Bloodstock Open Air welcomed its largest crowd yet and Getintothis’ Nedim Hassan grabbed his battle jacket (and his raincoat) for the UK’s premier metal festival.
Bloodstock has been attracting headbangers since 2001 and has gone from strength to strength since its transition to an open air festival in 2005.
Having already examined the significance of its Metal 2 the Masses competition from a grass roots perspective, we were keen to experience what has become for many metal fans an annual pilgrimage to Catton Park, Derbyshire.
Thursday evening was a time to set up camp and acclimatise. It also established a central theme for the days ahead – changeable weather. No sooner had we unravelled our tent groundsheets when droplets of rain punctured the previously sunny skies. Undeterred, we set up in Asgard, one of several camps inspired by Norse mythology.
After wielding our tent mallet like Thor’s hammer to pound the tent pegs into the hard clay-like soil, we went to the Serpents Lair VIP bar to quench our thirst. Home to 67 different real ales and 23 types of cider, the bar also boasts its own small stage with live entertainment and DJs promised throughout the weekend.
As we peruse the delightfully dizzying array of beverages we spot familiar faces in the form of Merseyside Metal 2 the Masses winners, Equinox. Having failed to make a decision at the bar, we head over with [ahem]cups of tea in our hands to grab a few words with our local hard rock heroes to see how they are feeling ahead of their Bloodstock debut.
Smiling drummer Jess sums up their emotions: “It’s a bit unbelievable to be honest, we went and checked out the [New Blood] stage before and it’s just the biggest thing we’ve ever done as a band”
“Especially considering the venue cap has been upped to 18,000 and [Judas] Priest are on it’s like ‘no pressure’” vocalist Daniel adds excitedly.
One of the things that can be a source of anxiety for bands playing the New Blood stage is daunting clashes with high profile acts on other stages. However, Equinox are thrilled with their Saturday afternoon slot, as guitarist and founder member Ian admits: “I don’t think we could have picked a better slot ourselves to be honest.”
After discussing their varied classic rock and contemporary metal influences and their collaborative approach to song writing, the band explain their plans for the next year or so. These include recording a single, producing a music video and ultimately an album. “We don’t want to play something like this and then just go back to playing the smallest gigs, we want to keep things rolling” Jess stresses.
Leaving the determined and talented bunch from Equinox to soak in more of the Serpents Lair atmosphere, we dash over to the Sophie Lancaster stage where a taste of what is to come over the three main days is being served in the form of Bloodshot Dawn.
Their technical and accomplished death metal warms the crowd up nicely, especially during the hook laden The Quantum Apocalypse. We can’t help but raise our devil horns.
Stood nearby us, a long haired rock veteran was raising a horn of a different kind. Sporting a Bernie Clifton style pink and white unicorn inflatable suit, he banged his (and the unicorn’s) head in time to the music.
Friday’s proceedings start with another trip to the Serpent’s Lair VIP bar, this time to sample their bacon sandwiches. The grey skies look ominous as we discuss bands we plan to see.
“Mortishead have pyro” our photographer learns and we’re sold. So, it’s off to the Sophie Lancaster stage once again for the first action of the day.
Mortishead do indeed have pyro, although far more interesting is their darkly comic parody of a totalitarian regime. The suit wearing six piece announce that “Bloodstock we are not your friend, we are your enemy” before their staccato industrial riffing compels us to obey their dictatorial orders.
The impending rain motivates us to stay in the Sophie Lancaster tent for Godthrymm. Upon announcing that they are from Yorkshire, they are immediately met with “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” chants. Their lumbering brand of Northern gloom is elevated by Hamish Glencross’s (ex My Dying Bride’s) powerful tones and heartfelt guitar soloing.
The word supergroup is an overused one and seldom equates to more than a side project. Bloodbath, though, are an exception to this.
The death metal powerhouse featuring members of Katatonia and Paradise Lost have forged a status that is no longer reliant on their association with their parent bands. Taking to the main stage on Friday afternoon, they perform with the assurance of master craftsmen. Cancer of the Soul, Eaten and the incredible Like Fire inspire the crowd to forget the rain and get in the pit.
It is at this point, that the story of the first main day starts to unfold.
Suicidal Tendencies are delayed and cannot take to the main stage for their intended slot. Cue much consternation on our part. Instead they are now going to play in the Sophie Lancaster stage later in the evening. ST in the tent? Now that should be interesting.
In the meantime, Love Bites, an act scheduled to grace the Sophie Lancaster tent are now set for the main stage. And, they’re due on imminently. OK, well we might as well check them out. After all, they did win best new band at the recent Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards.
Showing little signs of nerves, the latest New Wave of Japanese Heavy Metal sensations proceed to own the main stage with a jaw dropping set. Unashamedly old school power metal melodies reverberate around Catton Park as guitarists Midori and Mi-Ya proceed to try and out-gun each other in their virtuosic overdriven guitar solos. Baby Metal these women most certainly are not.
Building on the release of their critically acclaimed The Level Above Human album, Ingested prove to us (if there was any doubt) why they are right now the UK’s premier slam death metal act on the Sophie Lancaster stage. Their Ric Flair impersonations and confident stage presence are lapped up by the crowd who, in turn, bring their best slam hammers to the mosh pit.
Suicidal Tendencies’ forced switch to the Sophie Lancaster tent prompts chaos. The record is broken for the largest crowd assembled for an act on that stage. Security is trebled as bodies are hurtling everywhere from the moment ST launch into opener You Can’t Bring Me Down.
Witnessing a band like Emperor on a blazing hot sunny Friday evening was always going to feel like an oxymoron. Nonetheless, their majestic black metal is executed with their usual ferocious precision.
Judas Priest are our first headliners of the festival and the legends are in breath-taking form. The dive bombing dual guitar attack on songs such as Turbo Lover and Painkiller is a joy to behold. Rob Halford’s voice, particularly on the latter number, is astonishing. Highlight of the night is the emotional appearance of guitarist Glenn Tipton (recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease) for rousing versions of Metal Gods and Breaking the Law.
It’s then quickly over to the Sophie Lancaster stage once again for Doro. She has devoted her life to metal and her joyful performance of tracks such as All We Are, Burning the Witches and I Rule the Ruins was testimony to this. We hailed the Queen of metal and she hailed us.
Saturday sees the sun return to Catton Park, although we are not fooled that it is going to last.
The main stage witnessed some heavy hitters today and Septic Flesh are probably the most exhilarating extreme metal band in the world right now. Machine gun riffing and blast beat drumming on songs such as Vampire of Nazareth combine with a symphonic background to create a stunning sound.
Vocalist Sotiris Vayenas implores the fans to give him our “energy, our souls and our darkness”. We oblige on the epic Anubis during which everyone sings the melody for the band.
It’s soon time for Liverpool’s own Equinox to propel themselves onto the New Blood stage. The smiles are infectious as they launch into a satisfying set which melds classic hard rock with a contemporary alt rock approach. Charismatic ringmaster Daniel Moran bounds around the stage and looks genuinely overjoyed to be in front of the Bloodstock audience.
He proceeds to scream his lungs out on songs such as Gone Tomorrow. At one point Moran bounds off the stage and implores the audience to raise their fists. The crowd, which features a number of North-West scene members including members of Footprints in the Custard, Forlorn Hope and Pandemik, oblige with gusto.
Back on the main stage Alestorm bring their metallic sea shanties to Bloodstock and the crowd lose their shit. We mean that literally in the case of the person who brought the inflatable poo emoji.
Throw in an inflatable strawberry, thousands of pirate outfits and a giant duck and you get the flavour of their performance. By the time confetti explodes over the thousands in attendance you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were headliners. Thoroughly silly and rather one dimensional but the audience lapped it up.
The sun disappears by the early evening. By the time Cannibal Corpse take to the stage, it is, rather aptly, throwing it down. The rain is unrelenting, which is a fair description for their brutal, chugging, churning riffing that permeates the Ronnie James Dio stage. Although the rain doesn’t stop the Ace Ventura impersonators who don their Hawaiian shirts and pull their best Jim Carrey faces.
Saturday’s headliners on the Dio stage, Gojira, are an elemental force and their gargantuan sound instantly stops the rain. Their journey to headline status has been arduous but their spectacular immersive set that featured mesmeric versions of Stranded and L’Enfant Sauvage confirmed their status as metal superstars.
Thanks to some, to put it politely, rather ‘anti-social’ revellers in Asgard camp, we greeted Sunday with fatigue. This was not helped by the return of the rain.
King Leviathan’s combative fusion of melodic death metal with elements of groove and doom helped us to bask in our gloom.
Alien Weaponry help to put the smile back on our faces. The buzz around this bunch of teens from New Zealand generates a packed crowd in the Sophie Lancaster tent. Their slowed down groove laden thrash metal is enhanced by a Maori influence on songs such as the fantastic Holding My Breath.
Back on the Ronnie James Dio stage Jasta delivers a set filled with heavy metal all stars. Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares as well as Crowbar’s guitarist together with Howard Jones joined the former Hatebreed front man for riotous versions of Edgecrusher and Replica amongst others.
Mr Big are an odd choice for a metal festival. This is evidenced by the relatively small crowd. Those who stay are treated to a lesson in how to deliver catchy hook-filled hard rock.The sight of dudes in battle jackets singing and swaying along with mega-hit ballad To Be With You was possibly the most unusual sight of the festival.
Devildriver bring the crowds back to the Ronnie James Dio stage in droves. A smiling Dez Fafara is like an orchestra conductor as he entices one of the largest circle pits of the weekend. The chugging strains of Clouds Over California’s intro gives way to truly savage riffing and the energetic circle pit goes into overdrive.
If the festival crowd were starting to flag on the final day then At the Gates served to reinvigorate the masses at the main Ronnie James Dio stage. The Swedish legends lived up to their reputation with their dual guitar hooks executed with surgical precision.
Pallbearer’s doom metal exudes emotion and resonates powerfully (and exceptionally loudly) around the Sophie Lancaster tent. Although the light and shade they display on record gets a little lost amidst the sheer loud distorted power.
Nightwish’s Floor Jansen is the complete virtuoso symphonic metal vocalist. She hits the operatic highs and lows with ease. She can dance and she can even do Tom Araya style windmill head banging.
From the depths of hell’s flames to the icy peaks of mountains to the bottom of the ocean, the final main stage headliner’s mesmerising show is up there with the most spectacular in rock history.
“We are Watain and we have come to bring you the end.” This is a fitting way to close the festival.
Pummelling and unrelenting in their intensity, Sweden’s Watain are captivating for their ability to conjure a hellish atmosphere. Nuclear Alchemy is barbaric in its break neck speed. Malfeitor is undoubtedly one of the greatest black metal songs and it’s delivered with earnest venom and fury.
At the climax of the performance we quickly stagger out of the Sophie Lancaster tent (partly to escape the scent of rotting pig’s blood emanating from Watain). There’s still time for more revelry in the Serpent’s Lair bar where the crew are finally letting their hair down by dancing the conga to Ozzy’s Crazy Train.
Getintothis’ top picks of the weekend
Judas Priest – Ronnie James Dio stage
They are Judas Priest; does anything more need to be said? Whether they are unearthing rarely performed gems from their back catalogue, playing new songs, or unleashing their greatest hits, the band sound phenomenal.
Love Bites – Ronnie James Dio stage
A sparkling combination of Iron Maiden, Dragonforce and erm, bridesmaids. They are the real deal.
Alien Weaponry – Sophie Lancaster stage
Justified the hype, these teenagers should have a big future. A passionate melding of Maori culture and thrash metal. Plus, they had us as soon as they did the haka.
Nightwish – Ronnie James Dio stage
Peerless in their genre, Floor Jansen’s stage presence, combined with their usual spectacular staging should equal world domination.
Watain – Sophie Lancaster stage
Arguably the best pure black metal act on the planet. Unrivalled at conjuring an atmosphere of Hellfire and brimstone.
Septic Flesh – Ronnie James Dio stage
These Greek symphonic death metal titans have hit a purple pact that stretches back several albums. That they can translate their devastating sound on stage is hugely impressive.
Alestorm – Ronnie James Dio stage
Hordes of pirate impersonators cannot be wrong, can they? The best crowd of the weekend and a sea of inflatables made a lot of people smile.
Images by Getintothis’ Chris Everett