It’s been three long years since we’ve been able to grace Download Festival at its full capacity, and we are delighted to finally have it back in 2022. All four stages, countless amazing bands, beautiful sunshine and tens of thousands of eager, smiley, energetic and ever-so-slightly drunk rock and metal fans are all here to make up for lost time, and we are overjoyed to be a part of this reunion. With three jam-packed days of incredible music to explore, we made sure that we went well over our daily step count to indulge in as much live music as we possibly could and experience everything that rock’s spiritual home has to offer. It feels AMAZING to be back.
Words: Ellie Odurny; Images: Penny Bennett
It’s 2022, and the era of social media. Manchester trio The Hara have developed quite a following on this ever-growing space on the internet and return to Donington in 2022, having played the Pilot last year. Opening with a somewhat ostentatious entrance, the classic groove and rock beat of ‘Black Soul Ceremony’ is a bold beginning; there’s no shortage of conviction from all three members of the band, with drummer Jack Kennedy hitting the kit with as much energy as guitarist Zack Breen churns out riffs and frontman Josh Taylor commands the microphone. You get the impression that Taylor, dressed in skin tight leather trousers and braces and brandishing the mic stand as a phallus, was born to perform, but this confidence seems at times rather larger than the quality of musical output. The tunes aren’t terrible but aside from a small group of super-fans clinging to every syllable, it might take a little more work in the studio and a little less time in hair and makeup to wow the masses.
Arriving on the Dogtooth stage to the sound of the Greek guitar of Zorba’s dance, it’s apparent from the beginning that Bristol four-piece Phoxjaw relish the unexpected. Switching clunkily to the down-tuned bass and dark, anguished vocals of opener ‘You Don’t Drink a Unicorn’s Blood’, any sense of kitsch has vanished as we’re dragged into the macabre world of experimental alt-indie doom-metal. Truly genre-less, it seems like anything goes in the writing process of a Phoxjaw track, with eerie synth and reverb layered over big, thumping bass, the odd mid-song tempo change and moments of straight-up rock. The transition between tracks feels a little awkward at times, and there’s definitely some room for the band to develop their unique sound into something a little more assured and refined, but as unpredictable and fascinating bands go, Phoxjaw are leading the charge.
There’s a sizeable crowd gathered for politically-charged Chicago outfit Rise Against. Loved by many for their singalong punk-rock anthems of rebellion and compassion, the band open with the emotive ‘Prayer Of The Refugee’. With a ten-song set covering a variety of music from the bands’ back-catalogue along with newer releases, there’s something powerful about the number of people joining in with the calls for revolution; the sense of togetherness in the community shining through the collective voice. Somehow perfecting the marriage of punk-born anger against a corrupt system and a plethora of catchy melodies, Rise Against once again deliver a set jam-packed with immense anthems of political passion.
Somehow, Georgia metallers Baroness seem to have pleased the gods of wind and their set on the Opus stage manages to caress the airwaves free of any major sound interference. Opening with the soaring harmonies and gigantic riffs of ‘Take My Bones Away’, they sound resplendent in the perpetual sunshine that’s been present for almost the entire weekend. Matching the gloriousness of their sound is their energy, with the whole band looking positively ecstatic to shred away the late afternoon. A headbanging Gina Gleeson adopts a classic guitar power-pose to jam with John Baizley in penultimate hit ‘Shock Me’, and you get the sense that this is one band who genuinely love performing together. This isn’t the band to start a frenzied circle pit, but if beautifully-crafted, heavy melodic rock is what you’re after, Baroness are some of the best in business to provide.
Probably the most hotly anticipated set of the weekend, there’s already a multitude of bodies trying to get into the tent down at the Avalanche stage long before Canadian trio Spiritbox are due to appear. For such a grand level of expectation, ‘Circle With Me’ creeps in with a surprisingly quiet introduction but the moment the clean vocals switch to screams, the tent erupts with elation to be finally experiencing this long-awaited UK debut performance. “We’ve been waiting for this moment since March 2020 when we were supposed to play our first show in the UK”, declares vocalist Courtney LaPlante, and it’s clear from the reaction that everyone here feels the same way. The heavily distorted guitars and thrashing drums underpin excellent screaming vocals from LaPlante, although there are one or two moments where the cleaner vocals are slightly lacklustre, though the talent is there and one imagines the skill in balancing the two vocal styles will only improve with time. The three-pronged offensive of ‘Hurt You’, ‘Yellowjacket’ and biggest hit ‘Holy Roller’ send the pits into a total commotion, with nearly as many limbs in the air as on the hard-stomped ground. Closing their short set even before their allotted time is up with the gentler title track from 2021’s album ‘Eternal Blue’, Spiritbox have certainly made an impression. Judging by the sweat-soaked, starry-eyed fans drifting out into the daylight, when Spiritbox are inevitably invited back to the UK festival scene, they’ll need a bigger stage and a longer set time.
British rockers Trash Boat have all but ditched any of their older, more pop-punk stylings in favour of a set taken almost entirely from their latest album ‘Don’t You Feel Amazing’. The heavier beats and catchy choruses possibly seeming more suited to the Download crowd, with a regular appearance from Wargasm’s Milkie Way going down a storm with those present. They’re not the first band over the weekend to complain about the control of mainstream media either, although this time it feels slightly mis-directed, with a quip about a fragrance with Russia in its name eliciting more than a few confused expressions around the outskirts of the tent. Odd spoken interludes aside, rousing screams of “you’re a fucking idiot” to ‘Alpha Omega’ demonstrate frontman Tobi Duncan’s ability to stimulate the crowd, and they finish the set with renewed bravado from the die-hard fans’ enthusiasm.
Korn haven’t played in the UK since 2017, and they chose their triumphant return to deliver just over an hour of their greatest hits to a hungry and grateful crowd of old metallers and Nu-metallers alike. They’ve had mixed receptions over the years, but today the sound is on point, everything is in tune and spirits seem to be high in the Korn camp. Following on from the fierceness of opener ‘Here To Stay’ are favourites ‘Got The Life’ and ‘Falling Away From Me’, and the trip down memory lane just doesn’t stop. The bagpipes make an appearance for ‘Shoots and Ladders’, and heads are banging along to the grinding bass and bendy down-tuning so characteristic of these godfathers of nu-metal. The absence of long-standing bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, who is taking some time off for personal reasons, is probably only noticed by the most ardent of fans, with the tiniest hints of a safer, less distinctive bassline growling beneath the guitars. By the time we get to the band’s first ever single, ‘Blind’, to close the set, we’ve all been reminded just how many hits Korn have produced over the past three decades, and they’ve delivered them today with confidence and style.
With a large number of the old guard of heavy metal fans leaving the site after Steel Panther, it’s refreshing to see a packed tent for Brighton quartet Yonaka. Vocalist Theresa Jarvis is poised to belt out the powerful ‘Ordinary’, and stragglers around the Dogtooth stage are rightfully craning their heads to see what all the fuss is about. With thumping beats and slick electronic twists, their half-hour set is a well-rounded exhibition of expertly crafted rock. Jarvis’ vocals are at times mighty, at times haunting, but always captivating, backed up by tight drums, crunchy guitars and resounding bass. Dedicating the touching ‘Call Me a Saint’ to anyone going through a tough time, there’s an evident connection between the crowd and the band, and it feels like tonight’s performance has gained a few new fans. Closing on the exultant ‘Seize the Power’, we would defy the last of the Dogtooth’s audience to leave Yonaka’s set not feeling even slightly more empowered than when they went in.
Those remaining in the arena are a noticeably sparser crowd compared to the previous nights but that doesn’t detract from the power with which Biffy Clyro perform their closing set for Download 2022. The gentle introduction of the opening segment of ‘DumDum’ isn’t fooling anyone, and following track ‘A Hunger in Your Haunt’ from latest album ‘The Myth of the Happily Ever After’ slaps with ferocious intent, guitar licks and crashing drums ringing out across the Derbyshire countryside. Always displaying the sharpest rhythmic prowess, the breakdowns and offbeat time signatures tonight are no exception, with drummer Ben Johnston hitting every beat with precision and skill.
Foregoing the over-the-top theatrics of the previous two night’s headliners, Biffy are accompanied on stage by nothing but their instruments and a spectacular light show. This means there’s nowhere to hide and all focus in on the performance alone. For Biffy Clyro, this isn’t an issue, as they’re one of the best live bands in recent history. From the savage force of the end of ‘Bubbles’ to the heart-wrenching emotion of ‘Machines’, the set is a victorious display of musical proficiency and enough stage presence to reach the farthest depths of the campsites. They might not have had the same number of fans in attendance as Kiss or Iron Maiden but those who stayed were treated to a remarkable demonstration of what the next guard of headline-worthy acts can achieve. Mon the Biff indeed.