LIVE: Download Festival 2019 – Friday

By Gem Rogers

There may be plenty of alternative music festivals all across the globe these days, but Download Festival will forever hold a special place in the hearts of metalheads everywhere – and its reputation as one of the biggest and best events for rock and metal has been well earned over the years.

Of course, being set in the lovely fields of England’s Midlands means that it’s also inevitably on the receiving end of some of our island’s most punishing weather – although increased drainage was installed after 2016, with around two months’ worth of rain arriving at exactly the same time as thousands of campers (of course) this year, there was to be no avoiding the mud. Lots, and lots of mud. With such a stellar line-up, though, it would take a lot more than a bit of dirt and rain to dampen the spirits of most festival goers – it is a metal festival, after all.

As many campers don’t arrive until Friday morning, day one gets off to a later start, but with more rain it doesn’t take long for the hallowed turf in the arena to be mulched by thousands of clomping wellies. RIP green stuff. Still, with energy at peak levels (well, almost) and waterproofs at the ready, it’s time to break out the moshpits for another one of our favourite weekends of the year.

Images: Penny Bennett, Words: Gem Rogers [GR], Dave Stewart [DS]


For the number of people in the Dogtooth tent at this still relatively early hour (yes, it’s 1.30pm, but it’s the first day of Download – the rules are different here), you’d think it was raining outside, prompting punters to seek shelter. Not so; it’s actually one of the first sunny patches since Wednesday, and the real reason the tent is full is for the Download debut of melodic hardcore newcomers GroundCulture. It’s only their fifteenth show, but they’ve got the stage presence of a group with far more experience as they pummel their way through their 25 minute set, drenched in furious, tent-filling riffs. Front man Roy Watson’s vocals are consistently powerful, with gloriously deathy, melodic growls topping hard-hitting tracks that are impossible to ignore. Closer ‘Catalyst’ begs for movement, and gets it – GroundCulture have proved they’re a force to be reckoned with, and their first trip to Download is very unlikely to be their last. [GR] 


Guitars, guitars, and more guitars are order of the day over on the Zippo Encore stage as Kvelertak issue a rush of sound to all in the vicinity. Three guitar bands don’t come along very often and Kvelertak are true masters of creating a huge, well blended sound that’s part-classic rock, part-classic Norwegian metal – though it’s not completely all about the guitars, with piercing vocals from front man Ivar Nikolaisen and thundering beats from Kjetil Gjermundrød. Unfortunately for them, it’s just started to rain (again) and the crowd response is a little muted, despite some attention grabbing flag-waving and wrist-cigarette-stubbing antics from Nikolaisen, who is celebrating his birthday in pretty fine style. In a packed weekend line-up, Kvelertak struggle to deliver the most memorable set, but it’s a solid and enjoyable performance nonetheless. [GR]

Blackberry Smoke

The main stage was transformed into a blues rock haven when Blackberry Smoke strolled onto it. Boasting some of the best beards of the entire weekend, the Atlanta based quintet used the breaks in the clouds to their advantage, sucking up every ounce of sunlight and using it to scorch everybody in the crowd with their soulful and sultry tones. Front man Charlie Starr casually strutted his stuff all across the stage, effortlessly blistering through southern tinged riffs and booze drenched solos like he could play them in his sleep. They didn’t put on much of a performance, but they didn’t need to – the music did all the work for them. The style and class radiating from every member of the band was almost too much, spilling out beyond the barriers and getting everybody’s feet tapping. A slick set from a criminally underrated band. [DS]


Easily one of the most anticipated acts to grace the Dogtooth Stage this weekend – not least by unexpected metalhead and comedian Ed Gamble (seriously) – there are also few bands more capable than Conjurer of living up to the hype. Stepping onto the stage as smoke machines billow clouds through the tent, Conjurer deliver a set every bit as dark and heavy as the clouds outside, with the caustic combination of Brady Deeprose’s screaming vocal and Dan Nightingale’s punishing, guttural roars forming an almost overwhelming wall of noise. It’s sludgy, raucous, and everything you could possibly hope for from a heavy metal set – it’s no wonder Conjurer is the name on absolutely everyone’s lips this weekend, and will surely long continue to be. [GR]


If you love southern bluesy rock with extra punch and you haven’t heard of Clutch, you should be ashamed of yourself. They’ve been churning out some of the most infectious gospel-tinged belters for years, with the enigmatic Neil Fallon at the helm in an almost preacher like role. Why a preacher? Because it’s hard to take your eyes off him, and when he’s on stage, you listen to every single word he says. Their performance on the main stage was no different, only this was the biggest, drunkest choir they’ve preached to by a long shot. The band put on a thunderous performance, charging through every song with absolute power and grace as Fallon stomped across the stage recruiting more and more followers with every single step. Their set was like aural whiskey – all of the crisp taste and warmth, but none of the bitter kick. An energetic rager of a set that temporarily transformed the main stage into a gigantic barn dance. [DS]


If any band can bring the party to a damp day in a field, it’s the thoroughly daft and eternally upbeat punk rockers Zebrahead. Sticking largely to old favourites like ‘Rescue Me’, ‘Mike Dexter’, and ‘Hello Tomorrow’, the band are on great form and get the busy tent moving – and singing along – in no time. The only real negative is their reliance on some slightly tired old japes for entertainment between songs, especially for anyone who’s seen them before – the ‘Drink Drink’ song was funny once, but it’s probably come time for them to freshen up their set a little. Despite this, though they may not be obvious Download fare, Zebrahead make for a perfect break from the heavy stuff; after all, sometimes it’s just nice to kick back and have a dance. [GR]

The Interrupters

Everyone at Download Festival was on edge about the weather the entire weekend – especially after the solid downpour that Wednesday and Thursday brought. People started to worry a lot less when the sun fully broke through the clouds on Friday, though, and The Interrupters are probably what caused it to happen. The Avalanche stage was full to the brim, and everybody in their had one thing in mind – they all wanted to party. The Interrupters provided the perfect soundtrack for that party, displaying themselves as incredible entertainers as they performed it. The set was almost like pantomime in places as they teased the crowd with tiny snippets of covers, stopping and going into another excerpt before settling on a high octane version of ‘Time Bomb’, originally made famous by Rancid. They made crowd work look like child’s play, taking the crowd through a riotous performance of ‘Family’ before they left the stage to masses of applause. One of the most fun sets of the entire weekend. [DS]


Over on the Zippo Encore stage, Opeth gave onlookers a strong taste of their legendary prog metal cocktail. They gathered the biggest crowd this stage had seen so far, all of them hungry to fill their ears with some real sonic punishment. Renowned for their incredible live performances, their Download set was no exception, blasting through a selection of songs that represented the strength of their back catalogue. Set closer ‘Deliverance’ was particularly powerful, with its meaty chugs stampeding through the crowd, their weight powerful enough reduce a mountain to dust. Their set wasn’t too long, which front man Mikael Åkerfeldt said was their own fault for writing such long songs, but it didn’t make the performance any less impressive. The darkest set during one of the brightest spots of the day – the perfect juxtaposition for the metalheads in attendance. Proggy brilliance from masters of their craft. [DS]

Reel Big Fish

Continuing the ska-punk theme back on the Avalanche Stage are old reliables, and masters of The Crowd-Pleasing Festival Set, Reel Big Fish. Wellies might not be the ideal footwear for a skanking session, but it doesn’t stop most of the packed tent from giving it a go as the band plunge through their everlasting and well-loved back catalogue, including  ‘Beer’, ‘Trendy’, and singalong classic ‘Take On Me’. Yes, it’s almost identical to every other set they’ve ever played, but when they do it so well, it’s hard to find fault in it – every song still feels fresh, not to mention outrageously good fun. The rain may be pouring outside, but in here it’s nothing short of a beach holiday with Reel Big Fish for company (the tent-shaped roof probably helps too). [GR]


Back on the main stage, festival goers were treated to a blistering set from rock royalty as Slash took the stage. Accompanied by the ever brilliant Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, he strutted his way through a setlist crammed full of flamboyance, swagger, and undeniable musical ability. He couldn’t have created a sleazier sound if he tried – each sound just oozed that classic rock and roll sound, with a pinch of that dirtiness that made Guns N Roses so popular. The Conspirators were solid, providing Slash with a faultless foundation, and Myles was perfect – not a single note out of place. No doubt a lot of the crowd were there hoping they’d witness some songs that his former band had made, and were treated to a stunning rendition of ‘Nightrain’, but this wasn’t the centrepiece of his set. His solo material stands sturdily on its own, regardless of whether he included any throwbacks or not. One of the greatest rock guitarists proving exactly why he’s worthy of that title. [DS]

Eagles Of Death Metal

As the mud continues to increase like something from a horror film and the area around the Avalanche and Zippo Encore Stages become a boggy nightmare, sunshine merchants Eagles Of Death Metal are just what’s needed to distract from the dark clouds. Their classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes and attitude may occasionally border on cheesy, but it’s in the most enjoyable way – chuck in some uplifting, rockabilly riffs and a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ (the result of a crowd vote that we can’t help wishing the second option of a Bon Jovi cover had won), and it’s no wonder there’s a sizable crowd for this Friday evening slot on Download’s second stage.  When Jesse Hughes declares that “rock and roll will never die”, he means it – and Eagles Of Death Metal are the ones to save it. [GR]


If you tried to make your way inside the tent over at the Dogtooth stage to try and watch Jinjer, there’s a pretty high chance that you didn’t make it inside at all. The tent was spilling out onto the festival grounds long before they even took the stage. When the Ukrainian quartet finally took the stage the whole tent felt like it moved in unison – all stuck together in one clump as the sound waves put the entire crowd into motion. All the band dressed in black apart from powerhouse front woman Tatiana Shmailyuk dressed in a flashy gold jumpsuit – there wasn’t a single eye in that tent that wasn’t complete transfixed on the chaos enfolding in front of them. The sound was very bass heavy, but it didn’t stop everyone in earshot from losing their minds – they’d made it inside the tent and they were going to make the most of it. The set was a powerful beast, particularly ‘Pisces’, which saw the crowd launch the words back at the stage in greater volume than the band. As triumphant a Download debut as you’ll ever see. [DS]

Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie is a familiar face at Download these days, having last headlined this very stage only two years ago, and expectations are high for his set on the Zippo Encore stage. With his infectiously movement-worthy blend of dirty industrial beats, metal riffs, and shock rock attitude, he has everything it takes to captivate a crowd for an hour. On this occasion, though, it feels like something is missing. Older tracks like ‘Superbeast’ and ‘Meet The Creeper’ are every bit as groove-laden and powerful as ever, but vocally, Zombie struggles significantly – the melody of ‘Living Dead Girl’, in particular, is barely recognisable. His newer releases fare better, tending to be in a higher register, but it’s disappointing that some of his greatest work isn’t being done proper justice to an almost uncomfortable extent. A mid-set cover of The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ fits in well with the vibe, alongside the usual nods to his earlier White Zombie work in ‘More Human Than Human’ and ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’, making a pleasingly varied set despite frustrations with the vocal performance.

Visually, the set is once again a bit of a let-down. Yes, the lights are flashy, but for someone capable of Rob Zombie’s level of showmanship, there’s nothing innovative on display – instead relying mostly on repetitive and shoulder-shruggingly dull video clip backdrops. That said, what’s clear from tonight’s set is that Zombie is still one of the most captivating performers anywhere in the alternative scene, by a long way; it’s nigh on impossible to tear your eyes away from his non-stop movement, and if his aim is to get the party started, his infectious energy is a solid place to start. He also has the benefit of one of music’s greatest guitarists in John 5, with a few minutes being given over at the tail end of the set to some mind-melting guitar solos. It’s a fairly standard fixture in Zombie’s sets these days, but more than appreciated by a crowd who stand with mouths agape. We’re finally left with a preview for a forthcoming second sequel to his cult classic ‘House of 1000 Corpses’ before an encore of ‘Dragula’ – and although impossible to resist a dance to, it’s an anticlimactic end to a set that fell long short of expectations. [GR]

At The Gates

Anyone arriving at the Dogtooth stage within ten minutes of Friday’s final band kicking off is met with a hefty challenge when it comes to making it inside the tiny tent; Swedish melodic death metal giants At The Gates are, rightfully, proving to be a phenomenal draw, despite the late start time. From the get go, their set is a lesson in everything that is truly great about metal – filled with a raging power, utterly relentless and melodic riffs, and drums that are just about capable of pummelling you into another dimension. Though avoiding material from their earliest releases, it’s a varied ‘Best Of’ style set including favourites like ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ and ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’, as Tomas Lindberg’s ferocious vocals lead the crowd through 40 minutes of Swedish mayhem for the perfect ending to an exhausting first day at Donington. [GR]