Having shown resounding and unequivocal support for every single band so far, the Bloodstock faithful are still raring to go after four full days of partying. As battle commences one final time, highlights on the Sophie Stage include the hard hitting Midlands retro-fuzz of Wolf Jaw, Brighton doomsters Grave Lines, the angry sounding double punch of Vexed and Pist, a debut performance from symphonic death metallers Ghosts of Atlantis, and Manchester black metal mob Necronautical.
NWOBHM legends Diamond Head rock the RJD stage with some classic old school riffs before Bleed From Within take a rather more aggressive approach. A band seemingly incapable of putting on a bad show, Orange Goblin get the crowd moving instantly. The sheer joy beaming from the face of frontman Ben Ward even more infectious than Covid itself as the stoner rockers blast through the likes of ‘Sons of Salem’, ‘The Filthy and the Few’, ‘Saruman’s wish’, ‘They Come Back (Harvest of Skulls)’, ‘The Man Who Invented Time’ and closer ‘Red Tide Rising’.
Another band to attract an older than usual audience, Irish oiks Therapy? Happily send everybody back in time to the mid-nineties with a succession of sing-along hits that just don’t stop coming. Voices and beers are raised to the short sharp shocks of ‘Potato Junkie’, ‘Nowhere’, ‘Trigger Inside’, ‘Stories’, ‘Turn ‘, ‘Isolation’, ‘Die Laughing’, ‘Teethgrinder’, ‘Knives’ and of course ‘Screamager’.
After five days of near perfect weather, the inevitable festival rain arrives just in time for Gloryhammer to start singing about unicorns and space wizards. Not that this hinders the crowd in any way though. Raincoats might be replacing t-shirts but the galactic silliness of ‘The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee’, ‘The Hollywood Hootsman’, ‘Questlords of Inverness, Ride to the Galactic Fortress!’ and ‘The Land of Unicorns’ simply cannot be stopped.
Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated appearances on the main stage this weekend is that of actor Brian Blessed. Quoting Flash Gordon and Shakespeare while wearing a furry brown jacket, a baseball cap and what appears to be pair of pyjama bottoms, the thundering thespian steals the show with a “Gordon’s Alive!” (or three) before introducing Barnsley’s finest, the mighty Saxon. Celebrating their fortieth(ish) anniversary, Biff Byford and co. have the time of their lives throwing out classics such as ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’, ‘And the Bands Played On’, ‘Princess of the Night’, ‘Denim and Leather’, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’, and ‘Wheels of Steel’ as well as more modern cuts like ‘Battering Ram’, ‘Thunderbolt’ and ‘They Played Rock and Roll’.
Before the extremely silly Evil Scarecrow close the festivities in the Sophie tent by challenging their equally bonkers audience to pretend to be crabs and robots, there’s the small matter of Judas Priest on the main stage. Celebrating fifty years, Bloodstock is the first date of the band’s delayed tour and everyone is turbo-charged and raring to go. While guitarist Andy Sneap keeps the crowd entertained stage left, his axe-partner Richie Faulkner goes into overdrive on the opposite side, gurning ridiculously at the crowd, throwing every shape imaginable and posing for the cameras at every given opportunity. Bassist Ian Hill stays comfortably hidden at the back keeping things tight alongside drummer Scott Travis while the fluffily bearded Rob Halford prowls the stage from left to right, the iconic frontman only stopping occasionally to nip offstage and pull on another shiny metal jacket.
A show full of old classics, newer songs and a couple of surprises, the motorcycle comes out for ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, the Painkiller album is represented well with no less than four tracks (five if you include the ‘Battle Hymn’ intro tape) including the title track, opener ‘One Shot at Glory’, ‘A Touch of Evil’ and ‘Hell Patrol’, plus a live debut for ‘Invader’ and for the first time since 1976, an absolutely bostin’ version of ‘Rocka Rolla’.
Comprising twenty-one songs, the set is filled with winners from beginning to end. ‘Blood Red Skies’, ‘Turbo Lover’, ‘Electric Eye’, ‘Desert Plains’, ‘Dissident Aggressor’, ‘Halls of Valhalla’, ‘Exciter’, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin”, ‘Lightning Strike’, ‘The Sentinel’, ‘Victim of Changes’ all play out against a backdrop of the steel factories of the Black Country. The best is saved for last, however, when, to rapturous applause, former guitarist Glenn Tipton emerges from the sidelines to play on ‘Metal Gods’, ‘Breaking the Law’, and ‘Living after Midnight’. Allowing no room for ego-fuelled guitar, bass or drum solos, it’s just hit after glorious hit. The Priest is back and not a moment too soon.
With well over a hundred bands of varying genres, subgenres and sub-subgenres there really has been something for everyone this year. From the dedicated Bloodstockers to the growing amount of first-timers who usually attend Download, everyone goes home happy. Of course, Covid still manages to cause problems, creating all manner of scheduling headaches with bands having to pull out and be replaced at the last minute, but organisers Vicky Hungerford, Adam Gregory and their team handle the issues with apparent ease.
As well as the plethora of live music on offer, there is no shortage of fun elsewhere on site with late night discos, a funfair, a gaming zone and movies. Fancy dress costumes are in abundance, and although strictly against the rules, the late night Bin Jousting makes a brief return before security step in quickly. Another returning tradition is Midgard camp’s annual invasion of the quiet zones, the noisy but entertaining bunch marching through Hel camp in the small hours chanting “All hail the Hypnotoad!” and “I say Hypno, you say Toad!”. The seventeen band announcement for next year’s event goes down a storm and hundreds of tickets are sold over the weekend on the (pandemic permitting) promise of bands such as Mercyful Fate, Lamb of God, Exodus, Testament, Vio-lence, Sacred Reich, Bury Tomorrow and Dimmu Borgir joining the party in 2022.
So there we are. Outdoor metal has returned with a vengeance and a huge sense of relief is etched onto the faces of not only the fans but every musician in attendance. It’s been hard. Some have coped during the last eighteen months relatively well, while others, as Evile‘s Ben Carter disclosed during a conversation with myself, have found things much tougher. Surely not an isolated story but with no outlet for his music, the drummer was hit hard by the isolation, took solace at the bottom of a glass and even had to undergo life-saving surgery. Mental health continues to be an issue for everyone but now, he, like so many others now, has a renewed sense of optimism, purpose and outright determination. The worst is behind us, folks, so let’s look to the future with horns up and beers raised.
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE