June of each year marks the return of Download Festival, the UK’s most prestigious music event in terms of British rock and metal culture. This review solely covers the bands I saw on the Friday of the festival, with the bands I saw on the Saturday and the Sunday coming in other articles.
Australian prog-metalcore favourites Northlane opened the main stage on the first full day of music at Download Festival, following the release of their fourth studio album ‘Mesmer’ a few months ago in March. The songs “Citizen”, “Intuition” and “Solar” from the band’s new full-length release accompanied material from their previous work, but in general it felt a little bit underwhelming due to the genuinely huge open space that Download takes place in, and it is easy for some bands to feel tiny in comparison to that gargantuan field in front of them.
Motionless in White followed, and again another band armed with a brand new album in ‘Graveyard Shift’. What was definitely apparent from the get-go when it comes to Motionless in White is how impressive they were especially considering it was my first time seeing them live. Numerous times over the course of the Download weekend I enjoyed bands more because other people there were obvious converts, and it was clear that the band members themselves were delighted to be playing on the main stage in a locale like Donington Park.
Up next was Code Orange who were assigned to perform in the Avalanche tent stage, the bigger of the two tent stages at this year’s Download Festival. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I was to refer to Code Orange as without a doubt the best live set that I saw across the entire day. If you like heavy, aggressive music (which most likely you do because you’re reading this on a metal website) then you have to check this band out. They were so much better this time than they were the previous time I saw them supporting Gojira. A special nod has to go out to the crowd as well – never before have I seen people jumping off their friends’ shoulders at the barrier as opposed to stage diving. Code Orange made that tent feel like the most exciting place on the planet for the duration of their set. Unbelievable.
A trip back to the main stage was in need in order for me to see Mastodon for the second time, following their headline performance at the UK’s Bloodstock Open Air festival in August of last year. The band performed really well and it was great to see them include some of the better material from their new album ‘Emperor of Sand’, but the only obvious downfall was the band’s reluctance to perform “The Motherload”, “Blood and Thunder”, “Curl of the Burl” and so many of their other acclaimed songs. That sort of thing can make or break a festival set and it was disappointing to walk away at the end of it having heard none of those songs be played. A wasted opportunity in my opinion, but aside from that it was an undeniably professional display from Mastodon.
Five Finger Death Punch (one of Download’s two favorite ever bands, the other one is coming on Sunday’s review) came up next, and the only way to describe their set was like being surrounded by a field of people who were having the time of their lives while I was not nearly as accustomed to the band’s music. I’m not a Five Finger Death Punch fan if I’m being honest, but I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy their performance – more so the fact that everyone else was having a blast made me dig their set even more than I usually would have – a good way to start off the evening of the first day of music at Download Festival. Plus “Jekyll & Hyde” sounded absolutely massive.
Like with Code Orange earlier on in the day, one of the best things about rock music is getting to see the new and upcoming bands be fantastic. The next band I saw, Venom Prison, is another gleaming example of that. If you like the thought of a band mixing the death metal-ridden brutality of Morbid Angel’s‘Altars of Madness’ with the ‘I want to end your life’ violence of Converge’s‘Jane Doe’, then this band are absolutely for you. Venom Prison were one of the true highlights of that entire day, and it’s so ace to see their profile building more and more following a tour with Suicide Silence in the UK. They’re also touring with Aversions Crown soon so if you’re able to catch them live make sure you do it – they are a real gem of a band. Plus they played “Celestial Patricide” – CELESTIAL PATRICIDE!
Prophets of Rage, the recently formed supergroup featuring members of Cypress Hill, Rage Against the Machine, and Public Enemy, was given the coveted special guest slot on the first full day of music at the 2017 edition of Download Festival. All curiosity and skepticism regarding how the set would go down instantly vanished when “Testify”, “Bombtrack”, “Know Your Enemy”, “Sleep Now in the Fire”, “Bulls on Parade” and a multitude of other classic songs both by Rage Against the Machine and also Cypress Hill, Public Enemy and Audioslave came roaring out of the speakers at the crowd that evening. It was the closest I’ll ever come to seeing Rage Against the Machine live and the tribute to the late great Chris Cornell in the performance of “Like a Stone” was so special. Them ending on “Killing in the Name” as well made Prophets of Rage was one of the best treats of the entire weekend at Download Festival, and getting to see Tom Morello play guitar was one of the best things I saw that day.
Friday was brought to a close with the main stage headlining set provided by System of a Down. What should be made very apparent from the get-go is that the lack of new music from this band over the last 10+ years is definitely something that strikes you, but is also something that becomes less and less concerning when you’re hit with “Prison Song”, “Violent Pornography” and “Aerials” almost consecutively to kick things off. Things definitely went up and down in terms of the quality of the performance and it really dipped off in the middle before picking back up towards the end with “Toxicity” and “Sugar”. System of a Down have headlined this festival three times now (including their 2017 performance) and have yet to really conquer it in the same way that say Slipknot did with their first headline slot in 2009. Nonetheless, I got to see System of a Down after waiting for 11 years to see them live so for me to say I didn’t enjoy it would be a lie.