All pictures by: Vivien Varga
Next year will mark Bloodstock’s 20th anniversary. Anyone seeking affirmation as to its pre-eminent place among Europe’s elite open air metal festivals only has to look at the Thursday night headliners, Rotting Christ. Thesedays the legendary Greek gods are promoting a book as well as their new album The Heretic but to have their presence on the ‘second stage’ at Catton Park on the evening only Thursday bill tells you what a stellar gathering we’re in for across the Derbyshire plains this year.
Friday is the first full day on site and early risers gathering in the Sophie Lancaster tent are eased back into things by Control the Storm who serve up a highly palatable plate of Euro grooves with the flamboyant Firouzeh displaying impressive levels of energy so early in the day, as the Bristolians rattle through several songs from new album Forevermore.
North East metalcore crew Def Con One follow on the Sophie stage and proceed to slam their way through a pulsating set during which all punches thrown land with power and purpose.
Among the first of the big hitters to appear on the vast Ronnie James Dio Stage are Death Angel who launch into “Thrown into Wolves” and then continue to bare their teeth on the likes of “The Dream Calls For Blood” and “The Ultra-Violence”. While speed has always been integral to the San Fran thrash titans they also know how to lay down a chugging riff and their set is met with widespread approval in front of the early afternoon sun. Metal Church try but fail to go toe to toe with them, their set failing to carry quite the same vision and venom.
You hear a lot of talk about ‘Metal Gods’ at Bloodstock, but it was a bunch of wizards who were held spellbound by The Hope Burden over on the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage. The Oxfordshire outfit’s EP Decline Despair Decay neatly summarises their musical mantra.
While providing a sound of equal intensity Bong Cauldron were nevertheless happy to throw in a few japes, possibly because this was their last ever live show together. The Leeds crew conducted their supporters in the Sophie tent with a chant of Yorkshire, Yorkshire, discussed the many benefits of a nice cup of tea and still found time to leave their mark musically when crafting some stupendous sludge shapes. A violent outburst from the heavens sent even more scurrying for the shelter of the Sophie tent, ensuring the trio’s last hurrah was probably played out in front of their largest ever audience.
One of the biggest names appearing on the first full day of Bloodstock are Soulfly. Although the earlier precipitation had well and truly blown one of the giant screens it takes more than that to stop Max Cavalera and the inimitable frontman was as ever in commanding form, the Brazilian king kicking off the set with “The Summoning” from the band’s latest album Ritual. Although no longer raking up the old Sepultura classics, Soulfly have enough crowd pleasers up their own sleeves after 20 years and “Prophecy” and “Babylon” set the crowd stompin’, the tempo only easing off to allow for an impromptu cover of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up”. Max even finds time to pay tribute to Lemmy during the closing roar of “Eye For An Eye”.
The Hobgoblin New Blood Stage is primarily occupied by promising new bands, many of whom have secured their golden ticket to Bloodstock through the nationwide series of regional qualifiers known as Metal 2 The Masses. Among the New Blood standouts on Day 1 are crushing crew Anakim who close the stage in devastating fashion.
Back on the main stage, Tesseract show off their capacity to craft riff battles of near algorithmic agility. Such is the dexterity displayed you’re not sure whether to admire it or take notes!
No such complexities with Day 1 RJD Stage headliners Sabaton, the Swedes heralded like the conquering armies that provide the inspiration for their militarised anthems. With a stage-set looking as though they’d just raided their local army surplus store, Joakim Brodén is very much the Commander in Chief as he leads his troops across the battlegrounds on war-torn numbers such as “Fields of Verdun” and “The Lost Battalion”.
The mood is lifted the following day by the always crazy Evil Scarecrow whose robotic antics have become part of Bloodstock folklore in recent years. As ever they somehow get several thousand metalheads synchronised – well most of them –as they launch into perennial festival crowd-pleasers such as “Robototron”.
Their appearance on the main RJD platform follows fine sets from Krysthla and Swallow The Sun, the former in great shape with their new album Worldwide Negative and the Finns giving something approaching a melancholic melodic masterclass of Songs from the North.
It’s fair to say it takes quite a bit to silence the high pitch screech of Dani Filth. Well the weather somehow managesto do it midway through Day 2. With the ferocious high winds causing more than one stall holder to go and check their tent pegs, the decision was taken to postpone Cradle of Filth’s set for 24 hours on safety grounds.
The winds abated by the time Anthrax took to the RJD Stage although the veteran metal kings as usual kicked up a storm of their own as the deadly duo of Scott Ian and Joey Belladonna turned back the clock with familiar favourites such as “I Am The Law” and “Indians”.
While Anthrax tick the Bloodstock boxes all night long, there had been a few moans about the presence of Parkway Drive as the RJD headliners on Day 2. While offering something for a more mainstream metal audience, they still offered much to admire with a heavier sound than many had perhaps anticipated. Certainly the Bloodstock faithful in the pit lap it up and they duly receive the adulation at the end that their high octane performance merits.
For those who hold Black Metal in the highest regard, Saturday was the day – Midlanders’ Master’s Call turning things prematurely asphalt when headlining the New Blood Stage.
The presence of Taake anywhere always seems to generate controversy, but the presence of the iconic Norwegians as the Sophie Stage closer certainly pulls an enormous crowd. Hoest is a ferocious frontman, with his bog-eyed stares and high kicks. But live the band are a frightening proposition, creating a sinister soundtrack of authentic Bergen Black Metal, with Hoest only dropping his guard at the end when dedicating the climactic set closer to ‘all the topless ladies in the audience’.The on-off deluges that have peppered Catton Park for the past three days ensure a sticky final day for the Bloodstock crowd. Soilwork are among the first to get things moving over on the RJD Stage with their abrasive attacks but even more commanding are Hypocrisy, who are making their long overdue Bloodstock bow. The Swedes have a deserved reputation for creating metal that is railtrack heavy but also with an underlying intelligence and intrigue. The whole thing comes together superbly under the astute leadership of frontman Peter Tägtgren as they dig up tracks from a 25-year back catalogue, “Fire in the Sky” and “War-Path” among them.
Anyone who thought they’d said a final goodbye to Dee Snider when Twisted Sister performed here are mistaken as the indefatigable frontman returns, this time for a solo show, part-power part-panto.
Nor are the theatrics in short supply on the Sophie Lancaster Stage where Batushka have adorned their stage with more religious paraphernalia than your local cathedral. It’s a great shame that their eagerly anticipated Bloodstock bow has been slightly overshadowed by the assorted internal wrangling’s as to who wrote what and who owns what. Fortunately the legal shenanigans are forgotten as the whiff of incense starts to pull a packed tent under their spell, as the band begin their extensive preparations before even so much as a chord is struck. New album Hospodi eventually makes up the majority of their set as the Polish dark overlords manage to combine crucifix crushing riffwork alongside more spiritual endeavours that would be the envy of you average gospel choir. The overall impact is devastating and for many, the sound, power and the glory combined with the blackened aesthetics makes Batushka’s performance one of this year’s Bloodstock highlights.And for those who fail to connect with the Black Metal torchbearers then over on the main stage Scorpions bring down the Bloodstock curtain, by now a bit sodden and muddy, for another year with a heroic display of old school traditional heavy metal.