Co-authored by Ross Allen.
Saturday at Download is like Christmas Day for metal heads. Regardless of the music, it’s the pinnacle of the festival, the ultimate day. You wake up and you’re there. When else can you have a beer with your breakfast without getting disapproving looks? In fact sod disapprovement, on Download Saturday … it’s practically encouraged.
So we rose with the larks, piled up our beer tokens, and with the remnants of last night’s ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ still ringing through our brains, we piled straight into the fray at the Second Stage for the day’s opening. Here we got a huge slice of slice of ‘Proper F**kin Metal’ from the mighty Sacred Mother Tongue, as they kicked off what was looking like another storming day! Despite the hour there was a healthy crowd there to witness the show, most of them wondering whether there would be repeat of the infamous ‘Joshpit’ from their brilliant performance at last year’s Sonisphere Festival. Starting proceedings with a bang, the opening notes of ‘The End’ announced Darrin South, Andy James, Lee Newell and Josh Gurner had arrived and meant business! Followed quickly by ‘Anger Of Reflection’, the crowd was now nicely warmed up and the circle pits had begun, at 11.10 a.m. this was an impressive feat! SMT then treated the crowd to a new track, which was a monster and was lapped up by the ever growing crowd, while ‘The Suffering’ and ‘Bleeding Out’, as always, went down an absolute storm! The set was rounded off with a brilliant performance of the monster track ‘Two Thousand Eight Hundred’, and yes, to put you out of your misery, Josh did attempt to recreate the ‘Joshpit’ but alas the crowd was too large and he had to settle for a little crowd surfing instead! What a way to start the day!
A steady march over to the Red Bull Bedroom Jam stage, via the Guinness Truck (yes it was technically still morning but Sacred Mother Tongue had beaten us to a pulp and therefore we needed sustenance…), where we were to find the new kids on the block, Dripback. Well, we say new kids but these fellas have been around a bit in various guises over the years with, amongst others, Labrat and Ted Maul, so you could say they were more like a Supergroup than the new kids on the block. Anyway, enough waffle, onto the music… raw, in your face metal with more than a passing nod to the hardcore scene. As you would expect from a groups of seasoned veterans they were tighter than Justin Hawkins’ leg-wear! The tent was full and to a man they were all nodding their heads and tapping their feet to the infectious noise directed at them from the London quintet. Dripback, remember the name as you will be seeing it and hearing it a lot!
As if the 25 minutes of Dripback’s hardcore onslaught wasn’t enough, we hot-footed it over to the other side of the site, to the Pepsi Max tent, for yet more hardcore stylings. This time it was in the shape of London mob TRC. ‘Go Hard Or Go Home’, the name of their single and the slogan emblazoned across the shirt of front man Chris Robson, seemed to be more of an ethos than the name of a track, as they exploded into action from the first note and gave every ounce of energy they had throughout the show, which was highly contagious and soon the entire tent was jumping, spontaneous pits were forming and everyone was having a blast! Their new single ‘H.A.T.E.R.S’ and the crowd favourite ‘Go Hard Or Go Home’, for which they were joined onstage by a guest vocalist, would have blown the roof off the tent had it not been for the industrial strength steel cables tying it down!
Everyone by now should have heard of Skindred, if not because their merciless tour schedule, then because of their actual live performances. The band is legendary, Benji Webbe, in our humble opinion, is the best front man out there at controlling the crowd and entertaining them at the same time. Proof is in the pudding, they say… On Friday, we had a huge slice of proof pudding when we caught Benji and Mikey Demus on the acoustic Jägermeister stage with a crowd in the thousands eating out of the palm of their hands. Their set on the Main Stage on Saturday was no different, in fact, Benji and Co stepped things up a notch or two for this performance. Webbe, bedecked in a sequinned Union Jack blazer, top hat and his trademark sunglasses, wasted no time in whipping the crowd into frenzy before launching into ‘Stand For Something’. ‘Rat Race’ was next after, a few words of instruction from Webbe, the crowd were more than happy to join in when it was their turn. With the Master Of Ceremonies in full flow now, a tale from South Wales was shared, the story behind ‘Trouble’, which half way through broke down into a bar of ‘Sad But True’, before returning the ‘Trouble’ for the second half. Webbe clearly knows his Interwebs, after recounting another tale of discovering a ‘Selector/Tinie Tempah’ mash-up on YouTube and then proceeding to playing it live… Talk about crossover! ‘Pressure’ and ‘Cut Dem’ raise the temperature to boiling point, when Webbe releases the pressure in a Download, no a World first… The Heavy Metal Robot Dance, such is the power of the man, he has 40,000 plus people doing the Heavy Metal Robot Dance with him! ‘No One’ and ‘Warning’ finish off the set but that’s not the end of the crowd participation… As a finale, Webbe introduces the Newport Helicopter! First he invites, no demands everyone in the crowd remove an item of clothing, then on three wave that item of clothing in a circular motion above your head. Again, 40,000 plus people are following his every word and it’s a sight to behold. Benji Webbe is a true showman, up there with the likes of Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie! We apologise for neglecting the rest of the band who also deserve much of the credit, so our hats are also doffed to Mikey Demus, Dan Pugsley and Arya Goggin!
Now there has been one band on our radar for a while now, especially with their forthcoming album ‘Dead Ends’ recently landing at TINAS Towers, so when we discovered they were playing the Red Bull stage on Saturday it was definitely going to be something we weren’t going to miss. Five reprobates from Hertfordshire going under the moniker Heights were about to deliver a set that would be the musical equivalent of a sledgehammer to the bollocks. Delivered with such passion, these boys are real impact players, ‘An Eye For An Eye’ is nothing other than epic, a genuine chills moment as front man Thomas Debaere practically rips himself inside out as he screams “Eye For An Eye, Will Make Me Blind”. Joined by Jamie Graham (currently fronting Heart Of A Coward) for ‘The Lost and Alone’ these noisemongers are determined to make an impression, time will tell if they can keep it up, we certainly hope so.
As with Black Stone Cherry yesterday, Clutch are today’s choice for some easy drinking Southern Rock. Neil Fallon is in fine form as the boogie laced rock pulls a solid crowd for the Second Stage. The beers are flowing and the sun is probably shining, we’re not actually noticing as we jig, sway or rock as one to ‘The Mob Goes Wild’, ‘Prophets Of Doom’ and ‘Gravel Road’. Probably the perfect feel good session to draw away the aggression from the vicious performance from Heights. Eight cracking tunes delivered in half an hour, or in a couple of pints, depending on which way you look at things.
Still feeling good and bounding along, it’s a dash to the Main Stage to witness another of the festival’s highly anticipated sets. Down, the Philip Anselmo fronted supergroup were ones we were really looking forward to. So, cutting straight to the chase, this wasn’t quite the outstanding performance we had hoped, but it was still damn entertaining. Anselmo clearly having adopted the “beer for breakfast” approach, bludgeoned the Download masses. Cutting such an imposing figure he demands your attention. In fact, as ‘Lifer’ is dedicated to Dimebag and as Pepper and Kirk fire into the huge riff from Pantera’s ‘Walk’ , it seems completely fitting for thousands to scream “Re-Spect, Walk” in unison with the angry looking fella at the front. Despite vocally not firing on all cylinders Anselmo does not hold back, he rambles, he commands, and it sways from a car crash spectacle to pure pummelling aggression, thunderous destruction and one of the hardest hitting sets so far. ‘New Orleans Is A Dying Whore’, ‘Pillars Of Eternity’ and ‘Bury Me In Smoke’ send thousands into a frenzy and ensure true circle pit madness. Down, just maxed out the velocity meter.
With Anselmo‘s drunken ramblings still ringing in our ears we made our way to the Pepsi Max tent for another TINAS favourite, Evile. Huddersfield’s finest have been through their fair share of turmoil over the last couple of years, so it is refreshing to see them now as strong as ever and with a reinvigorated purpose. News of the their latest album, “Five Serpent’s Teeth”, surfaced in recent weeks, fanning the fans’ flames to hear more, the preview track ‘Eternal Empire’ was duly released early so that the fans could get a taste of the new work. Evile’s 30 minute set, all five tracks of it, was shared amongst their three albums, beginning their set with the fan favourite ‘We Who Are About To Die’, which was like dropping a softmint into a bottle of coke… the crowd erupted! Two tracks from the new album, ‘Eternal Empire’ and ‘Join Our Cult’, sandwiched another crowd favourite ‘Thrasher’. Of the new tracks, Matt Drake commented that they wanted to play some of the slower tracks as a tease but rest assured that “Five Serpent’s Teeth” contains “…some really crazy fast shit!” Evile closed out the set with yet another fan favourite, ‘Infected Nation’, but alas the set seemed to be over as soon as it had begun. It won’t be long before the Evile boys are commanding a place on the main stages with a much longer set time and we can’t wait for that day to come!
Skunk Anansie, the ultimate Marmite band, mainly because of Skin‘s instantly identifiable vocals. Luckily we love Marmite, and Skunk Anansie’s set on the main stage was like a double helping. Resplendent in a feathered wing thing and sequin body, Skin is like an excited child, hyper and happy, her vocals defying her tiny stature. Clearly with no intention of holding back ‘Yes Its Fucking Political’ launches proceedings, Cass, Mark and Ace providing the ultimate backdrop for the flamboyant front woman to showcase her talents. They’re clearly excited and happy to be here, and the heaving mob in front of stage are equally as happy. A couple of tracks from the latest cracker of an album “Wonderlustre” are mixed in with the classics of ‘Weak’, ‘Twisted(Everyday Hurts)’ and the superbly introduced, “This is a song about fucking!” ‘I Can Dream’ to form a set that packs a real Wookie sized punch. Ever the entertainer, the images of Skin walking out into the crowd on their hands and heads will live strong in the memories for Download 2011. A truly awesome hour of entertainment!
The task of following Skunk Anansie on the Main Stage fell to Avenged Sevenfold, a task that they began at one hundred miles an hour and never looked like slowing down. A blistering and fire encased ‘Nightmare’ blew holes into the crowd for an opener. M Shadows did not let up and the combined fretwork acrobatics of Synyster Gates and Zachy Vengeance was nothing short of frightening. ‘Nightmare’ gave way to ‘Critical Acclaim’ and ‘Welcome To The Family’ with the bar raised higher with each track. Shadows has the crowd in the palm of his hand, the stage show is spectacular, the pyrotechnics themselves are worthy of a headline set and would have been even more impressive under the cover of darkness. The crowd hangs on every word, and screams back every lyric, especially with ‘Almost Easy’ and ‘Bat Country’. A7X get a huge crowd seal of approval to the dedication of ‘Afterlife’ to their passed on brother, and the tongue in cheek spiel about not playing ‘God Hates Us’ on a Sunday gives the crowd even more to cheer about. Avenged Sevenfold and their pyrotechnics slayed it, they probably broke the record for the “Boobs On The Big Screen Counter” but you really couldn’t tell as you didn’t want to miss a thing on the stage.
Still buzzing from such a sonic spectacle delivered by Avenged Sevenfold, the next task on our beer soaked list was to head up to the Second Stage to watch headliner Alice Cooper. What can we say about Alice that hasn’t been said before? Probably nothing, as he is one of the ultimate entertainers and best rock performers on the planet. This was not a repeat of last years’ Theatre Of Death performance at Sonisphere, but an equally accomplished “Greatest Hits” under the “No More Mr Nice Guy” tour spectacle with Alice as the ringmaster. The Vincent Price intro makes way for ‘The Black Widow’ and Alice is flying. Alice is a such a showman and it’s all about the performance. There’s little banter, as it is all about watching the action unfold on stage. ‘Brutal Planet’,’I’m Eighteen’, ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ (complete with dollar bill backside wiping) follow, and with Alice having such a huge back catalogue to pick from it’s almost more about what he will not play rather than what made the list.
In true Alice fashion, the show is a spectacle, apparently it rained a little, but we were too hooked. A giant Frankenstein’s monster, a live snake, skewering the “rock press photographer” with a mic stand, and of course being decapitated is all par for the course, ensuring you can’t take your eyes away from the shock rock master. An added bonus of a new song, ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’ cleverly announced via messages on Alice‘s jacket a shirt, shows that Alice can still deliver the goods. A truly outstanding closing set for Saturday’s Second stage… even though “Under My Wheels” didn’t make the list.
We’ve described Skunk Anansie as one of the ‘Marmite’ bands, you either love them or hate them, but System Of A Down are much more of a ‘Nutella’ band, most people have tried them and loved them and keep going back for more! Rumours of their reunion had been circulating for some time so when they were confirmed as headliners for Download 2011 it didn’t really come as a shock or surprise but it was certainly a welcome addition to the line up. We all remember moshing to ‘Sugar’ back in the late nineties, trying to at cool whilst ‘Chop Suey’ was playing in the early naughties, yes SOAD was one of those bands that seemed to sum up a generation, much like Rage Against The Machine had a decade earlier! So it was no surprise when the majority of the Download masses descended upon the Main Stage on Saturday night to witness the return of an iconic band. So, to the show… It was like welcoming and old friend back after year’s apart, there’s a connection there but it’s not what it used to be.
Soundwise, SOAD were as tight as can be, and probably outperformed most people’s expectations but there was a spark missing, there was no interaction between the band members, scarcely even a recognition that there was anyone else on-stage but the vast majority of the crowd didn’t even notice this or if they did they didn’t care as they were too busy enjoying the music, which at the end of the day was what it was all about! Putting all that aside, SOAD performed to their best, a non-stop hit parade, with over 25 tracks in their setlist, including ‘B.Y.O.B.’, ‘I-E-A-I-A-I-O’, ‘Radio/Video’, ‘Hypnotize’, ‘Psycho’, ‘Chop Suey’, ‘Bounce’, ‘Lost In Holywood’, ‘Aerials’, ‘Cigaro’, ‘Suite-Pee’, ‘War?’, ‘Toxicity’ and ‘Sugar’. Download maestro, Andy Copping pulled off a masterstroke getting System Of A Down, so what if they don’t talk to each other, at the end of the day it has been and always will be all about the music…