FESTIVAL REVIEW: Download Festival 2023 Part 2, Live at Castle Donnington


Saturday, and as will be of no surprise to anyone, it was pretty damn hot today too, people were noticeably moving much slower through the arena, and people were checking their phones for the forecast of tomorrow’s storm with excitement.


A quick scan of the arena at 1 pm and it was difficult not to be reminded of Noel Coward ridiculing spectacles such as witnessed today in the song mad dogs and Englishmen (go out in the midday sun). Yet here I was once again risking sunstroke, to witness Fever 333. In a style in political intensity that was very reminiscent of Rage Against The Machine, they had a very bass-heavy sound, and the drums were pummelling the arena. Singer Jason Butler, soon losing layers of clothes as the heat set in. Everyone was moving plenty, especially new bass player April Kae who was throwing shapes and holding her bass aloft as if somehow performing in a different temperature. A pretty solid opening to the Saturday it must be said.

However, I was soon heading back into the more forgiving shade to a tent full of people to watch Unto Others. A band I’ve been a fan of since they released Mana under their old band name of Idle Hands. I really do love this band, often calling their style powergoth even if they did pull out of Bloodstock, so getting the chance to catch them at Download was an unexpected treat I took with relish. The setlist was full of solid choices, and the oogh! Were plentiful. Despite half the crowd clearly sheltering from the sun, the reaction was still solid throughout with even the weariest of festival goer clapping from the cool grassy floor.

Venturing back out into the sun, I chose a respectful distance to watch Municipal Waste to what they do best, which for the uninitiated is to ‘f**k you up’, with their Party AF, crossover thrash. We were indeed lucky to see them after flight delays and bus breakdowns, almost scuppered their performance. It actually beggared belief the sights, it was almost as if the circle pits were actively trying to tunnel their way to hell. Insane. I have no idea where they found the energy. The dust from the pits was rising high in the air, as the band announced halfway through their set that they unfortunately only had 17 more songs left, before claiming to be Fiver Finger Death Punch, and that Metallica should take them on tour to support new Thrash bands. It has to be said that with the likes of Tortured Demon coming up through the ranks, it’s hard to think of an established band like Municipal Waste as a new thrash band. Although I do think that maybe Metallica should take both them and Tortured Demon on tour.


Next up for me were Ice Nine Kills, a band I’d seen the Monday beforehand and thoroughly enjoyed. It must be said that musically they benefitted massively from the bigger stage and crowd, but the dark atmosphere and horror theatrics lost some of their edge for being exposed in the light of day.

A quick jaunt over to catch Carcass at their savage best. The vocals were strong, and the sound was great with the snare hits cracking savagely. A powering through their setlist with the usual ferocity, consisting of favourites such as ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse,’ ‘Heartwork’ and ‘Corporeal Jigsore Quandary.’

I really had to feel for Clutch a band I’ve seen many times. Suffering the indignity of the BBC news being piped through their wireless ear monitors, and a variety of technical issues. It’s a testament to the band’s ability to perform that they made it through the set in the face of such adversity and still put on a good performance with songs including ‘X-Ray Visions,’ ‘Firebirds’ and ‘Electric Worry’, although it was abundantly clear how difficult they were finding it, with many references to the situation, and a closing statement of a very angry ‘Where’s the fucking catering tent’ indicating just how much the tech issues had affected them throughout.


I had intended to watch some Motionless In White, a band I would spend the entire weekend getting confused with Bring Me The Horizon, for reasons I simply cannot fathom. So when the name popped up as playing next on the Opus Stage on the schedule section of the Download App I figured I’d check them out. Seemingly circled by an impenetrable barrier of lengthy queues, A tight band it has to be said they did sound good, even if the PA being less than the main stage meaning that sound was subject to the stronger winds on the day.

Navigating through the long but fast-moving water queues to find a left vs right bounce off, competition for ‘sign of life’ had the crowd happy, one of 4 new songs, including ‘Scoring the end of the World’ ‘Slaughterhouse, and ‘Masterpiece’. A decent set, although not particularly my cup of tea.



Back down the very dusty and rocky track alleyway between stages I go and watch Kid Kapichi, a band I became aware of through the collaboration with Bob Vylan on the track ‘New England’. I arrived in time for the hard-edged optimism of the track ‘Working Mans Town,’ followed by the anthemic ‘Rob the Supermarkets,’ a track we were reliably informed was all about robbing supermarkets.

I was a little disappointed that Bob Vylan didn’t join in for ‘New England’ especially as they were playing next on that stage, instead seemingly represented via backing track. A quick journey back via the massively overflowing bins to watch Alexisonfire.

Alexisonfire are just a phenomenal live band, and playing on the biggest of stages does nothing to tarnish that, powerful vocal deliveries, with some good clean backing vocals work through their stomping delivery and well-paced setlist. I did notice that the sound was more affected by the wind, and I’m wondering if the PA had been turned down a notch as articles were proliferating in the real world about just how far the sound was travelling.

As the singer was pulling his T-shirt up to get rid of copious sweat on his brow, I couldn’t help but noticed the heat was affecting me too, the dreamlike ‘where you end, I begin’ of Sans Soliel almost had me falling asleep. So I watched the rest of the set whilst drinking and dowsing myself in yet more water, somewhat in awe at just how many shapes and how much energy the band had.

Bob Vylan was providing another huge punk rock party, and the 2nd Prodigy reference of the weekend. The whole set was heavy and intense, with the crowd even resorting to throwing shoes, much to the amusement of frontman Bobby Vylan (not to be confused with drummer Bobbie Vylan). Bobby had plenty of charm for the audience, whilst employing reverse psychology to encourage the crowd to ‘definitely do not circle pit’, for ‘Chat Shit Get Banged.’ ‘We Live here’ was electric and emotive, and the amazing rendition of ‘Pulled Pork’ featuring Jason Aalon Butler from Fever333, definitely didn’t feature many a circle pit, followed by ‘Wicked and Bad’ This was to be their first of 2 sets that day, although they did try for a 3rd set.

Next up was the postponed GWAR, and I really did lament the decision to put the tent on such a slope, the stage being higher meant that everyone was standing behind someone who by trick of geography was about 1 ft taller than them, making it bloody difficult to see anything. Starting of with ‘Hail, Genocide!’ and followed by ‘Let us Slay’ there’s no mistaking a GWAR show. A smallish crowd, but a big reaction, President XI and Putin slogging it out, King Charles, a zombie Queen Elizabeth were all featured in the monstrous cast in a steady stream of grotesque acts, brilliant!

People always focus on the show, and really it’s difficult to miss it to be fair, but overlook that they’re really good musically too. Especially playing in such heat in the tent in those costumes, takes some endurance. Seeing the people coming out of the tent covered in all manner of blue and red ‘goo’ their beaming grins every the more vibrant because of it, I couldn’t help but remember the time at Bloodstock that a friend of mine had to go ‘fishing’ in one of the portaloos after dropping his mobile phone.

I managed to catch the greatest hit of Disturbed as I headed over to catch Monuments on the Apex stage.

By the time I got to Monuments, I was fully aware I was approaching the end of three days of music, and I was feeling a little music’d out. They had a clear, and big wall of sound, full and in your face showcasing complex riffs and a heavy sound, eliciting strong reactions from the crowd. However, lamenting the big fiery bastard in the sky, I opted to go find a bit of much-needed shade and wait for Coheed and Cambria, a band I’d last seen 8 years ago on the 2nd stage at Download, but were now headlining the Avalanche stage.

For the uninitiated Coheed and Cambria is intertwined with a super-hero sci-fi fantasy comic book, it really is a passion project of Guitarist/vocalist Claudio Sanchez. The depth of world-building that fills those stories and show up in the songs here really shines through in the emotive performance, especially with such a distinctive voice. There’s a focus and depth to the performance which is wonderful to witness. The sublime quality of the guitarwork and the crowd singing along to the words and clapping along is magical. Finishing the set to massive applause, it’s clear they are well-loved by the crowd, and rightly so.

And then everybody in the arena makes their way to fill the arena around the main stage for Metallica round 2. Once again the AC/DC intro and “Ecstasy of Gold” fill the arena, as Metallica launch into ‘Whiplash’, ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, ‘Ride The Lightning’ before a couple of new songs. Although it’s impossible for anything to sound bad with such a stage production, there were some quite noticeably long pauses in between songs.

It feels redundant to describe how good they are on stage. A few notable mentions are the moment that Lars Ulrich tried to get a little girl on stage, who just cried and left. James Hetfield, taking a few potshots at St. Anger, and joking that whilst it was Metallica’s tenth time at Donnington, it was only Lars’s 9th so he was going to have to play in every band on the Sunday to catch up with the rest. Indeed, Hetfield was in a very jokey mood, not great jokes necessarily, even by dad joke standards ‘The fans at download are intense (in tents) was a confusing effort, but we all love a dad joke so let him off.

The sound system once again being a huge factor here, the sound once again so crisp and clear, that even at the very back of the arena/county, if you were to listen carefully you could even hear the Bass, alright Maybe Hetfield’s jokes did rub off a bit. It’s impossible to describe how perfect the sound was, when the crowd were singing along to ‘Unforgiven,’ I welled up once again, as it was quite emotional. The message that we should forgive ourselves also hitting pretty damn hard.



There’s often the source of much discussion regarding the musicianship of Metallica, from awe at Hetfield’s rhythm playing, jests about Kirk’s Hammett’s use of Wah peddles. They’ve had some of the best bass players going, and Robert Trujillo is phenomenal, but let’s admire the fact that they’re playing four hours of music at such a high level and varying the setlist so much, that really isn’t easy, although it does bring me to my concluding note.

There was one sour note though, and it relates to the drums in penultimate song one, I know that Lars gets some criticism some rightly and some wrongly about his drumming, but when it came to one, one of the key moments of that song is the double bass kicking in and emulating machine gun fire, it’s crucial to the song dynamics, so to hear the 16th note septuplets reduced to what might be charitably described as 2 ‘beat adjacent’ quarter notes, really did make an excellent 4 hours of performance that weekend, finish on a sad note, which was such a shame as that was such an Iconic song in my formative year.



Setlist: (via setlist.fm)

It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) (AC/DC song)


The Ecstasy of Gold (Ennio Morricone song)

Whiplash (Tour Debut)

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ride the Lightning

Until It Sleeps

72 Seasons

If Darkness Had a Son

Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

You Must Burn!

The Call of Ktulu

The Unforgiven

Wherever I May Roam

Moth Into Flame


Whiskey in the Jar ([traditional] cover) (with The Outlaw Torn jam)


Enter Sandman





Let’s be clear, a four-day festival at the best of times is an endurance trial. So when I poked my head out of my sweltering tent on a Sunday morning to be met with the sun, who to bastardise the old idiom had indeed got his hat on, I felt obliged to tell it to fuck off the big fiery fat prick that it was, and stumbled towards the water points, bleary eyed and checking my weather forecast to see exactly when the much-needed rain would arrive.

After packing my tent away and hauling everything the several miles back to the car ready for a swift exit, I headed for the final time to the arena, and it felt quieter. Lots were packing up for the same early finish. So far into the festival and behaviours were more noticeable, I found myself after procuring a Meal deal from the co-op, I don’t know how much it cost and I’m still afraid to check, I proceeded to devour the whole thing in less than a minute, huddled by the bins like a rat, as the walking dead shuffled past, all muttering about when the rain would arrive. It must be noted that whilst not exactly difficult, it wasn’t massively easy either to be a vegetarian, let alone vegan. After much juggling and logistics, I shuffled my zombified backside towards the arena for the final time. Once again hitting my daily step count before I’d even entered it.

Taking it easy today, in no small part due to the fact that some of the port-a-loos were in danger of breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention, and this time it wasn’t my fault. To paraphrase ‘Hot Portaloo’s on a sunny day, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that’ Although it must be stated I really do not love the smell of hot Portaloo’s on a sunny day. Roast dinners > roast shit any day of the week. Anyway, as humanity continues its decline I remember there’s bands to watch so I should definitely crack on.



After all of that, I head over for my first band of the day The Hu, after unfortunately missing Bloodywood and Lorna Shore, I’ve been fortunate enough to see both before at Bloodstock, so I was distinctly disappointed in myself. The hu however were a new live band for me, and oof talk about a thunderous entry on the main stage.

Big martial drums building amazingly well, and AC/DC-esque riffs with an array of traditional bowed instruments giving that different slant to metal that always reminds me of Apocalyptica. Now it has to be said I love anything drum-heavy, and this was definitely ticking those boxes. Not to say that the set was too heavy though, it had a nice feel and pace to it, dare I say it at times swing that was going over very well with the sun-soaked crowd: definitely a highlight of the day.



Next over to the overflowing dogtooth stage for The Meffs who had another overflowing tent. Indeed the arena was looking quite sparse in comparison to previous days and the queues were noticeably longer today. The Meffs have a big energy about them, talking about representation in punk, they have a good set of old-school Punk vibes, with anthemic choruses. Although once again I suffer from the layout of the tent with the stage being at the apex of the hill ensuring that nobody got a good view of the stage.

Shuffling over like a Walking Dead extra to the main stage for Behemoth, there’s a noticeable chill in the air. Could this herald the arrival of the much-anticipated rain storm? spoiler alert it bloody well didn’t,

The theatrics certainly suffer in the bright sunshine compared to seeing them inside, but fortunately, with Behemoth it’s not just about the dark atmosphere, they have the songs and stage presence to back them up. There were a number of fire blasts going on forming symbols across the stage, you had to feel for them onstage next to that when it’s already hot enough. I couldn’t help but feel some sort of cryo-blast might have been more refreshing all around.

The poor lads must have been melting, although as the set progressed the temperature did drop a few Celsius which was a welcome relief to everyone in a few miles. Whilst we were all looking forward to some rain, the synchronicity of Behemoth’s set bringing on the chill was in my opinion up there with the time that plane flew overhead during Aerosmith’s set at Monsters of Rock.



Slightly invigorated by the temperature drop and another litre or three of water I then follow my nose to the Dog Tooth stage to see Green Lung. The tent was now noticeably emptier as the outside had become less hostile to life and people were stretching their legs. The sound coming from the stage was thick and lush as people stood still blinking in time with the music.

Damn, this was a potent set, and after catching snippets of their set at previous festivals, it was good to catch a longer chunk of their set. It was relaxing as anything a powerful delivery, plenty of low end, the music radiated out from the stage in waves to lingering applause, the atmosphere only occasionally broken by some significant sound bleed from the main stage.

In a lot of ways I was reminded of the atmosphere of a Church of the Cosmic Skull gig, and I had planned to catch another band, but decided to stay for the full set and bathe in the sonic glory. A definite highlight of the set and I hope to catch them when they tour in November.

Arriving slightly later to I, Prevail than scheduled, I was greeted with a System Of A Down cover. Not being the biggest fan of covers, I scowled slightly and procured another £4.50 ice cream (I’m sorry bank manager I’ll make it up to you, I promise) I decided to give them another chance. I was rather glad I did. Big choruses, impressive songs, they were shifting gears masterfully throughout their set.

Several days of baking heat meant my brain was no longer equipped to work out their genre and tbh I didn’t care at that point, I only pretend to care about genre’s when trying to explain it in a review, there’ll probably be a suffix of core involved. This was a confident performance, taking their time, they delivered with that certain swagger of bands who are almost certain to go onto bigger things.

Mellow almost hard-rock commercial elements but mixed in with breakdowns and invoking Slayer to get the circle pits going, which they did to the point the dust was rising high in the air. All in all, an impressive set and a band on my check-out later list for definite.

Following on from that my pace is getting slower as fatigue in the massive arena is really starting to set in. I make it to catch the tail end of Soen’s set, the musical supergroup consisting of former members of Opeth, Testament and others. Standing towards the front of the tent, the breeze blowing past me was magic enough, but what I caught of Soen’s majestic set made it even better.

With clear clean powerful vocals, and soaring guitar solos, it was a very proggy set, reminding me of Pink Floyd on a couple of occasions. The musical atmosphere was gorgeous, and the applause when they finished abruptly with a simple thanks you was long lingering, and heartfelt.

Following on from that on the same stage are Terror, possibly the biggest contrast of bands you could imagine. A band I’ve been wanting to see for a very long time, they did suffer terribly with a clash on the second stage with the legendary Bad Religion, resulting in a half-full tent. After announcing that “security are our friends, but we’re going to make them work” they then demonstrated another instance of definitely not encouraging the crowd to crowd surf, by instead asking them to ‘reverse stage dive’ which had me scratching my sun burnt head for far longer than it should have taken. Their set had a huge response despite the numbers, High energy, aggressive, and working the crowd brilliantly, the set was everything I’d hoped it would be, complete and utter carnage.

Watching the whole of Terror like my life depended on it meant the relatively short amount of time to watch Parkway Drive, this whole chunk of time was clash city for me, I’d have watched all the bands on, but I’ve waited so long for Terror, they won. This, unfortunately, meant I caught far less of Parkway Drive’s set than I would have liked, I’ve seen them a few times before, and there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll be the next band to make that leap to the headline slot, explosions fire, and awareness of visual and the importance of a ‘show’ that a lot of other bands don’t grasp anywhere near as well. A lot of people speculate Architects will make the leap first, but what money I have left after my evening meal I’ll happily put on Parkway Drive. Disclaimer, after the amount I spent on food this weekend I haven’t much left to wager.

Electric Callboy should have played Opus, earlier in the day maybe, but this was another case where the Avalanche tent was nowhere near big enough for them. It’s understandable too, they’re one of the most exciting bands I’ve seen live, and they do indeed ‘have the moves’. This did mean that quite a few simply turned away as they were realistically just looking at a tent from a few hundred metres away, and Ghost were playing only a very short walk away.

Ghost don’t fail to impress either, yes they get a lot of stick for being Abba with distortion, but every time I’ve seen them they’ve put on a show, and for a photographer like me the visual side of things is very important to the live show. This was another magnetic performance, as I veer around the corner and see the sheer size of the crowd I can’t help but be impressed. I’ve not been keen on some of their more recent releases, but live they take on a whole new life. My favourite part was ‘Year Zero’ which saw the crowd chanting along fists in the air.

Finally, we get to the end. There’s no overstating the feeling of getting to the end of a 4-day festival, it really is an endurance trial. My watch has already clocked me as walking 50 miles since arriving Thursday morning, I’m battered, bruised and sunburnt. The heat has been relentless, and now it’s at the end, I sit down in my 0161 MUMC hoodie in the welcome cold. I sit myself down for the last time and watch our final headliner Slipknot with a big smile on my face.

Slipknot open up, as is tradition on their 5th appearance at download, in blistering fashion with a literal bang, fire and smoke. Boom! straight out of the gate they’re smashing it. The recent turmoil over the lineup not slowing them down in the slightest. Announcing Craig Jones’ department days before, and that Clown would be absent from the gig with family issues.

One of the most notable things immediately was that Clown appeared to be on stage, was that the real clown or someone wearing the mask? It certainly looks like Clown. Later on, it was confirmed by Corey Taylor it was indeed Clown who had made the flight over for the gig, which was greeted with warm applause.

Corey Taylor noted that his voice wasn’t the best tonight and was relying on the crowd to help him out. It has to be said that any voice issues seemed contained to when he was speaking to the crowd and not particularly noticeable when singing.

A brilliant set, for one reason or another I’ve never been able to watch a full Slipknot set, so sat there on my camping stool I was legitimately in awe! A setlist consisting mainly of their older material was particularly appreciated. In a festival with some stiff competition for best headliner, Metallica getting two chances, of course. I think that Slipknot were my favourite headliner, and as the festival drew to a close, I’d had a fantastic time.

Plenty of positives, a few negatives but all in all a very good festival, all the bands were excellent, the food could have been cheaper. Although many had massive issues with traffic management and getting in, I had the good fortune to avoid most of this. I only had one moment of dread using a festival toilet, but overall, they were cleaned regularly, and not an unpleasant experience.

There were issues with the site itself and moving about underfoot, it took several days for my feet to recover which was unusual as an experienced walker. I can only assume this was due to the very large stones which seemed a constant factor underfoot. I did notice that disabled people, in particular, were having a lot of issues with the site and layout, I hope that’s something the organisers look at in the future.



Slipknot setlist (via setlist.fm)

Prelude 3.0

(without second verse and second chorus)

The Blister Exists

The Dying Song (Time to Sing)




The Devil in I

The Heretic Anthem


Left Behind (tour debut)

Wait and Bleed





People = Shit





Spit It Out

‘Til We Die (on tape)


Read Part 1 of our coverage here:

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Download Festival 2023 Part 1, Live at Castle Donnington