Why Slipknot are the ultimate Download Festival headliners

(Image credit: Joseph Okpako / Getty)

‘HERE WE GO AGAIN, MOTHERFUCKER!’ roars Corey Taylor, kicking off their fourth Download headlining set. The maggots seethe. The nine explode into a flurry of barrel-bashing fury and the nihilistic catharsis of People = Shit. It feels like a homecoming. They’re practically the house band now, unifying all tribes and ages, no matter what lineup debates rage on the internet.

(Sic) and Get This continue the pain, throwing back to the '90s before latest single Unsainted starts up, its choral intro already feeling familiar and slotting into the set with ease.

The fact they’re here at all right now is a miracle. In the last few months, Chris Fehn has left and been replaced by a mystery man – not making an individual mark tonight but fitting subtly into the whole – Corey’s had double knee surgery, and Clown has suffered the sad loss of his daughter. Yet this evening they’re a unified nine, their chemistry flowing freely, that sense of urgency they brought to their debut headline appearance fully intact.

Corey’s Tom Savini-designed mask, roundly criticised by fans, still sits a little strangely - a combination of creepy dead skin and melting black make-up that will take some getting used to. The others do their sinister jobs, Clown’s chrome, red-nosed face bringing that combination of entertaining and unhinged, compounded by off-kilter movement and body language. Mick’s remains deadliest of all, his blue eyes flickering inside a black, unmoving prison.

Before I Forget is a euphoric singalong, The Heretic Anthem is a vicious, spit-inflected diatribe where Corey screams like his life depends on it, his voice sounding better than it ever has. There’s no sign of his injuries, no sign of a leader with a wounded unit, even if behind the mask he’s running on painkillers and adrenaline. This is how quadruple headliners do it. This why they’ve weathered the years.

Whether it’s Clown banging a barrel with a flaming baseball bat or Sid creeping around like stage like a weird old man in a raincoat – which he inexplicably does 90% of the time – Slipknot also prove they’re not phoning it in. They might be expanding their corporate empire with the likes of Knotfest, but they’re still brilliantly imaginative and unhinged.

The Devil In I from The Gray Chapter stands up live like a classic, though there’s a crazier reaction for newie All Out Life, an anthem to endurance and difference. The message, to 50,000 people assembled to enjoy the music of the underdog: we are not your kind. 

There are no grand displays of production tonight, no set-ending fireworks, but they don’t need it. Surfacing does the trick as always, bringing Saturday to a shuddering close and setting out Slipknot’s stall for the coming years. In six weeks, they’ll drop album number six, turning the page on a new chapter. Here we go again, motherfuckers...

Slipknot Download Festival 2019 Setlist

People = Shit
(sic)
Get This
Unsainted
Disasterpiece
Before I Forget
The Heretic Anthem
Psychosocial
The Devil in I
Prosthetics
Vermilion
Custer
Sulfur
All Out Life
Duality
Encore
Spit It Out
Surfacing
'Til We Die (on tape)