The organisers of Europe’s biggest rock and metal festival, Download, have earned a reputation for booking seemingly impossible bands in the past. After bringing Guns n Roses back from the dead, getting the ominous and elusive Tool to headline on two separate occasions and catching Dillinger Escape Plan on their farewell tour, Download has built a solid reputation in its near 20 year lifespan. But, the organisers are finding themselves under mounting pressure with every passing year due to a seeming rinse and repeat attitude towards the main headliners.
Download Festival - Photo credit, Myung Jung Kim, PA Images.
Download Festival is now a global franchise which has extended its influence to France, Spain, Australia and several other nations, but the sacred ground of Donnington remains its spiritual home. Given the setting and size of this event, Download should have the power to attract almost any rock band in the world. Yet, they repeatedly fall back on the same old bands such as Kiss, System of a Down, Slipknot, Rammstein, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osborne and Iron maiden to fill their headliner slots, while simultaneously blocking newer acts from proving to the world that rock isn’t dead.
With this being said, maybe it’s time for change at Download Festival as these old school names won’t be around forever. In this article, we will list ten new bands who would be welcome and fresh additions to Download Festival as brand new headliners.
Is there anything more metal than a band that rides a tank onto stage while wearing a metal plated battle jacket? Of course not, that’s why Sweden’s Sabaton are one of the most appealing and adored metal acts in the world right now. With booming power metal riffs, catchy chorus lines and lyrics that teach you more about 20th century warfare than a history seminar, it’s easy to understand the fascination in this band.
Sabaton made their first Download Festival appearance in 2014, before breaking onto the main stage for the first time in 2017. To date, these are the band’s only two appearances at Download UK, despite making appearances at Download spin-offs in Spain and Australia since.
Sabaton proved that they are headline worthy names in 2019 when they headlined Bloodstock Open Air alongside Parkway Drive and rock royalty, Scorpions, to a great crowd reception. With this being considered, they seem more than ready to take on Download Festival as a top name.
As one of the few British metal bands in the last 20 years to enjoy immediate mainstream success, BFMV have continued to creep up the ranks and become key players at the peak of the British metal scene.
Bullet for my Valentine have played Download UK an almost unmatched eight times, yet have never been picked as a main stage headliner. Their peak appearances on the bill came in 2011, 2013 and 2018, where they sub-headlined the main stage to Linkin Park, Slipknot and Avenged Sevenfold respectively. Having filled key spots on the bill for festivals such as Resurrection Fest and Reading Festival in the past on top of this, BFMV are surely in prime position to take the next step towards becoming Download headliners. If Biffy Clyro can do it, Bullet certainly can too.
Even though the sheer size of Download Festival causes it to branch out to almost every sub-genre and sub category of rock music, punk is regularly under represented on the bill. Punk may not have the mainstream appeal it possessed in it's late 70’s heyday, but there are still several headline worthy punk bands in the world, with Rise Against being an obvious choice.
To date, only two punk bands have ever headlined the current embodiment of Download UK (The Offspring and Rage Against the Machine) with the latest of these being as far back as 2010. Rise Against have a phenomenal international fan base which has made them perhaps the biggest punk act in the world today. If Download were to break punk’s (soon to be) 12 year headline drought, then surely Rise Against should be the band to do it.
A name that will almost definitely be familiar to any regular Download goer is Volbeat. This Danish rock group have gone from strength-to-strength since the release of their debut album in 2005 and are now arguably the biggest modern rock band in the world (although the likes of Shinedown and Alter Bridge offer strong competition). Records such as Beyond Hell/ Above Heaven (2010), Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies (2013) and Rewind, Replay, Rebound (2019) have solidified Volbeat as a band who seemingly couldn’t make a bad album if they tried.
To date, Volbeat have made five appearances at Download UK with the latest of which coming in 2018. Despite their regularity at the event and incredible fame, they have never even headlined second stage, let alone been a main headliner. Perhaps Download organisers are underestimating the appeal of Volbeat, but if they keep pulling a huge crowd with flawless consistency, then their headline potential will surely not be ignored for much longer.
No Polish band has ever headlined Download Festival, but Behemoth are perhaps the closest the country will get to achieving this feat anytime soon. Becoming a genre eclipsing act, especially when originating from a sub-genre as niche as death metal, is incredibly hard in today’s music climate but Behemoth made it look easy.
Despite being an active group since the 90’s, Behemoth didn’t break out and become an internationally recognised metal act until the mid-2010’s. Their breakout was helped mainly by the release of their phenomenal 2014 record, The Satanist, which is surely one of the best blackened death metal albums of the 21st century so far. Behemoth have only played Download Festival UK twice in the past despite receiving a great audience reception on both occasions. Maybe the third time will be the charm as far as being chosen to headline is concerned.
Amazingly, no woman has ever headlined Download Festival UK in its near 20 year history. However, Halestorm came the closest by headlining the second stage in 2019 alongside Rob Zombie and Slayer. In total, the American hard rock band have made four appearances at Download Festival UK, while also appearing at Download Australia and Japan.
Halestorm exploded onto the mainstream rock radar in 2012 thanks to their breakthrough second studio album, The Strange Case Of… and haven’t looked back since. Now with four studio albums, a number of international headline tours and a Grammy to their name, they are widely recognised as being amongst the biggest modern rock names in the world. Because of this, they could surely become worthy Download headliners in the not too distant future.
In similar fashion to Sabaton, Amon Amarth attracted an audience with their look, before blowing everyone away with unbelievably brutal metal musicianship. This melodic death metal band has enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame over the past 15 years or so, mainly thanks to great albums such as Twilight of the Thunder God (2008), Deceiver of Gods (2013) and Jomsviking (2016).
This Viking inspired group has mounted a conquest on Download UK four times to date, with their most notable appearance coming in 2019. With this set, they drew one of the biggest crowds for a non-headlining band across the entire weekend, as tens of thousands of attendees raised their horns to the sound of Norse metal. Thanks to this, Amon Amarth are a well-known name amongst the core Download fanbase and would attract a huge crowd if they were selected as headliners in future.
Hailing from Australia, there are few bands more dedicated to their craft in the current music scene than Parkway Drive. Although parkway Drive don’t necessarily have the metal eclipsing mainstream fame of other acts on this list such as Ghost or BFMV, they would still make fantastic Download headliners.
Download have been known to pick bands with genre specific fanbases to headline in the past such as Aerosmith, Kiss and Audioslave, showing that putting a name like Parkway Drive at the top could prove to be a successful move. On top of this, Parkway Drive have shown repeatedly that they can both cater for and cope with huge metal audiences, having headlined Bloodstock Open Air (UK) and Wacken Open Air (Germany) in the recent past. In fact, Parkway Drive’s headline set at Wacken in 2019 was so successful that the band decided to release the entire performance as a live album, Viva the Underdogs, the following year.
South East England has produced a number of great musical talents over the years. From being at the epicentre of the punk rock revolution in 1977 to becoming a cultural capital of modern rock and metal, the South East knows how to produce music. Brighton based Architects are amongst good company alongside other acts such as Royal Blood, Slaves and Nothing But Thieves, but are miles ahead of their southern counterparts when it comes to Download headlining contention.
The band’s latest album, For Those That Wish To Exist, received a mixed reception from their core fanbase, but still managed to top the UK album’s chart, showing they are reaching a mainstream audience more than ever before. This growing appeal means that their fourth visit to Donnington could prove to be their first shot at headlining.
Despite being a global phenomenon with a huge following across the globe, and an image that has transcended the genre of metal, Ghost have never even played Download UK main stage, let alone headlined. The Swedish metal group exploded onto the scene in 2010 with their debut album, Opus Eponymous, and have been an unstoppable force ever since.
Ghost managed to reach heights nobody thought they would achieve in 2016, when they won the Best Metal Performance Grammy for their single, Cirice. On top of this, they have been nominated for a near unprecedented 18 Loudwire Awards, 6 Grammis Awards and have earned a further two Grammy nominations. However, Ghost haven’t appeared at Download Festival since their last minute cancellation from Download 2016, where they were scheduled to sub-headline the third stage to Saxon. It’s unclear why Ghost have not been booked to play Download UK since, but they have made appearances at international Download Festivals such as France (2016 & 2018) and Australia (2019) since.