Bloodstock – Walton-on-Trent, Catton Hall – 11 August 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby (with additional reporting by Rich Hobson)   
Friday, 18 August 2017 10:00

Ah, the perennial Bloodstock question:  to bring the wellies or not!  Looking at the weather forecast in the days before leaving Belfast, The Dark Queen decided to err on the side of caution, and pack her rather snazzy rubber footwear, strapping them to our trusty backpack in a bid to get around the usually strict airline rules about cabin baggage… only, on leaving our rather nice wee inn in Tamworth on the first full morning to do so wearing her favourite knackered DMs, the wellies left neglected in the corner of our room!  It’s just as well the predicted heavy downpours never materialized, with just a couple of squiffs of mizzle drifting over the site during the course of the afternoon…


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Getting to the site nice and early, we made our way straight to the New Blood Stage:  it can be a hard task, at any festival, to do the full bill justice – and it’s just downright impossible to catch every one of the 115 bands appearing over the course of the weekend.  We set ourselves the task of around 20 bands per day as being achievable, plotting our course between the various stages with almost military precision. But, a very good place to start is always at the beginning, and so first targets of our attack were Swindon Metal 2 The Masses winners Merithian.


Despite the unearthly early hour (it’s half friggin’ ten in the morning, fer feck sake), there is an impressive crowd gathered in the Hobgoblin tent, and thankfully the beer is in full flow!  The early risers are rewarded with a solid and energetic performance:  not for the last time this weekend we’re invited to “make some fucking noise” by masked frontman Liam Engel, who doesn’t stop bouncing or punching the air when not delivering his heavily Corey Taylor-inflected vocals.


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Just 15 minutes later, the main stage explodes into life with Forever Still – one of a healthy number of female-fronted acts on this year’s bill – who deliver a big sound for this big event.  With big, crunching guitars over thick, rumbling bass rhythms, their brand of alt-metal with a gothic twist is pomp without the pomposity, combining style and substance and providing an early wake-up call to those still bleary-eyed from the previous evening’s opening party.  Maja Shining also exudes confidence as she gets the early arrivals still filing into the field into the mood for what is to come over the course of the day.


Next, it’s the turn of the Sophie Stage to kick into action, and it does so in style with Bradford’s Iron Rat, their hardcore-edged doom/stoner grooves mixing with classic rock sensibilities, characterized by vocals that are more spoken than sung over stabbing riffs and taut rhythms.  Meanwhile, back on the other side of the arena, Oxford M”TM qualifiers K-Lacura are laying the beat down hardcore-style, with moments of unbridled intensity, not least from vocalist Iann, counterpointed by plenty of finesse and melody within their grooves.


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There’s no let-up in the action, as Chelsea Grin take to the main stage.  Their punk attitude is mixed with cocksure deathcore beatdowns, with Alex Koehler constantly cajoling the crowd to “make some noise” and “wake the fuck up”:  it’s brutal and it’s nasty – just what you need at this time of the late morning/early afternoon – but just falls a little flat.  Which most definitely cannot be said of Internal Conflict, who package proper old-school deathcore with massive melodies and intense delivery, while Embodiment’s no-nonsense death metal shows that they have a strong suite of songs, which they deliver with prowess and aplomb.


Whitechapel 5


Even before they are introduced, it is clear that Whitechapel are the first band of the day that many people have come to see, as there is a definite surge toward the stage.  The intensity level, appropriately, is ratcheted up 1000 per cent as Phil Bozeman and his bandmates immediately grab Bloodstock by both the throat and the balls and give it a fucking good shaking, with a fire and fury the like of which this festival hasn’t seen in a long time (to paraphrase what a certain Trumpet parped a few hours beforehand.  The result is a performance that most definitely sets the bar for the rest of the weekend – and, it’s a bar that is consistently raised, although sometimes not cleared, as you shall read in due course…

As if determined to rise the challenge just laid down out in the main arena, New Bloods Ashen Crown (one of Über Rock’s “ones to watch”) deliver fast and furious metal, with battering ram rhythms, expertly worked twin guitar harmonies, guttural vocals and great use of light and shade to develop the atmosphere of both their songs and in the tent.


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Many would argue that Devilment are just a heavier version of Cradle Of Filth, without the faux-gothic theatricality:  and, in many ways that is true, what with Dani’s distinctive grunt ‘n’ crackle vocal – albeit sung at the lower end of the range, omitting the banshee-screams – and the huge, sweeping keyboards behind the harder-edged sub-DM sound.  Hell, Dani still wears make-up, though not as much, while Lauren Francis’ operatic vocal dominate the more atmospheric passages, all of which beggars the question: “what’s the point?”  The point is that is a rawer and more stripped down version of Filth, adding a deathlier shade of black to his nightmarish lyrical visions – and the result is well-received, especially by those who are “in” on what is going on in his corrupt mind.


Back over on the Sophie stage, Morass Of Molasses have a deep, sludgy groove with heavy 70s doom sensibilities muddier than the field would have been by now, if the forecasters had got it right.  The Reading trio also know how to have fun, as frontman Bones The Beard discusses his hangover and how to make orange shit (apparently the answer is by eating too much curry, so there you go)!  It’s also about this time that the tiniest stage, in the Jägermeister tent opens, with Electric Mother and their fuzzed-out stoner twist of classic metal: think Thin Lizzy jamming with QOTSA and you’re sort of in the right ballpark. (MA)


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If there’s one thing the Swedes do well, it’s melodic death metal. Bringing a taste of Gothenburg (or rather, Helsingborg) sound to Catton Park, Soilwork waste no time in bringing out the heavy hits with ‘Nerve’ providing the first genuine bona fide scream-along of the weekend. At times the band seem to slow to an awkward plod, but when they hit their mark, they utterly smash it – something more than proven by the superb closing one-two pummelling of ‘The Crestfallen’ and ‘Stabbing The Drama’. (RH)


Elsewhere in the arena, Dendera impress with their brand of classic power metal, Hung Daddy get their groove on in the Jäger tent (while avoiding a crowd-surfing crocodile – possibly getting some early practice for the next afternoon?) while Devil’s Playground (another of our selected picks), with their Lacuna Coil-esque male/female gruff/clean vocal trade-offs take the day into its second half in appropriate style.


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One band I had really been looking forward to, especially following in the wake of their titanic ‘Anticult’ album, were Polish death dealers Decapitated – and, by fuck they don’t disappoint, living up to their name by ripping off nearly head in the arena as they unleash hell with their fiercesome brand of technical DM rooted in the genre’s classic sensibilities but bringing it kicking and screaming into the modern age (as they proved on the aforesaid album).  It’s a wonder Rafał Piotrowski doesn’t self-flagellate as he thrashes his dreads back and forth in time to the breakneck rhythms, as the Poles take that bar set earlier and raise it as high as the lighting rig above their heads… but then, there’s better to come…


[NOTE: Decapitated return to the UK in November for a run of dates, starting at Norwich on Wednesday 8 and finishing at Camden Underworld on Friday 17].


Competing with the fury erupting from the main stage, Take Solace In Ruin do their level best with own brand of deathly thrash:  but, the numbers in the Hobgoblin tent have severly reduced now that the big guns have been brought to bear.  Nevertheless, they are another discovery of the kind for which this weekend quite rightly has a reputation, and I’ll certainly be looking to hear more from these five Workington lads. (MA)


One of the hottest properties in UK doom, Black Moth amass an impressive crowd for their slot in the Sophie Tent. An all-you-can-eat buffet of riffs ensues as the band blast through material from across their two albums. While three years might have passed since the band released ‘Condemned To Hope’, the material still pops with freshness and the band sound utterly monolithic as they bring the doom by the bucket - and when the riffs set in for the likes of ‘Tumbleweave’ you best believe this is a band that could transcend genre limitations and take on the world. (RH)


Testament 6


What to say about Testament?  They already were one of the most anticipated attractions of the weekend, never mind the first day… It had been more than 20 years since I last had seen them live, and this evening (well, it is approaching 6pm) they are every bit as majestic and towering as I remember from that Halloween night they blew Anthrax off the stage of my local leisure centre!  It is a genuine pleasure to watch these masters of their craft demonstrate why they are just that. 


No, that’s not thunder on the horizon:  that Gene Hoglan’s massive double bass sound and Steve Di Giorgio’s dense, rumbling bass.  OK, Chuck Billy may be a bit creaky and croaky in both the physical and vocal departments, but Alex Skolnick repeatedly shows why is one of, if not THE, best guitarists in the genre, with blistering solo after searing workout, all delivered with a permanent smile on his face, while Eric Peterson is the perfect foil to his fretboard partner, content to lay down the supporting riffs before stepping occasionally into the stage front spotlight himself.  It’s a nigh on perfect set from a band who once again prove that they are still among the best in the business and worthy of Big Four style headline status in their own right.


Shrapnel 4


As the old hands quit the stage, Shrapnel bounce onto that in the Sophie tent, to prove that the new generation of thrashers can cut the mustard alongside the genre’s trailblazers.  I’ve seen the Norwich crew twice before (when they opened for Overkill in Dublin and then again alongside Acid Reign and Xentrrix in Belfast) and both times they have been hugely impressive (so much so on the first occasion that I actually bought one of their T-shirts!).  Tonight they show another marked progression, the mark of a band constantly evolving and moving forward, as they rip through a set which is delivered at breakneck speed but also pays cognisance to the need for harmony, melody and, above all, a great set of tunes (to break the sound barrier to!).


The choice of the “special guest” on a festival bill is a tricky one – and, to be brutally honest (and I’m probably very much a voice in the wilderness here) that of Blind Guardian doesn’t quite work.  Yes, the sound is grandiose and pompous, and the crystal clear audio mix draws out every level of the complexity of their power metal sound.  And yes, Hansi Kürsch certainly knows how to work a crowd, and draws out cheers that threaten to drown out the band themselves… but, it’s all a bit safe and staid: the sort of set you’d expect from a middle-order second stage act…


Talking of the second stage, Lionize are another unusual choice for the same slot in the Sophie tent: not a heavy metal band by any stretch of the imagination, their organ and bass-fuelled funked-up classic rock, they soon get a party going in the gathering dusk, Nate Bergman’s gold lame outfit piercing the gloom like a lighthouse, while the music has a similar effect, providing a beacon of levity in the heaviness that has characterized the rest of the day.  The same could be said of what is happening over on the Jägermeister stage, where things have got ever so slightly ridiculous: yes, it’s cabaret time, as Hanowar pay their affectionate tribute to… well, you can guess, can’t you?  It’s good clean fun, and everyone is enjoying the spectacle… although the Dark Queen is heard to mutter something about “the Village People of heavy metal” as she wanders off to take her place in the queue for the main stage photopit.


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Did I mention “spectacle”?  I did!  And we knew we could be assured that that was exactly what we were gonna get with the headline performance.  Now, there have been many debates, not least in these pages, about where the next generation of festival headliners are going to come from:  well, in my book, Amon Amarth have always been pretty near the top of that particular hitlist, and it was great to see Bloodstock dip their toe in the water and award the top slot to everyone’s favourite Viking warriors… and they didn’t disappoint the faith of the BOA team and their legions of fans.


With Jocke Wallgren’s massive drum kit atop a huge horned helmet made to resemble a longship, AA once again bring the sense of epic to Catton Hall.  The set is maybe not as immediately impressive as the dragon’s heads they employed when last here (in 2014), but it sets the tone, and gives Johan Hegg and his bandmates plenty of room to move around.  Hegge himself is towering, both in physique and presence, talking frequently to the audience and making this massive arena feel like the most intimate of clubs, sich is the personal warmth of his rapport.


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The set obviously leans heavily on the recent ‘Jomsviking’ album, but all the big crowd pleasers are in there too, with the double whammy of ‘Deceiver Of The Gods’ and ‘Destroyer Of The Universe’ dominating the middle part of the show:  and to see 10,000 or so people sitting on the ground (Thor obviously was smiling this day, as I doubt this would have worked had the field been a quagmire) rowing along to Hegge’s every command was truly a sight to behold!  A stunning end to the first full day:  we needed no second invitation to raise our horns and toast the guardians of Asgard, as they looked down with approval at the glorious feast of metal being laid out below them. I should have brought the mead! (MA)


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen/Über Rock. View our full gallery of photographs HERE.


Tickets for the Bloodstock 2018, for which Gojira and Nightwish have been confirmed as headliners, are now on sale.


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