Plumes of fire spew around a Viking helmet protuding from the stage. Encasing both is a 25-foot-high snarling sea serpent, its (inflatable) jaws bared at the crowd. A heavily bearded muscle-bound man roars into the microphone under menacing grey clouds: “Thor! Let your hammer fly – let the lightning crack the blackened skies.”

This is Download 2019 – it’s wet, it’s muddy and it’s better than ever.

Download 2019 (C) Sarah Koury - Amon Amarth
Download 2019 (C) Sarah Koury – Amon Amarth

Swedish Viking-inspired metal band Amon Amarth are not the only ones to whip the crowd into a fiery frenzy. Despite media outlets glorifying that crowds were leaving Download, or ‘Drownload’, in droves (illustrated with photos of attendees arriving at the festival), there was no sign of sodden spirits during three days of the best of ferocious, pummeling, innovative and influential music. Rain – so what? We do what us British do best – throw on a mac, crack open a beer and carry on.

Download 2019 (C) James Briddle - Fever 333
Download 2019 (C) James Briddle – Fever 333

Or, in the case of hard reggae band Skindred, get our shirts off and do the Newport helicopter…

Download 2019 (C) James Briddle
Download 2019 (C) James Briddle

Come rain or shine, Download continued to show just why it’s one of the UK’s biggest music festivals, from the first morning hair of the dog to the final midnight mosh. Anyone who missed out on the early afternoon slots may have missed more than what they bargained for – thousands of attendees performing haka for Maori metal band Alien Weaponry, for starters, at the opening slot on Saturday. One act we won’t see in an early afternoon slot for much longer are Polish extreme metal pioneers Behemoth, who converted even the most dubious to their brand of ‘blackened’ death metal.

There were two artists that certainly proved their capability at festivals like Download, with crowds gathered outside rain-battered tents for glimpses of their shows. Mongolian heavy metal act ‘The Hu’ were a throat-singing, horsehead-fiddle-yielding force to be reckoned against, with their UK tour quickly selling out after their show. ‘Enter Shikari’ demonstrated a dazzling medley of bests from their discography, and the crowds were in the palm of their hand from ‘Quelle Surprise’ all the way to the final flourish of ‘…Meltdown’.

Saturday headliners Slipknot was one of the biggest gatherings of the festival, returning to Download for the first time since 2015. Corey Taylor performed new single ‘All Out Life’ as part of a ninety-minute spectacle of colour and sound, promising to be back in England very soon.

Download 2019 (C) Matthew Higgs - Slipknot
Download 2019 (C) Matthew Higgs – Slipknot

Sunday was an agonising clash: Slayer for their final UK performance, or Tool for their first UK performance in 12 years?

At the end of the day, the two headliners pulled entirely different crowds. Slayer was a thunderous epilogue to nearly forty years at the pinnacle of their genre, a fitting conclusion to a chapter in thrash metal chronicles.

Tool was one of the most concentrated and reverent crowds of the weekend, proving nothing has changed in the power of their live performances. The rock band showcased two new songs ‘Descending’ and ‘Invincible’, but also old favourites – very old favourites. ‘Hands up if you’re under 27? When we made this song, you weren’t even sperm,’ was one of his only words of the show before launching into ‘Part of Me’.

A finale masterpiece in the ‘Big 4’s thrash metal history, or a long-awaited return to this side of the Atlantic? Whichever closing act you preferred, Sunday at Download 2019 made rock history.

Download 2019 (C) Matthew Higgs
Download 2019 (C) Matthew Higgs

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