FESTIVAL REVIEW: DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL UK 2022 Live at Donington Park, UK – Day 1 (Friday)
It’s been three long years since Download Festival opened its gates to full capacity. Last year’s pilot festival was an incredible and surreal experience but was limited to 10,000 attendees. This year the UK’s largest rock and metal festival returns with full force with a brand-new setup and some of the biggest names in the industry.
Theory provided our first taste of the main stage experience. In our circles, there was a bit of confusion around who Theory were. The band, previously called Theory of a Deadman, changed its name in 2017 with the release of their sixth studio album “Wake Up Call”, explaining that “discussions involving the name of their band with people who are unfamiliar with their music was challenging.” Unfortunately, most people I spoke to weren’t aware of this, which may have contributed to the smaller than usual crowd. Their set was short and sweet with a run-through of their most popular songs only interjected with brief crowd interaction and a couple of strange, 30-second mini covers including Pantera’s “Walk”. All in all, a solid if perhaps slightly uninspiring start to the day.
Next up were Bury Tomorrow whose intense touring schedule and brilliant last album “Cannibal” have seen the band climbing in popularity, particularly in the UK. The removal of Jason Cameron in 2021 had many fans worried but today’s showing showed the band have nothing to worry about. For the first time this weekend, the circle pits opened, and fans made a good attempt at beating the “unofficial Download crowd surfing record.” Their newer material received the biggest reception from the crowd, marking Bury Tomorrow as a band at the top of their game.
Moving over to the smallest Avalanche Stage, we went to check out a relatively new artist’s first festival performance. Kid Brunswick creates an eclectic style of music that blends modern pop and rap sensibilities with some nu-metal bounce and 90s rock, and punk attitude. It’s the kind of thing that will send metal traditional running but for those looking for something different, there’s something truly special here. Despite admitting to nerves Kid Brunswick sounds massive, particularly on his unreleased tracks. I’m sure he’s going to go far, though I’m not convinced Download is really the right venue for attracting new fans – his style is more likely to appeal to audiences somewhere like Reading or Leeds festival.
Skindred, on the other hand, has become synonymous with Download. Every time I see them the crowd is bigger, and today they attract more people than some headliners. Benji Webb is a brilliant frontman, full of confidence and impossible to look away from. The new song “Smile” doesn’t quite have the same impact as their heavier material but by the time “Nobody” and “Warning” comes around no one is doubting that Skindred are one of the best live bands currently going.
Whoever booked Sleep Token for the smallest stage made a mistake. Squeezing into the tent for their set was a challenge and there were plenty of people stuck outside, forced to watch through the entrances. The band has clearly gained fans since last year with the majority of the crowd singing along through their booming set. It’s an enrapturing performance and even after they’ve left the audience remains to chant “Sleep Token”, seemingly unwilling to accept that the performance was already over.
Frank Carter left me impressed at last year’s pilot festival. This year unfortunately left me disappointed in comparison. Things start well with Frank clambering over the crowd, bantering with the crowd, and generally being his high-energy self. The pacing begins to get thrown off with gaps in the set while he fiddles with his phone before awkwardly calling his family on facetime. By the time “I Hate You” comes around Franks barely singing, leaving it to the crowd instead. It was still an enjoyable gig but a long way from his best performance.
Kiss are back for their fifth headline performance at Donnington but there’s a melancholy edge; this will be their last performance before they throw in the towel after nearly five decades of touring. Kiss live shows have always been as much about the spectacle and entertainment as they are about the music but tonight feels a little bit by the numbers. After so many years performing they still sound great but, at least for the first half of the show, they seem to be on autopilot. Elongated and frankly not very interesting drum and guitar solos also contributed to the feeling of time stretching on. By the second half of their two-hour set things begin to improve, particularly during Love Gun and I Was Made For Loving You. When the last notes of closer Rock N’ Roll All Nite roll out and the fireworks stop blasting Kiss have successfully turned things around but it’s unlikely to go down as one of their more memorable sets.
Day 1 was somewhat of a mixed bag with the newer bands putting on better shows than the veterans. It’s a shame to say goodbye to Kiss, but thankfully next generation of rock and metal artists certainly have the talent to headline down the road – Skindred 2030 anyone? Thankfully, things were just getting started with two long days of music ahead and a weather forecast that defies British expectations.