Music Reviews

Festival Review: Download 2016

Last weekend Donington seemed to face the seven plagues of Egypt, or at least enough water to flood a thousand deserts. Despite this, there wasn’t an exodus if anything people flocked to the hallowed grounds.

Perhaps due to the opportunity to see some of the greatest metal bands on the planet, meant that the hundred thousand festivalgoers were going to stay come hell or high-water.

The weather in the area had been impeccable until Friday afternoon when it became evident that the noise had angered those in charge of the thunder and the rain. Perhaps Thor isn’t as metal as we thought…

Regardless, the mud didn’t stop the festival from being at its best. Providing three days of paradise away from any of the daily stresses or cares. Of course it did bring its own stresses, including some serious flooding in the campsites, more mud than you could possibly imagine, and the standard festival challenges, but the experiences of the weekend more than made up for those.


The duties of opening this year’s festival were handed to As Lions and Alien Ant Farm. As thousands flooded (no pun intended) into the gates of the main arena, both bands developed a sizeable crowd. As Lions provided another impressive outing for Austin Dickinson, though only the second best performance from a member of the Dickinson family over the weekend. Alien Ant Farm closed off their set with the usual cover of ‘Smooth Criminal’, which went down a storm with the gargantuan crowd in attendance, kicking off the festival in perfect fashion.

Zoax took to the third stage at the perfect time. Fans flocked to the biggest tent due to both excitement for the band, and the fact that the heavens had opened at the start of the set. The band dominated the Maverick stage, standing tall as a highlight of the day. Unfortunately for them, they were followed by Heck. A band that could steal any show on any planet throughout history.

This isn’t to take anything away from Zoax who put on an incredible performance, but Heck had a lot of people talking. Making great use of their surroundings, Heck dove into pits of mud in the middle of the crowd, climbed the scaffolding holding the stage up, and jumped off of anything they could. Singer Matt Reynolds started the set wearing his usual white T-Shirt and Jeans but soon became caked in mud, looking like Trent Reznor at Woodstock.

“Adam D provided his usual stage banter, screaming about the women he was going to have sex with at the festival”

Killswitch Engage faced a slight delay at the beginning of their set but quickly made up for lost time by stomping through a dream setlist that included ‘The End of Heartache’, ‘Rose of Sharyn’, and ‘In Due Time’. Adam D provided his usual stage banter, screaming about the women he was going to have sex with at the festival, something that was perfectly tolerable, and even humorous at times, until singer Jesse Leach dedicated a song to a newlywed couple that had walked down the aisle to it.

Adam D’s comments about his plans for the wife seemed to detract from what would have been a pretty special moment, but hey, if they are that into Killswitch maybe they liked the jokes he was making. Regardless, the set was magnificent and the band showed why they deserve to be as high up the bill as possible. There is often discussion about the headliners of the future, and these guys are someone that definitely could step up one day.

The Lemmy tribute was touching and provided a spectacular atmosphere that did justice for the icon of this industry. Twin Atlantic faced issues early in their set but managed to overcome them, and used a strong back catalogue to get a soaking wet crowd moving again. The weather did wonders for some of the smaller bands.

Savage Messiah were one such band, played to a jam packed Dogtooth stage gave them a massive platform to show off their sonic prowess. With thrash riffs to have Metallica quaking in their boots, and wailing vocals straight out of any 80s hair metaller’s wet dreams. Savage Messiah impressed beyond belief with this showing.

InMe provided a headline set in the subheadlining slot on that stage, playing hit after hit to a grand ovation. The restricted set time meant the band had to forego a newer track in order to squeeze in more of the hits, but that seemed to be a wise choice given the crowd reaction. As InMe finished Rammstein had one hour of setting the main stage alight remaining.

The German industrial metal titans closed the Friday in style by setting literally everything on fire. No show compares to the one Rammstein bring with them. Musically they’re a tight band that make no mistakes when playing their well-crafted songs, but it’s the dramatic performance that makes the band stand out from the rest.


Waking up to yet more rain on Saturday morning made the effects of Friday seem that much harsher. This was nothing that a couple of drinks and a fantastic performance from Avatar couldn’t deal with. The consummate showmen that Avatar are managed to wake up the crowds with complete ease.

The set also provided a memorable quotation from the outlandish frontman: “Bang your heads Download, Bang them like the Swedes do”. As the afternoon began, Black Peaks filled the third stage both in terms of crowd numbers and in terms of their massive sound. One of the greatest new rock bands in the world had no problem showing the Download audience just how good they are.

They also announced a co-headline tour with Heck during their set, which will undoubtedly be the greatest tour of 2016. A taste of something different was provided by WWE’s NXT wrestling shows. Placed in their own arena, the alternative entertainment was consistently over capacity and most viewers built into a crowd outside of the tent desperately attempting to see into the tent. It was nice to see something so different at the festival, and the atmosphere for this tent was unparalleled.

“Unapologetically cheesy and yet fantastically sincere”

It was evident that Sixx AM were a group of superstar entertainment veterans that had plenty of experience putting on mind-blowing rock shows, something they did spectacularly well at Download. A poignant highlight of the weekend was hearing the huge crowd singing along to ‘Life is Beautiful’, something that was unapologetically cheesy and yet fantastically sincere.

Rival Sons were a treat musically, but it seemed as though the band weren’t all that into the show, which detracted greatly from the performance. Despite this, listening to the soothing sounds of their unique blend of classic rock as the sun finally broke through was a gentle reminder of how relaxing music can be. Megadeth came prepared to rock through a set of monster hits and attempt to revive a crowd that had been battered by the weather.

They succeeded in their task, and remained humble throughout. They even brought out Nikki Sixx for a cover of ‘Anarchy in the UK’ which was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the weather then returned to its awful state, once more punishing the rock faithful. At this point, with the ground and everyone’s spirits beaten into a muddy mess there was only one band that had any hope of bringing a crowd to live and getting a reaction.

Fortunately, that band was playing on the second stage, under the name of Skindred. Skindred drew in a mammoth crowd that spanned the entirety of any land that provided a view of the second stage. By the end of their set, Benji Webbe’s crew had managed to convince the crowd to sit in the mud and then jump up, and they even pulled off a visually incredibly Newport Helicopter.

After a long day, Black Sabbath took to the Lemmy stage. Despite a set that was sonically impressive, with the band at their best in years, the weather drew the crowd away. 90,000 fans that started the set with the metal legends, soon turned into what was closer to 60,000. It wasn’t helped by the fact that Sabbath had just announced a full UK tour for January, so many could expect to see the band again soon, in a much dryer setting.

The weather and its effect on the crowd didn’t hinder the set though, as the band ploughed on as strong as ever, playing countless anthems that have historically defined the genre. This was Black Sabbath’s last ever outdoor UK show (we’ll see how long that lasts), and this was a stunning way to do so.


The final day of the festival saw any desperate attempts to salvage the ground completely fail. Monster Truck managed to bring in a formidable crowd despite this, and the fact that the queue for day tickets stretched around the block. The Canadian classic rockers did well to blow away the cobwebs of the dedicated fans. Sadly, their hard work seemed to be demolished shortly after their set due to the rain once again flooding the arena.

While the weather did once again decimate a big portion of the atmosphere it did not stop the hardcore Iron Maiden fans from setting up camping chairs in the spot they wanted to be for today’s headliners. For many it did not matter who else would play today, they were merely a stopgap to kill some time while they waited for the Irons.

This meant that Halestorm and Shinedown faced uphill battles to win over the soaking wet crowd. Both bands did so spectacularly, with Halestorm making great use of their roaring vocals and Shinedown capitalising on Brent Smith’s natural charisma. Their songs naturally suit such a large, open environment which was of great help in getting the crowd moving once more. Shinedown seemed genuinely astonished to be playing in front of a huge crowd at such a historically significant venue, they certainly.

Their songs naturally suit such a large, open environment which was of great help in getting the crowd moving once more. Shinedown seemed genuinely astonished to be playing in front of a huge crowd at such a historically significant venue and they certainly did the setting justice.

“The Canadian classic rockers did well to blow away the cobwebs of the dedicated fans”

Disturbed and Nightwish brought incredibly impressive shows. Not only did Disturbed provide a mesmerising performance of their Paul Simon cover, they also made sure to bring out plenty of guests including Lzzy Hale and Blaze Bayley. Draiman’s voice really stood out in this set. Yet another band that, with the right promotion, could comfortably hang as a headliner in the next few years. Nightwish knew they had a tough job playing directly before Maiden, and so they made sure to bring the best stage show they could.

Smoke, pyrotechnics, and fantastic lighting made sure that their performance seemed every bit as epic as the massive soundscapes they are able to build. After a long wait the weekend was finally closed off by Iron Maiden. In all honesty there isn’t a single band that could have closed the weekend better. Dickinson is one of the greatest frontmen in the world of metal.

When he wasn’t explaining about the tour monkey, the airplane, or Robin Williams, the band made fantastic use of their unparalleled back catalogue. The musical performance never disappoints with this band, and even after a weekend of stunning stage shows, Maiden managed to stand out with their theatrics too. Giant Eddies attempting to behead the band members only to have his heart stolen and thrown into an alchemy pot, an even more giant beast arriving at the call of its number, and a stage consuming, fully moving Eddie head.

The newer tracks from The Book of Souls fit perfectly into the set and stood out as hits that will remain in the set for years to come. In the face of everything the gods could throw at it, Download 2016 managed to thrive as possibly the best festival in the storied history of Donington.

Liam Fleming

Images Courtesy of Matt Eachus – Download Festival 2016

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