Yes, for the first time in my 25 years of being into music I've decided to walk the hallowed turf of Donington Park and enjoy the world of one of the more legendary rock/metal festivals in the world, namely Download. I am happy to report, first and foremost, that it is a lovely place, filled with lovely people and friendly event staff.
It's also about half an hour from the taxi rank to the actual event so I managed to miss cKy. Still the sky was sunny, our spirits were high and there were the sounds of a wonderful Clash/Rancid covers band on stage wafting over us as we walked in through the gates. I was then informed that was Anti-Flag and whilst impressed at their sound quality was amazed at how indistinct they actually sound live. Having got through the gate we got a brief blast of Puddle of Mudd, doing a rather inspired version of Adele's "Rolling in the deep". A fine tune from a fine band, would have liked to have seen a bit more of them but we had an event to explore and a beer tent to find, and frankly after that track it all went a bit downhill for them.
First proper band of the day (for me, anyway) was The Dammned Things. Super groups (even ones with Scott Ian of Anthrax in them) low down the bill tend to worry me however about 30 seconds into their brand of stoner county trash I was being won over, along with the rest of the crowd. More of a listener than a mover it sucked people in with it's layers of guitar (it takes a lot of skill to justify 4 guitarists in a band, and these guys do it) and it kept the attention. Nothing too heavy, nothing to light, just a steady groove that meant their 30 minute set flew by with great aplomb. The only negative was that the singer got a little screamo from time to time and wouldn't shut up about the name of their album, that and the dodgy sound that was going to plague all the bands on that stage during the day.
To follow up we decided to enjoy Thin Lizzy, who were frankly fantastic. They opened with Jail Break and from there on in they just laid back and let the amazing back-catalogue of classics do all the heavy lifting. It was like hearing "Live and Dangerous" being invented again, the new singer paying tribute to Phil Lynott but not being afraid to give it his own stamp. Musically it was heavier, that little bit thicker than the originals, with Scott Gorham giving it his all. Yes its reworks of 20 year old classics but it was done well and with reverence, as well as a pause to thank Phil and Garry Moore, but the tunes really are that good so what's not to like?
Children of Bodom were our follow up and it was all a bit of a sudden change. Technically their brand of melodic/glam death metal is second to non, however I just couldn't get to grips with it and felt a little underwhelmed by their fret-board olympics. It's determined to be music to alienate your parents to, big screechy guitars and shout-along hate anthems, and it does that job very well. A large chunk of the crowd was very taken by it so I refuse to say it was bad, just that it wasn't my thing.
What was more of "my thing" was seeing Skindred doing an acoustic set. Yes, it's unplugged time for Wales's very own reggae-punk masters and they were kicking it in style. Delicate and nuanced no-amp versions of normally groovetastic rock floor shakers let the melody in the music come to the front for once, something you don't normally hear with the crashing bass and drums. It took a bit of getting used to but it worked, however their singer didn't pay much attention and carried on like everything had been cranked up to 11. He also took great pleasure playing with the crowd, asking them who wanted to be his friend of Facebook and them promising to enjoy denying every person that put their hands up. It also had to to be the first (and most likely only) time that I've seen a wall of death at an acoustic set, even if it did only involve 10 people. Can't wait to see them play full force tomorrow.
Heading back from the acoustic stage I got to see the first 5 minutes of The Darkness's set, and it was amazing. Big hair, big rifts, and overall a big intro. Then they got back on with their 70's rip-off sillyness and I wondered why the organisers didn't just let Thin Lizzy have a second go. It was rock-and-roll noisy fun but it just didn't have the class or presence that their position on the bill needed.
Korn were able to provide that presence in spades, getting the crowd to explode with their first "Are You Ready!?". Five seconds into their set and you could tell it was going to be no-nonsense, groove heavy, guitars drums and growling for the next 45 minutes. It was a very straight forward set: turn up, play the classics, take no prisoners. I don't think Jonathan Davis spoke a word to the audience for the first 30 minutes, he was too busy singing his heart out. Yes it did sound a little old in places, but that's what you get for having been ground breaking 15 years ago. You also get to have a bagpipe solo so frankly they can play any festival I'm at and I'll be happy. I would also have been happier if the sound hadn't been so messed up: it was constantly up and down, clear then muddy, and generally all over the place. I don't think it was stable for more than two minutes a time, something that meant a great set couldn't achieve the brilliance it deserved.
Pendulum ended up being 10 minutes late on stage, possibly due to having hunted down and killed the sound tech, and when they walked on they were ready for war. Bathed in blood red light there was an anticipation and an excitement that they feed upon and then lived up to. Heavy drum and bass rock kicked off to everyone's delight, played with extreme style and panache, and it was party joy. Then the sound trouble kicked in, screwing up the intro to one of their songs twice. All credit to them for soldiering through the problems and keeping the party going. Musically it's the next step from The Prodigy, although a lot more positive and bouncy. The only trouble I had with them was that sometimes it seemed like a band and sometimes it seemed like a drum and bass keyboard master with a rock band supporting him. Overall though it was excellent and a well deserved headlining slot.
So that was day one, now to get ready for day two...