Review by Callum K Cragg
It’s that time of year again, and with the unfortunate and rather rubbish news all year that many other festivals have had to be cancelled or shortly after taking place going into liquidation, it falls upon the ever reliable Bloodstock to rally the 10,000 or so metallers at Catton Hall into a frenzy.
To get the weekend properly started are the home forged underground titans Bloodshot Dawn (8) who play their first live show with new drummer Janne Jaloma in tow. It’s brilliant stuff as the band plough through ‘Beckoning Oblivion’ and ‘Vision’ before bringing out former drummer Doug Anderson to provide vocal duties for the crowd rousing ‘The Quantum Apocalypse.’
New cut ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ from their upcoming album due out towards the end of the year sounds huge, there really is little holding these guys back.
Over on the New Blood Stage Abhorrent Decimation (6) play their brutal yet melodic brand of death metal with frightening ferocity and passion which is unfortunately lost in the muddy mix, they go down well enough though as ‘A Putrid Vision’ threatens to tear the tent apart.
Brutai (7) fair significantly better with the sound and their modern progressive sound attracting more than just one or two casual passers-by.
Felix Lawrie’s vocals in particular are the main highlight of their set reminding of a significantly heavier ‘Karnivool.’ Bloodstock really have the right idea when it comes to unsigned and DIY talent, as next up on the New Blood Stage is Gloucestershire’s Oakhaart (8) who arguably own the New Blood Stage the whole weekend.
Their technical proficiency is matched by their ability to write an incredibly catchy riff and vocal line, blending the sound of Nevermore and earlier works by Gojira ‘Uproot’ and ‘Technological Singularity’ sound like some of the best new material of the year, and if you were lucky enough you may have even caught one of the CD’s frontman Sam Shiers was tossing into the crowd. Expect big things from these guys.
Somehow out of all four stages present throughout the weekend The Jägermeister Stage somehow manages to get the best sound of the weekend, and crammed into the tiny tent dreary drone doomsters Undersmile (8) bring forth music that is truly an acquired taste. Duel fronted by Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown the two ladies bring forth a vocal style that is incredibly eerie and haunting, more akin to a wail than anything else, and with lyrical themes based around oceans you’d be forgiven for being sea-sick at how devastatingly heavy they are today.
As a stark contrast the return of Tom G Warrior and Triptykon (5) is a massive let down, partly due to the sound being awful, leaving only the bass and drums audible, and partly due to the new tracks from latest opus ‘Melana Chasmata’ not going down too well, ‘Black Snow’ falls really short whilst there is only so many times you can have a band play a nineteen minute song in ‘The Prolonging’ live before you wished for a little more variety in the set list.
They do however dig right through the back catalogue once unleashing the set highlight in the form of Hellhammer’s ‘Messiah.’ It’s a shame about their show today as 3 years ago they were easily one of the highlights of the weekend.
It’s over to the Sophie stage next as Winterfylleth (8) stake their claim once more as being the best black metal band in Britain.
The sound is excellent for their set as they lunge right into ‘Casting the Runes.’ Considering how long the band have been going with the size of the crowd it won’t be at all surprising to see them headline this stage in the not so distant future, with very few other bands being able to claim to have anthemic black metal ‘The Solitary One Waits for Grace’ and ‘Defending The Realm’ get some of the best crowd chanting of the festival leaving many throats sore if they weren’t already.
Back on the RJD stage the sound gremlins are at work again causing special guests Dimmu Borgir (6) to have nearly 30 minutes of delays during their allotted time. Understandably the band seems very upset as they were in a celebratory mood, looking back at career spanning twenty one years.
By the time the sound becomes reasonable its unfortunately a little too late as not even ‘The Serpentine Offering’ or ‘Mourning Palace’ can save disgruntled fans from walking away. A real shame as it was shaping up to be significantly better than their previous performance here two years ago.
Friday night however it is the black metal Greeks Rotting Christ (9) who takes the crown. If Winterfylleth earlier in the day played their anthemic black metal with an old school vibe, Rotting Christ levels the Sophie tent with pummelling tribal brutality.
It’s a career spanning set that is highlighted by the particularly brilliant tracks from their most recent opus ‘Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy’ firing through intro ‘666’ into the massive ‘In Yumen – Xibalba.’ The band play with a no nonsense ethos, little in-between song crowd interaction and no encore, to that extent little ego to get in the way of excellent music. The Greek (anti)Gods came to do business today and who’d have thought it, business is very, very good.
It’s up and relatively early on the Saturday morning and once more over to the New Blood Stage where Reprisal (7) battle a fairly murky sound but nevertheless manage to soldier on with their death thrash noodling that at the right moments is absolutely blistering, the band are as melodic as they are technical with ‘Atomic Tectonics’ being a particular set highlight. A band well on the rise.
Darkeye (7) are the next on a long list of local bombshells to grace the stage, though they share some similarities with their peers Meshuggah and Mastodon, the south east Londoners are carving their own niche not related in slight to the recent ‘Djent’ movement. It’s great to see a band all smiles on stage, and they have certainly earned it sounding none more massive than on the mighty ‘Nanook,’ top stuff.
Over on the RJD stage sound has thankfully improved for Decapitated (8) who absolutely rip into life on the frantic thrashing of ‘Lying and Weak’ all the while ensuring there is constant chaos in the pits. Though the majority of today’s set comes from the crowd dividing ‘Carnival is Forever’ there is no denying how good it sounds live, regardless by the time ‘Spheres of Madness’ is rolled out the whole collective present are banging their heads in sync to the tune of Vogg and co. May the next album be worthy of their name!
Making their second appearance at Bloodstock are the southern fried sludge titans Crowbar (8) who bring a mixed bag of goodies for all to feast on from latest album ‘Symmetry in Black’ to the established fan favourites ‘All I Had (I Gave)’ and the phenomenally emotive ‘Planets Collide.’ Kirk and his bearded cohort are in fine form with every riff threatening to be more crushing than the last.
Back at the New Blood Stage Plymouth’s Warcrab (8) pull one of, if not the, biggest crowds that the tent sees all weekend.
Their three pronged guitar death sludge assault is primitive and nasty providing the proverbial foot into some unexpected listener’s arses. Sonically devastating to all who bear witness. And they take the award for best band name at the festival.
Children of Bodom (9) by stark comparison bring a more intricate and delicate touch as the afternoon progresses. By some miracle Alexi Laiho isn’t drunk by 6:00pm and therefore is nearly sublime in performance, playing to exactly what a festival crowd wants, massive tunes.
And when you have a back catalogue as rich and varied as the boys from Finland it’s hard to be disappointed, every solo and note are more or less perfect, ‘Downfall,’ ‘Lake Bodom’ and ‘Bodom After Midnight’ all being absolutely spot on. A spectacular set, now you can drink Alexi, that’s the proper order of things.
British Grind heroes Carcass (4) are unfortunately the biggest let down of the day, it all starts well enough until Jeff Walker opens his mouth spouting some nonsense about being ‘bored’ and more or less just having a grumble all through the set, that combined with the fact the band sound a little flat today certainly doesn’t help the mood. Cheer up Jeff, you miserable sod.
By the time its dark the weather has turned sour and you’d be forgiven for feeling somewhat negative, that is until the masterful Emperor (10) take to the stage celebrating twenty years of ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ playing what is arguably the greatest black metal album ever recorded in full. They steal the show over the whole weekend with many present claiming their show to be the greatest headlining set in Bloodstock history, and I would hasten to add I wholeheartedly agree.
Ihsahn, Samoth and recently reunited original drummer Faust perform as though they had never broken up. Their set is punctuated by a particularly stunning rendition of ‘Inno A Satana’ before returning for an encore of material older than the celebrated album itself, nothing quite prepares you however for the final of Bathory’s ‘A Fine Day to Die’ which Ihsahn plays with such conviction that it almost seems as though he has been possessed by Quorthon during the absolutely jaw dropping solo section.
An absolute master class from one of the greatest black metal bands of all time.
Sunday morning sees everyone that somehow managed to obtain sunburn of sorts getting a good cooling off as the rain is absolutely torrential and sets in for the most part of the day.
Providing a good healthy slab of midday blasting are Belgian grind nuts Aborted (8) bringing the brutality they are known for to the RJD stage, though few in the crowd pit the energy levels on stage are high, frontman Sven de Caluwé taking every opportunity to launch himself into the most ridiculous jumps.
It’s horrible and ugly stuff but it’s delivered so viscerally that few can argue quite how good these guys have been today.
Following all the excellent black metal this weekend everyone has high hopes for Stahlsarg (4) who are unfortunately let down by lack of innovation and a very cookie cutter approach to black metal. This sort of Marduk worshipping ‘war’ black metal is seeming to become rather large of late, but there is little here you can’t get from just listening to ‘Panzer Division.’ The one redeeming quality of the band however is vocalist Metzger who is severely suffering from a case of a pretty excellent vocalist being let down by nothing short of an average band.
Thankfully over on the RJD stage Obituary (8) brings all the old school Floridian swampy death metal riffs. John Tardy sounding particularly ferocious today on ‘Infected’ and ‘Chopped in Half,’ it’s testament to how stuck in their ways they are when the band work in two new tracks of upcoming LP ‘Inked in Blood’ straying no further from their roots than in 1989. Sometimes reliability is all you want, and that’s exactly what Obituary deliver today.
As the sun begins to set it’s the Swedish Vikings Amon Amarth (9) who really kick Sunday into gear, they play a complete show, smoke bellowing out of twin mounted dragon heads, the man-mountain Johan Hegg being in complete control of the crowd and lots of melodic death anthems. Arguably the best in the business at what they do the Swedes really pull out a greatest hits set in their hour on stage, opening with newer tracks from latest opus ‘Deceiver of the Gods’ all the way back to their very first album hauling out the incredible ‘Victorious March’ which more than satisfies the older fans of the band.
Predictably it is the finale of ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ and ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’ which gets the crowd going the most, and it’s no surprise really, they sound absolutely massive in the live arena. Amon Amarth conquered on Sunday leaving many to wonder how long it will be until they begin to headline festivals like this.
Same time next year then?