Download 2015: UABB, Northlane, Crown The Empire and Dub War
Venue: Download Festival, Donington
Away from the main stage, the there's some rumbling in the tents...
Unsurprisingly, considering the omnipresent, drizzling weather outside, the Maverick Stage tent is rammed to the hilt as Upon A Burning Body  take to stage. Although the ovation they receive as they stride on suggests that, even in burning sunshine, most people would be here regardless.
It’s good the atmosphere is celebratory too, as, to begin with, the sound out front is pretty piss poor - the vocals of Danny Leal are drowned out by the sound of drums and bass. Whilst this means the sub drops can rattle your skeleton, it also means you have to really concentrate to make out their usually blistering riffs. It’s only by the time they reach the middle of the set it evens out. A vicious Sin City, the ball-breaking Texas Blood Money and inevitable set closing sing-along Turn Down For What (with no guest appearance from Ice-T sadly), sees Leal stripped to the waist, encouraging all the ladies present to make themselves heard. Gliding round the stage spitting and snarling like a deathcore Tony Montana, UABB can leave feeling satisfied with their day's work. They are capable of more, but it’ll obviously take more than a dodgy sound man to stop this momentum.
It thins out quite a lot for Northlane  and their arrival is certainly less heralded, with just a handful of hardcore fans down the front cheering as they walk on (probably not helped by the presence of countrymen Parkway Drive on the mainstage). But it doesn’t take very long for the curious and the uninitiated to be seduced by their considerable charms. In fact by the second song, a tremendous Rot, those who were on the fence before have their arms in the air and are totally immersed in their unusual mix of progressive, tech-metal, massive grooving beatdowns and the distinctive and versatile vocal range of new frontman Marcus Bridge. In fact, if Bridge was recruited to bring Northlane up to a higher level then you can consider it a decision well made. He’s a magnetic presence, like an amalgam of letlive’s Jason Aalon Butler’s charismatic wildness with the everyman appeal of Killswitch's Jesse Leach. Here is a star in the making. “It’s always been my dream to play at Download. This is an honour” he says by way of introduction. For us too, Marcus. Northlane were a pleasure, expect the bandwagon to start filling up very soon indeed.
You’ve got to wonder what cruel bastard decided to place Crown The Empire  above those two on the bill. Whilst there is nothing particularly offensive about them, they certainly don’t measure up after the entertainment of the last hour or so. Without a single original idea inside their collective heads and another case of the sound system failure robbing one half of their dual vocal attack totally silent for a large proportion of the set, this is a massive half hour long shrug of the shoulders. For the few at the front determined to enjoy their slightly too poppy, ever so bouncy metalcore it’s obviously hitting the right spots and you can’t deny that CTE look good onstage, but as soon as they leave just about every moment that has just unfolded wafts from your memory. With some good songs and their own sound, Crown The Empire could be a proficient live band. But on today’s evidence, that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
Over on Jake’s Stage it’s an odd feeling to be watching Benji Webbe’s returning Dub War . A bit like watching old videos of Gareth Bale when he first join Spurs; very good indeed, but when you now know what he’s capable of it pales in comparison. It’s still a timely reminder of just how different and groundbreaking a band they were back in the mid-90s when you listen to the proto ragga-metal likes of Nar Say A Ting and Enemy Maker. Heavier than much of Skindred’s material but often not fizzing with quite as much of the dynamite formula that make them so unique, Dub War are still capable of producing something special - especially when they utilise Benji’s considerable vocal range on a spine tingling Million Dollar Love. As they close with Richie Glover’s double bass brings the bounce to Strike It and the driving Gorrit, with it’s irresistible chorus, they’re as good as almost any band… although, Benji’s must now return to the day job. A lovely trip down memory lane, and a timely reminder of how far he has come.