There aren’t many better ways to ignore the rain and mud than by watching AMON AMARTH . Pure heavy metal brutality is the order of the day and when Johan Hegg brings down his exploding hammer at the start of Father Of The Wolf even the mud seems to run away from the main stage terrified. It’s a clash of the Vikings as GRAND MAGUS  take the second stage while AA are still playing. They should have crammed as many tracks from Sword Songs as possible into their set, but instead, they play less heroic-sounding older material, with the exception of Varangian. Not ending with the brilliantly anthemic Forged In Iron, Crowned In Steel is a schoolboy error, and they don’t triumph in this Norse battle. DELAIN  can blast out a catchy chorus and they’re tightly coordinated, but they’re not exploring any uncovered symphonic metal avenues. An immaculate sound ensure PERIPHERY  follow on the second stage in imperious fashion. They’re clinically heavy, technically dazzling and possess masterful songs in the form of shattering closers The Bad Thing and Alpha, which crown a short but victorious set.
It takes just four songs of pummelling doom metal for WITCHSORROW  to gain a bevy of new disciples at the Dogtooth stage. The devilish mood is summed up by the huge cheer for Necroskull’s proclamation that “You are all fucked.” THE KING IS BLIND  seem startled by the stage’s big crowd that roars its approval throughout the Brits’ brief set. They shouldn’t be: this is proper balls-out metal with an underground heart, and people really, really love this shit. THE DIRTY YOUTH  pull a massive crowd at the Maverick stage, jumping up and down for them. It’s also packed for ATTILA’s  one-dimensional, gurning death-crunk-core. Music this simplistic can often have a dumb charm, but when it’s played by such deeply dislikeable individuals spouting a message of empty, pointless hatred, it’s hard not to be both bored and offended. FRANK CARTER  is clearly in his element with the Rattlesnakes. Their tight, bluesy punk has the lively crowd chanting along and Beautiful Death, a ballad about losing a family member, renders the them silent, proving Frank truly has his fans in the palm of his hand.
TREMONTI  are able to win over the packed tent with a full repertoire of scorching riffs and massive choruses built for this environment. Latest track Betray Me is comfortably at home next to the rapturously received Wish You Well. The sheer volume ELECTRIC WIZARD  inflict upon the crowd is only matched by the hypnotic, otherworldly heaviness of Dopethrone and Funeraloplois. Such is the magnitude of the occasion, the usually dour doom lords seem to revelling in it.
Someone really needs to tell HALESTORM  to drop the drum solo. Lzzy Hale’s layers glass-shattering vocals over some goodtime rock’n’roll on the main stage, but then all the momentum is lost amidst 10 minutes of tub-thumping nonsense. If the amount of covers in their set are anything to go by, DISTURBED  may be preparing to moonlight as a wedding band. The Sound Of Silence is followed by brilliantly executed renditions of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Baba O’Reilly and Killing In The Name. David Draiman has the crowd fully onside by the time they end with Down With The Sickness.
GOOD TIGER’s  ever-improving, exuberant tech metal impresses more as their short Dogtooth set progresses. There are still a few creases to iron out but Where Are The Birds is a fitting finale.
HO99O9  are the most unique proposition on the bill, with the two MCs’ aggressive hip hop backed by hardcore punk, with their peculiar stage get-up as entertaining as it is perplexing. Download comes with expectations, and NAPALM DEATH  subjugate each one with devastating aplomb. Smash A Single Digit and the morbid Dear Slum Landlord prove this is still a place for veterans willing to challenge expectations, while Scum and a breathtaking Suffer The Children are played with savage conviction. Being the most extreme band at Download on a weekend where the events outside the campsite fence seem even more bleak and exasperating than usual, Barney Greenway’s messages of love, peace, hope and humanity over such exhilarating music makes more vital sense than ever.
This is GOJIRA’s  year and everyone knows it. The Maverick tent is dangerously packed, but it moves as one as the Frenchmen pummel everyone with a typically masterful set full of classics old and new. A final, chin-shattering Vacuity hammers home the reality that this band are truly something special. SAXON  should really be on the main stage this year. They make the most of their third stage headline slot anyway, firing off an exhilarating stream of timeless anthems and conducting the rowdiest of audience singalongs. Princess Of The Night nearly takes the roof off.
Bringing a dash of boho LA glamour, alt-metal veterans JANE’S ADDICTION  still radiate diabolically suave vibes as Perry Farrell gyrates to Dave Navarro’s choppy, syncopated, sinewy riffs. A straight cover of Bowie’s Rebel Rebel is a welcome Anglophile addition to this compact show, which also features semi-naked dancing girls swinging on harnesses high above the second stage.
Even if you’re not a NIGHTWISH  fan, the sheer scale of their sound is impressive. The first half of the set draws from Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and the layered intricacy of sinister riffs, flute motifs and synth effects is mindblowing as Floor Jansen’s crystal-clear vocals expertly ride the music. The rain can’t dull Nightwish’s expertly crafted magic; they’re the leaders of the genre for good reason. Ever the consummate showmen, IRON MAIDEN  make the gruelling slog to get here worth the while, with everything you’ve come to expect from both the larger-than-life, Mayan-themed stage show and, most importantly, the songs themselves. Bruce Dickinson is in both fine voice and playful mood, conducting a set that could have become bogged down with so many cuts from The Book Of Souls, yet the epic title track and mass singalong of The Red And The Black were custom-built for stages like this and get the adulation they deserve. Both the expected classics and a few surprises in the shape of Children Of The Damned and closer Wasted Years are the very embodiment of the Donington spirit as they lift a rapturous crowd out of the mud and towards metal heaven.
WWE NXT DEBUTS AT DOWNLOAD
Professional wrestling and rock music go hand in hand so it makes perfect sense that the hottest brand of wrestling would eventually make its way to Donington. Packing out their own purpose-built tent for three full days are the biggest and best NXT Superstars – from champion Samoa Joe to fan-favourite and certified oddball Shinsuke Nakamura, the stars of the WWE Network bring the house down for four hours a day. It’s not without surprises, as former TNA mainman Bobby Roode makes his long-awaited NXT debut to an audience going batshit crazy, but it’s nothing compared to when NXT boss and WWE legend Triple H turns up. A genuine legend who’s not just a wrestler but one of us, too, he gets the possibly the loudest and most intense reaction of any crowd across the weekend.