Bloodstock Open Air 2017 – Part 1

Thursday

For anyone looking for early indicators that Bloodstock 2017 would be as ridiculous and over the top as usual, then surely the sight which would have greeted many – a group of people in the field acting as the event’s main car park, cheering on a Red Power Ranger as he gyrated and danced on top of a car – would have been as good a first sign as any.

Even the arduous, almost Tolkien-esque trek from the car park to the main entrance is made a little more entertaining by sightings of more costumed silliness. There’s nothing quite like being distracted by an overweight Spider-Man b bulging his way out of a hideously unflattering costume, or a young lady sporting a pink tutu and an impressive beard, sashaying past you with ease while you try desperately to stop everything you brought for the weekend from coming undone and falling down a grassy slope, never to be seen again.

Due to more stringent security measures this year, the massive queue seems to be moving at the pace of a terminally depressed sloth, but while most people just laugh, chat, and get on with it, there are always the cheery sorts who do nothing but grumble and complain to anyone within earshot. Seriously? After what happened at the Ariana Grande show in May, who can blame the Bloodstock organisers for wanting to take a little extra care?

After finally reaching the campsite, staggering, and virtually on all fours due to an embarrassing and total lack of fitness (I chose the not so “quiet camp” Hel for the second year in a row), I helped my campmate erect his tent, and spent the next hour indulging in the the standard metal pastime of T-shirt spotting, replenishing lost fluids, and trying to catch my breath before heading to the Sophie Lancaster Stage just in time for the final three acts of the evening.

Infernal Sea arrived on stage all hooded robes and medieval plague doctor masks, brimming with Black Metal fury. With their frequent and less than subtle nods to Celtic Frost, the crowd reacted positively, and the band from the east of England (with their three designated ‘Agents of Satan’ lantern holders looking on) responded in kind, tearing through a suitably brutal set.

Italian act Wind Rose were up next, and quickly had the crowd bouncing along to their stupidly infectious brand of Lord of the Rings style Fantasy Metal. An absolute must for those of you who enjoy songs with titles such as ‘To Erebor’, ‘The Breed of Durin’, or ‘Distant Battlefields’.

Finnish Power Metallers Battle Beast were the Thursday night headliners, and the crowd inside the tent quickly swelled to reflect that. Sticking pretty much to the same set that they played on their recent UK jaunt, the band definitely appeared to gain themselves a number of new fans. Of course there were those who weren’t overly enamoured by the band’s Judas Priest meets ’80s disco vibe, but not even they could criticise the astonishing vocal talents of singer Noora Louhimo as she roared through the likes of ‘Bastard Son of Odin’, ‘Black Ninja’, and the title track of latest album, ‘Bringer of Pain’. A main stage return to the festival must surely be on the cards.

After the evening’s band related festivities came to an end, the stage was taken over by resident Bloodstock noisemakers The 4 DJs of the Apocalypse, some scantily clad dancing girls, and fire performance group Pyrohex. The four girls who help make up the troupe were unsurprisingly entertaining with their impressive use of fiery objects and sexy angle grinders, but unfortunately, the group’s sole male member, Sununu Hernandez, didn’t enjoy such good fortune. Dropping his burning whips, sticks, and well… pretty much everything he picked up to use, his part of the act quickly descending into an unintentional comedy routine which climaxed with howls of laughter and ironic applause from the predictably unsympathetic remaining audience members.

 

FRIDAY

After the previous day’s overexertion, I find myself up at the crack of ten, and after a brief wander to grab an overpriced-but-who-gives-a-fuck-I-need-it hot drink, I make my way unsteadily into the arena to check out the merch stand and the first main stage band of the day, Forever Still. Caught between standard hard rock and Lacuna Coil style Metal, this Danish quartet are the perfect band to wake up to. Simple and inoffensive nod-your-head material that requires very little effort on the part of the listener. Unfortunately, by the time most of the cobwebs had disappeared, so had my interest.

Moving across to the New Blood Stage, an area which for some unknown reason I hadn’t ever felt the need to visit before, I was greeted by the angry Metalcore of Oxfordshire act K-Lacura. Any remaining cobwebs that might have been lurking towards the back of my skull were swiftly blown away and I quickly realised that I should have probably acquainted myself with this stage a long while ago. Blasting through a set which appeared to be influenced by bands like Parkway Drive as well as Swedish “Melodeath” acts like In Flames and Soilwork, the five piece tore the reasonably sized crowd a new one with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of noise.

After heading over to the main stage again, I decided to check out Chelsea Grin who seemed to be producing a most unholy of rackets, making people run around in a big circle and throw themselves into other like-minded individuals in the process. I don’t know what was making the singer so angry, but he sounded most upset about something, and stayed that way for far too long, so I quickly headed back over to my new-found discovery, the New Blood Stage, for a spot of Death Metal courtesy of Embodiment. There’s something wonderful about the West Country accent when applied to Death Metal. “This one’s about zombies” says Bristolian vocalist Harry Smithson with a voice that sounds like Russell Howard crossed with David Prowse. but don’t let the jocular, laid back approach of the band fool you. These guys have some serious riffs and will do some equally serious damage to your earholes.

Thuum were up next, and with some heavier-than-two-wet-mammoths sludgy Black Sabbath meets Crowbar style riffs, the Bournemouth bruisers completely crushed the living daylights out of anyone left standing in the tent after the previous act. All of this, however, was a mere warm up to what was to come next. The first New Blood band of the day to almost completely pack out the entire tent and have two-thirds of the crowd chanting their name before they arrived on stage were Midlands based Ashen Crown. Such was the level of anticipation, the band didn’t even have to work at getting the crowd revved up as everyone watching was already halfway through losing their voice from screaming their rabid approval. Taking notes from other Brummie bands such as Anaal Nathrakh, and Benediction, (as well as taking their cues from many other, more famous noteworthy acts) the winners of the Wolverhampton Metal 2 The Masses competition simply blew everyone away for the next glorious half an hour. Heaven help the poor band who had to follow that.

Back to the main stage, and onto Devilment, the side project of Cradle of Filth frontman Dani Davey. Maybe it was because I had become accustomed to the intensity of the bands performing on the New Blood stage, but Devilment really seemed to struggle to keep the crowd interested. The fact that Dani’s vocals were audible one moment, gone the next, and back louder than ever straight after, definitely didn’t help the band’s performance, and many punters wandered off halfway though shaking their heads and tutting in a typically English manner.

By the time the usually reliable Soilwork were halfway through their set, it became apparent that, aside from the usual hardcore bunch of fans who knew every single word to every single song, most of the main stage crowd seemed almost totally unmoved by what was actually a pretty decent performance by the Swedish Melodic Death Metal act. Had the previous day’s longer-than-usual queuing system taken its toll on legs and bodies? Were people just too hung over to concentrate? Was the distinctly unsettled and gloomy weather partly responsible? Was it that one guitar was totally dominating the mix? Whatever the reason(s), something just wasn’t quite right, and Soilwork suffered when on any other day they would have surely triumphed.

After watching Devilment and Soilwork fall on their arses on the main stage, there was only one thing for it. Back into the New Blood Stage for Birmingham act Devil’s Playground. Born from the ashes of another relatively well known local band, Aceldama, Devil’s Playground feature two vocalists of completely differing styles. First vocalist, Matt, prowls the stage, roaring and sweating profusely in proper Hardcore tradition, while second vocalist, Leanne, counters that with her own strong voice and powerful melodies. Utilising a number of different styles, the band shift from Hardcore to Nu Metal to Power Metal and Thrash within the space of a few short minutes, but the songs rarely sound busy or cluttered.

It’s back to the main stage once more for legendary Bay Area Thrashers Testament, but yet again one of the bigger acts of the day fall down due to technical gremlins. Sound glitches bug the performance from start to finish, Eric Peterson‘s guitar completely drowns out Alex Skolnick‘s, as some clearly superbly played solos go by without most people being able to actually hear them. Even vocalist Chuck Billy doesn’t escape the technical hiccups either, his voice sounding far too low in the mix, sometimes disappearing completely. He may try and put on a typically smiling face for the increasingly listless audience, but there’s no mistaking his body language as he cuts a frustrated figure on stage.

You can always trust the Germans to be efficient, and when Blind Guardian take to the stage, the sound gremlins have unsurprisingly been well and truly chased off and everything sounds pretty much spot on. However, as it transpires, it’s actually the Swedish who should take the plaudits for the Fantasy Power Metal act’s superb sound, as the band were rescued by headliners, Amon Amarth, when their own equipment was held up somewhere in Middle Earth. Whatever the reason for the sudden change in sound quality, the result is stunning. All of a sudden, the previously largely unenthusiastic audience come to life and start singing for all their worth. Nine songs might not sound like much, but when the crowd singalong for ‘Valhalla’ takes nearly fifteen minutes alone, it makes a little more sense. ‘The Ninth Wave’, ‘Mirror Mirror’, ‘Nightfall’, ‘Mordred’s Song’, and ‘Welcome to Dying’ sound fantastic, but it’s the audience assisted ‘The Bard’s Song’ which stands out as one of the main highlights. A superb performance.

The last time Swedish beard enthusiasts Amon Amarth played Bloodstock, a new craze was invented specifically for them. “Epic Viking Rowing”. Yes, for reasons best known to themselves, a number of the audience decided to sit down in the middle of a mosh pit and start rowing an invisible viking longboat. Now in 2017, almost half the audience takes part, and frontman Johan Hegg can’t stop grinning. Like Blind Guardian before them, the Swedes suffer absolutely none of the problems that seemed to beset most of the previous main stage bands, and they tear through a storming set which features such diverse subject matter as vikings, viking battles, and viking longboats, plus Donald Trump and the current turmoil in the world of global politics. No, not really. Just more viking stuff.

Boasting a bigger and more elaborate stage set than before, the band now unleash an inflatable sea beast, play around a massive viking helmet (ooer…), and feature two viking warriors who come onto the stage and fight each other to the death. There’s also an exploding Mjolnir, lots of bangs, whizzes, and booms, and lots and lots of fire. The setlist is a serious crowd pleaser too, filled with established big hitters like ‘Death in Fire’, ‘Guardians of Asgaard’, ‘Cry of the Black Birds’, ‘Deceiver of the Gods’, and ‘Father of the Wolf’ as well as more recent additions such as ‘At Dawn’s First Light’, ‘First Kill’, and the instant classic, ‘Raise Your Horns’. A flawless headline performance by one of the very best bands of the weekend.

BLOODSTOCK OPEN AIR PART 2

WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK

PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY