell of a year and with another faultless performances behind them, it’s no less than they deserve. [MJ]

A sheet of white fabric screens the Avalanche Stage from view until out steps a man dressed in a black jumpsuit with a black bag over his head. Behind him, a film containing images of war, Nazi symbolism and Klu Klux Klan members plays until a countdown from ten reaches zero. The screen drops to reveal The Fever 333, a band consisting of former letlive. vocalist Jason Butler, Night Verses drummer Aric Improta and Steve Harrison of The Chariot. As the band launch into their first song, the heavy groove and almost rapped vocals naturally brings to mind Rage Against The Machine, particularly given the strength of the band’s political messaging, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. Anyone familiar with Butler’s live antics in letlive. will know it’s impossible to contain the man once he’s on stage and it doesn’t take him long to kick over the microphone stands, empty all of the water bottles on himself and others, and launch himself into the crowd. As one of the most charismatic and engaging front men around, Butler has the audience where he wants them and with superb instrumentals to back him up, the whole tent is soon bouncing and nodding along to every beat. This is The Fever 333’s first show in the UK and after such an explosive performance, it certainly won’t be their last. From the messaging to the execution, this band is the real deal and this set will go down in Download history as one to remember. [MJ]

Baby Metal, the cutest metal band on the planet return to Download festival for the second time and deliver a set which easily lives up to the hype. When the Japanese band first burst on to the scene three years ago a lot of metal fans outside of Japan didn’t take them seriously. Sure the vocals and on stage dance routines are far from the norm but behind all that is one of the tightest, most brutal metal bands around. Never putting a foot out of place throughout they deliver brutal riffs to backdrop all that goes on around it. It may not have been a set that brought anything different to their previous time here except a few new songs but the experience and the band are still as great as they ever were. [CL]

Being As An Ocean choose to display their passion in a more reflective, introspective way, so following Rolo Tomassi and The Fever 333 at the Avalanche Stage was never going to be a natural segue. Off the back of two frantically energetic acts, Being As An Ocean seem overly subdued and though their melodically charge hardcore is usually brimming with emotion, the atmosphere of the instrumentals doesn’t carry far in a large festival tent. With the musicians of the band remaining largely static, there isn’t much of a visual stimulus to convey emotion either. Front man Joel Quartuccio does his part to stir the crowd, leaping regularly over the barrier to join them, which injects some needed energy into the performance and there’s a lifting of the spirits for new track ‘Alone’ which kicks up the energy levels and breaks the pattern of mid-tempo rhythms that remain consistent throughout the rest of the set. It’s a decent showing from the US act but on a line up as strong as this, it doesn’t last long in the memory. [MJ]

If the award for best band of the weekend was judged purely on stage production then Australian giants Parkway Drive would walk away with the title hands down. Their ferocious set included more flames than we could count and a 360 degree spinning drum kit, as they took to headlining the second stage like a duck to water. With a set well balanced between older material and newest album ‘Reverence’ they took no prisoners as they delivered easily their best ever performance on the hallowed turf. As the band go from strength to strength it’s only a matter of time until they step up to the highest rung on the ladder and headline the main stage itself. [CL]

It’s up to The Maine to get the Avalanche Stage back up to temperature and after the opening couple of songs, the reaction is still lukewarm. John O’Callaghan uses all of his performing experience to win them over, utilising his witty onstage banter to loosen the mood. You don’t expect the singer of an alt-pop band to shout “open the crowd up into a circle”, but rather than inciting a circle pit, O’Callaghan simply wanted a dance floor, requesting those inside the circle to shake their hips and throw in some dance moves. It helps when behind him, a barrage of well executed, catchy songs continues to pour out and by the time they’re finished, the limbered up audience are dancing on their own accord. If they weren’t won over by then, when O’Callaghan calls up a little girl from the crowd to join him on stage, the cute-o-meter goes into overdrive. The Maine’s mission is simple, they just want everyone to have fun and with this impressive and infectious set, their first appearance at Download can be considered a mission accomplished. [MJ]

There hasn’t been a buzz like this for a headliner at Download for some time. Even as early as 11am, when the first band went on stage, people could be seen setting out chairs and blankets in their chosen positions in preparation for this moment. The number of Guns ‘n’ Roses t-shirts on display outnumber all others put together and as the legendary band take to the stage, the scream that erupts from the crowd could be enough to wake some of the sleeping passengers aboard one of the aircraft flying overhead. The band have been given an unprecedented three and a half hour set and immediately set to work with huge crowd pleasers ‘It’s So Easy’ and ‘Mr Brownstone’. Iconic guitarist Slash looks ageless in his usual stage attire and he immediately hits his stride, coolly strutting around the stage while massaging his guitar, giving off the appearance that he could stand out there playing for 24 hours and look no different. Axl Rose doesn’t hide the years quite so well, and while his unmistakable voice is showing signs of fatigue, he maintains enough stamina to carry the band through this titanic performance. Three and a half hours is long slot to cover and to help fill the gaps, the band slip some cover songs in to keep the neutrals happy. Velvet Revolver’s ‘Slither’ doesn’t suit Axl’s voice and so misses the mark, but ‘Live and Let Die’, ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ and touching tribute ‘Black Hole Sun’ fare better, as some of the standouts in the pack. As crowd pleasing as the covers are, there’s no substitute for the band’s own massive tracks and when the iconic notes of ‘November Rain’ start to ring out, Download goes into meltdown. Due to the changing nature of the music industry, you can’t help but wonder whether we’ve seen the last of the generational bands that sustain careers beyond 30 years; we can’t be sure how many of our favourite bands today will still be going in a couple of years never mind decades. Guns ‘n’ Roses’ huge, iconic songs have lasted the test of time and whether you’re a veteran or a youngster, this performance had something for everyone. Download has always been great at celebrating the best that rock and metal has to offer and tonight we got to witness one of the best there is. [MJ]