FESTIVAL REVIEW: DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL 2019 Live at Donington Park, UK – Day 1 (Friday)
And with the arrival of June marks the beginning of the festival season in the UK for another year, which means that the first major event on the itinerary is the annual Download Festival, held at the Donington Park circuit in Castle Donington most notable for the Monsters of Rock festivals of the 1980s and 1990s. This time headlined by Def Leppard, Slipknot, and Tool alongside a plethora of other acts including Halestorm, Whitesnake, Slayer, The Smashing Pumpkins, Skindred, Behemoth and more, this year’s festival marked the 16th edition of the event since its inception in 2003.
Set to a prominent backdrop of substantial, but not severe, mud and rain in the main arena, GroundCulture opened the festival’s 4th stage with immediate effect. For a band that is essentially at the bottom of a line-up to have this much of an impact both musically and in terms of crowd energy is incredibly commendable. Hardcore bands naturally fit enclosed spaces when it comes to live performance as opposed to large outdoor stages, so GroundCulture were in their element here. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the next band to play – Those Damn Crows – who themselves delivered an undeniably impressive performance but the energy and atmosphere in the crowd did feel like it had dropped significantly, resulting in a good display from the musicians on stage but not one to remember in terms of an electrifying crowd presence.
Over on the 2nd stage, the smaller of the festival’s two outdoor performance areas, Kvelertak hailing from Norway returned to Download following their last performance at this festival two years ago. Relying on pre-existing material that fans are already familiar with, Kvelertak again displayed why they’re one of the most notable metal bands of this decade with their mix of on-stage musicianship and theatricality that makes them stick in the memory more often than not. Setlist-wise, the group’s self-named track and “Blodtorst” among others made their way into Friday’s set, giving something back to those who have paved the way for Kvelertak to be able to play on a stage such as this.
The beauty of main stage performances, and indeed performances on any stage, at festivals is that you can be introduced to bands you had previously not heard of thus paving the way for people to discover new artists. Clutch took full advantage of this for their main stage slot: regular setlist mainstays “X-Ray Visions” and “Electric Worry” accompanied a variety of other Clutch tracks which together made for one of the most enjoyable performances of the day. Clutch are one of those bands that are so consistently entertaining live regardless of where you see them, and it’s difficult to beat Clutch at a festival like Download.
Due to Donington Park’s Monsters of Rock legacy with AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, and others have graced the stages of festivals held here for decades, part of Download’s DNA at this point is to hold a classic rock-themed day as a tribute to the festivals of long ago. With headliners Def Leppard only a few hours away, Whitesnake took to the stage to kick off the mood of the day in an appropriate fashion. In terms of timeless glam rock/metal (for lack of a better term), there aren’t many bands that do it better than a David Coverdale-fronted Whitesnake. With all the expected anthems plus “Trouble is Your Middle Name” amongst others and guitar/drum solos, Whitesnake’s return to Donington Park felt like a fitting one.
As far as I’m concerned, Download’s 3rd stage – albeit a large tent – is the best of the festival’s 4 stages, as it perfectly balances substantial intimacy between band and audience as well as being able to cram in a lot of people so that the energy is always top notch. Californian ska punks The Interrupters secured their slot at this stage for a Friday performance and were easily one of the best bands I saw throughout the entire day. Taking influence from various punk-influenced bands of the 90s and 2000s, The Interrupters ripped their way through a 9 song setlist that comprised original material as well as brief, but fitting, tributes to Metallica, Green Day, and Rancid. All in all an undeniably impressive performance from a band I admittedly had little knowledge of before seeing them live.
While Download is not solely a metal festival, it definitely does embrace that side of the musical spectrum, and even more so in terms of Friday night’s billing on the 4th stage. A one-two slab of brutality beginning with Ne Obliviscaris and finishing with At the Gates couldn’t have been more perfect for those in attendance wishing for a lot more aggression to end the first day of music at the festival. While At the Gates have had decades to carefully construct and refine their musical personality and in the process contribute significantly to the evolution of melodic extreme metal, Ne Obliviscaris comparatively are a lot newer to the scene in general. However, this meant nothing as both bands brought their absolute all in their unique ways allowing for the Friday to draw to a close with some incredibly intense music.
And finally, amongst the rain and the mud that had plagued Donington since the festival gates opened two days previously, the first of Download 2019’s three headliners Def Leppard took to the main stage. 8 years since their last headline slot in 2011 and with the added bonus of a front to back performance of the group’s 1987 career defining album Hysteria, Def Leppard felt like a wise choice for an opening headline slot given the appearances of contemporaries Kiss and Aerosmith as headliners in recent years. Performance wise Def Leppard were absolutely up to par with no real obvious hindrances that might plague a band as far into their tenure as Def Leppard in the live department, but in general, it was a success and a great way to kick off the three days of music at Download 2019.
With day 1 of music at Donington finished and the prospect of two more days to come, Download’s attendees dispersed into the night to prepare for day 2 and Slipknot’s quickly approaching Saturday night headline performance. You can read all about that in the Saturday review of Download Festival 2019.