Metalheads are always well served at Download, despite the bleating of a vocal but inarticulate few, and At The Gates  deliver the goods in no uncertain terms.
Having pulled off what we now refer to as “a Carcass” by reuniting and releasing a new album that flat-out ruled and disappointed virtually no one, the Swedes are now enjoying the fact that they are once again thoroughly contemporary. Blasting through the seminal likes of Slaughter Of The Soul and Blinded By Fear, they look committed and sound phenomenal, Tompa Limberg leading from the front and proving his status as one of extreme metal’s all-time greats in the process.
What is most striking, however, is how seamlessly the band’s newer material slots in against those gems from 20 years ago. Given how frequently and often lazily the ATG formula has been plundered over the last 14 years, it is perhaps unsurprising that witnessing the real, ferocious deal in action should be such a straightforward joy. This is metal that cuts across cultural divides, and with the added bonus of glorious sunshine, Tompa and his veteran comrades can consider this an honest and heartening triumph, not least because the notion of a band this extreme playing on the main stage at Download would’ve seemed far-fetched only a few years ago. Class will out, as ever.
The metallic thrust of the day so far morphs into a fug of ponderous plodding when Lacuna Coil  hit the stage. For all Cristina Scabbia’s charm and vocal prowess, the Italians have been treading water on a creative level for far too long and with everything thumping slowly forward at a pedestrian pace, there are no surprises or startling dynamics to draw in the casual observer. The result is a set that never takes off, and even though Heaven’s A Lie is still a thoroughbred tune and Enjoy The Silence offers a moment of sprightly universal respite, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone heading home after Download and regaling their friends with the story of Lacuna Coil blowing their mind.
All photos by Kevin Nixon and Leigh van der Byl.