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KISS say goodbye, but Download is back and bigger than ever

After three years where a full festival didn’t happen, it’s great to be back in these hallowed grounds of Donington. The gods of Metal were smiling, too, as instead of the sometimes torrential rain that plagues events in this country, the sun was shining brightly, causing people to run for sunblock rather than ponchos, as Kiss roared into town.

Download 2022 – Friday

Words: Paul Monkhouse

As the masses gathered, there was a tangibly joyful atmosphere in the air, old friends reconnecting and this feeling of being back to an event that has meant so much to so many. Stretching back to those nascent early days of Monsters of Rock, since 1980, there’s never been anywhere more important for any self-respecting Metalhead to be. But here, its survival is a massive two-fingered salute, often throwing the horns to all those who’ve claimed that rock is dead.

Head Honcho of Download, Andy Copping, yet again pulls things out of his famed cowboy hat for the line-up this year, someone managing to fill four stages of the main weekend with a mix of mass pulling headliners, some old favourites and a head-spinning amount of new and up and coming bands. The seismic change from those heady 1980s days where one stage on one day had six or seven bands worthy of drawing big numbers on their own long gone, this newer iteration provides the platform for multiple generations to come together and inevitably get to see legends but also find new favourite bands.

There was no better way to kick things off on the main, Apex stage than Wayward Sons, Toby Jepson’s troops the perfect mix of fiery passion and rock ‘n’ roll nous. With the superlative songwriting of the main man, his decades of experience as a frontman and the obvious chemistry the quartet share onstage, it was impossible not to have a good time.

From joyous opener Feel Good Hit onwards, it was a high-energy blast of instant hooks, grin-inducing performances and an encapsulation of everything that’s loved about rock music, guitarist Sam Woods and bass player Nic Wastell throwing shapes as unfeasibly cool drummer Phil Martin lays down the beats whilst Jepson sings his heart out. With songs like the fractured and fractious Even Up The Score and a triumphant Bloody Typical, Wayward Sons are an act that ooze class and an instant good-time feel that is offset with razor-sharp and intelligent lyrics. The world is a better place with them in it.

On the competing second stage, Ayron Jones was kicking up his own storm, his funk-infused hard rock a blend of Living Colour and Lenny Kravitz so achingly good that it had the early afternoon crowd gyrating, despite the heat.

Slightly later, Kris Barras and his band showed just how good this former MMA fighter is, his original bluesy rock having morphed into something much leaner and tougher. With a punch even heavier than he used to show in his past life, they’ve refined their material and added an additional metallic edge that draws from the structures of classic rock but souped it up with a modern edge.

With material as strong as blasting opener Hail Mary, the massive heft of Dead Horses and the electrifying riff of These Voices, Barras and Co are onto a winner that is seeing them fast rising up the ranks, and the bigger stages and huge audiences are a natural fit.

Along with the increasingly ferocious songs, this latest iteration of the band certainly throws themselves into the set more than ever, bass player Kelpie Mckenzie practically running a marathon during their time on stage.

It’s been a pleasure to see how much they’ve developed, and you get the definite impression that Barras puts the same drive and intensity into the music as he did when he was fighting.

Another band impressing mightily, Bury Tomorrow had the heart and soul of genuine contenders, too, their main stage appearance pulling no punches. Kicking off with a blistering Choke, the Southampton Metalcore bruisers were going to make the most of every minute they had, the brutality aimed with laser-like precision.

With the confidence to debut Death (Even Colder) and Life (Paradise Denied) as well as favourites like Earthbound and Black Flame, here was a band who had certainly earned their place here.

With a heartfelt appreciation of KISS and an aim to get the record for the number of people over the barrier during the set, Bury Tomorrow delivered directly to the people, the whole crowd jumping to the skittering guitar of closer Cannibal. Future headliners, without much doubt.

From the stadium-filling anthems of a hugely impressive Black Veil Brides to the sludgy and electric Southern Rock of Cellar Door Moon Crow, there was something for everyone here, and hard choices had to be made when clashes of schedules arose on an all too frequent basis.

Whilst Myles Kennedy added his extraordinary vocals to his set of college hard rock and Lacuna Coil seemingly more feral than ever, Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro prowling in search of victims on the Opus stage, young New Yorkers Tempt set the Dogtooth on fire with their nattily dressed outfits, vivacity and adrenaline-soaked arena rock that marks them out as the true successors to Bon Jovi et al.

Arguably the greatest reaction of the day was reserved for two bands built for festivals in the form of Aussie wrecking crew Airbourne and Newport’s very own reggae metallers Skindred. Led by brothers Joel and Ryan O’Keeffe, the Down Under bruisers could have powered Download on their own, the energy coming from the stage intense as the quartet were literally unleashed after too many months of being unable to run around in their natural habitat.

Playing the sort of high-speed bar room boogie that AC/DC made their name on, the band join that long lineage alongside the Young brothers and Rose Tattoo as pure forces of nature.

No less intense and equally as captivating, Benji Webb and his Welsh compatriots brought humour and a visceral passion to everything they did. With Webb the ultimate ringmaster, the crowd danced to his every word, the pulsating Pressure and Jump/Jump Around impossible to ignore.

Again, there’s a connection here that very few bands manage, the polemic Kill The Power hitting with real force, and when a fun teasing start of We Will Rock You morphs into Big Tings, you know you have a party on your hands. Of course, the sight of tens of thousands of people doing the Newport Helicopter during Warning is one of the most warming and crazily British sights in any field anywhere on this planet and makes every Skindred show something special. Without any doubt, one of the best bands on the circuit.

Another highlight of the day was to be seen in the overspilling Dogtooth tent for the much-anticipated set by British Lion, a band who have more than demonstrated their worth beyond being the side project of Iron Maiden main man Steve Harris.

Needless to say, the bassist puts his all into the performance but so do guitarists David Hawkins and Graeme Leslie, drummer Simon Dawson and vocalist Richard Taylor, the quintet bonded by constant hours on the road together and buoyed by the success of acclaimed sophomore album The Burning.

It’s often been said that British Lion are more akin to the greats like UFO than the Metal of Maiden, but there’s also another, much more personal feeling to what they do, Taylor’s lyrics dually universal and yet searingly soulful.

Crammed together, even in this large tent, there’s a sense of community that is an ever-present bond and a communication that is truly rare. From the dark Father Lucifer through to the life-affirming power of The Chosen Ones, British Lion captivates, hearts very much on their sleeves.

Certainly, there is an intensity here, but there’s also a joy that lifts hearts and songs like The Burning and Lightning shine like thousand-watt bulbs.

For many, seeing Harris up so close is a magnetic draw, but this is a unit with no one put in the shade, the expressive and physical Taylor particularly pouring his all into it. As Dawson locks perfectly with Harris to provide the engine room, Hawkins and Leslie fire off tasty solos and some great joint fretwork, the music as thrilling as it is muscular.

As demonstrated elsewhere over the site, the power of music to bring everyone together beyond match and British Lion more than earn the warmth of reception given to them.

Whilst Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes played their ragged punk-fuelled rock, The Ghost Inside eviscerated with their heavy-duty force, and the uber-cool Blues Pills wowed with their wild psychedelia before the Black Sabbath sludge of Electric Wizard, there was only one place to be for most this evening, and that was the Apex stage.

Given that this would be their very last date on UK soil, KISS were determined to pull out all the stops and ‘the hottest band in the world’ certainly put on a show that will be remembered for a very long time to come, it’s full retina-burning, eardrum bursting majesty as regal and sparkling as anything seen the previous weekend for the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

Truly, tonight had all the ingredients that you could wish for and more, more pyro, and lights than most other bands use in a lifetime and a set cherry-picked to tick all the right boxes.

With four giant inflatable figures of Paul, Gene, Tommy and Eric standing over the sides of the stage, it just took that classic spoken intro to thunder over the speakers before the huge KISS curtain dropped down with the boom of pyros as Stanley, Simmons and Thayer were lowered on platforms from the lighting rig as they, along with Singer, tore into Detroit Rock City.

In a welter of flames and fireworks, the quartet bestrode the stage, every inch the legendary figures they portrayed. The good-time bubblegum rock of Shout It Out and staples Deuce and I Love It Loud provided a perfect cross-section of their ’70s pomp and ’80s rebirth, a grinding War Machine complete with animated backdrop steamrolling the senses.

Whilst, at times their fortunes have been mixed, there’s no doubt that the image KISS dreamt up at the start of their career has been their longest-lasting success, and for this set, everything is turned up to 11. We get all the stack healed strut, levitating drum kits, fire breathing and wam bam thank you mam tunes that have seen their shows become genuinely legendary.

From commercial successes like Heaven’s On Fire and Tears Are Falling through to Cold Gin and Lick It Up, not a stone is unturned nor a box unticked, the latter featuring a nod to The Who with a snatch of Won’t Get Fooled Again interwoven in its form. With Say Yeah from Sonic Boom and the titular Psycho Circus showing the band continuing to write hard hitters, their legacy never ending.

The thrills keep on coming and even the solo spots, usually a good excuse to head for the bar during most live shows for any band, are entertaining and engaging. From Eric Singer’s wink to the camera during his gravity-defying drum workout or Gene Simmons blood spitting, his face lit in ghoulish green light during his bass spot, it was entertainment to the max.

Tommy Thayer showed himself to certainly not be a slouch in the guitar department, his playing fluid and forceful as he ripped out riffs that have become staples in rock folklore.

Paul Stanley got his own chance to be the focus of attention as a wire swung him over the heads of the crowds to a platform at the mixing tower for the priapic Love Gun and the irresistible disco-tastic I Was Made For Loving You, the stage one massive glitterball.

With just set-closer Black Diamond to play, this twenty-section journey through their five-decade career flew by, the sense of finality coming home to many as the last blitzkrieg of pyros lit up the sky.

With a piano wheeled onstage for Beth, Singer’s Elvis Presley ‘Taking Care of Business’ pendant catching the light as he poured his heart into the ballad and the fiery thud of Do You Love Me adding to the heartbreak, it was just left to Rock And Roll All Nite to put one final seal on the night.

Another wave of flames, fireworks and the shower of confetti heralded what was the end not just of the evening but a five-decade love affair between KISS and the UK audiences.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but the memories made will last a lifetime.

As thousands made their way back to campsites or to the Village after rumours started that either Alter Bridge or the Hollywood Vampires would be playing there that night, there can be little doubt that nothing could top the spectacle just witnessed.

Download is back and bigger than ever.


MetalTalk Download 2022 coverage can be found at MetalTalk.net/tag/download-2022

Download 2023 will see the festival celebrate its 20th anniversary with an additional day, meaning four days of live music in total. Limited early bird tickets are on sale now at  downloadfestival.co.uk

Highlights of this year’s Download Festival will be broadcast on SKY ARTS on 9th and 10th July at 9pm.

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