Thursday night is for thrash as Metallica play Part One of their epic headline show at Download's anniversary weekend
With 110,000 metal fans descending on the hallowed grounds of Donnington Park, 2023 marks a landmark event for Download festival. Celebrating its twentieth year with an epic sold-out four-day weekend packed full of the finest names in rock, metal, and everything in between, Thursday evening brings the first of two headline performances from a band who have come to call the festival their home over the years. A “No Repeat Weekend” featuring two completely different setlists spanning a 40-plus-year career, few festivals do heavy metal like Download, few bands do heavy metal like Metallica, and tonight belongs to them.
Making their way onto the main stage to their signature ‘Ecstasy Of Gold’ theme, little time is wasted before charging into the thunderous opening chords of ‘Creeping Death’, sending shockwaves through the festival grounds. Relentlessly barrelling through cuts from their expansive catalogue, fan favourite ‘Leper Messiah’ makes an early appearance, with the chugging riffs of ‘King Nothing’ sparking a unified crowd of headbanging bodies.
Addressing the audience, frontman James Hetfield welcomes the gathered masses before announcing that Metallica have recently released a new album titled 72 Seasons but judging from the volume of their response – they need no reminders. A record that the band have described as one of their most collaborative to date, their onstage chemistry is palpable. With a seemingly revived energy, new cuts ‘Lux Æterna’, ‘Screaming Suicide’, and ‘Sleepwalk My Life Away’ all slot seamlessly into their set, as yellow hues light up the stage to match the album’s bright cover.
It’s the latest chapter in their ever-unfolding story, but the night is about celebrating the journey it’s taken to get them to this point – and the fans who got them here. Delving into the introspective depths of their repertoire, the ethereal guitar intro of ‘Fade To Black’ washes over the festival grounds as the audience stand in reverence, singing along in unison with Hetfield’s soulful vocals. It’s swiftly followed by a majestic performance of instrumental masterpiece ‘Orion’, showcasing the band’s technical prowess, with Kirk Hammett and Hetfield’s guitar harmonies intertwining flawlessly, before the haunting opening chords of ‘Nothing Else Matters’ ring out. An intimate moment shared between tens of thousands, lighters and mobile phone torches make their way into the air as fans from every generation share a singalong of the ballad.
“This is what we do. This is our purpose,” Hetfield grins to an electrified audience before barrelling into a frenzied performance of 1991 track ‘Sad But True’. Fists fly into the sky and mosh pits open throughout the crowd as the frontman delivers his signature croons, and as the night draws to a close with the pyro-heavy thunderous sonic assault of ‘Fuel’, both the Download crowd and the four musicians onstage seem desperate for it never to end.
But all good things must, and tonight they do in style, with the band unleashing their magnum opus, ‘Seek & Destroy’, and the unrivalled anthem, ‘Master Of Puppets’. With beers freely flowing and spirits high, the crowd erupt with one final maelstrom of energy, singing every word and moshing with unbridled enthusiasm before dispersing with grins plastered across faces.
Kicking off Download festival’s landmark event with a set that paid tribute to heavy metal’s past, present, and future, there’s a reason why Metallica are still hailed as heavy metal legends four decades on from their inception. A powerhouse performance that showcased their technical brilliance, electrifying stage presence, and unwavering passion and dedication to their craft, it’s a night that will forever be etched in the memories of all who bore witness, and lucky for Download festival-goers – they haven’t seen the last of Hetfield and co. this weekend…