“Are you weird?,” shouts Danny Bowes, peering through the sleet. “How weird are you?!?” Well, thanks for asking Danny, but what we are is wet. The skies have darkened, the clouds are emptying, and the ground underfoot suddenly has a lot less traction than it once did.
Rain always means that bands have to work harder than they otherwise might, and the downpour starts the moment Thunder walk onstage to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck. It’s an intro that always sets a high bar, and the weather provides a further challenge, but Bowes is clearly up for it. “Do you care about the weather?,” he asks? “No!,” we respond, but it all feels a little half-hearted. River Of Pain and Black Water might be lyrically apt, but both fall short of the levels required to takes peoples’ minds off the mire, and Wonder Days is similarly lacking.
But Backstreet Symphony is magnificent, churning through the murk with enormous gusto, while Love Walked In makes everything feel surprisingly sunny for a short few moments. The audience sways, couples embrace, and away in the fields, cows almost certainly stop chewing cud for a moment, lost in blissful, beefy reverie. The closing Dirty Love is equally rousing, and victory is very much snatched from the jaws of a very watery defeat. (FL)
Thunder Pics: Leigh van der Byl
Friday evening, 7.20pm. The number of the Priest. Local legend and heavy metal founding father Rob Halford, who probably remembers when Castle Donington was all fields, can still summon a mean operatic roar on classic Priest-ian twin-guitar riff-scorchers like Devil’s Child and Halls of Valhalla. “Anybody here from Walsall?” grins the 63-year-old singer as he tiptoes gingerly down the rain-soaked catwalk thrusting from the front of Download’s main stage, his shiny dome and mean goatee making him an uncanny dead ringer for Walter White from Breaking Bad. The Priest have been doing this octave-vaulting, turbo-screaming schtick for over 40 years, and they can slip into autopilot at times. In fairness, much of this set is less noteworthy for the songs than for Halford’s multiple costume changes, a fashion show of studded leather and bespoke denim that speaks of fisting sex dungeons in Kenneth Anger movies, most obviously during the predictable but still-great motorcycle cameo in Hell Bent For Leather. Are the Priest depleted after the departure of their longtime founding guitarist KK Downing? Not noticeably, though the title track from their latest Downing-free album Redeemer of Souls is a workmanlike grind. But the final stretch is thick with revved-up punkmetal anthems, from Jawbreaker to Breaking The Law to Painkiller, with Halford striking totalitarian poses in a silver greatcoat in front of a flaming widescreen video backdrop. It’s both glorious and preposterous in its old-school theatricality, but nobody does high-octane camp pageantry like the Priest. (SD)
Judas Priest Pics: Kevin Nixon