The big review: Download Festival 2023

Download Festival’s 20th anniversary spectacle took place on the weekend and we were there for the four-day musical extravaganza!

Download 2023, aka Download20 was a special celebration marking two decades of the rock and metal festival.

It was the first time the festival has had four days of arena music and also the first time a band – Metallica – headlined two separate days of the festival in the same year.

Here we take a look at the festival as a whole and our thoughts.

We arrived on Thursday so missed the traffic and queuing chaos of the Wednesday and had a much smoother entry.


First up for us on Thursday was Cancer Bats on the Opus stage. The band put on a good set which had plenty of crowd pleasers in it including Psychic Jailbreak, Winterpeg and a cover of Beastie BoysSabotage. Their set was cut short at the start of Hail Destroyer as they went over time.

Up next was Fearless Vampire Killers on the Avalanche stage. It was the first time the band have been back at the festival since 2015 and continued their great return after reforming back in 2022. They played a range of songs which had everyone singing along including Neon in the Dancehalls, Maeby and All Hallows Evil. There were a few technical issues with the sound, particularly feedback from the guitars, but this is something that has been found on the Avalanche stage over the last few years.

Punk Rock Factory provided the first stand out set of the weekend, with cloaked figures entering the Avalanche stage before revealing the members of PRUK a Power Rangers cosplay group who are dressed as the rangers. This provided the entrance for the band to kick into their cover of the Power Rangers theme tune.

There is something special about a packed tent of rock and metal fans screaming along to the likes of Mamma Mia, the Pokemon theme, SpongeBob SquarePants and Under the Sea among others such as Let It Go and We Don’t Talk About Bruno. It was a fun set complete with inflatable hot dogs that entertained everyone.

Next up was Alter Bridge on the Apex stage. The band played a range of hits including Addicted to Pain, This is War and Metalingus and sounded great, with Myles’ vocals being on point.

It was back to the Avalanche stage for a State Champs headline set. They were full of energy as they powered through a range of hits from across their catalogue including Mine is Gold, Criminal, Frozen, Fake It, All You Are Is History and Secrets. You could see the band were having the time of their lives running around the stage.

We then caught the end of Skindred on the Opus stage who ended with recent single Gimme That Boom and Warning which Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale joined them for. Personally I didn’t feel like her vocals worked well on the song but I’m sure I’m in the minority on that.

The final band of the night was Metallica for their first set of the weekend on the Apex stage around 10/15 minutes after their allotted start time, the band took to the stage. They played a range of hits including Creeping Death, Seek & Destroy and Master of Puppets. Sonically they sounded good but it wasn’t my cup of tea.


First up on Friday was Nova Twins on the Apex stage. We watched their set from the press tent in between interviews (with thanks to the big screens) and unsurprisingly they sounded great. Having been a fan for a while it was awesome to hear songs such as Taxi, Antagonist and Choose Your Fighter.

Up next was Hot Milk on the Apex stage and again was watched on the screens between interviews. I’ve seen Hot Milk before and they were okay but they definitely brought a better set to the festival’s main stage including tracks such as I Just Want to Know What Happens When I’m Dead and Teenage Runaways.

It was still on the Apex stage for Neck Deep who sounded great powering through tracks such as December, Motion Sickness and Kali Ma.

Staying on the Apex stage we had Pendulum who are not my cup of tea but they put on an interesting show which featured Matt Tuck from Bullet For My Valentine providing guest vocals for Halo. The crowd were loving the likes of Propane Nightmares, Guiding Lights and The Island – Pt 1 (Dawn) as well as a Blood Sugar/Voodoo People remix.

Following Pendulum on the Apex stage was Architects. Frontman Sam Carter had arguably one of the best outfits of the weekend with his sparkly trousers (seriously I want a pair). The metalcorers powered through a number of hits such as Black Lungs, Royal Beggar, Tear Gas and Meteor.

There was a moment of appreciation for the night’s headliners, Bring Me The Horizon, who Architects supported on their first tour and the story of how Jordan Fish helped to finish Doomsday, before it was dedicated to the late Tom Searle.

The second stand out set of the weekend came from VV who headlined the Avalanche stage, opening with the instrumental Zenir Solitaire before playing a range of HIM songs such as Buried Alive By Love, Wings of a Butterfly and Right Here in My Arms as well as VV songs including Run Away From the Sun and The Foreverlost.

There were some issues with the sound at the start, with a lot of feedback coming through the microphone but it was quickly rectified and  Ville’s vocals were able to shine through.

A quick peek at the end of Evanescence’s set of the Opus stage saw tracks such as Use My Voice, My Immortal and Bring Me To Life. Amy Lee’s vocals were good and it sounded like it was a nice set.

The final band of the night was Bring Me The Horizon who brought a spectacle of a show with them. Opening with a transmission introducing Eve-L, as a promo for Post Human 2 with a Resident Evil introduction and cutting to the band, following them as they made their way onto the stage. It was a true spectacle which made the show stand out, with a stunning stage design and great use of the screens to bring their teasers for the new EP and to showcase the concept of the story weaving through the set.

The set kicked off with AmEN! and Teardrops before taking fans back to the early days with House of Wolves. Hits including Mantra, Parasite Eve and Shadow Moses also featured, as did an acoustic version of Follow You.

There were fab guest appearances from Nova Twins on 1×1 and Amy Lee on One Day the Only Butterflies Left Will be in Your Chest as You March Towards Death. She also sang on Nihilist Blues.

An encore included hits Drown, Throne and Can You Feel My Heart.

Frontman Oli Sykes appeared emotional a number of times during the set and going into the crowd.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not that much of a fan of Bring Me The Horizon but this was definitely the best headline set of the weekend and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Polaris were first up on the Apex stage and was another watched between interviews from the press tent. They sounded good playing through tracks such as Landmine, Inhumane and Lucid.

It was then time for Fever 333. It is a return to the U.K. for Jason Aalon Butler for the first time with the band’s new lineup.

Bassist April Kae was clearly overcome with emotion throughout the set, spotting someone taking photos in the front and being shown on screen being consoled by a crew member. But most importantly you could tell how much all of the members were enjoying being on the stage. Jason spoke about how it was rare to see people of colour like them in such roles and thanked the crowd for allowing them to do this and supporting them, as well as thanking Sophie K and Yasmin Summan of On Wednesdays We Wear Black for what they do for people of colour in the industry.

We were treated to a number of tracks including Made an America, One of Us and a cover of Blur’s Song 2.

Jason’s energetic stage performance took a step up, running around to one of the towers, before climbing the ladder to end the set with Hunting Season from quite a height.

Next up was Ice Nine Kills. The band’s Apex stage performance was definitely at the wrong time, as it would have been way better when it was darker to play more into the horror theme.

Frontman Spencer Charnas appeared with a range of weapons including a shovel and chainsaw as well as a number of outfits to help convey the stories being told through songs. The set was boosted by appearances from people playing victims, including one who had his head ‘chopped off’ before Spencer played football around the stage with it. And unfortunately Download lost its mascot as the Download Dog didn’t escape from Spencer’s clutches.

It was a great spectacle as tracks such as It is the End, Funeral Derangements, The American Nightmare and Stabbing in the Dark were played to a very enthusiastic crowd.

It was a trip to the Opus stage next for Motionless In White. The set featured songs from album Disguise to celebrate a year since release and the crowd was the biggest that the band had played too according to Chris Motionless in a Rock Sound interview. It was a huge crowd who were all really receptive and enjoyed the set.

Tracks featured included Disguise, Another Life and Scoring the End of the World’s titular track, Masterpiece and Werewolf as well as classic Reincarnate and closer Eternally Yours.

Alexisonfire was next on the Apex stage and played a nice set including Sweet Dreams of Otherness, Sans Soleil, We are the Sound and This Could be Anywhere in the World.

Metallica’s second set on the Apex stage closed the night and it was opened with Whiplash and featured tracks such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ride the Lightning and Battery as well as the cover of Whiskey in a Jar and ended with One and Enter Sandman and a nice firework display. Again they weren’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure fans enjoyed it.


First up for Sunday was a trip to the Apex stage for Bloodywood. The crowd loved the band as they played through hits including BSDK.exe, Dana Dan and Machi Abha’s as (Expect a Riot). It was a nice start to the day and great to see a band utilising their cultural sounds with metal.

We stayed on the Apex stage for Lorna Shore who put on a good show with tracks including To the Hellfire and the three Pain Remains tracks.

It was over to Opus stage then for The Amity Affliction. The biggest downside to the set was the length – it was way to short to showcase Amity fully but they did an extremely good job, although how they managed with the pyrotechnics in the blazing mid-afternoon sun I will never know.

There was a good mix of old and new Amity in their short set, playing the likes of Death’s Hand, Pittsburgh, All My Friends are Dead, new single It’s Hell Down Here and Soak Me in Bleach.

It was over to the Avalanche stage for Set It Off. The band wasted no time in getting fans excited with a rendition of Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.

There were a couple of more recent songs including Killer in the Mirror and Projector.

Frontman Cody Carson spoke about it being the first time playing Download and fancied playing drums so he switched with drummer Maxx Danziger who took the mic for a great rendition of Hypnotized before Cody returned to frontman duties for Loose Cannon, a rendition of N.M.E which featured a brief cover of Everybody by Backstreet Boys and the motivational Why Worry before ending with Punching Bag.

It was a return to the Apex stage for Parkway Drive who sounded great ploughing through tracks such as The Void, Soul Bleach, Idols and Anchors and Bottom Feeder.

It was then on the Apex stage, where there were a few lightning flashes in the distance but a potential storm held off for the final band of the night.

Slipknot sounded fine but it’s not a band I’ve really ever got into. It was my third time seeing them headline main stage and I was about as uninterested this time as I was on the first two occasions. It was nice to see Clown back on stage after initially missing the band’s recent dates due to family health concerns.

They played a range of tracks including Psychosocial, Eyeless, The Heretic Anthem, People = Shit and Duality.

Overall Download20 was a fun affair with a wide variety of bands and artists on show, but overall enjoyment was marred by the extreme heat (which isn’t the festival’s fault) and the lack of shade (something many complained about last year but it seemed to be forgotten about again). The only shade in the arena was in the Avalanche and Dogtooth tents and there was none in the guest area and very little in the village. We spent a lot of time between acts in the RIP Barn as it was the only place there was shade.

There was a lot of water refill points but due to the weather, they were being used so often that it seemed a constant battle to get water without queuing for a bar to pay £2.60 for a can.

If some shade is put in place then it would be so much better.

The standout set on the Apex stage was definitely Bring Me The Horizon who brought a fantastic, well-rounded production with them.

It that being said, we can’t wait for Download 2024!

Elizabeth Birt

June 13, 2023

Band management assistant. Goth princess and lover of all things music and sport.


View all author posts