The big review: Download Festival 2023

Celebrating an incredible 20 years with a whopping anniversary spectacular, here’s all the best stuff from Download Festival.

The big review: Download Festival 2023
Emily Carter, Sam Law, Luke Morton, Nick Ruskell, Emma Wilkes
Jenn Five, Andy Ford, Nat Wood

Last year’s return to a full-scale fest was ace, but in 2023 Download is celebrating its 20th anniversary and pulling out all the stops – from two Metallica shows to a Bring Me The Horizon headline debut and a closing set from Donington heroes Slipknot (hopefully we’ll also find out what’s going on with the band too given all that’s happened lately).

Obviously, we’re going to be here this weekend (well, actually, for all four days!) to keep you updated on the action – so keep coming back and we’ll have constant reviews and photos of all the best bands for those who are experiencing serious FOMO right now.

SlipknotApex Stage

There’s something in the air tonight, and it’s not just the looming threat of thunderstorms, as the gathering black clouds finally cool down a baking, dusty Donington. A palpable sense of tension hangs over the main stage, as the past few days have been some of the most chaotic and uncertain in the headliners' turbulent history, with the 90,000-strong crowd unsure if lynchpin and founding member Clown is actually going to be here (spoiler: he is) and the recent surprise departure of Craig Jones

…From the perennially awesome Eyeless to the criminally underplayed Left Behind to an invigorating rendition of Snuff to Download Festival’s national anthem Wait And Bleed (dedicated to a certain Kerrang! magazine), it’s sledgehammer hit after hit for 90 minutes. In a weekend headlined by Hall Of Famers Metallica and legends-in-waiting Bring Me The Horizon, Slipknot do not come to fuck around, reminding everyone just how dangerous and formidable they are with a triumphant closing salvo of Duality, Custer and Spit It Out for the biggest jump-the-fuck-up in history.

Nothing comes close to the Slipknot live experience and when they fully click into gear, they’re unstoppable. And tonight it is full speed or nothing. A victorious, emotional close to one of the best Downloads in its 20-year tenure. Normality is peering over the horizon, but tonight was a true celebration of freedom, perseverance and survival on both sides of the barrier. Slipknot forever.

Read the full review: What happened when Slipknot headlined Download 2023

GhostApex Stage

Some might say today is a sort of audition for Ghost, whose name frequently comes up in conversations about who Download's future headliners could be. It is, as expected, incredibly busy down the far end of Donington, with a steady flow of people climbing the hill even during Parkway Drive. The Swedes arrive onto a stage with a stained glass window backdrop (because, of course) in a cloud of fire and smoke, rattling through an inspired choice of opener in the form of the flamboyant Kaisairion and gravelly Rats. Besides their grandiose sense of fun and lean sound, the biggest realisation springing from their second stage headline show is just how many festival-made bangers they have, from the crunchy Mummy Dust to the gloriously campy Dance Macabre (complete with a fabulous rainbow light show), and there's still even more they could frontload an hour-and-a-half set with. Come on, Download. They've passed the test with flying colours, surely. (EW)

Electric CallboyAvalanche Stage

You want silly? Electric Callboy gives you silly, babay! "They told us that Download was going crazy," grins vocalist Nico Sallach early on, "but this is even more than we expected!" The German jokers have made a career of pushing synth-stained modern rock to its outer limits (then gleefully over the top) and this Avalanche Stage headline sticks brilliantly true to form. Reportedly arriving to Download's insanely overflowing silver and red tent with eight trucks carrying their German arena production, there is something inherently riotous about seeing this kind of show in a space where you'd normally be happy with a printed roll of fabric and some pretty lights. More video screens than Parkway. More flame-stacks than Metallica. More ticker-tape and sparkles than, well, anyone. And a bright red grand piano chucked in for good measure. Musically, they overdeliver, too, with everything from the exuberant Spaceman and superbly self-aware Best Day ("We want to try something that no band ever has before: you set down, then when this sink kicks in, you jump up!") sending the huge crowd bonkers. A good number do run off when they drop (their first slice of) thumping mega-hit MC Thunder mid-set, but the masses that choose to stay are treated to fragments of Let It Go from Disney's Frozen and Backstreet Boys' I Want It That Way and a whole bunch more madness than is really possible to write down. One of the most stupidly enjoyable Download sets of all time, and a mighty tease for what Electric Callboy will be packing when they return in October. Wunderbar! (SL)

Parkway DriveOpus Stage

A massive band deserves a massive stage show, and Parkway Drive are reveling in their chance to be arena metal behemoths. It opens with a flaming torch being carried onstage before frontman Winston McCall steps out dressed in an all-white vest and trousers, which feels like a rockstar power move in and of itself. What follows is an hour of leviathan proportions, crammed full of only the meatiest riffs and huge yell-alongs (the 'KILL! KILL!' refrain of new cut Soul Bleach feels custom-made for such an occasion), while the chaos reaches a nadir when Winston gets in the crowd for Idols & Anchors and the ensuing mosh-pit resembles a cyclone. They also succeed hugely in making a spectacle out of it, with blasts of fire and, more surprisingly, a violinist and cellist for Shadow Boxing and seven-minute arena ballad Darker Still (jokingly referred to by Winston as "the drinks break"). The hour they have passes before you can say 'Donington Park', and save for some occasionally wobbly clean vocals, it's a tremendous showing. (EW)

Palaye RoyaleOpus Stage

Palaye Royale's teatime crowd is divided into two distinct camps: those who love them, and those who seem rather indifferent. To their misfortune, the latter camp is substantially larger. While they have a very solid run on the Opus Stage, musically speaking, with a slick rendition of Fucking With My Head and an ice-cool No Love In LA, the punters who aren't part of the congregation jostling at the front fail to seem convinced by their fashion art rock fare. While frontman Remington Leith's crowdsurfing in a dinghy and shooting people with a water pistol for King Of The Damned is a great laugh, there's not enough going on elsewhere to engage the whole crowd. Remington also attempts the "don't do a mosh-pit" line Bob Vylan used yesterday without as much enthusiasm (and ironically, pits only begin when he asks). While they have still done well, they can do more than this. (EW)

I PrevailApex Stage

The volume is obnoxiously loud in the front compound of the Apex Stage for I Prevail. It's apt: the Michigan metalcore mob seem to have geared this set as a wake-up call for anyone who's been sleeping on their ascent to heavy music's upper echelons. If songs like Bad Things, FWYTYK and Judgement Day didn't stress their confidence enough, daring to invite the loftiest of comparisons with lengthy chunks of System Of A Down's Chop Suey and Slayer's Raining Blood underlines it. Every ounce of emotion is channelled for maximum impact, with Brian Burkheiser's dedication of Breaking Down "to anybody in a dark spot right now" and Eric Vanlerberghe's declaration that "I just wanna live in this scene for a second; this is fucking insane!" only heightening the sense of connection with their crowd. Admittedly, it feels like they still need a few more cast-iron bangers to really deserve billing quite this lofty, but they grab this chance with white-knuckled conviction. (SL)

Green LungDogtooth Stage

If Behemoth are the blinding, life-affirming light of Lucifer, Satanism red in tooth and claw, then Green Lung are coming at such things from a more pipe-smoking hobbit angle. Throw Sabbath, Deep Purple, a Wicker Man DVD and Dennis Wheatley's collected works into a cauldron, and the resultant potion is absolutely intoxicting. Even better, at the start leather-lunged singer Tom Templar visibly works for a reaction; by halfway through, he's got a packed tent following his lead, and by the end, he's got their souls in his back pocket. All that's missing is The Goat Of Mendes. But Green Lung could entertain the Devil himself. (NR)

Soul GloDogtooth Stage

It's a tent of two halves as Soul Glo hit the Dogtooth on Sunday afternoon. Almost every inch of space from the central pillars back is filled with unconscious bodies sheltering from the sun. Down the front, though, they're making their own air-conditioning, with a massive mangle full of two-steppers and hardcore dancers, circle-pits and chucked pints of water. It's a wild, wantonly unhinged scene populated by bedraggled characters who've evidently gone feral by the final day of the UK's biggest-ever heavy festival. The chaos is interrupted only when the PA gets cut due to frontman Pierce Jordan hoisting himself up one of the stage pillars, too. Mixing hip-hop samples with properly spasmodic hardcore, songs like Driponomics and Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?) feel perfect for moments like this. And in one of the most unexpected displays of unity at the whole festival, drummer TJ Stevenson, wearing a Glasgow Celtic top, gets a salute from a Rangers jersey-sporting punter in the pit. Hardcore really does break down walls. (SL)

BehemothApex Stage

Almost as if making some sort of power statement, Behemoth take to the sweltering afternoon stage in leather, long sleeves and, in the case of frontman Nergal, various very heavy looking robes. Oh, and fire that shoots out to form their inverted cross sigil. The thrill of Satan's Metal Division (Poland), though, is like being set on fire anyway. Nergal is a man who seems to view a massive festival just as a warlord sees his opposition, and his wide-eyed mania speaks to his focus on converting as many here to run to the darkness as possible. True, the giant production is less effective in sunny times as it is at night, but this is to split hairs: there are very few bands on Earth who summon such a sense of power in what they do, and even fewer who make you leave feeling like your soul has been dry-cleaned and ready for anything. (NR)

Jazmin BeanAvalanche Stage

Strolling onstage a vision of Bo Peep in army boots, Jazmin Bean’s Download debut is met with a rapturous reception. One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, for many fans this is the first time they’re seeing the online sensation in the flesh, but good things come to those who wait. Those clinging to the front row belt out every single word, some struggling to fight back the tears, and from the off it’s clear this star-in-the-making’s music connects on a deeper level than just catchy songs, with tales of identity, mental health and toxicity striking at the beating heart of the Avalanche Stage this afternoon. Probably the biggest crowd Jazmin has ever played to, there’s no sign of nerves, as they swagger and strut across the stage, a beacon of representation and an icon for the freaks and weirdos. Rounding off the set brawling with Hello Kitty – and winning, of course – the feverish reaction speaks to a more profound experience than the set of the weekend. For those who needed it today, this was life-affirming. (LM)

The HUApex Stage

How much fun can one person have playing what looks like a cross between a guitar and the most metal looking cello ever? (Its proper name is a morin khuur). Watching The HU, the answer is: a great big bucketload. The Mongolians’ fiery folk metal has enticed plenty of curious punters down to the Apex Stage on this sweltering Sunday afternoon, and it gives the fatigued, sunburnt masses a shot in the arm, particularly when they lead them in a chant of ‘HU! HU! HU!” that sounds like the bark of a large dog. They even have the audacity to chuck in their hulking cover of Metallica’s Sad But True – with the lyrics translated into Mongolian – less than 24 hours after that band headlined the very stage they’re on, and it goes down a treat. By their set’s conclusion, they’re looking out over a sea of raised fists and an ever-expanding mosh-pit; there’ll be lots of people walking away from their tents with a new favourite band. (EW)

Graphic NatureDogtooth Stage

As the buzz of a foreboding synth sounds over the PA in the Dogtooth Stage, a disembodied voice warns the crowd that they are about to witness, quite literally, scenes of a Graphic Nature. If scores of punters headbanging hard enough to cause some serious neck ache and explosive pits are this lot's idea of graphic, they have lived up to their name. Vocalist Harvey Freeman puts on a particularly impassioned display, and his determined howls and thrashes of his body give the impression that being here offers him a giant sense of relief. It makes the show all the more powerful, especially when he emphasises that the tent can be a space for release, especially in a world of toxic masculinity, and shouts out the neurodivergent community and anyone struggling with their mental health. Their live heaviness isn't brutality's for brutality sake – it is a compelling exercise in catharsis. (EW)

Lorna ShoreApex Stage

There's something about Lorna Shore. The New Jersey quintet's brand of faintly melodic, slightly symphonic deathcore isn't a million miles from that being peddled by literally hundreds of their peers right now, but there's a clarity of purpose and commitment to the vision that elevates them into a category all their own. Songs mined from the darkest of places glitter in Donington's scorching sun. The exceptional To The Hellfire, for instance, incites a tidal swell of crowdsurfers that's crazy for this time of day. Into The Earth revs the circle-pits from a place of playful push-and-shove to one of legitimate peril ("Are you guys ready to run?!" grins frontman Will Ramos). Then they have the sheer audacity to pummel through the full Pain Remains trilogy as the set blazes to its close. They're already exceptional, but do these lads have what it takes to go even further, becoming one of those cast-iron greats you'll be coming back to see climb the Donington bill over the years and years to come? Today, it seems a Shore thing. (SL)

BloodywoodApex Stage

There's a lot going on as Bloodywood smash open the Apex Stage on Sunday. Big beats. Bare feet. Colourful traditional dress. Crunching nu-metal. Eastern flavoured flutes and drums. And, judging by the plumes of dust swirling up across the site, no shortage of circle-pits from an adoring fanbase. There's a tendency, still, to dismiss the Indian supremos as the big-banter novelty act they once were, but the spine of seriousness running through proceedings here gives even their harshest detractors cause to think again, whether they're calling out society's sexual predators or stressing the affirmative value of their own story. "We stand before you, Download: a band from New Delhi, India, who dared to chase an impossible dream," gasps frontman Jayant Bhadula at the set's emotional crescendo, the passion cracking his voice. "We are proof that every risk is worth it…" Crucially, they have the songs to back such statements up, with the likes of Gaddaar, Dana Dan and Jee Veerey proving that, even after 20 years, there's still fresh ground to be broken at Download. (SL)

MetallicaApex Stage

If Metallica's Thursday night masterclass felt like something of a steely surprise, Saturday's strident return comes loaded with far more of the weight of expectation. There will be no snatching victory from the jaws of traffic-chaos defeat here. No-one has the excuse to take it easy that they're skiving off work on a weeknight. And, although a simple process of elimination means tonight's setlist is inherently more predictable, they manage to keep a few surprises up their sleeves.

The first arrives straight out of the gate. Where logic and, momentarily, the artwork on their gargantuan video-screens, suggest that Set Two should begin with the concussive, time-tested ring of For Whom The Bell Tolls, they instead handbrake-turn into the classic, 100mph thrash madness of Whiplash. It's a pulse-quickening swerve that immediately spikes the adrenaline. Then the bells toll. After that? The emphatically high-voltage jolt of Ride The Lightning.

“Are you guys having fun?” teases frontman James Hetfield, with an increasingly practiced twinkle in his eye. “Well, knock it off, because this is supposed to be all about doom and gloom…”

Read the full review: What happened when Metallica headlined Download 2023… again!

CreeperDogtooth Stage

Well, what a badly kept secret that was. Creeper’s supposed surprise appearance on the Dogtooth stage was foiled by a reveal of Download merch with their name on it, and consequently, there are so many people here that it feels as humid inside the tent as it was earlier. The chants for them begin several minutes before the Southampton sextet set foot on stage, and although this is a scaled-down version of their usual gloriously gothic spectacle, they certainly don’t shrink their showmanship. The frontman now known as William Von Ghould is on dashing form, gliding across the stage in a leather jacket and sunglasses for flamboyant newbie Cry To Heaven and coolly opening the pit up for frenetic old school rager Poison Pens. They also throw in a brand new song, Sacred Blasphemy, which sounds enticingly like it could be Creeper’s version of something like Thank You For The Venom. Indeed, there’s something Will still just as touched by the show of love from the crowd, despite presumably witnessing such adoration hundreds of times – “You are fucking beautiful, Download! This might be the best crowd we’ve ever had here.” It’s a special thing to witness, especially since it seems likely that opportunities to see them in settings as intimate as this will get rarer and rarer. (EW)

Coheed And CambriaAvalanche Stage

Seeing Coheed’s big-haired frontman Claudio Sanchez having a lovely time in Metallica’s Snakepit right after they’ve played, one might think he has other things on his mind today and a show is just a formality. WRONNNNG! Post-hardcore’s answer to Rush have woken up and chosen ‘bangers only’ today, with particularly virulent run-throughs of The Running Free and No World For Tomorrow sending the tent wild. Coheed are fucking brilliant, and the years under their belt are simply rings on a tree stump. Even if one impressed bloke in the crowd can be heard loudly asking a passer by which one’s Coheed and which is Cambria. Both are correct, sir. (NR)

DisturbedApex Stage

Ten-thousand fists? More like 100,000 pumping tonight, mate, as Disturbed take the main stage before Metallica. Within 'serious' musical circles, they are a meme. But it's not like everyone here is just holding their space for tonight's main event. Watch closely and you'll get a peek into frontman David Draiman's soul. The cover of Simon & Garfunkle's The Sound Of Silence, for instance, aches with the feeling of someone who sang along to that song for years before he hit 'record'. His transcendentally earnest mid-set monologue on depression and suicide, meanwhile, is surely the most emotionally naked any artist has been on this stage all weekend. It's just a bit odd that it's used to preface their gleefully cartoonish take on Genesis' Land Of Confusion. In keeping with a pale-blue-on-white backdrop that looks like it might legitimately have been churned out by a T-shirt bootlegging company, though, it's hard not to fall in love with the shonky, animal-sound charm of rock club bangers like Inside The Fire and Down With The Sickness all over again. As their chest-slapping latest single insists, these lads truly are Unstoppable. (SL)

Bob VylanAvalanche Stage

It's often the debut sets at Download that end up being the most special. For Bob Vylan's first Donington outing, that couldn't be more true. From the instant Bobby Vylan steps to centre stage to a wall of cheers, for his usual pre show "light stretching and meditation", the contingent in the Avalanche tent are unable to look away. It's an anticipatory moment of peace before the atmosphere in the tent becomes suddenly charged as the Bobbies rip through Northern Line and I Heard You Want Your Country Back and the crowd match their energy. Something must also be said about Bobby's ingenious stage patter – across 40 minutes, he riffs on last week's Royal Blood-gate ("We make pop music! Who likes pop music?") and opens the pits with reverse psychology ("Definitely don't circle-pit! I said don't!"). He also delivers a scathing kiss off to the Met Police for Pulled Pork, for which he is joined by FEVER 333's Jason Aalon Butler, off whom he bounces with ease. It's a huge victory for them today. (EW)

GWARDogtooth Stage

Raincoats on, security – it's GWAR time! If you want blood, they've got it (bright green jizz as well), and waste no time in soaking Download in it. Keeping up with current events, their repertoire of costumes of giant world leaders who meet a grisly end now includes King Charles, who gets a right royal abusing, and a Putin boxing match, before even more blood gets fired everywhere. It's all gloriously bad taste, and the funniest thing you'll see all weekend. Oh, and they play some brilliantly dunderheaded metal behind all the macabre clowning as well. You just hope those securing an early spot on the barrier for Creeper knew what they were letting themselves in for…

AlexisonfireApex Stage

Alexisonfire are, unquestionably, one of the greatest bands of their generation. Full of sensitivity, intimacy and jagged edges, however, their music sits awkwardly on stages of this size. The complex vocal interplay between George Pettit, Wade MacNeil and Dallas Green is part of that, with many of its intricacies lost in today's somewhat muddy, oddly quiet mix. Also, there's something profoundly upsetting about seeing so many casuals failing to engage – at all – with songs as brilliant as Boiled Frogs and Young Cardinals. When they do connect, though, the Canadian greats remain utterly irresistible. George's "Fuck homophobia! Fuck transphobia! Fuck misogyny! Fuck racism! Fuck you!" intro to Accept Crime is a moment that grabs the audience by the throat. A gorgeous Sans Soleil couldn't be better suited to sunbleached fields like this. And the climactic This Could Be Anywhere In The World is as undeniable as it's ever been. (SL)

Bambie ThugDogtooth Stage

Considering the heat has reduced everyone here to more sweat than human, Bambie Thug is worth applauding on their ability to rock up in their deliciously wild corpse-paint/winged leotard ensemble as if gross, sweaty make-up run is beneath them. And it is. Remaining immaculate throughout, their twisted take on clubby goth darkness may be a new curio for many of those gathered in the tent, but their charisma and natural ability onstage – flanked by two buff centurion-types – plus an appearance from Mimi Barks, carried them through a set that definitely falls into the 'victory' column. (NR)

Kid KapichiAvalanche Stage

Just when you think Kid Kapichi can't possibly pack any more swagger, they go and deliver a set like this. The path to the Avalanche Stage is littered with bodies melted by today sweltering temperatures, but the rumble of riffage and spiky vocal hooks pack in the faithful from far and wide to catch a collective who feel increasingly like the bastard children of Arctic Monkeys, IDLES and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes. "Guys, we only have 30 minutes, so we're going to keep rushing through," gasps frontman Ben Beetham with an appetite that suggests he'd go all night if needed, "but this is packed to the rafters and we really can't thank you enough." The twangy menace of Death Dips sends the place into delirium before Ben himself loses it somewhat ("Have you got room for desert? I wanna' see circle-pits like the galaxy is falling! This pasta needs stirring!!!") as he slingshots us off with Wreck The Gaff. A good way to leave your crowd happy, so happy indeed. (SL)

BLACKGOLDAvalanche Stage

BLACKGOLD have been thrown an advantage thanks to the now punishing mid-afternoon heat. They’re playing in a tent, which many revellers are using to stay out of the sun, meaning they have a bulkier crowd, and therefore a larger opportunity to lure in some new fans. The devotees down the front throw themselves into their outrageous, larger-than-life nu-metal party, and the risk BLACKGOLD take in letting an uninitiated crowd sing the refrain of the swaggering On Another Level pays off simply because it’s so easily memorable. Not everyone is quite so keen – the slightly corny shout-along of “When I say black, you say gold!”, for example, might give certain folks a cotton wool feeling in their mouths – but those who get into it love it. However they might feel, the audience will walk away knowing exactly what they’re about and what they stand for, and their hunger for fun means that festivals could well become their home territory. (EW)

Motionless In WhiteOpus Stage

It’s coming up to 4pm and the Opus Stage is rammed. Since Scranton’s resident goth-metallers Motionless In White last played Download in 2017, they’ve enjoyed a surge in popularity that bands six albums deep don’t often experience, and that’s translated into one of the busiest stages of the weekend. Their show is fairly straightforward, and while they could, at this point, afford to push the boat a little more, when it comes to the most important aspect of it all – how they sound – they have it made. The monstrous Slaughterhouse, for example, hits like a battering ram (and the crowd don’t have to wait to be told to yell back the 'One mutilation under God' refrain) Scoring The End Of The World stomps equally as hard, and they even dust off older favourite Reincarnate for a glitchy throwback to 2014. Nonetheless, there’s a reason people are ravenous for Motionless In White. (EW)

CarcassOpus Stage

The massive knife and fork in Carcass' backdrop this afternoon might be an allusion to the culinary imagery of latest album Torn Arteries, but they could as easily be in reference to the feast of extreme metal flavour the Liverpudlian legends squeeze into this relentless mid-afternoon set. Glowing sunburn red, frontman Jeff Walker is, as ever, the grinding agitator to guitarist Bill Steer's far cooler salve, with the pair steering us between pillars of abrasive extremity and twisted, melodic beauty. Sadly, their reek of putrefaction sours somewhat in the overpowering heat, and there simply isn't time for much of Jeff's trademark salty banter, but songs like Corporal Jigsore Quandary and Heartwork speak loudly enough for themselves. (SL)

ClutchApex Stage

"We've got radio packs on. We're all listening to the BBC," drawls Neil Fallon. "Anyone want the weather report?" Everyone in front of the Apex Stage is feelin' hot, hot, hot, but there's something appropriate about grooving along to Clutch's fat, stoned riffs in desert-y conditions. As Neil winks that the Baltimore quartet are going to "slog through this", as ever, there's absolutely nothing workmanlike at all about them today, even with bassist Dan Maines absent on a personal matter, perfectly subbed by flown-in Fu Manchu man Brad Davis. Neil is like a messianic mountain-man, all big hand gestures and crazed exhortations, and Earth Rocker, Escape From The Prison Planet and Pure Rock Fury could go in a museum as an example of what a band are meant to do and how to get it right. Weather report? Here's the Clutch report: on fire. (NR)

Kid BookieDogtooth Stage

Kid Bookie bloody loves Download. He reckons he’ll be back here again within the next couple of years, too, such is his confidence today. And it’s hard to disagree – for a good five minutes before his band are even ready to kick off their slot, Bookie is up onstage without a mic yelling to the crowd, making an impassioned speech about alternative culture before leading a sing-along to Have You Ever Seen The Rain? “I’m gonna have fun with you…” he promises cheekily. And that’s exactly how it goes: from Stuck In My Ways – which on record features a guest spot from Bookie’s “big brother Corey fucking Taylor” – to a heavied-up cover of Radiohead’s Creep, the south London rocker brings noise, personality and the opportunity for fans to “purge their spirits” (a way of suggesting they mosh without actually telling them to and getting in trouble) to Donington. “I know it’s 2pm, but you’re showing me love like it’s 10-fucking-pm!” he smiles. Yep, we’ll be seeing you here again very soon, sir… (EC)

Ice Nine KillsApex Stage

Having dealt with the double-edged sword of playing to massive crowds of largely apathetic Metallica fans for the past few months on tour, it feels like Ice Nine Kills get their devilish due today. While the monstrous horror icons on whom the Bostonians' setlist draws – Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger, Stephen King's IT – generally thrive in the shadows, they lose nothing slashing through the searing sunlight towards thousands upon thousands of ravenous fans. Bolstered by songs as campily OTT as Funeral Derangements, Stabbing In The Dark and Hip To Be Scared, and, in Spencer Charnas, one of the most naturally charismatic frontmen in the game, it all just makes for a bloody good time. And that's before the cap-off the climactic Welcome To Horrorwood by 'murdering' the Download Dog! (SL)

Municipal WasteOpus Stage

If Metallica represent thrash metal at its most populist and grandiose, Municipal Waste are disciples of the speedy subgenre at its beeriest and, quite frankly, its most fun. The circle-pit is spinning before the Virginian maniacs even get onstage this afternoon, and it doesn't really stop through an all-action onslaught of modern thrash classics like Demoralizer, Breathe Grease, Beer Pressure, Grave Dive and outstandingly-titled banger The Thrashin' Of The Christ. Brilliantly, frontman Tony Foresta seems to be having more fun than anyone, whether cheekily teasing that ’Tallica should've taken them on tour instead of the absent Five Finger Death Punch or pausing to exclaim, "This is fucking awesome." There's even a (maybe) tongue-in-cheek attempt at the world crowdsurf record during Wave Of Death (final total: a convenient '666'). Twenty-two years into the Municipal Waste journey, we would question Tony's insinuation that they still qualify as a "new" thrash band, but thanks to shows like this there'll be no argument that they aren't one of the best. (SL)

Stray From The PathOpus Stage

Jesus fuck. There’s a lot of people who are willing to roast in their all-black outfits for Stray From The Path. By the time they finish up, it becomes clear that it’s a price worth paying to see their show. Their set is a relentless half-hour that bounces and bites at the same time, with the emphasis on energy and chaos rather than hammering home a message, which speaks enough for itself through frontman Drew York’s knife sharp bars. They also launch an amusing twist on the jump-the-fuck-up by masquerading it as a rest break because “we’re all fucking tired”. As the audience shouts along to the refrain of closer First World Problem Child, it’s easy to wonder how loud that sing along could be on the main stage. It ought to be a realistic possibility. (EW)

Unto OthersDogtooth Stage

It's Dawn Of The Goths In Hot Weather in the Dogtooth Stage today, with Portland's Unto Others doing an early shift as the mercury races upward, before Creeper's show tonight. With many using the shade of tent as an escape from the sun, their icy-cool goth metal is a dark delight. Shades-indoors frontman Gabriel Franco's monotone delivery is the perfect deadpan for the vibe, while the surprisingly glam-tinged riffs are a touch of delightful sinfulness. That none of them appear to sweat a drop during the whole thing, but their funereal cool could keep an ice cream intact today. (NR)

FEVER 333Apex Stage

From the moment Jason Aalon Butler steps out to greet Download with a bandana wrapped around his face and the always-incendiary BURN IT flaming like a supercharged Molotov cocktail, it's clear that the freshly reconfigured FEVER 333 are a significant upgrade. On one level that's thanks to newly-recruited guitarist Brandon Davis and drummer Thomas Pridgen so clearly reading from the same hymn sheet as their mercurial frontman. It's even more about the addition of magnetic bassist April Kae, however, with her thumping four-string immeasurably beefing up the live impact of anthems like Made An America and ONE OF US. Their protester's purpose feels reinforced too, with Jason's messaging ("We travel round the world, but we talk about the same shit…") backed up every step of the way, from that inspired rap-rock rework of Blur's Song 2 to swinging from the backdrop and climbing the speaker stack to stopping the show to greet a young black woman snapping photos in the front row. Even more than before, expect this FEVER to spread. (SL)

Static DressOpus Stage

It’s just starting to sizzle by the time Static Dress arrive to break the seal on day three of Download, but the ever-intensifying heat hasn’t stopped swathes of fans making the trek to see them. “You could be doing better shit like being hungover or asleep in a tent,” suggests frontman Olli Appleyard, but really, he needn’t be so modest. Once the Leeds quartet find their footing, they cook up a storm with a caustic rendition of Push rope and conjure a feeling of apocalyptic heaviness with Courtney, just relax, inciting ever-expanding mosh pits and compelling the crowdsurfers to barrel over to the front. They aren’t even deterred by an brief power outage during Sweet., moving swiftly on without hesitation. Bonus points are due, meanwhile, for their staging – the presence of a hooded figure chained to a crucifix at the back of the stage is not just a deft, original touch, but also incredibly creepy, especially when they appear to jerk and wrestle their chains during Fleahouse. Static Dress are metarmorphosing from a good live band to a great live band. (EW)

PolarisApex Stage

Between the swirling dust, spiking temperatures and blaring air raid sirens, there's a sense of Mad Max-alike post-apocalyptic menace as Polaris get the Apex Stage started at high noon on Saturday. The Sydney mob take this heat in their stride, of course, but stepping onto this stage comes with a special kind of pressure. "Ever since I was a kid getting into heavy music, I've watched so many concerts with my favourite bands playing this stage," grins vocalist Jamie Hails, striding along Metallica's walkway. "So to be here ourselves? Holy shit!" With waves of crowdsurfers overwhelming security, bangers like Hypermania and the box fresh Inhumane effortlessly clear the bar. Then the lung-busting sing-along for The Remedy pushes everybody over the top. (SL)

Bring Me The HorizonApex Stage

Rumours about BMTH’s level of production had been circulating all day, but few could have predicted this spectacle. Speaking to Kerrang! recently, keyboardist Jordan Fish said the band would try to “tell a story” with their headline set and “make it more immersive,” and they did not disappoint, with animations on vast screens creating a narrative through-line involving a sentient A.I. going rogue and a sinister cult known as Genxsis, brilliantly kicked off with drummer Mat Nichols’ almost-Terminator impression.

With a goat skeleton mic stand (reminiscent of Jonathan Davis’ HR Giger sculpture) planted in front of the ramp, and church-like stage design, Oli Sykes’ mere presence sends the devoted Donington crowd into a frenzy, before ripping into brutalising new track AmEN!, silencing anyone at Download who assumed Horizon weren’t heavy anymore. Doubling down on that notion, Dear Diary provides the most metal thing we’ll see all weekend – Oli screaming into a chrome decapitated goat in blood-red lighting, surrounded by a literal ring of fire.

In a weekend where it’s easy to get lost in the platitudes of touring bands declaring their love for the UK, as Oli declares “I will never forget this moment” at the end of the set, you can tell he means it. For band and fans, this is a huge win, and hopefully a sign of things to come for Download in future years. Horizon will be back and so will we.

Read the full review: What happened when Bring Me The Horizon headlined Download 2023

EvanescenceOpus Stage

Amy Lee looks surprisingly relaxed for a woman playing to perhaps the biggest second stage crowd Download has ever seen. Where Within Temptation seemed to ride on melodramatic high emotion, Amy's Arkansas heroes Evanescence take their first show on the hallowed turf since 2007, and an impromptu 20th anniversary celebration for Fallen, in stride – despite an Opus squeeze that sees the agoraphobic, infirm and parents of small children retreating to more open ground. "Have you had a good day?" she grins, rhetorically, amidst it all. "Well, bring on the night…" It's fair enough. Hits like Going Under, Call Me When You're Sober and Lithium are good enough to own nights like this, even when they don't come overloaded with stage-straddling swagger and voice-cracking raw emotion. But with Ms Lee and her bandmates clearly well up for it tonight, those and the even-bigger likes of Wasted On You and My Immortal prove utterly irresistible. And by the time inevitable uber-hit Bring Me To Life sends the place into delirium, it's genuinely hard to fathom why this isn't all going down in the bigger space next door. Still, proof that Evanescence remain as awesome as they've ever been. (SL)

Carpenter BrutDogtooth Stage

As with Perturbator in this slot on Thursday, French synthwave terrorists Carpenter Brut are here to hammer Download with big beats and a wall of epic electronics. As the trio do their thing with guitar, drums and a bank of keyboards, the insane light show provides the visual focus, as a beyond-packed tent gets its dancing shoes on to their pumping soundtracks to unmade ’80s sci-fi action flicks. Even having the vocals on The Widow Maker and sleazy synth-hair-metal explosion Beware The Beast – on record performed by Gunship and Grave Pleasures' Matt McNerny respectively – on a backing track rather than sung live only adds to the sense of being in a retro future. Clearly, big beats are the best. (NR)

VVAvalanche Stage

There remains something weird about seeing the Dark Lord Ville Valo while the sun's still up, but the Head Vampire Of Love brings with him a sense of twilit wintry chill to his headlining show. Under a glowing VV Heartagram, he appears from the shadows and, even sporting a cap that gives off Big Frank Spencer Vibes, immediately reminds Download what a natural, suave, charming rockstar he is, the Roger Moore of Love Metal. Solo material from his recent Neon Noir album, such as excellent opener Echolocate Your Love, sound immense, weaving a similar black magic to his previous band. And when he busts out HIM bangers like Right Here In My Arms, Buried Alive By Love and Funeral Of Hearts, the response is deafening. A brilliant, welcome resurrection. (NR)

ArchitectsApex Stage

It’s just past 7pm when Architects appear onstage, which, according to Sam Carter (who’s wearing a very snazzy pair of sparkly black trousers with a denim vest), is mosh o’clock. And, appropriately for mosh o’clock, they’ve only gone and pummelled 100,000 people’s ears with a surprise sonic assault in the form of Nihilist, before curveballing into just over an hour of songs that never fail to hit like a wrecking ball. Despite the sheer power the band harness – even without recently departed guitarist Josh Middleton in their ranks – there’s an earnestness about it that contrasts their rockstar sensibilities. Sam holds a bottle of vodka at one point because “it feels a bit better with this in my head because I am absolutely shitting myself” (and naturally, the crowd cajoles him into taking a swig), but there are even more chuckle-inducing lines where that came from (“Get that motherfucking egg shaker out!” he orders during when we were young). This feeling of familiarity is just one thing that makes it possible to forget this is Architects sub-headlining a festival, not playing a show all of their own. It definitely won’t take another decade before they’re back here again – and maybe even a rank above where they are now. (EW)

PUPAvalanche Stage

Obviously, PUP aren’t a metal band. But Stefan Babcock has the perfect greeting for those eagerly gathered at Download’s Avalanche Stage this afternoon. “What’s up, you metalhead freaks?” he yells as the Canadian punk heroes launch into an emphatic Free At Last, before he stresses that he won’t be doing “a lot of talking – we’re gonna do a lot of playing!” It’s exactly what’s needed right now, with PUP’s loyal legion of fans lapping up every single second of this set: greeting each song the four-piece play like genuine classics, with arms aloft and endless sing-alongs. And the band match things brilliantly: from the high-energy Reservoir (during which Stefan shreds his guitar behind his head) to the frontman’s high jumps during Old Wounds. “Alright Download, let me put this in a language you can understand: open this pit up!” he encourages before an explosive If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will. Yeah, PUP aren’t metal. But they more than belong here. (EC)

Within TemptationOpus Stage

More than once this evening, Sharon den Adel strides to the front platform of the Opus Stage just to toss her hair in the breeze and soak up the sheer scale of the occasion. It's an instantly iconic visual, and utterly emblematic of what makes Within Temptation great. Those who made it out to the Dutch symphonic metallers' Worlds Collide co-headline with Evanescence late last year could be forgiven for thinking they know what to expect from Friday night's run-in repeat of that double-bill, but there's a distinctly different flavour at Download. On one hand, that's down to the somewhat choppy open-air sound, planes swooping overhead and their spurts of pyro paling against the setting sun. More so, it's about the effortless emotional connection with a huge crowd combining casuals and die-hards. Anyone with a soul would surely chime with Sharon's dedications of Raise Your Banner to the nation of Ukraine, and Supernova to her departed father. And any bodies without one get bowled over anyway by the sheer visceral impact of the epic likes of Wireless and Don't Pray For Me. Simply spectacular. (SL)

Empire State BastardDogtooth Stage

Providing an antidote to the soothing early evening sun, Empire State Bastard’s visceral sonic assault threatens to deafen the crowd gathered in the oddly uphill-facing tent. A veteran of Download, it’s been a long time since frontman Simon Neil has played a stage this size at Donington, screeching and barking his way through ESB’s punishing mix of thrash and hardcore brutality alongside Biffy co-conspirator Mike Vennart, Naomi Macleod and Slayer legend Dave Lombardo. A debut performance witnessed by a mix of curious onlookers and die-hards who have already feasted on the stellar singles ahead of upcoming debut LP Rivers Of Heresy, ESB are comfortably one of the heaviest and most eccentric bands of the weekend, their tidal instrumentals only punctured by piercing shrieks. The dictionary definition of a cataclysmic racket, it's proof – if proof be need be – that the Dogtooth Stage is the home of what’s happening in British heaviness right now. Still very much in its infancy, it’s undoubtable that when ESB return it'll be even bigger and (most likely) even heavier, although they could do with turning the volume down a notch… (LM)

PendulumApex Stage

Donington's hallowed turf has been rumbling since lunchtime yesterday, but no-one's thumped it more emphatically than rejuvenated drum and bass supremos Pendulum. There's something inherently euphoric about experiencing modern classics like Slam and The Prodigy's Voodoo People unleashed via the Apex Stage's gargantuan PA with no-expense-spared production against the setting sun, and the tens of thousands of bouncing bodies in attendance here only add to the foundation-shuddering impact. A surprise cameo by Bullet For My Valentine frontman Matt Tuck to run through recent collaboration Halo adds a touch more metallic edge. Rather than any monument to savagery and sadness, though, this set ultimately stands out as a boundary-busting celebration of how good it feels to lose yourself in a neverending swell of sound. Bangin'! (SL)

BrutusDogtooth Stage

A Brutus show is a unique spectacle: for the uninitiated, their vocalist Stefanie Mannaerts is also their drummer, so her drum kit is positioned sideways on to the audience. Because she is sat down for the duration of their set and can’t move about the stage, their music is left to speak for itself in an unparalleled, exposed way. Still, it only amplifies the beauty of what they do, their swirling shoegaze-tinged post-hardcore vacillating from the thunderous in Liar and Victoria to the fragile Miles Away. Even in their quieter moments, for the most part Brutus entrancingly hush the crowd, and the news that they will be returning to the UK to headline in December is met with a loud cheer. It’s not surprising that they’d want more – 25 minutes with Brutus just isn’t enough. (EW)

Neck DeepApex Stage

It’s rammed down the front of the Apex Stage, and Wrexham’s finest pop-punks Neck Deep are duly greeted with a tidal wave of applause before they launch into a vibrant rendition of Motion Sickness. It’s the start of a set that feels like a particularly joyful occasion, with frontman Ben Barlow bounding about the stage like a Labrador who’s had an espresso (though he does to going “on the piss” before the band got onstage), which also means he’s feeling rather chatty, ribbing the crowd for “doing that rowing on the floor shit – that’s not fucking moshing!” He even breaks into a surprise political speech to introduce the frenetic Citizens of Earth – “We’re more powerful than some c**t in a CEO’s office who won’t give striking workers a fair wage,” and later yells “FUCK KEIR STARMER!” but the highlights of the set are still their sunny pop-punk anthems. December is a smash, while closer In Bloom has the punters in the front bunching together as they jostle to the mosh-pit. It’s a life affirming show from a band back on the ascent. (EW)

UndeathDogtooth Stage

"Introducing the reigning, defending death metal champions of the world: hailing from Lancaster, New York, Undeaaaath!" So goes the audacious intro tape for death metal's rising force, and they refuse to disappoint. As frontman Alexander Jones explains, Undeath like to party, and songs like Necrobionic and Grave Osmosis prove this is a genre for those who like to shake their ass as much as banging their heads, with countless crowdsurfers spilling uphill over the barrier and some of the grooviest high-velocity pits Download has ever seen. Even when they're not cranking the volume, this place is a fucking riot, mind. "Crowdsurfing between songs is sick," Alex grins. "You maniacs better keep that up!" Hell yeah, brother! Hell yeah, indeed. (SL)

Hot MilkApex Stage

“Open this place up, you cheeky fuckers!” Hot Milk's Han Mee yells at the swelling contingent in front of her. Who would these punters be not to oblige when this boisterous lot are so hell bent on having fun? They’re sounding properly gigantic on the Apex Stage this afternoon, with opener Party On My Deathbed snapping and snarling as it’s let out of its cage, but even older cuts such as Wide Awake and Glass Spiders explode in this setting, despite being written in a time where the Manchester quartet were playing much smaller stages than this. Han in particular is on especially energetic form, flinging herself across the stage every which way, and even on the floor, determined to give everything. If today’s anything to go by, this band could be on their way to ending up as festival staples. (EW)

As Decemeber FallsAvalanche Stage

After the bombastic evergreen banger Boom Boom Boom Boom by Vengaboys fills the Avalanche Stage, sort-of-local crew As December Falls rush the stage in a blur of blue hair, adrenaline and wide-eyed grins, looking like they can scarcely believe just how full the vast marquee tent is. The Nottingham four-piece have been coming to Download their entire lives, and it’s quite the welcome for their debut outing, as more and more bodies cram in to see the pop-punk upstarts live up to the bubbling hype. While it’s still rough around the edges, vocalist Bethany Curtis is clearly a star in the making, beaming from ear to ear and karate kicking the air as they fire through the raucous Mayday and the pit-starting Carousel. With such energy and excitement both on and offstage, it’s baffling they only have 25 minutes to play with, and as the deafening calls for ‘one more song’ swell inside the tent after Ride, Donington seems to agree. (LM)

Pupil SlicerDogtooth Stage

Pupil Slicer are one of those bands where, even if you've only ever heard the name, you've probably got a good idea what they sound like. Brutal. Uncompromising. Uncomfortable even to think about long after the attack has finished. Even with a slightly swampy sound, they're on absolutely phenomenal form this afternoon, too, with Kate Davies' snarling delivery audible right across site from the moment they hit 'go'. Plus, the Dogtooth tent is fucking rammed, as gnashing offerings from week-old new album Blossom refuse to wilt in the heat. "Scream for me, Donington!" yells Kate at one point, before later demanding, "If you want to show us some pits, show us some fucking pits," as they spiral into flying closer Wounds Upon My Skin. And absolutely everyone here seems happy to oblige. Consider Download well and truly sliced. (SL)

Nova TwinsApex Stage

Nothing says ‘main stage ready’ like a glowing neon sign with the first word of your band name on it, and after a decade of graft, two BRIT nominations, a Mercury nomination and (most importantly) a Kerrang! Album Of The Year, it would be frankly rude not to get Nova Twins a prime slot at Download. The duo run out raring to go in matching electric blue outfits, but as they blast out of the traps with Fire & Ice, the bass swamps the rest of the sound, provoking concerned looks from the duo. Fortunately, it’s quickly sorted out, allowing them to blossom into the big stage powerhouses they’ve always threatened to be. Bassist Georgia South is constantly vibrating with energy throughout, while vocalist and guitarist Amy Love slinks about with a wry grin, enjoying all the space a main stage gives her. As they get the dense throng of people before them jumping for monumental closer Choose Your Fighter, it becomes obvious that they were made to be here. This is what future icons look like. (EW)

Witch FeverDogtooth Stage

Black Sabbath's Paranoid is blaring over the main PA right before Witch Fever kick off over on the Dogtooth Stage. It's to the Manchester doom-punks' enormous credit that their pounding opener I Saw You Dancing feels more like a logical segue than any kind of step down. Having built and built on last year's outstanding Congregation LP, today feels like something of a coronation, with a crowd of thousands banging along with the righteous anger and wrath of cast-iron bangers Reincanate and Bully Boy. Even as singer Amy Walpole jokes about how great it is to be able to able to duck down to see (and hear) the mighty Nova Twins in one of the weekend's most confounding clashes, it's clear that this gang can hold their own against anyone. (SL)

Stand AtlanticApex Stage

Stand Atlantic have a big task on the top of their to-do list today – entertaining the punters in the glaring midday sun on one of the chunkiest stages they’ve played in the UK. Although it’s a step up, they certainly belong there, with the stabbing riffs of hair out and the jittering doomsday fizzing with life when blasting from such big speakers. With only a half-hour slot, however, there’s not as much room for the Australian quartet’s distinctive wit to come through (bar frontwoman Bonnie Fraser cheekily signing off with “Catch ya later, cunts!”), which might have helped to give their performance more of a sense of individuality. That said, by the time they close with the explosive molotov, it feels like they’ve acclimatised to their surroundings and can muster more of a sense of attack. Nonetheless, from top to bottom, there’s loads of fun to be had when they’re around. (EW)

Taipei HoustonDogtooth Stage

Taipei Houston open Friday's Dogtooth Stage with the snappy, snarling desert rock of As The Sun Sets, but it's hard not to feel like the Californians' rise has only just begun. Myles (drums) and Layne (vocals, bass) Ulrich's old man Lars closed the Apex Stage last night, but there's a "fast and crazy" youthful exuberance about songs like From The Bottom and Respecter that's far better suited to sunshine sets like this. Of course, a good number of this impressive crowd are here to check out the extension of the literal 'Metallica Family'. Regardless, the runaway front-and-centre circle pit for The Middle confirms these lads have the talent, character and confidence to be resoundingly worthy of a slot on Donington's hallowed turf in their own right. (SL)

MetallicaApex Stage

“What am I doing here?” asks James Hetfield, following Metallica’s first three songs tonight. “I’m trying to sing – that’s what I’m doing! You’re gonna practice with me…”

He’s being modest, of course. At the metal icons’ ninth visit back to Donington Park (and their first of two sets this weekend), the frontman is on genuinely incredible form. There’s no need for any practice required here, with Papa Het not only sounding better and more fired-up than ever, but also bringing an endearing level of playfulness to the band’s otherwise imperious performance…

Read the full review: What happened when Metallica headlined Download 2023

PerturbatorDogtooth Stage

You can't go wrong with a massive, glowing pentagram looming over the stage. Especially not when it's part of a mesmerising light show that looks like something out of satanic Blade Runner spin-off. And especially not when it's all moving to the beat of dark synthwave duo Perturbator. From behind a massive bank of keyboards mainman James Kent summons the Devil's most banging electro party, headbanging as NeoTokyo sends the Dogtooth Stage into a frenzy of dancing, including two women doing The Macarena. Gothier cuts from 2021's excellent Lustful Sacraments ease up on the hard beats a little in favour of atmosphere, but the spell remains wickedly over Download until the final, apocalyptic synth blast signals the end. Being evil rarely felt so good. (NR)

State ChampsAvalanche Stage

State Champs’ third stage headline slot is only their second show of 2023, and with the paint having dried on last year’s Kings Of The New Age, this crowd are well primed for some fresh new bangers. Bolstered by the Avalanche Stage’s particularly chunky sound, Outta My Head is greeted with joyous sing-alongs, as is the sweetly poppy Act Like That, while summery love song Sundress offers a welcome surprise. Naturally, however, the songs that soar the most are the ones their fans have known for years, with older gems All You Are Is History and Secrets roared back at the Albany quintet the loudest. While they don’t do much to deviate from a standard pop-punk show template, the simple approach still pays large dividends – and there’s little to complain about when they fire out so many crowd-pleasing anthems across 50 minutes. (EW)

SkindredOpus Stage

When Skindred were announced as last-minute replacements for Five Finger Death Punch, headlining Download 2023's second stage on Thursday night, it evoked a range of reactions. The majority seemed to be based on the supposition that the Newport mainstays simply weren't as big a deal as the Las Vegas titans. Songs like Pressure and Kill The Power were pretty fucking good, of course, but repetition over countless home country shows had worn off their sheen somewhat. Thing is, this evening they shine harder than ever. It's actually difficult to squeeze into the massive Opus Stage compound by the time Benji Webbe and the boys step on. Every body here is moving. And whether they're working through heart-wrenching personal anecdotes (how Benji lost both parents by age 11), offering inadvertent innuendo ("Download is better when it's sunny, but we'll still come when it's wet") or smashing through deep cuts, fresh offerings and old favourites like Nobody, the sheer levels of crowd engagement and chutzpah confirm Skindred will never be the wrong option for a show like this. (SL)

Alter BridgeApex Stage

Myles Kennedy loves his job. He says so while standing cooly on the Apex Stage’s ego ramp, having just led a Mexican wave of sing-alongs to the always-epic Metalingus. There’s a huge crowd gathered all the way up the hill, basking in the evening sun to see Alter Bridge in their seemingly customary sub-headline slot, and the frontman in particular is relishing this – so much so, in fact, he confesses he’s actually gotten strangely “comfortable” playing to the hundred-thousand in front of him at Donington. The likes of Addicted To Pain and Isolation sound immense, while the absolute highlight is a stunning Blackbird, dedicated to late Kerrang! photographer Ashley Maile and introduced by Myles via a story about the pair watching Def Leppard here together in 2011. “Download, you’re the fucking best,” the singer smiles afterwards. It’s a feeling very much reciprocated. (EC)

PusciferOpus Stage

You want weird? Download gives you weird, babay! The last time legendary frontman Maynard James Keenan performed on Donington's hallowed turf, he wad overseeing Tool's awesome closing set on the Apex Stage in 2019. Fronting his other-other band Puscifer in the far lower-stakes sunset shimmer of 2023 over on the Opus Stage tonight, he's evidently having a lot more fun. On one hand, that means sporting his CIA-ready black-and-white suit, grey-streaked hairpiece and slathered-on lipstick. On the other, it means the deployment of weirdo prog-compositions one degree removed from those of Tool and A Perfect Circle like Apocalyptical and Bullet Train To Iowa: songs glowing with druggy, mercurial energy and transcendental purpose. Not exactly a set to win over the doubters, but one that takes hardened devotees to a higher plane. (SL)

HalestormApex Stage

Halestorm’s schtick is simple: rock’n’roll with a modern sheen. But that comes across to its most thrilling extent when they’re put on a suitably gigantic stage. While everything they perform – including an audacious one-two of the heavyweight hits I Miss The Misery and Love Bites (So Do I) – sounds electric as is, it’s when they get tricksy that things get really entertaining. The devilish I Get Off abruptly becomes an elongated piano number midway through with singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale pulling off some jaw-dropping runs, while her brother Arejay later rewrites the rulebook on how to make notoriously maligned drum solos engaging rather than boring. The anticipation builds as his rattling drum beats continually stop and start, but it gets even more fun when he pulls out a pair of drum sticks twice the size of his head and carries on thrashing away (and crucially, he doesn’t outstay his welcome either). “This is our church and you are our people!” Lzzy declares as they kick off closing song The Steeple – frankly, they can lay claim to Donington as much as they want. It’s theirs for the taking. (EW)

JinjerApex Stage

Amid the first-day Download revelry, Jinjer’s stage banner, bearing a peace symbol in Ukrainian colours, is a moving sight. If that isn’t poignant enough, they’ve opened with Perennial, whose solemn opening notes feel as heavy as its crushing riffs and offer a reminder of the horrors that exist outside the sanctity of this perimeter. “We’re here to express our gratitude for your support,” declares singer Tatiana Shmailyuk, a message that’s all the more potent in the wake of the “technological, economical and ecological catastrophe” created when Russia destroyed a dam in Ukraine this week. The rest of the set feels like a show of defiance, in which Tatiana puts on an entrancing performance, moving with sass in every step and a determined twinkle in her eye. Unfortunately, the sound isn’t quite on their side, with the bass and drums sounding over-dominant compared to the vocals and main guitars. Nonetheless, we can only hope performing felt as cathartic for them as it looked from the ground. (EW)

Mimi BarksDogtooth Stage

Download's fourth-in-line Dogtooth Stage has been expanded considerably to accommodate the huge 2023 crowds. It's just as well given that the juddering, bass-overloaded sounds rolled out by Berlin doom-trap trailblazer Mimi Barks may well have bowled over a smaller tent. One could certainly argue that the knotty, S&M-inflected likes of Dead Girl and BACK OFF are better-suited to sweaty bunkers with every ounce of daylight excised than glowing festival fields like this. But by the time she wraps up an unnecessary interlude on drums to crescendo off like some bastard child of Death Grips and Ghostemane, there are few here not banging along to her bloody-minded beat. (SL)

A.A. WilliamsDogtooth Stage

A.A. Williams didn't grow up dreaming that she'd be on the undercard for Metallica at Castle Donington. The mercurial London songstress fits better than most on today's truncated bill, though, with her classically-informed goth-metal compositions emanating from the same school of orchestral sweep as Metallia's S&M. From Hollow Heart to As The Moon Rests, there's a sweeping twilight melancholy that seems to ebb and subside in the Dogtooth Tent's flickering shade as much as it would in any grand concert hall, even with Halestorm over on the Apex Stage noisily interrupting the quiet bits. It sticks with this audience, though, long after they spill back into Download's riot of burger vans, amusement rides and hot midsummer light. (SL)

Mammoth WVHApex Stage

Opening Download's Apex Stage, Mammoth WVH bring a dose of old-school Donington classic rock to a glorious sunny afternoon. It seems there is nothing that could ever stop singer/guitarist/Gerard Way lookalike Wolfgang Van Halen looking like he's having the time of his life when he's got a plank of wood and wires in his hands, and with conditions so perfect for their brand of big riffs today, it's winner, winner, wolfy dinner. Beefier than some have have suspected, as Wolfgang solos his way into the afternoon, it's a very agreeable soundtrack to the first cold ones of the day. (NR)

The BronxOpus Stage

“This is an amazing moment for us,” The Bronx frontman Matt Caughthran announces to the Opus Stage crowd. The U.S. hardcore noisemakers are capping off their second decade of mayhem this year and they’re feeling justifiably spirited about it. They more than deserve to call themselves seasoned veterans now, and it shows in their live set in the best possible way – the rattling riffs of classics like Shitty Future and Heart Attack American are muscular in a way that songs are when they’ve been played to perfection countless times. It’s a show full of character and heart (and Matt’s stage patter really peaks when he says, “Where all you old motherfuckers at? Put your hands up if you’re old!”) but it’s also as raucous as you’d expect, particularly when he jumps into the crowd for Knifeman and the moshers carousel around him, kicking clouds of dust into the air. Happy birthday, indeed. (EW)

SNAYXDogtooth Stage

What’s the best way to kick off a festival? In the eyes of SNAYX, it’s with a lovely bit of rabble rousing. While they have a tough task cutting the ribbon on the Dogtooth Stage, they look anything but naive doing it, strutting through snotty opener Work and swaggering new cut H.A.N.G with an appetite for chaos. The only snag, however, is that their vocals are slightly buried in the mix in the first half, meaning their pointed political lyrics don’t cut as deep as they deserve to. Despite this, their crowd are easily enamoured with them – the mosh-pits erupt before their first song is done, and they’re roaring the band’s name back at them within a quarter of an hour. This rowdy lot are sitting on a goldmine of potential. (EW)

Opus StageCancer Bats

"Thank the almighty gods of metal!" roars Liam Cormier, as Ontario hardcore legends Cancer Bats rip open Download's Opus Stage in front of an enormous crowd under the scalding sunshine of Thursday afternoon. Thanks, indeed. The cacophonous Canadians have always packed a neck-cricking, tooth-loosening punch, but their livewire frontman seems to understand there is more at stake today at their first major UK festival following the departure of guitarist Scott Middleton. Snarling cuts like Gatekeeper, Lucifer's Rocking Chair and Radiate connect violently with a crowd who've been craving this sort of unhinged release. Although they might not, as Liam suggests, have "every metal, hardcore and punk kid in the United Kingdom" in attendance, by the time Bricks & Mortar and the trademark cover of Beastie Boys' Sabotage crank things to a chaotic climax, they've busted up no small number of new fans. Just a pity, then, that the powers that be cut intended closer Hail Destroyer before it's even really got started. (SL)

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