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Live Review: Download Festival – Sabbath, Soundgarden & Refused

Turning up on Sunday afternoon with a seditious sun frying skin and drying the dirt feels somewhat anti-climatic. Greeted by the now familiar stench of urine, vomit, and thick squelching mud, it feels as though we’ve arrived two days after the war, as the weary and wounded shuffled around an increasingly unpleasant refugee camp. Spirits were high at least, even if, when surveying the day old wreckage, it seems hard to imagine how anyone could have stayed vertical and retained their boots, let alone enjoyed, The Prodigy and Slash. Still the sun was out and a killer line up lied before us.

Sebastian Bach battled valiantly against a thin and wholly disinterested crowd. His beefier and more blistering new sound packs a punch, but not even his Skid Row classics can inspire much movement from a weary mid-day crowd [2.0/5.0]. Black Label Society have no such trouble, enjoying a great swell of support. Sadly their sound lacks a clarity of purpose and proves devoid of punch, perhaps explaining why, despite all the good will in the world, Zakk Wylde continues to open and not close these events. [2.5/5.0]

Ugly Kid Joe, who draw a surprisingly dense crowd on both sides of the Zippo Encore Stage, have no problems sending fans home happy. A brief hit filled set matches toe tapping riffs with big sing alones and the kind of distinctly American mid-90s angst that the Download crowd love so dearly. “Everything About You” and “Cat’s In The Cradle” predictably incite the biggest sing alongs, but it’s the hard rocking wink and nod of opener “Neighbor” that wins the day [3.0/5.0].

The worst sound of the weekend belongs to Megadeth. Whether the fault is their own or that of some faceless techy is unknown, but by all accounts those at the front and the back appear to be watching two different bands. As one set of fans bounce and bellow, the rest scratch their heads at the sludgy mistimed mess of guitars and inaudible vocals that dutifully powers out of Download’s sound system. “Hangar 18” is reduced to a distorted smeared mess, and fans slowly give up on a highly anticipated set. [1.5/5.0]

No one was anticipating Refused judging by the paltry (and that’s being kind) crowd who assemble on the Zippo Encore Stage. Still the Swedish post-hardcore legends seem happy enough with the diehards in attendance. The set starts shakily, the brilliant “Worms Of The Sense/Faculties Of The Skull” lacks it’s typical punch and precision, but as the set wears on Refused find their rhythm.

The timing changes, jerky grooves and grand crescendo start to pile up mid set as circle pits erupt and Refused look every bit the game changing innovators they’re believed to be. “Liberation Frequency” is the turning point, “Summerholidays vs. Punkroutine” is utterly incendiary, and the set closing combination of “The Shape Of Punk To Come” and “New Noise” are full of defiant flailing intensity. A welcome return, at the wrong festival, in front very much the wrong crowd. [3.5/5.0]

Soundgarden, who were derided by some of the Download faithful in the run up to tonight’s event, are greeted as returning heroes. Chris Cornell has hardly aged a day, and Soundgarden’s overly earnest arsenal of anthems prove equally effervescent. Far from an oppressive grungy dirge, Soundgarden remind fans that at their height they were a dexterous rock band. After “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” provides a cheeky opener Soundgarden get down to business with a soaring rendition of “Spoonman”.

In a set built on the back of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown neither album can seemingly gain the upper hand. “Let Me Drown” toes the line between the morbid imagery of its verse and the bombastic energy of its chorus, while “Jesus Christ Pose” is a sensation. Louder, harder and wilder than its studio equivalent, Soundgarden’s shrieking anthem bloodies the air with each of Cornell’s piercing cries.

The powerhouse rock may be winning the day but the sets most poignant moment comes courtesy of the sauntering grunge of “Fell On Black Days”. Cornell is pitch perfect, as he replaces the track’s airy breadth with a grinding weight of totemic pessimism. From that point on Soundgarden’s victorious return is assured, as a timeless reading of “Black Hole Sun” and the ear scrapping noise rock of “Beyond The Wheel” send jaws crashing to the floor. Still, throughout a brilliant comeback set, it’s hard to silence that nagging voice that whispers: this should have happened at Reading. [4.0/5.0]

Could Black Sabbath actually be feeling the pressure? That was a hell of reunion to follow, it doesn’t get much better than Soundgarden in the afternoon sun, only it does: Sabbath in the cool night air. There’s a wonderful uniformity of purpose to Black Sabbath’s sound, and their set tonight that renders metal’s great grandfathers utterly unassailable. They are heavy, really fucking heavy. Whether their playing five notes or fifteen they grind you down, Tony Iommi’s guitar resounds at a deeper, more soul crunching, level than anything that has gone before.

In many ways it’s a match made in heaven. As Geezer and Tony blacken the sky with the claustrophobic bleakness of “Black Sabbath” and “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”, Ozzy sets about ensuring the crowd give it their all. Roaming around the stage like the lingering spectre of a muppet who died tragically in the making of A Christmas Carroll, he won’t rest until every last fan is having a good time. In truth he needn’t expend so much energy, riotous readings of “The Wizard” and the imperious “N.I.B” more than speak for themselves.

The set is roughly divided into two portions. The opening half rides the thickness of the groove, as Ozzy sermonizes over the murky oscillating chords that provided metal’s earliest foundation. The second half is a mix of huge unifying hits (“Iron Man”, “War Pigs”, “Sweet Leaf”, “Children of The Grave”) and sensational displays of technique and intensity not diminished by age or disease (the new drummer certainly doesn’t hurt matters). By the time “Paranoid” is wheeled out the day has already been won; Sabbath have asserted their primacy among metal’s elite with a set that will linger long in the memory. [5.0/5.0]



Author: david

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