Download Festival 2022 review: Giants of rock and metal make sure festival returns in full with a bang

The three-day festival was back in full this year, and fans were treated to a masterclass from some of the biggest acts in the industry

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The 2022 instalment of Download Festival had metal and rock fans descending in their thousands for the first time in three years, and the acts who took to the stages across each of the festival’s three days gave as good as they’ve got to make up for lost time.

This was my second venture to Download, the first being in 2016 when the festival grounds were battered by biblical rainfall which turned the arena into something resembling a First World War battlefield.

Arriving at the campsite on Friday, there was barely a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining bright on the many campers preparing their homes for the weekend.

Iron Maiden headlined on the Main Stage of Download 2022Iron Maiden headlined on the Main Stage of Download 2022
Iron Maiden headlined on the Main Stage of Download 2022

It was off to the arena, and first up for me was the Welsh reggae metal band Skindred on the festival’s Main Stage, dubbed The Apex Stage for 2022. With the accompanying signature ‘Newport Helicopter’, where the crowd are invited to swing shirts/ other pieces of clothing above their heads, the band from the South Wales city gave a powerful display which was thoroughly entertaining throughout.

Shuffling over to the second stage, the Opus Stage, I took in Australian rock band Airbourne. Having seen them once before, I had a decent idea of what was in store. In a word, they are loud. Very loud. But they are loud in the way that a heavy rock band should be. Self-confessed fanatics of the classic rock bands such as Iron Maiden and ACDC, Airbourne crashed and banged through their set with a raw take on what proper rock should be.

Cutting through the crowds and back to the Apex Stage to catch the back end of A Day To Remember, I made a swift return to the Opus Stage for Frank Carter and The Rattlesnakes. Carter intertwined his set with backgrounds on most of his songs, and expressed his gratitude for being able to perform at the festival for the first time in three years - this would become a theme across the weekend as acts and fans showed relief over the return of live music following the pandemic.

Friday headliners Kiss rounded off the day in fine form - the glam rock group gave a fine example of how to engage and entertain a huge crowd. Frontman Paul Stanley took flight, literally, over the Apex Stage crowd as the rock veterans treated the thousands of onlookers to renditions of tracks that saw the band inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2014.

The night was rounded off with ‘Rock and Roll All Night’, the 23rd track of a mammoth set, one which could possibly be one of the last Kiss ever play in the UK. Back to the camp, and for some attempted sleep, although as it turned out there wasn’t much sleep to be had at any point in the weekend.

Malevolence performed on Saturday morning Malevolence performed on Saturday morning
Malevolence performed on Saturday morning

Saturday dawned on thousands of sleepy campers in Castle Donington, and a relatively early start in the arena for my group.

The circle pits of Malevolence on the Opus Stage were the first stop of m Saturday. A pulsating set by the heavy metal band from Sheffield was a great warm up for the day; not that anyone in the area needed warming up; the June sun was beating down nicely. The pit was a hell of an experience, and after three years away from one I’d forgotten the pure adrenaline rush you can get from being in the mix. The only downside was that my sunglasses were claimed as a victim; but we moved on regardless.

Next up on Saturday was Holding Absence, an outfit formed in Cardiff in 2015. This also gave me my first visit to the Avalanche Stage, located in a huge tent to the left of the Apex Stage. A sweaty 2-30 minutes followed, but as it was my first time seeing the band, I couldn’t have asked for much better.

Ice Nine Kills, who are from Boston, are known for having horror movie-themed lyrics. They performed on the Opus Stage on Saturday afternoon. Amongst the horror film influences were IT and Psycho, and the performance was as chilling as it was captivating.

Following this delve into macabre film history, Shinedown on the Apex Stage was next up for us. The Florida rock band took to the stage with the day in full swing, and the crowd were even given a taste of the band’s new album, which is due to be released in July. Shinedown are also out on tour this autumn, for anyone keen to check them out in a rather different setting.

The Spitfire above the stage as Iron Maiden played ‘Aces High'The Spitfire above the stage as Iron Maiden played ‘Aces High'
The Spitfire above the stage as Iron Maiden played ‘Aces High'

Following a refresh at the camp, it was time for the Saturday headliner, and a band who in recent years have practically made the Main Stage at Download their home. Iron Maiden have been an institution in the world of rock for decades, and they are a band that shows no signs of stopping. Frontman Bruce Dickinson is a famous showman, and his display at Download 2022 only added to this reputation.

Renditions of ‘The Trooper’ and ‘Revelations’ were performed to a huge crowd, and the thousands were even treated to a second encore. My back was turned to the stage, thinking the set was done, when a clip of Winston Churchill’s famous ‘We Will Fight Them On The Beaches’ began to play. This signals the start of ‘Aces High’, a track which tells the story of RAF pilots during the Battle of Britiain in the summer of 1940.

A replica model of a Spitfire hovered above the stage as Maiden rounded off their set in typically impressive style. Saturday came to an end, but the festival was far from over.

A bright and breezy start to Sunday, and my earliest start to the music. Electric rock group Wargasm were first up on the Apex Stage, making for arguably the most lively start to a Sunday morning I’ve ever had.

A break to get water was needed (important on what was feeling like was going to be another hot day in the arena) before making my way back to the Apex Stage.

The very eye catching ‘huge rubber duck’ which joined Alestorm on stageThe very eye catching ‘huge rubber duck’ which joined Alestorm on stage
The very eye catching ‘huge rubber duck’ which joined Alestorm on stage

Alestorm, a band who love pirates, drinking and, judging by their stage set up, big rubber ducks, burst onto the stage at 1.30pm. Their yarns about drinking and general life as a pirate delighted a healthy crowd, and the band reminded all watching on just how enjoyable they can be to watch.

Other Friday highlights included being in the Avalanche Stage for the UK debut performance of Canadian metal group Spiritbox. Beautiful in some places and brutal in others, any metal fan looking to listen to something fresh and stylish wouldn’t go far wrong by checking out the band.

Biffy Clyro on the Main Stage Biffy Clyro on the Main Stage
Biffy Clyro on the Main Stage

Rounding off a fantastic weekend was Scottish rock outfit Biffy Clyro. The group have become a familiar name on Download line-ups in recent years, and their set was a mix of calmness and carnage. It was my third time seeing Biffy Clyro live, and once more they showed why they are still one of the most tantalizing bands to see on the live stage.

The sun had set on Download 2022, and the countdown to the 2023 instalment is already underway. A bumper festival is expected for what will be the 20th anniversary of Download, but all of the stops will need to be pulled out to top the 2022 edition.