|Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2013 - Derbyshire, Catton Park - 10th - 11th August 2013|
|Written by Jim Rowland|
|Friday, 23 August 2013 03:00|
After two nights (and most of the day yesterday!) on the Bloodstock real ale, plus last night’s campsite re-enactment of “300”, I’m feeling extremely fragile this morning. Consequently, the metal madness starts a bit later today. The other problem I have is that on paper, today’s line-up is the least appealing for me. I’m struggling to find anyone I’m bursting to see from the line-up and most of the bigger acts aren’t entirely up my street. But this is what festivals are all about, and it’s a great opportunity to discover a couple of new favourite bands. As I stagger into the arena early afternoon with a headache and slightly nauseous feeling, little do I know I’m about to discover one of those bands straight away – welcome to Hell!
I’m told that occult metal mongers Hell were voted best main stage act at this festival two years ago. With an unusual and quite tragic history dating back to the 80’s, Hell finally got to release their first album in 2011, a labour of love for producer Andy Sneap, dusting down the original band’s songs from all those years ago. Today’s incarnation of the band proceed to blow me away with a simply outstanding performance, despite the fact that it’s not even 2.00 in the afternoon yet. Hugely theatrical, it’s a set full of jets of fire, explosions, fireworks and damned good heavy metal. Despite the corpse paint, Satanic imagery and blasphemous subject matter, this is no black metal band, although the original band have been cited as a huge influence on that particular scene. This is pure, quality old school heavy metal which a strong NWOBHM flavour to tracks like the excellent ‘On Earth As It Is In Hell’, ‘The Quest’ and the church bashing ‘Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us’. Front man David Bower, with the awkward task of filling the shoes of original front man David Halliday, puts in a truly great and dramatic performance, and it’s no surprise this man is a trained Shakespearean actor. At one point he lurches onto the stage dressed as Pan on stilts, just as the stage is engulfed by fire, smoke and fireworks, and during the doomy ‘Blasphemy And The Master’ he appears as a blood-whipped metal messiah in a crown of thorns. He also delivers great lines like “can you smell burning? that’s your souls that is!” It is of course Satanic heavy metal pantomime, at times bordering on completely camp, but total entertainment. Last night I walked away after King Diamond’s set puzzled as to whether or not I actually liked it. This afternoon, Hell, another theatrical, occult-inspired traditional metal band grappled me into submission within 5 minutes. They get my vote for the festival’s best performance in 2013.
It may be that little bit of ancestral Irish blood that runs through my veins that draws me to the Sophie stage for Gaelic doom metal merchants Mael Mordha. I sense I’m going to like this band, and I’m most definitely right. Their fusion of doom and traditional Irish folk is right up my metal street, and packs a very powerful punch. Frontman Roibeard O Bogail, dressed as a face painted Celtic warrior, gets the tin whistle out on occasion - an unusual combination with the heavy doom-laden riffs this band deal in, but it works a treat. A new album is on its way next month, and if the excellent ‘All Eire Will Quake’ is anything to go by, it’s going to be a great one.
The profile of French metal band Gojira has exploded since the release of last year’s ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ album, and the huge crowd they pull this afternoon indicates this is a band still on the up. These environmentally friendly rockers don’t just stick to the hit album though, plundering their back catalogue for a crowd pleasing set. A bit like Voivod yesterday, this band push the boundaries a little, doing things a bit differently, and on tracks like the excellent ‘Oroborus’ and ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ they for me display an intensity reminiscent of Killing Joke. Never afraid to delve into dark atmospheric moments as well as bludgeoning heaviness, this is a band making genuinely interesting new metal and they deliver a scorching, very well received set. Although the vocals can get a bit excessively growly for me at times, Gojira look like a band whose star will continue to rise and could possibly be future headline material.
Another band who pull a very sizeable crowd are Swedish warmongers Sabaton. Coming on to Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’, it’s clear this band have a sense of humour, and that is soon put to the test as technical problems halt the set in its very early stages. This is where frontman Joakim Brodén takes over with a pretty humorous stand-up comedy routine to fill the gap until the technical glitch is solved. If he ever fancies an alternative career, perhaps stand-up comedy is an option, as he clearly has a bit of a talent for it. Sabaton though confuse me today. I saw them about three years ago at the Bang Your Head festival, and their war-themed brand of metal was pretty impressive. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that they have had a pretty radical line-up change since or whether their last album ‘Carolous Rex’ marked a bit of a departure, but the first half of their set left me stone cold, being a little bit too cheesy, keyboardy soft metal in places for me. Consequently I bail out in favour of the New Blood stage to check out highly recommended hardcore metal outfit One For Sorrow, who in their brief half hour set raise hell with a fist-pumping set of Pantera-inspired hard hitting, grooving metal. Indeed they have a frontman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Anselmo, so if Pantera is your bag, you might want to keep an eye of for this band.
Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia was a band myself and Johnny H worked hard to avoid at this year’s Hellfest, but now my time has come and there’s no avoiding it second time around. I suppose it’s the idea of “heavy metal opera” that strikes that little bit of fear into me. With the help of guest vocalists Ronnie Atkins, Michael Kiske, Eric Martin and local lad Bob Catley, Sammet’s lavish project deliver tracks from the latest ‘Mystery Of Time’ album, as well as a handful from ‘The Scarecrow’. I stick around for long enough to see the great Bob Catley do his thing, but this really is not my thing at all, and I do have a rather pressing engagement to re-acquaint myself with some more old friends on the Sophie stage…
Back in ’83 and ’84 I was lucky enough to catch Dio on their first two tours at Hammersmith Odeon. I t was a really great band, that featured aside from the supreme vocal talents of RJD - future Whitesnake and then Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell, ex-Rainbow/Wild Horses bass legend Jimmy Bain, Ronnie’s former Sabbath colleague Vinnie Appice on drums and keyboard player Claude Schnell, who unfortunately didn’t warrant a place actually on the stage if my memory serves me right. Tonight, poor old Claude does at least make in onto the side of the stage as that entire band, obviously minus Ronnie, re-unite under the name Last In Line to revisit that classic early Dio material, with the help of vocalist Andy Freeman. For the next hour the band plough through many of the highlights of mostly the first two Dio albums, ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Last In Line’, with only ‘King Of Rock ’n’ Roll’ featuring from the last album the band recorded together, ‘Sacred Heart’. It’s like time has stood still as the band are on astonishingly good form as they reel off classics like ‘Stand Up And Shout’, ‘Straight Through The Heart’, ‘Holy Diver’, ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’, ‘Evil Eyes’ and ‘The Last In Line’. ‘Invisible’ and especially ‘I Speed At Night’ are less obvious but most welcome additions, and it’s ‘Rainbow In The Dark’ that closes the set, with ‘We Rock’ an unexpected encore that catches a few punters out at the end as they leave the tent just that little bit too early. Vivian Campbell’s guitar work is first class from start to finish and Vinnie Appice shows that he is still one of the best in the business on the drums. The band are tight, lively and clearly loving every minute of it. Andy Freeman, stepping into some almost impossible shoes to fill, does a magnificent job in the vocal department, delivering the set with power and confidence. Last In Line showed that this group of musicians have a chemistry that hasn’t been broken in the slightest by the mists of time, and this performance put last year’s tenuously-linked Dio tribute Dio Disciples firmly in their place.
There’s no escaping the headline band at Bloodstock, as all the other stages finish prior to their performance, so tonight there’s not much of an alternative to Lamb Of God, a band who have suffered more than their fair share of well-documented controversy in recent times. No slip-ups in terms of crowd safety can possibly be afforded for this band right now, so things don’t look good when the barrier at the front of the stage gives way not long into their set, inducing the first of a couple of lengthy breaks in proceedings. A quick fix seems to have done the trick until the barrier goes again during the ironically titled ‘Ruin’, as this problem really is threatening to ruin the band’s set. This time it really is a lengthy gap that ensues as all you can hear is a sledgehammer belting a metal pole like the beginning to Anvil’s ‘Metal On Metal’. During the first shorter gap, Randy Blythe had amused the crowd with his British alter-ego creation Roger Brilliant, and seemed in good spirits. The good spirit during the lengthy second gap seemed to draining away by the minute as he sat despondently on the drum riser only managing the odd muttered comment. He should have perhaps taken a few tips from Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén’s earlier routine. Eventually the sledgehammer treatment does the trick, the barrier is repaired and the Lambs are allowed out to play once more. The set relies very little on the band’s more recent albums, presenting a good mix of their entire career, with earlier material like ‘Black Label’ and ‘11th Hour’ mixing it up with big hitters like ‘Walk With Me In Hell’, ‘Redneck’ and ‘Now You’ve Got Something to Die For’. For the big fans in the audience, who I must say were extremely well behaved and patient throughout the lengthy pause, this was still a show that ticked all the boxes and received a great response. For me, there’s only so much of that Slayer-inspired chugging guitar and Randy’s irritating screaming, growly vocal I can take and so to be honest it won’t be a performance that lives long in the memory.
Back in Hel tonight, getting to sleep is once again quite a challenge. The cast of the Midgard “It Ain’t Half Metal Mum” concert party proceed to give the ultimate performance of “300”, which sparks off a baby girl near us to scream constantly like a kazoo amplified though a 1,000 watt PA system, the bloke next door is snoring like a trooper, and to cap it all off a pissed up mate accidently rings my mobile at 2.30 in the morning. You have to see the funny side I suppose…
I must admit I did take my foot off the gas when it came to the drinking yesterday, and consequently I feel fine this morning. This is just as well as it’s the earliest start I’ve had all weekend as I wander down to the arena for an 11am start of what will predominantly be a day of metal thrashing madness.
On my way to the main stage for Gama Bomb’s set, I make a quick stop off at the Sophie tent first for South Wales thrash mongers Lifer. If ever there was a band to kick you into life on a Sunday morning it’s this band. Lifer’s brand of doom-laden thrash metal with a bit of a groove is hugely impressive and would appeal if you like a bit of COC or even Down. This was another unfortunate clash of stage times, as although I’ve never heard this band before, I could quite easily have watched their whole set, and given the opportunity on another occasion most definitely will. After the first three songs though, it’s down to the main stage for Northern Ireland’s finest party thrashers Gama Bomb.
Gama Bomb are a pretty popular act at this year’s festival. There’s a lot of support for them in the t-shirt department and a lot of support for them in the crowd too, as they draw a pretty large crowd for the ungodly hour of 11am. This is a fact not lost on loony frontman Philly Bryne who points out that it beats watching John Craven’s Countryfile! Gama Bomb are of course the self-proclaimed “kings of geek” whose brand of colourful old school speed metal is delivered with a healthy measure of fun and humour, as is this morning’s set. The band’s latest album ‘The Terror Tapes’ has been very well received, and tracks from that album such as ‘Backwards Bible’, ‘We Started The Fire’ and the excellent ‘Terrorscope’ show that the band are on the crest of a wave at the moment, and ‘Smoke The Blow With Willem Dafoe’ shows they’ve lost none of that mischievous humour. Older tracks like ‘Thrashaholic’, ‘Mussolini Mosh’ and ‘Hammer Slammer’ also thrash like fuck. All are delivered with a huge sense of fun, and Bryne is certainly a funny and endearing character fronting the band. Gama Bomb certainly give Municipal Waste a run for their money as party thrash act of the weekend, and an onstage announcement that they will be doing an autumn tour with former label mates SSS is a mouth-watering prospect for UK thrash fans.
Back at the Sophie stage, Plymouth’s Grifter add a brand of music to the festival’s proceedings that’s a bit too thin on the ground for my liking. Grifter play totally grooving, stoner-tinged rock ’n’ roll rooted in classic ‘70s rock. Tracks like ‘Bow Down To the Monkey’ and the excellent ‘Alabama Hot Pocket’, with a hint of Southern Rock to it, are steaming slabs of grooving rock and are highly impressive. Add a decent cover of Sabbath’s ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and an unexpected set-closing rendition of the Dead Kennedy’s ‘Police Truck’ and this was a hugely enjoyable show. Bloodstock would benefit from a few more bands playing this kind of stuff.
The weather today is gloriously sunny, so after a bit of an early afternoon real ale break in the VIP bar catching up with some old and new faces, it’s time for a classic thrash band I’ve always been a fan of but never managed to catch live before – true pioneers of the genre Exodus. This is of course the first of two appearances guitarist Gary Holt will make today, as he’s also due up with tonight’s headliners Slayer later on. From the off, Exodus are as violent and brutal as that classic first album ‘Bonded By Blood’ was all those years ago. ‘A Lesson In Violence’ has always been one of my favourite thrash tunes ever since it got me into the band via the ‘Speed Kills’ compilation and today it’s delivered with brutal brilliance. I’m hugely impressed with vocalist Rob Dukes who delivers the songs with the same kind of violent passion as Paul Baloff did, especially on a great rendition of ‘Bonded By Blood’ dedicated to Jeff Hanneman and Baloff himself. ‘Toxic Waltz’, ‘Blacklist’ and ‘War Is My Shepherd’ all feature from the Zetro Souza era of the band, and ‘Children Of A Worthless God’ is a very worthwhile inclusion from the band’s more recent output. Still it’s the first album’s venomous ‘Strike Of The Beast’ that bites me hardest and rounds off a performance that just about takes my vote for thrash performance of the weekend.
In recent years it’s been Swedish bands like Ram and Enforcer who have been leading lights in recreating the authentic vibe of the NWOBHM. Over on the New Blood stage, young London headbangers Amulet are making a damn fine job of reclaiming that style for the country that produced it in the first place. This band take it back to ’79 (although they wouldn’t even have been born then!) with such precise authenticity it’s like a heavy metal time machine. With a stage decked out in plastic gravestones, band members named Bill Dozer and Heathen Steven, and a couple of quite superb moustaches going on, this is a band that, whilst I suspect to a certain extent tongues are firmly embedded in cheeks, are playing the type of metal from their dad’s record collection that they truly love, for the right reasons. It’s the type of metal I truly love for the right reasons too, although I clearly can remember 1979! Songs like ‘Black Magic Attack’, ‘Sign Of The High Priest’ and ‘The Hangman’ bring back memories of bands like Witchfinder General, and particularly for me, early Diamond Head. There’s a charming naivety and slightly amateur nature to the band that further adds to the authenticity, and I don’t mean that in a horrible way at all – that was part of the charm, fun and appeal of the original NWOBHM. This turned out to be one of the most fun and enjoyable sets of the weekend for me, and it’s great to see a bunch of young British headbangers keeping the NWOBHM flag flying.
It’s straight from the New Blood stage to the main stage for a band I’ve seen many times before, “Big Four” thrash pioneers Anthrax. Anthrax are instantly on great form today, and remain so right till the end. The sun is shining, and the thrash party is swinging. ‘Caught In A Mosh’ and ‘NFL’ make the crowd party like it’s 1987, and the speedy Joe Jackson cover ‘Got The Time’ is just great. The more recent ‘In The End’ is dedicated to Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag Darrel, as portraits of each are unveiled for the song, and I’m delighted to hear the awesome speed metal of ‘Deathrider’ make an appearance from the very first album. AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ gets everyone singing along from this year’s ‘Anthems’ mini-album and the sing-alongs keep on going for big hitters like ‘Indians’ and ‘I Am The Law’. Although I confess to still preferring the original, Trust’s magnificent ‘Anti-Social’ rounds things off with yet more singing along. This was one of the best Anthrax shows I’ve seen in a very long time.
After Anthrax’s set, my busy Sunday evening continues over on the Sophie stage for local heroes, Tamworth’s finest purveyors of party metal Wolfsbane, whose set is already under way. Never one to take himself too seriously, Blaze Bayley not only works that stage like a trooper, but always works doubly hard in winning over the crowd, and is an expert in making sure everyone claps and sings along. Wolfsbane bring out all the hits tonight, with the likes of ‘I Like It Hot’, ‘Loco’, ‘Temple Of Rock’, ‘Man Hunt’ and ‘Paint The Town Red’ ensuring the crowd get involved and don’t forget the last night of Bloodstock in a hurry.
Tonight’s headliners Slayer are another ‘big four’ thrash act I’ve seen numerous times before. It goes without saying that they’ve performed shows under easier circumstances. Dave Lombardo has gone again and of course Jeff Hanneman passed away a little while ago. Paul Bostaph and Gary Holt give it their best shot as replacements, but something is just not quite right tonight. Tom Araya seems very subdued, remaining pretty motionless throughout the gig, although this is due to medical problems associated with a neck injury. The crowd themselves seem a little bit subdued as well, as half-hearted “Slayer” and “Hanneman” chants ripple across the arena. Slayer do manage to pack a lot of songs into the set with classics like ‘Alter Of Sacrifice’, ‘Jesus Saves’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’ and ‘Seasons In The Abyss’ nestling alongside the relatively recent ’World Painted Blood’, ‘Snuff’ and ’Hate Worldwide’. Araya doesn’t really refer directly to the passing of Hanneman although he does make poignant comments, particularly prior to ‘Postmortem’ where he asks the usual question “do you want to die?” When the blind response of “yes” comes back from a portion of the crowd he simply questions “why?” and ponders on the fact that we should all make the most of life while we still have it. ‘Raining Blood’ ends the set before a pretty weak ‘South Of Heaven’ but a still pretty awesome ‘Angel Of Death’ finally closes Bloodstock 2013. It was great to have a band of Slayer’s ilk here, but it has to be said that this was Slayer far from their best.
And so another Bloodstock draws to a close. Some people have drifted off during the course of the day, and some even make a late night journey home after the Slayer set. It’s clear things are winding down now as there’s a chill in the air, and back in Hel we don’t even get a farewell performance of “300” from the cast of “Its Ain’t Half Metal Mum” tonight. The concert party has sadly disbanded. The bloke next door still snores like a trooper though.
This was another outstanding Bloodstock, still for me the best metal festival in the UK, and the weather was kind to us too. During the course of the weekend I did manage to re-acquaint myself with some old favourites, saw quite a few new favourites, broke my duck on seeing a few legends live for the first time, and saw a few I won’t be seeing again in a hurry, but that’s what a great festival is all about. If you are a fan of metal in its many varied forms and haven’t been to Bloodstock yet, I would highly recommend it. Next year’s first headliner, black metal legends Emperor, have already been announced. We await with interest to see who’ll be joining them.