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Twisted Sister
Twisted Sister
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IT is hardly a revelation, but the truly great thing about a festival dalliance is never knowing quite what you are going to stumble across, writes Sammy Jones, at the Download Festival.

FRIDAY...

And so we wander into the Pepsi Max tent and catch some classic rock leanings from a band that laid its roots way back in the mid-eighties, FM.

The tent wasn’t packed to the rafters, but it was more than a respectable turn-out, and they were one of the few bands to bring a saxophone on site at the heavy-heavy feast.

That’s gotta be worth a nod of respect.

FMs big wheels keep on turning, and so do we, to the Main Stage for the novelty factor that is The Darkness, as the reformed band made their first festival appearance in seven years.

If ever there was a perfect platform to reconvene, it was at the spiritual home of rock.

And they pulled it off, with a 13 song set of crowd pleasing class – Growing On Me, Get Your Hands Off Of My Woman, One Way Ticket To Hell And Back and Is It Just Me? are pretty close to perfect, and penultimate number I Believe In A Thing Called Love, against the odds isn’t a set highlight, but rather another decent number in a show full of riffs, rock and cracking choruses.

Hip-slinky Justin Hawkins and his brothers in arms always thrived on rock n roll pomp and circumstance, and they didn’t scrimp on this show either – with pyro’s, smoke and confetti awesomeness threading together a more than decent job.

If it’s feel good entertainment you want, The Darkness still ooze the stuff.

Not quite the novelty factor after all then. Scratch off the leopard skin pants and you find a package with punch.

Korn pull off a winning set if based on audience attendance alone, but the band that used to be crisp felt tired and lacking today…or maybe we just caught the bad bit.

The moody sky which has loomed large over Donington Park for most of the day tipped its load ahead of Glenn Danzig’s arrival of the Pepsi Max stage.

But then the man in black shouldn’t be seen against a backdrop of sunshine anyhow.

A heavy, expectant troupe of long time converts greet him and in turn are greeted by a shocking sound system.

Pity the sound techs who felt the wrath of Danzig after the show, based on the tirade that met them mid-set, but the solid, pounding power-punches continued undaunted – Dirty Black Summer, 13 and the obligatory anthem Mother, when the tent goes suitably wild.

Now your average Danzig fan probably wouldn’t get such a thrill supping at the musical bar of Sheffield sons Def Leppard, but as the tent empties, the lure of the main stage beckons, and aptly we rock up in time for an eighties feast of classics - Rocket, Hysteria, Pour Some Sugar On Me, Armageddon It, Animal, Pyromania, Rock of Ages…talk about being bang on time.

It’s their second headlining stint here in three years, and they pulled off the impossible – we might have rocked out. A little bit.

Still, in 2011 the chap with the real vocal cred is guitarist Phil Collen.

Front man Joe Elliott is bereft of his necessary tone and power…

SATURDAY...

Maryland’s Clutch have been sending crashing, great epic portions of riffs to lose your head in for a little more than 20 years now. Can you believe that?

It’s even harder to believe that the secret isn’t quite out…the band are still on their ascent, turning heads and sucking in the slackers with each visit to these shores.

And so it is that on Stage 2 today, there are more people taking the bait than in 2010…and there were plenty of ‘em last time around.

“How are you guys doing? Front man Neil Fallon, asks inviting a rapturous response.

“Have a good time, all of the time, ain’t that right?”

And with Mice and Gods and Electric Worry pummeling in the summer sun (really, SUN!) we do just that from start to finish.

Clutch let the music speak, whereas Phil Anselmo, over on the main stage with his Down cohorts, isn’t content to let his doom-groove deliciousness do the talking.

He’s a motormouth. A little bit of loose-lip is cool, but enough already.

The band rattles out a wee stomp through the chorus of Pantera classic Walk, in memory of Dimebag Darrell, before rewarding the thousands of disciples asking Down to bring them up with Life, New Orleans is a Dying Whore and Pillars of Eternity.

The between song too-metal-for-school rantings aside, and Down are certainly not out.

Skunk Anansie were so essential and invigorating when they hit the scene back in the nineties.

A trio of albums followed before an extended break of nigh on a decade.

Back together for a couple of years, watching them at play is actually like stepping back 15 years.

They still sound strong, still rouse an audience with ease, still look like they haven’t aged a day, and front-gal Skin’s ‘crowd walk’ was a moment to remember.

We get a couple of newbies tucked into a set otherwise bursting with classics (I Can Dream, Charlie Big Potato, I Can Dream and God Loves Only You), and doesn’t our vocalist look resplendent in a black and silver sparkly catsuit with gargantuan black feathered wings?

Of course it also goes to show that not all that glitters is gold.

Sometimes it is silver...

We check in with a plate of something veggie, hot and tasty (proof right there that festival food has moved on) which puts us in the right spot at the right time to catch Twisted Sister.

Think these chaps are now a rock n roll cliché?

You couldn’t be more wrong.

Twisted Sister are still rocking in the real world, and few bands all weekend work a crowd quite like Dee Snider and his pals.

It’s been a quarter century that they last held court here, and tonight they are pitted against Avenged Sevenfold who are at work over on the Main Stage, but thousands are sticking with the Sister.

The band gives the thumbs up to the musical royalty this country has offered in the past, name checking Black Sabbath, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin...”And you only gave us one ****ing **hole, Simon Cowell!” the spewed, to rapturous response.

They follow their tirade with a passionate delivery of We’re Not Gonna Take It and the crowd goes wild.

Captain Howdy, Can’t Stop Rock and Roll, and I Wanna Rock (a triumphant finish to a truly tasty live shot), ensure that we have our fill before the band retreat, triumphant, like Gladiators who have wowed the Coliseum.

Truly, they were.

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The race to the front stage to catch System of a Down on British soil for the first time since calling a halt to their five year hiatus has people running from all corners.

A 26 strong set follows which is all snap and no slack.

Prison Song sets the tone and a night in a chilly field is turned snugly with Lost In Hollywood, Bounce, Aerials and Chop Suey all coming up trumps.

They weren’t set highlights, though – the whole gig came under that banner.

Sugar wraps up, but in truth the whole thing was sweet. What a triumphant return.

We’ve had a little rain, a little sun and regular gusty interludes, but today, the wet stuff truly kicks in.

As we head back on site, it seems like thousands are trudging to their motors for a mass exodus back to home comforts, but once in the arena it becomes clear that there are plenty more up for the full roar.

It’ll have to turn into a swimming bath before this lot even contemplate missing out on today’s star turns.

With nowhere to hide from the elements, the only choice open is to embrace the wet stuff, and we don’t mean that which comes in pint packages, although that does help.

If image counted for everything then Black Veil Brides would be the outfit of the weekend, but unfortunately more attention has been paid to the imagery than the music.

Watching them in a field of mud with a chill doesn’t aid relations either.

Can we have Twisted Sister back, please?

“You look like you are at an Anglers Weekly meeting!” laughs Billy from The Cult, surveying the sea of plastic macs before him.

They are like a warm-pullover of riffs and rock with classics Wild Flower and She Sells Sanctuary keeping the buzz humming.

But really, we are geared and growing impatient for Stage 2 headliner Rob Zombie, who (eventually) arrives and pulls out the goods, with Jesus Frankenstein launching a truly ferocious musical attack.

His production is sweet too, with fire and robots and every bit of Zombie class that we expected, and then some more.

He doesn’t ask for audience participation, he demands it, and his disciples aren’t about to let him down.

White Zombie is a long time ago (“Ask your parents...”) he tells younger members of the excitable crowd before treating us to some head swinging morsels from days past, but hardly forgotten.

More Human Than Human and Thunder Kiss ‘65 are worth every near miss in the mud, every soggy bit of clothing, every last teeth-chattering second and the slog of the trip home.

Another year down, another resounding success and another heap of memories to cherish, and there will be plenty of those...like the chap who stage-dived to Zombie, did the barrier run, then fell, cracked his head and knocked himself near unconscious.

Bet he’ll still be feeling the after effects today...

Seventy thousand fans, more than one hundred bands, copious amounts of beer and a rock n roll feast...Raise your pint, and your fists to this year and look towards 2012.

We’re ready if you are.