RUSHONROCK SUMMER OF ROCK: DOWNLOAD DIARY DAY TWO
The 2015 Download Festival is in full flow and RUSHONROCK is right across this year’s star-studded event.
Here editor Simon Rushworth delivers his verdict on day two’s highlights:
Cello metal. Who knew? Well it appeared thousands of Downloaders did as the crowds poured into Castle Donington in time to see three long haired dudes with stringed instruments play some seriously intricate rock alongside a singer who looked like he should be fronting a bunch of New York hardcore heroes. Apocalyptica (7/10) created a noise unlike anything else an eclectic festival could offer and new recruit Franky Perez played a key part. It’s difficult to imagine how his agent sold this gig to the Nevada-born vocalist but the conversation must have gone something like ‘there’s this Finnish metal band and everyone bar the drummer plays a cello but…’. Fair play to Perez – he put his heart and soul into a high octane performance that peaked with the title track from new album Shadowmkaer. A traditional classical burst of God Save The Queen simply added to the surreal atmosphere and what on earth was drummer Mikko Sirén wearing? Dressed all in white and looking like an extra from Miami Vice, Download’s mudbath lay in wait for it’s most likely victim.
Ace Frehley (6/10) turned up with minutes to spare for his Zippo Encore Stage show and the former Kiss man raced through a Greatest Hits set in 30 frantic minutes. Ceding vocals to drummer Scot Coogan on Love Gun, the veteran guitarist was all about the licks and his smoking Gibson Les Paul remains a gimmick guaranteed to bring the house down. A grooving version of Cold Gin kept the Kiss Army onside but Toys – from Frehley’s Billboard Chart Top 10 album Space Invader – reminded the masses that the Spaceman isn’t finished as a songwriter just yet. But how long he can continue as a live draw remains to be seen: in spite of the hits there was something missing from a strangely dispassionate gig. It would be unfair to suggest Frehley was simply going through the motions but a sense of indifference underpinned an unconvincing performance from one of rock’s biggest names and one of Download’s biggest draws.
A lack of passion could never be levelled at Chuck Billy’s Testament (9/10) and the crazed Californians came armed with a Spinal Tap-style stage set and a slew of bona fide thrash metal classics. Their set finely tuned to capture the festival mood, More Than Meets The Eye was an early contender for song of the day and this is a band that gets better and better with age. Billy, in particular is keener, leaner and meaner than at any time during his 30-plus years blasting out brilliantly dark and angry anthems. Practice What You Preach could be Testament’s mantra and guitarist Alex Skolnick, in particular, is a firm believer in doing what he knows best – mixing blazing solos with rabid riffs to complement the band’s formidable frontman. Into The Pit remains a pivotal call to arms but new tune Native Blood showcased Billy at his most powerful and affecting. Frequent references to ‘keeping it old school’ could have grated – were Testament not so revered as genuine thrash metal originals.
Dub War’s (7/10) decision to step in and replace Ghost Town at this year’s Download Festival looked like an astute move by the reformed Newport reggae rockers as Benji Webbe and co. played to a packed tent baying for more. Over before the party had really started, a 30-minute set whipped the masses into a frenzy with the bass turned up to 11 and the level of anticipation off the scale. But it the cold light of day Dub War are – and always will be – a poor man’s Skindred: there’s a reason Webbe broke away to form the band that now pays his bills. Sure, both acts trade in intoxicating singalong metal but only one has the big songs suited to arenas and festival main stages. In their defence Dub War proved they’re still the perfect club band – and ideal stand-ins when there’s a late afternoon tent to fill.
Purson (10/10) could be massive. In singer and guitarist Rosalie Cunningham the Londoners boast a mesmerising focal point and the psychedelic rockers recognise the obvious ace in their pack. Cunningham is given free reign to dominate from start to finish and her haunting vocal style – fused with dextrous fretwork – perfectly complements absorbing music that’s an unashamed throwback to the late 60s. Warming up for their support slot on Ghost’s Black To The Future tour across North America later this year – and writing material for the follow-up to 2013 debut album The Circle And The Blue Door – Purson are on the cusp of something very special indeed. Don’t be surprised to see the band back at Download in 12 months’ time – on a bigger stage and with an even bigger sound.
Given a golden opportunity to plug Sunday’s Zippo Encore Stage set, Von Hertzen Brothers (8/10) opted to go toe-to-toe with Faith No More and Black Veil Brides by playing a stripped down set on the new-look acoustic Dog’s Bed Stage. It was a challenge many lesser bands would surely have shirked but after a day doing press it appeared the fast-emerging Finns saw this engaging show as a much-needed release. Thanking the handful of die-hards present for choosing classic rock over something a little edgier, Mikko von Hertzen launched into Always Been Right with the enthusiasm of a man half his age. New single Hold Me Up, from the critically acclaimed New Day Rising had already gone down a storm and a brilliant version of Dreams brought a delightfully mellow gig to a close.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.