It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Truth be told, we intended these previews to be a regular thing going forward in the run-up to various festivals, but that hasn’t really been the case for the last year, for obvious reasons. But in the nick of time, here’s the Download Pilot, serving as both a government scheme to trial the return of live music events without the need for masks and social distancing, but also the widespread return of live music in the UK after more than a year of silence. So with that in mind, here’s our full breakdown of the lineup, including a selection of acts you really can’t afford to miss…
The shortest day of the event is arguably its most packed, in that there’s barely a name here that isn’t a winner. The obvious draw is Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, topping the bill to give one of British rock’s most beloved and mercurial frontmen his biggest shot yet, and with both a live reputation and a catalogue featuring genuine anthems within 2010s alt-rock, there’s no reason whatsover it shouldn’t be a winner. It’s a similar case for Neck Deep and Hot Milk, hitting the poppier side of rock but with honed onstage prowess to spare, as well as Boston Manor and Holding Absence, who’ve both excelled at bringing huge, melodic and boundary pushing alt-rock to the masses in recent years. A dose of heaviness comes in the metallic hardcore bludgeoning of Malevolence and the ever-bruising nu-metal of Death Blooms, while the enigmatic Sleep Token round things out with their uniquely dark but intoxicating alt-pop.
They’ve undergone one of the most stark metamorphoses of a rock band in some time, but with every move that Boston Manor have made, it’s worked for them. They do tend to favour some of their broody, blackened post-hardcore fare nowadays (which might rub some the wrong way who are expecting their earlier pop-punk material), but it’s really not a complaint when that’s where they’re at their best. Welcome To The Neighbourhood still holds up immensely, and last year’s GLUE was a strong expansion on it, all now coming with the benefit of big stages to really make the most of what they have, and let it all seethe as strongly as it deserves. They’re already one of the best that UK melodic rock has to offer, and making the jump onto stages this size will only cement that further.
In terms of nu-metal as a whole, let alone just in the UK, Death Blooms stand as one of the newest wave’s shining lights with just a couple of EPs to their name. They mightn’t be reinventing the wheel, but the combination of groove and brutality they’ve latched onto in such a short time is about as exhilarating as this genre gets, and with the sort of exposure a Download set of this magnitude will undoubtedly give them, it could very well be the tipping point into far bigger things. Seriously, if there’s one band on this lineup to potentially graduated to Download mainstays, Death Blooms would be it; comparisons to Slipknot and Korn are nothing to sniff at, and they both usually go down pretty well here, right?
Whereas it was once heralded as the home of heavy metal (a fact that the contingent are still yet to let go of), the modern incarnations of Download as embracing of the rock melting-pot open far more doors, and with that, in walk Hot Milk as one of pop-rock’s shining lights that don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. A claim like that says a lot for a bad with one EP and a few scattered singles, but the hit rate that this band have is frankly off the charts, and the ability to bring the energy and the tunes live is just as unparalleled. Perhaps not one to fill in the non-socially distanced mosh quota, but that really doesn’t matter when you’ve got such a great band that just continue to go from strength to strength. More music is coming soon too, so expect some brand new hits-in-the-making on Friday.
Yes, it’s an easy call, but really, what band is better suited to headlining an event this size than Enter Shikari? They’ve got the experience, the showmanship and – especially after last year’s exemplary Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible which will be getting its first road miles here – an absolute truckload of great songs to make a headline set their own. As far as more cool and forward-thinking rock goes, Creeper have a similar consistency for how excellent their blend of theatricality with punk flair and rugged, romantic Americana goes, while on the heavier end of things, While She Sleeps, Bleed From Within, Conjurer and Lotus Eater all represent metal’s upper echelon in terms of great music primed for a huge crowd. Even from the newest generation of heavy music, the volatile electro-punk of Wargasm and the metalcore bombast of As Everything Unfolds ensure that a key foothold is already being formed for two bands ready to make some legitimate moves in the near future. To round out, there’s a good amount of melodic fare on offer too, albeit not quite as exciting in some cases; Stone Broken and Those Damn Crows represent the throwback hard rock side of Download that’s effectively customary to have at this stage, and A serve as a fun novelty for fans of 2000s pop-rock if not much more. At the same time though, Twin Atlantic’s big-hearted Britrock is usually an easy win for stages like this, while Vukovi’s more rubbery and colourful pop-rock and Tigercub’s grungy garage-rock rumble are both really strong in their own right. As for indie-rock courtesy of Yonaka and The Hara, it’s not quite as strong but it’s hardly a black mark on an already excellently diverse lineup.
What more can be said about Creeper in any capacity? Wherever and whenever they show up, they’re going to be excellent, and with a new EP on the way that’s already giving off that exact same vibe, a set like this is a guaranteed home run before they’ve even stepped onstage. The insane thing is that, with all the exposure that Creeper have been getting over the last few years, the sheen should be nearly rubbed off by now, but that’s nothing close to the truth. Really, this is a band who could be credibly considered one of the best of the modern generation in any arena, be that punk ragers, sonorous country murder-ballads, or stadium-rock intent that permeates from basically every note they play. Everyone knows it already, and everyone loves them for it; just go and see Creeper again. There’s not reason not to at this stage.
Like Hot Milk, Vukovi mightn’t ooze the same qualities that a true Monsters Of Rock traditionalist would want, but that’s what makes them great. Over the years they’ve evolved into a great little pop-rock band determined to follow their own arrow wherever they’ve gone, and not only has that given them some great songs, but also a live presence that’s indicative of just how huge this band wants to be. Yes, the songs will sound huge (this band can write a chorus like no one’s business at their best), but they bring such a palpable verve and energy, the sort of rush that no festival weekend is complete without. For a guaranteed good time and some of the most vibrant pop-rock of the weekend, Vukovi are sure to deliver in spades.
While She Sleeps
There’s really no doubt that While She Sleeps can pull off a festival set. They always do, regardless of setting, and given how an early billing as one of the best live bands in UK metal has only followed them this far, there’s really no doubt that they’ll bring that again. What makes this particular set stand out, though, is where While She Sleeps are in their career, and how, after a brilliant new album in Sleeps Society to affix to an already healthy catalogue, there’s really nothing to feel beyond true excitement at how this band will continue to leap onwards and upwards. They’re another favourite pick for a reason, where they’ll always deliver regardless of circumstance (their 2000 Trees set in 2019 comes to mind immediately), and now in one of the strongest positions of their career, they’re quite frankly unstoppable.
For all the jokes that have been made about how it’s taken a global pandemic to give Bullet For My Valentine a headline slot, it’s not like it’s not at least in some form warranted. They’re one of the biggest metal bands in the UK, they always kill live, and as long as they steer further away from their hit-or-miss later years, they’ll likely do the same here too. It’s fitting, in reality, given that Sunday at Download often houses the festival’s older veteran acts, and while they’ve thankfully not dug up the fossils for this one, it’s a similar case. Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls, Skindred, The Wildhearts and, to an extent, Jamie Lenman are all reliable established festival acts, but there’s a high enough level of net quality than what a usual ‘old-school’ lineup might amount to. Because once again, it’s hard to complain about what Sunday has to offer; Elvana aside (Nirvana covers fronted by an Elvis impersonator, because apparently there just has to be one), and maybe the oddly outfield inclusion of electro-rock singer Cassyette, it’s another example of some of the most vital names in their respective scenes. Trash Boat offer their visceral take on post-hardcore and pop-punk; Lonely The Brave bring big, emotional alt-rock; Chubby And The Gang represent boisterous, rowdy throwback-punk; even Massive Wagons hold firm as standard-setters within older-leaning hard rock. But it’s the heavy stuff that’s thriving as always, helmed Employed To Serve and Loathe as top-tier picks for engrossing modern hardcore and metal, and flanked by the grunge / hardcore hybrid of Higher Power, the teeth-baring alt-rock of Saint Agnes, and the violent, combustible post-hardcore of Static Dress.
There’s not a heavy band in recent memory that’s been able to get as much out of their craft as Loathe have. Within a year of each other they’ve released an utterly devastating album comprising the best parts of Deftones, alt-metal and true progressive intent, but also an ambient record that’s just as thoughtful and forward-thinking. Granted, they’re more likely to lean towards the former here, but they’re also a case where none of that artistry is lost or dulled by the limitations of the live environment. They’re a titanic live presence without fail, a success story for a very good reason, and a sure-fire winner at Download where they’ve got that space to progress and grow. If there’s one set this weekend that could define where a band goes moving forward, it could very well be Loathe’s.
Ah, Skindred – a band for whom the gulf between their recorded output and live performance could dwarf the Grand Canyon for how enormous it is. Yes, Skindred’s albums have regularly left a lot to be desired, but onstage they’re a different animal entirely, with a hurricane of charisma in the form of Benji Webbe who’s more a master of ceremonies than anything resembling a frontman. It’s live where they fully embrace the punk potential their ragga-metal sound has, where the confluence of power, bounce and unbridled fun hits without fail, and turns them into one of the most reliably unmissable bands out there. There’s also the time-tested Newport Helicopter which speaks for itself, the cherry on the top of what will certainly be a no-holds-barred wonderful time.
It’s worth stressing that Static Dress are still a very new band, which is what makes their potential to deliver at Download so intriguing. Of course, singling them out as a recommendation above everyone else isn’t for no reason – musically, they’ve got one of the most fully-formed and powerful sounds that a new post-hardcore band has had in ages, and the fact that every single song they’ve dropped up to now has not only delivered, but topped what’s come before it really puts them on a high standing indeed. Therefore, this sort of airtime is what’ll ultimately propel them into far greater things; not necessarily a trial by fire, but the first big run-up that Static Dress have had with regards to breaking through into the wider UK rock scene. They’re going to do, naturally, but the extent to which they do is where that excitement sits.
Words by Luke Nuttall
The Download Pilot 2021 takes place from 18th-20th June at Donington Park. More information can be found at https://downloadfestival.co.uk/download-pilot/.