Download Festival 2022, Castle Donington, England

10. – 12. juni 2022

It has been a long hard road, but we have made it out the other side. Legions of fans have waited for this moment as the world lurched and lunged through the roller coaster ride of the last two years. We had a hiatus where we had to survive on virtual Download in 2020 as a global pandemic swept through populations across the globe. We then had the false dawn of Download 2021 until time was called on it in March. Hopes were raised once more in May when it was announced that a reduced capacity event was to be held as a government-sponsored NHS pilot. 10,000 lucky punters got to experience an intimate event that showcased UK talent including Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes, Creeper, and Cassyette, all of whom make a welcome return this year.

Finally, 2022 brings the full-capacity crowds back to Donington’s hallowed turf under Andy Copping’s expert stewardship. Tents dusted off, sleeping bags resurrected, and slabs of beer packed, it is once again that special time of year when we get together to enjoy the best that rock and metal has to offer. Download 2022 is about to blow our minds! Let the madness begin!

DAY 1 – Friday 10th June 2022

The Donington weather seems to know that after 2 years we deserve a break. As usual, the atmosphere is jovial around the site, and you never know who you might meet next. Friends both old and new get together for a massive party. Some have been coming for years while others are mere debutants. Some go to extreme lengths with costumes especially prepared for the occasion.

The first band we catch are Bury Tomorrow on the main stage. This 6-piece, who formed in Southampton in 2006 has 6 albums under their belt and their «Black flame» album released in 2018 brought them to the forefront of the metalcore scene. Their most recent album «Cannibal’ was released in 2020. Vocalist Daniel Winter-Bates tells the crowd how the band has waited 2 years for this moment and watches as the crowd to meld into a circle pit to kick the day off to the thunderous but beautiful noise.

Next up is the Black Veil Brides on the main stage. No strangers to Download, these rockers from Hollywood, California treat us to a set that includes new release «Crimson Skies» and “Scarlett Cross” both from 2021 album “The Phantom Tomorrow”. Older favourites, like «Rebel Love Song» are also in the mix. The band last performed at Download Festival in 2018 and it is obvious that the crowd has certainly missed them.

The Opus stage crowd welcomes Lacuna Coil from Milan, Italy next. They are visually exciting with some elaborate face painting, perhaps not wanting to be outdone by Kiss later in the evening. The intricate vocal interaction between Andrea Ferro and Cristina Scabbia delights the welcoming crowd as the sun beats down. The gothic rockers are playing a string of festivals this summer moving on to Hellfest in Clisson, France next.

As a warmup for Saturday Steve Harris plays the Dogtooth stage with his band, British Lion. Guitarist Grahame Leslie is out in the pit chatting to the crowd before the set. Steve Harris looks fit and healthy with his West Ham colours fitted to his guitar strap. Most would consider touring one band a commitment, but Steve has lined up 9 European dates and some festival dates that fit in with the schedule for Iron Maiden’s Legacy of the Beast tour. I’m tired just thinking about it! The set doesn’t disappoint and soon the Dogtooth tent is rocking.

Our next stop is the Opus stage where the assembled crowd is thrilled by Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes who launch into their set with an explosion of red ribbons into the crowd in the middle of the first song. Not to be outdone Frank decides to try a spot of crowd surfing and takes a walkabout on the shoulders of the front few rows. The crowd is at fever pitch, and it is easy to see why this band headlined last year’s pilot. Later, Frank dedicates a moment of silence to all the bands they just murdered. Classic! The setlist includes songs like “Take it to The Brink” and “Bang Bang”, before closing with a rousing rendition of “Crowbar”.

Kiss is tonight’s headliner and they have pulled out all the stops for this triumphant final show. We are treated to a pyrotechnics extravaganza and a set that spans their career with old favourites like “Rock City”, “Cold Gin” and “Deuce”. Recent material like “War Machine” also gets an airing. Kiss has played Donington five times over the years, and despite telling the crowd that this is the last time, it doesn’t spoil tonight’s party…and one hell of a party it is, complete with confetti guns and fireworks but tinged with a little sadness as we bid a fond farewell to these Monsters of Rock.

DAY 2 – Saturday 11th June 2022

Saturday starts with a trip to the Opus stage for Cassyette. Today lead vocalist Cassy Brooking struts the stage like a demented Rapunzel with plaits flying. Observing that Goths do not do well in the sun, she rocks her way through “Dear Goth” and delivers a rousing set that includes “Mayhem”, “Behind Closed Doors” and “Dead Roses”. The second stage billing confirms that the Download team was on the money inviting Cassyette to play the pilot last year.

Canada’s Dana Dentata has adorned her microphone stand with the tangled remains of her Barbie doll collection. The lights go down and the bass sends a wall of noise through the crowd as a malevolent clown enters the stage before Dana removes the mask to reveal herself. She proceeds to remove clothing to reveal even more over the course of the show. The stage show is provocative and intensely sexually empowered. Having a former career in stripping Dana knows how to work a crowd including getting in their faces. Dana gets off stage and gets down to the barrier all the while screaming at the front few rows. We get to hear «Spit» from the 2021 album Pantychrist. Influenced by artists as diverse as Britney Spears, Eminem and Marilyn Manson, Dana vents her anger on her unsuspecting Barbie collection in a theatre macabre. Strange stuff indeed but nonetheless a captivating show.

The next stop is the Dogtooth stage for Dead Label, an Irish band that is making a real name for themselves. The crowd has a healthy Irish contingent, with the Irish flag being waved from the front row. The band hails from Celbridge in Co. Kildare and was founded in 2008. Dead Label released an EP in 2010 and 2 albums «Sense of Slaughter» in 2012 and «Throne of Bones” in 2016. Their most recent EP “Anthology” released in April 2020 was set to be a breakthrough year for the band with festival slots at Wacken, Download, and Irish festival Sunstroke until Covid intervened. Now the band is catching up in earnest and having toured with Machine Head and Fear Factory, Download poses no problems for this hard-working band.

Black Label Society bring their own brand of rock to the main stage on another perfect day for festivals. Zakk Wylde bedecked in a waistcoat and kilt storms through a set that includes “Destroy & Conquer” and “Set You Free” from November 2021 release «Doom Crew». Later in the set the twin guitars are played behind the heads of the players while circle pits open up in the crowd. Black Label Society is touring extensively across Europe in June and July before continuing in the US. The set closes with firm favourite “Stillborn” from “The Blessed Hellride”.

Shinedown are guests on the main stage today and we get to hear gems like «Get up», “Monsters” and “Creatures” from 2018 album “Attention”, with piano backing and motivational speech included for good measure. Shinedown are set to release their latest album «Planet Zero» on July 1st which was pushed out from a previous release date in April.

Daughtry, a band formed by Chris Daughtry from North Carolina, play the Opus stage. Chris Daughtry, band founder was a runner-up in season 5 of American idol. Opening with the song «Desperation», the band who formed in 2006 rocks through the set with songs like “Heavy is the Crown” and «World on Fire». Chris tells us this is the band’s first Download festival and judging by the crowd’s reaction it won’t be the last.

Mastodon is the next band on the Opus stage. These metallers from Atlanta Georgia are no strangers to the Download stages. With 8 albums in their repertoire including the ground-breaking «Leviathan» and «Crack the Skye» and the more recently «Hushed and Grim» released in 2021. The set opens with «Pain with an Anchor» and includes favourites like «Black Tongue» and «Blood and Thunder». This tour takes in European dates including the prestigious Hellfest and Graspop festivals before returning to tour in the US.

We make a visit to the Avalanche stage to take in Creeper who manage to energetically blend elements of multiple genres into their own unique gothic rock style. Today’s crowd knows every word of every song and is in fine voice. Vocalist Will Gould is a real live wire and excels in getting the crowd jumping on classics like the infectious, «Anabelle». Hannah Greenwood too shines on “Midnight” with perfect interplay between the two vocalists. The band are in fine form today. The set closes with the beautifully sombre “Misery” and the bewitched crowd sings every line perfectly. What an atmosphere!

On the Opus stage Megadeth’s intro rolls into “Hangar 18”, swiftly followed by «The Threat is Real, and «Dread & the Fugitive Mind», Dave Mustaine explains how «Angry Again» was written when someone knocked over his guitar. Today’s set includes a few oldies like «The Conjuring» and «Peace Sells» and closes with the magnificent «Holy Wars… The Punishment Due».

Sepultura storm the stage in the Dogtooth tent launching into their set following a tribal drum intro. This band, which formed in 1984 by Max and Igor Cavalera is still full of angst and energy with vocalist Derrick Greene leading the charge. The classic «Refuse Resist» and the incendiary «Roots» all get an airing. Incidentally, Derrick’s energy is totally plant-fuelled. He co-hosts a TV program called Highway to Health which detail a vegan guide to survival while on tour with Irish virtuoso bassist Tanya O’Callaghan. Tanya currently takes care of bass guitar duties with Whitesnake.

As the sun sets the familiar strains of “Doctor Doctor” ring out as an intro to the arrival of Iron Maiden onstage. The crowd anticipation is palpable, and the Japanese-inspired backdrop is all in place for this stage of the Legacy of the Beast tour. The band arrives on stage as the smoke clears, and Bruce Dickinson is in character sporting a samurai-style man-bun. Midway through the opener Senjutsu a huge Samurai Eddie enters the stage complete with a sword threatening to behead band members. Bruce greets the crowd before «Writing on the Wall». It’s a quick set change for the journey back in time to «Revelations». Bruce announces that “after 3 years of shit it all ends here…” – leading nicely into «Blood Brothers», The set is extravagant with lots of props, as we have come to expect from Maiden, and during «Flight of Icarus» Bruce waves a pyrotechnics gas gun while Icarus floats in the backdrop. Other highlights are «Fear of the Dark», «Number of the Beast «and «The Trooper». For the encore, the full-size Spitfire makes an appearance for «Aces High».

And so, day 2 comes to an end. It’s time for some beers and a discussion on the day’s events. On our way out of the arena, we meet a dinosaur! Funnily enough, it doesn’t seem strange at all and in fact it almost feels normal!

DAY 3 – Sunday 12th June 2022

London-based Wargasm is the first band out of bed on Sunday morning for their opening set on the main stage with vocalist Steve Matlock sporting a vintage 1990 Monsters of Rock T-shirt. The band was founded in 2019 and their debut full-length release, «Explicit: The Mixxxtape» is planned for summer 2022. The set today includes «Backyard Bastards», “Rage All Over”, latest track “D.R.I.L.D.O”, and 2021 single “Salma Hayek”, which is dedicated to Milkie Way’s wife. The high-octane set went down a storm with the early morning revellers and viscerally woke the site for the great day ahead.

London is also home to our next artist Bimini, on the Dogtooth stage. The first song «God Save This Queen» is a catchy groove, The band is introduced as a queer band and «Don’t F**k with my Groove» is the next song. This crowd enjoys the first festival performance by the flamboyant drag queen, model and author. The set also includes a tribute medley for Keith Flint from The Prodigy mingled with some Britney Spears. Funnily enough…it works perfectly.

Mark Tremonti who is rated as one of the top 20 guitarists of the decade, plays the Opus stage today. Bass player Tanner Keegan beats his instrument into submission in a style that shines. Today’s set includes «My Last Mistake» and «Dying Machine». It’s been over 2 years since their last UK performance and since then Tremonti have released the new album «Marching in Time». Today we get to hear the title track from the album. Another project close to Mark’s heart is «Take a Chance for Charity» where he sings Sinatra in support of the National Down Syndrome Society. The charity project came about following the diagnosis of his daughter Stella with Down Syndrome. It is a collaboration with surviving members of Frank Sinatra’s orchestra. The finale is dedicated to a kid in the audience who is on his dad’s shoulders.

At the Dogtooth stage Modern Error open their set for a crowd that quickly swells. Twin brothers, Zak and Kel Pinchin released their debut album «Lost in Noise» in 2019, and their most recent offering «Victim of a Modern Age» in January «. The band’s sound melds genres with a strong electronic influence.

Volbeat is on the festival circuit with Download followed by Graspop and Hellfest. After a prelude «The Devil’s Bleeding Crown» opens a set that includes favourites like » Lola Montez» and «Sad Man’s Tongue». The set also contains some new material like «Temple of Ekur» and «Wait a Minute my Girl» both from the 2021 album «Servant of the Mind» which was written and recorded during the Covid 19 lockdown. As always, Volbeat are tight and punishing.

Skillet opens their set on the Opus stage with «Whispers in the Dark» and before launching into «Tonight We Rise» vocalist John Cooper greets the crowd and requests they give depression a great big NO. The crowd quickly gets involved in the anthemic vibes of a fantastic set that includes «Legendary» from the 2019 album “Victorious”. Skillet introduces an ailing young fighter, Aiden, who has been specially invited to the show by the band and dedicated the song «Hero» to him. Skillet is also on the European festival circuit and should not be missed with their feel-good songs and intensely positive attitude.

The Darkness is another feel-good band and they add to the good vibes already created by Skillet. Justin Hawkins is resplendent in his pink outfit as we are treated to classics like «One-way Ticket to Hell and Back» and the self-professed greatest riff of the band’s career «Givin’ Up». After some festivals later this summer the band head south for a trek around Australia and New Zealand.

Twin Temple enters the Dogtooth stage carrying a skull and blesses the audience in the name of Satan completing the ritual with swords. Then they launch into their 50s and 60s-inspired blend of satanic feel-good music. With songs like «Let’s Have a Satanic Orgy» one can’t help but be reminded of the «Rocky Horror Picture Show». The band refers to their style as satanic Do-wop. The musical prowess is evident with standout performances from both the band saxophonist and female vocalist Alexandra James. The band is clad in clothes emblazoned with inverted Cross emblems and the finale involves a light spot of bloodletting and satanic communion, before Alexandra and Zachary kiss to share the bloodfest. They are the perfect love-child of Amy Winehouse and Anton Le Vey.

The intro rolls for Biffy Clyro, the final headliner of 2022 and we get a full white-out backdrop before the screens come to life in a mélange of colour. Biffy Clyro first headlined Download festival in 2017 and makes a welcome return this year. The set tonight is a glittering array of the Ayrshire bands’ gems. Tunes like «Mountains», «Bubbles» and «Black Chandelier» are all there before we are treated to a rip-roaring encore that includes «The Captain» and «Many of Horror «.

The weekend is finally brought to a close with an amazing fireworks display and another Download is consigned to history. We have successfully navigated our way back to full capacity and it feels, well, normal! Oh, and did I mention it didn’t rain? What an amazing weekend and a fitting return to festival life as it should be. Well done to the organisers and roll-on Download 2023!

Words: Howard Keogh
Photos: Enda Madden

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