Following 2017’s Download Festival excursion which featured the likes of System of a Down, Aerosmith, Rob Zombie, Slayer, Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch and more taking to the hallowed grounds of the UK’s Donington Park, the 2018 edition of the annual rock & metal summer festival event took place throughout the second weekend of June, being host to the likes of headliners Avenged Sevenfold, Guns n’ Roses, Ozzy Osbourne and a multitude of others.
British pop-punks Boston Manor opened the main stage on the first day of music at the festival, and, despite being positioned in a slot where you are simply a warm-up for what is to come later on, Boston Manor did find themselves in front of at least a partial amount of people who were definitely aware of their band’s music. Of course it was never going to be the most euphoric reception to a band, but given the circumstances the response that Boston Manor received from the audience was definitely a positive and could’ve been much different.
Over on the Avalanche stage, or the 3rd stage in simpler terms, Employed to Serve delivered their first performance ever at Download after a surge in popularity and general recognition throughout the last few years, especially after the release of 2017’s ‘The Warmth of a Dying Sun’. With a rightfully deserved packed tent due to this increase in attention, Employed to Serve fortunately got it right and put on one of the most impressive performances not just on this one day in particular but throughout the entirety of the weekend as a whole.
A walk back to the main stage was in order following the conclusion of Employed to Serve’s performance in order to watch UK power-metal favourites Dragonforce. With a new album – ‘Reaching into Infinity’ – having been released last year, their presence at this festival was logical, but nonetheless it was the older material that definitely struck a chord with the audience more. “Cry Thunder” and “Through the Fire and Flames” were played just at the right moments for the set to feel like it was balanced appropriately between old and new.
Stray from the Path and Stick to Your Guns as a consecutive slice of hardcore turned the Avalanche stage into a complete riot. While Employed to Serve a couple of hours before them on the same stage definitely felt like an accomplished performance albeit in front of an audience a considerable amount of whom were unfamiliar with the music, the reception on display for Stray from the Path and Stick to Your Guns – but especially the former of the two – was noticeably greater and was something which definitely had an impact throughout the performances of both bands. Setlist-wise, both bands stuck to primarily what you would expect, with no real surprises dotted anywhere that could be considered a sensible decision given the festival environment in which they were performing.
Korn frontman Jonathan Davis took to the second stage with his solo band shortly afterwards, featuring a certain Ray Luzier on drums. No material from Korn’s extensive and multi-decade discography was performed throughout the duration of Davis’ set perhaps to the disappointment or surprise of some in the audience, as the purpose of the performance was simply to showcase songs from ‘Black Labyrinth’ in a live environment. Given the popularity of Korn throughout the time that Download Festival has existed in the United Kingdom and how high a slot they occupy whenever they play, the audience turnout for Davis’ new band was healthy, but at the same time at least one Korn cover maybe would’ve benefited the performance in terms of audience reaction.
Bullet for My Valentine were up next back over on the main stage, and many questioned the decision to have a band at the career point of Bullet for My Valentine at such a significant position on the line-up. With a generally agreed stellar start which derailed following the release of ‘Temper Temper’ in 2013, and with a new album on the way very shortly, Bullet’s performance was met with an undeniably positive response, but at the same time the insistence on playing new songs when there are a handful of albums full of gems – especially due to a limited festival performance time – was questionable. The usual songs you would expect were of course included, as they should be, but Bullet’s presence as a special guest at a festival of the caliber of Download seems to be more about the band that followed them as much as it is about Bullet for My Valentine specifically.
Napalm Death! Sometimes you just need to squeeze your way into a fully packed tent in the evening to see grindcore’s finest demolish everyone’s ears for 35 minutes. A last minute booking a handful of weeks before the festival took place, Napalm didn’t mess about: ramming all of their most popular tracks as well as some new material into a brutally ferocious blast of extremity. Legitimately despite the unparalleled violence that they manage to conjure up, Napalm Death are such great fun live and a testament to what a band can accomplish when they don’t have fame in mind – just the musical equivalent of being punched in the face. It was so, so good.
And that just leaves headliners Avenged Sevenfold remaining to close out the day’s musical proceedings. With it being their second stint being positioned at the top billing of the festival, and with ex-Bad Religion drummer Brooks Wackerman now in the band in place of Arin Ilejay. A suitably appropriate stage display in terms of pyrotechnics and visual paraphernalia accompanied Avenged’s 16 song setlist, which included obvious staples “Nightmare”, “Bat Country” and “Afterlife”, as well as material from 2016’s ‘The Stage’ and a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, leading to a closing encore of “Shepherd of Fire”, “A Little Piece of Heaven” and finally “Unholy Confessions” to round out both Avenged’s set and the first day of Download Festival 2018.
To summarize, day 1 at Download 2018 went above and beyond what people could’ve hoped for, with top-end performances from a majority of the bands – Avenged Sevenfold, Stray from the Path and more – on display in addition to fantastic weather throughout meaning that the music was the focus, as it should always be.