Download Pilot 2021: The Big Review

The ultimate review of Download Pilot with every single band covered!

Download Pilot 2021: The Big Review
Emily Carter, George Garner, Sam Law, Luke Morton, Nick Ruskell
Bethan Miller, Nat Wood, Paul Harries

On the weekend of June 18-20, history was made at Donington Park with the Download Pilot festival. The first-ever three-day event in the roadmap back to live music post-pandemic, with moshing very much encouraged.

Over the weekend we saw killer headline sets from Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Enter Shikari and Bullet For My Valentine, plus knockout performances from Creeper, Conjurer, Loathe, Sleep Token and over 30 other British rock and metal bands.

Here, we review every single band, that played Download Pilot, plus chat to some of the artists involved and bring you exclusive photo galleries.

Jump in!

Main Stage: Bullet For My Valentine

Matt Tuck has been talking about this since before The Poison came out. Tonight, with more lights than Christmas in Las Vegas and a clear, rain-free sky, Bullet For My Valentine finally ascended to Download headliner status.

For such an occasion, there's not the fanfare that Enter Shikari gave their own set last night. Instead, the focus here is on riffs, power, and the steamrolling force of songs like Hand Of Blood and Scream Aim Fire. Matt himself talks in quietly revered tones about the occasion, but for the most part he allows the music to speak for him. And how it sings. Under the spotlight of occasion, The Last Fight becomes even more muscular than usual, while Tears Don't Fall flexes in two different ways. Both a massive power ballad and a virulent thrasher, it incites sing-alongs as well as circle-pits that extend to the back of the field.

They're joined by Skindred's Benji Webbe for a cover of Iron Maiden's Donington standard Run To The Hills. He may need a sheet for the words (and even then, he gets them wrong) but when the chorus hits and 10,000 voices sing along, it is A Moment.

So, Matt Tuck finally got what he wished for. Under weird circumstances it may be, but tonight he and Bullet proved themselves fully up to the job. (NR)

See our full review and gallery from Bullet For My Valentine’s set here.

Second Stage: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls

"The acoustic guitar is a weapon of great power," explains Frank Turner at the start of his second stage headline set. "It can be used for great good or great evil…" Winchester's favourite songsmith – and his Sleeping Souls – err on the side of light this evening. The only performer on this bill who's legitimately sold out Wembley Arena on his own steam, big Frank unfolds an expertly crowd-pleasing setlist (this is show 2526) on jangling outsider terms.

His insistence that this is ex-Jetplane Landing / Fighting With Wire (and current New Pagans) guitarist Chair O'Doherty's "first-ever" show, for instance, is happily lapped up by the heaving throng. Songs like Get Better and 1933, meanwhile, have lost none of their politicised impact and infectious joie de vivre during the time away.

"I'm a metalhead in my soul," he presses his Donington credentials, while also pertinently giving credit that, "without the crew we would be five prancing idiots on a raised piece of flooring…" Signing off with mosh-friendly bangers Recovery and Four Simple Words, it's hard not to throw the horns and believe… (SL)

Main Stage: Skindred

"I've just been told that due to COVID, we're not allowed to do the Newport Helicopter," announces Benji Webbe. There is booing. Putting in a call onstage "to Boris", the Skindred ringmaster tells the Prime Minister, "Alright, c**t," before informing him, "Nobody here's got fucking COVID!"

As 10,000 shirts swing as they have so many times before – fuck the BO – this is what this entire weekend is all about. Yeah, Skindred at Download is very 'been there, done that, got the T-shirt', but they're also the perfect band for this occasion. Taking moments to both remember that "some of us have lost family" over these last 18 months, as well as giving a Father's Day shoutout, they are the best festival vessel through which to energetically release whatever you need to get out – good and bad.

Dressed in a red sequinned suit like Liberace: The Butlin's Years, and never not moving at a pace that could power Wales, Benji is a man with charisma in such abundance that it probably needs its own dressing room. It's a party that, having spent a year with life's volume turned down, is like going from only knowing silent movies to suddenly getting your senses blasted by IMAX 3D.

More than any other Download, the job this weekend is to remind us of the sheer unbridled, mate-hugging joy of this whole exercise. For some, leaving the stage to Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better Bond theme would be a conceited move. In this instance, for Skindred, it seems only appropriate. (NR)

Second Stage: Trash Boat

"I was feeling apprehensive," grins Trash Boat frontman Tobi Duncan, surveying the second stage's bustling audience. "I thought everyone would be burned out." He's grinning because not only is the Download crowd evidently not burned out (when they really should be in a drunken stupor), but they've also seemingly held back surplus amounts of energy for the St Albans band. It's one of those sets where the wildness of the crowd reaction seemingly builds in intensity with each passing song, with Silence Is Golden, Synthetic Sympathy and Tring Quarry causing a steady human tide of crowdsurfers. This all – perhaps unsurprisingly – reaches its apex via a tribute to Chester Bennington and a blistering cover of Linkin Park's Given Up. Yes, it's the highlight of the set, but that's not to discredit the power of their own material. Old Soul, in particular, sees Tobi practically chewing on the emotion of the lyrics as he sings them in unison with the crowd. Burned out? Pffft. (GG)

Main Stage: The Wildhearts

"Sorry, we sound like shit," announces Ginger Wildheart, two songs in, following a near vocal-free (but still thrusting) rendition of Suckerpunch. "We hope you don't mind. If you do, fuck ya…"

Onstage, Ginger is struggling to hear properly, and getting visibly frustrated. In the crowd, things sound fine. Sick Of Drugs, Vanilla Radio and Everlone are huge, fist-in-the-mouth pop-rock fireworks, the perfect festival fodder, especially when, as now, the sun is out. In fact, as a band who operate on a measure of chaos and stress, being up against it gives them the same sort of dangerous, anything can happen edge and fight that makes rock'n'roll so exciting. The sing-alongs and 'woah-oah's remain enviable, and the party in the crowd goes on. Sadly, with a good 15 minutes to go, Ginger has had enough.

"I'm sorry, this is awful," he says, laying down his guitar before walking offstage, not to return. "This has been a waste of time. Enjoy the gig."

It's a shame, because Ginger is one of the best songwriters this country has ever produced, and The Wildhearts are one of our finest bands. And whatever problems may have been going on onstage, the biggest blow is, actually, that we weren't able to have more of it and watch them fight through. For the fans left wanting, we're not angry at having our fun cut short, we're just disappointed. (NR)

Second Stage: Massive Wagons

You wouldn’t want to meet the person who didn’t enjoy Massive Wagons on the second stage. There’s something so elemental, so unpretentious about their performance today, playing throughout like they’re the first band to discover power chords and guitar solos. Their wagons may be massive (this remains unverifiable), but songs like In It Together and Freak City are even bigger. They also have a track about curry – rather inventively called The Curry Song – which not only does exactly what it says on the tin, but also sees singer Baz Mills get the crowd to chant rogan josh and more. And who could hate that? Matter of fact, who could hate Massive Wagons? (GG)

Main Stage: Elvana

Hailing from "Disgraceland" and sounding "a little like [Con Air-era] Nicolas Cage, a little like Matthew McConaughey", and "…a little like Glenn Danzig gargling mouthwash", on one level the Elvis-fronting-Nirvana nonsense peddled by Geordie piss-takers Elvana is the perfect soundtrack to a debauched Sunday afternoon. On another, mind, it's a fundamental, borderline-heretical misunderstanding of the countercultural intentions of Kurt Cobain's ageless compositions. Couldn't this prime slot on Download Pilot's main stage, ask many in the audience, have been afforded to one of the countless UK bands with original material who've not been able to play their songs live in the last 15 months?

With rock lobsters piling into the pit and chucked pints raining down from on high, though, the opportunity to throw shapes to Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium, Negative Creep and Blue Suede Shoes in the same 40-minute window just about sees Elvana through. Leave your brain in the tent, and get down. (SL)

Second Stage: Jamie Lenman

Enter: the dapper demolition man. Imagine if you will, dear reader, shoving your head into the whirring engine of a Boeing 757. It still wouldn't be as loud or as intense as hearing Jamie Lenman playing Popeye live. He is in utterly spectacular, ear and amp quaking form today, be it recruiting Wargasm's Milkie Way and Sam Matlock to deliver Summer Of Discontent (The Future Is Dead) or blasting through The Road To Right, I Don't Wanna Be Your Friend and All Of England Is A City. In his 35-minute set, Jamie makes every nanosecond count, getting the crowd moshing, jumping, clapping, singing, crowdsurfing and laughing (particularly about his wink-wink beef with Saint Agnes). One man in the front row is also burning incense, which lends an air of civility to the firestorm of noise. By the time he closes with Reuben's classic Stuck In My Throat, he has delivered nothing short of a masterclass of a set. (GG)

Main Stage: Lonely The Brave

The last of the rain has stopped, and the sun is doing its best to break through the clouds for Lonely The Brave over on Download's main stage. Having not played a show since April 2019, the wonderfully polite Cambridge quintet reciprocate with a set of stirring stadium-rock perfect for an easy Sunday afternoon, fuelled by the perfect, poignant wonder of young(ish) men who don't know quite when they'll get to play a festival like this again. Sporting terrific turquoise dungarees, vocalist Jack Bennett confesses to crippling nerves, but his throbbing heart and gritty soul shine through on horizon-reaching anthems Backroads and Black Saucers. A rousing return. (SL)

Second Stage: Higher Power

Simply put, Higher Power are one of the most interesting British bands to have emerged in recent years. Kicking off with the one-two wallop of Shedding Skin and Rewire, their second stage set is a grand reaffirmation of that. Special credit must go to bassist Ethan Wilkinson who cuts a perma-grinning jumping presence onstage. Dude's enthusiasm is infectious. While the complexity and dynamics of their music means that this set isn't always a frothing circle-pits affair, by the time they unleash closing song Seamless they've got the crowd firmly in their palm of their hands – frontman Jimmy Wizard on the barrier holding his mic out to allow for some astonishingly atonal sing-alongs from individual members of the crowd. It's enough to bring a tear to the eye. (GG)

Main Stage: Loathe

One of the great injustices of the last year-and-a-bit of lockdown has been that Merseyside alt. metallers Loathe were never able to fully realise the complex, intoxicating sounds of second album I Let It In And It Took Everything in the live arena. Dressed to the nines today, it feels like the quintet – with frontman Kadeem France and guitarist Erik Bickerstaffe to the fore – are out to prove that, even as the world stood still, they've kept moving forward. A muddy mix in the first half of their 30-minute showing (and gremlins later on) conspire to undermine proceedings, but the dense emotions and twisty atmospherics of Two-Way Mirror eventually win out for one of the landmark sets of the weekend. A deserved Donington coronation. (SL)

Second Stage: Chubby And The Gang

As one of the buzziest bands to buzz about this weekend, Chubby And The Gang have a sizeable amount of hype to live up to ahead of their arrival on the second stage. They waste no time setting about the task. Specialising in snotty, delirious punk, it’s all quickfire riffs and precisely zero discernible lyrics – frontman Charlie Manning-Walker sounds like he’s at least 72 hours into a stag do and has yet to take in a single meal. He hates landlords. He hates the Metropolitan police. He hates the system. He quite possibly hates more things besides. But he clearly loves playing Download and it’s hard not to find retro punk assaults like Lightning Don’t Strike Twice endearing. (GG)

Main Stage: Employed To Serve

As the drizzle and hangovers set in, it's down to Employed To Serve to keep things moving in as aggressive a way possible. With a blistering 30-minute set, which feels cruelly too short, Woking's finest dole out severe sonic punishment to the dedicated lunchtime mosh goblins. Delivering the heaviest hitters from Eternal Forward Motion and The Warmth Of A Dying Sun, Sammy Urwin's sledgehammer riffs awaken Download's inner headbanger, while Justine Jones' barbed screams urge those gathered to toss any notion of social distancing in the bin. Pitting is not an option.

What's more, it turns out the band have spent lockdown recording their fourth album, and judging by the new track aired this afternoon, it's going to be a rager. Start exercising those mosh muscles now. (LM)

Second Stage: Cassyette

It's hard to pin down pop-metal provocateur Cassyette. Starting her lunchtime showcase on the second stage at a sprint, the sights and sounds come thick and fast, from her guitarist in a bondage harness to the Riot Grrrl energy and grotty seduction we've come to expect from singles like Dear Goth and Jean. As the performance opens out, however, she showcases other, more unexpected facets of her sound: the charged emotion of Scandi pop princess Robyn; the shapeshifting industrial threat of Code Orange; the sheer pigtailed playfulness of No Doubt's Gwen Stefani. Brilliantly, it all pulls together into massive closer Prison Purse: a parting promise that we'll be hearing a lot more from Brit-rock's very own manic pixie dream girl before it's all said and done. (SL)

Main Stage: Saint Agnes

Blood, destruction and a cry of 'My dick is bigger than yours' from Kitty A Austin - Sunday lunchtime at Saint Agnes' house is probably delightful. Their thumping rock-club stomp is dampened somewhat by the rain, but there's enough going on to maintain the attention. Revelling in the idea that freaky is better, they're a face-painted, Uma-Thurman-in-Pulp-Fiction-stanning blur of noisy nu-metally bounce, and when Kitty kicks her amp over and starts chucking her guitar about mid-set, it's genuinely hard to tell if it's out of anger or sheer exuberance. And when she suddenly covers herself in blood for the second half, it almost seems totally normal in Saint Agnes world. (NR)

Second Stage: Static Dress

Kick-starting the final day of Download 2021 – booooooooo – over on the second stage is Static Dress. Very much a band who have bloodied their knees worshiping at the altar of Glassjaw, they introduce themselves to an unfamiliar crowd in the best way possible with the likes of Sweet and Safeword. The only thing missing is familiarity with the material. Olli Appleyard makes for a captivating but deeply pensive frontman. While he offers little in the way of banter or even interaction (between songs he often seems somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion) it's probably a good thing he saved his voice. During the performance he delivers a dazzling feat of vocal gymnastics. On an unrelated note: if anyone finds some vocal cords on the second stage floor, please return to Olli immediately. (GG)

Main Stage: Enter Shikari

Their production has cast shadows over the main stage all day and now, 15 years after they played the MySpace/Gibson stage in the early afternoon, Enter Shikari are headlining Download Festival. Let that sink in. For years they've been one of the most exciting, innovative bands in the UK (if not the world), confirmed by tonight's hit-filled, career-spanning setlist that blasts through everything from Motherhship to Anaesthetist to modern living. Pure elation is plastered across the faces of Rou, Rory, Chris and Rob, who keep having to pause to take it all in. "I've been waiting 21 months for that" exclaims Rou after a life-affirming { The Dreamer's Hotel }, which receives a hero's welcome; just one of four newies in tonight's set, which have until now been denied a live airing. But this isn't a panicked, under-rehearsed outing, everything screams that tonight's set has been meticulously planned for maximum party energy – from the Technicolor light show to the many confetti canons, which are paired to perfection in satellites* *. Even as the heavens open toward the end, it does nothing to dampen the adrenaline and adoration pouring on and offstage. Sure, there's another day of bands to come, but they'll be hard pushed to top this. (LM)

See our full review and gallery from Enter Shikari’s set here.

Second Stage: Creeper

There’s no fooling about here. Creeper announce their intentions to cram a main stage-sized performance into the second stage tent from the off, singer Will Gould emerging shrouded in an American flag, sparks flying beside him as the group launch into Hiding With Boys. The instant sing-along from the crowd suggests they’re not the only ones determined to make this special. “I want to set some records here tonight,” Will says, conjuring a large circle-pit during a raucous rendition of Suzanne. What’s more impressive is how Creeper have so many different gears at their disposal, slowing down to take in the gothic ballad Poisoned Heart and Hannah Greenwood even appearing in a wedding dress to add maximum drama to the acoustic strains of Crickets. Brilliant airings of Astral Projection and an emotionally-charged Misery come close, but the highlight is new single Midnight – a genetic splice of Bat Out Of Hell II-era Meat Loaf and MCR’s Black Parade (Welcome To The Bat Parade etc) that sees the band reaching new levels of operatic grandeur. It’s also catchy as fuck. By the time they wrap with Annabelle, it’s abundantly clear: Creeper have never looked this confident or commanding before. (GG)

Main Stage: While She Sleeps

If Sheffield metalcore masters While She Sleeps had been named headliners this weekend, it wouldn't have raised many eyebrows. Justifiably so.

We're stood halfway to the soundstage for their stunning main stage showing, but there are circle-pits unfolding all around as they unload absolutely everything. The likes of ANTI-SOCIAL and THE GUILTY PARTY were built for the live arena, and this afternoon the burn with defiant purpose. The decision to drop curtain with new tracks NERVOUS and SYSTEMATIC, too, speaks of a confidence that momentum is very much building.

Hell, even when frontman Loz Taylor sprints through the crowd to ascend said soundstage, it feels like he's just an extra-impessionable footsoldier in their all-conquering Sleeps Society. It's a timely reminder of their rambunctious, metal everyman appeal. You Are We, in the flesh. (SL)

Second Stage: Stone Broken

Like Nickelback via Wolverhampton, Stone Broken are big, catchy, and absolutely without awareness of cheese. Today, this is much to their advantage. Though their squarely-FM rock has no sharp edges, in a celebratory moment like this they soar. True, there is no need for a solo spot for frontman Rich Moss to sing unaccompanied, but when they pick up the pace they unlock a fun factor that deserves a place this weekend.

They're likeable, too. Rich's story about one of their songs getting picked up by the people who set the songs for American strip clubs is more bashfully awkward than cringey, and perma-smiling drummer Robyn Haycock looks like she's having the most fun of her life. And, really, that's why we're here, innit? (NR)

Main Stage: Twin Atlantic

Sam McTrusty is in a good mood. Great, even. That much is clear from the moment Twin Atlantic open with Gold Elephant: Cherry Alligator. For someone usually perceived as a more restrained frontman, he emerges today like he’s spent lockdown taking swagger lessons. There are an unexpected amount of gyrations and pelvic thrusts. With the group donning four Scotland football shirts they put their set in danger: goading the crowd into a “it’s coming home” chant that threatens to eclipse the reaction to their own material. Fortunately they have Make A Beast Of Myself in the bag. What ultimately transpires is a set that traces Twin Atlantic’s pretzel-shaped journey from plucky underdogs to purveyors of radio hits and alt.rock experimentalism via Novocaine, Free, Edit Me, No Sleep and Heart And Soul (this time with a bonus “welcome to Jurassic Park” lyric). It's grandstanding reminder of the arsenal of hits they’ve amassed over the years. (GG)

Second Stage: Those Damn Crows

If Bullet For My Valentine are Download Pilot's main attraction, drawing from and expanding on the rugged glory days of thrash and classic metal, then Those Damn Crows are their perfect companion act, with the Bridgend quintet drawing on the proven formulas of everyone from Boston stadium rockers Aerosmith to LA's modern prog legends Tool and Floridian rockers Creed.

"Do you know how lucky we are to be here?" asks frontman Shane Greenhall, referring not just to the hen's teeth rarity of tickets for this 10K-cap event, but also to the good fortune we and our families had in living through a global pandemic that's claimed millions of lives. Even the most stubborn cynics would struggle not to buy into that.

Of course, there's absolutely nothing original about the 'woah-oh'-loaded likes of Rock 'N' Roll Ain't Dead, but with a tent-rattling, thousands-strong sing-along, it's hard not to be swept along by the waters spilling from their impressive well of influence.

Donington comfort food of the sweetest variety. (SL)

Main Stage: YONAKA

And the award for Making The Best Of A Bad Situation Award goes to... YONAKA. It all starts well, the group setting things off nicely with Seize The Power until sound issues – oh, old friend, how we've not missed you – arise during Punch Bag. They do the best to play through it despite only the drums being audible – a precursor to Theresa Jarvis playing a game of "Can you hear me?" with the crowd. Normally, it would be a momentum-sapping, set-derailing affair but YONAKA do brilliantly to recover. "First time back and you can't hear a fucking thing!" jokes Theresa. "We'll try and give you a hell of a rest of the set." With the likes of Rockstar and F.W.T.B. getting huge reactions from the crowd, she's as good as her word today. (GG)

Second Stage: VUKOVI

"Holy fucking shit," grins VUKOVI frontwoman Janine Shilstone. "I am shiteing myself right now!"

There's been a lot of Scotland vs. England banter this weekend, with the nations' Euro 2020 (2021) fixture on Friday. Up against that frustrating nil-all draw, however, the Glaswegian electro-rock collective channel the energy in the most productive way possible, for a set that inspires absolute mayhem in the front half of the second stage's massive marquee.

Coming on with zero pretence, the core duo of Janine and guitarist Hamish Reilly seem like the kids next door but sound like a Scottish Crossfaith. A rammed-in crowd duly oblige with the most chaotic scenes of the festival so far.

From the brilliantly unhinged C.L.A.U.D.I.A. to the even more free-flowing madness of La Di Da and Run/Hide, it's a riot of circle-pits, crowdsurfers and walls of death. Janine leaves us with a cheeky look that says she gets it: after months of sitting alone looking at the magnolia walls of our living rooms, this was the flash flood of colour we needed.

Absolutely fucking superb. (SL)

Main Stage: A

A have, by their count, played Donington "eight times". As such, they are well practiced for 3 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon here. That, and being one of the most fun, banterous, catchy, matey times you could ask for.

For some reason singer Jason Perry is wearing a massive Deliveroo backpack. The reason is never explained, nor even mentioned, even when he chucks it into the crowd halfway through, but the point is: today A truly deliver. Starbucks, Foghorn and Old Folks are festival fun compressed into three minutes apiece, and their silly vibes and having a laugh mission statement rings loud.

"Who's had two vaccines?" asks Jason. "Fuck, this is an old crowd," he notes when the response is huge. "Who's an anti-vaxxer? Maybe you should start a literal wall of death."

As they finish with a monstrously huge Nothing, preceded by a note that apart from "friends, family, rock, your health and Rush" that's exactly what we have, the sun literally comes out. If you need a refresher in how much fun festivals are, A give the Olympic-standard coaching here. (NR)

Second Stage: Tigercub

Crikey! What are the airy vocals and big futuristic grooves emitting from beneath the second stage's big top? Is it a surprise Muse set? Have Royal Blood turned up just for a larf? No, fool! It's Tigercub. Their suits suggest they perhaps didn't get the memo about the weather, but everything else about them makes sense today. While they pack their fair share of adrenalised songs – and some particularly titanic basslines – their set works well because it offers a much needed change of pace, entrancing the crowd with the likes of Stop Beating On My Heart (Like A Bass Drum). It's very much a case of sharp suits, even sharper songs today. (GG)

Main Stage: Wargasm

Swigging from a can of Carlsberg while sporting a sort of studded leather bikini and knee pads, Wargasm's bassist / co-vocalist Milkie Way comes on like an absolute fucking rock star this afternoon. A nightmare punk-rock pixie playing against the blunter guitar-and-vocals of Sam Matlock ("Screeeeam for me, Donington!"), her natural showmanship and charisma is the driving force behind a raucous main stage showing on Saturday afternoon. And, even though Wargasm don't quite have the catalogue to really detonate shows of this scale just yet, blasts of N.E.R.D.’s Lapdance and Metallica's Fuel add some audacious glitz to a massively compelling performance. (SL)

Second Stage: The Hara

“This is our biggest show ever, and this is our first festival,” confesses The Hara frontman Josh Taylor. “I was shitting my pants before this.” You would never know. After sauntering onto the stage in a black leather dress, with black tape covering his nipples, the frontman is a blur of activity. Crawling over the stage. Kicking over his mic stand. Dancing. Acting out every lyric like he’s going for an Academy Award. And that’s just the first song. The Hara get the whole tent kneeling down and jumping up at one point, and impress with the slick Black Soul Ceremony. Honouring chants to take his dress of after complaining of its tightness, Josh ends the set just playing in his boxers. It’s a good job they only had one song left; a few more and he would have ended up pulling his own skin off if it meant pleasing the crowd. (GG)

Main Stage: Bleed From Within

"This is the best day of my life," gasps Bleed From Within frontman Scott Kennedy. "It's fuckin' unbelievable."

Midway through the Glaswegian metalcore kings' high-octane main stage showing, the excitement (and adrenaline) might be getting the better of them, but the sheer release of playing these songs on this stage cannot be understated. Packing a bass-heavy bounce amongst the brutality, and with flame-towers lighting up the stage, older tracks like Alive and Afterlife have taken on something of a Parkway Drive quality that demands exposure in massive spaces like this.

Even more urgently, though, the songs of fifth album Fracture – which turned a year old on May 29, having never been played live – prove that BFW are ready to move onto bigger, better things. Incendiary closer The End Of All We Know, in particular, leaves Donington ravenous for more. (SL)

Second Stage: As Everything Unfolds

And now for something completely different. In musical terms alone, As Everything Unfolds are an interesting proposition with their shifting sonics, but it’s the presence of vocalist Charlie Rolfe that makes their second stage set such a success. She is, basically, four singers in one. Maybe five. As the band tear through the likes of Stranger In The Mirror, Charlie swerves drastically between soaring melodies and piercing shrieks and screams. Their reward? No shortage of pits and jumping by the end of set closer On The Inside. For a band who’ve only just recently released their debut full-length, this is a big victory. (GG)

Main Stage: Conjurer

This just feels right: Conjurer on the main stage at Download. While Lotus Eater delivered a solid bruising to your internal organs, this is more like having your bones dissolved by riffs. Northampton's finest have not come to dick around and unleash a deafening onslaught of terror and turmoil onto the hungover hordes. And while the likes of Wretch and Choke crash like a tsunami of crushing heaviness, the thousands here are simply too stunned to mosh, rooted to the spot while one of the UK's best underground metal bands batter their senses with the most frenzied, intense musicianship we're likely to see this weekend. Shoutout to bassist Conor Marshall who spends the entirety of the set with a Catherine wheel attached to his neck, before launching himself into the crowd for one last pit at the end. His bewildered yet satisfied grin after the last note rings out says it all… it's good to be home. (LM)

Second Stage: Lotus Eater

One of those bands whose heaviness you feel rattling through your chest, and quaking up into your boots from the earth below, Glasgow metalcore madmen Lotus Eater deliver Download Pilot the shot of full-bore brutality it's been waiting for.

This is a fresh start for the outfit, with new guitarist Aidan Cooper and vocalist Paul Collins making their bow. And though their circle-pit tempos and stomach-lurching drops aren't exactly kind to our Saturday-morning bangover, so dense and sludgy is the sound that its gravitational pull drags us (ill-advisedly) into the pit.

It's not all blunt force, either. Paul's teary tribute to his father – who passed away last summer – is a poignant emotional high, while recent single Vermin delivers a potent anti-racism message that's worth throwing down for.

Embrace the gloom. (SL)

Main Stage: Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes

Frank Carter has been waiting an age for an occasion like this.

Finally let loose on a massive festival stage, after dark, in front of an audience well into five figures, the greatest British rock star of this generation struts with with a confidence and purpose unlike anything we've seen before. Tracks like Tyrant Lizard King and I Hate You were already bangers, but they expand exponentially when deployed as part of a Donington headline set.

Holding nothing back, the guest appearances come thick and fast, with IDLES frontman Joe Talbot cropping up for new single My Town before Chemsford's Cassyette and London-based performer Lynks also drop in. It's The Rattlesnakes' guitarist and main co-conspirator Dean Richardson (and the broader band) who deserve the most credit, though, with their cover of Motörhead's Ace Of Spades and a full-throttle Crowbar sending a more-than-satisfied audience thumping off into the night.

Fahkin' fantastic. (SL)

See our full review and gallery from Frank's set here.

Second Stage: Sleep Token

There is no better time to experience the mysterious alt. metal of Sleep Token than during that hazy twilight hour as the sun begins to bleed from the sky.

That's the case this evening, masked singer Vessel emerging alone under the cover of canvas for their second stage headline: a haunting, willowy presence by himself, then the hypnotic focal point around which his band materialise. Over a year since their last worship at the altar of Sleep, it initially seems like little has changed, with the glassy fragility of their earliest material butting up against more robust compositions like The Night Does Not Belong To God.

It's only with the arrival of new single Alkaline – a forceful, swollen-sounding addition to their atmospheric catalogue – that we get a glimpse into how the Sleep Token universe will be expanded by September's second album This Place Will Become Your Tomb. Showcasing bigger hooks and even higher drama, it's a tantalising promise that their dark gospel has only just begun. (SL)

Main Stage: Neck Deep

“When I’ve been sat at home watching The Office for the 10th time in a row, all I’ve wanted is fucking this,” gasps Ben Barlow, surveying the Download crowd with wonder early into Neck Deep's main stage set. Though it kicks off the same time as that football game (“It’s 4 – 0 to Scotland!” the vocalist winks knowingly at one point) the attention from the crowd is laser-focussed on the Wrexham pop-punks, who deliver banger after banger across a momentous 45-minute set that feels like it's over in the blink of an eye. From the potent Don’t Wait through to the shimmering December and the poignant In Bloom it’s the perfect return from a band who not only haven’t played for two years, but are also properly welcoming Ben’s brother Seb into live proceedings for the first time. The clear levels of emotion are also matched by the energy from both Neck Deep and their fans, with the frontman welcoming as much moshing and movement as possible. “If we’re the experiment for Boris and his mates, then let’s give him some stats…” he encourages. Job done – and then some. (EC)

Second Stage: Holding Absence

"We've waited 18 months and it feels so fucking good," yells Lucas Woodland, and we couldn't agree more. As the rain begins to subside, the mud-ringed tent is buzzing with excitement for Holding Absence. The Kerrang! cover stars might not have performed live for a year and a half – outside of our socially-distanced K! Pit – and you can practically feel the adrenaline pouring offstage (amongst the dry ice). Despite time away from the stage, the Welsh lads have cultivated a hardcore fanbase, some completely overcome with emotion on the front row, who fill the second stage with the empowering Like A Shadow. Lucas looks like a star in the making, with every single Downloader under his control, as the band belt out Afterlife to a deafening reception. Something special is going on with this band, be there when it happens. (LM)

Main Stage: Boston Manor

It is a downright crime that Boston Manor haven’t performed anything from 2020’s brilliant GLUE in front of a proper crowd yet, and that is immediately rectified as the Blackpool gang storm onto Download’s main stage with electrifying opener Everything Is Ordinary. “You know what to do, Download Festival!” yells frontman Henry Cox, as mask-wearing guitarist Mike Cunniff coolly removes the covering from his face, perfectly demonstrating just how far things have come since last year. The arena-ready likes of Plasticine Dreams, Brand New Kids and the “weird time signature breakdown” of Playing God already sounded huge on record, but in front of 10,000 muddy gig-goers this is absolutely glorious. “Three years ago we started our campaign with this song on the main stage of Download, and now it’s come full-circle…” grins Henry before triumphant closer Halo. Forget full-circle: it’s even more exciting to think about the future of Boston Manor from here… (EC)

Second Stage: Malevolence

Now this is what we've been waiting for. Having previously experienced Steel City brutalists Malevolence only in cramped, chaotic club spaces, it's always been the spine-rattling hardcore element of their sound that's left an impact. In Donington's grander arena, the treacly groove-metal elements of their sound (think an even angrier Pantera… in tracksuits) is allowed to shine.

"This is amazing," growls frontman Alex Taylor, "but, Download, the whole world is watching..." The assembled pit-trolls respond with a good-natured chant of "You're shit!" but the ecstatic tangle of bruised bodies and twisted limbs down the front for climactic, ironically-titled banger Keep Your Distance guarantees they're anything but.

A thrillingly vulgar display of power. (SL)

Main Stage: Hot Milk

Even with grey skies unloading overhead, Manchester's Hot Milk were made for open-air showcases like this. Co-vocalists / guitarists Hannah Mee and James Shaw make a formidable tag-team, owning the Download Pilot's gaping main stage, as the widescreen stadium-pop-rock of anthems like Glass Spiders are allowed to unfurl for the legion of fans listening. "Fuckin' hell, Download," gasps Hannah. "I think we all deserve a dance." 20,000-odd feet duly oblige in what's undoubtedly a landmark showing for these emergent Brit-rock superstars. (SL)

Second Stage: Death Blooms

The volume is deafening. After months of silence and stillness, it's down to Liverpudlian nu-metalcore collective Death Blooms to kick us all back into gear. As vocalist Paul Barrow reminds the heaving tent that they need to keep the energy up for all the bands who've turned out this weekend, there's more arms-around-shoulders camaraderie than burning catharsis to the first mosh of 2021. Featuring a scantily-clad, chainsaw-wielding Shrek amongst the normal squad of broad-shouldered bruisers in the pit, however, their incendiary half-hour showing is testament to a power that's too-long lain dormant – and one that no-one here will soon forget. (SL)

Download Pilot playlist

On your way to Download Pilot or just fancy something to listen to? Listen to our Download Pilot Spotify playlist, featuring every single band on the bill. Almost two-and-a-half hours of massive tunes.

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