Bloodstock Open Air is the one UK true metal festival that is always looked forward to each year by the true heavy metal fans. The festival has been supporting the metal scene for a decade now, and is for the fans by the fans. The annual pilgrimage to the now sacred grounds of Catton Hall is made by nearly 12,000 metalheads for a weekend filled programme of Metal, Rock, Alcohol and other entertainment, not necessarily always in that order. The best thing of all? There’s not an emo or Liam Gallagher wannabe in sight!
Opening up proceedings for the weekend on the RONNIE JAMES DIO stage were metalcore outfit THE DEFILED who got the crowd nicely warmed up for the day’s events with an aggressive and energetic set. Following shortly afterwards were Swedish metallers WOLF who were returning to the festival after playing it in 2009, and their short set of Maiden worshipping classic metal was as warmly received as ever.
Bay Area thrash veterans FORBIDDEN were next to grace the stage and delivered an excellent set that headbangers got their teeth stuck into, with the likes of ‘Through Eyes of Glass’ and ‘Chalice of Blood’ going down a treat, before Finnish rockers POISONBLACK produced an upbeat set, even with frontman and guitarist Ville Laihiala having to sit through the entire set due to a leg injury.
Swiss doomsters TRIPTYKON took to the stage with a set made up of half of Tom G. Warrior‘s former band, CELTIC FROST and the other half being new material. Even though it was daylight, the heavy slow riffs created a superb atmosphere. ‘Procreation of The Wicked’ opened the set before the sublime ‘Goetia’ followed, which was a real highlight of the 40 minute set.
Swiss thrashers CORONER were playing their first UK show since their recent reunion. The 45 minute set was solid if not spectacular, with the main attraction being some superb lead guitar work from Tommy Vetterli with double tapping aplenty. However, the lack of individuality of CORONER‘s material was evidence enough as to why the band never rose above the thrash metal underground.
Legendary German thrashers KREATOR delivered a killer set, even with a minor hiccup when the PA cut out for a few seconds during ‘Warcurse’. The only surprise omission from the set was ‘Extreme Aggression’, but a real highlight was the inclusion of ‘Endless Pain’ in the set, whilst superb renditions of ‘Voices of The Dead’, ‘Enemy of God’, ‘Reconquering The Throne’ and ‘Violent Revolution’ were all welcomed by the crowd, before the ferocious set came to an end with usual closing duo of ‘Flag of Hate’ and ‘Tormentor’.
Returning after playing last years Bloodstock, and thanks to no missing equipment this time, DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT played a decent set, and while I may have not enjoyed every song in the set, perhaps because it is a bit too experimental for my tastes, you can’t deny that Devin is a excellent frontman who keeps the crowd entertained throughout with his various moments and actions on stage. ‘Bad Devil’ and eventual set closer ‘Vampira’ were highlights of the set, but I guess to fully enjoy the show, more time spent listening to the material would aid the factor.
Friday’s headliners were 80′s L.A. rock legends W.A.S.P. who played an energetic set from start to finish with Blackie Lawless as usual moving all over the stage. All the classics were on show tonight with the likes of ‘On Your Knees’, ‘L.O.V.E. Machine’ and ‘Wild Child’ all sounding superb. Newer song’s in the form of ‘Crazy’ and ‘Babylon’s Burning’ also went down a storm with the crowd, while a real highlight of the set was the medley of ‘Hellion’, ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ and ‘Scream Until You Like It’ all being seamlessly joined together. As is the norm, ‘Blind In Texas’ was the last song of the night and brought a close to a top day of rock and metal entertainment.
Some extreme speed metal was first to play on the RJD stage on Saturday. SKELETONWITCH delivered a destroying set which went at full pelt right until the last note, with ‘Beyond The Permafrost’ and ‘Reduced To The Failure of Prayer’ really sounding excellent live. German heavy metal stalwarts GRAVE DIGGER were the second band on, and probably proved they should have been a bit higher on the bill with their excellent performance, with classics like ‘Rebellion’ and ‘The Dark of The Sun’ getting a rousing reception. ‘Heavy Metal Breakdown’ brought a close to a short but thoroughly enjoyable set from the ever solid German outfit.
TAROT were taking to the stage fronted by Marco Hietala, of NIGHTWISH fame, to play their brand of symphonic power metal, which the crowd ate right up. Meanwhile, over on the New Blood Stage, up and coming Norwegian Black Metallers UBERAN were getting the audience warmed up for tonight’s headliner. UBERAN must be the first band I have seen where all four of their members take turns singing in each song. From what I heard, they had some good material up their sleeves and duly got the crowd headbanging. This will be one to look out for in the future for any fans of classic Norwegian black metal.
Another band returning to Bloodstock after a few years were Finnish folk metallers FINNTROLL who wasted no time in getting the party started and the crowd just lapped up their entire set, with there being plenty of jigs amongst other sorts of dancing within the audience. IHSAHN, of EMPEROR fame, took to the stage to produce a high quality set of symphonic black metal, with all the material being from his solo project, which probably left a few fans disappointed that there wasn’t any EMPEROR songs in the set. Still, tracks like ‘Scarab’ and ‘Frozen Lakes on Mars’ were outstanding and really created an atmosphere.
Finnish power folk metallers WINTERSUN produced a speedfest filled set, which flew by nearly as fast as they played. With rousing renditions of ‘Battle Against Time’ and ‘The Way of The Fire’ particularly standing out, ‘Starchild’ wrapped up their 45 minute set that left everyone wanting more.
THERION‘s Saturday evening performance was certainly the most interesting set of the weekend. It’s a mystery how the band afford to tour, given that they had four lead singers, none of which play an instrument. The dual male and dual female attack made for some brilliantly layered vocals and the sort of sounds you only usually hear on a backing tape. ‘To Mega Therion’ was the standout song of what was an impressive set.
Finally playing their first ever UK show were Italian power metal pomps RHAPSODY OF FIRE. This is a band who would have been laughed off the stage in the UK only a few years ago, but the Bloodstock festival has suddenly made swords and sorcery power metal much more acceptable in the UK. Live, the band sounded much less overblown than on record, and instrumentally, they were absolutely superb. The huge crowd waved blow up swords in unison as the likes of ‘Holy Thunderforce’ and ‘Dawn of Victory’ blasted out over the Derbyshire countryside battleground.
After the reception that tonights headliner got last year when they were announced, this was probably one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend. Back in UK for the first time in 9 years, Black Metal Gods IMMORTAL took to the stage opening up with ‘All Shall Fall’ coupled with some pyros. Although the sound was not the best for the first few songs, it didn’t matter one iota to anybody it seemed, even me, and shortly afterwards, the sound greatly improved, and IMMORTAL delivered a killer set of crushing black metal at it’s finest.
All the classics were here, ‘Damned In Black’, ‘One By One’ and ‘Grim And Frostbitten Kingdoms’ to name a few, while blistering renditions of ‘In My Kingdom Cold’ and ‘Solarfall’ really stood out, as did the main set closer, ‘Withstand The Fall of Time’. The epic ‘Beyond The North Waves’ opened the encore with even more pyros, this time a waterfall effect before more of the sprinkler style pyros that they opened up with. ‘The Sun No Longer Rises’ brought IMMORTAL‘s superb set to an end, with everybody showing appreciation by raising the horns. Lets just hope it’s not so long again before IMMORTAL grace these shores.
Recently reunited NWOBHM band, HELL kicked things off before a double dose of black metal in the daylight hit the RJD stage. Norway’s 1349 pummelled their way through a 40 minute set with ‘I Am Abomination’ and ‘Sculptor of Flesh’ being notable mentions. PRIMORDIAL frontman Alan Averill unfortunately only lasted two songs before his voice strangely disappeared, and the band continued with the rest of the set without vocals.
Meanwhile, over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, everybody’s favourite parody metal band, EVIL SCARECROW were duly entertaining the masses as a packed tent were treated to an outstanding performance. ‘Blacken The Everything’ sounded superb and their awesome cover version of EUROPE‘s ‘The Final Countdown’ went down perfectly, whilst a world record attempt during ‘Robotron’ got everybody doing their own perfect robot square.
Back over on the RJD stage, Brummie grindcore legends NAPALM DEATH blitzed their way through a 45 minute set of pure noise. Contained in the set were regulars such as ‘When All Is Said And Done’, ‘Scum’ and ‘Suffer The Children’, while we were treated to a couple of cover songs too in the form of CRYPTIC SLAUGHTER‘s ‘Lowlife’ and DEAD KENNEDYS‘ ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’.
Swedish metal warriors HAMMERFALL were up next, and enjoyed the best sound of the weekend. Opening number ‘Infected’ sounded crystal clear. The crowd loved the opportunity to sing a long to the likes of ‘Let The Hammer Fall’ and ‘Hearts on Fire’. Unfortunately, HAMMERFALL have numerous great songs which went unplayed, and it would have been nice to see them higher up the bill with a set longer than 45 minutes. Still, we have more of HAMMERFALL in the UK as they tour with SAXON in December.
The second band to perform this weekend from the Bay Area in San Francisco were thrash titans EXODUS. Throughout the entire set, you could hardly hear frontman Rob Dukes, as either his vocals were too low in the mix or not coming out of the PA as between songs, it sounded like the vocals were only coming from the monitors on stage. Despite this, they cracked on and Gary Holt was on stellar form as he crushed the likes of ‘Blacklist’, ‘Bonded By Blood’ and ‘Toxic Waltz’.
Recently reunited (again) and pioneers of the Gothenburg sound, AT THE GATES were back at Bloodstock after last playing in 2008, and delivered a truly stunning set, with almost the entire ‘Slaughter of The Soul’ album being played. Tracks like ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’ and ‘Under A Serpent Sun’ sounded as fresh as ever, with other highlights being ‘The Burning Darkness’ and the encore duo of ‘Blinded By Fear’ and ‘Kingdom Gone’. AT THE GATES have no plans to tour extensively or write any new material, so you better catch them while you can.
A quick trip to the Jagermeister Stage was on the cards to see LAST IN LINE, a group of musicians fronted by Simon Hall (BEHOLDER) who played an acoustic set to honour the late great RONNIE JAMES DIO and his music. They played a mix of different RJD material from his time in BLACK SABBATH, to RAINBOW, to his solo stuff as DIO. With quite a sizeable crowd gathering, they medleyed the songs together and made the set a real highlight of the weekend, with the likes of ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘Temple of The King’ and of course ‘Holy Diver’ all getting a showing before ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Children’ rounded things off.
Just like last year, another death metal band had the honour of playing before the Sunday headliner, and this year it was the turn of Florida’s own MORBID ANGEL. While their new album ‘Illud Divinum Insanus’ may have gotten some mixed reviews, the new material sounded fantastic live with ‘I Am Morbid’, ‘Existo Vulgore’ and ‘Nevermore’ all impressing, while classics like ‘Immortal Rites’, ‘Maze of Torment’ and ‘Chapel of Ghouls’ were as destructive as ever. My only gripe about the set was maybe it could have been a bit louder and more in your face as death metal should be, but that didn’t take the shine of an otherwise crushing performance.
Despite their uncomplicated approach to gigs, there’s just something about MOTORHEAD which makes it impossible to get bored of seeing them live. Perhaps it’s the ever grasping awe of just how cool Lemmy is, or perhaps it’s just the great rock n’ roll songs which MOTORHEAD have produced over the years which does the trick.
MOTORHEAD‘s performance tonight was typically on the ball, and all the classics were pumped out, thus ensuring that the Bloodstock crowd enjoyed one final headbang to round off the weekend in style.
Once again, Bloodstock has proved what a great festival it is, and managed to get some great bands that the true metal fans of the UK want to see, whilst also getting big bands for the headliners, whilst also giving the chance to some excellent up and comers in the metal and rock genre. Not a truer word is spoken when they say, ‘For the fans, By the fans’. See you all next year at Catton Hall for what will be another cracker of a weekend.
Best Bands: IMMORTAL, KREATOR, MORBID ANGEL, AT THE GATES, IHSAHN, W.A.S.P., MOTORHEAD
Review By Adam Fredericks & James Allman
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