Kiss, Iron Maiden and Biffy Clyro help bring Download back with a bang
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The recurring message over the course of this year’s Download festival is that “it’s good to be back".
There was a successful pilot event last year for 10,000 fans as a post-lockdown trial, but for most attendees this is the first time back at the UK’s biggest rock and metal music festival since 2019.
Despite the three-year gap, there’s a familiar feel to the whole thing from the moment Wayward Sons kick things off on the main stage at Friday lunchtime with a neat, six-song set.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes headline the second stage on Friday. Mixing his anger at social injustices with humour, Carter initiates a female-only circle pit down the front during Wild Flowers (their “safe space” during the festival), before calling his mum and setting up his phone so she can watch the set. “You’ve got the best f**king seat in the house, mum,” he tells her.
Kiss’s appearance at the top of the bill on the main stage has been hotly anticipated, and there's fire-breathing, giant beach balls, confetti and fireworks to complement their arsenal of singalong classics.
When frontman Paul Stanley flies via zip wire to the mixing tower it’s impossible not to marvel at the genius of the whole thing, however cartoonish and silly it all is.
Assuming they stick to their plan to call it a day after this tour wraps up (plenty of others have broken such a pledge – here’s looking at you, Motley Crue), this is a hell of a way for them to bow out.
“We’re going to miss you and we bow to you,” says Stanley as things come to a spectacular close.
The weather is doing its best Jekyll and Hyde impression. When the sun’s out it’s baking hot, but it’s also very windy and bloody cold when the clouds come over.
There’s a similar contrast near the top of the bill on the main stage on Day 2. Deftones are underwhelming although, in their defence, they’re up against a temperamental sound system.
But Iron Maiden make up for things with a typically spectacular, almost-operatic show, including the obligatory appearance from mascot Eddie.
Maiden's current Legacy Of The Beast trek is effectively a greatest-hits tour, and apart from the first three songs it’s a whizz through their back catalogue.
With some Maiden T-shirts on sale for 80 quid, it’s no wonder they can afford such a stunning set. But like Kiss the night before, they’ve got a template that – when it works – works to perfection.
Amongst the plethora of newer acts, a couple stand out on Sunday.
The Hara – fronted by the manic Josh Taylor, who gets circle pits going before leaping into the crowd – are a bundle of rage, chaos and noise, with at-times poignant lyrics.
A little later, Yonaka’s high-energy, Prodigy-like set in a packed tent paints them as another band with a bright future.
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But it’s left to Biffy Clyro to bring the curtain down on the main stage.
The size of their crowd is disappointing. Perhaps the Kiss Army and Maiden’s bunch of loyal fans have left early.
But Instant History is an anthem as big as anything else heard this weekend, and by the time Copy Syrup reaches its thrilling conclusion, accompanied by a stunning light show and fireworks galore, the Ayrshire outfit have long dispelled any suggestion they shouldn’t be at the top of the bill.
It’s a triumphant post-pandemic return for Donington – and with news that next year’s 20th anniversary festival will expand to include a fourth day of music, Download is firmly back.
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