Download Festival 2015 words by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
As the final day of the Download festival dawns, the sun begins to dry out wet tents and gives hope for a day without puddles and ponchos. With a list of at least 10 must-see bands today, we set a course for the arena, where our first stop is the media area for a chat with the legendary Max Cavalera who has just arrived on site for his performance on the main stage in an hour or so. After a memorable encounter, we manage to catch the tail end of Alaskan metalcore quartet 36 Crazyfists. It’s their fifth time appearing at Download, and the crowd seem enthusiastic about their set; the mood no doubt helped by the current absence of rain. The setlist is split between tracks from their significantly successful seventh album Time and Trauma which was released earlier this year, and tracks from their fist four records, the last of which was released almost a decade ago. The finale of ‘Slit Wrist Theory’ ends with a very respectable crowd vocal solo for the “Lace me up” outro.
We stay put at the main stage to see Max and Igor’s opening tracks as Cavalera Conspiracy. Kicking off with ‘Babylonian Pandemonium’ from their latest album and ‘Terrorize’ from their debut album, they sound solid and the crowd are definitely engaged. However, as anticipated, things really pick up when they break into the Sepultura classic ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, spurring circle pits to form spontaneously in front of the stage. Alas, another schedule conflict prompts us to leave the Cavalera brothers mid-set, meaning that something special must be on offer elsewhere.
Indeed, the Maverick stage is about to witness a ridiculously entertaining metal band, and word has obviously spread that nearby Nottingham-based Evil Scarecrow are ready to make their premiere Download appearance. The tent is already full to the brim before the band even take to the stage, and from the moment they do so, the crowd are loving every second of it; waving puppet scarecrows, giant homemade crab-claws and bouncing inflatable crabs (in anticipation of the crabtastic track ‘Crabulon’). This is a band that have to be seen live to be fully appreciated; just leave your serious death-metal mindset at home and enjoy their self-professed Blue-Peter metal. Quickly noticing that some fans were missing out, frontman Dr. Rabid Hell asks everyone to take three steps forward to cram as many people as possible into the confines of the big top. He proudly declares that Evil Scarecrow are “the best band you will see this weekend. In this tent. At one o’clock on Sunday.” With insane performances of tracks including ‘Rise’, ‘Robototron’, ‘Space Dementia’, ‘Crabulon’ and even the Thundercats theme song, Evil Scarecrow rightly earn themselves the honour of being one of the most talked about bands of the festival.
After some lunch we return to the Maverick stage for one of the so-called “secret” bands of the weekend. Thanks to internet spoilers, nobody is surprised to see the Hawkins brothers parading through and over the crowd as The Darkness kick off their set in what must be the most crowded tent of the weekend. Encouraged by a fresh downpour of thundery rain, thousands of people push their way in to try to catch a glimpse of the Lowestoft lads. It’s a hugely popular performance with tracks from their hit 2003 album Permission To Land prompting almost deafening sing-alongs. Unfortunately, due to the massive popularity, there is no point in fighting our way in, just to fight our way back out again, so we make our first visit of the day to the Zippo Encore Stage instead.
As we arrive, Godsmack are launching into the title track from their 2014 album 1000hp in front of a gathering smaller than we would have expected. Sully Erna manages to get the initially underwhelming audience moving and the numbers swell as the set progresses. During ‘Whatever’ Erna brings a camera woman onstage and promises to put the video footage on their next DVD, urging fans to open up the pits. Maybe weariness is kicking in, but we get the feeling that Godsmack don’t get the love they deserve here today.
Over on the main stage, Billy Idol is about to start but we decide to observe from afar. Not being big fans, the majority of his set did little to engage us, apart from the better known tracks like ‘White Wedding’ and an extended version of ‘Rebel Yell’ which did seem to get a good reaction and sing-along from the crowd. More up our street, are the New York hardcore punk four-piece Madball. There are still half-inflated crabs floating around the tent as they blast out their short and brutal songs while charging around the stage aggressively. Despite forming in the late eighties as a side project of Agnostic Front and releasing no less than eight studio albums, vocalist Freddy Cricien informs us that this is the bands first appearance at a UK festival. He gives a special shout-out to Billy Idol, commenting “Don’t pretend that you don’t like at least one of his songs”; and he’s probably right.
On the walk from the Maverick stage to the Zippo stage, we catch a few minutes of Slash (featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators) on the mainstage. Pandering to the audience, their setlist includes four Guns n’ Roses tracks and a Velvet Revolver track, despite having two full albums of original material with Kennedy and co. Of course, classics like ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and ‘Paradise City’ are sure-fire winners, and the crowd lap them up.
Swedish metallers In Flames are in full swing when we reach the second stage and once again, this venue has failed to attract a particularly impressive gathering. All four members of the band seem to be really enjoying their performance regardless, and interact regularly with the fans, smiling and waving at them and generally putting on a really great show. Vocalist Anders Fridén confesses “It’s easy for us to do what we do. You guys are the real troopers”, referring to the terrible weather and conditions throughout the weekend. As they finish their set with ‘Take This Life’ from their 2006 album Come Clarity, Anders has some parting advice; “Don’t waste your life on bad beer”. Perhaps not the most useful advice to give at a festival serving 85,000 people from tents, but noted, nonetheless.
We decide to give Mötley Crüe a miss in favour of holding a decent spot at the Zippo stage to see groove metal giants Lamb Of God as the crowd suddenly swells in anticipation of their show. With tragedies and memoirs now behind him, Randy Blythe is free to focus on doing what he does best; ripping it up onstage. He leads LoG through a barrage of neck-breaking tracks starting with ‘Desolation’ from their last album Resolution. The setlist even includes two songs (‘512’ and ‘Still Echoes’) from their upcoming record VII: Sturm und Drang which is due to be released at the end of July. Drummer Chris Adler is observed wearing a Megadeth t-shirt, reminding us that he recently replaced Shawn Drover on drums for the as-yet untitled 15th Megadeth album. The crowd let loose with whatever energy they have left after a long weekend of metal, beer and camping, and turbulent circle pits erupt in multiple locations.
As the festival nears the end, we return to the main stage for the final time to see old school legends Kiss. Generations of fans are gathered in their tens of thousands to watch the spectacular show; many men women and children with painted faces paying tribute to the icons of glam metal. Their set opens with ‘Detroit Rock city’ and draws heavily on tracks from their 1976 album Destroyer along with other seventies gems from their incredible 24-album back catalogue. Even as the festival draws to a close, we are rudely reminded about my opening observation regarding “the curse of choice” at Download, and decide to make one final visit to the Jake stage.
And so, our final Download band is none other than a long-time personal favourite, Californian crossover thrashers Suicidal Tendencies. With only Mike Muir remaining from the early days of the band during which most of the songs performed tonight were written and recorded, it is surreal to see him charging around the stage like a hyperactive kid dosed up on skittles and red bull. Playing a few songs from his debut self-titled album, it was great to see and hear enthusiastic audience participation in the smallest tent at 11pm on Sundaynight. The chanting of “S, T” during ‘Pledge Your Allegiance’ will be my lasting memory of the climatic finale of Download 2015 for me. Sorry, Kiss!