It’s an ongoing trend that Download’s Main Stage always winds up as the most predictable end of its lineup. That in itself isn’t a bad thing—for a festival so deeply tied to heritage within rock and metal, it’s good to see them keeping it up—but especially on the part of the headliners, they’re plucked from the carousel of usual suspects. Sure, Iron Maiden are venerated metal legends but they’re part of the furniture at Donington now, and KISS on the latest leg of the farewell tour they’ve been on since the Middle Ages is hardly a premier draw. Of the three bill-toppers, Biffy Clyro are easily the best, as one of UK alt-rock’s most successful and consistently excellent bands of 21st Century, but a lot of the Main Stage is lacking that spark in pretty standout capacity. In terms of promoting fresh, vital acts to the upper levels, really the only one is Wargasm, a band who’ve already proven divisive in their electro-punk stylings, and for whom the more metal-or-bust contingent of the audience has probably already made their mind up on simply by looking at a picture. Overall, the best acts are more or less the safe picks; A Day To Remember might currently be in some hot water but they’re a proven hit; Korn have undoubtedly transcended the nu-metal stigma they’ve frankly always been above in the first place; and Deftones are still one of alt-metal’s most beloved bands that always continue to reinforce their lifer status whenever they play. There’s also Skindred who continue to have unique charm and character within heavy music, and Rise Against, Bury Tomorrow, Black Label Society and Volbeat all have high-end track records within hard rock and metal, but again, it isn’t really anything new. In general, the Main Stage this year is more a who’s who of what goes down well at Download, evidenced by the rest of its lineup that’s taking a spotlight from undoubtedly more relevant acts. Black Veil Brides are generally past a slot as big as this with a glam-metal shtick that’s worn out its welcome by now, and Shinedown’s hard rock is anthemic but has never been too gripping. As for the names you find when really getting in the weeds, Theory have no business being on any main stage anywhere, while Alestorm and Powerwolf feel included more to bring in flavours of pirates and werewolves respectively than any substantive musical offering (plus, given some of problematic leanings of the former, it might be best not having them here at all). Finally to round off, there’s the swollen cluster of classic rock revivalists in Wayward Sons, Monster Truck, Those Damn Crows and The Raven Age, the last of which are definitely at the top of that crowd, but still feel like more of a means to satiate the ‘real rockers’ who aren’t willing to spend their weekend discovering something new.
It’s got a lot of the same issues as the Main Stage, but does go some way to redressing the balance slightly. At the top though, the dynamics haven’t changed that much; Megadeth are reliable metal stalwarts (though as far as thrash’s Big Four goes, their footprint is probably currently the smallest), and Steel Panther are a fan-favourite hard rock band, even though that the generally brings into question how much the taste of these fans in particular should be relied on. As for the third headliner, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes are a good pick, havin headlined last year’s Download Pilot and being known as simply a killer live band all around, even if the indie pivots on their newest album Sticky can make their spot at this juncture a little weird. Past that, there’s still a disproportionate amount of throwback-rock for a high-profile festival stage in 2022, but at least they’re a smidge better; sure, there’s still the butt-rock outliers like Daughtry, Skillet and Bush, but there’s definitely more likability to the energetic hard rock of Massive Wagons and Dirty Honey, or a more high-end blues-rock feel to the Kris Barras Band and Ayron Jones, while The Last Internationale feel like a good inclusion simply as some more stoner-y, psychedelic representation. The buildup of the Second Stage is pretty similar to that of the Main, but it’s less objectionable in who’s chosen to fill each niche, even in terms of the staples that are guaranteed to pull the punters in. Of them, the weakest is probably The Darkness, though even then, there’s enough fun brought to their glam-metal that makes it hard to outright dislike. Elsewhere, there’s the driving AC/DC worship of Airbourne; the ever-brilliant prog odysseys of Mastodon; the gothically empowered symphonic metal of Lacuna Coil; and the sludgy hard rock calamitousness of Baroness, all of whom are mainstays within the Download sphere but always do remarkably well within it. Furthermore, the influence of Alter Bridge shouldn’t be understated when it comes to respective powers of Myles Kennedy and Tremonti, practically waiting on a win that’s deserved for both, given how strong their material can be. Hell, you might as well through SKYND and Control The Storm into the ‘favourites in waiting’ category, given the likelihood of grimy industrial metal and unashamedly massive power-metal being groomed for much greater things here down the line. But again, it’s those hot-ticket names that stick out the most, again in rather short supply, but bringing in such a freshness with their mere presence. Malevolence have been building their festival portfolio for some time, and with their new album that’s high among the best metal releases of the year—if not the best releases, full stop—it’s about time they finally get recognised for how exceptional they can be. Similarly, the jumping point is ready for Ice Nine Kills,whose theatrical metalcore is currently as big and acclaimed as its ever been, and Cassyette, continuing her bumper couple of years with genre-bending punk that’s currently at a higher peak than ever before.
The Avalanche Stage
Here we go, here’s where the really good stuff is! Download’s lower stages have always been home to its most exciting portions of the lineup, and the Avalanche Stage is no different, featuring what’s a borderline exhaustive list of newer rock and metal’s heaviest hitters of the past few years. As such, it can be difficult to get a suite of headliners to match, but with The Ghost Inside being one of hardcore and metalcore’s most acclaimed prospects, and Funeral For A Friend acting as one of the progenitors of Britrock’s modern waves in the 2000s—hell, the entire rock output of Wales was moulded in their image for about a decade—they’ve done a great job (plus, it’s hard to begrudge the influence Descendents have had on punk to round things off). As for the rest…well, where do you even start? Probably with names like Creeper and Spiritbox who’ve become well-placed among modern rock’s shining lights as some of the most exciting names the scene has to offer, but that could be true of a whole host of what’s on offer here. Sleep Token continuously pull with their enigmatic alt-pop; Boston Manor and Trash Boat deliver some of Britain’s most hard-hitting and acerbic punk; Holding Absence continue to go from strength to strength with their hyper-melodic post-hardcore; Meet Me @ The Altar are pop-punk’s next breakout stars, guaranteed; Loathe and As Everything Unfolds may operate on different metalcore planes but they’re both leading the genre’s charge in tandem; Static Dress have shot to being post-hardcore’s most exciting name; basically, throw a dart at this section of the lineup, and you’re more often than not likely to land on an act that’s been coated in buzz for the last few years. Even for those who aren’t as great overall—the overworked genre pileups of grandson, The Faim and Kid Brunswick spring to mind—they’re still on the cusp of where alternative music is right now. It’s good to see that breadth being explored too, where the traditional mindset of Download being metal ‘til death is a bit more pliable with the inclusions like the pop-rock of Marianas Trench and Cemetery Sun, or the heavy grime and bass influence of PENGSHUi. In other words, the Avalanche Stage acts as more of a unilateral breeding ground for new, exciting talent, where more established names like Jamie Lenman or higher-profile risers like Salem and Normandie feel at home among those currently working their way through the ranks. Even for those who aren’t as prevalent yet, the state of rock right now is so healthy that their time is definitely on the way, like with the gritty punk of Press Club and Dragged Under; the multiple flavours of alt-rock embodied by The Hara, Blackout Problems and Aniimalia; and, especially given its prolificness this year especially, the more jagged classic rock revivalism of Dead Posey.
The Dogtooth Stage
It’s hard to really sum up what The Dogtooth Stage is outside of ‘a bit of everything’, because its lineup generally consists of the acts from all over the Download spectrum that mightn’t fit elsewhere, or just haven’t had their break yet to really command a higher slot. Granted, that isn’t a prerequisite given that there are some pretty sizable names here, particularly with the headliners. Electric Wizard are doom legends and Sepultura are one of modern metal’s true lifers that seem able to weather whatever comes their way, while Myles Kennedy in his second appearance of the weekend has picked up plenty of attention for his solo country work, without even mentioning his status fronting Alter Bridge. In fact, the heavier ends of metal probably have the strongest showing here overall, in a twin-headed grind assault from Napalm Death and Dying Fetus to head up a run of Bleed From Within, Venom Prison and Will Haven, not to mention further inclusions of Heriot and Orbit Culture, and the metal-adjacent dark-folk of A.A.Williams. But once again, there’s a whole host of retro-rock that’s on-brand but not necessarily the most enthralling; Blues Pills are a definite exception with a psychedelic stoner sound that can be pretty great, but between the abject turgidity of British Lion who would be literally nowhere without Steve Harris onboard, and a host of smaller acts that feel disappointingly bereft of buzz like Tempt, Cellar Door Moon Crow, Anchor Lane and The Injester, there’s a feeling of resources going towards the wrong places when there are far more exciting acts that could do with the support. Even in the same sphere of quasi-classic rock fare, there’s already Bokassa and Dead Poet Society who at least bring something new to the sound, and Kill The Lights are about as accessible to metal’s oldheads as is possible to get (with a Bullet For My Valentine connection that doesn’t hurt either). Still, the support given to newer acts is still a good thing, and credit does need to go for the variety of everything on offer here. Red Fang and Temples On Mars have a bit of crossover in terms of a sludgier, proggier bent, while Higher Power and Modern Error are both reshaping hardcore into more forward-thinking forms, and nu-metal is in safe hands with Death Blooms, Fire From The Gods and Dana Dentata all bringing their own perspectives and styles. There’s also garage-rock from Yonaka and The Velveteers, post-hardcore from Phoxjaw and metalcore from Banks Arcade and Dead Label, but it’s the genuinely unique inclusions that feel worth highlighting most of all. Among them are The Scratch with their punk-flavoured take on acoustic folk-rock; Twin Temple with a satanic, doo-wop-laced twist on classic rock; and a performance from drag queen Bimini, showing the depth of diversity that it’d behoove Download to embrace more across the board.
Download Festival takes place on 10th-12th June at Donington Park. For more information, visit downloadfestival.co.uk.
Words by Luke Nuttall