For all the talk of rain, mud and blood it turns out to be a blistering day at Download with all but the toilets (which get drenched in beery urine) drying out nicely. Festival goers who have been on site for the whole weekend are showing signs of wear and there are more than a few hung-over, mud-covered individuals crawling into the arena, but on the whole it’s hard not to smile at the thought that the Gods have once again blessed the mighty Double O with a day that defies the odds and heats up to almost hellish temperatures.
Early on, and nursing the first beer of the day, Dez Fafara’s DevilDriver appear on the main stage. They go down well but, despite the band’s obvious enthusiasm and endless circle pits containing mr blobby, the sound is a featureless mush that fails to burst out of the speakers with the anticipated aggression.
Far, far better are Kyuss lives! whose bass heavy, desert-honed sound sounds truly immense. John Garcia and his merry, black -clad cohorts look cooler than they ever did back in the day and they blast out favourite after favourite with ‘demon cleaner’ particularly kicking several shades of mud splattered ass. As the crowd bask in the unexpected, but most welcome heat it’s an irresistible, sludgy tide that the band unleash threatening to eclipse even the evening’s headliners with their ferocious performance. Josh Homme may well succeed in suing the band but then what people tend to forget is that Josh Homme is a cock! Kyuss live indeed… and rule.
Sadly Anthrax… don’t. I know, I know – they’re supposed to be one of the big 4 but really couldn’t it have been testament or Kreator? Anthrax are without doubt the weakest of thrash’s mainstays by a mile and whilst the front rows clearly dig the performance, it’s only on well-trod set-closer ‘I am the law’ that they demonstrate the necessary fire and fury to actually justify the acclaim with which they are frequently lauded. A disappointing, messy performance.
Black Label Society, on the other hand, are awesome with a devastating ‘hellbound’ springing from the bloodied corpse of a five minute solo, once again demonstrating the power of Zakk Wylde in full flow. Appearing in full Indian head gear and working his way through a bewildering array of custom guitars, the only weak moment is a seemingly interminable solo which, whilst an excellent display of technical prowess, frankly does not work in so short a set.
Opening with ‘dissolution’ which promptly lays waste to a field of gently roasting metallers, lamb of god once again prove why they’re amongst the best in their field. With a particularly hefty one-two punch of ‘now you’ve got something to die for’ and ‘laid to rest’ delivered well after the sound gremlins have been sorted, the band have an intrinsic intensity designed to utterly decimate the field. Randy is on amazing form, clearly psyched to be playing to such a huge, and responsive, crowd and log comfortably deliver one if the sets of the day with ‘redneck’ banging heads all the way to the back of the arena.
Leading us through a set including recent belter ‘public enemy number one’ (which feels like it’s been in the set forever), ‘symphony of destruction’, ‘peace sells’ (with an appearance from vice) and ‘a toute le monde’, Dave Mustaine once more conclusively proves why his band is a better outfit than the nostalgia-chewing Metallica (sorry folks but I’ll take Dave’s furious musicianship over Metallica’s tedious Black Album any day). What inspires about Megadeth is their relevance, their razor sharp musicianship and the fact that they don’t air a single weak song. With a huge crowd, a perfectly chosen set and Mustaine on fiery form they’re the perfect main stage act and have people briefly forgetting who the next two bands are. Over their allotted time Megadeth don’t put a foot wrong and remind us why they are ‘our’ band in a way Metallica never will be again… “it’s still we, the people… right?”
Yet, no matter how good Megadeth were nothing is going to detract from the fact that Soundgarden are playing their first show on UK soil in fifteen long years. Through all manner of odd excursions, Chris Cornell has not come close to matching the splendour of this monumental band and with a sound that threatens to eclipse the briefly flaming yellow orb in the sky we’re treated to a lengthy set which does more to derail the excitement of Black Sabbath than anyone could have thought possible, even Soundgarden themselves profess to be in awe of the night’s headliners. Opening with ‘Spoonman’ the sound, in truth, is rather lacklustre, but this is but a momentary lapse and when they launch into ‘drown me’ the sound is well on track. Excitement can barely be contained as ‘gun’ (sounding heavier than the earth itself) crawls out of the speakers and then Chris ditches his guitar for a monumental ‘outshine’ whilst the crowd ditch their self-respect and weep openly. Reclaiming his guitar ‘Jesus Christ pose’ opens and closes in a welter of piercing feedback that threatens to destabilise everyone’s hearing. A trip back into the past has the band unveil ‘hunted down’ (from ‘screaming life’) which is played with the strength and aggression of a band just starting out and keen to make their mark. A pounding drum beat from drummer extraordinaire Matt Cameron leads into ‘ugly truth’ and then a brilliant run through of ‘fell on black days’, a false start leading into a brutally distorted ‘my wave’ and the soothing balm of ‘the day I tried to live’ washes over us in rapid succession. ‘Rusty cage’ is every bit as devastating as could be expected and then, eliciting a huge cheer, ‘black hole sun’ (dedicated to the UK) brings tears to the eyes before the finale of ‘beyond the wheel’ lays down a punishing wall of sludge that has fans staggering around as if they’re on Temazepam.
Of course that we should have ever doubted Black sabbath is rendered entirely ridiculous as from the moment they march on stage, sense of purpose renewed by Tony’s defeat of cancer and the prospect of a new album, they sound utterly huge. Opening with the evergreen (or should that be ever black) eponymous track, the wall of guitars sound ten times heavier than the last time I caught the band at Milton Keynes (99’s Big Day Out) where the band sounded tired and uninspiring and Ozzy, on playful form, leads us through a set list of wonders that includes ‘Iron Man’, ‘Paranoid’ (well of course) and ‘sweet leaf’ (yeeeesss). The real revelation is not how good the classics sound (although they sound amazing), nor how great a showman Ozzy is (that’s never been in doubt) or even how the band capture your attention from the very start despite minimal stage props and lighting. No, what really gets the draw dropping is how damned heavy Sabbath sound in 2012, as if the years have peeled away and all the meanderings and insults have finally been left behind. It is an astonishing performance and come the end no one is in any doubt at all that the daddies of Heavy F***ing Metal not only have got their mojo back, but that they are more than likely to deliver a monstrous masterpiece of an album when they get on it in the coming months.
All in all it was an amazing day that even four hours in the car park at the end (don’t ask) could spoil. One of the best metal line ups collected together on one bill seared itself into the memory, whilst the sound engineers did a fine job of keeping it all together throughout the day. Highlight of the day – Black Sabbath without a shadow of a doubt, but Soundgarden and Kyuss Lives! Were not far behind at all and every band put in a fine performance on the day that the sun worshipped Ozzy.