Bloodstock Open Air 2017 – Part 2

Day 3.

SATURDAY

If you were one of the first hundred people to enter the New Blood tent on Saturday morning, then first band of the day Ward XVI (8/10) would reward you with a goodie bag full of stuff like CDs, stickers and t-shirts etc. I strolled over to the tent a good half an hour before they were due on, only to find that half the festival was already in there. It’s amazing how people, no matter how tired or hungover, will always drag themselves out of bed on the promise of free stuff. Goodie bags aside, Ward XVI were a great way to start the Saturday fun. Eclectic and fun, they combined chuggy metal riffs with bouncy Psychobilly, creepy gothic melodies, and at one point, what appeared to be Russian folk. The band’s costumes and make-up were interesting, but like vocalist Psychoberrie‘s strait-jacketed ballad (Alice Cooper and ‘The Ballad of Dwight Frye’ anyone?) they all felt a little too familiar.

It’s funny how the wind can play such an important part with some performances. From a distance, Tech Death merchants Fallujah sounded like an indistinct jumble of noise. However, the closer you got, the clearer and more euphonic everything became. Intricate guitar work and superb drumming lost somewhere in the swirling wind suddenly became audible and coherent, and those who didn’t venture nearer almost certainly missed a treat.

One of the best things about the New Blood stage is the amount of free stuff given away by the bands. T-shirts, CDs, badges, patches, stickers, and in the case of Derby Grindcore act Raised By Owls, prayer books (lyric sheets, basically) with a picture of celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott on the front. Having already released a string of surprisingly well-made comedy music videos on Youtube, the hype had increased to the point where the already huge crowd had to be directed to fill up from the other side of the tent so the hundreds of other people waiting outside could get a chance to experience the mayhem. Standing next to someone holding a life-size cardboard cut-out of Ainsley Harriott, I was soon singing along to such splendidly brilliant nonsense as ‘Scary Spice Has a Gangrenous Arm’, ‘Cliff Richard Drinks From the Skulls of His Enemies’, ‘An American Werewolf in Bognor Regis’, ‘Ross Kemp on Gang Bangs’, and of course, ‘Ainsley Harriott Advises You to Give Your Meat a Good Ol’ Rub’.

Bloodstock always seem to throw a curve ball into the line-up, and this year that band was the infamous four-piece from Flint, Michigan, King 810. Shorn of member Andrew Beal due to the guitarist being recently arrested on a weapons charge, the band took to the stage as a three piece, and, apart from the pure worship of some of their most dedicated fans, were mostly met with a combination of apathy, confusion, and derision. Part music, part performance art, frontman David Gunn prowled the stage, hunched over like an old man, angrily recounting tales of poverty and gun related horror from his hometown, but not many people sitting in a sunny Derbyshire field in Merrie Olde England could relate to such songs of urban squalor and violence, and no matter how hard he tried, their set ultimately fell on largely deaf ears.

Kicking off with the rip-roaring ‘King of the Kill’, Annihilator proved to be one of the surprise hits of the weekend. With a recent career probably best described as ‘patchy’, frontman Jeff Waters has clearly realised which side his bread is buttered, and played a set which, aside from extremely promising new track, ‘Twisted Lobotomy’, drew only from the Canadian act’s first four albums. Classic cuts like ‘Human Insecticide’, ‘Phantasmagoria’ and ‘Set the World on Fire’ were eagerly lapped up, with the Bloodstock faithful even helping out with the silly high pitched parts of ‘Alison Hell’.

Around this time the day before, the main stage crowd had appeared to be out of sorts and a bit restless, but Saturday was a completely different story. After being woken up by Annihilator, it was the turn of Municipal Waste to whip the audience into a frenzy of bobbing heads and thrashing limbs as the band set about trying to reclaim their ‘Most Crowd Surfers During One Song’ crown stolen from them by Gojira last year. A feat which they achieved with consummate ease with an astonishing 711 people being dragged over the barrier in just over three minutes. The regular chant of ‘Municipal Waste will fuck you up!’ reverberated around the arena once more, and the Richmond, Virginia crew left the stage with huge grins and a job well done.

Legend has it that somewhere out there is a bad Hatebreed show.

This was not it.

Having to follow record-breaking crowd surfing attempts and huge circle pits would be a daunting task for most bands, but not Kreator. Opening with an explosion of blood red confetti, the German thrash legends tore through a set leaning predominantly towards their more recent releases, daring to air only three tracks (‘Total Death’, ‘Pleasure To Kill’, ‘People of the Lie’) from their first five albums. Lesser bands would undoubtedly have had the crowd on their backs for choosing so much new material over tried and tested classics, but such is the quality of Kreator’s more recent releases that nobody seems to mind even just a little bit.

Much like King 810, the announcement of Ghost caused much uproar and frantic typing from many angry fingers. However, whereas the Michigan mob floundered, Ghost reveled. Playing to one of the largest audiences Bloodstock has ever seen, Papa Emeritus and his band of masked Ghouls may not be the heaviest band in the world, but they’re certainly one of the more memorable ones. The sound of people in Deicide, Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse shirts singing ‘Square Hammer’ and ‘Cirice’ long after the band had left the stage would be music to their, and the Bloodstock organisers, ears. A gamble that well and truly paid off.

Macabre rounded off the evening’s entertainment on the Sophie Lancaster stage, but as twistedly amusing as their songs may be, they really don’t cut it live. A statement backed up by the amount of people leaving after just a few minutes.

Day 4.

SUNDAY

After missing the first couple of main stage acts, Brujeria were my first band of the day. Treating the enthusiastic crowd to forty minutes of songs about guns, violence, and weed, the (partly) Mexican Grindcore act finished their set with their herbally themed singalong version of ‘The Macarena’, and many people are left wondering why it took Bloodstock so long to book them in the first place.

Credited with coining the term ‘Death Metal’ (although English Thrash act Onslaught also recorded a song with the same title the same year) San Francisco’s Possessed enjoyed a short but highly influential career. However, it all came to a sudden end in 1990 when vocalist Jeff Becerra was paralyzed from the chest down after being shot during an armed robbery. Entering the stage in his wheelchair to rapturous applause, Becerra appears genuinely moved and, with his unmistakable rasping roar, belts out a mix of songs from all three of their original releases plus a new one entitled ‘Shadowcult’. A few minor mic problems aside, everything runs as smoothly as hoped, and rather appropriately, Onslaught vocalist Sy Keeler, now acting as one of the festival comperes, leads the applause as the band leave the stage.

Obituary do what Obituary do best and, with a minimum of fuss, blast through a solid mix of some of the finest old school Floridian Death Metal and newer material from their last couple of albums. Obviously, everything from Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death gets the best response, but the new songs are well received too. Racing over to the Sophie Lancaster Stage, I’m just in time to see Finnish band Wolfheart receive a warm welcome in a very warm tent for their songs about winter, snow, and the freezing cold.

When Hell graced the Ronnie James Dio stage for the first time back in 2011, it was a momentous occasion. Surely one of the very best – if not the best opening act performance on the main stage since the festival began. Almost immediately it became the stuff of legend and has been talked about in revered tones since. Now, with the band’s third main stage appearance, there are worrying signs that the act is all becoming a bit jaded. Instead of seeing jaws hang open in surprise and awe, you hear people saying tings like, “oh, this is the bit when…” with all too common regularity. With very little change in the stage act, and no new material in four years, today’s performance just seems a little run-of-the-mill. And no Hell show should ever be that.

 

Whether you like Skindred or not, you have to admit that Benji Webbe is a phenomenal frontman. He has absolutely no conception of how to play a bad show, and there are times when you wish the band would just shut up for a bit so he could do his own thing. The pit writhes and heaves for ‘Nobody’ and ‘Kill The Power’, but remains silent while Benji introduces ‘Saying It Now’ with a highly personal story, and thousands of t-shirts are swung around for the band’s now infamous, but quite silly, “Newport Helicopter” move.


Heading back to the New Blood stage for the final time this weekend, SlovenianDoom act Mist are playing, rather appropriately, in thick fog. Female vocals, Sabbath riffs and dry ice. Lovely.

 

This is the first time I’ve seen Arch Enemy since Alyssa White-Gluz took over from former vocalist Angela Gossow, and the result is a mostly positive one. Alyssa’s voice is every bit as good as Angela’s, but she does lack some of her predecessor’s stage presence. The biggest tick in the plus column though is that the band can actually play a proper set now, rather than fill their time with numerous solos and instrumentals because of Angela’s throat problems.

And so to the final headliner of the weekend. Megadeth can be a strange old band. Great one night, poor the next. You never quite know what you’re getting, and a lot of that can be down to what type of mood volatile frontman Dave Mustaine happens to be in at the time. As it turns out, Mustaine seems to be in good spirits tonight, just putting his head down and getting on with business. However, the setlist isn’t the best, and halfway through ‘Trust’, I notice a couple of people pulling out their mobile phones and reading the latest posts on Facebook. Mind you, they were instantly broken out of their mid-show malaise with a ridiculously fast version of ‘Mechanix’. Rumours had been floating around before the show that, after something he said during an interview at Wacken, MegaDave was planning “something special” for Bloodstock. What could it be? A laser show? One of the classic albums in its entirety? The Conjuring? Well, as it turns out, it was a 3D video screen effect for a guitar solo. Something that looked and sounded great, was executed perfectly, but also felt slightly anticlimactic. A bit like sections of the show itself.

So, that’s it for another year. Another fantastic Bloodstock attended by some of the friendliest, hairiest, drunkest and sweatiest people you could ever wish to meet. We’ve had bands, signings, weightlifting contests, bin jousting, surprisingly clean toilets, huge plumes of vape smoke which give the dry ice machines a run for their money, some of the loudest and most impressive vomiting you’re ever likely hear, and campsites which somehow managed to resemble a post-apocalyptic wasteland by as early as the first day. And what’s more, it was completely sold out for the first time too. Bigger and better things surely await the best Metal festival in the UK.

BLOODSTOCK OPEN AIR 2017 PART 1

WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK

PHOTOS BY RICH PRICE PHOTOGRAPHY