Main Stage and Sophie Lancaster Stage
If there are two things we love doing in the UK, it’s complaining about the weather and queuing for things. Well, this year at Bloodstock Open Air, both are freely available and at no extra charge. Not a moment goes by without a comment on the sweltering heat or about having to wait to cross the road to the festival ground. Yes, not content with spending two hours in the main queue, campers have now invented a brand new line to join before even getting that far. For the first time ever, a line has formed for people pulling trolleys and sack carts. Almost a quarter of a mile of people waiting in a surprisingly orderly queue before joining an even bigger queue. England, never change.
With the heat already playing its part, I finally arrive at the Sophie Lancaster Stage in time to catch Italian nutters Nanowar of Steel who send the audience into hysterics with daft costumes and a “Wall of Love” (a traditional wall of death that climaxes with people hugging each other to George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’). Preceding the infuriatingly catchy ‘Norwegian Reggaeton’ with Burzum‘s outdoor recipe for roasted salmon (“you place the freshly caught salmon on a rock and burn down the church next to it”) the band then take the opportunity to use the mighty ‘Valhalleluja’ to build an Ikea coffee table, holding it aloft for the elated crowd. Accompanied by an actual goblin for the duration of their set, US act Nekrogoblikon certainly put on an enjoyable show but find it tough following such a display of irreverent insanity.
After hours spent trekking across fields and dirt tracks to erect tents in the burning heat, it seems the day’s exertions have proved too much for some and the Sophie tent slowly begins to empty while Dark Tranquillity try their hardest to entertain flagging punters. Unfortunately, their brand of melancholic melodeath only holds the attention of the crowd for so long before people begin drifting out. A real shame as the band put on a great show for the remaining faithful, closing the show with fantastic performances of ‘Therein’, ‘Lost to Apathy’ and ‘Misery’s Crown’.
TV show Stranger Things is the suggested theme for today so many good sports take the opportunity to wear appropriate t-shirts and costumes. So, heading into the arena with Hellfire Club and Eddie Munson shirts, and the smell of body spray and sun cream hanging heavily in the air, Red Method and Heart of a Coward begin the mayhem on the Ronnie James Dio Stage in style, circle pits opening up straight away among the impressively sized crowd. Sorcerer‘s traditional Iron Maiden meets Dio worship sees some of the crowd taking a breather, many choosing to sit and watch from a distance. Eagerly anticipated Indian band Bloodywood swells the pit once again, however, the New Delhi Nu-Metal act tearing through the likes of ‘Gaddaar’, ‘Machi Bhasad’ and ‘Ari Ari’ causing many less familiar with their music to wonder if they’d been transported back to late nineties Bollywood.
Weather aside, the other talk of the weekend is the “Surprise Band”. Everyone from Amon Amarth to (more than a little unrealistically) Metallica and Slipknot are among the rumoured acts to be appearing but thanks to an internet faux pas by the band themselves, plus the merchandise stand selling t-shirts beforehand, the cat is well and truly out of the bag. Machine Head – sorry, Machine Fucking Head, are the band everyone is converging on the Sophie stage to see, disappointingly but not altogether unexpectedly leaving the devilocked Doyle to play to a largely empty main arena. With the crowd inside the tent already expanding while Party Cannon are still getting their grindcore groove on, by the time the black and red MFH banner is raised to rapturous applause, space is at a premium, anticipation is reaching fever pitch and the heat is growing with increasing intensity. And then all hell is unleashed.
Kicking things off with a killer live debut of ‘Become the Firestorm’, Robb Flynn and co. surprisingly sidestep their legendary debut album completely, preferring instead to deliver more live debuts in the shape of ‘Choke on the Ashes of your Hate’ and the old Roadrunner United track ‘The Dagger’. Older standards such as ‘Ten Ton Hammer’, ‘Imperium’, ‘From This Day’, ‘Halo’, ‘Aesthetics of Hate’ sound as fresh as ever while more recent tracks like ‘Killers and Kings’, and ‘I Am Hell’ bring the house down.
Known for being a festival of contradictions, while local hardcore punk veterans Discharge are left with the unenviable task of following Machine Head, over on the main stage we have the gory theatrics of the mighty Gwar squirting blood and various other bodily fluids over the crowd. Even those who don’t particularly enjoy the Virginian act’s over-the-top depravity are left praising them for getting through their heavily costumed set without succumbing to the heat.
Although clashes at any festival are largely unavoidable they rarely include two bands from the exact same genre and location. Quite how Bay Area thrashers Exodus and Heathen are left duking out is a mystery that leaves fans of both acts shaking their heads in baffled disappointment and with a decision they should never have had to make. While Exodus clearly win the day with their main stage destruction of ‘A Lesson in Violence’, ‘Piranha’ and ‘Strike of the Beast’, Heathen do themselves just as proud with new material such as ‘The Blight’, ‘Empire of the Blind’ and ‘Sun in My Hand’ as well as classics like ‘Goblin’s Blade’, ‘Hypnotized’ and ‘Death By Hanging’. More Bay Area thrash follows in the shape of Testament, the Californian five piece opening with a bruising ‘Rise Up’ before the baking crowd throw themselves into frenzied circle pits to a well struck balance of old and new before the show turns completely old school, ending with a brutalizing run of ‘First Strike is Deadly’, ‘Over The Wall’, ‘Into the Pit’ and ‘Alone in the Dark’.
Over on the New Blood Stage, Stoke’s Hellfekted kick off proceedings on the new blood stage with a morning Mosh, a particularly aggressive set of blackened thrash. Their blistering performance spawned circle pit carnage and made sure anyone who was even remotely sleepy/hungover that early on a festival morning was wide awake, who needs caffeine when you can have chaos and riffs.
Leeds’ Ireosis have quite an infectious mix of sounds and styles, and it certainly went down a storm with the packed-out crowd. They brought a real chemistry to the stage and there was a real joy to their performance with loud outfits and wide smiles.
South Wales M2tM winners I Fight Bears had built up a vibe ahead of their performance and when they hit the stage it’s easy to see why, heavyweight slabs of intense metalcore had the crowd going bonkers. They had bags of energy to their set, which was an absolute joy to watch.
Devon & Cornwall Winners Mechanized crushed their set with their Death infused Thrash, playing to a large and enthusiastic crowd.
Kent M2tM winners Fyresky were an absolute standout band on the new blood stage. Talented as all hell, they blended a lot of styles into their catchy anthemic rock set, which was a tour de force. I’ve no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of these in the future.
Stourbridge’s doom duo Tumanduumband (two man doom band) played a heavy as balls ritual to close out the New Blood stage, it’s amazing how much noise can be produced by just a drummer and a bass player. Shrouded in darkness they were joined on stage by two desiccated bodies, who served as a potent reminder to the assembled throng that they should stay hydrated in the relentless heat.
All Hail Dog, a brand-new band from Brighton, were a bit of a mystery going into it, described as having a sound that’s difficult to pigeonhole, and influences encompassing metal, psych, stoner, French chanson I knew I had to check them out. I wasn’t disappointed, a captivating performance larger than the tiny Jägermeister Stage.
Three-piece riff-machine from Nottingham, Syncolima are already well known on the circuit despite their first gig only being one year ago. Absolutely crushing stoner riffs with bags of groove, they somehow managed to strike the perfect balance between heaviness and yet bringing the right atmosphere for the hot summer weather, a brilliant set. About to record a second album, I expect big things from Syncolima.
Certain Death closing out the Friday on the Jager stage were an experience, absolutely explosive energy on the stage they brought the party atmosphere and then some, one vocalist in the crowd throughout and another on stage the energy was utterly incredible. The perfect way to close out the Jager stage for the day.
There was a time not too long ago when people questioned whether Behemoth were even headline material, some suggesting it was only the sympathy that frontman Adam Darski (aka Nergal) received after his battle with Leukemia that swayed Bloodstock into giving the band that much sought after closing day spot in 2012. Now, ten years later, that question isn’t even being asked and Behemoth returns as conquering heroes. With numerous costume changes, a pyro display we really didn’t need in this heat and a brief technical hitch which leaves half of opener ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ without vocals, the night air is filled with fists, horns, roars and screams as the band devastate the Friday crowd with the likes of ‘Conquer All’, ‘Ov Fire and the Void’, ‘Christians to the Lions’, ‘Bartzabel’ and ‘Blow your Trumpets Gabriel’ while also incorporating new cuts ‘Off to War!’, ‘Ov My Herculean Exile’ and ‘The Deathless Sun’. After a blistering ‘O Father O Satan O Sun!’ the first full day’s main stage entertainment comes to an end, Swedish act Avatar concluding Friday night’s live music with a supercharged performance on the Sophie stage.
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK AND RICH PRICE
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE