Donington Park Download's dark legacy may be only one year old, but it now carries a notoriety that sets it apart from the rest of Britain’s bulging festival diary. The arrogant ransacking of the previous year’s honours by the then unbilled Metallica would be capped this year by the official climax provided by the same band. Better still, the already notorious Download crowd would this year surpass all expectations, filled to overflowing with fire and spirit and vivacity, despite the disagreeable habit of hurling plastic bottles full of urine at the stage – an activity that was accepted with surprising good grace by all bands apart from The Hives who, resplendent in their shockingly out of place white blazers, had more to lose than the rest of the, rather less sartorially encumbered, bands on the the bill.
Rock Feast: Download 2004
What a repast! Even the most insatiable metal gluttons were spoilt for choice by the bulging beanfeast bill of 2004’s Download. Roll up for an all-guns-blazing bullet-belt buster.
Saturday began in warm sunshine and cool anticipation, a cocktail that was furiously stirred by the sharp, biker-tinged rawness of the exceptional Monster Magnet who duly prised open the atmosphere. Perhaps that was because their simplistic rock’n’roll thunder seems to carry the whiff of dusty Americana which suited the unlikely daytime setting. Frontman Dave Wyndorf eased the mosh elements into mild, midday frenzy and, as the gorgeously accessible Space Lord swirled around Donington Park’s bowl, many new converts were duly won over – including me.
Cradle Of Filth, whose intense, crypt-kicking following had already started to circle with vulturous intent, followed with a time-honoured growl and a mess of macabre theatrics, including stilted sexual dancers. For a while that provided an effective nod back to Marilyn Manson on the same stage last year.
Knots of testosterone formed before the stage to greet The Distillers and in particular Brody Dalle, who worked the audience superbly and helped to eclipse the somewhat one-dimensional musical stance of the band. Despite that, Dalle’s impassioned vocals and steely determination to provide a heartfelt show were impressive.
From this point on the bill seemed to fragment, with the aforementioned Hives and the mighty Iggy & The Stooges pulling the music to a retrospective area from which it never recovered. While the post-punk power pop of The Hives proved little more than a vibrant detour, it was Iggy and co. who produced the set of the day, and the festival, with a succession of favourites – 1969, I Wanna Be Your Dog, TV Eye – which in this context seemed like a glimpse of heaven. The Iggy-fuelled stage invasion probably sent ripples of terror rocking the backstage caravans of the awaiting Sum 41 and Linkin Park, neither of whom would reach such heights despite the climactic flurry of the latter.
Of course, several festivals unfold at once, with the two smaller stages hurtling through a dozen bands a day, causing panic attacks for anyone, like myself, who couldn’t bear to leave Iggy to catch Roxy Saint – although I did catch a seductive glimpse of her sexually fired climax, which was agreeably bombastic.
Sunday provided the opportunity to flit from stage to stage to catch the excitement of Brides Of Destruction, complete with explosive Nikki Sixx antics and vast chunks of holy glam! Slayer’s delayed arrival saw them demoted to the same stage and none the worse for that. A dangerous tumble through an hour of heady thrash as, 100 yards away, the vastly expanded Sunday crowd soaked in the weighty final bands, building in intensity through Machine Head, Slipknot – frantic, compelling and, one senses, producing one of the great sets of their tumultuous career – and Korn, the latter seemingly back from the dead, crashing through an hour and a half that skipped by in a bottle- chucking, manic mosh fury.
There was an endearing touch of arrogance to Korn that befits a band who are getting ready to unleash a ‘greatest hits’ package on us all. Tonight they played them all – Blind, Got The Life, Stay – in confident and powerful succession. Sensing that something special was taking place, the by now massive crowd continued to concertina towards the stage. As Korn surged to their anthemic finale, few people here who had earlier believed them to be a band in ageing decline did so now.
We felt crushed, drained, spent, defeated and almost beyond repair as James Hetfield ushered on Metallica – without drummer Lars Ulrich. Curiously, this initially disappointing fact appeared to add collectability to a unique set powered by the drumming of, among others, Slayer’s exhausted Dave Lombardo and Slipknot’s spiky Joey Jordison.
Although Iron Maiden or AC/DC might suggest otherwise, it is Metallica who clearly held the crown for the perfect Donington experience. Even if (unlike Korn, it seems) Metallica are beyond their peak, little else on earth could compete with their muscular structures and uncompromising, arena-filling howl.
In front of me, two middle-aged men in red face-paint fell to the floor and writhed about in a series of ecstatic asexual jerkings.
Only decorum prevented me from joining them, as Enter Sandman thundered like the omnipresent jets overhead. It was thrilling.
THIS REVIEW FIRST APPEARED IN CLASSIC ROCK ISSUE 69.