Ahh, Bloodstock. In its 11th year since beginning in the small two-stage Assembly Rooms in Derby, you could say the festival has grown somewhat, as its open-air equivalent hit over 11,000 attendees this year. Boasting possibly the heaviest lineup of its existence, the festival attracted some negative comments from those used to a more melodically-friendly lineup. But, there was little to complain about from this metalhead, as he threaded his way through various blackly- or bizarrely-clad individuals to headbang along to old favorites and seek new discoveries.
Regrettably missing the Thursday night action (bar some minutes of Saturnian‘s enjoyable Dimmu-like antics), the Friday was the first real chance for me to get my teeth into the line-up. After a solid and heartfelt warmup performance given by Reading metalcore bunch Malefice (who, surprising to some of the metal purists, were not out of place here), the first full-on barrage of metal for me was due from frozen Finland.
Moonsorrow have quickly risen to being one of my favorite bands, and after putting on a blinder of a set in Austria last year, I was very excited to see them at a festival. The pagan black metallers’ set was full of standards like the catchy “Sankarihauta” and “Kivenkantaja”, but the surprise highlight was my personal favorite “Huuto” from their latest album. However, the whole set was incredible, and Moonsorrow are one of the few bands who can hold attention throughout 15-minute epics.
After some recovery, it was time for a curiosity of mine: Iced Earth with new frontman Stu Block. As something of a Barlow enthusiast, and unfamiliar with latest release Dystopia, I was pleased to discover that Block’s voice was both distinct yet representative enough of Barlow’s to do him justice. This came to light particularly when they whipped out “Damien”, one of my favorite Barlow-era songs, or the poignant “Watching Over Me” in honor of guitarist Schaffer’s friend, or the rousing anti-establishment speech before latest single “Anthem”. A satisfying set for a band in a new era.
Later in the evening, something momentous occurred on the Sophie Stage: Alcest played. Their set could only be described as magical, as Neige and the others wove through track after track of emotional melodies interlaced with moments of harsh black metal. The backing vocalist had some Jonsi-like ethereal quality, while Neige himself was astounding in both cleans and screams. Les Voyages De L’Âme is hotly-tipped for my Top 5 of 2012, and seeing it live left no question as to why. It remains impossible to pick a favorite moment, as each minute of that hour was full of beauty. Blasphemous as it may sound, they may have edged Watain and Behemoth off the top band spot that eve, although the latter put on a grand performance nonetheless. There was something empowering to hearing Nergal announce: “It feels good to be alive”. Needless to say, I skipped on Dirty Sanchez.
Starting off the morning with a bang was the “Benediction Breakfast Club”, dubbed by frontman Dave Hunt, who played criminally early on the mainstage. Having seen the UK death metal legends destroy when headlining the Sophie Stage in 2012, I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with enjoyable numbers like “They Must Die Screaming” and “Your Suffering Feeds Me”, which they happily provided. Unhappily, vocalist Dave Hunt was hobbling around on crutches, although it did allow some of his dry humor to emerge, including a quip about his holding onto the mic stand being “like Jonathan Davis of Korn. Now I just need an Adidas tracksuit”. No better way to start the morning.
Next up on the Sophie Stage were melodic thrashers Savage Messiah, who put on a great show despite suffering from poor sound. Dave Silver was on fine form vocally, particularly his high-pitched Halford-style shrieks, but all the musicians pulled their weight. Eventually the numerous riffs and solos in Plague Of Conscience‘s tracks came through, and while the set leaned quite heavily on that album, there was time for one number from a previous one to close. A satisfying intro into the band’s sound and energetic stage presence.
Later on, Taiwan descended onto the mainstage in the form of folk-black metallers Chthonic. After thoroughly enjoying Takasago’s Army, I was impressed with the way the band handled the material onstage, and particularly that the erhu and Freddy Lim/Doris Yeh’s vocals were noticeably audible (usually folk instruments and black metal shrieks suffer at festivals). With the catchiness of “Broken Jade” and closer “Takao”, along with older tracks like “Quasi-Putrefaction”, the set was highly enjoyable. And as a surprise, it was pointed out the lack of injured Dani Wang on the drumkit, but Dan Mullins (ex-My Dying Bride). Naturally, frontman Freddy Lim had his own piece to say on the Olympics, particularly at the injustice to his country during it, and seemed surprised when the crowd started shouting “Taiwan!” at him. International solidarity at its metal best.
Back again to the Sophie Stage, Orange Goblin kicked up a set stocked with swaying stoner groove, the tower of vocalist Ben Ward being very moved by the crowd’s response, particularly during the rousing “They Come Back (Harvest Of Skulls)” or the drifting “Time Traveling Blues”. That said, tracks from the latest Eulogy For The Damned such as “Red Tide Rising” were also well-received, as was Joe Hoare’s excellent soloing. The band seemed humbled by the end, and the crowd were roaring for more, the sign of a successful headlining.
Speaking of successful headlining, the number of people I saw going crazy at Machine Head‘s set that night gave a good impression that the tracks they played, either from Unto The Locust or Burn My Eyes for that matter, went down very well indeed.
After catching brief wails of Kobra And The Lotus‘ set, my first proper experience of Sunday was local death metallers Flayed Disciple on the Sophie Stage. Riding on the success of Death Hammer (a fairly accurate description of their music), they put on a blasting half-hour set with wild-eyed and grunting Tim Whyte at the helm as they fired off pleasant tracks like “Ejaculate While Killing” and “Feast In A Forest Of Impaled Bodies”. Lovely stuff.
That put my ears in good stead for the mainstage pummeling to follow. Nile were, well, Nile. An exceedingly tight performance was inevitable and delivered, although I had to question the droning outro of “Ithyphallic” being played at half-speed, leaving the aftertaste of a funeral doom band. But “Black Seeds of Vengeance” was played, with ‘guest vocals’ from pranksters The Black Dahlia Murder, and all was well again.
Speaking of The Black Dahlia Murder, their set that followed was spectacular. Having seen them headline Bonecrusher Fest 3 years back, I was curious to see how they’d developed, especially given the top-notch release Ritual in the meanwhile. In short, anybody doubting the band’s place in death metal were soon silenced as the double-punch of “A Shrine To Madness”/”Moonlight Equilibrium” opened up, with the mad Trevor Strnad’s vocals on top form. The setlist drew from all 5 albums, and included stunning solos and drumming such as in “I Will Return”, or the oldschool destruction of closer “Funeral Thirst”. And naturally, it wouldn’t be a TBDM show without some weird events: a couple copulating in the moshpit, a flying mini-football and another naked man crowdsurfed out rectified that quickly. All in the name of a memorable show.
After watching Paradise Lost be their gothic metal selves as the sun set, and playing a mix from their eclectic catalog, it was time to see what the New Blood stage was showcasing. First up were personal favorites of mine, Irish melodic groovers Shattered Skies. Despite being newcomers and a little lighter than the usual Bloodstock extremity, they played their set with elegance, particularly watching frontman Sean Murphy weave through impressive vocal lines. Guitarist Ian Rockett was no less impressive, playing extensive solos with maturity and precision, and adding minimal backing growls. Mixing in material from their Reanimation EP with singles “As The Sea Divides” and “Saviours”, the taped piano of the former melded in well, and the slap guitar part of the latter was similarly delectable. When they launched into fan favorite “Attrition”, it was plain to see the band’s bright career emerge in the white stage lights.
Next up on New Blood were the Cypriot groovers Blynd, who took to the stage with an air of confidence despite this being their second UK show ever. Theirs was a punishing set, blending influences of Lamb Of God and Euro-melodeath acts, made all the more impressive by vocalist/bassist Andreas playing with a dislocated shoulder. The guitar work from Dino and George was superb as well, as they blasted through a variety of tracks from their début The Enemy and upcoming sophomore Punishment Unfolds. The fact that they ran out of promos at the end of the set suggested I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the newfound discovery.
All that was left for me was to revel in the destruction that Sophie headliners Anaal Nathrakh were going to deliver, and glorious was the destruction. Dave Hunt hobbled onstage for a second time with partner-in-crime Mick Kenney (who’d played Brutal Assault only the day before), and set about attacking both microphone and stand during the appropriately-titled “Drug-Fucking Abomination”. Dave ended up having a bad relationship with that stand as it snapped, so he resembled Chuck Billy for a while (only a damn sight angrier). I only hope Dave’s leg heals soon, after seeing the pain he was in. As classic numbers such as “Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes” and my all-time favorite “When The Lion Devours Both Dragon And Child” were ceremoniously blasted to pieces, Dave also found time to clarify their position on Hitler before launching into the anti-Nazi “The Final Absolution”. They also premiered a promising-sounding new track from the upcoming album, and closed their hour of power with the live staple “Pandemonic Hyperblast”. The title sums up Nathrakh’s sound really, but my ringing ears wouldn’t accept it any other way.
I missed Alice Cooper‘s hotly-tipped and theatrical set, but from what I could hear of “School’s Out” and “Poison” across the length of the site, it sounded like he was on fine form, and an excellent way to round out another successful festival. As the thousands rolled themselves out of the camp on Monday morning, the atmosphere was a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment that it was over. With Anthrax tapped as performing at Bloodstock 2013, I’m confident that the rest of the line-up is going to be just as enjoyable next time round. See you then.
Stay tuned for interviews with Demonic Resurrection and Blynd!