Compared with Sonisphere, whose organisers went out of their way to ensure a healthy quota of progressive music was on offer this year, prog bands were pretty thin on the ground at Download Festival.
Venue: Donington Park
We check out the proggy talent at Download and cover gigs by The Custodian and Sun Ra's Arkestra.
Admittedly they have been for a few years, and true, before Opeth and Anathema were even announced, there was little of interest to Prog readers. In the end, however, there was sufficient prog-friendly fare to keep us entertained. And hey, at least it didn’t rain. Much…
We think it was Steven Wilson who, after Porcupine Tree performed at Download in 2010, opined that he wasn’t certain that the intricacies and true dynamics of progressive music come across in a festival setting. He might have a point, though it’s never seemed to be a problem at events like Night Of The Prog.
Likewise, Within Temptation don’t suffer too much on the main stage on the Friday. Obviously operating on the cusp of prog and symphonic metal, they’re more prog-friendly than prog, although as a magazine, we’re more than aware of the large proportion of readers who enjoy the band’s finely crafted sound. That said, it doesn’t seem as though too many in front of the main stage waiting for Rob Zombie to come on seem swayed as the band open with Let Us Burn from their Top 10 album Hydra. But they perk up noticeably as they recognise the catchy chorus to Paradise (What About Us?), even if there’s no Tarja to duet with. Feeding off this, the Dutch band go into overdrive, thundering through a set largely built around Hydra and 2011’s The Unforgiving with steely determination. It works; by the time they go back to 2004’s breakthrough hit Stand My Ground, they’ve largely won over the masses, exiting to a fittingly epic Ice Queen.
Anathema’s excellent new album Distant Satellites has only been out a week, which perhaps isn’t enough time for a clamour to build for the band. Having said that, whoever decided to stick them in the Pepsi Max tent needs their head testing. With Rob Zombie yards away on the main stage, the whole thing feels like a begrudging move to accommodate a bit of prog. The tent is hardly packed as people drift to the main stage, but it’s more than respectfully full as the band launch into Fragile Dreams. It’s followed by the peerless Untouchable Part 1, which eases into The Lost Song Part 3 from their latest album, three expert examples of the purity and genius of the band’s songwriting. But onstage, the band hardly seem in a celebratory mood. Sound issues cloud Closer from A Natural Disaster, and scupper the more adventurous closer and title track from the new album, which is a real pity. True, it’s not the best Anathema performance we’ve witnessed, but it’s still more enjoyable than most of what’s been on today.
Opeth, too, are deemed only worthy of appearing in the Pepsi Max tent, which is even more outrageous than showcasing Anathema in there. Not that they show any outward signs of feeling belittled. Instead, Mikael Åkerfeldt and co deliver one of the sets of the weekend, even if they totally ignore Ghost Reveries. That said, they don’t acknowledge forthcoming album Pale Communion, either, but that’s got more to do with not wanting dodgy mobile-filmed clips of their new material flooding the internet. That’s OK, though – the likes of The Devil’s Orchard, Heir Apparent, Hope Leaves and an excellent Blackwater Park all serve to show that the band remain masters of their craft. Inventive, cerebral, sometimes heavy and always boldly progressive, they make a mockery of their placing on the bill. We’re sure we are not alone in believing that Opeth really should have been on the main stage. Jerry Ewing