By Eric Mackinnon
The New Rock Times team have been on home soil again for 24-hours and while our ears are still ringing, our faces and necks are as black as our musical hearts and the annual post Download festival blues are now firmly dominating our every thoughts - our hearts are still soaring and our souls and sparkling after one of the greatest weekends EVER.
This is my 12th Download Festival with most in the media trenches and I can't recall any one which toe-punted me in the musical feels as much as this one.
For the second year in a row Mother Nature joined us all on Lady Donington's front lawn with her horns up rather then being a miserable old boot and turning the holy ground into a quagmire.
And the line-up?
Well any festival with this current incarnation of Not In This Lifetime era Guns N' Roses at the top of the bill are doing things right. For me, and I know this is a big claim, having thought about this for months, the reformed Guns N' Roses run of shows on this tour might be the greatest live show I have ever seen.
At the time of writing the Not In This Lifetime tour has raked in more than $480 million dollars into the GNR coffers with that amount rising every week.
To see Axl leaning on Slash's shoulder while playing 'Slither' with Duff McKagan beaming in the background is an image which I don't need pictures or videos to recall - it has been burned into the hard drive of my memory and soul for the rest of my days.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Stomping on the rewind button and back to Friday and the first band of the weekend I managed to settle in with a frosty one was Avatar on the Main Stage
'The Eagle Has Landed' prompted a multi-thousand person sing-a-long as we all happily crooned 'Oh! Ah ha ha ha! What a sensation...Can you feel it?....Can you see what I see?'
And it was as if every word they sung had been penned specifically for that moment.
Next stop on the New Rock Times express were Ded in the Avalanche Tent.
A wall of noise burst forth from the stage like a predator prowling for blood but far from a one-trick band trying to burst the ear drums of all who stopped in for a peek, frontman Joe Cotela held the crowd in his horned grip.
Urging everyone to get down low, pulse up and down and before long the whole Avalanche Stage was rising and falling like a seagull in gale.
American rockers CKY pumped up the energy levels as the sun stomped on the temperature and chased away the early morning drizzle and grey clouds.
Dragonforce and Andrew W.K kept the Friday fires burning before all eyes were on the main stage and Volbeat for some ass-kicking, booty-shaking Elvis-metal.
Volbeat are surely, got-to-be, enrgaved on the list of future festival headliners with booker Andy Copping talks about. They regularly top the bill at European festivals and are huge in America.
And as always, they delivered and they delivered big for Download with one of the sets of the weekend.
Smacking a huge crowd square in the gnashers with their welcome wall of distinctive, melodic and thoroughly unique metal-billy.
Volbeat are the band Elvis Pressley would have fronted had he hooked up with metal guitarists on a three-day bender with a pair of punk rockers.
Frontman Michael Poulsen's love of 1950's era music is obvious in Volbeat but the Danish band perfectly and seamlessly infuse the vintage hooks with a punk vibe, hard rocking n' roll with the whole Volbeat house built upon the foundations of soul shuddering metal riffs of Slayer proportions.
Songs from 'Lola Montez' and 'Still Counting' were peppered with delightful crowd thrilling nods to Johnny Cash. '16 Dollars' had feet stompin', hips swingin' and face splitting grins before Poulsen brought out 'Barney' Greenway from Napalm Death for 'Evelyn'.
The gears shifted throughout from frenetic to groovy but it was always immense and I sung myself hoarse during their 12-song slab of rock n' roll delights.
A quick detour to Bad Religion was followed by settling in for Friday's headliners and Avenged Sevenfold didn't disappoint.
Four years on from their first crack at headlining Download and the boys seemed much more at ease in their headliners hat. A set of soaring anthems, sugary choruses resting on metal and bone-shaking riffs was draped over a big show which included pyro, massive flames shooting across the crowd and giving the front ten rows a lovely toasting and more than a smattering of confident showmanship.
'Afterlife' cemented Download's faith in handing the keys to the opening night to the band who never looked back after the sky scaling height of one of their most popular numbers.
As always the poignant tribute to James 'Rev' Sullivan with the heart wrenching 'So Far Away' was an unforgettable moment.
Avenged Sevenfold are a band who have a toe in a number of number of genres and with expert musicianship and intricate harmonies they have evolved in a band now firmly established in the top tier of bands who have earned headliner status.
A surprise cover version of 'Wish You Were Here' was an unexpected delight as the curtain came down on Friday night at Download and with two days to go the delights were just beginning.
On Saturday a delayed taxi meant we missed all but the final chords of Whiskey Myers which broke my wee heart. But with Monster Truck following and the sun still smiling down on the sea of black rock t-shirts and scorched grass below I recovered quickly.
Monster Truck's groovy style of southern rock stomped a melodic mud hole in the grass before The Struts brought Download back to the Monster of Rock days with a '70s era style set. Hints and nods to the swagger of '70s rock stars and fun fistful of tunes which will, without doubt, open the band up to a new captive - and captivated - audience of fans.
Download brings worlds together for one glorious weekend as it blends the bands so many of us grew up on and adored with the new class, the new generation of riff-making, bone-shaking bands and this year was no different.
From '90's grunge punk hybrids L7 to Thunder, a gateway band for me who steered me gently towards so many of the bands and genres I'm now eye-balls deep into, we zipped round to the Zippo Encore Stage for Babymetal.
And. What. A. Show.
I've rarely, if ever, seen the second stage so rammed at that time of the day. Forget standing room only, it was barely shuffle room and at times we had to hold our breath for fear of losing more space.
But it was well worth it.
Babymetal haven't just shaken off their tag of gimmick band – they have doused it in flames, chucked a match on it and burned it to ashes to honour the Fox God.
Babymetal are what happens when two musical worlds collide ... near global domination.
The J-Pop and thrash metal hybrid beast which has spawned Babymetal have spent the past 24-months setting new records as quickly as copies of their second album ‘Metal Resistance’ flew off the shelves.
Foot-stomping, hair swinging, fist punching metal riffs were never as catchy as when building towards choruses dripping in sugary sweet pop melodies and more catchy than a cold in a crowded office.
Babymetal are no longer a novelty act. They are a bonafide metal force to be reckoned with. Nobody can now claim otherwise. Metal snobbery aside.
Babymetal's fast and furious shredding continues throughout their biggest tracks which are peppered with J-Pop inspired vocals and the occasional synth.
There are nods to prog rock, ska punk and even black metal as the band dip a toe into a variety of metal sub genres ensuring there is something for people from all corners and crevices of the rock and metal family.
But it’s all good and I defy even the most stubborn of musical hearts not to burst with glee and delight at the brilliantly bonkers concept.
What's not to love about super heavy, soaring guitar solos, ear thundering dual-pedal kickdrums, and the Fox God? And the girls have pipes which belie their pint sized frame as they makes the metal melodies their own.
Next stop were Black Stone Cherry who continue their steady ascent towards the top of the bill where this time around they were second from the top.
And with Guns set to follow the Kentucky boys, there were more than 100,000 filling Lady Donington's lawn.
With the sun scorching down, best friends by my side, a cold drink in my paw and spirit lifting songs like 'In My Blood' and 'Blame It On The Boom Boom' being sent across the sea of like minded Download Festival family members – there was literally nowhere else I would rather have been.
Following BSC was the main event. Guns N' Roses – the most dangerous band in the world – for a three-hour set laden with some of the greatest rock songs ever penned.
Long gone are the days of waiting two-hours beyond their scheduled start time for Guns – the newly polished, refined and fucking outstanding band punched in and were hard at work a minute earlier than planned.
'It's So Easy' sets the tones with Axl on top form snarling his way through while Slash cranks out his unmistakanle bluesy solos throughout.
The opening half hour is packed with big hits. 'Welcome To The Jungle,' 'Mr Bownstone', 'Double Takin' Jive' and 'Chinese Democracy' maintain a frenetic early pace.
Axl is prowling the stage like a snake-hipped musical charmer weaving between land mines while Slash displays his usual string bending splender as Mr Cool Duff McKagan takes front man duties from Axl momentarily for a punk rock version of 'Attitude.'
Use Your Illusion-era ballad 'Estranged' – for years in the shadow of fellow UYI ballad 'November Rain' yet the stronger song – was a set highlight for your giddy writer who crooned every word back towards the stage – badly.
A poignant cover of 'Black Hole Sun' to the tragic Chris Cornell saw 20,000 voices cry in unison on honour of the fallen Soundgarden main man.
The pace was unrelenting from Guns who burst through 'Coma,' 'You Could Be Mine' and 'Sweet Child' and the band themselves looked to be enjoying it as much as the 100,000-deep crowd.
An encore of 'Nightrain' and an epic rendition of 'Paradise City' twinned with sky cracking fireworks and pyro underlined Guns N' Roses status as a band back at the top of the rock n' roll mountain.
They are better than ever but while I hung on every word for three glorious hours – like so many I wish they would hit the studio and write a new record. With the triple threat of Axl, Slash and Duff back together …. who knows it might just be another world beating record ready to be dropped.
Sunday was the hottest day of the weekend making us festival-goers even thirstier and once again of the highlights of the weekend was the sight of a paper cup free festival site.
The reusable cup system is a tremendous idea and a huge success to Download who have been rightly commended and hailed for their eco-drive.
Back to the music and my day began at Turbonegro for a set of hilarity, fun and death punk.
A good crowd nestled down at the Zippo Encore Stage to see the Norwegians croon about their erections and all in between.
Next was Dead Cross and the supergroup with Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo before 'In This Moment' on the main stage.
Our next stroll took us back up the hill to the Zippo Encore again and Body Count with Ice-T for a show which was easily in the top three of my entire weekend as they chokeslammed a monster crowd through musical tables like a hardcore band of WWE superstars.
Channelling furious rage in his performance Ice-T was a mesmerising frontman as they opened with a bombastic cover of Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’ and rallying against the system of flying through hardcore anthems ‘Institutionalised’ and ‘No Lives Matter’.
The end of the set saw him bring his three-year old daughter onto the stage as all the parents in the crowd 'oohed and ahhed' as she danced on stage to 'Talk Shit, Get Shot.'
Black Veil Brides lured us back to the main stage to rest in the blistering heat on the dry grass and as it turned out we camped out at the Main Stage for the rest of the day.
Shinedown serenaded us all with their stadium filling anthems before the King of shock rock – well at least next in line to the throne of Alice Cooper – Marilyn Manson hit the stage.
Manson is a rock icon for a generation. A bonafide rock star who has churned out top ten albums and stadium rousing rock anthems with unrivalled ease and albums and anthems which have since stood the test of time.
His live shows in recent years have been hit and miss and I'm still on the fence about his performance at Donington this time around.
He stomped through his arsenal of big guns but at times he looked bored and like he couldn't be arsed. Maybe that was just me as one of the pals who enjoyed the show with me shoulder to shoulder thought the was blistering.
Tracks like 'Disposable Teens', 'Fight Song,' 'The Beautiful People,' 'The Dope Show,' are the anthems for an entire generation and Manson is still the the unrivalled ayatollah of shock n' rolla but I wish he had shown a little more enthusiasm for the massive crowd he pulled.
And on the final band of the weekend and what a way to go out.
Ozzy Osbourne himself with a stonking solo set which far surpassed the Black Sabbath set he fronted on the same stage just two years earlier.
His voice was in much better shape than most feared as the veteran, the godfather of the entire genre, booted the arse out of his critics.
Signing through his biggest solo hits from 'Bark At the Moon,' 'Mr Crowley,' 'No More Tears' and the highlight of a set of sky scaling peaks for me 'Road To Nowhere.'
I never dared imagine this underrated gem would be part of the set and I squealed like a teenager when I hear the unmistakable twang of the into on Zakk Wylde's guitar.
A final straight run of four songs 'Crazy Train,' 'Mama, I'm Coming Home,' 'Paranoid,' and 'Changes' show the undeniable back catalogue of a legend who expressed his love for us all from the stage and Ozzy, we fucking love you too.
Looking back at Download 2018 – now that the hangover has subsided, the festival-blues are easing a little – just a little – it might be the best one yet.
Like the afore-mentioned eco-drive and the weather which always helps there were so many factors which combined to make it unforgettable.
One unexpected delight was the phone signal. Many, many times at Download I've had no mobile coverage and lost my pals in the sea of bodies unable to contact them. This time around I could Snapchat or Whatsapp them pictures of the exact spot I was standing in – a huge bonus.
No need any more for the traditional 'meet you at the billboard down from the main stage merch' or 'behind the ice cream van mate if we get separated.'
And WWE NXT are such a good fit for Download. They go together like Jack and Coke, Slash and Duff and Donington Park and rock n' roll. It's just right and hopefully the wrestling is here to stay next year and beyond.
Thanks Lady Donington, thanks Mother Nature, thanks Andy Copping and the Download team and thanks to every single member of the 100,000 strong rock n' roll family who made 2018 one for the ages and one I'll never forget.
Now to start planning 2019 and the annual prayer to get Poison off Sunset Strip and to Donington Park.
See you all next summer.
Download Festival next year takes place on 14, 15, 16 June 2019.
Highlights of the 16th Download Festival will be broadcast on SKY ARTS on 29th and 30th June.