Unpopular opinion: we were underwhelmed by Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden at Download Festival this year. But wait – before you throw sharp objects at us, hear us out.
Saturday night saw the legendary fathers of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, take to Donington’s main stage. When the headliners were announced, the iconic band’s appearance was said to be their last ever show – however, turns out that was ever so slightly an extension of the truth (i.e. a whopping great lie), as their final EVER tour was announced for 2017 at the festival. Not that die-hard Sabbath fans were complaining of course, but after seeing them at Download Festival this year, for some of us it’s a case of let sleeping dogs lie.
The main problem with Sabbath? Ozzy Osborne. Dear oh dear. From the opening bars of ‘Black Sabbath’, Ozzy’s voice is all over the place, struggling to keep in time with the music and hit any of the right notes. His crowd interaction is robotic, his movement stiff and he’s reading lyrics from an autocue. If this was any other frontman from any other band, this would be seen as disastrous for a headline performance as huge as this.
Thankfully, the rest of the band redeem the show and make up for Ozzy’s shortcomings. Axe-wielder Tony Iommi is absolutely killer, and the real star of the show. Hearing ‘War Pigs’ live is an incredible moment, and makes standing in the torrential rain worth risking pneumonia for. Apart from the big ‘hits’ though, the rest of the set feels very slow, and it’s not because of the slow music. The psychedelic imagery on the main screens is infuriating for those who are further back and can’t see the stage, and the sound is duff too. It’s just not the spectacle we were expecting for a band of this calibre. We really hope they’ve pulled out all the stops for the people who have paid hundreds to get a ticket for their farewell tour!
On to Sunday’s headliners then, the mighty Iron Maiden, who struck a deal with Livenation to make sure no other band was playing at the same time (“You WILL watch us!” said Bruce Dickinson. Probably). Unlike Ozzy, Dickinson is an unstoppable energetic force, and his voice is as powerful and spine-tingling as ever. His showmanship is second to none, and he still hits those high notes without breaking a sweat.
Something to note about tonight is that it is a ‘The Book of Souls’ set and not a ‘Greatest Hits’ set, which is partly why it falls short of the mark. Newer tracks, though still brilliant in their own right, fail to get the crowd excited and receive, by Maiden’s standards, a lukewarm response. Highlights are ‘The Trooper’, that galloping riff being met with boisterous cheers, and ‘Fear of the Dark’ which receives full choral backing from the 85,000 strong audience, and the fuzzy feeling of nostaligia finally kicks in, albeit rather late into the set.
Other than the giant robotic Eddie head, there’s nothing that is particularly memorable or showstopping about Maiden’s performance. For a festival closing set too, the lack of pomposity, fireworks and bombast is rather deflating, and a little “So that’s it?” Even though it’s a little disappointing, we still walk away knowing we’ve just seen Iron Maiden. Iron. F**king. Maiden.
Out of the two classic bands that headlined Download Festival this year, Iron Maiden come up trumps, but we’d rather not see them headline again – at least, not for a good few years.
With Guns ‘n’ Roses and Aerosmith rumored to be headlining Download next year, it looks like the organisers will be sticking to their old tricks. Of course, there are thousands who will flock just to see these bands – but sometimes, it’s arguably better to remember a band for the greats they were, rather than drag them out for yet another festival headline slot when they’re not in their best shape. A bit of originality and support for newer blood on the rock and metal scene wouldn’t go amiss either.
So come on Download! Let’s have a fresher approach next year and not rely on the same bands to sell tickets. It’s a sad fact but our rock heroes won’t be around forever and we need to establish the next generation of headliners to try and fill the void that will be left in their wake, and to carry on their legacy.