LIVE: Download Festival 2023 – Sunday

By Fiachra Johnston

To quote Anakin Skywalker, “I hate sand”, and the dustbowl that Donington Park has become does nothing for the mood of a tired, surly, dehydrated crowd . Still, with a host of international acts taking the stage today, it would be remiss if the crowd didn’t pull themselves together for one last hurrah. Best put that anger to good use in the pit, given tonight’s headliner.

Words: Fiachra Johnston and Lisa Fox.  Images: Penny Bennett and Download Festival / Todd Owyoung


Now this was a pleasant surprise. The Nu-metal representatives of India were a relative unknown to the audience, but the impact they left have made them an instant favourite. Preaching combat against injustice, sexual violence and depression among a host of other topics close to the heart of a modern audience, the unique blend of tradition Indian instrumentation and headbanging heavy metal quickly wins over a bleary-eyed crowd. Vocalists Jayant Bhadula and Raoul Kerr’s roles onstage as vocalist and rapper will invariably incite comparisons to Bennington and Shinoda of Linkin Park, but their Hindi language tracks put a fresh spin on an aging genre, and the energy on stage is infectious to no end. If there was ever a band to hype up the crowd on the final day, Bloodywood are it.

Blind Channel

From India to Finland, the former Eurovision hopefuls on the Opus stage have made good use of the spotlight, stepping foot into Donington for the first time ever. While ‘Dark Side’, their contest entry naturally draws huge cheers, the rest of set is just as engaging, with ‘HAPPY DOOMSDAY’ making it clear why I Prevail brought them on tour through Europe. The mix of modern metalcore and 2000’s nu-metal vibes make them such a unique presence on the second stage, and Joel Hokka and Niko Moilanen strut down the stage with such joy on their faces as the crowd enthusiastically chant along to their cover of Anastacia’s ‘Left Outside Alone’ – a wonderful scene. There are so few band that break out of the shadow of Eurovision fame/infamy, and after this we can only hope Blind Channel are one of those lucky few.

Lorna Shore

Thank god Liquid Death sponsored this weekend, because Will Ramos is gonna need a bucket of ice cold water after those screams. Lorna Shore seem to have settled into their newest roster over this tour, and their fans have as well, drawing an impressive crowd whose excitement surprises even Ramos as they launch into ‘Cursed To Die’. The sonic violence they incur over the course of 45 minutes is impressive, an absolute wall of sound putting the entire park on notice. Ramos invoking whatever spirits he needs to produce the guttural squeals he vomits out during ‘To The Hellfire’ is a sight to see. Jovially trotting off stage after the 3-part blow of ‘The Pain Remains’, this year’s deathcore representatives leave us feeling like we need to take a lie down to take it all in.


This isn’t just the Japanese alt-metal outfit’s first Download, it’s their first ever UK show, and vocalist Manabu ‘MAH’ Taniguchi is having a lot of fun teasing an unsuspecting crowd (“Arigato means fuck you!” he exclaims as the crowd try to respond to the band’s opening remarks). Their unique pairing of reggae and metal invokes the energy of Skindred a few nights ago, and MAH is just as charismatic a host as Benji was, dancing to the ‘London Calling’ riff that opens up ‘TxHxC’. Of course, anime fans will recognise ‘The Rumbling’ from the latest ‘Attack on Titan’ season, but to the average viewer it’s simply a beast of a track that gets the already interested crowd properly moving. It only gets heavier from their as SiM earn their place at Opus with ‘f.a.i.t.h’, closing with a speed metal breakdown that any upstanding festival goer joins the pit for. SiM know full well they’ll be welcome back, putting their faith someday they’ll be performing on the Apex: “This is not the biggest stage? Aw.. next time…”

The Hu

Even if you aren’t at the Apex stage, you hear The Hu perform ‘Black Thunder’/’Sugaan Essena’. From the top of Opus, to the Church of Genxsis tucked behind the Avalanche, you can hear the low bellow of Galbadrakh “Gala” Tsendbaatar’s throat singing and the rolling gallop of the ‘Hunnu rock’ outfit’s folk instrumentation. It’s no wonder that the crowd begins to swell halfway through the Ulaanbaatar eight piece’s howling performance, and no wonder they receive such an ovation. For longtime fans this is a pretty standard set, if a little safe, but The Hu know how many new eyes are on them here, and their showcase as one of the few Mongolian metal bands has certainly piqued the curiosity of the Download fanbase.

Amity Affliction

Like Motionless in White, Amity Affliction feel like they just belong on the Opus. The casual confidence on display is enough to endear them to the packed crowd, despite barely saying a word to the audience throughout their set, but the waves of pyro spilling over everyone as the angelic chorus of ‘Like Love’ certainly got everyone going even further. Beyond some check-ins throughout, Ahren Stringer is solely concerned with the energy of the crowd: ‘You got some more gas in the tank?” he cries for the finale of ‘Soak Me In The Bleach? For AA, it’s by-the-numbers show for the most part, but for anyone who made the harsh trek up the hill to the stage, it was well worth it.

Jazmin Bean

Donington’s own Audrey Hepburn and online star Jazmin Bean is something of a wildcard for this year’s festival, and the usual crowd just looking to escape the afternoon heat in the Avalanche tent may look at the pastel pink bonnet and army boots of Bean with a level of derision. Having witnessed them beat a dancing Hello Kitty to death onstage, before breaking into the explosive ‘Saccharine’ with all the energy of an old school metal frontman, the newfound love for Jazmin many will leave the tent with is proof enough they’re ‘punk enough’ (whatever that means) to make the stage at Donington their home.


Luke Gruntz and Ian Fraser have brought traces of the weather from Ontario to Avalanche, as the first wispy clouds of the weekend meander overhead, yet the duo only aim to crank up the humidity in the tent. Their full-bodied, wailing guitars cut through the mugginess of the day, the ever-popular ‘hometown’ getting the crowd riled. Like a lot of rock duos, the focus on instruments means the two remain relatively static on stage, but the crowd have enough movement left for everyone, and ‘SCARING ME’ sets them into overdrive. It’s a quick set, but it’s the perfect stage and the perfect atmosphere of it, and fans of the two will leave the tent with a smile on their face.

Dinosaur Pile-Up

Sometimes you have to turn manure into diamonds, and Dinosaur Pile-Up have been handed a bin liner full of the stuff. Massive tech issues mean their set is cut to just five songs, and its clear from the nerves onstage that all of this is being worked through on the fly: “We’re so grateful for you to be here with us while we take a shit on stage” chuckles Matt Bigland as they rip into ’11:11′ with all the gusto of a drowning man swimming to the surface. This is an underground show on a big stage, and the mix is rough going no matter where you are around the stage but the fight to stay afloat propels the trio forward. ‘Stupid Heavy Metal Broken Hearted Loser Punk’ blasts out to a crowd just relieved to see the boys back on track. The tension is palpable around the Opus, but DPU are able to feed off the encouragement of the crowd into a short but sweet set, and while they leave the stage thinking all is lost in a sea of technical issues, the warm response from the crowd hopefully proves otherwise.

I Prevail

If there was ever a time for the Apex stage’s speakers to start going awry, it had to be now huh? The first half of the Michigan metalcore outfit’s otherwise impeccable performance was difficult to parse through a sea of feedback from unfortunately mixed drums and electronica, but that didn’t stop them from making the most of the slowly setting sun. From co-vocalists Brian Burkheiser and Eric Vanlerbleghe stopping during ‘Hurricane’ to take the moment in with the crowd, to the duo picking their favourite circle pit and assigning referees to them in ‘Deep End’, to the cover of ‘Chop Suey’ that drove what few members of the crowd that weren’t already moving down into the pits, this was a vibrant and engaging set from the get go. It was so fun a time, we’ll even forgive Vanlerberghe for being a Red Wings fan.

Set It Off

Cody Carson exudes old school emo right from the get go: “Our name is Set It Off and we came to fuck shit up” he cries to an impassioned crowd, one who are more than happy to turn the Avalanche stage into a sweltering hotbox of movement. Whether it’s the synchronised side hops on ‘Projector’, or drummer Maxx Danziger getting a warm reception as he moves to the front to perform ‘Hypnotized’, or surprise saxophone solo in ‘Loose Cannon’, the Florida trio have the tent in the palm of their hands. Probably a good thing they ended when they did, as the heat of the day and the amount of movement from the crowd was turning some folks a little pale.

Parkway Drive

It’s Parkway Drive’s first post-covid international festival, and there’s a lot of catching up to do. Certainly, the amount of pageantry the New South Wales rockers bring to the main stage shows how much they’ve missed this, as druids with torches ablaze line the stage, now adorned with great spikes and metal sconces. The crowd have missed this too, as even before the breakdown of the opening ‘Glitch’ hit the dust from the pits rises, turning Winston McCall’s pearly white outfit a sordid brick red almost instantaneously. Not that he cares: “You can tell it’s a good set when you can taste the dirt from the stage” he says, grinning from ear to ear after the guitars of ‘Soul Bleach’ send the crowd into overdrive.

Both McCall and the audience have no intention of keeping things static for even an iota of a second, and in what is maybe the highlight of the festival, McCall descends into the frenzied Apex pit for ‘Idols and Anchors’. With a succinct “Jeff, give ’em a fucking ripper”, he’s hoisted aloft by his feet as a circle pit envelops him. The image of a hundred people swarming around a muddy, maniacal McCall will stay with a lot of us for a long time, and the string trio that accompanies the soft intro of ‘Shadow Boxing’ seems to reset the crowd for another round of rioting. Parkway Drive have suffered through a lot of darkness and put a lot of work to get a new record out, but their return to British soil has been an entirely successful venture. Don’t stay away for too long this time, guys.


The second big clash of the weekend, Electric Callboy and Ghost were sure to cause a rift between fans. We wish we’re able to tell you how ‘Hypa Hypa’ Electric Callboy’s set was, but when the crowd at the Avalanche is spilling out the sides into the surrounding area, there’s not a lot you’re able to discern beyond the fact people love Electric Callboy. Fortunately, it means we can dedicate all the time in the world to Opus headliners and resident gothic sex cult Ghost. A supposed technical error means we sadly get no appearance from the reanimated, saxophone wielding Papa Nihil, but otherwise Ghost delivers exactly what is expected: a monstrously fun time. From the batwings of ‘Cirice’ to full unholy regalia of ‘Year Zero’, Tobias Forge, AKA Papa Emeritus IV takes his role as head of the Ministry and leader of the Nameless Ghouls that shred alongside him seriously, even managing to summon the first dark clouds of the entire weekend, much to the elation of a sun bleached audience. Despite playing the Cardinal Copia as a swaggering, sensual dark priest (‘Are you ready to get your teats tickled?” bring raucous responses from the audience), there are moments where the more ghoulish persona of past records come out to play, such as the sinisterly regal Emeritus III, who growls his way through ‘Mummy Dust’. The problem with a festival-length set is there’s always going to be some omissions, and with a rather extensive discography of popular tracks, some cuts need to be made, such as excluding their debut record. Yet they hit all the high notes, closing on the ever popular ‘Square Hammer’. The size of the rabid crowd crying for a longer set, the pageantry and charisma of the band, the altogether excellent performance? Oh, they’ll be back here soon for sure.


Talk about a big finish. After two nights of classic Metallica, a jolt of modern energy with BMTH, and enough dirt kicked up to fill a canyon, there’s really only one group you can bring on to set the weary crowd rioting one last time; Slipknot are quite the panacea for the poison. Not to say they’re not also fighting a degree of war weariness, with the nebulous status of longtime member Craig Jones, and Corey Taylor battling a throat injury, but with Shaun ‘The Clown’ Crahan returning from family responsibilities and 90,000 strong crowd packing the Apex to the gills, this feels like the finale the crowd have been waiting for.

The monstrous pop that the opening track of ‘The Blister Exists’ receives is testament to how badly Download wanted Slipknot back. In Taylor’s own words. “Let’s just get this out of the way: it’s good to be home”. Taylor, even injured, immediately makes it known why the final headline slot could only ever be theirs. For the first eight straight tracks, Slipknot’s eight man team and their new mysterious keyboard player are solely focused on the performance, barely pausing to take in the absolutely manic atmosphere after tracks from their newest record, ‘The Dying Song’ and ‘Yen’ get to properly stretch their legs against crowd favourite ‘Pyschosocial’, and though the industrial-styled stage, with giant rusted fans and flickering shadows gives an air of tension, the band are as vibrant and powerful as ever. Their recent personal stumbles having no effect on just how good a show they’re able to put on, and its only after finishing contorting on stage for ‘Hopeless’ that Taylor finally addresses the crowd: “I just lost twenty quid”. It seems the gang have made a bet with Taylor that he could do a dozen songs without saying a word to the crowd and we would still lose our shit, Which, to be fair, we did.

From there, it’s an hour of some of the best heavy metal you’re going to see in the 21st century. No one, and I mean no one does it like Slipknot, and the setlist is more or less the perfect combination of golden oldies and well received new singles. ‘Left Behind’ gets its tour debut to great delight, while ‘Wait and Bleed’ is dedicated to Slipknot’s friends at Kerrang and ‘Unsainted’ reminds us that every era of the band’s career has its shining moments. An encore of Slipknot’s biggest hits (mysteriously sans ‘Before I Forget’, which is a surprise) closes us out: ‘Duality’ and ‘Custer’ sets the now truly exhausted crowd alight one final time, before the evergreen ‘Spit It Out’, the bands second ever single, sends us home with a nostalgic glow.

It’s a show for the ages, and it closes out four days of headliners just like this one. Metallica showing the metal of old still reigns supreme, Bring Me The Horizon finally coming into their own as a world-class headliner of the future, and Slipknot reminding us why they have never stopped being *the* heavy band of the here and now. Past, present, and future, all putting their best foot forward. Despite the crowd feeling jam packed, especially with how packed the queues and tent stages feel at times, and the maddening lack of shade, this is a festival well worth of Download’s 20th anniversary. A dozen different brands of rock have been represented, from metal to metalcore, electronically-tinged and acoustically-infused, from every corner of the world. In a year where inclusion and diversity has been more important than ever, Download have come through to make every fan feel welcome. All we have to do now is beat the final boss of the festival: the morning traffic out of here.