|Bloodstock Open Air Festival - Catton Hall, Derbyshire - August 11th - 14th 2011|
|Written by David Whistance|
|Friday, 26 August 2011 05:00|
It's that time of year again where hordes of like minded metal heads head to Derbyshire to the Valhalla of metal festivals that is Bloodstock Open Air. The only true metal open-air festival in the UK. This year will be my fourth visit to the aforementioned festival after not being able to attend 2010 Bloodstock resulting in me missing what I've been told was a legendary performance from Twisted Sister.
The thing I truly love about this festival is that although it has increased greatly in capacity compared to my initial visit back in 2007 it has still managed to maintain that personal vibe, where the average metal fan can still feel like it's their festival and just like its far larger counterpart in Germany Wacken Open Air it still remains a metal festival run by metal fans for metal fans, and I hope for one that it never changes.
Unlike certain other "so called" metal festivals in the UK where the music has gradually steered from its metal origins towards favouring the flavour of the month bands more in vogue with Radio 1's Big Weekend than a metal festival, you can rest assured that will never happen at Bloodstock
I've even heard tales that at one alleged metal festival this year they even had an area in the campsite where you could pay to hire hair straighteners. "Hey, forget the typhoid from the festering toilets as long as my fringe is okay".
Thankfully at Bloodstock the fashion is more towards the Denim and Leather end of the scale than the seventies postcard attire of rolled up jeans and beach shoes.
Anyway enough of my blabbering and onto business, armed with only a notepad and my trustee can of Strongbow, I'm off to explore the wonderments that is Bloodstock.
After arriving mid evening and setting the tents up it was time for the festival to begin and in my case that would be watching fellow Welshmen Revoker on the Sophie Lancaster stage. Following glowing reviews for their debut album' Revenge For The Ruthless' I was initially disappointed to find the band weren't playing on the main stage this year but what better way to start my festival than by witnessing the band tearing through songs from one of my favourite albums of 2011 in the confinements of a marquee.
Unfortunately for the band they appeared to be having technical problems on stage not being able to hear their monitors and at times guitarist Chris Green's guitar sound became completely inaudible, but these technical gremlins that would have caused some lesser bands to throw their toys out of their prams weren't going to spoil their day, proving once again that they have the ability to rule any stage in 2011. Throw in an awesome cover of AC/DC's 'TNT' for good measure and they had a now capacity crowd eating of their hands...Revoker 1...Soundman 0.
Next up on the Sophie Lancaster stage were Beholder, and thankfully this time they are playing to a capacity crowd as opposed to the last time I witnessed them in a club in Bridgend where I was 1 of 5 of the paying audience in attendance.
Just looking at the amount of Beholder t-shirts in attendance this weekend, you come to realise these boys are local heroes and quite they frankly they could have farted the entire back catalogue of Lady Ga Ga and the crowd would still have lapped it up. Thankfully they didn't, and instead they delivered a fantastic blend of old school metal, thrash with just a smidgeon of Nevermore for good measure.
Behemoth of a front man Simon Hall had the audience eating out of his hands and for any younger fans in the vicinity not accustomed to the tracks from 'The Awakening' album the band threw in a brutal cover of Lamb Of God's 'Redneck', whilst finishing their set with a blistering Dio's classic 'Holy Diver' leaving every punter in the locality content with their Thursday slab of metal.
At this point in time I had initially intended to catch former Mortal Sin drummer and current stand in comic Steve Hughes, having caught his act last year whilst he was supporting fellow comedian Reginald D Hunter and being overwhelmed with his perfect blend of stand up material that manages to include many metal references into his routine. However what I hadn't encountered was running into the Revoker boys armed with Jägermeister, which ultimately resulted in me struggling to get back into my tent much later that night, waking the next morning feeling, to coin a phrase from a recent visit to Dessel in June "Graspop rough".
After breakfast, and when I say breakfast I'm referring to a double dose of Berocca it was time to catch the opening act of Fridays main stage.
When you witness London rockers The Defiled live you can't help but get that "always the bridesmaid never the bride" feeling. That is to say that whilst this band come with the complete package, great post apocalyptic image, fantastic stage presence and a pretty decent debut album in the form of 'Grave Times' you have to wonder in disbelief why certain rock magazines would rather be frothing at the mouth over far less talented bands, such as a certain band from the US that The Defiled were sharing a bill with at the start of 2011, than for once rejoice in some great home-grown talent
Back to the present, it's great to see the band playing the main stage even if it's at such an unfeasibly early time (okay, so it's not that early but it is when you're suffering a duel cider and Jäger hangover).
The Defiled are a band that have split opinions in the Uber camp, some of the team love them, other's think they are more style over substance, personally I really like the band, after first witnessing them in a sparsely occupied Cardiff Barfly back in 2009. A far greater audience are in attendance than I first anticipated and they seem to lap up the toxic blend of metal on offer, which is great considering The Defiled were probably one of the bands furthest removed in style from traditional metal music playing the rest of the weekend.
Delivering a fantastic forty minutes of modern day metal, the main focus appears to be steered towards keyboardist The A.V.D who throws his keyboards around with wild abandonment and along with guitarist Curse and live wire bassist Vincent Hyde they are a true spectacle to behold.
Ending the set far to quickly for my liking with 'The Resurrectionists' whilst The A.V.D smashes up his keyboard, tearing it apart key by key and leaving me wanting more, thankfully though I will be catching up with the boys again this Autumn when they tour with Revoker.
By now my hangover has begin to ease so it's time for my first Strongbow of the day before heading off to catch Swedish metallers Wolf.
It's no secret at URHQ that one of my favourite metal bands of the last decade is Wolf, so opening their set with an old classic 'Evil Star' quickly heading into one of my personal favourites from The Black Flame album 'The Bite' frankly leaves me gobsmacked
Lead Singer Niklas Stålvind has been always been incredibly vocal concerning his love of the Bloodstock festival, so it's with great irony that just like my first encounter with Wolf at this very festival in 2007 they appear to once again have technical problems, but just like the previous time, the guys just shrug their shoulders and continue with the order of the day. Which is incredible old school metal delivered by the man who has one of the best vocal deliveries in today's metal scene. Throw in a couple of newbies from current album 'Legions Of Bastards', 'Skull Crusher', 'Full Moon Possession' and Russian submarine epic 'K121 Kursk' along with a bizarre tale concerning Niklas' Swedish tractor, they end their set with 'Hail Caesar' and you once again feel like you've just witnessed yet another great performance by Wolf.
There is one style of metal that dominates this year's Bloodstock festival and that is good ole eighties thrash metal. Now I have to hold up my hands and confess that during this period I was more of a fan of the likes of Motley Crue, Ratt and Skid Row, whether this was to do with just the music or the scantily clad women in attendance at those band's shows I cannot confirm, but my only fix of thrash at that time came courtesy of what the media now describe as the Big 4, but thankfully as the years have progressed I have been re-educated by my friends, so now I fully appreciate that much more in the shape of great music came out of that period other than Metallica, Anthrax etc etc..
For my two mates who have joined me at this years Bloodstock festival they are in thrash heaven with this year's line up, and first up on their recommended must see list were San Francisco Bay Area thrashers Forbidden.
This band may not have reached the same giddy heights as Metallica but with the likes of Robb Flynn and Paul Bostaph passing through their ranks they are still an inspiration to many. Even though I was aware of the band during their heyday I'm still unfamiliar with a great deal of their material and I will confess to being mightily impressed with their appearance at Belgium's Graspop festival a few years ago.
Tearing onto the stage with opening number 'March Into Fire' the band have lost none of their aggression over the years. Vocalist Russ Anderson possessing a voice as huge as his mighty frame, proving why they were snapped up by the prodigious Nuclear Blast label, and talking of which the band destroy Bloodstock with two new numbers 'Forsaken At The Gates' and the title track of the new album 'Omega Wave' proving that whilst they may not have the colossal bank balances of their peers they can still deliver the goods with enough bile and venom as they did in their halcyon days...Now can the Big 4 still make the same claim? Closing their set with the crowd-pleasing 'Chalice Of Blood' Forbidden are as vital in the metal arena today as anytime during their career.
If there is one person playing this weekend who has inspired so many other bands on the festival bill then it has to be...Lemmy, but if you were to choose another then the man who would be next on everyone's lips would surely be Thomas Gabriel Fisher. His musical influence is clearly stamped across many bands repertoires from 1349 to Immortal. Disbanding the legendary Celtic Frost after a brief but extremely successful comeback to form Triptykon with bassist Vanja Slajh. Today Thomas was bringing his latest melancholy masterworks to the Bloodstock stage, opening with Celtic Frost classic 'Procreation (Of The Wicked)' and playing a blinding doom laden 45 minute set proving to the assembled crowd that he is still the musical master of innovation.
For those thrash friends of mine there was one band they were excited about seeing on this year's bill and that was Swiss three-piece Coroner. Originally splitting up in 1996 only to reform last year for some occasional festival appearances, it's great to see that the band have decided to remain together for the foreseeable future. Talking of the previous band Coroner once featured a certain Triptykon frontman in their ranks providing vocals for an early demo, but its as a three piece headed by bassist Ron Broder that the band are best known.
Coroner posses a more progressive edge than maybe some of their thrash rivals and could be described as Rush with mightier balls. Opening their set with 'Masked Jackal' they delivered a jaw dropping 45 minute set, but what was the most impressive thing about the band was how powerful they sounded for a three piece whilst remaining incredibly tight during their performance. For my mate Sean Coroner were "band of the weekend", and observing the sales of their t-shirts at the merch desk after their performance I don't think he's the only one that shared that viewpoint.
Up next Kreator took to the stage and with them they have brought their own stage set, which gives you the feeling that the band could be headlining this event, and with an impressive twelve song set they actually play as though they are.
Next to take the stage was Devin Townsend, and after last years infamous appearance where he was dogged with various sound problems, he had returned with a higher slot and was about to win the crowd over once again. Devin is what you might call "an innovator of music", never sticking to the same tried and tested formula favoured by so many other bands, instead over the years he's given us prog, death metal and even laid back piano based opuses.
Opening with 'By Your Command', followed quickly by the wonderful 'Supercrush' you realise that even though Devin may not be the most metal act on today's bill he still has the crowd eating from his hands. At this point though I have to wander over to the Sophie Lancaster stage to check out Lawnmower Deth.
Now I know there are many out there including at least one Uber Rock writer that hates this band, believing them to be taking the place on the bill that could be given to a far more competent band. Me, I don't share that view though and I enjoy their tongue in their cheek approach to thrash. Even though the band have always been placed in the metal category their music is far more oi/punk based in its influences than metal any day of the week.
Tonight like their previous two Download appearances, sees the band playing to a far greater crowd than they ever did during their heyday. A repeat of the crowd surfing competition they did at Download nearly turns into a disaster when the security don't take too kindly to the events about to unfold but thankfully the situation is soon diffused and the band release loads of giant balls into the crowd just to say "thank you". With song titles such as 'Watch Out Grandma Here Comes A Lawnmower' how can you not leave with a smile on your face?
A band I've always loved since a teenager is W.A.S.P. Unfortunately over the years there have been times where I've felt let down by Blackie and co, in particular a night in Swansea two years ago when the band literally pulled the gig at the eleventh hour with no explanation whatsoever. Thankfully the band scheduled a Welsh gig in Cardiff the following year, and even though I initially enjoyed the gig somehow there wasn't that spark which used to make a W.A.S.P gig special. I understand that when a band gets older and has various line up changes you have to contend with the fact that you may never see one of your favourite bands fire on all cylinders again. But that was until in a field in somewhere in Derbyshire that aforementioned band once again blew me away.
First thing I notice when the band take to the stage are the absence of the giant screens that over recent years have propped up W.A,S.P's performance like a rock 'n' roll crutch. Also over recent years the band have been accused of having some added assistance in the vocal department and thankfully tonight there was no smoke and mirrors, just Blackie's unique voice, making you remember why you loved the band so much in the first place. Opening with 'On Your Knees' from their debut album, it was headlong into the Who classic 'The Real Me' with the almighty duo of classics 'Love Machine' and 'Wild Child' quickly following.
In 2010 after a string of fairly decent but not great albums the band returned with 'Babylon' a real return to form and up there in my eyes with their eighties classics. Tonight the band chose to play two numbers from said album 'Crazy' and 'Babylon's Burning', and prior to the latter Blackie delivers a speech about Great Britain. Now for any cynics out there myself included you have to wonder if he's given the same speech to the various other countries he's visited, however it's when he ends the quasi sermon expressing his disgust at the atrocities (riots) that have plagued the country in the week leading up to Bloodstock that I actually start to believe his words are genuine and also mirror the thoughts of around 99% of Bloodstock's audience tonight, and never has the aforementioned number seemed quite so apt I guess.
To Blackie's credit he has always been shrewd when assembling the various incarnations of W.A.S.P, whether it be the larger than life character of Chris Holmes or King Kobra bassist Johnny Rod the band has always delivered in the personality stakes, and today's line up is no exception in guitarist Doug Blair, bassist Mike Duda and drummer Mike Dupke, Blackie has an impressive line up on his hands, delivering not only a flawless musical performance but also a great visual spectacular as they dominated the Bloodstock stage.
A great medley of classic tracks including 'I Don't Need No Doctor', 'Hellion' and 'Scream Until You Like It' puts a great big smile on my face as I take a trip back to my teenage years. 'I Wanna Be Somebody' turns into a huge crowd sing-along before Blackie picks a member of the crowd to join him on vocals, unfortunately in a crowd of thousands Blackie somehow picks 'Mike' the most tone deaf individual in a ten mile radius and the look on Blackie's face is priceless as he quickly ushers him off stage almost as quickly as he arrived.
Returning for an encore that included a curiously placed 'Heavens Hung In Black' before closing today's proceedings with possibly my favourite W.A.S.P number 'Blind In Texas', I start to think about the bands I've witnessed over the years who have thrown away their headline opportunity at a festival simply by playing obscure material, W.A.S.P chose the perfect set list tonight bringing a fitting end to another great day at Bloodstock.
At the early hour of 11am Ohio Death Metal band Skeletonwitch have somehow managed to bring a field full of hung over metal fans back into life with their impressive fusion of death/thrash metal resulting in one of the biggest circle pits of the weekend.
German old school metal band Grave Digger take the stage next but not before the grim reaper has had his moment of glory on the bagpipes. They may hail from Germany but there's a definite Scottish influence to proceedings with numbers such as 'Hammer Of The Scots' and 'Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)', and the band deliver an impressive 40 minutes of metal closing with the none more metal track 'Heavy Metal Breakdown.
To fans of black metal, Norwegian band 'Mayhem' may have been the most controversial of the genre over the years but the true kings of Norwegian black metal have always been Emperor. Okay Emperor may have since disbanded but here at Bloodstock we get the next best thing in the form of the band's frontman Ihsahn. Just like one of his musical collaborators Devin Townsend, Ihsahn has remained an innovator of music even including saxophone on his previous album. Today he has assembled an impressive line up of musicians delivering an awesome performance, which included 'The Barren Lands', 'Misanthrope' and ending the set with epic 'Frozen Lakes On Mars'
Swedish symphonic metal band Therion may have started their musical career as a death metal band but in 2011 they are poles apart from their musical beginnings. In the past the band have been known to have featured a live orchestra on stage and with past members from acclaimed metal bands such as Dimmu Borgir, Cradle Of Filth, Entombed and Dream Evil they must be on to a winning formula, right?
Well if you love your metal grandiose, overblown with a huge symphonic flavour then you will love Therion, but unfortunately I don't. Add to the fact they now have two female operatic singers warbling along to this musical atrocity and I have to escape this horrendous spectacle.
Thankfully I find solace in the Sophie Lancaster stage where metal legends Angel Witch were taking to the stage. Now featuring the legendary Bill Steer in their ranks as he competes for the title of most bands anyone can actively play in at one time, he thankfully also possesses a musical Midas touch, bringing the band's long lost classics bang up to date sound wise. Featuring during their hour long set of classics was 'Gorgon', 'White Witch' as well as the mass sing a long that is the band anthem 'Angel Witch'.
At this point we decide to remain in the marquee to witness former Acid Reign front man H and his comedy alter ego Keith Platt. In 1986 former punk Graham Fellows of Jilted John fame created a working class, Northern, middle aged character named John Shuttleworth the main difference between that character and that of Northern working class middle aged character Keith Platt is John Shuttleworth is funny, and Keith Platt is not. With material written on the journey from the car park to the stage (or so it would appear), having a pop at emos and Trivium, you suddenly realise how lazy and weak his material is, and after about ten minutes I decided to leave hoping that for the remaining few that his material got better after all I don't think it could get any worse.
Heading back to the main stage to catch black metal divas Immortal, opening with the impressive 'All Shall Fall', they were soon into 'Sons Of Northern Darkness', and what I quickly observe is that whilst they say the Devil may have all the best tunes unfortunately the Devil doesn't have the best soundman, as the band sound quite weak from where I'm positioned particularly the drums, which takes the shine off the performance.
Frontman Abbath has always been vocal for his love of Kiss particularly bassist Gene Simmons and it doesn't take a genius to see where his influences lie, from his make up right through to his infamous crab walk although I don't think Immortal are about to alienate their fan base with a seventies disco number anytime soon.
Last year Immortal's headline appearance at Graspop was amongst my top 5 gigs of the year, I don't know if it was because I had managed to position myself in the photo pit or the fact it was in the more intimate surroundings of the venue's marquee but somehow tonight they don't capture the same excitement for me as that previous performance. That is not to say tonight's performance was bad, and given the fact that tonight was a rare appearance for the band on UK soil, there were many Immortal fans in attendance who adored tonight's show, warming even the blackest of hearts, it just wasn't as good as I know the band can be.
For anybody who has seen the film 'The Story Of Anvil, you will know all about succeeding in music through sheer determination, well somewhere in Derbyshire early on this Sunday morning there was a far more tragic wrong waiting to be righted, and that was that metal band Hell, finally gets the recognition they rightly deserve. After reading the inner notes of their album 'Human Remains' you get to see all the rejection letters from the various record companies and you realise that Hell were always way ahead of their time with their particular brand of theatrical metal.
Thankfully after 24 years they have finally managed to finally release their debut album yet tragically former vocalist David George Halliday never got to see his dream become a reality. Today as the band take to the stage with guitarist Kev Bower's brother David Bower handling vocal duties along with Sabbat guitarist Andy Sneap now firmly ensconced in their ranks the band go on to deliver one of the festival's true highlights.
Opening with 'Let Battle Commence' the band bring a touch of theatre to the Bloodstock stage. Vocalist David Bower's other job is as a working actor and as I watch mesmerised by his performance you could be mistaken for thinking you were watching the Royal Shakespeare Company. From delivering lines upon a large podium dressed as a priest to the peasant bell ringer crying out "Bring out your dead" the band simply deliver a fantastic theatrical performance truly bringing their debut album to life on stage.
Guitarist Andy Sneap was actually taught guitar by the late David George Halliday and has always stated that Hell were a huge inspiration on Sabbat and that is clearly evident here today. Closing their set with 'Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us' I could have just watched the band of the weekend, and from the queue outside the signing tent later on I think many others would agree with me. But what's next fro Hell? A UK tour in the near future perhaps? Let's hope so.
Having taken their name from the year the plague spread across Norway, 1349 deliver a set as distasteful and horrific as the aforementioned plague, even though it still appears a little strange watching their brand of black metal in the midday sun.
One band I always seem to miss at festivals is Irish black metal legends Primordial, thankfully today I manage to arrive at the stage as the band tear into opening number 'No Grave Deep Enough', dressed head to toe in corpse paint their vocalist really delivers as they head into 'As Rome Burns' then tragedy strikes, as not only does he lose his voice but it vanishes completely reducing his once demonic growl to a pitiful whimper. You can't help feeling for him as the frustration appears across his face thicker than his already applied corpse paint, the band continue as an instrumental performance.
Thankfully Primordial's loss (of vocal abilities) was Evil Scarecrow's gain as I entered a filled to capacity marquee. And boy was I glad I did, as (along with Hell) I witnessed one of the most entertaining performances of the weekend.
The band may advertise themselves as a sort of self-parody band but it's the impressive musicianship on stage that leaves me spellbound. A cover version of the 'Thundercats Theme' gets everybody in the vicinity dancing, only to see those brave enough partaking in the robotic variety during You Tube favourite 'Robotron'. Ending their set with a superb black metal version of Europe's 'Final Countdown' their guitarist tore through the crowd before climbing upon the bar at the rear of the marquee to deliver a blistering solo...absolute genius!
Napalm Death are a musical institution and from the moment Barney Greenway takes to the stage and heads straight into his insane dance, my eyes are fixed to the stage. Musically the Death may not be every ones cup of tea but visually the band always delivers and during today's eighteen song set featuring two of my faves 'When All Is Said And Done' and 'Suffer The Children' these guys simply shred, throw in a cover of Cryptic Slaughter's 'Low Life' and early track 'Scum' for good measure, and I'm starting to wonder if Sunday can get any better?
You must be living under a rock these last year or so if you haven't read the reports about the legendary Big 4 playing together. But let's not forget that racing up just behind are legendary Bay Area thrashers Exodus, and from what I'm hearing around me all weekend they just happen to be one of the most hotly anticipated performances across the whole three days. It appears strange why Exodus have only been given a forty five minute slot, but in saying that I'd much rather a forty give minute slot of face shredding metal than a ninety minute plodding performance full of fillers any day of the week.
'The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles' gets things moving nicely as the band delivers the thrash goods as expected. The band may have had a string of vocalists but its guitarist Gary Holt that holds the key to their brutality even though you can't fault Rob Jukes vocal performance. A quick 'Lesson In Violence' is always welcome before the set closes with the double whammy of 'Bonded By Blood' and 'The Toxic Waltz'. Now lets hope we seen them back much higher up the bill next year.
In 2008 Swedish death metal band At The Gates returned for a reunion tour, many fans were overwhelmed never expecting to see the band live again, largely because the Bjorler brothers had their day jobs in The Haunted. That same year they delivered an awe inspiring performance at the Bloodstock festival and thankfully for us as they call an end to their reunion they have decided to call in to Bloodstock once again. Just like that previous encounter they deliver a fantastic hour long set including such favourites as 'Slaughter Of The Soul', 'Under A Serpent Sun' and 'Kingdom Gone'. A near perfect end to a fine musical legacy.
Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances at this point in proceedings my Bloodstock festival was about to come to a premature end, but not before I was going to see Uber favourites Lifer headline the New Blood stage.
Having heard such great praise about this South Wales metal band from URHQ along with various friends, I was looking forward to catching the guys myself.
And they weren't about to disappoint me with their perfect blend of southern rock fused with thrash/punk. With that added touch of Welsh charm the guys simply went down a storm with the enthusiastic crowd, and it was great to see a few Uber Rock t shirts in attendance as well and not just on stage.
Lead vocalist Scriv is the definitive frontman delivering an awe-inspiring performance that leaves me in no doubt why they were invited to perform this weekend. This was quite simply a faultless display of heavy metal music, that was until the band's final number when in classic Spinal Tap/Bad news tradition a portaloo lorry decided to empty the toilets adjacent to the stage, filling the air with the kind of foul smelling stench that black metal band Watain would slaughter their first born for.
With only an under the weather Motorhead left to finish off the weekend it was sadly time for us to hit the road but with that Lifer performance still fresh in my mind all I could think was "what a perfect end to a fantastic weekend".
See you next year Bloodstock for more of the same please.
Photo Kudos - Andy Gallagher http://www.andygallagher.com/