The first thing that really hits you about Bloodstock, is how small it is compared to the other major UK rock and metal festivals. The setting is the picturesque grounds of Catton Hall in Debryshire, the sun is shining, the beer is flowing and 11,000 people are gathered together for one thing. Heavy Metal.
Those not suffering too badly from the effects of Thursday night’s party make their way to the arena to see Freedom Call (6) play their insanely cheesy brand of “happy party metal”, they’re clichéd, they’re silly and at least two of their songs contain the name of the band as lyrics, but they are a lot of fun. Next to take to the main stage are Swedish heavy metal trio Grand Magus (7) who put in a solid performance with riffs-a-plenty, the massive sounding “Hammer Of The North” receiving the day’s biggest cheer so far. Over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage Primitai (6) sound uncharacteristically below par, musically tight, but the usually fantastic frontman Guy Miller seems to be struggling with some of the higher notes on this occasion. Also on the Sophie stage, Belfast’s Sweet Savage (6) serve up a dose of enjoyable classic rock, “Killing Time” (the one Metallica covered) and a cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey In The Jar” go down well, newer material seems to fall a little flat. Back over on the main stage, Iced Earth (4) are not living up to expectation, new frontman Stu Block, while fantastic at reaching the high notes, seems to struggle with the softer aspects of some of the songs and their set is plagued by sound prolems. The main stage this weekend is named the Ronnie James Dio stage in memory of one of the greatest singers and personalities within our genre, so it seems only fitting that the next band on is Dio Disciples (8), made up of ex-members of Ronnie’s old band with Tim “Ripper” Owens and Toby Jepson sharing vocal duties. They blast through a one hour set, performing heartfelt versions of Dio, Black Sabbath and Rainbow songs, climaxing with an emotional rendition of “Rainbow In The Dark”. Ronnie would have been proud. Sub-headliners for the day are one of the most talked about bands in the underground metal scene at the moment, weeks after appearing on the cover of Metal Hammer, Watain (9) take to the stage, and what a stage it is too! Fiery tridents and enough pyro to make Satan himself feel a little toasty. Their accesable Black Metal sound seems to go down fantastically with the crowd, and as the sun goes down over Bloodstock, the atmosphere that they create with their haunting guitar sound and dark lyrics couldn’t be more perfect. With the stage (literally) warmed up, it’s time for the first headline act of the weekend. The triumphant return of Behemoth (7). Since playing here in 2010, frontman Nergal has sucessfully recovered from Leukemia, making tonight an emotional celebration of their return. Their super heavy blackened death metal goes down a treat and they do not disappoint in terms of stage show, mixing energy with atmosphere. A great end to the first day.
Saturday, and on the main stage there is a familiar face. Ex-singer of Dragonforce, ZP Theart is here with his solo project, the bizzarely named iAMi (8), all material is from the bands debut album Event Horizon, the song writing sounding much more mature than material from his previous band and the band sounding a lot tighter, iAMi displace any feeling that they were simply going to be Dragonforce II and win over some of the (initially sceptical) crowd. Next up are Crowbar (3) who are not great, even by their standards the band sound far too muddy to be able to properly concentrate on those fantastic riffs, to the point where several people wearing Crowbar merchandise can be seen sitting on the ground chatting amongst friends. Mayhem (8) are on next, and although watching one of the original black metal bands play in bright sunshine in the English countryside might seem a ridiculous concept, it works. The songs sound fantastic and the crowd respond with enthusiasm. New Testament (10) video, “Native Blood” has been playing on the big screen between bands all weekend, so by the time the band come to playing it themselves everyone knows the words already. Much of their set taken from the newly released Dark Roots Of Earth, the band sound huge, and very tight. The new stuff is seriously good and sits up there with the band’s classic thrash anthems such as “Into The Pit”. Band of the weekend. A very hard act to follow. Never has a Bloodstock headliner caused as much contoversy as Machine Head (9), the usual internet moaners had expressed their concerns that Machine Head did not have the metal credibility to play. They are here tonight to prove those people wrong. Delivering a fantastic set of the bands classic hits including 5 fan-voted songs of their debut album Burn My eyes as well as a small selection from their latest offering Unto The Locust. The band interact with the audience perfectly, adding a very intimate feel to such a large show and the pyro that Robb Flynn had promised almost burns the eyebrows off the front row. A superb headline set from one of the biggest metal bands of the current generation.
Kicking off the final day are Canada’s Kobra And The Lotus (8). Recently handpicked by KISS man Gene Simmons to join his own record label, the band have just released their self titled album in the UK. Most of the early morning audience are probably unfamiliar with the songs but seem to enjoy the band regardless. A cover of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell incites a mass sing a long. Expect big things from these. Corrosion Of Conformity (6) are currently without long time guitar player Pepper Keenan, however, they still manage to make their unique brand of Stoner Metal sound great. Tons of groove and a solid set. It takes something very special for death metal to have it’s full effect played on a large stage, and unfortunately Nile (2) are no exception to this. Sounding sloppy and lacking the chaotic intimacy of an indoor venue, their set falls flat on its face. Evile (8) are Bloodstock’s own success story, this being their 4th appearance at the festival and their highest placement on the bill yet. Their set consists mainly of songs from the brilliant Five Serpent’s Teeth album. A spontaneous circle pit to rival the size of Machine Head’s (which they had to ask for) breaks out during fan favourite “Thrasher”. Another band with big things on the horizon. Next up is Anvil (9), a success story of a completely different nature. Anyone who saw their 2008 documentary “Anvil: The Story Of Anvil” will remember the heartbreaking scenes where Lips and crew were playing to 20 people in shitty little bars in Europe. The Anvil here today is a different beast altogether. The songs sound huge and all members seem genuinely delighted to be playing to such a large crowd, sure, their playing is a little sloppy in places, but the whole thing is so much fun that it’s easy to overlook. The guitar solo played using a vibrator is a particular highlight. The penultimate band of the weekend Dimmu Borgir (9) create a fantastic atmosphere with their blend of symphonic black metal and theatrical stage show. Frontman Shagrath commands the crowd with impressive ease. The more melodic songs from recent release Abrahadabra seem to cause a bit of a lull in the crowd, but a few classics at the end pick up the pace again leaving the stage set for a true master of Rock and Roll theatre. There is little doubt that the legendary Alice Cooper (10) has had a direct influence on many of the bands who have played over this weekend, whether that be purely from a theatrical perspective or a musical one. At 64 years young, Alice delivers a 22 song set, complete with costume changes, a swift beheadding and most importantly, a multitude of perfectly delivered classic hits Including fan favourites “Poison” and “Feed My Frankenstein”. The set ends with Alice’s signature song “School’s Out”, mixed with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Part II”. He then returns for an encore of “Elected” which conludes with streamers being fired into the crowd. A perfect end to a festival from a true legend.
Words: Alex Loach
Photos: J.E.D Photography