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Download takes a risk and pulls it off big time…

 In recent years, people have been asking “who are the next big headliners?” all too often. Biffy Clyro stepped up at Sonisphere 2011 and played the best sets of their career at Reading and Leeds last year, but Biffy appeal to a far bigger audience than just the traditional rock/metal crowd.
Who out of the metal world could step up to the plate and stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats? This year, Download booker Andy Copping decided that this debate needed to end and booked Avenged Sevenfold to headline the Friday night of Download 2014. With a Number One album over here and across the pond, a UK arena tour under their belt and countless solid hits, surely there should’ve been no question that now was their time. However, metal fans are fickle and a lot refuse to let the new blood take centre stage alongside their peers. Well, more fool them. While the old guard was still present, Download 2014 proved that heavy music is exciting and vibrant in 2014 as it ever has been, and the new stars can more than hold their own against the titans of yore.

A7XDannyNorth Photo Credit: Danny North (Official Download Website)

Download Festival 2014, June 13 – 16, Donington Park, England

Friday So, let’s start from the beginning. The first band we caught as we enter the foray at Donington are Japanese electro-metallers
Crossfaith. The band proceed to go absolutely berserker on the Main Stage (respectfully this year named the Stephen Sutton Stage), mixing up huge electronic beats with some meaty riffs and an unbelievable amount of energy on songs like ‘We Are The Future’ and crowd pleasing Prodigy cover ‘Omen’. Up next, the ever eccentric
Turbowolf cause quite a stir over on the Pepsi Max Stage, all bravado and stage magic with freak’n’roll songs to back it up. Download is in full swing by the time
Skindred hit the Main Stage and as always, the Welshmen put on one hell of a show. There aren’t many frontmen better equipped to make a crowd go mental than Benji Webbe and when it’s time for ‘The Newport Helicopter’ during ‘Warning’, a sea of shirts are in the air being spun around manically. An impressive site, save the beer guts now on show. Keeping it Main Stage briefly, we manage to catch a bit of Zakk Wylde and
Black Label Society shredding it up in front of a solid crowd. It’s always a pleasure to watch Zakk work his magic but after a while, we chip off back to the Pepsi Max Stage to catch young hopefuls
Royal Blood. One of the more mainstream bothering acts on the bill, the bass and drum duo still know how to riff it up on songs like ‘Come on Over’ and have a packed out tent nodding their heads with approval throughout. This is nothing in comparison to the reaction that meets
however. As frontman Jason Butler limps on to the stage with crutches and a leg support, it’s not long before the crutches are in the crowd and the support is ripped clean off. We’re then met with scathing renditions of letlive.’s finest moments including ‘Muther’, ‘Renegade ‘86’ and ‘Banshee (Ghost Fame)’. By the end, Jason has climbed the lighting rig and the crowd is at fever pitch. A perfect display of chaos and intensity, letlive.’s set isn’t likely to be forgotten in a hurry. The same can’t be said, however, for
Rob Zombie. Although somewhat fun, it goes to show how much of Zombie’s on stage presence is linked to the theatrics that surround him. A fairly minimalist set and trudgy stomp-alongs are met with appreciation from the crowd, but not adulation. Over on the Zippo Encore stage (the second stage), we get to see
Bad Religion blasting out some classic punk rock songs before
The Offspring take to the stage. ‘Smash’ was a pretty important album to myself and many others growing up and it’s clear tonight that the supporters are out in force. From the opening ‘Ahh, it’s time to relax…’ speech flowing into the snare roll of ‘Nitro (Youth Energy)’, through ‘Genocide’, ‘Come Out and Play’ and epic title track ‘Smash’, even the rain can’t dampen the crowd’s spirits tonight. Once the ‘Smash’ set is over, we’re afforded all the bangers AND, they don’t play ‘Hit That’, thank God. Although our main event has passed, it’d be a crime not to check out
Avenged Sevenfold play their first ever headline set at Download and bloody hell, what a show. More fire than hell itself pours out of their elaborate stage as they run through a seamless set of wall-to-wall hits including ‘Bat Country’, ‘Hail to the King’ and epic set closer ‘Unholy Confessions’. Emulating their icons they may be, but A7X proved that they’re more than worthy of a headline slot with this set and the new breed is definitely ready to take over.
Saturday Urgh, no better feeling than getting back to the tent half cut, falling asleep and not using a sleeping bag or a pillow eh? Oh well. As Saturday clearly called for something extra loud to wake us up, it was a good job
Dying Fetus opened the main Stage at 11am. The most brutal band on the bill, this is potentially the best alarm clock ever. Pissing in the Mainstream indeed.  We didn’t manage to catch
Iceman Thesis, but we’re pretty sure that a band with no face, playing the same song at the same time on two separate stages is something worth writing about. Who are these guys? Is it all over already? Keep your ears to the ground… Back on the main stage,
Bowling For Soup bring all the fun and pop punk shenanigans with them and although they lied to us by doing a ‘farewell tour’ last year, we can forgive them for all the sing-alongs they provide. Now completely back in the game with original vocalist Jesse Leach,
Killswitch Engage once again show the metalcore crowd exactly how it should be done on the Donington turf. The Massachusetts chaos-bringers rain down all manner of sonic precision, riffs and beatdowns over the Main Stage whilst still managing to have a good time, despite guitarist and general captain lol-about Adam D suffering some technical problems. Another band working their way up the ranks is Steel City’s finest,
Bring Me The Horizon. ‘Sepmiternal’ has cemented BMTH as real contenders for the top billing and their set at Download further helped concrete that fact into the ground. ‘Shadow Moses’, ‘Empire (Let Them Sing)’ and ‘Sleepwalking’ were built for festivals and as Oli Sykes and co parade around the stage like the own they place, you really begin to feel that they actually do. Give them one more album and we could see them headlining in a few years. Potentially a controversial billing for a ‘metal’ festival (c’mon, give it up already internet warriors)
Fall Out Boy knock it out of the park as the sun shines over the hallowed ground.  Bollocks to the naysayers, with songs as catchy as ‘The Phoenix’, ‘Dance, Dance’ and new anthem ‘My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)’, Fall Out Boy put a middle finger up to the haters and play a stormer in the bask of the sun. There are few albums these days that manage to sell as many as ‘Hybrid Theory’ has (over 27 million), so it’s no surprise that
Linkin Park are still a force to be reckoned with. When they play said album front to back however, they’re unstoppable. A total nostalgia fest, the Hybrid Theory set had the entire field one step closer to going completely bonkers, belting out every scream from Chester Bennington and every rhyme from Mike Shinoda. Thankfully they play Hybrid Theory first, so we’re able to go venture and see what other delights were about. Planning on seeing SikTh, we stupidly believed someone who told us that they were on in the Pepsi Max tent. They weren’t. Never trust someone telling you anything at a festival after 10pm. Either way, they ungodly presence of
Behemoth was in the Pepsi tent and their furious black metal more than made up for the lack of SikTh in our ears. We WILL see them later in the year. To round off Saturday, we became typically British and watched England lose in the world cup while drinking beer. Righto.
Sunday Sunday was a day choc full of interviews (to be seen soon!), but we still managed to catch some choice cuts throughout the day. From the press area we hear samples of ‘Crazy Bitch’ from
Buckcherry and ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ played by Bon Jovi’s second in command
Richie Sambora, so at least we know classic rock day got off to an extravagant start. We also have it on good authority that Aussie death metal merchants
Thy Art is Murder managed to boom and blast over on the Pepsi Max stage, hitting harder and faster than pretty much everyone else at Download. Although their songs now sound somewhat dated, there’s no denying the power that
Sepultura command when they bring out the big guns, proved by a huge rendition of ‘Roots’ over on the Zippo Encore stage. We then stuck around to check out Swedish war metallers
Sabaton and we’re
kind of glad we did. Definitely ones for a niche audience, their symphonic power metal nevertheless appeased the appetites of those awaiting what was to come next. And that, my friends, was
Philip H Anselmo and the Illegals. Say what you want about the man, Phil is a living legend and when he comes out swinging, playing tracks from Superjoint Ritual, the aforementioned The Illegals and the mighty Pantera, you know you better be listening. The moment becomes even more special when he invites Pantera bassist Rex Brown out to play ‘A New Level’. Played with such power and intensity, this was definitely a landmark Download moment and with rumours of a Pantera reformation avec Zakk Wylde on guitar running rife, we can’t wait to see what’s in store over the next few years. Wandering past the Main Stage, we catch
Steel Panther dicking around like only they know how. ‘Asian Hooker’ rings out over the Download crowd as they spandex clad foursome bring out what, pretty much look like, Asian hookers. Jolly good fun for a Sunday afternoon, but there’s music with integrity to listen to. Over in the Pepsi Max tent, Laura Jane Grace and
Against Me! perform a triumphant set full of bonafide punk rock hits. Popular already in their own right, hopefully playing to a festival audience brought more fans their way at Download. With a point to prove,
Suicide Silence then tear the Pepsi Max stage a new one, blow the roof off and rip the place up all in one. New vocalist Eddie Hermida has big boots to fill, replacing the late Mitch Lucker, but he pulls it off with aplomb as new tracks from ‘You Can’t Stop Me’ stand up against classic SS tracks like ‘Fuck Everything’ as the entire tent moshes in unison. To round the weekend off, we get to see the best of both worlds as
Dillinger Escape Plan terrorise the Pepsi Max Stage in a way only they how and cock-rockers
Aerosmith give Steel Panther a lesson in how to be a proper rock’n’roll band. The difference between the two bands is a poignant reminder of how diverse the world of rock and metal can be and it’s a brilliant end to another superb Download. Phew. What a weekend. Download once again managed to pull off an excellent three days filled with spine-tingling moments of greatness. We’re glad Sonisphere is back in full force this year, but it seems that Download will for now reign supreme as the biggest and best rock festival the UK has to offer, and rightly so. As always, roll on next year. 9/10