DOWNLOAD 2016: New Rock Times *REVIEW*

Photo by Matt Eachus

Photo by Matt Eachus

Dave Mustaine said it best when he bellowed from the main stage: “Thanks Mother Nature for turning off the fucking rain.”

Despite her best efforts, Mother Nature's latest furious moodswing couldn't dampen or dull our enthusiasm and love for the Download Festival.

Torrential downpours brought raindrops of biblical dimensions which spread and soaked clean through to the skin with every direct hit.

Within hours most of the grass had been turned to mud which was ankle deep before the end and running like the Amazon River down slopes in other areas.

Having attended 10-times in the past 11-years, I felt this year's was the worst conditions yet, as always it didn't deter any of the 90,000+ who packed onto the hallowed turf, ahem mud, of Donington Park over the weekend.

The fact I am still, some three days after the end of the festival, finding dry flaky patches of mud on my legs while sitting at my desk at New Rock Times HQ shows just how apocalyptic the weather was at times this year and why it has been dubbed Drownload.

It all started so encouragingly with Thursday seeing the mercury rising comfortably above 25 degrees.

As the gates opened for the festival on the Friday it was warm but the ominous shadow of dark clouds were forming a brooding battalion in the East Midland skies, a forewarning of what was to come.

Royal Republic kicked opened the doors the main stage with an energetic set which injected the crowd with a musical needle full of adrenaline and funky rock n' roll grooves.

The Swedes were still busting out their beats when the heaven's opened.

Raindrops tumbled down which felt like the size of fists. Download Festival booker Andy Copping admits the rain has become something of an unwanted tradition at the festival in recent years but 2016's felt especially biblical.

Photo by Dana Distortion, (c) Amuse Inc

Photo by Dana Distortion, (c) Amuse Inc

Babymetal were next on stage, albeit 30-minutes later than scheduled as event staff frantically swept the soaking stage. They proved to be well worth the wait.

Standing next to me in the crowd was one of my oldest pals who upon seeing Babymetal for the first time proclaimed them his new favourite band in the world.

Babymetal are what can happen when two worlds collide ... near global domination.

The J-Pop and thrash metal hybrid beast provided a musical masterclass.

Foot-stomping, hair swinging, fist punching metal riffs are 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.

Up on the Dogtooth Stage were Linlithgow's finest The Amorettes – a set packed with head bopping, lip snarling punk tunes which will have both pleased festival bosses and secured themselves a return invitation further up the bill.

A heart warming video tribute to the late, great Motorhead mainman Lemmy followed on the mainstage as a who's who in rock and metal lined up on camera to pay tribute to the legend.

My Friday travels took me around the site before settling in the Maverick Stage for the always outstanding Wildhearts. Ginger is surely the most underrated frontman and songwriter of our generation. Armed with an arsenal of head-infesting hits like 'Mazel Tov Cocktail,' 'Caffeine Bomb,' and the sing-a-long '29x The Pain' Ginger and Co bossed the shit out of the set with less than standing room left in the tent.

Photo by Kennerdeigh Scott

Photo by Kennerdeigh Scott

Bringing the blazing curtain down on a stellar first slice of Download delights were German industrial legends Rammstein. Although their set failed, for me at least, to hit the heights of their 2013 Donington appearance, Rammstein on their worst day poop all over most bands on their best day.

As the rain continued to cascade from the skies above like mood killing waterfall Rammstein did their best to distract the masses with a hit heavy set. Their biggest numbers were reserved for later in their set like 'Du Hast' and 'Sonne' before their traditional breath taking pyro display at the end. Of course by this time my Download group of ten or so friends had splintered in the crowd leaving me and one other to make a squelching plod through the throngs of people and the darkness to try and find the salvation of a cab to our hotel and a shower before day two.

Work commitments in the press tent denied me the chance to see any of the early bands on the Saturday although the unmistakable Atreyu cover of Bon Jovi's 'You Gave Love A Bad Name' did filter across from the main stage.

Interviews in the can I was back in front of the main stage in time for Sixx: A.M and they knocked it out of the park. The twin guitar towers of former Motley Crue mainman Nikki Sixx, and ex Guns N' Roses axeman DJ Ashba dovetailed perfectly with James Michael proving himself a frontman of the kind you can't help but lock your gaze on.

Ignoring the darkening skies Sixx: A.M are the kind of band you crank the volume up to 11 on, pour another glass of Jim Beam and party to. It wasn't the last we saw of Nikki Sixx either as he jumped back onto the stage for an appearance with Megadeth for a fun cover of 'Anarchy in the UK.'

Megadeth were on great form as they thrashed out the classics in perfect stereo sound quality – much to our delight. Sixx wasn't Megadeth's Dave Mustaine's only guest as WWE wrestling legend Triple H joined him on stage.

Triple H is famously a big rock fan and over the years he became a very close friend to Lemmy, with Motorhead supplying Triple H's ring entrance music and playing live at Wrestlemania.

Mustaine invited Triple H onto the stage to present him with the first ever Spirit Of Lemmy Award. Speaking from the stage Triple H said: “I can feel Lemmy here right now, sitting up on that black cloud over there – drinking a Jack and Coke, probably. The true Spirit Of Lemmy is this fucking crowd right here.

Pic by Jen O'Neill

Pic by Jen O'Neill

“This is the Spirit Of Lemmy, the Spirit Of Lemmy will never die, because of all of you.”

Few bands know how to kickstart a Download party quite like Skindred. The boys from Newport are a collective mesh of a host of genres and influences – with the end result being circle pits, grinning smiles and of course the infamous Newport Helicopter. Taps aff, fist clenched and swing your t-shirts around your head.

Bringing the black curtain down on day two were the legendary Black Sabbath. Playing Donington for the final time EVER were a band undoubtedly accepted as both pioneers and the benchmark for a generation of metal bands.

Pic by Ben Gibson

Pic by Ben Gibson

Vocally Ozzy sounded sharp singing over the dark, sludgy Sabbath music as the flagging crowd had their spirits warmed – if not their soaken clothes – with classics such as 'War Pigs,' 'Paranoid,' and 'Iron Man.'

It had stopped raining as I, clean, dry shorts and t-shirt and all, piled into a cab to head to the site for the third and final day but with five minutes the rain had started again and this time there was literally no let up.

It was incessant and afforded the ground absolutely no chance to dry or solidify.

The Sunday was actually my favourite day musically all weekend with an early morning clash hugely disappointing personally as I wanted to see both Buck & Evans – with the monstrously talented guitar guru Chris Buck – and Monster Truck plugging in at 11am.

The schedule was frantic and with conditions underfoot slippier than an MP's expenses it was tricky to get from one stage to another without falling on my arse.

At the Maverick Stage I caught the final two tracks of The Dirty Youth, as the enigmatic Danni Monroe channeled her inner lioness, prowling the stage with the scent of blood. Danni is a captivating sight on stage, blessed with great stage presence and an ability to slow and raise the energy of the crowd at will.

Back to the main stage and The Temperance Movement were surprisingly excellent. I hadn't heard too much before so didn't know what to expect and they were refreshingly good.

Very much easy listening and a perfect band to sit with your friends and enjoy the occasion with.

Pic by Jen O'Neill

Pic by Jen O'Neill

Pennsylvania's greatest ever export, yes even better than Kevin Hart or Kurt Angle, Halestorm were the next band to provide the musical milk for our Sunday afternoon cornflakes.

I love Lzzy. I really do. She has the greatest voice I've ever heard in the flesh and when she choose to sing, rather than scream as loud as she can she gives you goosebumps.

As always, Halestorm are phenomenally good. 'Love Bites,' 'Mz Hyde,' and 'Amen' are among the highlights although it is a shame they chose not to play 'Here's To Us' which is they undoubted crowd favourite although perhaps fearful it was too soft-rock to play at Donington Park – the home of Monsters of Rock – on a rain lashed Sunday afternoon.

Elsewhere, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and Tremonti were playing to tents which couldn't contain everyone trying to see them. Bigger stages undoubtedly await both in the very near future.

Following in Halestorm's bootprints on the mainstage were Disturbed and they played one of my favourite sets of the entire weekend. Their cover of 'Sound of Silence' has seeped into the mainstream with regular plays on BBC Radio 2 which even my mother has admitted a liking too.

When they broke into their haunting cover it produced an eerie moment around the entire site. People walking between stages or from one area to another simply stopped dead in their tracks and turned on their heels to watch and to listen.

Thousands of people literally stopped exactly where they were to take it in. It didn't disappoint with David Draiman holding some 90,000 festival goers in the palm of his hand.

Pic by Matt Eachus

Pic by Matt Eachus

A medley of cover versions with guest vocalists was another surprise as Lzzy joined him for U2's 'Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,' Blaze Bayley for The Who's 'Baba O'Reilly, and Benjamin Burnley teamed up for a cover of Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name Of' which sent the crowd into a frenzy.

And so it came down to the third and final headliners of the weekend with British metal legends Iron Maiden.

With Maiden there are some cast-iron guarantees. Tight musicianship, Bruce Dickinson prowling the stage like a panther on a hot tin roof, a devoted crowd hanging on their every chord and word, and of course a show not to be missed.

A set built on the bedrock of classic anthems with a generous splurge of new material from 'The Book of Souls' ensured those seeing Maiden for the first time ticked off the box for a 'Fear of the Dark' or 'Number of the Best' sing-a-long. While for those seeing the band on multiple occasions the set was interspersed with songs which could become new live favourites in time.

As darkness finally fell on Donington Park and as rock n' roll thrill seekers traipsed out of the gates for the final time it didn't take long for the weather worries to fade into the part of the brain where shit doesn't matter anymore.

As always, this was the best weekend of the year, and I'm already plotting my 2017 trip. And if the beats on the jungle drum are correct and Download are honouring two gigantic rock albums' 30th anniversaries with special sets - then I'm all in.

After all Def Leppard's 'Hysteria' and Guns N' Roses 'Appetite For Destruction' are the kind of albums which turned so many of us onto this gloriously muddy path to festivals like these in the first place.

Horns up and see you next summer - no rain this time though Mother Nature you moody old boot.

eric@newrocktimes.com

Pic by Matt Eachus

Pic by Matt Eachus