How does one put into words the magic of standing in a crowd of 80 000 people who have all congregated to lay claim to their fandom? The answer is that there are no words…but one. Download. Download is that word. Download is pure magic – insane chaos mixed with sweat, blood, hair and most importantly awesome AWESOME metal. Download is a pilgrimage that must be made by every metal fan. A pilgrimage that culminates at the main stage on Saturday night (of a three day festival) for the performance of the weekend’s headline act. This is the epitome of the metal experience.
Fans making this pilgrimage in the year 2009 would have consummated their experience at 21:05 on Saturday June 13th in front of masked maniacs, Slipknot. And it would have been the experience of a lifetime. I have had the privilege of watching the band of nine up close in a crowd of 5000 at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and now I can say that I have sung “I push my fingers into my eeeeyes…” Along with 60 000 other voices. Each experience was individually unique yet both were utterly poignant. Fans, viewers and haters alike can not help but be mesmerised by the charisma of front man Corey Taylor. The singer has the ability to make each member of his audience feel as if the band is playing solely for him/her. When Corey Taylor asks “Do you want to go down in history” I scream “yeeeaaah” with every fibre of my being. I believed I was making history for the first time in a crowd of 5000 and for a second time in a crowd of 60 000. Granted, Slipknot headlining Download ’09 is indeed a historic moment – the show being the band’s biggest gig to date. So when finale “spit it out” is bellowed by thousands of voices, it is truly a moment of historic significance in the world of metal. The band ended a spectacular performance with Surfacing and Spit It Out, which followed a well varied set that included Dead Memories, Vermillion, Psychosocial, Duality, Wait and Bleed, Sic, Before I Forget and People=Shit, thus putting smiles on the faces of maggots, fans and any appreciators of a great performance.
And thank goodness for Slipknot! Marilyn Manson preceded the act with a dismally poor performance. It was sad more than anything as he was a huge draw card for many festival goers and fans that had travelled out for the day and would have been utterly disappointed. We busted our asses to make it within the first five rows but the squishery, heat and just pure groseness was absolutely not worth it. I stood in a crowd of gyrating Pendulum fans (who started some kind of half-assed mosh pit – I kid you not. WTF? is all I can say) all in a bid to barge to the front afterwards. Manson was completely ‘off his tits’ – more than his drugged-up status quo which doesn’t usually hinder his ability to put on remarkable performances. The singer’s diva-esque behaviour had me convinced that he had been body-snatched by Mariah, Whitney and Beyoncé. Manson had an entourage of assistants who reapplied lipstick between each song, supplied him with an oxygen mask (which undoubtedly did not contain oxygen), retrieved hurled microphones and readjusted knocked over lighting equipment. The singer completed three-quarters of Dope Show and then, much to the surprise of his audience and band members, blurted out “etcetera etcetera etcetera” and moved on to the next song. Clearly, exorbitant drug ingestion had impaired the diva’s view and the tens of thousands of people standing before the stage were … invisible perhaps? Manson was completely out of time for Sweet Dreams and had to be assisted off the stage half way through final song Beautiful People. The band inserted zero, less than zero if that is possible, energy into its performance and the set was rendered totally boring. For a man who has just released a new album, he certainly (somewhat arrogantly) passed up an amazing marketing opportunity. Festivals are the place to win over new followers and to convert the sceptics with mind-blowing performances. I can only wonder what Manson has in store for the other festivals going on this summer.
Luckily one terrible gig was not enough to dampen the spirit of Download. Devil Driver, Korn and Killswitch Engage were absolute highlights of the weekend for me, and Sevendust and Static X rocked my world. And what was that about Limp Bizkit being lynched off stage? The crowd was massive and thousands were singing along – as much as this fact may be denied by audience members at a later date. Wes Borland’s return to the band probably had a great deal to do with crowd enthusiasm. The ace guitarist was kitted out in his trademark black contacts and awesomely scary black face and body paint – he looked like a satanic zebra wielding ‘the magic Yamaha of sound’. Durst made the dreams of two fans a reality as he invited them on stage to party hard with with the band and have some mic time. Songs including Break Stuff, Nookie, Rolling, Eat You Alive and Hot Dog blasted through the air and the performance ended on a high note with Faith. The band paid homage to Korn, the pioneers of the nu metal movement. Although this genre seems to have become the shame of metal in recent years, there is no doubt that it has produced some awesome bands, including Slipknot, Deftones and Korn (naturally) – innovators that have manipulated the genre and developed highly individual sounds. Although many argue that Korn has passed its days of glory and has not produced anything truly great since Follow The Leader (a tad extreme perhaps) there is no doubt that the band draws crowds and puts on one heck of a show – even minus David and Head. Korn follow Limp Bizkit with an excellent set of old and new. Jonathan Davis is an engaging front man who waists no time talking and gets straight to business. The set list included Somebody Someone, Blind, Right Now, Brick in the Wall, Helmet in the Bush, I Did My Time, Falling Away From Me, Freak On A Leash, Here To Stay and Got The Life and pulsated with unique song intros that provide a connectivity and originality to the performance.
My favourite comment of the weekend came from Killswitch Engage’s Adam D, and it went something like this: This song is about hairy vaginas – like when you drop a piece of sushi on the floor of a barber shop. To which singer Howard Jones retorted “I can’t believe you said that Adam”. The on-stage interaction between straight-edge singer (a.k.a man with the hair-raisingly prodigious vocals) Howard Jones and guitarist Adam D is something truly hysterical to behold. But don’t be deceived – the man with a leopard-print cape, lucha libre wrestling mask and foul mouth is one of the current metal scene’s most respected musicians and producers. The band’s set list features songs from all four albums and favourites included My Last Serenade, Rose of Sharon, Arms of Sorrow and The end of Heartache. The audience was also treated to a performance of Starting Over – the first track on the new self-titled album due for release on June 30th. DevilDriver is another band with an immense stage presence. Forty-two year old Dez Fafara and his band are preceded by a reputation for excellent live performances. Dez and his crew did not fail to deliver at Download and Guinness was there to record the biggest circle pit in history. DevilDriver launch into a high energy set that blasts off with Clouds over California and includes These Fighting Words, Tyrades of Truth, End of the line, I could care less, Hold back the day and Before the Hangman’s Noose. The band exude a powerful force that sends its audience into a state of mad metal frenzy. The band is growing in stature and is undoubtedly to become a force to be reckoned with.
My observations on the world’s biggest metal festival are, of course, subject to my experience as well as the acts I watched. Each Download attendee’s experience is different and part of the fun is juggling band-watching. It is almost heart-breaking if two of your favourite bands are playing at the same time on different stages. Having seen Slipknot perform on a previous occasion, I was way keen to watch The Prodigy, which was due to play on Stage two whilst Slipknot dominated the main stage. So after bulldozing my way through the crowds after Manson, and finally observing Keith Flint on the horizon I was mightily disappointed to find that the sound of The Prodigy was completely drowned out. So back I went to see Slipknot, which never disappoints. Such is the life of a festival goer. Festival organisers did a sterling job in congregating some significant acts in the world of music as well as new comers seeking to build a fan base. From he likes of Faith No More, ZZ Top, Def Leppard and Motley Crue to Sylosis, Parkway Drive and God Forbid. Favourites Dragon Force, Lacuna Coil, Papa Roach and Trivium also featured on the bill. The festival caters for a wide variety of music tastes within the metal/alternative genre and this is what draws people from around the world. I wait with anticipation for the release of next year’s line up, which will have some big shoes to fill. And in the interim, “Cheers to a fantastic weekend!”
Check out review on ClinkMusicMagazine.