download 2013 poster finalWith last year’s swamp still a vivid memory, there was delight on every Downloader’s face as firm ground greeted the expectant hordes ahead on day one of rock and metal’s main event.

Fans skipped across the main arena, revelling in the ability to walk more than 10 yards without losing a Wellington Boot or slipping arse over tit into a pool of unforgiving mud. 

But by the time Free Fall (10/10) kicked off their Red Bull Stage set the masses had been brought back down to earth. The heavens opened and Sweden’s retro rockers pulled in a whole new army of gawping devotees initially sheltering from the pouring rain but quickly warming to a band with panache.

Born out of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, the classy quartet rolled out 70s-inspired scuzz in the shape of Free Fall, Power And Volume and the sprawling Atilla.

A sensational performance from Kim Fransson – including a brief period of mid-set meditation – brought the house down. Nobody wanted to leave. And it wasn’t just because of the rain.

A number of those who did finally take on the elements ventured up the hill and round the corner where veteran rockers Uriah Heep (8/10) – one of the surprise picks of Download 2013 – were getting down to business.

Sunrise ushered in bright blue skies but legendary guitar hero Mick Box stayed super cool in spite of the mid-afternoon heat. Surely one of the must-see musos of the festival, the man responsible for so many iconic riffs was rifling through set closer Easy Livin’ by the time Herman Li and co. arrived at the Zippo Encore Stage to prepare for Dragonforce’s set. Had one of modern metal’s premier shredders rolled up moments earlier he would have witnessed the brilliant Box straddling the stage and delivering a pin sharp rendition of the classic Gypsy.

Heep might have been a long time coming where Download is concerned. But this was a magical set completed by Box’s tricks.

Across on the Pepsi Max Stage another band rooted in 70s metal reinforced the view that retro is the new modern. The Sword (7/10) might have been a tad tardy but the doom-laden Texans took little time to hit their stride – frontman John D. Cronise sporting a beautiful cream Les Paul and wielding it with suitably gracious prowess to create a wall of precise and pummeling sound. The Sword won’t compromise and who would want them to?

Within the confines of a truncated set Europe‘s (7/10) recent incarnation as blues rock devotees doesn’t sit comfortably alongside their 80s hair metal past and the band’s Zippo show proved the point.

The chart-busting Swedes squeezed a career-spanning set into 40 minutes but, on reflection, pop rock anthems Rock The Night and The Final Countdown simply aren’t in the same creative ballpark as Last Look At Eden or Riches To Rags. The one song that straddles both eras is the enduring Superstitious – the bluesy standout from 1988’s Out Of This World one of the genuine highlights of Download day one.

With the final strains of The Final Countdown still ringing out, more chorus-driven, fist-pumping Northern European merriment arrived courtesy of Battle Metal pioneers Turisas (6/10).

The feisty Finns might be slipping down the Download pecking order – their alarming fall from grace will see them playing a pub in the village by 2016 at this rate – but that doesn’t stop them turning up again and again.

From the Main Stage in 2007 to the Pepsi Max tent in 2013 – via the Zippo Encore stage – Turisas appear to be a band in reverse. But not according to Mathias ‘Warlord’ Nygard. The fearsome frontman insisted new album Turisas 2013 ‘will shatter preconceptions of Battle Metal’. On the evidence of the new material showcased here that seems unlikely.

Consistency is the key for the Warlord and his troops and with the sun shining, horns out and face-paint bone dry this was a marked improvement on 2011’s damp squib of a set.

Bullet For My Valentine (9/10) laugh in the face of inconsistency and the ferocious effect of their balls-to-the-wall metal was only spoiled by a bank of feeble fairy lights and occasional bursts of half-hearted pyrotechnics.

As the support to main stage headliners Slipknot, the Bridgend boys were never going to compete in the stagecraft stakes. It’s BFMV’s music that makes them so compelling and on Temper Temper Matt Tuck and co. were in irrepressible form.

The spine-tingling Tears Don’t Fall proved to be as touching as it was potent as Download’s future headliners made a compelling case for Castle Donington dominance.

Black Stone Cherry (10/10) couldn’t drag the majority of Download’s Friday crowd from the main stage but those who did eschew Des Moines’ finest found the Kentucky quartet in sparkling form.

Chris Robertson and his southern rock brothers took time out from recording album number four to rekindle a blossoming love affair with the British public. And 2013’s special trip to Donington blasted 2011’s main stage foray out of the water.

A poignant version of Things My Father Said – Robertson revealing a close friend had just lost his dad and explaining that this was his first major trip since the birth of his own son – provided an emotive mid-set moment.

And the emergence of guitarist Ben Wells as an increasingly vocal member of the band provided a fascinating aside. Not entirely comfortable delivering his lines, the talented six-stringer is, nevertheless a bundle of boundless energy that shouldn’t be held back.

Debuting a brand new track from their forthcoming album, rolling out a brilliant rendition of Blind Man and capping things off with fan favourite Lonely Train this was a faultless set worthy of second-stage headliners.

Simon Rushworth