Sure, we might be having to follow a series of new Coronavirus safety protocols which may or not become a regular thing for live shows, but we’re back. And judging by the size of the opening day crowds spilling out from the main entrance, car parks and campsites, not a moment too soon. Since its inception Bloodstock Open Air has always attracted early birds who like nothing more than to arrive long before the gates even open, but this time feels different. Everyone seems to be here early. Coiled springs desperate for release. The festival’s twentieth anniversary isn’t just a celebration of metal this year, it’s a genuine escape.
When the gates do finally open, the masses swarm like flies with backpacks and beer into the different campsites, filling them to capacity faster than ever before. A little extra time might have been taken up with showing proof of vaccinations or negative lateral flow tests but the queues still move relatively fast and everyone is soon inside shouting at uncooperative tents and drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol.
Adding an extra day to help make up for the disappointment of last year’s empty field, it’s left to death metal act Anakim to make history by opening proceedings on a Wednesday for the first time, the huge crowd inside the Sophie Lancaster Tent greeting the return of live music and blastbeats with an almighty roar. The brilliantly theatrical Ward XVI are up next. Wearing striking costumes and macabre make-up, the five piece are aided by creepy living dolls and other strange stage companions as they treat the crowd to a selection of spooky songs before challenging them to indulge in a now traditional “circus pit”.
Having spent most of their time filming comedy videos, Derbyshire grindcore act Raised By Owls have made something of a name for themselves during lockdown. Wearing an ’80s style Chris Whitty t-shirt, frontman Sam Fowler introduces songs like ‘Owen Wilson Says Wow’, ‘Cult of David Dickinson’, ‘Netflix and Kill’, ‘Ross Kemp on Gang Bangs’ and of course, the already classic ‘Ainsley Harriott Advises You to Give Your Meat a Good Ol’ Rub’. Joined by a crowd-surfing Mr Blobby waving a double-ended dildo, the glorious insanity just keeps on coming.
After Coventry’s Beholder return from the grave it’s up to UK veterans Onslaught to bring the opening day’s festivities to a close. Rising above a muddy mix, the thrashers deliver a monstrous set including the likes of ‘Let There Be Death’, ‘Power From Hell’, ‘6 6 Fucking 6’, ‘Killing Peace’ and new beasts like ‘Religiousuicide’ and ‘Bow Down to the Clowns’. Even finding the time to throw in a surprise, former vocalist Sy Keeler joins his replacement Dave Garnett onstage for a barnstorming version of ‘Metal Forces’ before the crowd eventually retire to the bar or go back to their tents with sore necks and big grins.
Thursday sees the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage entering the fray, showcasing up-and-coming bands such as Rip Tide, The Best Medicine and Casket Feeder along with Manowar worshippers Battleborn and a particularly savage set from “Flesh Rotting Death Metal” act Pemphigoid. The smaller Jagermeister Stage is opened this year by teenagers Tortured Demon who attract such a large and overeager crowd that the barrier has to undergo repairs.
The Sophie Lancaster Stage finds Birmingham’s Ashen Crown in venomous form, the band ripping through their set while vocalist Kieran Scott tries to find the words to express just how much it means to just be playing in front of people again. Sludge act Urne put on a fine display, as do Scottish band King Witch with their Black Sabbath influences and sensational singer Laura Donnelly. Irish band The Crawling keep the crowd entertained with their Satyricon-esque riffs but it’s last minute replacement act Punk Rock Factory who win the crowd over in double quick time with a selection of cover versions ranging from ‘The Greatest Show’ and ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ to ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’, Fleetwood Mac‘s ‘Go Your Own Way’ and and ‘Down Under’ by Men At Work.
Only one thing can top such silliness and that thing is Lawnmower Deth. Featuring all the requisite silliness of a typical Lawnmower show, we also get a handful of brand spanking new tracks lifted from the band’s forthcoming surprise new album. All of this along with people dressed as snails and rabbits, a rampaging granny-chasing lawnmower, the final ever appearance of the “Deth Shed” gunge tank and vocalist Pete Lee and Evil Scarecrow frontman Matt Burton doing battle to win the crowd participation section. Irreverent, stupid, childish and and utterly, utterly brilliant way to end the evening.
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY