As if by some now-established elemental decree, a preceding week of blazing sunshine has given way to a barely relenting, field-churning downpour just in time for the UK’s biggest rock fest. It’s clearly an annual test of the metal spirit as 90,000 people descend once more on Donington, beholden more to the metal gods than those fuckers up above.
Though their distinctive, high-pitched vocals might put some off, PUPPY  are determined to raise the spirits early on at the Maverick Stage. Their soaring alternative rock has an immediacy that’s impossible to ignore, helped by driving riffs and one of the most energetic drummers on Download’s entire bill. ZOAX  have come on leaps and bounds since their first Download show in 2013, and now boast both a devoted following and songs with enough energy and crowd-pleasing melody to convert a few more. However, frontman Adam Carroll’s wander through the pit is tame compared to Nottingham’s HECK . In surely the most riotous set of the weekend, they climb the pillars, the crowd and the disabled platform with no regard for their equipment, instruments, each other or the irate stage manager. That their songs slay is almost an afterthought. KADAVAR’s  retro riffs and warmth are just the tonic for the muddy masses, the boisterous rumble and elongated leads staking a claim for best 70s-worship on the bill. Much like the band themselves, THE WILDHEARTS’  songs show no sign of ageing. Ginger’s effortlessly cool performance is the obvious focal point, but the crowd know their role when it comes to the singalongs of Suckerpunch and 29x The Pain. Horns are held aloft as fallen angel Iggy Pop throws down a guitar from Heaven, igniting a battle for rock’n’roll’s soul between the forces of good and evil that sees Josh Homme, Tom Araya, Slash and Lemmy (in a tank no less) choosing sides… Yes, GUTTERDÄMMERUNG  is extremely silly, but The Loudest Silent Movie On Earth does come with an accomplished band playing metal classics and Henry Rollins performing in the flesh as a fire-and-brimstone-preaching priest, thrilling an inquisitive Maverick crowd.
Second stage openers AS LIONS  have been around for a while now, yet we’ve only been exposed to a couple of songs. So while they have plenty of onstage energy, the unfamiliarity of their set doesn’t help the crowd to identify anything new being brought to the standard metalcore template. It’s not easy to propagate laidback vibes when the rain is coming down like soggy bullets, but GRAVEYARD  know only the way of the red-eyed, analogue riff. Songs like bluesy opener Slow Motion Countdown enable them to erect a protective forcefield of languorous fuzz around a grateful throng. There are a few obligatory singalongs but the crowd is having none of THE AMITY AFFLICTION  frontman Joel Birch’s demands to mosh, crowdsurf, or roll around in the mud, which, given the amount of squashed chips in it, would be the least appealing thing ever. It’s an underwhelming set from a decent if overly genre-faithful band. While GLASSJAW’s  technical ability is undeniable, it can sound overly busy. The band are clear and powerful throughout, though, and the crowd is singing with gusto.
HAVOK  give a proper dose of classic-styled thrash on the fourth, Dogtooth stage. There aren’t many bands, new or old, who play it with the intensity of these guys. There’s a very impressive crowd here for COUNTING DAYS , all of whom seem hellbent on bashing into each other throughout, but they aren’t as impressive as the glorious riffola and sandpaper vocals the band batter the tent with. A rapidly improving outfit. SAVAGE MESSIAH  are ready to give those very same hordes some proper heavy metal. They sound big enough, but lack the stagecraft to really stand out. As acerbic as they were when they hit the inaugural Download, RAGING SPEEDHORN  eschew any subtleties in favour of being as visceral and horrible as possible. Frank Regan already appears to be three sheets to the wind, adding to the unhinged atmosphere as the Corby crew blast through their viscous sludge classics.
After a long wait for the afternoon’s downpour to subside, BABYMETAL  appear to a cheering main stage crowd. The backing band’s sharp solos ring out over the sodden arena, and Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal dance in perfect sync. Not even the rain can dull the cutesy appeal of Gimme Chocolate.It’s easy for KILLSWITCH ENGAGE  to turn up and smash the main stage to pieces. Take the heart and passion of Jesse Leach’s vocals, the ever-amusing between-song patter of Adam D and a bunch of modern metal classics and it’s job done.
Honourable intentions aside, today’s TRIBUTE TO LEMMY  is a damp squib. The lack of a live, all-star tribute seems like a missed opportunity, but instead there’s a collage of live footage from previous Motörhead appearances at Download, interspersed with adoring paeans from the likes of Priest, Metallica and Triple H. It’s like watching DVD extras on a massive telly. In the rain.
It seems a shame that KORN  have never headlined Download. They’ve reached a point in their career where they can fill an hour with songs that even the most casual fan knows, and Freak On A Leash closes a festival set most bands could never hope to follow.
Painted silver and wearing his customary buckled get-up, Till Lindemann looks as imposing as ever. RAMMSTEIN’s  first new song in seven years, currently known as Ramm 4, opens the set, and the chorus – ‘Ja! Nein! Rammstein!’ – was made for huge crwowds to sing along to. The pyro is still impressive even if it feels a bit by-numbers seeing as they’re not testing out new displays tonight. Flake is on form, ripping off a beanie and overalls to reveal a glittery suit and doing the robot across the stage, and the setlist is packed with staples like Ich Tu Dir Weh, Ich Will and, of course, Du Hast. An acoustic rendition of Ohne Dich sees the band having a rare vulnerable and serious moment, and Till’s fiery wings are strapped on for Engel. Conspicuous by their absence, though, are Bück Dich and Pussy, and although enjoyable, the set feels like Rammstein going through the motions as opposed to unleashing their true fiery and mischievous soul.