With a cheer (as well as slightly tearing up) we pass the first yellow and black Download Festival road sign and wind our way into the festival site.

The air smells fresh and grassy. Yet, despite the numbers of people disembarking coaches, cars and snaking there was up the hill or seeking assistance at the box office. It’s a peaceful but increasingly warm trudge up the hill, into the Village and to our campsite. Altocumulus clouds ripple through the blue sky the sun beaming down over Download Festival as the full event returns after two long years of mandatory hiatus.

Friday Highlights:

It is always a surprise to hear chat about Black Veil Brides as a divisive Download band. There appears to be an excessively large number of people very much enjoying every second of Andy Biersack powering his way through the extensive BVB back catalogue.

It is always fun to see the band’s on-stage theatrics. Particularly Jake Pitts and Jinxx’s guitar antics along with the shrieks from the crowd each time fire burst upwards from the stage. It felt like Black Veils Brides left the Download stage having changed the mind of a few of those that had previously dismissed them and rightly so.

Normandie has always been a fun band, regardless of the band’s lineup or direction changes. With instant engagement and endearing affability oozing from each member of the Swedish four-piece – it is hard not to get swept up in their tornado of exuberance. Philip Strand bounces around the stage wholly committed to winning over the crowd. By the time Normandie reached Awakening the crowd, very much warmed, really showed their enjoyment as the physicality of the crowd soared. 

Certainly, saving their most riotous anthem till the end, White Flag. Drummer Anton Franzon’s sharply detached beat and Strands vocal screams melded with his delicious falsetto made for a beautifully anarchic conclusion and faces that glowed after the hedonistic mosh-out we just relished in.

Rare is a set so powerful as Sleep Tokens on the Avalanche stage. The band took their places covered head to toe in black. Their robes fluttered as they moved, their eyes full of life, peering out from a mask and face paint that looked far from healthy. Like a cortege of mourners, they remained eerie, staring and reverently still until they slid into their opener, Alkaline.

As smoke filled the stage, wrapping around each band member in further mystery. Vessel, as we know the lead singer, is a vocal hypnotist. Transporting your mind to a level far above your body that the thrashing drums and skillfully applied guitar melodies and electronic touches is making rhythmically move. As the band delivers Higher and The Offering, their final offerings, you realise that you’re still in an oversize tent in Leicestershire. However, feel you’ve travelled far, seen sights, and felt emotions you simply can’t explain. As always Sleep Token leave you with more questions than answers.

Download Saturday: As the heat starts to permeate our nylon and polyester abodes, we steadfastly join the already immense shower queue. We will take on Download Saturday with a modicum of freshness even if it requires an 80-minute long wait. It’s nice chatting with fellow strangers, in the queue, whose names we never get. Brainstorming what would be the best way for Download to mark its 20th Anniversary next year. What legendary band will they secure? Could My Chem really be the possible headliners in 2023? All these questions and more remain to be answered – to a degree!

Saturday Highlights:

Anyone giving Sleep Token a run for their money regarding emotional demolition is Holding Absence. It’s late afternoon at the Avalanche Stage but time and location are blurred by the vivid lyrical imagery that Holding Absence uses to paint the agonizing curse of lost love, psychotic breaks and burning desire to live.

As lead singer Lucas Woodland serena

des the overflowing tent “The echo of your goodbye lingers like a shadow” The crowd repeats each word and inflection the sound reverberating in the heated air ricochets back creating a unique harmony. With drummer Ashley St Green’s fiendish cadence creating a hypnotic spell is only momentarily broken when they strike up Aching Longing – its debut live play. Fans on the barrier screamed as they recognize the opening strains of the track. While guitarist Scott Carey delivered crisp perfect extreme vocals that deserved the swell in cheers.

Closing out with Wilt it wouldn’t be long until Woodland and Carey would thrill at Dennington the year. Taking to the Doghouse stage after hours for a special secret only not set. It took no time for the audience to join in with delightfully stripped-back versions of Beyond Belief and Gravity. Without restraint when Woodland suggested proposals on what to play Saint Cecilia was called for and settled on swiftly much to the delight of the amassed crowd. Ending the band’s second set of the day again was Wilt as scores burndened the weight of their friends on their shoulders. Tears trickled over huge grins as the word “Whenever I see the tapestry your blessed hands had wove for me, The poetry, the misery, It all meant so, so much to me, Just give me a lobotomy and cure these things inside of me, so maybe I can be free to love you for an eternity” echoed harmoniously around the Download Village.

One of many great aspects of a festival is experiencing an artist that otherwise you never have taken a punt on. This was the case with Grandson. It is immediately clear that Grandson is a profoundly gregarious and creative artist.  Gallivanting through genres in a cavalier manner. Rap, rock and that alt-pop vibe that lingers as minor earworms are the driving force of the set. Lyrically, Grandson comes across as intelligent and thought-provoking and his performance exuberant. Grandson has been duly added to the ‘checking out’ more post-festival list.

Download Sunday:

A hot Download while most desirable does exhaust the carcass a bit. With effort, we drag ourselves up and out and hit Download Arena which is gloriously bathed by a sun-filled blue sky and filled with Biffy Clyro t-shirts and The Saltire dropped over hundreds of shoulders. 

Sunday Highlights:

You couldn’t wish for a better way to wake up mind, body and soul than Static Dress. Oli Appleyard delivers a dynamic performance – utilizing the entire stage before hitting the barrier to stir the already frantic audience up just a bit more. The band’s sonically striking post-hardcore-filled set kicks off with disposable care and keeps the intense uncompromising energy flowing throughout.

Drummer Sam Ogden keeps the frenetic energy in time as guitarist Contrast skillfully forms energetically honeyed melodies around bassist Connor Reilly’s slick rhythms. Static Dress power through their six-track set at breakneck speed ending with clean, its disconsolate lyricism, and passionate refrains that makes – no demands – that you move every bone and muscle in your body. An absolute win even in an early Sunday morning slot.

The Hara without a doubt are an undeniable force live, refreshingly flamboyant with a mischievously chaotic anything could happen feel. Guitarist Zackary George Breen delivers some delicious fuzzy guitar riffs that alongside Jack Kennedy’s driving beats stir up the crowd with opener Black Soul Ceremony.

Josh Taylor is pure dark theatre commanding the audience’s attention the moment they walk on stage. Their red cape flowing from their shirt less toro, dispensing their emotive lyricism with a manic energy that is endearing, hypnotic and a smidge ominous. Closing what feels like one of the shortest sets all weekend with a new single Rockstar. An ironic, presumably, take on a lifestyle defined by misogynistic hair metal band tropes and gun-loving Soundcloud rapper cliques. It’s an interesting route for a band that remains a magnificent embodiment of equality, unity and authenticity.

Living overseas for many years there are just some bands that don’t hit your radar. When one of them is so highly spoken of and performing at Download. So, it is time to see what we’ve been missing. Taking to the Avalanche stage the Canadian four-piece, Marianas Trench, immediately make an impact with their quirky rock pop. The catchy Who Do You Love is first followed by the equally addictive Haven’t Had Enough. We are truly hooked already on the band’s almost operatic pop-rock harmonies; Josh Ramsay’s pitch-perfect vocals are to die for.

The band’s stage presence is immediately affable and exuberant which is transferred to the audience. One of those sets that you wish you knew all the words to because everyone is singing, grinning and in high spirits. The set concludes with The Killing Kind a multi-layered vat of emotions which shows that Mariana Trench is more than just catchy choruses and energy melodies.

If there was one set that you had to make a priority this weekend it was Spiritbox’s which would be their first live performance in the UK. A brutal power, forceful passion and hauntingly almost ethereal melodies are the cornerstones of the band’s creativity and Courtney LaPlante’s broad vocal range. The audience crammed and spilling out of the Avalanche tent is gifted with this and so much more.

Opening with Circle With Me it fiery beginning and ending, thick djent riffs along with those breakdown are quintessentially Spiritbox, however, both accessible and relevant in its genre. The set is extremely well crafted, with most tracks from their debut Eternal Blue does aid a coherent flow. Guitarist Mike Stringer animates his chords in way that heightens the emotion LaPlante is conveying.

Closing with both the devastating and poignant: Holy Roller and the beautiful Eternal Blue showing off of course both LaPlante’s clean and extreme vocal at their sharpest but also Zev Rosenberg whose drum work is brilliantly well-defined and absorbing. While Spiritbox has had relatively instant interest and approval. However, what is clear is that this is a band that desires to explore and push the boundaries of what can often be a genre vexed by repetitiveness.

Eager for Download 2023? We know we are already counting down the days. Download 2023  full festival and day tickets are all now on sale. For ticket purchases and so more the official Download 3032 Festival website covers everything from access to camping and has an extensive FAQ. Here is a link to the official website.

With Thanks: Everyone at LD Communications and Download Festival. 

Photography Credits: Black Veil Brides Matthew Higgs / Sleep Token Beth Miller / Holding Absence Sam McMahan / The Hara David Dillon / Spiritbox David Dillon / The Fans David Dillon and JB.