It’s Friday at Download, which means the arena is OPEN! It’s time to watch some of our favourite bands perform in our hallowed ground once more.
Opening up the Apex Stage in style is the electrifying Wayward Sons. Cruising in on a wave of classic rock riffs and a sheen of 70’s glam, the collective immediately have the crowds eating out of their hand.
Opening track ‘Feel Good Hit’ is exactly what it says on the tin – as vocalist Toby Jepson describes the track as the “feel good hit of the summer”, we can’t help but agree that it’s the perfect festival anthem. The group set the bar high, and only continue to raise it higher. Charging guitars urge the set onwards, with a bucketload of bright, catchy choruses that nobody can resist chanting or clapping along with.
Suns out, horns up. Purple smoke fills the Opus Stage as Australian trio SKYND take to second stage.
If you’re new here, SKYND are an industrial rock band with killer riffs and distorted vocals. They intertwine their love for true crime into their set as they play snippets of live crime reports. Ominous sounds vibrate across the stage, as the band open their set with the daunting, electronic infused ‘Richard Ramirez.’ Shortly followed by eerie ‘Gary Heidnik,’ SKYND bring their technicoloured music to life, with a thrilling show of warped electronica and hellish screams.
As they edge the crowd into a hypnotic state with the distorted ‘Columbine,’ it’s clear SKYND have a hunger for anything dark and dejected. If you do too, this is the band for you.
As Everything Unfolds
Playing to a packed-out tent, As Everything Unfolds jump straight to the point as frontwoman Charlie Rolfe unleashes a mix of contralto gutturals with beckoning screams. Beach balls and crowd surfers bounce their way across hundreds of headbanging fans. As she introduces ‘Take Me There,’ Charlie emphasises, “this is our heaviest song to date, and I want to see everyone jumping.”
After making their first ever festival debut at Download Pilot in 2021, As Everything Unfolds are back: stronger, louder, and undefeatable.
Metalcore icons Bury Tomorrow make one hell of an entrance – as the first notes of ‘Choke’ thrum out, even the ground quakes with anticipation. Daniel Winter-Bates’ growls are as raw as ever, throwing every ounce of emotion into each guttural syllable.
While the set is classic Bury Tomorrow, easily rousing circle pits and enthusiastic screeches from the crowd, there is an air of rebirth in the air. The performance of fresh track ‘DEATH (Ever Colder)’ feels like the marking of a new era, newest member Tom Prendergast’s vocals front and centre. The crowds eagerly cry along, more than happy to throw themselves into this new era headfirst – quite literally so, if the endless waves over the barrier are anything to go by.
Meet Me @ The Altar
Making their Download debut, US trio Meet Me @ the Altar arrive at the Avalanche stage ready to bring a pop-punk edge to Download.
Frontwoman Edith dedicates single ‘Hit Like A Girl’ to all the women in the crowd (and supportive male figures), conveying a message to pursue your dreams no matter how hard that may be. But perhaps the most special moment is their unique medley consisting of a mashup of nu-metal and punk tracks. The helter-skelter mix of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Sweetness’, into New Found Glory’s ‘My Friends Over You’, into Limp Bizkit’s ‘Break Stuff,’ and ending on Lit’s ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ has the whole crowd getting involved.
Black Veil Brides
Dropping the band logo to the sound of Black Sabbath classic ‘War Pigs’ playing in the background, Black Veil Brides later make their way onto the Apex Stage to an uproar of screaming fans. Having made their debut at Download in 2011, the hordes of BVB Army are more than happy to see them return once more. Fans thrust their fists in the air as the band open with ‘Faithless,’ with its insane shredding from guitarist Jinxx.
Fire erupts from the stage as the band stomp into the angsty ‘Rebel Love Song’, and frontman Andy Biersack whips the crowd into a frenzy. “Let me see your horns in the air,” he screams before thrashing into ‘Legacy.’
Older fans are treated to a series of classics from the band’s back catalogue, from ‘Fallen Angels’ to ‘Knives and Pens’, as well as newer tracks like ‘Scarlet Cross.’ Between the sun beaming down, to the heat of the flames bursting from the stage, this set is a flaming hot experience.
When you thinking of true rockstars, you think of Myles Kennedy. Known for his rich history jamming with countless rock legends, Kennedy takes to the stage with a wistful sense of ease – this is a man who sees the stage as a second home, and that definitely translates into his live performance.
The set refuses to throw in any frills, just Kennedy and his guitar knocking out guitar-heavy bangers – and it’s a delight. As tracks like ‘A Thousand Words’ ring out over the dense crowd, Kennedy’s bluesy, brooding vocals are more than enough to keep everyone enthralled. Effortlessly cool, Kennedy’s deep, distinctive vocals perfectly deliver track after track of iconic tunes – even knocking out ‘High’ by previous project The Mayfield Four, much to fans’ delight.
Every festival line-up needs Skindred. These Welsh rockers know how to win over a crowd, every second of their set overflowing with charisma and joy. As Benji Webbe takes to the stage donned in gemstones and an all red suit, his feathered top hat bouncing along to ‘Under Attack’, you can’t help but fall in love with the group’s carefree charm.
A euphoric energy of celebration is maintained throughout the set. Whether that’s the giddy grins and clapping along to ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It’, or the increasingly sharp yells during ‘Kill The Power’, everyone truly throws themselves into the set.
“We’ve even got pyro!” Benji cries as he waves sparklers around. But by the time ‘Warning’ hits, and the sea of spinning shirts overhead marks the start of the famous ‘Newport Helicopter’, it’s clear that Skindred don’t need any fancy gimmicks – their legendary frontman is more thrilling than any flames or fireworks.
What do you get if you have a shirtless frontman, meaty breakdowns and buckets of Aussie charm? A bloody good time, that’s what! Airbourne’s set is a barrel of cheeky charm, Joel O’Keeffe an unstoppable rocket of energy. From his cries of “DOOOONNINGTON!” to his love of running down into the crowd, it’s clear that O’Keeffe is in his element.
The charm only heightens the punch of each riff-y track; O’Keeffe uses projectiles as a way of almost annunciating track breakdowns, as he lobs a pint into the crowd with a howl of laughter. Even the call-out to “all the gorgeous girls out there in black!” that feeds into ‘Girls In Black’ has that same lighthearted energy, the track taking on a new feel in the sunshine, carefree pits dancing along to their heart’s content.
Bringing their usual alluring and cryptic energy, Sleep Token float onto the Avalanche stage like a horde of grim reapers. Opening their set with the daunting ‘Alkaline,’ smoke slowly fills the stage as the band begin to power through the setlist. With their identities a mystery hidden behind masks and face paint, Sleep Token are a band that leave you desperate to know more. And more is what they give us, as they whisper into the emotive and climactic ‘The Love You Want.’
Transporting the crowd through a journey of soaring guitar work, electronic keys and heavy-hitting drums, with each drop releasing an unholy spirit, it really feels like Sleep Token are summoning something special. As they close their set with hit single ‘The Offering,’ they leave the emerging Downloaders on an adrenaline high.
A Day To Remember
The sun is beating down over the Apex stage as US rock titans A Day To Remember take the stage. Immediately they launch into the unstoppable duo of two of their biggest hits: ‘The Downfall Of Us All’ and ‘All I Want’. A barrage of crowdsurfers fly over the barrier as frontman Jeremy McKinnon leaps and bounds from one end of the stage to the other.
‘Degenerates’ sees the arrival of a very special guest – none other than Download Dog, who excitedly flings t-shirts into the crowd for lucky fans. And those awaiting a famous ADTR breakdown don’t have long to wait, as up next is ‘2nd Sucks’.
“Don’t you let me down Donington! Let’s get fucking moving!” bellows Jeremy, shortly after leading a crowd to roar “DISRESPECT YOUR SURROUNDINGS” during ‘Mr Highway’s Thinking About The End’. By this time, a flurry of beach balls have been unleashed on the crowd, much to their joy.
The set ends on some huge singalongs – the tearjerking ‘If It Means A Lot To You’ and the raucous ‘A Plot To Bomb The Panhandle’, one of their earliest hits. As the band leave the stage, ‘You’re Welcome’ from Moana – which shares a name with the band’s latest album – rings out over the stage. After that stunner of a set, it feels a fitting sentiment.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes’ headline set on the Opus Stage is a cocktail of punk-rock prowess and raw, heart-on-sleeve honesty. Frank is immediately open about being “so fucking nervous”… but you’d be hard-pushed to believe it. He’s one of the best in the game, a showman through-and-through, and even nerves can’t stop him; within minutes, Frank is in the thick of the crowd.
As bangers like ‘My Town’ and ‘Sticky’ urge the crowd into movement, it’s clear that Frank and his Rattlesnakes were more than ready for this slot, after headlining the Download Pilot last year. There’s an air of intimacy surrounding every huge, barrelling anthem, Frank’s candid commentary throughout breathing new life into each track. From the heartbreaking depths of ‘Angel Wings’, to the relatable anxieties of ‘Cupid’s Arrow’, the set feels like having a look into his diary – and it makes every second all the more enjoyable.
As the set draws to a close, confetti flying and the masses screaming along to ‘I Hate You’, before throwing themselves into thick pits for ‘Crowbar’, one thing is blindingly clear – these Rattlesnakes know how to put on a show.
We can’t believe this moment has come: it’s KISS‘s last EVER UK show. Truly a monumental moment for the rock scene as we say our final goodbye to one of the genre’s most legendary groups.
Opening with fan favourite ‘Detroit Rock City’, the four members of KISS appear as they’re lowered down from the ceiling of the Apex stage, ready to gear the crowd up for a night to remember. The group have really gone above and beyond to make this show their biggest yet (and that’s saying something): pyro, confetti, streamers, fireworks, and gigantic KISS statues adorning the stage.
The four piece take us on a journey through some of their biggest hits, from ‘Shout it Out Loud’ and ‘Heaven’s on Fire’ to ‘Lick It Up’ and ‘Black Diamond’. Gene, Paul, Eric and Tommy may be retiring, but they show they can still put on a show like no other. Eric slams out an insane drum solo – then demonstrates his skills on piano. Gene breathes fire. Tommy shreds like it’s going out of fashion. Paul soars over the crowd on a zip line during ‘Love Gun’, and again during ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ – not bad for a 70 year old.
As the set nears the end and it’s almost time to say goodbye, KISS are ready to shut down Donington with a bang – quite literally. Bursts of confetti explode from the stage, and fireworks catapult straight into the midnight sky. They’re also intent on bringing us all to tears, as a montage of memories is played on the screen behind them. Fans huddle with one another, singing, waving and clinging on to those very last few seconds as the band “kiss” the crowd goodnight with their hit single, “Rock And Roll All Nite”.
As the final streams of confetti fall to the ground and the fireworks fizzle out, it’s truly an emotional yet ecstatic goodnight for Download’s first official day.
Check back here tomorrow for our Saturday highlights.