As the crowd slowly materialises from their tents, lobster red from the sun that appeared yesterday, they are welcomed to the arena by Polaris. They get the day off to an explosive start with the aptly-titled ‘Landmine’, and things go crazy from thereon. Formed in New South Wales in 2012, they represent the new face of metalcore; adding progressive elements and post-rock soundscapes, their lyrical focus on topics such as depression and anxiety adds an emotional depth which garners their sound with an extra layer of heaviness. Offering an abstract lesson in brutality, Polaris shined particularly brightly today.
Hailing from Wyoming, Antisaint are a modern rock band who are riding high on the success of their debut album, 2021’s Vaticinate, and they bring some of that cool swagger to the Dogtooth stage. With a telepathy that verges on ESP, they deliver a sound that’s akin to two heavyweight boxers slugging it out. They largely eschew solos in favour of a riff heavy attack, it means that when the drums hit, they hit hard, and the result leaves the listener a little punch drunk. New single ‘Paradise’ continues the good work of their full-length, and Antisaint won’t require much tweaking to take their band to the next level.
As genres blend and music becomes more diverse, there’s something so refreshing heavy metal about Unto Others. Born from a scene that’s more known for its hardcore punk bands, this quartet are like some strange amalgamation of Death and Malice (which, of course, is a good thing). Guitarist Sebastian Silva throws all the right shapes, while vocalist (and rhythm guitar player) Gabriel Franco brings a gothic air to proceedings which gives cuts such as ‘Nightfall’ a dark, sinister edge. They push all the right buttons, and the crowd bask in the band’s metallic glory, before the nocturnal ‘Give Me To The Night’ brings things to a rowdy conclusion. Portland, Oregon might be best known for bands like Poison Idea, but Unto Others are gonna put it on the metal map.
As much as I love bands such as Unto Others who defiantly stick to their guns, there’s also something to be said for artists who break down musical barriers, and that is where Kid Bookie steps in. Heavy as hell, and mashing up genres to great effect, he cherry picks the best (and heaviest) of different styles, throws them in a boiling cauldron, and produces a potent mix. A definite highlight is a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, on which the Kid puts his own inimitable stamp, it gets the whole crowd singing along, they lap it up and obey his every command, and when the Kid says “jump”…you jump!
If you want to know just how heavy a three-piece band can get, then check out Beauty School Dropout. They are a feast for the eyes and ears, and open up with the one-two punch of ‘See You In Hell’ and the belligerent ‘YEAHYEAHYEAHYEAH…’. In terms of musical velocity, they remind me of Sons Of Abraham/early Glassjaw, and they operate with the same kind of swagger. Vocalist Cole Hutzler moves around the stage like Zebedee on springs, and his co-conspirators aren’t far behind. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end, and Beauty School Dropout depart by leaving another pair of musical bombs: ‘A$$A$$IN’, and the slightly unhinged, ‘FIGHT MODE’.
As Donington Park swelters in 30-degree heat, Clutch are busy tearing it up over on the Apex stage. Taking the basic framework of Black Sabbath and updating it for the new millennium was a wise move, and they set about delivering a masterclass in sludge-based heavy metal. Pulling some serious riffs from his green Gibson, guitarist Tim Sult is an alchemist who creates crushing power chords from thin air. The rhythm section gives it plenty on the bottom end as vocalist Neil Fallon prowls the stage like a caged animal. As the heat shimmers in the air, Clutch pull all their tricks out the bag and closing couplet ‘Electric Worry’ and ‘Pure Rock Fury’ ensures that no on feels short changed.
After yesterday’s postponement, GWAR finally make their appearance, and this delay has only heightened the sense of anticipation and expectation, and you can almost feel it crackling through the air. A GWAR show is part gig, part pantomime, and that’s exactly what’s served up tonight. There’s lots of fake blood flowing around and splattering the first few rows, whether it be from a politician’s head or a beefeaters mouth, as GWAR stalk the stage in their crazy stone age costumes. Never since Lawnmower Deth in 1989 have I seen such lunacy on a stage, yet you get the feeling that if GWAR took off their costumes and discarded the cast of players, you’d still be left with a kick ass rock n’ roll band. Such is the stark, visual nature of GWAR that their songs get overlooked but ‘Hail, Genocide!’ and ‘The Cutter’ proves that a misdemeanour.
Despite having a band member moonlighting in a side project L.S. Dunes (Travis Stever, guitars), Coheed And Cambria are showing no signs of fatigue and immediately turn the Avalanche stage into a ball of frenzy with opening track ‘The Embers Of Fire’. Although their music and lyrics often touch upon progressive, esoteric themes, there’s a straight forward nature to the band’s live show that turns them into a razor-sharp laser beam. Quite rightly, the band’s set is predominantly culled from their latest album, Vaxis II: A Window Of The Waking Mind, yet there’s still room for fan favourites, a spirited version of ‘A Favor House Atlantic’ and 2005’s ‘Welcome Home’, a closer that caps an impressive, energetic set.
Metallica head back for their second set at this years Download, and there’s a strange case of déjà vu as the AC/DC/Ennio Morricone introduction is used again to begin the show. It seems a tad strange on a performance that promises “no repeats”, and you think they could have come up with a new way of opening their set, especially as the majority of people present were also attending on Thursday. Anyway, that’s a minor quibble, and from herein all the songs are fresh, and no more so than on opener ‘Whiplash’. Breathing life into an old track, Metallica really push the pedal to the metal, and in doing so they’ve rolled back the years. Two from Ride The Lightning follow in the shape of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, and the title-track, and as you’d expect, the crowd goes suitably nuts. It’s great to see that the band are now treating their back catalogue with the respect it deserves, and there’s no half-hearted medleys performed here (unlike on the St. Anger tour). There’s a few surprises thrown into the mix, such as the instrumental ‘The Call Of Ktulu’, alongside more expected cuts like ‘The Unforgiven’ and ‘Wherever I May Roam’. After the neighbours complained about the noise of Metallica’s first set, tonight is notably quieter, but that in no way negates their power with ‘Battery’ and ‘One’ rocking just as hard. As ‘Enter Sandman’ sends us away to our tents, the pyro and fireworks that fill the air make an apt conclusion.
Metallica Set List:
- It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N’ Roll) (Introduction)
- The Ecstasy Of Gold (Introduction)
- For Whom The Bell Tolls
- Ride The Lightning
- Until It Sleeps
- 72 Seasons
- If Darkness Had A Son
- Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
- You Must Burn!
- The Call Of Ktulu
- The Unforgiven
- Wherever I May Roam
- Moth Into Flame
- Whiskey In The Jar
- Enter Sandman
* Photography by Philip Piskor.