Download Festival – Donnington Park, Derby – LIVE REVIEW

Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

At first glance Download’s 2018 line up wasn’t exceptional. The headliner choices were barely something to write home about.

Download’s Main Stage has been graced by the likes of Iron Maiden, AC/DC, KISS, Metallica, Def Leppard and Aerosmith to name a few. These aren’t just names, these are the bands that defined the genre.

Can Avenged Sevenfold really be considered of the same ilk? It’s certainly debatable. Should they have been given a chance regardless? Absoloutely! Did they completely crush it proving all of the nay-sayers wrong?


Their set was the kind that would been a sensational ‘just-before-the-headliner slot’, but Download’s top names have historically gone above and beyond (think the ADDITIONAL Main Stage built solely for AC/DC in 2010 and the Boeing 747 worth of production that Iron Maiden brought with them in 2016).

Avenged Sevenfold’s missing of the mark might not have been so noticeable if Marilyn Manson hadn’t entirely annihilated his set before Ozzy on Sunday. The metal icon rocked multiple costume changes, brought out Dani Filth for The Beautiful People and ultimately proved that his and A7X’s sets probably (definitely) should have been switched.

Of all three headliners, Guns ‘n’ Roses were certainly the best of a bad bunch. After more than a few troubled UK festival appearances (look up Download 2006 and Reading 2010) it was nice to see Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan on the stage together in relative harmony.

Guns ‘n’ Roses, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

The truly iconic musicians played for three whole hours, a real headline length set. It was, however, at least an hour more than was necessary.

Guns ‘n’ Roses have an incredible discography and an impressive selection of hits, which were all played to a packed out crowd.

They also took the opportunity to play Velvet Revolver’s (kind of Slash’s) Slither and Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun in an apparent tribute to both Scott Weiland and Chris Cornell.

Other than that, everything else seemed a bit like filler.

It was almost as if Download wasn’t entirely convinced that Axl would make it to the stage on time and frankly who could blame them? But he did, shocking literally everybody, and then had to fill the monstrous time slot.

But at least it wasn’t a quick repeat. We all saw Black Sabbath close Download in 2016. It was brilliant, Ozzy was hilarious and we all ticked them off our ‘bands to see list.’

We didn’t need to see a watered-down version this year in Ozzy Osbourne.

Speaking of 2016, anybody who went to that year’s infamous “Drownload” probably recalls the weekend with a traumatised expression. You can easily tell if someone was there, they suffer crippling flashbacks every time it rains.

Luckily this weekend we were graced with glorious sunshine (though you can only imagine how the goths felt) but 2016’s “Downpour” highlighted that improvements to the site and its facilities were necessary.

It’s hard to tell if all of the improvements they made have worked since, as sods law would have it, what followed was two almost entirely sun-drenched Download’s. The benefits of other changes however are strikingly obvious.

The Dog Squad, for example, work tirelessly. We can tell you this as a matter of fact since we went ahead and spent some time with them over the weekend.

The team you saw paroling the campsites and arena in red hi-vis vests worked eight-hour shifts (including early mornings, over nights and headliner-missing stints) with the sole mission of keeping all festival-goers safe, happy and informed.

From assisting with and reporting medical emergencies to helping you put down your pop-up tents the Dog Squad’s contribution to Download has been immense and meant that if you’re  in need at Download you’re far from being alone.

Their presence is entirely synonymous with the whole vibe of Download Festival.

And that’s ‘the thing’ really isn’t it? No the headliners weren’t up to scratch – but that in no way deterred the true regulars.

Download is, at this point, a tradition. It is one of the few places left on earth where over 100,000 people can celebrate rock music and culture appropriately (e.g in a giant wall of death.)

Besides, you can’t let our negativity convince you that Download’s line-up was a wreck this year. Far. From. It.

Any line up that includes Babymetal gets the afterLIVE seal of approval, even though we suspect that they somehow started the apocalypse weather two years ago.

Babymetal, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

Babymetal are the most original and entrancing band in the universe right now.

Their set began, as ever, with an informative short film before four (yes four, we were expecting three too, we’ve looked into it, we can’t explain it so we’re just going with it) young Japanese girls exploded onto the stage in authentic costume and delivered spotless, and at this point classic, dance routines.

If you have a spare afternoon, translate some of Babymetal lyrics, you won’t regret it. If you’re still not sold after that (you will be) then just remember that in their high pitched, ‘kawai’, voices these girls DEMAND circle pits and wall of deaths and THEY GET THEM.

Sticking with the Zippo Encore Stage (because honestly that’s what Download was all about this year) You Me At Six made a glorious festival return.

You Me At Six, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

For the past couple of years YMAS have made historic appearances at Reading and Leeds Festival with a secret set in 2016 and a headline slot on the NME/Radio One Stage in 2017.

But both their last album, Night People, and the two tracks released from upcoming album, VI, are much heavier offerings than the band are noted for so a Download appearance makes total sense.

They fit this slot PERFECTLY. Playing a barrage of old (Save It For The Bedroom was knocked out) and new (Fast Forward is damn good live) Josh Franceschi looked like he was having the time of his life.

It’s been a sketchy few months for Franceschi what with cheating on his fiance and effectively pissing off his entire fan base – but if there’s one thing he can do well it’s laugh at himself. He said openly that he told Andy Copping that if he called…they would come…and that he called…and that they came…and that they all enjoyed themselves very much.

It’s immature, but it was funny and it’s that rapport that helped him retain his dedicated fans. We EAGERLY await the UK tour in November. We’ve been promised more old stuff and we plan on holding them against it. 

Sticking with the Zippo Encore Stage (are you getting the point we’re trying to make?) Andrew WK is insane.

Genuinely, he’s crazy.

Andrew WK, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

If that picture hasn’t convinced you (it MUST have) then perhaps the fact that he played a pizza shaped guitar OR the fact that he decided to do a countdown before performing the BANGER Party Hard.

 Alright, that last one sounds pretty standard but the crowd were primed to countdown from 10, 20 at a push, but not our Andrew. It was only when he screamed “100” that we realised the gravity of the situation and only when he got to around “75” that we realised he truly meant to see this thing through.

Over on the Main Stage (okay some good things did happen there) Cradle of Filth took their rightful place as scene legends. Dani Filth is as entwined in this culture as you’re able to be and Cradle of Filth are “actually one of the best contemporary dark-wave bands in the world” (thanks IT Crowd).

Cradle of Filth, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

Approaching the stage in full costume and make up, even in the blistering heat, it was clear they were bringing their A-game and that’s exactly what they did.

Guitarist Richard Shaw is not only a phenomenal player but his performance is incredibly unnerving and totally fantastic. Singling out individuals in the crowd, he secures eye contact and then falls into a series of robotic movements repeatedly throughout the set. It’s a small thing, but it’s entrancing.

Back on the Zippo Encore Stage (tempted to start calling it ‘the real main stage’) Hell Is For Heroes gave a truly emotional set all the more heightened by vocalist Justin Schlosberg bringing his son out on stage. The young-un sat bewildered on his father’s shoulders and we all wept together.

Hell is for Heroes, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

Talking of emotion – nobody brought it more than Nothing More, a band whose name is completely apt since they could not, possibly, bring more to their set if they tried.

Nothing More, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

They played on the Zippo Encore Stage (shocking) and brought with them a small drum rig that turned out to have full freaking hydraulics and an on-board Theremin. It really made up for the ‘no-shirt no-shoes’ approach.

However, the award for ‘most given physically’ has to go to CKY, who literally gave blood to the performance.

Vocalist Chad Ginsburg took a stroll down the front of the stage (it was the Zippo Encore one) but his guitar caught up in the rigging on the way back and forcefully smacked him in the face. Blood quickly poured down his left eye in Tarantino-like squirts.

CKY, Download Festival – Donnington Park, 08.06.2018 Photo Credit: Hayley Smith

Roadies tried to offer towels and assistance but Ginsburg turned them down, opting instead to smear the blood over his whole face and continue. Pure rock ‘n’ roll.

With all of those stand out performances, the festival was rescued. Overall it was a sensational weekend, as Download always is.

The spiritual home of rock music may not have delivered a tear-worthy headliner display but that only really meant that there were fewer clashes than we’re use to seeing.

But anybody who went to Download and doesn’t say that they were humbled by it’s sheer scale and good time vibe is lying to you.

Long live Download Festival! (Just get some better headliners please. Thanks)