Bloodstock is the UK’s premiere metal festival, this year attracting a record 18,000 revved up metalheads to the leafy surrounds of Catton Park in Derbyshire. With four stages in use across three full days of wall to wall metal if you don’t find anything to bang your head to here then you’re definitely in the wrong place.
Many of those acts on the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage have secured their Bloodstock bow having qualified through the popular regional Metal 2 The Masses route. What used to be a network of heats across the UK has expanded to the point where M2TM finals now take place across Europe.
This year’s three headline performers on the vast Ronnie James Dio Stage were Gojira, Judas Priest and Nightwish. The broad spectrum of tastes that Bloodstock cater for each year is certainly reflected in that tasty triumvirate and certainly French heroes Gojira delivered a wonderfully professional set on their Bloodstock return that merely confirmed what we already knew. These days the Gallic giants dine at the top table.
If Gojira are a band at the peak of their powers, Judas Priest would have to look long over their shoulder to remember theirs. Thesedays when Priest perform its more of an event than a concert and as if to emphasise the point singer Rob Halford arrived in Derbyshire with a wardrobe that Kylie would have been proud of. Gold lamé jacket dripping with tassels, and that was just for starters. Halford’s an old school rock performer but here at Catton Park, not too far from Priest’s Birmingham birthplace, theveteran performer was determined to give the fans something to remember him by.
Opening with the title track of new album Firepower, the seen-it-all Priest were determined to enjoy this moment back in the spotlight, saving the golden era hits such as ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ for the encore. The four-track finale was all the more poignant as the band were reunited with Glenn Tipton, the band’s former guitarist who now sadly suffers from the debilitating Parkinson’s Disease.
Nightwish do their Euro pop rock well enough, although Floor Jansen’s voice at times struggles to stay with their symphonic surges, although everyone was happy enough to clap along when the Finns’ closed the main stage on Sunday.
There were a few black metal acts performing at Bloodstock for whom clapping along would definitely not have been appropriate. Take Trivax for one. The winners of the Birmingham leg of Metal 2 The Masses, this merciless quartet have been building quite a following and the Hobgoblin New Blood tent soon started to fill up as their blackened riffs started to spread like a charred contagion through the tent. The picture was not much brighter over in the larger Sophie Lancaster tent where Mortishead were waging their distinctive war against worldwide corruption, with singer Luke The Bastard in his traditional sharp suit to represent the bankers and the politicians.
There wasn’t a great deal of political debate from the likes of Bloodbath and Memoriam on the headline stage although anyone seeking light relief from this heavy-hitting pair could follow the medieval manouvres of Kamelot or the Tokyo sirens Lovebites, elevated to the headline stage following the late arrival of Suicidal Tendencies, whose travel problems forced organisers to shoehorn them into the Sophie tent.
For many the opening day’s highlight was undoubtedly the mighty Emperor who somehow manage to turn on the frozen blasters even on the sunniest of days through such fearsome forays as ‘Thus Spake The Nightspirit’ and ‘With Strength I Burn’.
The black metal vibe quickly resurfaced on the Saturday with the presence of Venom Inc, a band who probably created the genre with their song of that name. While you can argue the respective merits of the original Venom line-up and this current interpretation all you like but there’s little room to question the intensity of the performance, the veterans in vibrant form, with guitarist Mantas heroically on stage little over two months on from a potentially life-ending hospital visit.
Septicflesh also deliver an immense set on the headline stage but if all the doom and blackened gloom is too much for some then solace can be found through the hi-jinx of Alestorm, who as ever do their best to transform the whole arena into a dancing happy throng, enhanced with a cornucopia of multi-coloured inflatables. Ducks seemed to be particularly popular this year.
While a few drops of rain here and there fail to dampen spirits, Cannibal Corpse are greeted with the heaviest downpour of the festival. Obviously it takes more than that to throw the Corpsegrinder off course and the Tampa titans power their way through a Death Metal masterclass in which the sodden pit are whipped into muddy delirium as the likes of ‘Devoured By Vermin,’ ‘A Skull Full of Maggots’ and the closing ‘Hammer Smashed face’ reverberate across Catton Park.
On the final day the main stage hosts notable performers such as At The Gates and Devildriver although the performance of Jasta takes some beating on the same platform. Billed as a ‘Jasta and friends’, it emerged that his trusty pals were Dino Cazares from Fear Factory, Kirk Windstein from Crowbar and ex-Killswitch king Howard Jones, latterly of Light The Torch. Playing covers from all three bands, embellished with some Hatebreed hardcore, this metal mash-up was a Bloodstock highlight, and the crowd reveled in seeing such luminaries sharing the same stage.
There may not have been quite the same size crowd over at the diminutive Jagermeister Stage – which is scarcely a stage at all, really – but that mattered not a jot to intense solo black metal project Abduction. Similar in intensity to fellow one-man act Drudkh, the difference here is that Abduction is prepared to play live, albeit with the caveat of a mask to conceal his features.
If one person can create a sound like that, then how about two? Over in the Sophie Lancaster tent German duo Mantar provided the answer. While similar in presentation to fellow Tectonic twosome The Picturebooks, Mantar are a far more hostile proposition and their raging toe-to-toe close-quarters warfare made for compulsive viewing.
Doom disciples were back in the same Sophie tent later to welcome the outstanding slowburners Pallbearer, but for a festival closer Watain, in full Satanic worship mode, could not be surpassed as Bloodstock 2018 came to a fiery finish.
Photos by Rich Thompson