Download 2023: the highlights

The best of the fest, from Metallica's flaming double headline slot to Ice Nine Kills stabbing the Download Dog to death on stage

Despite the blazing temperatures, nothing could burn the shine off Download Festival’s landmark 20-year celebration. A mammoth four-day event crammed full of the finest names in heavy music’s past, present, and future, the stages across Donington Park brought some very special moments to mark the occasion. Here are our highlights from Download 2023.

Punk Rock Factory get everyone reminiscing on their childhood

Welcoming the Power Rangers onstage for their opening number – a rendition of the much-loved ‘Go Go Power Rangers’ theme tune – before barrelling into a set full of nostalgic riff-heavy covers from the world of TV, film, and beyond, Punk Rock Factory kick off the Thursday singalongs in style on the Avalanche Stage. Blending nostalgic cuts with songs deemed inescapable for all parents in the crowd (‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ anyone?), they bring the early evening festival vibes to an overspilling tent of metalheads unashamed to embrace their inner cringe.

Mom Jeans fly the flag high for emo at the metal festival

On an evening that followed brutal performances from the likes of Puscifer and A.A Williams across Donington Park, California’s Mom Jeans bring a moment’s relief from the neck-snapping riffs and blood-curdling screams. Giving the assembled Avalanche Stage crowd a masterclass in emo anthems as bassist Sam Kless buzzes around the stage, excitedly throwing his guitar in the air and calling out for more circle pits, they even throw in some quickfire covers of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Crazy Train’, and ‘Can’t Stop’ for good measure.

Credit: Marie Ladisch

Metallica bring the thrash party home for two epic headline sets

Making Download history with not just one, but two headline sets throughout the weekend, the thrash legends have a hell of a lot of space to explore the breadth of the extensive back catalogue. From timeless anthems like ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Master Of Puppets’ to deeper cuts like the sprawling instrumental ‘Call Of Ktulu’ and the pulse-quickening ‘Whiplash’, across three hours of unrelenting heavy metal chaos spread over Thursday and Saturday nights, Metalica prove why they’re the undisputed kings of Download Festival.

Stand Atlantic warm up the Friday crowds with boundless energy

Tasked with opening up the Apex Stage as the blistering heat of the day reaches its peak, whilst the Aussie four-piece may not be used to playing through speakers quite so hefty – they certainly don’t seem out of place on the festival’s largest platform. Blazing through a half hour of energetic pop-punk influenced tunes, though the weather leaves little room for any other options – Stand Atlantic warm the crowd up nicely.

Stand Atlantic
Credit: Marie Ladisch

NOVA TWINS bring their empowering anthems to the Apex Stage

The sun is shining, the drinks are flowing, and as NOVA TWINS’ Amy Love remarks as the band rip through their explosive set on the Apex Stage, “It’s festival season, alright!”. Dominating the festival’s main stage, backed by their name in lights, it’s a brilliant slab of crushing guitar-led chaos. A band who have yielded some huge comparisons to rock’s greatest names since stepping foot on the scene, they raise a swift middle finger to the doubters, and as Love leads the crowd in a chant of, “I’m a boss bitch” before self-empowerment anthem ‘Cleopatra’ – it’s clearly one for the history books.

Hot Milk charm the Apex Stage with their Northern banter

Waking the crowd up from their post-lunch snooze, Manchester’s Hot Milk bring their northern charm to the Apex Stage. Vocalists Han Mee and Jim Shaw spur the crowd on through a high-octane set that’s equal parts snotty teen angst and rock ‘n’ roll chaos with jibes such as, “Open this place up, you cheeky f*ckers!”. Download obliges, and it’s a whole lot of boisterous fun.

Hot Milk
Credit: Marie Ladisch

The Blackout make their return after eight years

Bar a hometown performance in Merthyr Tydfil a few days prior, it’s The Blackout’s first show back, and as the assembled crowd inside the tent prepare for their arrival with impassioned chants of, “We are the dynamite!” – it’s clear they’ve been missed. Ploughing through their greatest hits as vocalists Sean Smith and Gavin Butler debate just how long they’ve been away, it’s a set that leaves both fans and band bleary-eyed and emotional by the time it’s wrapped up. 

PUP rattle through punk bangers on the Avalanche Stage

Sure, Download is a metal festival, but whilst some bands aren’t metal in sound – they’re metal in spirit. PUP frontman Stefan Babcock greets the crowd fittingly with a yell of, “What’s up, you metalhead freaks?” before announcing that he won’t be doing a whole lot of talking for the remainder of their set, but they’ll be doing a whole lot of playing. It’s an all killer no filler punk masterclass from the Canadians, with one of Babcock’s few other utterances of the night being: “Alright Download, let me put this in a language you can understand: open this pit up!” 

Bring Me The Horizon
Credit: Marie Ladisch

Bring Me The Horizon make their immersive overdue debut as Download headliners

Three-headed dogs, sinister cults, and a sentient A.I going rogue to destroy humanity – Bring Me The Horizon’s first ever headline set at Donington Park has it all. A theatrical masterpiece interwoven with some of the finest musicianship the Apex Stage has ever seen, they lead a bombastic 90-minute spectacle that proves the future of heavy music is in good hands.

Ice Nine Kills bring the horror show to the Apex Stage

Dressed in crisp white shirts and bowties, Ice Nine Kills may not look like your usual suspects, but they treat a packed-out Apex Stage to a monstrous slasher epic. Led by brilliantly charismatic frontman Spencer Charnas, as the sunlight burns down we’re treated to enough gravediggers, goat masks, chainsaws, hostages, dismemberments and decapitations to have us worrying about sunstroke-induced delusion. Capping things off with the grand finale of ‘Welcome to Horrorwood’ as Charnas stabs the festival’s Download Dog mascot to death onstage – it’s a killer set in more ways than one.

Ice Nine Kills
Credit: Marie Ladisch

Motionless In White celebrate on the Opus Stage

With frontman Chris Motionless revealing that today is the one-year anniversary of the band’s latest album, ‘Scoring The End Of The World’, the Pennsylvania band are here to party. Lathered in black face and body paint, ‘Masterpiece’ sparks a mass singalong and ‘Slaughterhouse’ brings the biggest mosh pits of the afternoon on the Opus Stage before the vocalist hops offstage to hand out roses to fans during the closing notes of ‘Eternally Yours’.

Bob Vylan get the Avalanche Stage stretching and moshing

Making their Download Festival debut, after some pre-show “light stretching and meditation”, Bob Vylan unleash carnage on the Avalanche Stage. Vocalist Bobby Vylan’s stage banter is remarkable as he jibes, “Definitely don’t circle pit! I said don’t!” in a great piece of reverse psychology before delivering a scathing take down of the Met Police as they welcome FEVER 333’s Jason Aalon Butler onstage for ‘Pulled Pork’. 

Simple Plan
Credit: Marie Ladisch

Simple Plan bring the summer party to the Opus Stage

With some flagging due to the heat and the hangovers, a heavy dose of energy is needed to perk up the Saturday evening crowd. Thankfully Simple Plan understand the assignment. Rattling through nostalgic hits as beach balls bounce through the crowd, we’re treated to a mash-up of covers including Smash Mouth’s ‘All Star’, Avril Lavigne’s ‘Sk8r Boi’, and The Killers’ ‘Mr. Brightside’ before Scooby Doo joins the band onstage for the show’s theme tune.

Creeper debut new material during their secret set

Packing out the Doghouse Stage tent just before Metallica take to the stage for their second headline performance of the weekend, it’s Download festival’s worst kept secret. Bringing their gothic spectacle to Donington just a couple of weeks after the announcement of their upcoming new album, ‘Sanguivore’, they throw in a debut of brand-new song ‘Sacred Blasphemy’ before rounding out on a heartfelt singalong to ‘Misery’. 

Municipal Waste pretend to break a Guinness World Record

Richmond, Virginia’s infamous thrashers Municipal Waste bring their characteristic beer chugging, head nodding, grimace-inducing partying to casa heat wave – AKA the Opus Stage – for one of the funnest sets of the weekend. Vocalist Tony Foresta almost has us when he says they’re going to attempt the Guinness World Record for the most ever crowd surfers, until a surprised-looking stage hand tells him that they recorded 666 limbs in the air. Well would you look at that!

The Amity Affliction dial up the brutality on the Opus Stage

Whilst British festivalgoers scramble for shade and begrudgingly lick their £4 ice creams, the Aussies are barely breaking a sweat on the outdoor stage as pyro blazes around them. Showcasing tracks from their latest album, ‘Not Without My Ghosts’, their brutal vocals and crushing riffs are softened by the presence of a crowd surfing stuffed panda making its way across the crowd.

The Hu cover Metallica

Bluesy metal meets traditional Mongolian instrumentation during The Hu’s remarkably engaging Sunday performance, with throat singing, custom tovshuur and a whole load of interesting sounds going on. Their cover of Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ – which got its own original showing three days earlier – feels right at home, their eight-piece band making those hefty grooves all the more sweltering and hypnotic.

The Hu by Marie Ladisch

Soul Glo’s Pierce Jordan attempts to scale the Dogtooth Stage

Climbing up one of the stage pillars, the PA is cut as the festival’s security thwart his attempt, but it doesn’t stop the frontman’s reign of chaos. Mixing hip-hop samples with frenetic hardcore grooves, he commands a tent of two-steppers and circle pit connoisseurs, expertly draining some of the last drops of energy out of the late afternoon Sunday crowd. 

I Prevail are on the judging panel for the Apex Stage’s mosh pit competition

It’s a friendly rivalry between the left and right-hand sides of the crowd, and the right wins. Vocalist Eric Vanlerberghe declares, “We up here have a very important job to do, and it’s a job i intend on not failing”. That job? To make sure that everyone at Download Festival has “the f*cking night of ther lives”. It’s a responsibility the Michigan metalcore crew don’t take lightly, and their confidence soars on cuts such as ‘FWYTYK’ and ‘Judgement Day’ whilst renditions of System Of A Down’s Chop Suey and Slayer’s Raining Blood see dust circling the air as it’s churned up by the crazed crowd.

Parkway Drive dial up the chaos with a one-of-a-kind circle pit

Embarking on their first festival season post-pandemic, Parkway Drive aren’t messing around. An hour of sheer rock phenomena with frontman Winston McCall dressed in all-white, a performance of ‘Idols And Anchors’ sees him a few rows deep in the crowd as fans circle pit around him. Crowd surfing back to the stage with a grin plastered on his face, it’s not long until he remarks, “You know it’s a good set when you can taste dirt from the stage!”

Electric Callboy bring a bigger party than Download had planned for

Winning the award for the most overcapacity set of the weekend with their epic headline slot on the Avalanche Stage, the tent is overflowing long before the German band even take to the stage. Unleashing their riotous brand of bonkers on the festival, their pulsing synth-injected rock ’n’ roll soundtracks a party filled with flames, glitter, and even a bright red grand piano.

Slipknot welcome back Shawn “Clown” Crahan to close out the weekend in style

Making a surprise appearance after recently announcing a break from the band to care for his family, he joins the Donington heroes to celebrate Download’s 20-year anniversary. With an unstoppable set that charges between undeniable anthems (‘Wait and Bleed’, ‘Duality’) and more underplayed tracks in the band’s repertoire (‘Left Behind’, ‘Snuff’), it’s a triumphant finale to the weekend that ends with a record-breaking ‘jump-the-f*ck-up’ during ‘Spit It Out’.

Tickets for Download 2024 are on sale now here.