Download Festival is the home of rock and metal – not just in the UK, but globally. So naturally, we couldn’t really miss out on the 20th anniversary celebrations! This year the festival boasted a killer line-up, adding an extra day and two sets by metal legends Metallica. Find out how we got on below!
Review by Jane Howkins and Amy Horne
Photos by John Hayhurst
First things first, we have to address some of the issues faced by punters. Whilst we didn’t have much trouble queuing as we were parked in the guest parking area and went on the Thursday, the queuing and parking problems were reportedly a nightmare for other punters – especially those who arrived on the Wednesday. People queued in their cars for hours, blocking up the roads around the festival site. Whilst there will always be queues at a large, sold-out festival like this, better planning would have helped . However, the organisers have already taken steps to mitigate this in future by announcing parking must be pre-booked, so hopefully these issues won’t happen again.
There were also complaints about overselling, as camping space was limited in some areas (particularly for the access campsite), and queues for the merch tent were ridiculous. Many vendors were also overcharging by not showing the card screen when paying, and steps need to be taken to exclude those vendors next time around. It also might be a good idea to set up more shaded areas for the future – the weather obviously can’t be helped, but it got very hot at times.
However, in terms of music and everything else, the festival was a hit! On the Thursday, the first act we saw was Mammoth WVH – I’d never heard anything by the band before, but I was suitably impressed. They’re fronted by Wolfgang Van Halen, and their music contained a killer classic rock and roll sound that’s well worth checking out! Jinjer were also an interesting proposition – and may we say, how amazing it was to have more female acts at the festival! They mixed heaviness and melody perfectly, and the crowd lapped it up.
Halestorm is a band that has played Download several times over the years, and they just seem to get better and better. This year, they had a well deserved spot on the main stage, belting out classics such as I Miss The Misery to a joyous crowd. Lzzy Hale’s vocals were absolutely on point, sounding extremely strong and clear throughout. We next moved over to the second stage to see Skindred – they’re a mainstay of Download, so it was amazing to see them finally get a headline set. It was a little overcrowded at times, but the crowd were full of energy, singing along to Pressure and other amazing tunes. The Newport Helicopter ended the set nicely – seeing so many people swing their t-shirts around in the air was extremely gratifying.
Metallica were the last band of the day, headlining the main stage. They’d brought their own screens with them, which allowed those stood further back to get a better view. If I’m honest, the setlist started out fairly dry, with a lot of deep cuts played, but the audience seemed to lap it up. Nothing Else Matters was a particular highlight, sounding absolutely haunting with everyone singing along. The wind direction meant Metallica’s music was heard 15 miles away in Derby, with many people in the surrounding area enjoying it too.
Friday was possibly my favourite day of all, starting out with Elvis Presley and Nirvana cover band, Elvana. We’ve seen them at Download before – whilst they were good, something seemed a little off, and there seemed to be a lot more Elvis songs played. Another disappointment was that the band started playing Lithium, before the song was quickly shut off by the festival management team. It’s not the band’s fault, but it was still disappointing nonetheless.
It was quite a day on the second stage for female acts, with Epica on next. Their music isn’t for everyone, as it’s a form of opera metal/symphonic metal, but Simone Simons’ vocals were absolutely on point, showing just how amazing her voice is. I definitely want to catch more of Epica in the future! Within Temptation are always a joy to behold – they usually have quite a massive stage show, but it had to naturally be tailored down a little for the festival. Sharon Den Adel made an impassioned speech about supporting Ukraine, waving the nation’s flag around to show support. Mother Earth closed the set nicely, leaving the stage wide open for Evanescence.
Evanescence really should have been on the main stage, as the second stage got a little overcrowded with so many people there to see them. Amy Lee really showed off her vocal pipes here, as the band went through a number of songs from their back catalogue. They even performed a medley of the majority of the songs from Fallen, as it’s the 20th anniversary of that album release. Of course, My Immortal and Bring Me To Life ended the show, creating mass singalongs throughout the crowd. The band don’t perform the rapping parts on the latter any more, but the audience filled in for them, and Amy impressively did both the male and female parts on the bridge. Many people came away as new fans of the band, and it was the highlight of the entire weekend for us.
The first act we caught on the Saturday were Clutch – we’ve actually never delved too deep into their back catalogue. The audience seemed to love it, but I felt their stage presence was a little lacking at times. However, their songs have some killer riffs, showing they’re a band not to be ignored! Alexisonfire were up next – they always put on a great show, and today was no different! They vastly outstaged Clutch in terms of stage performance, simply exuding energy throughout. Definitely worth a watch if they’re on a festival bill near you!
Next, we headed over to the second stage next to catch a bit of Simple Plan. We were actually surprised by how much we enjoyed their set – we knew a few songs from our younger days, but their performance was on point. Everything sounded really great from a production angle, and we found ourselves singing along to most of the tracks. They also did their version of the Scooby Doo theme song, adding something light to the day.
We then went back to the main stage for a bit of Disturbed. We’ve not listened to many of their songs before, but David Draiman commanded the stage well, particularly when their cover of The Sound Of Silence was played. Metallica were up next, headlining the main stage for the second time that weekend, playing a completely different set from the Thursday. The songs chosen seemed a lot better this time around, with Through The Never and Ride The Lightning being particular favourites.
Sunday was our last day, and we ended up leaving a little early to beat the traffic. However, we had to catch Bad Religion before leaving! They were a last minute addition due to The Distillers dropping out, and the crowd was clearly very pleased to see them! Our only issue was the vocals sounded really quiet, with the music drowning them out a bit. However, the audience filled in on songs like You and Sorrow, helping somewhat.
Download 2023 was full of amazing music, and had possibly the best line-up we’ve ever seen at the festival. Bring on next year!