LIVE: Download Festival 2023 – Saturday

By Fiachra Johnston

Dust. That’s the name of the game. On the hottest day of the weekend, with not a drop of rain in site and tens of thousands of people making tracks towards the water and merch lines now fighting for their life, Donington has gone from a verdant green field to an arid Sahara orange, kicking dust up into the air at the nearest hint of a breakdown. It’s a mosher’s paradise, as long as you brought your Claritin and left your white clothing at home. We just about survived the heat, but how did the acts fare?

Words: Fiachra Johnston and Lisa Fox.  Images: Penny Bennett and Download Festival / Abbie Shipperley


If I had a nickel for every time an Australian band opened up the Apex stage at Download Festival I’d have two nickels, which isn’t a lot, but it’s strange how it’s happened twice in two days. Maybe it’s the way they can get a crowd moving at 12 in the afternoon? Polaris start up the dust storms that will continue throughout the day with a rendition of ‘Hypermania’ that immediately puts the speaker system to the test. It’s a basic but effective set, a classic explosion of metalcore as vocalist Jamie Hall violently wheels around onstage. This is sadly one of the last shows on their EU tour before having to recuse themselves due to the passing of their guitarist Ryan Siew. We send them all the love in the world, and we cannot wait to have them back with us soon.

Stray From The Path

Long Island residents Stray From The Path know where they are, and how to get the crowd moving. Right from the start of ‘Needful Things’, the vicious nu-metal throwbacks have the audience on their side, with front man Drew Dijorio directing them in a storm of circle pits. Launching into the ever-relevant “Goodnight Alt-Right” with a statement that minority communities that “will always be welcome at a SFTP show” and that “Nazi punk motherfuckers” will promptly meet a metaphorical boot heel only gets people going even more. Maybe this is how Dijorio is able to inject enough energy into a dust-covered, already exhausted crowd into bouncing for ‘Guillotine’. SFTP perform like they’re the last act of the day, and the crowd move as if they don’t have another 10 hours to go. Will it come back to bite us as we dredge through the 25 degree wasteland without shade? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Most definitely.

Ice Nine Kills

Half of the enjoyment of an INK set comes from vocalist Spencer Charnas’ antics on stage, and there are antics abound as they took to the Apex. From his role as a psychotic hostel customer in ‘Wurst Vacation’, to murdering a poor misfortunate banker in ‘Hip to be Scared’, to full on knife crime against the Download Dog for ‘The Shower Scene’, INK’s set is as much a horror film as it is a musical performance, one we can’t tear our eyes away from. Musically, they’re as talented as they’ve ever been, though they only pull from their two ‘Silver Scream’ albums, avoiding their more classic work in favour of further cementing themselves as a full-force, blood-fuelled, horror-themed band. Charnas kills it (pun intended) on vocals, the action on stage not detracting from the vicious breakdowns and tight guitar lines that avoid many of the tech bungles that other bands have been plagued with on the Apex.

Still, we feel bad for the poor Download Dog. Wonder what poor shmuck they roped into climbing into that thing…

Bob Vylan

Passing by Bob Vylan in the Avalanche tent, you can’t help but grin ear to ear. Bobby and Bobbie have turned the fit to burst Avalanche into a madman’s disco, with Fever 333 joining briefly for ‘Pulled Pork’ and nearly blowing out the nearby sound systems with ‘Wicked and Bad’. The announcement they would be doing an after hours set “well after Metallica’s bedtime” is met with raucous applause, and you can’t help but wonder how big Bring Me The Horizon’s Church of Genxsis could really be in comparison to the duo’s cult of personality. We later hear their secret set went so long security came to shut them down, leading them to crowdsurfing offstage by an enthusiastic crowd to further party elsewhere. Now that’s punk.

Motionless In White

It’s their fourth go around at Download, but it is always a joy to see Motionless In White at Donington. Evidently, many share the sentiment, as even before the first notes of ‘Disguise’ drop, the jam packed crowd is electric. Ever the burst of charisma, Chris Motionless celebrates the year anniversary of their latest record by conducting the crowd through ‘Scoring The End of the Word’. ‘Slaughterhouse’ sets the Opus alight even without Knocked Loose’s Bryan Garris, its breakdown maybe the most violent of the day, and ‘Reincarnate’ draws exclamations of joy as the 2014 classic adds a layer of nostalgia to the electricity onstage. It’s a pretty standard MIW set, not reinventing the wheel but never letting the energy fall below manic levels, and there’s no doubt Chris and co. will be more than welcome back with the crowd they’ve drawn.

Kid Kapichi

Kid Kapichi may not think they belong, with lead singer and resident “old man in a young man’s body” Ben Beetham’s little spots of self-derision throughout the set (“We probably sound like Miley Cyrus compared to what you’ve just heard but thanks for giving us a chance”) but the crowd certainly do by the time thudding bass of ‘Rob The Supermarket’ hits. The Hastings group are full of love for a receptive crowd, losing themselves at how packed the tents gets as their open, airy guitars cries out in ‘Death Dips’. There’s so much charisma on stage, its hard not to see why they were Frank Carter’s band of choice for his birthday, and as ‘Smash The Gaff’ is launched into with a battle cry of “What the fuck is up Denny’s?”, its clear that the mix of humour, sincerity and old school bash-your-head-in punk rock will carry this relatively young band a long way.


Alexisonfire are, like Bring Me The Horizon, something of an odd pick for Download 20, though only a few weeks off from the release anniversary of ‘Otherness’ – their first record together in over a decade – the Ontario post-hardcore outfit also have cause for celebration. Their scale certainly fits the Apex, and after combating with the sound system a bit with ‘Sweet Dreams of Otherness’, they settle into a rhythm. Apart from a few cursory introductions and crowd check-ins, vocalists George Pettit and Dallas Green are rather taciturn and clinical in their onstage performance, giving the crowd something of a breather in between some rather heavy hitters. It’s a solid set, one perhaps most mired by the heat of the day and some unfortunate mixing by the tech crew but the most dedicated of us are bellowing along to ‘We Are The Sound’, and the quintet enthusiastically retort with a powerful rendition of ‘Blue Spade’. Though they wouldn’t have been many’s first pick for a slot at the Apex, they certainly made their mark.

Deaf Havana

Fresh off a secret set last night at the Sidesplitter stage, Deaf Havana are here to nurse our hangovers. Sadly, there’s a frustrating amount of mic issues for the Veck-Gilodi boys and their backing members, impacting the otherwise wonderful renditions of ‘Fever’ and ‘Hell’. This doesn’t stop a loyal crowd from singing along to every hit however, heat and tech issues be damned. It’s cathartic then, when the issues are wrangled under control ‘The Present is a Foreign Land’, and much like their late night set the night before, the curious blend of folk and alt-rock makes them one of the unique sounds in the metal-laden Donington.


Monuments have some of the most unfortunate luck, starting their set surprisingly late due to ongoing tech issues in the Dogtooth stage, yet it doesn’t dampen the audience spirit, continuously chanting for the band and hollering with glee when vocalist Andy Cizek pops on to help with mic setup. Cizek has only been with the band since 2019, but the man can scream. In what may be one of Download’s most eardrum-busting sets, Monuments absolutely hammer home how cohesive their current lineup is, debuting ‘Nefarious’ live for the first time to rabid reaction. The crowd is equally here to prove something, keeping the energy high, forming pits aplenty as ‘Lavos’ threatens to tear the tent of its supports. Somehow, the mass of bodies in here forgets about the stifling heat for one moment, resulting in a set that could have kept on the entire night if not for a frantic stagehand trying to keep sets on time. Please, if you get the chance, see these boys live, they will not disappoint.


If people were angry about the Coheed and Cambria/Placebo clash before, the announcement of a surprise set by Creeper at the same time drove most over the edge. Of course, we couldn’t resist attending Fright Night at the Dogtooth and despite a late start similar to Monuments, it was worth every second. The tightly packed crowd is enamored as Will Gould and the band’s unique brand of goth punk sweeps through the tent, bringing out the live debut of a new track, ‘Sacred Blasphemy’ to a stellar reaction. The set will of course garner comparisons to tomorrow’s Opus headliners Ghost, but the suave nature of the band, how they go from the ‘Cry To Heaven’ to monstrously vampiric in ‘Poison Pens’ makes the tent wholly theirs. Criminally, the set is cut to shreds for time to make way for the headliners over at Apex, leading to ‘Annabelle’ being cut and a shortened version of ‘Hiding with the Boys’ (dedicated to the equally macabre Ice Nine Kills) before sending the crowd home ghoulishly grinning with ‘Misery’. As far as Download secret sets go, Creeper have carved their name into the annals succinctly but savagely.


Throughout the day there has been a sea of camping chairs turning the journey to the front of the Apex stage into a human slalom course. With the heat sucking the energy out of every person in Donington (which no one can be faulted for), it makes navigating throughout the day feel like an escapade within a people-littered hedge maze. Fortunately, as what feels like the entire population of the festival descends on the main stage, the chairs are packed away, as everyone rises for Metallica’s second set of the weekend, and their record tenth Donington show.

Compared to Thursday, Metallica are praetorian in their performance, immediately picking up the pace from their entertaining, but slightly hollow Thursday show. ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ comes early and hits hard, reinvigorating a sun poisoned crowd back into life. ’72 Seasons’ like it’s Thursday brethren from the titular record, is as devastating as any classic Metallica track, feeling right at home on a big stage. The most noticeable change is how at home the demiurges of destruction now feel onstage. The band poke fun at this only being Lars ninth outing at Donington (“He’s playing with every band tomorrow to catch up) and making light at the bands weaker moments, as Hetfield compares a snare test to St. Anger: “Please stop, it’s torture”. Some dad jokes are thrown around (“the crowd at Download are in-tents!” to a chorus of groans). James struts and puffs gusts of smoke as the chug through ‘The Call of Ktulu’, and a little girl brought on stage bursts into tears standing next to Lars (poor guy can’t catch a break). It’s a energetic, charismatic outing that reminds us how the four of them have stayed in the hearts of so many for so long: this is ultimately a rip roaring gig.

Darkness finally envelopes Download to the chorus of ‘Wherever I May Roam’, and ‘Moth to a Flame’ incites the largest pyrotechnic display of the night, the funnels of flame able to be felt from the back of the park. Their rendition of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ incites some pride in the Irish festival goers next (Is deas i gcónaí cuimhní baile nuair atáthar thar lear). James lets loose with a surprisingly animalistic scream for ‘One’, something we haven’t heard in a long, long time while ‘Enter Sandman’ gets the crowd moving for one final time. Of course, an explosive firework sendoff is in order as we walk away from the arena, and its deserved. Ten outings at Donington and Metallica have given a clinic of a performance. Three days in, against a crowd with dust in their lungs and sunburn on their backs, yet the quartet’s masterful command of the show make them seem like they were in the prime of their career. It’s easily the weekend’s most dynamic, and largest attended, performance.

Then again, Corey Taylor waits patiently in the wings.