One of Our Drummers Is Missing...
Download Festival 2004, 6th/7th May, Donington Park, England
by: Adam Lineker
I arrived at Donington Park an hour before midday, under a calm but overcast sky. After being refused entrance to the press area (the only place where one encountered any effective security) I had no option but to negotiate the heinous queue for admission wristbands. During this time, I busied myself with straining to hear THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN as they banged out their disjointed, cerebral noise on the main stage. I know nothing of how they were received by the early crowd, but every second was a pleasure from where I was standing, as it ensured that Opeth would not be on whilst I was stuck outside.

I was fortunate enough to gain entry at the very beginning of OPETH's set, charging through the gate and scaling the embankment to the eerie strains of "The Drapery Falls". With only half an hour to perform, the band from Stockholm, Sweden played a very select arrangement of their most accessible material to an audience who appeared appreciative, if not completely understanding. Offering up the mellow _Damnation_ cut "To Rid the Disease" to a festival crowd initially struck me as a bad idea, but somehow the Opeth magic worked, permeating their grey, midday setting with a cold, dark atmosphere. The band punctured their own momentum by taking an eternity between songs, but they succeeded on a musical level with proficient and stirring performances of "Deliverance" and "Demon of the Fall". Still, it is a fair judgement to say that an early, open-air half hour is not the best setting to enjoy the Opeth experience.

Over on the (secondary) Snickers Stage, VIKING SKULL were responsible for some no-frills, ballsy rocking out. With flashes of AC/DC providing the high points of some ludicrously entitled, oily rock songs, the band relished every moment of their stage time, and large amounts of energy were exchanged between performers and audience. Though they wouldn't seem out of place performing in your average biker bar, Viking Skull performed with guts and aplomb, entertaining a crowd through a shared exuberance for unashamed, nostalgic fun.

After such a dirty rock and roll explosion, I wondered how the gentlemanly extreme AKERCOCKE would come be received. From the moment that the band's decorative equipment was wheeled onstage the atmosphere began to build, but nothing could have prepared me for the moment when the four be-suited men strode out onto the stage and worked the audience into a frenzy with a passionate Satanic chant; the sense of pure evil and menace emanating from the stage was palpable. Akercocke then proceeded to deliver the goods in striking fashion, blasting their violent and technical metal with total control and potent venom. The intensity of "Of Menstrual Blood and Semen" inspired the first pits of the day as the assembled throng gave themselves up to the Akercocke blast. Renditions of newer numbers "Leviathan" and "Son of the Morning" provided the set's melodic highpoints, but undoubtedly the most memorable image of the performance was the calm, expressionless face of David Gray as he put his kit through the most breathtakingly technical display of drumming that would be seen over the whole festival.

Over on the main stage it was nearly time for CRADLE OF FILTH. I knew from the word go that The Filth were going to have a hard time following Akercocke's triumph. Unfortunately they failed miserably, and gave this long time Cradle fan his first big disappointment of the day. Beginning their set with recent _Damnation and a Day_ material was an early warning, the opening song going on for an eternity before the band finally launched into an underpowered and unengaging "Cruelty Brought Thee Orchids". A band famed for their more unsavoury elements, here the most unpleasant thing about CoF was the surly presence of backing singer Sarah Jezebel Deva, who couldn't have looked more sickeningly disinterested if she had tried. A somewhat paunchy Dani Filth did his best to work up the crowd, but his band just floundered as they struggled to keep the reigns taught over a dodgy sound and a sloppy performance; the showcasing of unimpressive new song "Gilded Cunt" (yes, I know) only succeeded in lowering the tone. Ultimately Cradle of Filth were upstaged (not for the first time) by their own stilt walkers and dancing girls, who put on a highly entertaining backing show of high camp theatre and daring stunts.

Meanwhile, over on the small Barfly stage, BURST were successfully provoking a wrestling match. Despite the spirited and competent performance, I struggled to focus on the band as six guys with the physique of Phil Anselmo joyously beat ten bags of shit out of each other in the pit next to me. All credit then to Burst for creating such a good atmosphere with their metallic jolts and grooves that people found the need to fight each other; a fact not lost on a band who evidently enjoyed themselves whilst maintaining an impressive musical presence.

After this macho display, it seemed appropriate to procure beer and food, and then find a place to watch THE DISTILLERS from afar. Although I have read much of the great punk energy that this band create, none of it reached me, and I struggled to cultivate an opinion that was anything other than apathetic. Despite the husky sexiness of Brody Dalle's voice, it was hard to pay any serious attention to them. Still, to their credit they were nowhere near as annoying as THE HIVES, who played a set of sound-a-like material ripped wholesale from The Stooges. Whilst frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvuist accused every other band of having "downtuned guitars and amps that sound the same whatever they play", his band twanged through a dull, irritating set that made me wish to be elsewhere. Luckily, there was a better place ro be.

With the cancellation of STATIC X, and the moving forward of Arch Enemy, I decided to give IGGY POP AND THE STOOGES a miss. In retrospect, this is a decision that I don't regret in the least.

The last time I wrote about ARCH ENEMY was a painful experience, as I had left their "Anthems of Rebellion" tour show in Glasgow with a lot of doubt and disappointment (look for 'Sad Eyes Question Future" in the Gigs section of CoC if you're interested). This time, however, I witnessed one of the most exhilarating performances of metal that I have ever experienced. After a lengthy intro, the band emerged onstage though a thick haze of smoke and lights and exploded into "The First Deadly Sin", inciting an immediate reaction in the remarkably large and tightly packed crowd. Each member of the band seemed to give off a light of their own, the star quality of this group more evident than ever. Passionately ripping through a set comprised almost entirely of _Wages of Sin_ and _Anthems of Rebellion_era material, it was hard to identify a peak. Whether it was the early inclusion of a frenzied "Ravenous", being hugged by a complete stranger during the beautiful lead bridge of "Dead Eyes See No Future", or watching a crazed metalhead climb up the supporting structures to a suicidal height and hurl himself off during "We Will Rise", I cannot tell. What I remember most of all is that there was a very powerful manifestation of the metal spirit. Arch Enemy completely dominated Download 2004, and one can only hope that the shockwaves of this significant event will travel far.

Exhausted after such an unrelenting metal experience, it was time to meander back to the mainstage and find a place to crash whilst SUM 41 peddled their pop punk nonsense. Though they offered nothing of musical interest, it was decided that this band are probably one of the last bands of their genre that ought to be exterminated. The strength of their endearing performance energy carried even through the formulaic frippery being played, and their inability to resist the temptation to cover old-school metal classics belied their ability to play a lot better than they really ought to.

Having only caught the end of their set, much pleasure was acquired through the brief offering of AC/DC that filled in the time before headliners LINKIN PARK took to the stage and totally underwhelmed most of the audience. They generated about as much excitement as what you might get from playing the record very loudly at the bottom of your garden, and their weaknesses became quickly apparent. Although able to entirely replicate their studio albums live, this quickly became horribly boring. Though on one level such proficiency shouldn't be ignored, most of the band had very basic instrumental parts, and the only mildly impressive performances were given by singer Chester Bennington and MC Joe Hahn. There were no fills, deviations, interpretations, or even any real evidence to suggest that it was actually being performed live. Between songs we were treated to the insufferable ego of third rate rapper Mike Shinoda and his equally plastic counterpart. The most remarkable thing about the whole show was the division in the Donington crowd: whilst those down at the front seemed to love every minute of being postured at, the majority of those assembled seemed ambivalent; a fact not lost on the band themselves, as they tried to get their fans to boo those who were just watching. Such actions left me feeling horribly cold and the only thing that preserved my good humour were the audible shouts for Slayer that were gradually increasing towards the back.

When Shinoda dragged the event to a new low with his awful hip hop pretentions ("when ah s'ay yimmy yammy like dis y'all say like dis!") it seemed like a good time to leave. Apart from being a rather underpowered headlining act, their attitude left me feeling totally alienated. This band are one of metal's biggest representatives in the mainstream world, but they are so far removed from what metal means to me. What I mean is that they didn't generate that musical, emotional, unifying metal vibe. They didn't really seem to care or understand that they were headlining Donington. They didn't understand that they couldn't force the crowd to be down with the kids. Maybe I am too sentimental but still, someone should inform Joey DeMaio; if there was ever a bunch of wimps and posers, it was Linkin Park on this night.

Deciding that a lie in would be preferable to having to listen to Ill NiƱo, I arrived at Donington in the early afternoon. My second day of Download began with the end of SOULFLY's set. Having never gained much but amusement from Max Cavalera's stompy nu-third-world-metal efforts, I was pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere generated by "Eye for an Eye". The band themselves looked a little disorganised and scruffy, but it was hard not to get caught up in their bouncy groove.

Machine Head were supposed to follow this up, but due to a delay on the behalf of Slayer, the whole running order did a quick shuffle and forward-passed the thrash titans to an evening slot on the second stage, whilst shoving Rob Flynn's mob up the ladder a little. So next we were treated to a spirited show by DAMAGEPLAN, the new incarnation of ex-Pantera brothers Dimebag and Vinnie. To their credit, the Abbots have recruited some solid bandmates, and their mission-of-metal statement came across loud and clear. What let them down was the music itself, which never seemed close to the standard set by their past output; numbers such as "Fuck You!" sounded exceptionally moronic. Still, Damageplan were responsible for one of the biggest moments of the whole festival when they slammed out a titanic rendition of Pantera classic "Walk". Despite any quibbles I have with their current material, it is great to see Dime and Vinnie rocking out again.

After a quick trip to the overpriced stalls, I watched from afar as MACHINE HEAD tore it up on the main stage. They exceeded my expectations massively, and seemed to occupy Donington Park even more so than the previous night's woeful headliners. As they began the opening track of new opus _Through the Ashes of Empires_, I scanned the whole crowd from distant back to heaving front and gained my first real impression of how epic the occasion really was. In this environment, Machine Head's performance may have seemed more breathtaking than it actually was, but they undoubtedly delivered the goods. While Flynn's dialogue and stage banter was awkwardly dumb ("this next song is an eight minute laymenshun on Death, y'all"), it wasn't enough to bring down a performance that generated some powerful vibes, peaking with career highlight "Davidian". Personally, I've always been a bit apathetic towards Machine Head, but during this Download appearance they went up in my estimation considerably.

As I waded to the front for SLIPKNOT's set, an expectant, nervous tension began to manifest and grow in the assembled horde. Thankfully, the 'Knot delivered one of the festival's most balanced performances and my expectations were well met. The band threw out a well constructed, career spanning set, which somehow managed to include all the hits whilst pushing all the right buttons, though the older numbers were met with the greater reactions. The individual performances of guitarist Mick Thompson and vocalist Corey Taylor drew most of my attention; unquestionably Slipknot's ranks include some passionate and committed musicians, however nauseous one can be made by the hype. However, for a band who have been repeatedly touted as the world's most extreme and dangerous group, this performance felt very safe. The chaos onstage seemed to be controlled and well executed instead of spontaneous, and while there was a lot of pit action, it had a friendly vibe; I had a very good time acting like a nutter and still had room for handshakes all round. This vibe rubbed off on the band, as positive energies were exchanged to make this a quite satisfying feel-good event, just as long as you weren't expecting new levels of mayhem and insanity. I left the pit just before the end, as "Wait and Bleed" began to sound out across Donington, to take part in an altogether different affair...

These days the sheer arrogance of SLAYER is becoming harder to forgive. Having turned the bill almost on its head, they nearly incited a riot amongst the assembled crowd by pushing the time back even further, and the engineers reinforcing the barrier in preparation were injured by flying bottles flung from the impatient (slayer)crowd. Threats to pull the band's set in response only stirred things further. Slayer appeared onstage in front of a claustrophobic and restless crowd; not a moment too soon either. As they launched into "Disciple", pandemonium ensued. The crowd became one giant, boiling, inescapable pit and the venue's support posts were swamped with desperate, flag waving bodies. Having personally considered and rejected this option myself, I eventually fought my way to the security of the front barrier. Slayer's set included all of their classic tracks, with a few nice surprises, and their performance was the trademark Slayer onslaught of energy and aggression; the _Reign in Blood_ to _Seasons in the Abyss_ era material providing most of the high points. What almost ruined this was how the band could come onstage after such a delay and say absolutely nothing to an audience who had waited in a state of discomfort for hours. Couple this with the fact that they inexplicably kept walking off between songs, and one begins to wonder how complacent Slayer are becoming. Despite my misgivings, I still became totally caught up in their ferocious barrage of vintage thrash metal. I'm just waiting for the moment when I can once again feel that the spirit of a Slayer gig isn't just generated by their devoted fans.

So, from one thrash titan to another. Headliners METALLICA followed Slayer's trend of showing up over two hours late, and the Download crowd actually began to show their disapproval en masse until Het, Kirk and Rob had the grace to come out onstage and explain themselves. The reasons why they had kept us waiting were soon made clear: Lars Ulrich wasn't there. Hospitalised due to some "mystery illness" (which was unofficially reported to be some sort of nervous breakdown), Metallica were cut down to a three piece. However, instead of pulling the show, they stuck it out alongside an assortment of replacement drummers. This in itself was a highly commendable gesture. However, understandable as it may be, Metallica were incredibly sloppy and there were moments when it looked and sounded as if certain songs were falling apart. Slipknot's Joey Jordison performed the majority of the set, something for which most mainstream metal magazines have lauded as the moment of the festival. All credit to Joey's solid impromptu performance, but this simply wasn't the case. If anything truly awesome came out of this spirited but clumsy set, it was the opening salvo of "Battery" and "The Four Horsemen", which featured none other than Slayer's Dave Lombardo behind the kit; every thrash fan's dream come true. His pedal work in Battery was simply breathtaking, displaying to the Donington crowd just how much more powerful a drummer he is than Ulrich. Yet despite even this, Metallica didn't really pull it off, seeming at half power and performing a reduced set. Undoubtedly the band did the best they could have done, and the performance was indeed emotionally engaging, but after their life-affirming show at Leeds the year before, this was an unsatisfying end to a good festival experience.

(article submitted 6/8/2004)


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