Bloodstock-Open-Air Festival, Thursday 6 – Sunday 9 August 2015
Catton Park, Derbyshire, U.K.
Bloodstock: it’s the best. The bands, the atmosphere, the ale, and this year the sunshine, y’just can’t beat it. Whether it’s beaten you by Monday is another question altogether. But for now let’s not worry about the general disrepair and despair characterising the metal hoard that diffuses yearly from Catton Park, let’s instead hark back to a better time…
With five acts warming the engine, Thursday night is hardly a dismissible add-on these days, as evidenced by the volume of enthusiasts filling the Sophie Tent for Reign of Fury. The home-grown thrashers rip through their set, the palpable melody of this year’s ‘Death By Thy Shepard’ full-length superseded by a heavy combo of guitars and drums. Winning fans and whetting appetites (7/10).
Unfortunately Metaprism prove to be only temporarily satiating, however. Their “modern, melodic metal” doesn’t exactly suggest anything particularly memorable and despite the uncommon attribute of male-female dual vocalists, their set, though palatable at the time, is entirely forgettable (4/10).
Everyone’s favourite Welsh death metallers Desecration take to the stage next, bringing brutality, gore and cheer in equal, if seemingly contradictory, measure. Aim, Fire, Kill peaks their all too short appearance, with bodies and hair flailing on both sides of the barrier (7/10).
Red Rum: think Alestorm with less keyboard and you’ve pretty much got it, and by this point in the evening you’d be hard put to find any landlubbers not on board. Especially after the port of call in Middle Earth for their ridiculous cover of internet classic: They’re Taking The Hobbits to Isengard (7.5/10).
Maintaining the seriously silly – or sillily serious – theme are California’s Schwarzenegger aficionados ArnoCorps, decked out in the appropriate audio-assault gear and co-ordinating a full-scale take-over of the Sophie Tent.
I never thought I’d find myself in a tent shouting “The Hobbits! The Hobbits! The Hobbits!” and “MY NAME…IS NAT…QUAAAAAAAAID” along with a thousand others within the space of an hour but there you have it (7.5/10).
As always, Thursday night descends into chaos, this year supported by the dangerously drinkable ‘Beast of Bloodstock 6.66%’ ale, and of course the need to get tanked enough to believe the 4 DJs of the Apocalypse can actually DJ – a feat aided on their part by the whisky water pistols and fire-throwing ladies – but nothing a balanced breakfast of coffee and Foster’s can’t fix, and it’s off to the New Blood stage for first band of the day, Mortishead. An enthusiastic bunch, with the only particularly offensive thing about them coming from the Mac garishly occupying the stage; but an earlier diet heavy in nu-metal is apparent between the bounce of the tracks, the bassist’s insistence on clod-hopping round the stage and the all-too-Slipknot matching armbands (5/10).
Opening the Ronnie James Dio mainstage, New York veterans Nuclear Assault (left) are an air-raid siren of a wake-up call, prompting decent activity down front from a sizeable morning crowd, already warmed-up by the promising sunshine. It seems unlikely from this performance, coming as part of their ‘Final Assault’ tour, that this will really be the last we see of them (7/10).
Another branch of the Anthrax family tree comes in the form of Armoured Saint (below right) who ‘can deliver’ but sadly, and surprisingly, the package doesn’t quite meet the expectation. They roll out a host of good tracks but their live realisation fails to
push them into greatness, inadequately utilising the band’s presumed combined experience and enthusiasm like it should.
They leave, literally, on a high note though, with John Bush’s young son joining them on stage, contributing to Dad’s vocal duties and shredding on
guitar; neither missing a note nor batting an eyelid at the crowd whilst effortlessly posturing. The kid’s got style (6/10).
Though definitely less cute, Austrian extremists Belphegor (left) hand the photographers their best shots of the weekend: corpsepaint, demonic facial expressions and goat skeletons and gas-masks adorning the stage. But it’s not just the cameras that are in for a treat: Belphegor crush with their precise blackened death, establishing the force of last year’s ‘Conjuring the Dead.’ The title track itself demanding synchronised, lumbering headbanging all round. They exit the stage triumphant, lobbing bones and gnarly bits of skull as they go.
And now as the proud owner of one of these relics, I can provide the inside scoop that the charred nasal passage of a goat smells a bit like a roast dinner. You’re welcome (8/10).
Overkill (below right) follow with another bout of old-school thrash. Bobby Blitz gives a frontman masterclass, alongside the rest of the hardened line-up who excel through a career spanning setlist that riles the pit into a frenzy (7/10).
Having first gotten the Sabaton (below) experience back at Bloodstock 2009, when the Swedish champions sat criminally low on the mainstage bill, I’ve since unashamedly had the chance to catch them a further five times, each surpassing the last. And this ‘special guest’ performance is no exception.
As always they storm on to the stage mid the compulsory “SAB-A-TON, SAB-A-TON, SAB-A-TON” chants to Ghost Division (following their Final Countdown intro) and proceed to charge through To Hell and Back, No Bullets Fly, Resist and Bite and Far from the Fame from last year’s ‘Heroes’ album. All are received with the same intensity as later aired favourites Screaming Eagles, The Art of War, Swedish Pagans and the much-appreciated inclusion of Panzerkampf.
Though omitting some of the onstage skits which interject tour shows, they invariably reinforce their reputation as the happiest and humblest band going, zealously animated while maintaining grins throughout. Despite the unwavering madness at the barrier the significance of the watching Sabaton perform in front of cascading pyro with yellow and blue confetti flying from the side of the stage, and feeling the rapturous reaction around to the encore of Night Witches, Primo Victoria and Metal Crüe, is unmissable. Heroes indeed, headliners imminently (9/10).
When you can’t remember much about a band apart from the fact the bassist has a great beard it’s probably not a good sign. But having looked up Amethyst again to jog the old memory (and/or marvel at the goblin-chic facial hair) a vague recollection of some standard, modern, groove modulated thrash returns. Hard to disagree with and relatively well-received first thing in the morning (5/10).
Having initially been pissed off by PIST when I caught them back in April [see here], I’m curious to see if they can: a) make it onto to the stage this early; and b) change my mind. Bottle of bourbon in hand, they do a fine job of both. They preserve their ‘pist’ shtick while functioning enough to deliver a professional performance where the riffs surpass the blood-alcohol count; their stoner groove reeling in a considerable and receptive audience (7/10).
Also earning themselves a fair amount of new fans in the Sophie Tent, Anihilated impress with the fiery thrash of this year’s ‘Anti Social Engineering.’ Having returned in 2008, there’s nothing lacklustre or nostalgic about these old-guard thrashers, the immediacy of the new material is obvious, in tandem with their onstage vigour (7.5/10).
Combatting the sunshine with striking corpsepaint and fury, 1349 (below) infect the RJD stage crowd with frenzied blastbeats and black metal vehemence. A dose of the extreme just as the doctor order, executed with precision and fervour (7.5/10).
From ferocity to folk next, as Korpiklaani (below right is pre-Korpiklaani. Thankfully for them, not during) take to the stage. Their barrel of raucous folk-metal tunes are difficult not to enjoy in the beer-hydrated afternoon sun but they don’t manage to arouse quite the levels of mass jigging and reeling as have been seen previously (7/10).
Reformed and appearing at Bloodstock as part of their “limited” and “selected” European festival jaunt, Dark Angel (below) later take to the stage with aplomb, met with an equally enthusiastic response for their lighting-fast, heavy thrash advance (7.5/10).
Over in the Sophie Tent, the anticipation surrounding the appearance of Indonesian death metal exports Burgerkill (below) – as well as fellow country-men Jasad – elevated by recent press coverage, contradicts the average numbers they are welcomed by. However, with Death on the RJD stage, the unfortunately named hopefuls don’t have the ideal slot. Seemingly unaware, they proceed to dish out meaty death, supported by appreciative chanting and headbanging. Genuinely humbled, they leave to an expanded crowd and emphatic cheers (7.5/10).
Open to, but not particularly ardent in respect to Saturday headliners Within Temptation, the Dutch symphonic machine successfully surpass expectations. Adding weight to their sound but allowing Sharon den Adel’s powerful vocals to remain focal, the band bring not only professional showmanship but inarguably epic, if lightweight, choruses to boot. Adding to their appeal, the band, and den Adel in particular, are personable, avoiding the tired, aloof image of other symphonic giants. No time is this more apparent than when Ice Queen is abandoned in good-humour after three attempts to coerce the backing track to play.
Are Within Temptation a band I want at Bloodstock? Not really. But neither are Napalm Death because I think they’re shit. But both have their fans. The former with legions of them on the continent. It’s a festival, a growing festival: accept that, have a beer, and chill out. Or even better, have too many beers and sing along (8/10).
Final first-band of the weekend on the New Blood stage, Londers Skarthia play simple modern metal with additional groove and vocals from guitarist Sapir that lightens their sound somewhat. Not overly offensive but played with an affable enthusiasm (6.5/10).
Agalloch wither slightly on the RJD stage, their atmospheric post-metal being less effective in the space and sunshine of the mainstage, the layers of sound disappearing into the ether rather than building dense ambience within the confine of a tent, small venue or depressive’s bedroom (6/10).
180 degrees in the opposite direction (perhaps matching the scorching heat) the mighty Wolf (right and below) tear onto the stage offering no option but to join in their rampant, heavy metal celebration. The huge choruses, sharp trad-metal riffs and buoyant NWOBHM spirit and sound matching the crowd’s eagerness to stretch their vocal chords to classics including Voodoo, The Bite and Speed On. The rabid Swedes are barely containable, literally, with frontman Niklas Stålvind bounding off the front of the stage at the untimely end of their set to dish out highfives and take photos (ahem, see below) (9/10).
Taking another detour it’s back to the New Blood stage for blackened death upstarts Incipit (below). The auspicious Norwegians deliver a solid performance, the Behemoth influence clear but bypassing the need to push their material with crowd and photographer snagging make-up and spikes (7/10).
It’s with the most excitement of the weekend we head for the Sophie tent cautiously early to wait for (relative) locals Alunah to take-over the stage. Their casual emergence belies the majesty of the sound they go on to radiate from the speakers: crashing waves of doom riffs, oscillating under Sophie Day’s hypnotic voice. The uncanny reverberations of Bricket Wood Coven, the hypnotic Heavy Bough, the climatic vocal force of Scourge and the Kiss and of course, the brain-melting, ground shaking, mesmeric White Hoarhound are paragons of music’s capacity to transfix and transcend. Sheer magick (9/10).
Left with feelings of exaltation and insignificance in equal measure, it’s in a slight daze we wander back towards the RJD stage. Kilted Finns Ensiferum (below right) make
quick work of stirring one’s inner heathen however, charging through made-for-festival folk metal favourites Heathen Horde, Twilight Tavern and Iron. The gyrating and barely clothed ladies that join them on stage latterly are slightly incongruous, but there’s worse crimes (7/10).
Cannibal Corpse (below) on the other hand have no time for such tactics, getting straight to work pummelling Catton Park with their usual bloody sledgehammer death metal. The mosh pit swells in front of the stage, staggering wider than I’ve ever witnessed at Bloodstock and it’s later reported that during their 40 minute set 455 crowd surfers tumble over the barrier. If watching the carnage in front of the stage wasn’t entertaining enough, Cannibal Corpse dish out the prime cuts and Corpsegrinder’s trunk-neck once again demonstrates why it deserves to be recognised as a natural wonder of the world (8/10).
As has been widely acknowledged Black Label Society are disappointing, the guitar wankery is impressive, granted, but unsustained by any showmanship. We go get beers (4/10).
In stark comparison, mainstage festival closer Rob Zombie brings the show, despite the absence of the usual stage props. Backed by only lights and screens of classic horror movie characters, Zombie and crew expertly execute a mixed set of classics, a couple White Zombie numbers (More Human Than Human and Thunder Kiss ’65) and covers of Blitzergrig Bop and, um, James Brown’s Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.
The attempt to start his own “Zom-bie, Zom-bie, Zom-bie” chant is a bit cringe, but all is forgotten as Dragula closes the show. Certainly in the thick of it the ale-saturated crowd laps it up. Whether the excitement filters through the rest of the crowd is open to interpretation, but it seems once again Bloodstock gets it right, and Zombie delivers a proper horrorshow finale to Bloodstock 2015 (8.5/10).
So there it is: four days in a world all of our own. Sunshine, booze and glorious, glorious heavy metal. I told you: the best. And really, with Behemoth and VENOM already confirmed for next year, there really ain’t much more I can say.
Lay down your soul: early bird tickets already on sale – http://www.bloodstock.uk.com/
[Hails to my more-metal-than-thou Dad for the photos, tickets and rounds…]