The 100,000 or so metal maniacs attending this year’s Download are bearing up well under the blazing sun and good natured debauchery, and their stamina is rewarded by Bloodywood who kick things off on the Apex stage. Indian beats and rhythms are nothing new in Western music (think Shelter and 108) but they’ve never been performed with the chutzpah that Bloodywood display. With some of the heaviest riffs known to man, and those spellbinding polyrhythms, they captivate a large crowd and turn those packed in front of the stage into a pulsating throng.
Not to be confused with Beauty School Dropout who rocked the Dogtooth yesterday, the more snappily-titled Beauty School have a similar effect today. Powered forth by a hardcore fury, they’re all angular chords and, with a vocalist who sings like he really means it, go straight for the throat. Original tunes such as ‘Pawn Shop Jewels’ really pack a punch, and the crowd participation creates a shared experience that unites band and audience, and it wins Beauty School more than a few new admirers. ‘Nightwalker’ makes for a powerful conclusion, and one that leaves us hungry for more.
With a sound that’s akin to running head-on into a brick wall, Lorna Shore make for a pretty intense spectacle. As soon as the first chord rings out (and I mean the very first chord) the crowd go ballistic and kick up some serious dust as a circle pit immediately erupts, it’s that kind of music. Incorporating various strands of extreme metal (deathcore, black metal and symphonic) and tying them together into one ball of fury makes for a pretty intense experience and shows exactly why Lorna Shore remain leaders in their field.
There are some legendary hardcore bands with serious reputations due to perform in the Dogtooth tent today, but in terms of visceral fury, Graphic Nature are going to be a hard bunch to beat. Garnered with a powerful sound, they put it to good use and deliver beats which are both heavy and relentless. Guitar’s squeal, vocals growl, and drums punch the solar plexus with unmitigated force, and it all adds up to an intense experience, and one not recommended for the frail or faint of heart. ‘Bad Blood’ is a bruiser, bold and brash, it goes straight for the throat, and like the rest of Graphic Nature’s set, offers little in the way of redemption.
Hawxx are the kind of band you can enjoy on several levels. There’s a deep meaning in songs such as ‘Death Of Silence’ they decry social injustice and the abuse of power, they stop you in your tracks and challenge any preconceived ideas. Yet, it’s perfectly feasible to enjoy Hawxx on a more baser level, and not since Girlschool in their early ‘80s prime have I seen an all-female band rock a stage so hard. With all four band members providing backing vocals, the harmonies they deliver are rich and sumptuous, they make a nice foil for the heavy sound, and the two work together to create a push/pull effect that leaves the listener feeling slightly disorientated. You get the feeling that Hawxx are standing on the cusp of greatness, and on the strength of today’s gig, they’ll get there pretty soon.
Looking like freshly exhumed corpses in their china white face paint, Gdańsk’s Behemoth make for a bulldog-chewing-wasp sight, and their sound is equally vivacious. After the intro tape Post-God Nirvana the band get straight down to business with the thunderous ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’. In fact, such is the powerful nature of their dark art that they seem to chase the sun away and roll in dark, angry clouds. This makes the perfect frame for Behemoth’s sound, and as flames burst from the stage and lick the sky, the band deliver an abject lesson in black metal. As with GWAR, you get the feeling that Behemoth would still be an amazing band, even if you were to strip away the costumes and controversy, and today’s set is the perfect affirmation of such an assertion.
Such is the buzz surrounding Green Lung that even their backdrop gets a huge cheer when it is raised as the stage is being prepared. Bathed in rustic yellow and organic green light, the band arrive with little fanfare and proceed to lay the stage to waste. Fusing that Sabbath stomp through a folk metal sensibility was a wise move, and the addition of swirling organ gives the band a retro feel. But don’t write them off as regressive, because there’s an energy pulsating from the stage that places them right in the present. Those who like their metal delivered through distorted, smoking amplifiers will find a spiritual home in Green Lung. ‘Reaper’s Scythe’ cuts through the air like a knife before ‘Graveyard Sun’ casts us in its warm glow, whilst final track, ‘Let The Devil In’ bodes well for their forthcoming tour and new album.
The air-raid siren that heralds the arrival of Swedish progressive metal band Soen proves to be a false alarm as some technical issues delay the start of their set by a few minutes. However, evidencing their undeniable pedigree this delay doesn’t knock them off their stride at all, and as soon as the glitches are fixed, they are back on track with opening shot ‘Monarch’. As cool as the ice white light which illuminates the stage, Soen deliver a series of songs that capture the frustration and hope of our current times, and on the strength of today’s show, they’ll undoubtedly stand the test of time. ‘Antagonist‘ is as confrontational as the title suggests and wheels out the big guns, putting hot coals under the feet of the crowd and getting everyone moving in unison. Such is the immersive nature of Soen’s progressive sound that it seems to alter the very fabric of time, their half-hour set is over much to soon, but true to the old adage, they leave us hungry for more.
It’s hard to believe that Los Angeles hardcore legends Terror are now classed as “old school”, but having destroyed stages globally for 21 years, no other term will suffice. The great thing about Terror is that there’s no fancy introductions or suchlike, they just plug in and play, and that makes opening shot ‘Pain Into Power’ all the more uncompromising. Digging deep into their discography, Terror pulls all their tricks out the bag with ‘Spit My Rage’ and ‘Overcome’ each raising the level of insanity a few notches. With an energy that belies their years, Terror set the Dogtooth tent alight with their ferocious brand of hardcore, with vocalist Scott Vogel throwing fuel on the fire with his incendiary stage raps. The appropriately-titled ‘Keeps Of The Faith’ brings their set to a rowdy conclusion as the band depart to terrorise another town.
When it comes to emotive post-hardcore, things don’t get much better than California’s Touché Amoré. At once heavy and heartfelt, their sound entwines the listener like piano wire, with each successive song tightening that wire, and digging deeper into our flesh. Riding high on the critical acclaim of latest album Lament, the band are full of confidence and songs such as ‘Flowers And You’ are delivered with a striking sparseness. In many ways Touché Amoré represent a kind of alternative future, the sound emanating from the stage is what hardcore could/should have been had not the tough guy, New York variant stepped in. With vocalist Jeremy Bolm bouncing around the stage like a loose cannon ball, the band rarely slip out of top gear and closing track ‘Limelight’ is no exception.
Closing what has proved to be a heavy day on the Dogtooth stage are perhaps the heaviest of them all, Connecticut’s Hatebreed. As you’d expect from a band approaching their 30th anniversary, Hatebreed are a well-oiled machine, and tonight’s set finds them at the top of their game. From the opening blast of ‘To The Threshold’ to closing cry ‘I Will Be Heard’ the band present themselves as an unstoppable juggernaut that’s ploughing its way straight through the heart of Download. Singer Jamey Jasta in particular is a ball of energy and constantly barrels from stage left to stage right. The crowd respond in kind with cuts such as ‘Tear It Down’ and ‘Live For This’ instigating all sorts of mayhem in the pit. Hatebreed’s hard-ass sound really taps into the current zeitgeist, and as long as there’s war, pestilence and famine, they’ll always be a place for Hatebreed.
As anyone who’s ever heard a Slipknot record will testify, their songs about misanthropy, nihilism and psychosis take things off the Richter Scale, both emotionally and sonically. That type of energy and emotion is not always easy to replicate on stage every night, and it is to the band’s credit that they rarely turn in a bad show. Their energetic performance has become a rod for their own back, an almost unobtainable level that must be reached every night, but it means that a slipknot gig is always an experience, and if you need proof, then just check out the sense of anticipation crackling the air tonight. As the stage radiates blood red light, an intro tape plays ‘Prelude 3.0’, as an over-excited crowd omits various yelps and cheers to dissipate their tension before…BANG!, Slipknot arrive to the musical explosion that is ‘The Blister Exists’ and showers glistening sonics in every direction. Since bursting out of Iowa in 1995, Slipknot have provided the soundtrack to a million misspent youths, and it has created a real bond between band and their fanbase, and you can almost feel the waves of affection radiating between stage and crowd. It’s a track from latest album The End, So Far that follows and ‘The Dying Song (Time To Sing)’ slots into the set list just fine. Featuring tracks from all seven studio albums, there’s something for everyone here with ‘Snuff’ and ‘The Heretic Anthem’ going down particularly well. ‘Surfacing’ caps an impressive set, but of course the band return for three well-deserved encores including closer proper ‘Spit It Out’ that sends all home happy.
As the obligatory fireworks cap another successful Download, this special four-day event has been the biggest, and arguably the best.
Slipknot Set List:
- Prelude 3.0 (Introduction)
- The Blister Exists
- The Devil In I
- The Heretic Anthem
- Left Behind
- Wait And Bleed
- (515) (Interlude)
- People = Shit’
- Spit It Out
- ‘Til We Die (Outro)
* Photography by Philip Piskor.