Co-authored by Mark Wrigley.

The annual pilgrimage to the home of rock, Donington Park, has been a firm favourite here at TINAS Towers whether it be under the original moniker of “Monster Of Rock”, the short term stepping stone that was “Ozzfest”, or modern day behemoth that is “Download”. It is always special coming back to the spiritual home of live Rock and Metal and this year was no exception. As usual, the haters had been out in force on the various forums and social media sites, bashing the line up saying that it’s not metulz enough… Dom Lawson’s post on the Metal Hammer blog pretty much summed this up earlier in the year! But that’s the past and this is now so it’s time for Team TINAS to roll up our sleeves and let down our hair (well, those of us that have any…) and get this party started!

Walking along the circuit road, down towards the festival entrance never fails to send a shiver down the spine, the anticipation, the excitement and the sense of camaraderie amongst the metal brothers and sisters, along with the added spirituality that Donington has, makes Download special and that can never be taken away.

Anyway, enough of all this emo-like nonsense, this is a rock and metal festival so let’s get on with the action… Opening the Red Bull Bedroom Jam Stage was Danish dark rockers Kellermensch, the sextet wasted no time in getting on with the action. Their dark ramblings, a combination of elements from Tom Waits to Neurosis and a little of everything in between! Guitars, bass, drums and vocals were joined by an organ, double bass and violin to create a powerful, yet morose sound. Despite many of the festival goers still outside the gates, still putting up tents or at the other stages and attractions, Kellermensch managed to pull in a healthy crowd.  Stand out tracks from the set were ‘Army Ants’ and the very impressive ‘The Day You Walked’.

Wes Scantlin hasn’t changed. Puddle Of Mudd haven’t changed, so perhaps arriving early doors to the main stage at Download wasn’t doing Scantlin and Co any favours. The hoards of fans are still arriving or pitching tents, and more importantly stocking up on beer tokens and starting the three day weekend lubrication rituals as the Kansas rockers take the stage. Opening shot of ‘Out Of My Head’ passes by without incident or great impact. Scantlin‘s vocals rasping and raw without packing any real punches. Listenable and suitable drinking music without getting overly worked up. However, one way of getting metal heads to sit up and take note, is to throw in something instantly recognisable, and throwing out ‘War Pigs’, even in a base riff form during ‘Control’ does exactly that. Heads snap towards the stage, people take note, suddenly Puddle Of Mudd have the crowd and Scantlin becomes the conductor. The Puddlers only have time to give us six tracks, (four of which hail from their breakthrough album “Come Clean”), and it’s their last two tracks that stand out. A cover of AC/DC‘s ‘T.N.T’. is always going to go down a storm, give a crowd a chance to shout “Oi!” and you are on to a winner, then follow it up with the one everyone really remembers, or at the very least knows the line “She fucking hates me”. A little rough round the edges to start with, but PoM pulled it out of the bag, short sweet and effective… and yet no ‘Blurry’.

Straight after Puddle Of Mudd on the Main Stage was Duff McKagan’s Loaded. Despite being formed back in 1999, Loaded have never really hit the big time. Perhaps this is because Duff has been so busy with the many other bands he has been/is in, taking up all of his time, or perhaps it might be that they are not actually as good as they could be? Now, don’t get me wrong, Duff McKagan is a legend and deserves the utmost respect from everyone but Loaded just somehow leaves us a little cold. Their ten track set, whilst full on energy and vigour, never really set pulses racing or set light to the blue touch paper. The set, including ‘Dead Skin’, ‘Executioner’s Song’, ‘We Win’, ‘Cocaine’, ‘Sleaze Factory’, ‘Sick’ and ‘Lords Of Abaddon’, from their own material was highlighted by the set’s two closing tracks, the covers of ‘Attitude’ and ’It’s So Easy’, by Misfits and Guns ‘N’ Roses respectively. Which, we think, kind of illustrates the point we’re trying to make…

Never fear though, because if ever there was a perfect band for a late afternoon Rock Festival slot, it’s Southern blues tinged rockers Black Stone Cherry. As the sun shines and the beers flow BSC front man Chris Robertson takes to the main stage with his “boys”, nonchalantly chucks his cigarette aside and delivers gravel kissed vocals over huge groove laden riffs. ‘Change’, ‘Blind Man’ and ‘Rain Wizard’ go down like liquid nectar to the appreciative masses, before eyebrows, smiles and pint pots are raised to one of the best cover versions of the weekend. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is given the Black Stone Cherry treatment, rocked up and dirtied, Adele herself would probably have knocked back a few whiskey’s and a few fags in approval. A modern day Lynyrd Skynyrd, BSC are fluid and rocking. Tracks from the belting “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea” sit neatly along side earlier material. ‘White Trash Millionaire’ forging an early favourite amongst the tracks from the whole festival, and ‘Blame It On The Boom-Boom’ delivering a great Main Stage bouncer of a track. Announcing the forthcoming tour with Alter Bridge, Robertson is cooler than than a frozen penguin, and he and his crew make short work of ten tracks in 45 minutes. Top band, top set, top performance and definitely winning so far on the “Boobs on the Big Screen Counter”.

As is inevitable with festivals of this magnitude, there are bound to be clashes, so it’s time for team TINAS to spilt up, as possibly the best Thin Lizzy cover band ever take the stage… going under the moniker ‘Thin Lizzy‘ the current form just shows what an institution this band is. It’s not just a band, it’s a rite of rock passage. Fronted by former Almighty vocalist Ricky Warwick, his “Norn Iron” lilt gives such huge authenticity to the classics. 9 tracks of pure nostalgia are delivered with passion and professionalism. Without a doubt, Scott Gorham is a fretboard legend, and supported by Axl Rose‘s hired gun Richard Fortus, ‘Waiting For An Alibi’, ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ and ‘Jailbreak’ are all given current twists. A completely solid set that fits in with the festival feel. A “surprise” appearance from Leps guitarist Vivian Campbell for ‘The Boys Are Back’ is an expected move, but in all Thin Lizzy deliver great songs to enjoy your pints to, great songs to tap your feet, nod your head and sing along to… without peaking too soon.

Over at the Pepsi Max tent Asking Alexandria took to the stage, the tent was rammed, there was standing room only but that was outside… The boys from York have garnered a big following in the UK thanks in no small part to their latest album “Reckless & Relentless”. Danny Worsnop was orchestrating things from the front, the huge crowd lapping up his every word! Blasting through their 30 minute set with the intent of causing as much aural carnage as they could muster, and succeeding! The crowd favourites, ‘Final Episode (Let’s Change The Channel)’ and ‘Not The Average American’, went down a treat, in fact, the whole set had the crowd beaming from ear to ear and bouncing high enough to frighten the planes landing at East Midlands Airport…

Hurtling back to the Main Stage, the crowd numbers are rising, as is the temperature and the anticipation. Next up we have one of the top picks for this half of Team TINAS. The intro music to ‘Slip to the Void’ reverberates through the P.A. as everyone in front of the stage shuffles forward a few paces before Messers Kennedy, Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips bounce on to stage. Alter Bridge are huge and on fire, their rise and popularity now cemented with the announcement and confirmation of the arena tour with Black Stone Cherry, and if the heaving throng in front of the main stage is anything to go by, you’d be advised to get tickets as soon as you can when they go on sale June 17th. Myles Kennedy has vocal abilities men would kill for and clearly women remove their tops for as ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘Ghosts Of Days Gone By’ send the “Big Screen Boob Counter” off the chart. Tremonti is a fretboard acrobat, mesmerising as he shreds with such fluidity. Believe the hype, Alter Bridge are serious contenders, and everything today is spot on. Kennedy‘s vocals soar over intense riffs, and as Tremonti rips into the opening for ‘Isolation’ the thousands in front explode. Not only catering for de-clothing women, AB also cater for guitar geeks, all the wannabe fretboard fondlers can stand open mouthed, as we allow Tremonti and Kennedy to “shred off” with duelling guitars. Self indulgent of course, but Alter Bridge are allowed, they don’t take the piss, effective and short enough to hold everyone’s attention…we’ll forgive them for showing off. ‘Rise Today’ rounds off a real belter and possibly the performance of the day. These boys are flying, “ABIII” is a huge album, and it wont be long before these boys could become the main draw.

Meanwhile, back at the Red Bull Stage Oaf; what can you say about Oaf? The south coast ‘drum and bass’ duo, consisting of legendary music scribe Dom Lawson and the quintessential English gentleman James Rayment, took to the Red Bull Bedroom Jam stage. The large crowd consisting of industry hacks, friends of the band and more than a few passers by were bombarded with tracks from Oaf’s debut album “Botheration”, such as ‘The Oafature’, ‘Euphamism For Tits’, ‘I’m Retarded’, ‘Tiny When Erect’ and the awesome ‘No More Tickets For The Time Machine’, as well as new tracks ‘Marker Pen Cocks’ and the snooker inspired ‘Terrors’. Dom Lawson was his usual self, regaling the crowd with funny little anecdotes and stories behind the tracks, and genuinely seemed chuffed to bits to be treading the boards on the hallowed turf of Donington. Main stage headliners for 2012? Only time will tell…

On leaving the tent following the Oafslaught, we encountered a huge mass of bodies all looking on one direction. There were so many of them we couldn’t quite make out what was happening? That was until, in the far distance, on the Jägermeister stage, we could just make out Benji Webbe and Mikey Demus of Skindred mesmerizing the masses with a headline acoustic set. We missed the opening couple of tracks as the start of the set clashed with Oaf’s set but we managed to catch ‘Trouble’, ‘Cut Dem’, ‘Nobody’ and ‘Warning’. As usual, Benji was the Master of Ceremonies, controling the crowd to his every whim but also inbetween tracks Benji revealed that Skindred had won the ‘Commitment To Music Award (The Devotion Award)’ at the Kerrang! Awards the previous night. We love Skindred and catching the majority of this set was a huge bonus. Roll on Saturday and their performance on the Main Stage…

No Download Festival would be complete without an appearance from Killswitch Engage, or at least the stage antics of KSE’s charismatic axe man Adam Dutkiewicz. This year we were not to be let down as Times Of Grace, Adam D’s new project alongside one time KSE frontman Jesse Leach, exploded onto the Pepsi Max stage to a packed house, rapturous welcome! Fellow KSE guitarist Joel Stroetzel was also part of the touring band with Shadows Fall guitarist Matt Bachand on Bass duties and Dan Gluszak on drums. Adam D was much more sombrely attired than previous years, no Mexican wrestlers mask or cape to be seen but he did have a little game peep-o with the crowd from behind some stage gear. Times Of Grace kicked off with the anthemic ‘Strength in Numbers’, then straight into ‘Willing’, ‘Hope Remains’ and ‘Fight For Life’ before Adam D reverted to type and mentions waking up with his Download boner… much to the delight of the crowd. Leach, who was performing in only his third ever show in the UK, was visibly overwhelmed by the response from the crowd to Times Of Grace, but he was loving it and duly delivered a storming performance. The set continued with ‘Until The Ends Of Days’, ‘Live In Love’ and ‘Worlds Apart’. Leach then introduced ‘Hymn Of A Broken Man’ as a song very personal to him and his struggles before rounding off the set with ‘Where The Spirits Lead Me’… I thought there might be a KSE cover in there, especially ‘My Last Serenade’ but I guess that’s all in the past, and this was all about now and  Times Of Grace.

The Main Stage main event tonight is none other than Britain’s own Def Leppard serving up a feast of classic hits… or at least that’s what we had hoped. Joe Elliott’s vocals are huge, the band are full of energy, yet there seems to be a little too much of an ebb and flow to their fizz. Following such a legendary set in 2009 we were expecting more of the same, but it wasn’t until the third track that things really seemed to take off with ‘Lets Get Rocked’, hopefully igniting the rest of the evening… sadly it was a short peak. We wanted to get rocked, we wanted to dance about like loons, we didn’t want to have things slow down again so soon. Yes, ‘Love Bites’ is a cracking tune, and Rick Savage is an accomplished bassist, but a bass solo and a cover of David Essex‘s ‘Rock On’ at this stage seemed a little too early.

There’s promises of the big riffs and quality guitar work of Collen and Campbell, but it is not until well into the setlist that things really start heating up. A finishing salvo of ‘Rocket’, ‘Hysteria’, ‘Armageddon It’, ‘Animal’, ‘Photograph’, ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’ is sublime, it’s just frustrating that we had to stop start somewhat to get there. Accomplished and entertaining, the set could have had a bit more zip, but the last 40 minutes made everything worthwhile. A fine and almost explosive end to an absolutely storming day.

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