As the sun beat down over… wherever Bloodstock is (it took me plenty of trains to get here, I’d guess at Derbyshire), the arena was already in full swing with gradually-sunburning metalheads enjoying the festivities by the time I arrived and wrestled my tent into a vaguely upright position
(Google informs me it is in Derbyshire).
I decided to head on over to check out the main stage and was pleasantly surprised by the tight, energetic stylings of Moonsorrow. Their fist-pumping fusion of brutish guitar and folk-esque synth lines make for a brilliant way to kick off my Bloodstock. They bring a feeling of raw ‘epic-ness’ that, although strived for by many metal bands, few can truly achieve – especially in a live scenario. It isn’t often that long instrumental sections can captivate, retain and coerce a crowd into head nodding and foot shuffling, but Moonsorrow really have it cracked.
It is on a high note, then, that I wandered on over to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch Sweet Savage. Unfortunately for the NWOBHM pioneers, they don’t really get a very big crowd. To be honest, it’s the story of their life – despite being among the fathers of the genre, they never really clicked into success.
The mix is a little off, with backing vocals deafeningly loud, but tracks such as ‘Regenerator’ retain the capability to get hands clapping. Despite this, it’s pretty standard all round. The songs blur together a bit, and the vocals are a little shaky. Sweet Savage’s strength is definitely in their guitar work, but that isn’t enough today to result in a truly memorable set. A shame, really, as we let a lot of older bands get away with murder on stage as long as they’re ‘big and famous’. Here’s what happens when they aren’t.
I then decided it was time for a look in on the tiny Jagermeister stage, where Dakesis were down to perform an acoustic set. ‘Acoustic? At Bloodstock?’ you say. Yes indeedy. And my GOD, do Dakesis do a good job of it, convincing me that acoustifying power metal can in fact be a fine move. Managing to retain a degree of heaviness even with their acoustic setup, the charismatic 5-piece work the crowd well in a tight all-round performance.
If I had to choose one element to home in on, it would be the multi-level vocal harmonies across both male and female members of the band – these are a touch of real class. The audience are great throughout – singing along to tracks such as ‘Valhalla’ and generally having a great time – and it’s smiles all round at the end of a set Dakesis can be proud of.
Next up was Iced Earth on the main stage – a set dripping with quality really kicked the crowd up a notch, with Stu Block’s powerful highs and the guitarists’ top-notch shredding drawing one of the biggest audiences of the day so far. Despite their static positioning, well-synchronised guitar-bobs and other such moves brought a pleasing visual element to the set – capped by a particularly impressive performance from drummer Brent Smedley.
After this, it’s back to the Jagermeister stage for another acoustic set – this time coming from folk-metallers Andraste, who bring an interesting choice of weaponry; mandolins, fiddle and whistle join the usual compliment of guitars, bass and drums to create an instrumental setup perhaps more accustomed to acoustic performance than Dakesis before.
I have to say, it’s refreshingly different – the folk element definitely winning out, yet complimented by growled vocals and multi-stack vocal harmonies which are alright without being outstanding. If I’m honest, it wears a little after twenty minutes of so – although the introduction of new elements, such as whistle-led songs like ‘Brian the Ferryman’ (guess who that might be a tribute to) change the pace, it gets a tad draggy.
It’s not a bad performance – not the tightest with a few noticeable slips on drums – but doesn’t really compare to what the stage saw half an hour before.
Then it was time to join the flow of people headed to the main stage in time for a highly-anticipated set from Sepultura. Quite a bit more ‘extreme’ than anything I’d caught so far (in terms of heaviness), they really went for it – throwing a full set of unrelenting, frenetic energy at the seething mass before them. The sound was amazing for their set, matching the technical performance and monstrous stage presence as the Brazilians mercilessly banged the crowd’s heads.
A surprise appearance from Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens for a powerful rendition of ‘Territory’ capping one of the best performances of the festival so far.
Next up are Pythia on the Sophie stage – their distinctive fashion sense and melodic vocal-led sound brings a slightly more operatic front to today’s lineup and draws a decent sized crowd. It’s obvious this band are reliant on Emily Ovenden’s vocals, as they’re breathtaking live – yet I can’t help but feel that maybe due to this the tracks themselves seem fairly one-dimensional and standard (besides the odd cracking guitar line).
The crowd like it though, cheering loudly and keening for favourite tracks like the well-delivered ‘Sarah (Bury Her)’. It’s a set worth watching, as Pythia give a spiritedly different metal experience which breaks up the day nicely.
If I had to pick one band I’d been itching for most today, it would be Dio Disciples. As a huge fan of Ronnie, this ultimate tribute was one I had to see on the Bloodstock main stage. And my, do they deliver. It’s a magical hour, where young and old metalheads sing along as one to the endless catalogue of hits from Dio’s lengthy career.
Big, hairy, tattooed headbangers are crying at renditions of ‘All The Fools Sailed Away’ and ‘The Last In Line’ and roaring along to classics such as ‘Holy Diver’, admirably delivered by vocalists Toby Jepson and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Of course, they aren’t Dio – and neither can quite match the sonorous intensity of the man himself, but their performance is still brilliant and polished.
There’s not much to be said for the rest of the band – they’re professional, tight and know what they’re doing. In short, they’re the real deal, the proper tribute to one of metal’s brightest shiners. It’s an emotional journey duly delivered; there’s a reason they’re Dio’s disciples.
After I’d cleaned up my puddle of tears and snot, I hopped into the Sophie tent to catch Eastern Front, and kind of wished that I hadn’t – vocalist Nagant’s deafening shrieks and grunted lows providing an oddly fascinating but chronically headache-making platform for what sounded like a nifty, tight instrumental set from the self-defined war-torn black metallers. Perhaps another day….
Upon freeing myself from Eastern Front’s spell, I decided to take the party (me and my battered hip-flask) to the Jagermeister stage and see what Absolva were up to. It turns out this was a good move – as although I wouldn’t describe their set as a ‘groundbreaking’ or new formula (in places sounding a little like another Dio tribute act) their classic metal sound really works for them. They’re tight, talented and draw a decent amount of people to the small stage.
Formed of members of previously notable bands including Fury UK, the standard of musicianship is high – offsetting the puzzling young/old dynamic they’ve got going on and making for a very enjoyable set. Hats off to the Jager sound engineer, who has been consistently top-notch all day.
Next up are the black metal stylings of Watain – who do a great job of getting heads banging with their brutal interchange between slow, grooving riffs and sporadic bursts of energy. They’re also the first band I’ve seen to take Bloodstock seriously, splattering the crowd with a goblet of real blood while chanting fevered demonic spell-work.
In typical Watain fashion, the stage is littered with flaming crosses, arcane symbols and corpse-painted madmen – not least of which is wonderfully evil-looking Eric Danielsson, who gives one of the more visually brilliant frontman performances of the day. It’s a spectacle to be feared, enjoyed and give Bloodstock’s younger attendees years of nightmares. A success all round for the theatrical Swedes, then.
Jogging to the Sophie stage brings me to Alcest’s set. Incredibly mellow and melodic in comparison with most of the lineup, the French shoegazers still draw in a decent crowd. Visually static, slow-paced and with brooding vocals, the atmosphere is incredibly low-key and quite a few revellers take this as the signal to crack out a joint or two. In all honesty, compared to the excitement of Watain before and Behemoth and Dirty Sanchez after them, they look a tad out of place.
The less intoxicated of the audience begin to look a little bored. I don’t blame them. More popular songs such as ‘Autre Temps’ perk some fans up, but by this point a lot of the crowd had been spoiled by more energetic acts.
After Alcest, it was definitely time to check out Dinner – a top-quality showing with the appearance of a chilli-cheese burrito. Disaster struck at one point, when the bottom of the burrito appeared to be splitting, but a change of pace and some intricate tech-work prevented disaster and made for a delicious finish.
As inadvisable as it sounds after Dinner, I decided to go back to the Sophie stage for Dirty Sanchez – a set that comes with its own warning. A cheer erupts for “the next set may contain material of an adult nature” (partly due to a day of listening to bands hold back on the swearing due to Bloodstock’s debatable family-friendly policy, the festival-goers are probably pleased with the respite).
The Welsh lads burst on stage and get to work bursting beer cans on their head to the sound of Slayer, smashing lightbulbs over each other, bungee-ing elastic bands to the face, flashing, piercing ears with fishing rods for ‘human fishing’ and spraying each other with sparks and fire extinguishers. There’s literally no new way to review Dirty Sanchez. They get hammered and do stupid shit. It’s hilarious and it’s a complete variance on the rest of the day.
After seeing a man yanked around by a fishing line, it was obviously quite a contrast to arrive at the main stage for today’s headliner, Behemoth – who are visually spectacular, but in an (obviously) different manner to the Welsh party-boys. Relentless, battering drums and atmospheric yet filthy-heavy guitar lines set the tone, complimented by an amazing light-show which does wonders to keep the spark and interest during slower-paced sections of the set.
Beforehand, I’d found myself questioning why they were in a headline slot – their warm reception was the best answer I could have hoped for, as the huge crowd respond with vigour; even people at the back were shaking/kind-of-twitching along. The pyrotechnics? Insane – almost threatening to set the lighting rig on fire.
Scorched bulbs aside, the atmosphere is further built built by the use of canny sampling and crowd interaction. “Tonight, we shall all rise”. This results in a huge stage presence throughout, easily surpassing more ‘numbered’ bands as they lash out with intoxicating riffs and militant double kick. By the end of the set, I genuinely thought Inferno’s feet could be made of something radioactive and indestructible. An amazing job from band and sound desk alike brings the day to a close.
11 am on Saturday after ‘the Friday night’ is never the most amazing time for a set, and death-metallers Benediction knew they’d have to work the crowd well. As vocalist Dave Hunt said to the middling-sized crowd, “welcome to the Benediction breakfast club. As you can see, I can barely walk, but you just fucking get on with it” before diving into a pacy number, which raises a few horns.
Yes, the early start is noticeable, but the banter is nice and Benediction themselves deliver a tight set with a decent amount of energy. It’s infectious and even the pale-faced and sunglassed can be seen nodding appreciatively to Nick Barker’s brilliantly technical drum lines. Not a bad start to the day.
Then it was time to check out the frantic shredding, ferocious drumming and wandering bass-lines that harked Savage Messiah over at the Sophie stage. Their blend of thrash and NWOBHM-style vocals topped with intriguing lead guitar-work made for a very enjoyable listen. Their music clearly draws influence from both older and contemporary styles of metal and the half-full tent appreciate this – clapping along and fist-pumping to songs like ‘Carnival of Souls’. Not a bad performance from the Londoners.
The next set on the Sophie stage unveils a fairly muddy sound-mix for Dripback – who regardless have a decent number of onlookers. The sound issue is not too big of a deal, though, as the unrelenting pace gets the crowd moving a shade faster than any so far today. Dripback’s hardcore-glazed sound is filled with crafty pace changes and timing-work, breaking up the ruthless pounding on drums, and although frontman Wez4’s vocals sound a bit gaggy occasionally, it’s not too bad overall.
After Dripback’s battering, Taiwanese melodic death metallers Chthonic were over on the main stage. An interestingly different band both nationality-wise and stylistically. The ethereality of the erhu, synths and occasional melodic guitar sections provide a nice respite from the loudness war of bands like Dripback. Despite this, the crowd aren’t really moved much by the performance (besides chanting ‘Taiwan’ at one point though not really being fully sure why). At a festival featuring so many screamers, Freddy Lim’s efforts are underwhelming. All things considered, a pretty mediocre set.
Crowbar, then, are the heroes of the hour as they follow Chthonic with their filthy yelling and thick riffs, drawing out the headbangers. Their slow, distorted guitar lines draw people to the main stage as they make their mission clear – “not gonna waste your time telling rock stories or bullshit, let’s just jam our balls off, ok?” That’s fine by me.
It’s not all slow and dropped-low, however, as faster passages whip the crowd up before dropping them back into the unholy groove-pool. There’s not much movement on-stage, but it sounds great and makes for one of the better sets I’ve seen so far.
Post-Crowbar comes Manchester’s black metal outfit Winterfylleth, whose machine-gun drumming and Viking-y riffs pack out the Sophie stage. There seem to be more sound issues, as the guitars are so muddy for most of the set it’s not particularly fair to review them. It’s a decent vocal and drum performance, however, with a fair crowd reaction. I’m not sure if it’s due to the pre-festival PA trouble, but quite a few bands are suffering bad sound.
Over on the Jagermeister stage, Dreamcatcher give a semi-acoustic setup a go to mixed success. It’s very low-key and not particularly tight, but endearing enough as there’s definitely the basis of a good set here. I’m not really sure this format does them justice, although it exhibits Matt Hudson’s technical bass ability nicely and the mid-sized crowd seem to enjoy it.
A little later in the evening, it’s time for Machine Head – an apparently controversial choice of headliner to Bloodstock’s ‘purists’, who apparently don’t consider them to be ‘real metal’. Determined to disprove them, Machine Head come out roaring and as heavy as their ‘real metal’ counterparts.
Pyrotechnics blaze high on-stage, lighting up what is probably the biggest crowd this weekend. The crowd are really spurred into motion by a rendition of ‘Aesthetics of Hate’, all while more people are arriving to watch. Huge circle pits to classics like ‘Halo’ are commonplace throughout the set, and the five fan-picked songs the band put up an online vote for go down brilliantly. As good as Machine Head are today, I’ve seen them better.
It’s one of the better sets at this year’s Bloodstock so far, but not one of the band’s best. It’s a definite success though, and the huge crowd roar their appreciation until it’s time to head back to the tent or party.
Sunday: a day for squinting at things through sunglasses. Despite this, I still felt duty-bound to grab a sausage butty and head to the main stage for Corrosion of Conformity’s midday start. Their slow, grooving riffs and dirty vocals acclimatise the hungover masses into a day of metal, before thrashier sections provide a little more energy to proceedings. For some reason, the snare sounds far too echo-ey, which gets annoying after a while – as does the slightly whiny quality of the vocals.
A trip to the New Talent tent brings me the thick, dropped guitars and growl-clean vocal interchanges of Sa-da-kO, in what is a sparkling performance compared to a lot of the ‘bigger’ bands this weekend. Their Fear Factory-reminiscent sound pleases the small number gathered and a masterful cover of ‘Boom! Shake The Room’ demonstrates a mastery in adaptation, while new single ‘Change My Fate’ gets heads banging and shows great vocal form.
The bands’ faces look tired, but they throw themselves into every song – and in between vocalist Jim’s banter makes them accessible and friendly. Sa-da-kO are one of Bloodstock’s nice surprises, with a set to be proud of.
Sanctuary hit the main-stage in a blaze of mediocrity, Warrel Dane’s hit-and-miss vocals and the deafening-toms-low-guitar mix issue killing the sparkle of the Seattle metallers’ first UK performance in over 20 years. ‘The Mirror Black’ gets the crowd clapping, but there’s a real sense they’re clapping because it’s Sanctuary, not because it’s a great showing.
At a festival with a lot of fairly similar bands, they don’t really do much to elevate themselves. They are just a classic band to be watched.
Over on the Jagermeister stage, Canadians Kobra and The Lotus get off to a decent start – despite vocals sounding a little forced from frontwoman Kobra Paige. It’s a bit strange, as she sounds like she’s trying to emulate great NWOBHM vocalists such as Bruce Dickinson or Dio, but it’s only half working in the acoustic format.
There’s definite ability there but it just doesn’t sound natural, and as vocals have been mixed slightly higher than the rest of the band it creates a vocal-focus hype which doesn’t really get filled. It’s not a terrible set – some nifty guitar-work notably drawing appreciative looks from the crowd – but it’s forgettable. A shame, as I hear their set on the main stage wasn’t too bad.
A short while later, Halifax’s heavily anticipated death/doom men Paradise Lost tear up the main stage with crowd favourites such as ‘Honesty In Death’, getting a good reaction. It’s not the best of sets from them, however, as they don’t look to be as ‘into it’ as I know they can be. No-one can be disappointed, however, as they really do get the audience lively – whether this is in a good way or a bad way (as Nick Holmes’s stage banter annoyed a few people) has yet to be seen.
Next up is the bizarrely-dressed Dimmu Borgir. When I say bizarre, I mean bizarre even for Bloodstock. Tassels and corpse-paint complete the visual element of the Norwegian black metal troupe, who proceed to shell out a fairly good performance. Besides the quality of their showing, there’s a bit of a nagging feeling that they’re not best enjoyed in daylight on a big stage. The audience seem pacified by what they’re seeing, although by the end it all gets a bit Bore-gir and stale. From a musical perspective it’s all good, but the rest needs a good cattle-prodding.
The final headliner of 2012, Alice Cooper, was as on form as ever, pleasing the masses with on-stage antics and long list of mouth-along classics. Bringing a live snake to the party was just one move in a stunning set both audibly and visually, proving once again that despite years at the top, Alice Cooper is still brilliant. It’s an interesting and clever booking, as I can’t think of a band on this year’s bill with such a thirst for theatricality and showmanship – making the confetti-firing rocker the perfect choice to close the day and fest.
Every song has its own visual element – whether it be a costume with spider’s legs for ‘Black Widow’ or a huge Frankenstein for ‘Feed My Frankenstein’, which is fun all round. The end of the set rolls around all too soon and ‘School’s Out’ makes its inevitable appearance to the crowd’s delight, before finishing with ‘I Wanna Be Elected’ and a huge union flag.