Slipknot just proved they are the ultimate Download Festival headliner (yet again)

Slipknot triumph over internal dramas with an epic set for the climax of Download's 20th anniversary celebrations

Slipknot Download 2023
(Image: © YouTube/Slipknot Fans)

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It's been a weird week for Slipknot. Between the Instagram announcement that Shawn 'Clown' Crahan would be sitting out the band's upcoming tour dates and whatever the hell is happening with Craig Jones - something that is still unclear at the time of writing - you'd be forgiven for having reservations about exactly what was going to happen when the masked maniacs turned up to Castle Donington to close out a historic sell-out year celebrating Download Festival's 20th anniversary.

But then Slipknot walk onstage and suddenly none of it matters, as those gathered at metal's spiritual home are treated to all the fury, bedlam and heart-racing brilliance that we've come to expect from Iowa's finest over the past 24 years.

On the day, there were ill omens that threatened disaster. Corey Taylor makes no secret of the voice issues he is suffering with throughout the performance, and just 40 miles down the road in Birmingham a storm of biblical proportions threatens to make its way east and break the spell of scorching sun that surely made Download 2023 one of the hottest - and driest - in its 20-year history.

But like cavalry taking position before a historic charge, 100,000 metal fans fill the field while intro tape Prelude 3.0 plays, Corey Taylor slowly striding out to the furious opening salvo of fireworks, flames and riffs that signals opener The Blister Exists. Craig Jones's iconic pinhead-style mask is nowhere to be seen - a mysterious new masked figure seemingly replacing him - it soon becomes apparent that someone is on-stage wearing the Clown mask, confirmed almost 30 minutes later to be Crahan himself. What?

Then again, Download has always been colossally important to Slipknot. Their first headline performance in 2009 marked not only the last time the original Nine would play in the UK, but also stands as possibly the best set in the festival's history. So it makes perfect sense they would want to close ranks against everything else going on to make sure their fifth time headlining the festival - seventh appearance overall - would be one to remember.

It's all fire and frenzy as the band rip through massive anthems like The Dying Song (Time To Sing), Psychosocial and The Devil In I alongside more choice cuts like Liberate, Yen and Purity, somehow managing to incite some of the weekend's biggest pits and sing-alongs in spite of the sheer fatigue that comes with four days going hell for (denim and) leather in a baking field in Leicestershire.

If Taylor is struggling with his voice, it hardly shows and matters even less when the crowd are roaring along in their thousands. By the time he does speak, introducing live rarity Left Behind, it feels like Slipknot are taking a well-deserved victory lap.

"This is our fifth time headlining fucking Download, dude!" Corey exclaims. "A lot of bands never even get to headline this thing once, so first of all, thank you - thank you so fucking much."

From there, it's almost pre-ordained what will happen: members bounce around the stage and jump off platforms, a keg gets the ever-loving shit beaten out of it with a flaming baseball bat and everybody gets down and then jumps the fuck up for Spit It Out. Slipknot are hardly throwing out the rule book with this performance, but the familiarity doesn't diminish how utterly thrilling the band are, still very much firing on all cylinders as they approach the 25-year anniversary of their debut album

As the pool of legacy Donington headliners dwindles ever lower, Slipknot prove that Download's greatest strength has always been its ability to offer new acts an apotheosis to the same status as the rock and metal gods of yesteryear. The fact they do so even following two massive Metallica setlists on Thursday and Saturday, and a crowning Bring Me The Horizon performance, inciting possibly the biggest singalong of the weekend to Duality, is yet more weight to their claim on the title of the ultimate Download Festival band and an unstoppable sonic behemoth.

Same time next year?

Download Festival 2024 is set to take place June 14 - 16. 


♬ original sound - MetalHammer

Metal Hammer line break

Slipknot Download Festival 2023 setlist

1. The Blister Exists
2. The Dying Song (Time To Sing)
3. Liberate
4. Yen
5. Psychosocial
6. The Devil In I
7. The Heretic Anthem
8. Eyeless
9. Left Behind
10. Wait And Bleed
11. Unsainted
12. Snuff
13. Purity
14. People = Shit
15. Surfacing
16. Duality
17. Custer
18. Spit It Out

Rich Hobson

Staff writer for Metal Hammer, Rich has never met a feature he didn't fancy, which is just as well when it comes to covering everything rock, punk and metal for both print and online, be it legendary events like Rock In Rio or Clash Of The Titans or seeking out exciting new bands like Nine Treasures, Jinjer and Sleep Token.