What happened when Bring Me The Horizon headlined Download 2023

Blood, fire, success: Sheffield’s finest finally get the Donington prize with pyro-tastic headline showing...

What happened when Bring Me The Horizon headlined Download 2023
Luke Morton
Jenn Five, Andy Ford

It’s all been building to this. A main stage packed with the most exciting bands in the UK right now, from Nova Twins to Architects, culminating in the biggest British rock band of the past decade. Bring Me Horizon’s ascension to the upper echelons of heavy music has been nothing short of staggering; the underdog story of a scrappy deathcore band from Sheffield going on to influence an entire generation of genre-spanning artists and redefine what it means to be metal in the process.

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 any more. 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.

That said, the setlist doesn’t delve into Horizon’s heavier catalogue, never straying any deeper than Sempiternal. Such a decision could be seen as a missed opportunity (and one cut from There Is A Hell… wouldn’t go a miss), but it’s testament to the strength and impact of the past 10 years for Steel City’s finest. Teardrop, MANTRA, Parasite Eve, Kingslayer, Drown, Shadow Moses… all precision tooled to fill the sky with choruses for days and cause all flavours of carnage. And in typical Oli Sykes fashion, he’s not one to mince words when inciting chaos, with a well-timed “jump you little shits!” here and describing anyone not moving as “a special kind of knobhead” there.

With pyro and graphic animations working overtime, things are elevated even further by the guest appearances from Nova Twins for 1x1 and the iconic Amy Lee for Nihilist Blues and One Day The Only Butterflies Left Will Be In Your Chest As You March Towards Your Death. Then, after a powerful rendition of Follow You, sending tens of thousands of phone lights into the air – hopefully not causing an issue for nearby landing planes – it’s the small matter of uber-bangers Throne and Can You Feel My Heart? to send Donington back to their tents happy.

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.

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