download 2013 poster finalIf Download’s spectacular denouement was all about German precision, power and painstaking efficiency then day three delivered one of the most diverse undercards in festival history.

Long before headliners Rammstein pummelled the Castle Donington masses into submission with a typically brutal display of industrial metal it was possible to experience every genre imaginable across the vast arena. 

Graveyard’s (8/10) shift might have gone unnoticed by the majority but those in the know lapped up every minute of the retro-fuelled Swedes’ heady brew of psychedelic hard rock.

Seven Seven and Slow Motion Countdown, from latest opus Lights Out, translated perfectly to the live stage while a meandering version of old favourite Thin Line lasted for the thick end of eight minutes.

A quick hop down to the Red Bull stage brought trad metal crew Huntress (7/10) into focus. Jill Janus wowed the crowd with a vocal tour de force and an intense performance oozed sex appeal, mystery and more. Eyeing up those starry eyed males gravitating towards the stage, the svelt singer belted out I Want To F**k You To Death (a song that features a Lemmy writing credit) with a glint in her eye. The general consensus appeared to be that there are worse ways to go.

Yards away from Huntress and I Am I (10/10) served up and unexpected treat prior to their electric set later in the day. Wearing their influences loud and proud, ZP Theart and his buddies rolled out spine-tingling acoustic versions of 80s classics Wanted Dead Or Alive and Every Rose Has Its Thorn. Just why is anyone’s guess. But it worked.

Next up and rising Welsh stars Buffalo Summer (7/10) looked like stars in the making as they played their biggest show to date. A Horse Called Freedom and Down To The River allowed frontman Andrew Hunt to showcase his full range and the comparisons with Little Angels’ singer Toby Jepson were inevitable. But that’s no bad thing for a band threatening to join The Temperance Movement in the race to become British rock n roll’s next big thing. A support slot with Heaven’s Basement next month should help.

With hard rock, heavy metal and classic rock covered before mid-afternoon, Rival Sons (8/10) chose to ignore convention and genre to deliver a laid back set against a backdrop of blazing sun. A languid start ceded to upbeat set closers Keep On Running and Pressure And Time but more of the same might have been a better choice with those new to the Sons complaining of too little too late from the classy Americans.

Amon Amarth (9/10) deserve credit for bringing a massive backdrop and half a long boat to Download but the melodic death metallers appeared to pay a heavy price for their ambition and commitment to the Castle Donington cause. A truncated set – seemingly due to the long set up – was as teasing as it was triumphant and a return trip is required to fully appreciate the hairy Swedes.

Staying with the Zippo stage and Ghost (7/10) drew a loyal crowd of waving acolytes with Papa Emeritus pulling the strings. The third Swedish band of the day performed chilling versions of Ritual, Prime Mover and Monstrance Clock and their cloak of anonymity remains a powerful gimmick. With latest album Infestissumam hitting number one back home it appears there’s no stopping the masked metallers and a fourth visit to Download surely beckons.

Performing like headliners but given an early evening slot, Aussie upstarts Airbourne (10/10) made a compelling case for being crowned band of the weekend. One of the biggest Zippo crowds in living memory went wild in the face of frontman Joel O’Keeffe’s boundless energy and a supercharged set will live long in the memory of the Donington faithful.

Evoking the spirit of historic Monsters Of Rock festivals – and name-checking the mighty Iron Maiden for good measure – Airbourne pitched their set to perfection. Denied the chance to scale the scaffolding in trademark style, O’Keeffe instead went walkabout during Raise The Flag – his connection with the band’s fist-pumping fans stronger than ever.

Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast took a high octane set to the next adrenaline-fuelled level but a brilliant show was over far too soon. Main stage headliners in waiting, Airbourne will dominate Donington in years to come.

Rammstein’s (8/10) shiny metal contrasted sharply with Airbourne’s scruffy rock n roll but the former ensured Download 2013 ended on a spectacular high and both bands share a common desire to entertain.

By the time Keine Lust had a huge crowd rapt, the Teutonic masters were already in control. Mein Teil’s thrilling theatrics upped the ante and the pre-encore double of Du Hast and Ich Will proved just why festival promoter Andy Copping placed his baby in the safe hands of Till Lindemann and his leather-clad brothers. Few bands could have brought the curtain down with such ruthless aplomb.

For all of Rammstein’s rousing anthems and bass-driven bravado it was the piano version of Mein Herz Brennt that stole the show. In expressing their lighter side, the Germans simply served to emphasise their status as the heaviest of hitters on the metal scene – set closer Pussy proving the point.

Maiden might just have clinched it as the cream of the 2013 main stage crop but Rammstein – pyro and all – came a close second. It’s a position Lindemann will do his level best to better very, very soon.

Simon Rushworth