The last day of a festival is always the hardest, with energy levels ebbing and mosh pit bruises racking up. It’s up to Alestorm to bring up the mood, which they do admirably. Still, it’s a shame the pirate party metal band known for their drinking songs were placed on Sunday. This is the day half the festival packs up and drives home in the evening, and the other half is already half-dead from a weekend of going hard. Regardless the band put in an outstanding performance. Their cover of Taio Cruz’s Hangover goes down a treat, while new songs from Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum fit in seamlessly.
Rise Against were up next. Here’s a band that has no qualms mixing politics with music, and over twenty years since their inception, they’re no less passionate. Tim McIlrath explains the band’s stance succinctly; “We sing songs about revolution. There is no racism in revolution.” Prayer of the Refugee is sadly more relevant than ever, but it’s closer Saviour that really gets the crowd going – overall, a solid performance.
Due to our own mistake, we only caught the last few songs from Baroness. If you’ve tried their music but ended up not loving it, seeing them live may be what you need to change your mind. Everything sounds heavier, faster and rougher, and the band seem to enjoy themselves as much as the crowd.
Initially, I’d planned to see Orbit Culture, a rising star in the melodic death metal scene. Instead, I was convinced to stay for Skillet, so we didn’t lose our place in the busy crowd for later bands. While I enjoyed Skillet as a teenager, I’d long forgotten about them and didn’t have high hopes. I’m pleased to say that they completely surpassed my expectations. Drummer and backing vocalist Jennifer Carole Ledger was particularly impressive; her ferrous drumming style really elevates the band’s songs above the studio recordings.
The Darkness always puts on a great show. Justin Hawkins is immediately likeable and sounds incredible live. While they’ve declined in popularity since the early 2000’s when they could sell out arena tours, the band seem to be much in a much healthier state, and I’m glad they’re still around. Hearing thousands of people sing along in their best falsetto to classics such as Get Your Hands Off of My Women, and I Believe in A Thing Called Love is almost as entertaining as the band.
If you’d told me parody band Steel Panther would be headlining the second stage a few years ago, I would have laughed at the absurdity, but on this occasion, I’m glad to be proven wrong. Not only are they brilliant musicians, but they’ve also come a long way as comedians, and the set is as much about the banter as it is the music. The spot-on, albeit tasteless, impression of Ozzy Osbourne during a cover of Crazy Train is a particular highlight. It was also nice to see Justin Hawkins from The Darkness return to sing on Party All Day, which he sang on Steel Panther’s debut album many years ago.
Finally, it was time for the Sunday headliner and the last band of the weekend, Biffy Clyro. It’s a disappointing turnout for the band, attracting by far the smallest crowd of any headliner. The audience only diminishes in a steady stream as the band plod through their set. There were a few of the theatrics seen from previous headliners this weekend aside from a flashy light show. Biffy’s performance is by no means a disaster, but it’s a decidedly dull affair and a disappointing way to end the festival. Admittedly, I may be missing something as my interest in the band peaked with the Puzzle album which I’m told is far from a fan favourite.
Before signing off this year’s review, it’s worth taking a moment to talk about the festival’s organization. The changes to the layout were somewhat contentious. Still, as someone who’s experienced the washouts of previous years, I can understand the reasoning behind moving the village to a tarmacked area – the only issue is that the inevitable doghouse (the entertainment area) mosh pits did not mix well with hard surfaces. The lack of toilets, urinals and arena bins also caused grumbling and a build-up of litter. I’m sure issues in supply chains due to Brexit and the pandemic contributed to these problems, but here’s hoping they’re fixed next year. On the positive side, security and the other staff we interacted with through the weekend were extremely welcoming and did a fantastic job. Finally, the walk to the arena was far easier than in previous years – a very welcome change!
It was a great feeling to be back at a full-capacity Download Festival once again. While there were a few disappointments, it was an incredible weekend and a reminder of why Download is the UK’s biggest rock and metal festival. Next year we have four full days of music to look forward to for the 25th anniversary. I’m already counting down the days.