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How the extreme and obscure dominated at this year's Download

(Image credit: Derek Bremner)

The line-up of Download Festival 2019 was full to the brim with mainstream rock and metal acts that were sure to tickle pretty much all music lovers fancies – as is true of every year of the UK's biggest rock fest.

With Def Leppard and Rob Zombie heading up Friday, Slipknot and Die Antwoord owning the stage on Saturday and Slayer, Smashing Pumpkins and Tool obliterating the crowds on Sunday, it was easy to find something to suit all rockers tastes.

But niche acts still found a place at this year's festival, and they were more than graciously received by fans, proving that while Download is the premiere mainstream rock and metal festival destination, branching into the more extreme and obscure attracts more of the festival's audience than you might think – and we think that's great news, adding completely different set of dynamics to the otherwise relatively conventional rock and metal offerings at the festival.

(Image credit: Derek Bremner)

On Friday afternoon, cult proggers Opeth amazed the second stage with their stunningly sophisticated blend of old school prog, folk, blues, jazz and of course death metal. Their unique sound, stemming from the death roots, has no doubt earned them a solid fanbase, but the turn out at Download was so impressive that they could easily have been playing the Main Stage – and put the meagre crowd for Geezer Butler supergroup Deadland Ritual to shame. In fact, taking a stroll through the dispersed audience for legendary rockers Whitesnake in order to reach Mikael Åkerfeldt and co. seemed a little too easy.  

Later on that evening, industrial metal legend Rob Zombie took over the second stage, while the legendary heavy metal turned hair metallers, Def Leppard, played through seminal record Hysteria in full on the Main Stage. But it wasn't here where things were really shaking up. Opposite the Main Stage, in a relatively small blue tent, there was some real magic happening in the form of At The Gates. 

A huge downsize from playing last year's Main Stage at Bloodstock, the Dogtooth Stage was understandably overflowing with fans hoping to get a glimpse of the pioneering melodeathers. Forcing your way into the tent, it was likely you'd be hit with an obstructed view, but nevertheless, fans pushed and shoved to experience the influential Swedes. While you'd have expected the ultimate party band Def Leppard to have the crowds singing and dancing, turns out the party's up in here. 

(Image credit: Derek Bremner)

And it wasn't just the Friday where death metal shone bright. Saturday saw Polish blackened death metallers Behemoth storm the stage at 14:20 – a little early for most festival-goers, who are likely still rolling out of their mud-stained tents, you'd have thought... But no, the Main Stage was swarming with life. Vocalist Nergal commented on the importance of their appearance – a real triumph for extreme metal, and even better considering the turn out.

Thrash might have had it's day in the '90s, but it seems that rock fans are still crying out for some decent throw back punchy metal, and Power Trip fit that bill. While not under the extreme umbrella, they bring a raw brutality and ferocity that the more niche subgenre bands harness, and that perhaps more mainstream acts have been lacking for the past two decades.  

Later on, Carcass brought their genre defining goregrind to The Dogtooth stage at 19:40, to yet another packed tent (although perhaps not quite as packed as for At The Gates the previous night – but the night is still young!). 

(Image credit: Derek Bremner)

On Sunday, Amon Amarth showed us that their Viking shaped melodic death can own a larger crowd not only at a metal specific fest like Bloodstock but a broader spectrum of rockers  too, and are equally worthy of Download's Main Stage. 

Alcest took on The Dogtooth Stage in the early hours of the evening, and yet again the tent was bursting at the seams. The French blackgaze/post-metal project went down a storm, their unique atmospheric melodies illuminated and brought space to the otherwise claustrophobic space.  

Black metal maven, Myrkur appeared onstage with Smashing Pumpkins to join them in singing a cover of Black Sabbath's Snowblind.

Later on, the Dogtooth tent gave way to Municipal Waste's crossover thrash – another heavy dose of brutality and yet again, punters were left on the outskirts of the stage to peer in through the entrance. 

It's hard to tell if Slayer, forefathers to many extreme genres, and Tool with their technical wizardry and prog nerd following were to thank for the diversity at this year's Download, but either way it's proven there is a large enough following of metal subgenres to offer them up a larger space in future.