With everyone firmly into the swing of things by now, Saturday’s main stage openers Nailed to Obscurity opened proceedings strongly enough but were promptly blown out of the water by one of the major surprises of the festival – Power Trip. A combination of thrash and early death metal, the Texan act were a blur of riffs and speed, whipping up the early afternoon crowd into an explosive cyclone of energy.
German act Orden Ogan had the unenviable task of following that, but did so brilliantly with their own particular brand of stupidly catchy wild west inspired power metal. Not even frontman Sebastian Leverman breaking his thumb could dampen their spirit. The injury precluding him from his usual axe duties, his guitar parts were played by bassist Niels Löffler while his bass in turn was piped in via backing tape. However, such was the quality of the band’s set, nobody minded even one little bit.
Greek symphonic death metallers Septicflesh were another band suffering through injury, with vocalist/bass player Spiros Antoniou having recently suffered a dislocated shoulder. Not that it hindered his performance in any way, the imposing frontman ploughing mightily through the likes of ‘Anubis’, ‘Pyramid God’, ‘Dark Art’, and ‘The Vampire From Nazareth’, bellowing commands and referring to his audience as either “motherfuckers!” or “my friends!”. Make your mind up, Spiros.
Midlanders Conjurer continues their steady rise to power with a fine performance in the Sophie tent before Venom Inc. took us back to 1981 with a set that wiped the floor with the 2016 performance from Cronos and his official version of Venom. Even lesser known songs from debut album Avé (Nuclear Blast) sounded fresh and vital, which is no mean achievement considering guitarist Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn had to undergo emergency heart bypass surgery back in May.
Back over on the Sophie stage, A Forest of Stars were busy baffling a large amount of their audience with their poetic and psychedelic English progressive black metal. Those who left after just a few minutes probably thought it was nothing more than pretentious twaddle, but those who took the time to stay never took their eyes off the musicians on the stage. Magnificent.
Alestorm sing songs and shanties about pirates. Alestorm crowds need serious psychiatric help. For an hour over on the main stage, the sky was filled with beach balls, space-hoppers, and every appropriately themed inflatable object you could imagine, and more. Parrots, sharks, whales, giant ducks, ships wheels, actual ships, over-sized beer cans, a lobster by the name of Larry, giant poo emojis and a huge strawberry were just some of the things being thrown from one side of the moshpit to the other. Songs like ‘Nancy the Tavern Wench’, ‘Keelhauled’, ‘Mexico’, ‘Alestorm’, ‘Shipwrecked’, and the gentle balladry of ‘Fucked With an Anchor’ had everyone dancing, singing and rowing like loonies. At one point, frontman Christopher Bowes ordered the rabid crowd to form a wall of death before telling them to take all their clothes off and have sex with each other. Then he instructed people to grab the nearest inflatable toy and shove it up their arse to ‘The Sunk’n Norwegian’. All in a day’s work for Alestorm, really.
Calming things down over on the Jägermeister Stage was an excellent acoustic guitar performance from English Iced Earth/Absolva bassist Luke Appleton. Featuring a cover of ‘Melancholy’ which had everyone in the small but vociferous crowd singing along, the confident set was enjoyable laid back. A far cry from what was waiting on the main stage…
Throughout the weekend, the most notable fashion accessories among festival goers had to be the Hawaiian shirts. Brightly coloured monstrosities bought primarily to be worn for the day’s main support, Cannibal Corpse. Thought up by the internet, the idea was for everyone in the audience to wear the famous item of clothing worn by Jim Carrey in the 1994 movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective where the band (then led by frontman Chris Barnes) featured in one classic scene (“excuse me, is Greg here?”). The sight of hundreds of gaudily decorated shirts dancing to brutal death metal was certainly a memorable sight, and a great atmosphere that not even the weather could dampen as the bright blue skies of earlier were all too swiftly replaced by slate grey clouds and an unwanted deluge of torrential rain.
Before being forced into retiring early for the night as I tried to stop my tent from doing an impression of a Typhoon-class submarine, I dragged my soggy and broken body back into the Sophie Lancaster Tent for one last bout of high-velocity thrash, courtesy of New Orleans mob Exhorder. Having never played in this country before, the band – the only original members being vocalist Kyle Thomas and guitarist Vinnie Labella – launched into a truly vicious hour long campaign of aural torture as they blasted through the majority of their two full-length albums. Songs like ‘Slaughter in the Vatican’, ‘Desecrator’, ‘Exhorder’, ‘Death in Vain’ rampaged along like enraged wildebeest, while ‘Anal Lust’ went down well with the ladies and a cover of Black Sabbath‘s ‘Into the Void’ went down well with just about everyone.
Due to having to get back to a steadily submerging tent, I only managed ten or fifteen minutes or so of headliners Gojira. But for what it’s worth, they looked and sounded irritatingly fantastic.
Any signs of Sunday morning lethargy had been quickly brushed aside by the time King Leviathan took to the Sophie Stage. A large, energetic crowd slammed, moshed, and used Frank Mullen-approved blastbeat hand movements throughout their suitably noisy half hour of brutal miserycore, and aside from a bit of innocent but rather misguided stage banter, gave a great account of themselves.
Point Break extras Alien Weaponry from New Zealand were up next and right from their haka intro, instantly made hundreds of new friends with their Maori-inspired Sepultura worship. Surely one of the best new bands to appear on the Sophie stage all weekend.
Flamboyant wrestling legend Chris Jericho and his infectious enthusiasm took over the main stage for the better part of an hour and proceeded to entertain his loyal fans without really winning over many new ones. A standard, enjoyable Fozzy party set partially dented by (unsubstantiated) rumours of miming from several bystanders.
Having seen a purely metal audience screeching, screaming, roaring and bellowing along to mostly death, black, and thrash metal bands over the weekend, it was gratifying to witness such a positive reaction to hard rock supergroup Mr. Big. Having watched the main stage crowd belching lyrics back to bands about blood, death, Satan, war, and horror for the best part of three days, to see so many people singing along to the US act’s cover of ‘Wild World’ by Cat Stevens, and their radio-friendly hit ‘To Be With You’ was fantastic. For their hour on stage, Mr. Big were untouchable as bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan, vocalist Eric Martin, and guitar hero Paul Gilbert shredded their way through the likes of ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’, ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’, ‘Alive and Kickin”, their all-too short time on stage climaxing with a blinding version of ‘Colorado Bulldog’.
Norwegian act Skybrudd were determined to keep the mood on the New Blood Stage sombre with their downbeat doomy dirges, and their more than respectably sized crowd (un)happily embraced them for it.
Even if you’ve only seen DevilDriver once, then you’ll already know exactly what to expect – an hour of riffs, circle pits and walls of death with scant regard for health and safety measures. Whether you like them or not, you simply cannot deny their ability to dominate a crowd. A sixty-minute tornado of legs, arms, dirt and mud; a level of energy so infectious that even parents in their fifties were seen happily singing (well, shouting) along with their teenage daughters.
Even though singer Stuart Perry might look like more a painter and decorator or a part-time taxi driver than someone who sings about battles, horses, trebuchets and more battles, the burly northern frontman actually possesses a deceptively strong voice, and judging by this performance, his band, Yorkshire power metal act Sellsword, are definitely ones to watch out for. With half the audience waving foam swords enthusiastically over their heads, the next thirty minutes were a majestic ride into epic glory on the New Blood stage.
Metalcore merchants Act of Defiance succeeded in whipping up a flurry of activity during their time on the Sophie stage, but it was noticeable that many people were already making their way to the exit after only fifteen minutes or so. The likeliest explanation for this would be the clash with the main support act on the Ronnie James Dio stage, At The Gates. And with the performance, they gave it was pretty easy to understand why. Using weapons such as ‘Under a Serpent Sky’, ‘Slaughter of the Soul’, ‘The Circular Ruins’, ‘Cold’, ‘Suicide Nation’, and (of course) a particularly bruising ‘Blinded By Fear’ the band gleefully laid waste to the muddy Derbyshire landscape.
With the main headliners forty-five minutes away, it was time to hobble over to the Sophie stage to catch Pallbearer strutting their doomy stuff. And well worth the aching bones and muscles it was too as they played imperiously to a near capacity crowd, many of whom took the time to relax by sitting or even lying down, absorbing the music that way.
With only two bands left and rested after a brilliant display from Pallbearer, I suddenly got my second wind and trotted over to the main stage one final time to catch headline act Nightwish. As I stood waiting on the uneven surface of grass and hardening mud with my legs aching, my feet hurting, and my mind wandering to how nice it would be to finally get back into an actual bed, the band arrived on stage, heralded by the recorded voice of Richard Dawkins, and all such thoughts promptly left me for ninety bewilderingly breakneck minutes. With more pyro than ever before, wonderfully designed video backdrops to accompany songs like ‘Wish I Had an Angel’, ‘Amaranth’, ‘Nemo’, the epic ‘Ghost Love Score’, and eleven ambitious minutes of the aptly titled ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’, the Finnish symphonic act played arguably their strongest UK festival performance since Bloodstock 2003 when the yearly gathering was still in its infancy and held indoors at the Derby Assembly Rooms. The band’s main man Tuomas Holopainen, usually concentrated and fixed, was constantly smiling and clearly having a great time, vocalist Floor Jansen continues to prove she is the perfect choice as singer, lead guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, drummer Kai Hahto (still filling in for usual sticksman Jukka Nevalainen), and guitarist, piper, bodhran, bouzouki and whistle player Troy Donockley all gave absolutely everything, while towering vocalist/bassist Marco Hietala seems to get funnier and hairier every year.
Dragging myself slowly back across to the Sophie stage for one final hurrah was absolutely the right move as Swedish act Watain turned up the heat quite literally. Fire. Everywhere. Candles, microphone stands, tridents, anything which could be set on fire was set on fire. No rotting meat, pigs blood, or animal heads this time, just pure incendiary black metal played at an ear-splitting volume.
So, for another year at least, that’s all, folks. Four days of beer-fueled mayhem featuring strongman competitions, band signings, exhibitions, a silly amount of various beer and cider, late night movies, aftershow parties, wallet-emptying t-shirt and CD stands, and all manner of other good stuff. Bin jousting remains a firm late-night pastime, the toilets – although cleaned and disinfected regularly – will always have an element of Russian Roulette to them (there perhaps need to be more urinals in place next to the Sophie stage, such was the amount of people relieving themselves on the grass or over the portaloos) and anybody staying in the quiet camp should always expect an invasion from Midgard Camp at some point. It’s just something that happens. The weather tried its best to destroy the party feeling but failed so hard that the thunderstorms forecast for the Sunday were too scared to even show up. Even the mud which churned up overnight on the Saturday had already started to dry out by mid-afternoon the next day. The quality of line-ups may vary from year to year, with some claiming that certain genres are always over-represented or under-represented, but the Bloodstock party continues to grow, and you know how good something is when you can’t stay away. Everyone comes back eventually.
10/10. Would bang again.
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY