After a wobbly Saturday morning start, Akercocke carried on from where they left off a few years ago, improving and gaining/regaining fans as they went along. Rotting Christ sounded fantastic, The King is Blind completely owned the second stage for forty brutal minutes, and Fear Factory treated the crowd to all of 1995’s Demanufacture album while singer Burton C Bell tried his best to keep his voice from cracking. Paradise Lost played a set filled with heavier material, and Gojira stunned the majority of the audience with a set that not even headliners Mastodon could come close to touching. A typically eclectic set, the Atlantan four-piece struggled to get any momentum going, and even with the aid of some fancy video screens, only occasionally showed signs of being genuine headliners. A new version of old UK thrashers Acid Reign also managed to steal Mastodon’s thunder all the way from the second stage, playing one of the fastest and most enjoyable thrash sets of the festival while singer, ‘H’, looked resplendent in his shocking pink suit and top hat.
And so to Sunday, and to the wonders of Ghost Bath. Only possessing the vaguest of knowledge about this band, I was simply unprepared for the next forty highly confusing (and occasionally eye-wateringly funny) minutes. Imagine a Black Metal band fronted by the shrieking goat from YouTube and you’d have a good idea of what I witnessed that morning.
Although the pedigree of the members of Metal Allegiance is not in question, I’m afraid the same cannot be said of their collective efforts. Cover version after horrible cover version was mauled and discarded, as people turned to each other in disbelief and disappointment. Playing all of 1996 album Nemesis Divina in full, Black Metallers Satyricon put in one of the performances of the weekend, even in the blazing sunshine. Finland’s Whispered took to the stage in their Japanese costumes and make-up and proceeded to win over an entire tent of confused onlookers. Technical Thrashers Vektor followed and even more people left with smiling faces. Symphony X gave everyone on the main stage plenty to sing along to, but Anthrax obliterated their memory in seconds. The last time the New York outfit played here in 2013, it was all fairly average, maybe even disappointing. But not this time. They were on fire from the second they launched into ‘You Gotta Believe’ until they left the stage to ‘Indians’. Nobody even cared that they dropped a couple of favourites in order to showcase newer material.
Even headliners Slayer struggled to keep up. Again, like Anthrax, it was a much improved performance from 2013, but things seemed to go a little awry in the latter stages of their set. For some reason, ‘Hell Awaits’ became an instrumental after the first chorus, and Tom’s demeanour changed from happy and smiling to fairly disinterested around the same time. Still, when they came back out for the encore of ‘South of Heaven’, ‘Raining Blood’, and ‘Angel of Death’ everything was quickly forgiven and forgotten. It was left up to New Orleans band Goatwhore to close the weekend on the second stage, and they did so imperiously with one of the loudest, heaviest hours of the festival.
From the almost comical amount of crowd surfers (Acid Reign alone clocked 263 in one hour – an average of over four per minute) to the spontaneous chant of “MAN IN YELLOW”, directed to one of the security staff stood on the scaffolding before Slayer, to the glorious weather and generally contagious good feeling of everyone in attendance (even a lot of the campsite toilets were still usable by the Monday morning!), there was only one place to be last week.
There were a few odd little problems, of course. Since the festival ended, a story has emerged that a girl was sexually assaulted in her tent, and the amount of moshpit idiocy seems to be on the increase again. Not, this time, from the shirtless circle-pitters and kung-fu merchants, but this time from the people who stand on the barrier all day, doing their best to punch and deliberately tear clumps of hair from any crowd surfer (male and female) unlucky enough to invade their personal space as they get dragged over the front. Making sure at all times, of course, that security have a firm hold of their target first so that they can’t retaliate.
The worst thing this year though was the repeated loop of the same bloody music videos on the big screen all weekend. When I arrived in the main arena on the Friday, I said “hey, this new Wormrot song’s great. I’ll definitely be getting the album”. By the time Saturday evening came around, I never wanted to hear fucking thing again. And as for the constant exposure to the videos of Wakrat and Blackberry Smoke, let’s just say that if I ever meet either of those bands in person, then it won’t end pleasantly for either of them.
Overall though, and yet again, Bloodstock Open Air was a roaring success.
Roll on next year.
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK