Download festival review – Guns N' Roses dominate metal's biggest party

Donington Park, Castle Donington
Marilyn Manson is a chilled-out entertainer, Avenged Sevenfold comfortably top the bill and Ozzy Osbourne feels the love during the metal marathon

With everything from cacophonous extreme metal to none-more-vanilla pop-punk on offer, this year’s Download bill caters for more tastes than most – and for the second year on the trot, it doesn’t collapse into a quagmire.

Denmark’s Volbeat conquer Friday with the ease of future champions, attracting a colossal and word-perfect crowd to the main stage. The first time Avenged Sevenfold headlined here in 2014 they seemed overwhelmed by their newfound status, but they have relaxed into their bill-topping boots and deliver a set full of grand anthems, explosive pyro and eccentric detours.

Saturday is all about Powerflo’s thuggish rap-metal, Von Hertzen Brothers’ sun-scorched prog rock and, most amusingly, veteran thrashcore pillocks Lawnmower Deth’s joyous idiocy. Meanwhile, anyone who witnessed raging electrocore militants the Fever 333’s blistering UK debut will still be talking about it next summer.

In fine voice ... Ozzy Osbourne.
In fine voice ... Ozzy Osbourne. Photograph: Ross Halfin

But if three hours of Guns N’ Roses sounds like a bit much, well, yes, it is. And yet, there are stunning moments throughout their set, including several songs from Appetite for Destruction, joyously overblown ballads Estranged and Civil War, an unexpectedly lovely cover of Wichita Lineman and a ferocious version of deep, deep cut Coma that gleefully baffles a large portion of the crowd. There are a lot of patience-testing guitar solos too, of course, plus a version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door that lasts so long we can only assume Axl is knocking on the wrong door. But in terms of value for money, the LA legends more than deliver.

Sunday is the hottest and heaviest of the lot. Cradle of Filth, Hatebreed, Kreator and Ice-T’s increasingly impressive Body Count rule the day with varying levels of menace; the latter’s closing Cop Killer feels edgier than ever.

Everyone is intrigued to see which Marilyn Manson we get: the peerless goth-metal saboteur or the lumbering, drug-addled liability. Weirdly, we get a third version: the chilled out – though mildly terrifying – entertainer, louchely sneering through Say10 and Sweet Dreams. Then Ozzy Osbourne emerges, in much better voice than many had predicted. He delivers the hits, a smattering of Sabbath and countless declarations of love for all present. Download loves the old sod back, naturally.


Dom Lawson

The GuardianTramp

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