“There is nothing cooler in this world than being a good dad.” A more mature but ever boundary-pushing Avenged Sevenfold bring Download's most challenging year to a close in style

After a weekend of torrential rain, endless mud and regular sound issues, Avenged Sevenfold remind us all of what Download is really all about

M Shadows on stage at Download 2024
(Image: © Andrew Whitton)

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M. Shadows sits onstage in a chair, face covered by a black balaclava, as the progressive tones of Game Over ring out across Donington – a place most associated with the straight-up metal of Iron Maiden and Slipknot. The opening track of Last year’s Life Is But A Dream… it set the tone for a record that was experimental, uncompromising, and did not give a fuck what you thought about it. There’s a chance tonight’s performance could fall into that bracket – but it doesn’t.

 Shadows pulls off the balaclava for Mattel, while screens behind him show a white picket fence and a dream home fallen into disrepair, which soon go up in a raging blaze. It sounds heavier and more menacing live, the double kick pushing through. Then he addresses the crowd – “Donington, are you ready to have some fun?” he asks. “I wanna hear you scream!” – before they rewind 17 years for a chunky Afterlife. By this point, it’s clear they got they’ve got the brief.

It's the band’s third time headlining Download, and they know the drill. Tonight is a mix of new songs and some of their biggest hits, delivered with the freedom and enjoyment that comes from knowing who they are, with nothing to prove. Heavy-hitter Hail To The King – complete with the fist-pumping “Hail! Hail! Hail! Hail!” crowd chant – sits alongside the “little dance rave” of newbie We Love You, Shadows’ growl-chants delivered at an impressive pace that appears to make him smile.

Fiction is dedicated to beloved late drummer The Rev, the crowd lighting up the sky with phone lights, while Life… lead single Nobody is a proper standout, its grinding riff as heavy as the slurry of mud covering the site this weekend – plus, a girls-only pit breaks out, causing male onlookers to yell, “equal rights!”.

Now a world away from the scrappy, hedonistic, headline-grabbing band who shot to fame, Shadows’ onstage chat isn’t about posturing, but the wisdom he’s gained from middle-age/psychedelic trips. As it’s Father’s Day, he says “There is nothing cooler in this world than being a good dad and being there for your kids”. Before The Stage, he implores people not to worry about tomorrow, school, or work, and to “enjoy every single moment of your fucking life”. When a brilliant Bat Country ends messily, he endearingly quips: “Professional”.

If the field feels a little emptier than it should, that’s likely due to weather-related early departures and the England match, and it doesn’t dull Avenged Sevenfold’s shine. Not even technical difficulties can. When the sound cuts out towards the end of Nightmare, Shadows holds the mic towards the audience and shrugs. They sing the rest of the song, before breaking into campsite favourite Hey Baby. The band restart with a buoyant and nostalgic Unholy Confessions, a staple of 00s clubs everywhere. This is, as Shadows promised, fun.

 A Little Piece Of Heaven also teems with nostalgia, but it’s soon followed by a beautiful rendition of Life Is But A Dream…’s Cosmic. It means that while Avenged don’t go out with a bang, they leave everyone with a sense of togetherness, and a moment of this fleeting life shared.

Avenged Sevenfold Download 2024 setlist

Game Over
Hail To The King
We Love You
Buried Alive
The Stage
Bat Country
Unholy Confessions
A Little Piece Of Heaven
Save Me

Eleanor Goodman
Editor, Metal Hammer

Eleanor was promoted to the role of Editor at Metal Hammer magazine after over seven years with the company, having previously served as Deputy Editor and Features Editor. Prior to joining Metal Hammer, El spent three years as Production Editor at Kerrang! and four years as Production Editor and Deputy Editor at Bizarre. She has also written for the likes of Classic Rock, Prog, Rock Sound and Visit London amongst others, and was a regular presenter on the Metal Hammer Podcast.