With people on social media proudly sharing photographs of their recently purchased or newly patched up tents, or cirrhosis-inducing beer supplies during the days and even weeks leading up to the event itself, by the time the big day actually arrives, anticipation for Bloodstock 2018 has already turned into a Christmas-like level of excitement.
Even something as painfully mundane and time-consuming as the fiercely British act of queuing can suddenly become fun. Otherwise quiet men and women who spend their days trying to avoid any form of contact with strangers suddenly find themselves openly joining in with loud conversations about such vital subjects as which Thundercat they would be, or how many unicorns it would take to kill Darth Vader. The answer is twenty-seven. Obviously.
As the queue reaches its ultimate destination – the baggage check and wristband zone – excitement turns into impressively restrained English impatience, the laughter being replaced by some quite savage tutting and brutal muttering because the security staff are taking too much time carefully checking each bag and bulging backpack for things which shouldn’t be there.
And we’re in. The race for the best place to pitch the tent begins, and in a staggeringly short space of time, the field is full of brightly coloured temporary canvas homes, amusing flags, and already a quite extraordinary amount of empty beer cans.
Opening Thursdays never used to be much of a draw for most people, with only the last couple of bands really pulling in a crowd, but in recent years the calibre of bands throughout the fairly short running order has improved no end. The air swelling with the sound of laughter and conversation, the smell of beer and grass filling the nostrils, and visibility impaired a little by the dust kicked up from the dry ground along with huge plumes of vape smoke, the Sophie Lancaster tent is satisfyingly full quite early on.
Having arrived late and missed the opening act, second band of the day Fire Red Empress weren’t messing around, giving a great account of themselves, packing in riff after Sabbathy riff, pleasing the gathered masses no end. Vocalist Jennifer Diehl boasts a formidable vocal talent and the ’70s style brand of stoner rock went down extremely well. As entertaining as the previous half an hour was, the next thirty minutes were owned by the tartan, bagpipe mayhem of the not actually remotely Scottish Skiltron as they got the entire tent jumping up and down to the hearty highland bounce of catchy anthems such as ‘Bagpipes of War’. Bloodshot Dawn treated their willing audience to half an hour of well executed and punishing technical death metal before Russian headliners Arkona closed the opening night’s festivities in some style with a collection of atmospheric blackened folk metal and bouncy Korpiklaani style jigs. And even more bagpipes (well, agaita gallega anyway).
Consumed by a typical first-morning lethargy conflated with mild confusion (did I really see a bearded man in a pointy princess hat riding a unicorn last night?), I only managed to catch half of Ronnie James Dio Stage opener Feed The Rhino. Playing to a respectable audience for their reasonably early start, the band went down pretty well, but opinion was definitely split down the middle, with overheard verdicts ranging from “yeah, they were pretty good actually” to the much more succinct “fucking awful, mate”.
Bristolian thrashers Onslaught were up next and did a great job in trying to whip up the audience with cuts such as ‘Let there Be Death’, ’66 Fucking 6′, and ‘Killing Peace’ even though they were doomed to spend most of their time fighting a horde of unwanted sound gremlins. Memoriam who followed, had clearly punched those pesky sound gremlins in the face before stomping all over the stage with their gloriously old-fashioned, no-nonsense war-themed death metal.
Wielding an umbrella emblazoned with a giant middle finger Wednesday 13 managed to impress even some of the most apathetic of festival goers as sexy cheerleaders with sexy hair held up signs saying “FUCK” and did sexy stuff with fire while he walked with a zombie and loved to say fuck. And he really does love to say fuck.
Over in the Sophie tent, the wonderfully named Sodomized Cadaver treated onlookers to happy little tunes like ‘Raped By Ebola’ and ‘Bestiality Killed the Cat’, while Leicester Metal 2 the Masses winners Seven Hells did their noisy metalcore thing over on the New Blood stage. Back on the main stage, and fronted by a corpse-painted Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost, Swedish death metal legends Bloodbath ripped their way through a blinding set including ‘Breeding Death’ and fan favourite, ‘Eaten’, while the permanently dry-witted Holmes introduced ‘Cancer of the Soul’ by stating how much of a shit he didn’t give about people complaining it was different to the original.
Due to a problem with their flight, Suicidal Tendencies arrived late and had to be switched to the Sophie stage, allowing Japanese newcomers Lovebites to impress the folk over at the main stage. Undaunted and armed with powerful riffs, shrill guitar solos and piercing vocals, the talented all-girl band took to their task admirably and left the majority of the audience with approving smiles.
Just as Slayer unleashed all manner of hell in the tent at Download Festival in 2004 when their plane was late, Suicidal Tendencies did the same this weekend, packing the Sophie tent way beyond capacity, leaving a crowd seven or eight deep around the outside and absolutely destroying the place. At fifty-five years old, vocalist Mike Muir doesn’t stop for a second, throwing his arms around and running up and down the stage with more energy than someone half his age. At one point inviting a wheelchair-bound crowdsurfer onto the stage, the singer then proceeded to get security to haul a young lad up onstage to help out the living legend that is Dave Lombardo on drums. With the band churning out hit after hit with ‘Possessed to Skate’, ‘Pledge Your Allegiance’, ‘You Can’t Bring Me Down’, ‘War Inside My Head’ and relative newie ‘Clap Like Ozzy’, the tent (holding a new record capacity crowd, incidentally) was turned into a spinning whirlwind of arms, legs, dust and sweat. Job done.
The only downside of seeing (and surviving) that epic set was having to miss a large portion of Norwegian black metal kings Emperor, playing their second album Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (Candlelight) in full. However, coming in during ‘The Acclamation of Bonds’ and seeing them play through to a welcome encore of ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ and ‘Inno a Satana’ was still one of the highlights of the weekend.
Having to dispense with their curtain drop opening due to instability caused by the wind, headliners Judas Priest dominated the stage from the first moment to the last, throwing in as many classics as the crowd could handle while promoting their brilliant new album Firepower (Epic) at the same time. Sure, this is Judas Priest minus the twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, but new boy Richie Faulkner delivered the goods (pun intended), and even newer boy, former Sabbat guitarist and producer extraordinaire Andy Sneap produced another flawless performance. Vocalist Rob Halford might be in his mid-sixties and obviously not quite so energetic these days, but he still remains one of the best singers in the business, the crowd cheering every time he took a step or two closer to their side of the stage. Happily allowing himself to be upstaged during the last part of the show, Halford welcomed Glenn Tipton into the fray, the guitarist wandering onto stage without any introduction or fanfare, riffing his way through ‘Metal Gods’, ‘Breaking the Law’, newie ‘No Surrender’, and closer ‘Living after Midnight’ like he’d never been away, and showing no signs of the ill-health which caused him to step down from the touring side of the group. Hit after hit, new song sitting alongside classic, this was simply yet another great performance from an illustrious band. The Priest is back. Oh yes.
Finishing the night over at the Sophie tent was German songstress Doro, who while airing material from her latest album, was also fully aware that most fans who had made the final trek over from the main stage wanted to hear classics like ‘East Meets West’, ‘Für Immer’ and get involved with the usual ten-hour singalong to ‘All We Are’. She did not disappoint.
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK
PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY