|Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2012 - Derbyshire, Catton Park - 10th - 12th August 2012|
|Written by Jim Rowland|
|Saturday, 25 August 2012 04:00|
Being a veteran of festivals for almost thirty years now, I've been to countless numbers of the little blighters all over the UK as well as several around Europe. One that has been raved about and recommended to me so many times in recent years is Bloodstock, one that up until a few weeks ago I still hadn't experienced. So this year, with a line-up that appealed, I thought it was time to break my duck and see what all the fuss was about first hand.
Bloodstock has been going for over ten years now, and it seems to be getting bigger every year. It's clearly Britain's heaviest festival, a bit like a "mini Wacken", and what struck me first of all arriving as I do on the festival's first full day is that right now it's the perfect size, none of your Download size trudging around for hours from huge campsites to an arena miles away and, as is the case with heavy metal fans, it's full of friendly faces all out for a good time and a fistful of metal. So without further ado, let the metal madness commence...
To say we were blessed with good weather on Friday is an understatement - it's scorchio! Grand Magus are hugely impressive, belting out some scorching slices of epic metal, none more so than 'Hammer Of The North' which gets a rousing singalong from the Friday lunchtime revellers. The variety of metal on offer at this fest is strong, and Iced Earth clearly satisfy those craving some good old power metal. They've got a huge following here judging by the amount of Iced Earth t-shirts in the crowd and the audience lap up a set largely made up of tracks from last year's 'Dystopia' album and '98's 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'. It's not really my bag, but you can't deny their quality or the great reception they get.
Sepultura may not enjoy the profile they had in the days of Max Cavalera anymore, but they still have plenty to offer. Derrick Green has been at the helm for a whopping 14 years now and the likes of 'Mask', 'Kairos' and 'Dialog' all show the current incarnation of the band can still deliver the goods. It's the Max-era stuff that really get the crowd going though, and 'Refuse/Resist', 'Beneath The Remains' and 'Arise' sound awesome. Tim 'Ripper' Owens joins them for a warm up before his Dio Disciples set for a great rendition of 'Territory' and inevitably it's 'Roots Bloody Roots' that rounds things off in fine style.
With the main stage being the Ronnie James Dio stage now, it's fitting that some of his former colleagues hit the stage as Dio Disciples, fronted by both Toby Jepson and Tim 'Ripper' Owens. Sometimes, these "tribute to the great man" projects don't really work, but in these surroundings, and with such an awesome canon of the great man's work to choose from, Dio Disciples can't really fail. Owens delivers ripping versions of 'Stand Up And Shout' and 'Holy Diver' before Jepson takes over for 'Egypt'. From then on the vocals are pretty much evenly shared between the two. Both do a great job, but for me Owens shows a little more power and passion of the two. The Rainbow era is represented well by a scorching 'Kill The King' as well as an awesome 'Catch The Rainbow/Stargazer', along with 'Man On The Silver Mountain' and 'Long Live Rock'n'Roll'. The Sabbath era is limited to just 'Neon Knights' and the inevitable 'Heaven And Hell', and 'The Last In Line' and set closer 'Rainbow In The Dark' prove that the Dio material will easily stand the test of time. Not something I'd necessarily go see in an indoor venue, but in a festival setting Dio Disciples are pretty much perfect.
Now with this being Bloodstock, there's plenty of spiky logo black and death metal bands on offer on all stages throughout the weekend, and on the main stage, things take a turn to the dark side for a Friday night double dose of death. Now I'm not usually a big death or black metal fan at all, in fact some of it is just downright silly to me, but Swedish black metal merchants Watain prove to be a pleasant surprise, as they deliver one of the most memorable and entertaining performances of the whole weekend. With a stage decked out with inverted gothic crosses, slightly questionable faux-nazi symbolism, more fire than the Towering Inferno and a band caked in enough morbid face paint to give Gene Simmons nightmares, this is a set that enchants and fascinates from start to finish. Musically they're a lot more interesting and accessible than a lot of black metal stuff out there, as they deliver a set made up of material from their two most recent albums, with the bulk coming from 2010's 'Lawless Darkness'. The epic set closer 'Waters Of Ain' is quite awesome indeed, especially when accompanied by huge fountains of fire towards the end that threaten to engulf the whole stage. Thrilling stuff.
It's left to Polish blackened death legends Behemoth to follow that, and for me they fail dismally. They get a great reception from the faithful in the audience and the Polish flags come out from our visiting Polish brothers and sisters as they lap it up and good luck to them. As a neutral, Behemoth's one-dimensional dirge bores me rigid. So it's off to the bar then as we have two more days of metal to go.
New Orleans sludge metal pioneers Crowbar are the first band to warm me up for Saturday's festivities, not that I need warming up as it's still a boiling hot day. Frontman Kirk Windstein may not look like you're average rock star but Crowbar aren't your average sort of band, and their doom-tinged set of sludge is highly enjoyable. Less enjoyable was the set from Norwegian black metal legends Mayhem. They may be pioneers of the genre and have an infamous history and reputation, but frontman Attila still sounds like a cat being sick and they appear messy, jaded, and out of step compared to the current crop of black metal merchants, as illustrated by Watain's impressive set the night before.
The first UK appearance of Seattle thrashers Sanctuary in 24 years was hotly anticipated by thrash connoisseurs at this year's Bloodstock and there's a hardcore throng of them down the front for this one, although on the whole it wasn't a huge draw for the crowd. The band toured the UK in the late 80's with Megadeth and are perhaps slightly better known for some of its members going on to form Nevermore. Their set is a pretty even mix of tracks from their two albums 'Refuge Denied' and 'Into the Mirror Black' with a couple of tasters from the forthcoming all new album 'The Year The Sun Died'. It's a solid but unspectacular set for me, and I couldn't help feeling slightly underwhelmed by this much anticipated return, with their technical thrash and Warrel Dane's high pitched vocals sounding a little dated.
Over on the Sophie Lancaster stage, I'm late catching the first half of the set from Brit doom merchants Witchsorrow, which is a damned shame because the second half of their set is up there with the best 20 minutes of music I'm going to hear all weekend. Witchsorrow's brand of traditional doom is nothing too groundbreaking, but they play Sabbath-inspired doom to perfection and blow me away. With second album 'God Curse Us' out now, I feel an album purchase coming on! Great stuff.
Whereas Sanctuary didn't pull a huge crowd for their set on the main stage, metalcore heroes Hatebreed certainly did as their set went down a storm with the likes of 'Defeatist', 'Doomsayer' and 'As Diehard As They Come' ripping the place apart. Frontman Jamey Jasta spits the songs out with venomous passion, and set closer 'Destroy Everything' pretty much lives up to its title.
If there's one band that can follow that it's thrash legends Testament. Back to the classic line-up and with an awesome new album out in the shape of 'Dark Roots Of Earth' the band deliver a scorching set, with man mountain Chuck Billy sounding on top form. Early classics like 'Over the Wall', 'Into The Pit' and 'The New Order' blend seamlessly with new album stormers like 'Rise Up', 'Native Blood' and the excellent 'New American Hate', giving the Bloodstock metalheads a masterclass in quality thrash metal. The huge backdrop of the 'Dark Roots' album cover gives the stage an epic looking feel and it's two tracks from 1999's 'The Gathering' which round things off in pretty brutal fashion in the shape of 'DNR' & '3 Days Of Darkness'. Testament are quite clearly back to their best.
With Testament thrilling on the main stage, I only get to catch the last 20 minutes or so of Orange Goblin keeping the British end up on the Sophie stage. This they do in style, packing the tent out and receiving a storming reception as they bow out in style with 'Scorpionica'.
Now as most of you know, the Saturday night headline spot for this year's Bloodstock was kept well under wraps until the June 6th announcement. With the likes of Slayer, Manowar, King Diamond and even the Scorpions all being rumoured, I must confess a little disappointment was felt when Machine Head were finally announced. I've never been a huge fan, but you've got to acknowledge their importance in modern metal and a bumper crowd here tonight certainly do. It's a special night for Machine Head too, as Robb Flynn announces it's the 20th anniversary to the day of Machine Head's very first gig. In honour of that, the band perform five tracks from the first album 'Burn My Eyes' throughout the set, as voted for by Bloodstock punters. For the record these were 'A Thousand Lies', 'Death Church', 'Blood For Blood', 'Block', and set closer 'Davidian'. Add to those a smattering of tracks from latest album 'Unto The Locust', plus the ultra popular 'The Blackening' and it's a feast of metal for the Machine Head loving hordes. Unfortunately for me, there is only so much down-tuned chugging guitars and growly vocals I can take from Flynn & co, so it's off to the bar for a nightcap as it's a big day tomorrow.
It's an early start on Sunday as I drag myself out of the tent and make it to the main stage at the ungodly hour of 11am for Kobra & The Lotus, a band we're hearing a lot about at the moment. What their set proves is that there's more to vocalist Kobra Paige than just her stunning good looks, as she possesses a stunningly powerful voice which complements a solid set of powerful traditional metal that goes down very well with the early birds. Corrosion Of Conformity these days display less of the punk and thrash roots of their early days in favour of some cracking stoner tinged grooving rock, and their set is one of the many highlights of the weekend for me. They're fun too, coming across as a bunch of fun-loving stoners having a real good time which is a much needed bit of light relief from some of the more serious and intense acts at the festival. Guitarist Woody Weatherman looks like a younger Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski and frontman Mike Dean leaps about the stage threatening to bring it all crashing down at any moment, which he very nearly does as he attempts to stand on a very wobbly bass stack at one moment during the set. A top set from a great band, and well worth the early start.
Huddersfield thrashers Evile are certainly no strangers to Bloodstock. With this being their fourth appearance at the festival, Bloodstock is a home from home for them, and there's a lot of affection from the crowd during their set. The set is very focused on the latest 'Five Serpent's Teeth' album, with 'Cult' and the live premier of 'Centurion' hitting the spot and the epic 'Fade To Black' styled 'In Memorium' providing a touching tribute to original bassist Mike Alexander. The new stuff makes Evile sound ever more like Metallica, but there's still time for a couple of the old classics with 'Infected Nation' and set closer 'Thrasher' proving that Evile can thrash with the best of them.
Anvil were one of the reasons I was tempted by Bloodstock this year. Back in the spotlight after the success of that film, I'm pretty sure this was actually Anvil's first main stage appearance at a UK festival for 29 years, with that previous one being Reading Rock in 1983, my very first festival. And yes, I was down the front for that one as well. They don't draw the biggest crowd of the day, and consensus amongst Anvil fans was that they picked a bit of an odd set, but there were plenty of highlights to prove that Anvil should be regarded as a great metal band. 'Mothra', complete with the trademark Lips vibrator guitar solo, is an absolute delight and you can't go wrong with the likes of '666' and 'Winged Assassins'. Robb Reiner has a new vehicle for his stunning drum solo in the shape of the jazz metal 'Swing Thing' and 'Juggernaut Of Justice' is the pick of the newer material. 'Metal On Metal' is, as Lips declares, a metal national anthem. Quite why they decided to close the set with the pretty average new album track 'Running' I'm not sure, but Anvil did enough today to warrant a quick return to the main stage of future festivals. This was also UK fans first chance to see the band with new bassist Sal Italiano, who fits the band perfectly.
Paradise Lost's epic sounding gothic metal gets a good reception from the audience and it's good to see some British representation on the main stage. Singer Nick Holmes is in very relaxed mood and at one point seems more concerned about getting a decent pair of sunglasses than delivering the set, but Paradise Lost prove why they continue to be one of the most enduring British metal acts. Dimmu Borgir's frontman Shagrath may sport a flamboyant leather and studs outfit enough to make even Rob Halford a little jealous, but their symphonic and melodic take on their black metal roots leaves me pretty bored after a while, they do however get a decent enough reception from those who do care for that sort of thing.
If there's one man that can easily unite all the different factions of metal fan at Bloodstock, it's the legend that is Alice Cooper. How can you not enjoy one of this man's shows? Alice is a true professional. Even if you don't like the 80's hair metal styled 'Poison' under normal circumstances, you can't help but get into the spirit and singalong like your life depended on it. All the old classics are trawled out such as 'I'm Eighteen', 'Under My Wheels', 'Billion Dollar Babies' and 'No More Mr Nice Guy', and it's great to hear lesser known classics such as 'Muscle Of Love' and 'Halo Of Flies'. More recent material like 'Caffeine' and 'Wicked Young Man' sound just fine, although it's a shame we don't get 'Dirty Diamonds' this time around. All the theatrics are there as you'd expect with the beheading, giant Frankenstein and poor old Cold Ethyl still taking a good kicking. 'Schools Out' is still irresistible after all these years, but does he really have to incorporate 'Another Brick In The Wall' into it? 'Schools Out' is a better song anyway. Finally the razzmatazz, sparkly suits and union jack waving of the supreme 'Elected' closes Bloodstock 2012 in perfect style. No matter how many times you see Alice Cooper, and despite the fact that it is largely the same show and act each time, it's nothing less than total entertainment. I'd vote for Alice every time.
And so my first Bloodstock comes to a close, apart from some pissed up dancing to Kiss in the VIP bar afterwards, but the less said about that the better! I'm very grateful to all those people who enthused about this festival and insisted I take a look, because they were right. This is a great festival, and one the organisers can be proud of. There's more than enough here to satisfy fans of whatever type of metal is their bag, something for everyone. It's also worth mentioning that the sound systems on all stages were top class as well. Of course it's impossible to catch all the bands on all the stages and I'm sure there were loads of bands I missed that I would have loved. As I mentioned at the start, one of the great things about this festival is that it's the perfect size, not too big and gruelling like your Downloads or Wackens have become. My advice is if you haven't checked out this festival yet is to do so soon before it does become too big. It's growing each year and deserves the success it enjoys. Anthrax have already been confirmed for next year, announced during the course of the weekend, so Bloodstock 2013 is off to a good start.
See you next year!
[Photos by Zelda Goldschmidt]