By the fans, for the fans: Four days, four stages and nothing but unadulterated great times on the horizon. This is what one of the most anticipated metal festivals of the globe is all about, and it intends to deliver with full force. Day one has finally arrived, and as fans congregate at the gates, the sun promises a weekend unmarred by rain. As the barriers open, the ninth edition of Bloodstock Open Air kicks off on the Sophie Lancaster Stage.
Before it turns into a late-night party tent, this indoor stage welcomes bands such as Motherload, Bull Riff Stampede, Oaf and Ravenage. This is a great warm-up, a taste of what is to come. Bloodstock Open Air, affectionately called BOA, once again offers a list of to-die-for shows, live events that will feed the insatiable hunger of the metal community. The organisation is spot on: campsites are well positioned close to the main gate, creating a strong, celebratory sense of community—plus, you could get from your tent to the main stage in under ten minutes!
For those eager to upgrade, BOA’s Serpent’s Lair VIP package offer a wider camping ground and access to a restricted area with food stalls and bars. Here fans can have a break from the metal marathon and enjoy a huge selection of traditional stouts and ales, including Black Sabbath, Dizzy Blond and Stairway to Heaven, just to mention a few. Bands drift in and out of the nearby media area, chatting and drinking with fans between interviews; all part of the experience. With this year’s colossal sequence of headliners, King Diamond, Lamb Of God, and Slayer, BOA 2013 is unquestionably destined to be remembered. And not just on the musical front; for the third year running, Teenage Cancer Trust will be the official charity partner at this weekend’s ultimate metal festival.
Day two kicks off the festival proper, and starts with yet more promising weather, as well as Nottingham-based Earthtone 9, and the blasting power of all American thrashers Death Angel. While Earthtone 9 gradually warms up the crowd, Death Angel take it two steps further with their blasting adrenaline. As their seventh album The Dream Calls For Blood will be released soon, it’s clear that Death Angel are once again back on the festival circuits in good damn shape.
Right after Ex Deo, BOA gets its first black metal hit with Swedish Dark Funeral, who deliver one of the best performances of the day thanks to eerie renditions of ‘Stigmata’ and ‘My Funeral’. By now the crowd is ready to welcome the Greek metal institution better known as Firewind. Guitarist Gus G. and the army are led by the band’s new singer, Kelly “Sundown” Carpenter, who came on board following Apostolos “Apollo” Papathanasio’s departure.
Back to the Sophie Lancaster stage, Skiltron hailing all the way from Argentina, are introducing the UK to their distinctive brand of folk metal; as they come on stage playing pipes and rocking kilts, the pride of the many Scots who are gathered today is fired up.
Municipal Waste are next on the Main Stage and it all turns, as indeed it must, into total crossover thrash mayhem. Meanwhile on the New Blood Stage, Second Rate Angels catch the attention of a fairly large crowd. Voivod, the Canadians from Quebec, deliver a stunning performance to say the least, wielding their well renowned and captivating dynamics; exceptional vocals from Denis “Snake” Bélanger, and guitarist Dan Mongrain’s flaring riffs set the crowd ablaze. Their set is the perfect prelude to Accept, the über thrashers.
Swedish Scar Symmetry do an alright job headlining the Sophie Lancaster Stage with their highly rated blend of melodic prog. However, it wasn’t quite intense enough to get the audience ready for the final chapter of the first day: King Diamond.
He’s achieved legendary status and more, and he is finally back in the UK. A headline slot is more than fitting; however, the show seems to lack some of the expected grandeur and theatrical thrill at first, despite splashes of wild lights and the eerie fences that divide the man from his audience. Still, thanks to King’s disturbingly high pitched vocals, stunning renditions of “At The Graves” and Merciful Fate’s “Come To The Sabbath” are delivered, making the final performance of the day one to certainly talk about for days to come.
As the festival atmosphere takes hold, fans are hungry for more. However, Stormbringer’s lukewarm attempt to wake up the early-risers is quickly surpassed by British Beholder and Canadian Three Inches Of Blood. 2013 marks the 10th anniversary of Three Inches Of Blood’s first ever performance in the UK and frontman Cam Pipes brings out the pride and glory, delivering “Forest King” and a cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” with his contagious fervour.
Hell stage a state of the art show; the main stage transforms into their traditionally creepy theatre, adorned with a pulpit and flaming gargoyles. Frontman David Bower does an excellent job, throwing tracks such as ‘The Oppressors’ and ‘Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us’ out with his customarily precision, made only grander by the fireworks.
Unfathomable Ruination fiercely precede Sworn Amongst on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. The latter are definitely a band to follow, in no small part due to their forthcoming follow-up to 2010’s Severance.
Gethika are today’s big surprise on the New Blood Stage, but back on the main stage, Canadian Kataklysm deliver their unique northern hyperblast at its best, in part thanks to drummer Max Duhamel’s heavier-than-hell blast-beats. Together with the French fury of Gojira, Kataklysm are among the best acts today. Gojira, as we all know, are always able to conquer their audience. As Joe Duplantier apologises for missing pieces of equipment (which few people even noticed or cared about!), their set evolves into all of its delightful fullness.
With Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe leaping on stage as special guest for a breath-taking rendition of ‘Back Bone’, their set becomes today’s highlight. Seeing the two frontmen celebrating their long-time friendship with a hug is both emotional and mind-blowing.
The adrenaline-charged Swedish powerhouse Sabaton are today’s sensation, drawing a huge crowd. On a strict no-swearing diet, frontman Joakim Brodén knows how to get the audience on-side: he throws cans of lager to them for every accidental swear word. For a family-friendly show, he “accidentally“ swears a hell of a lot.
Avantasia are the German heavy/power metal supergroup project created by the ever charismatic Tobias Sammet, and they have the honour of opening for the most awaited headliners. Drugged by Avantasia’s melodic force and high pitched tunes, the crowd is now high on pure festival spirit. Right before the all-American Lamb Of God, the announcement that the mighty—and only recently reunited—Norwegian black metallers Emperor will headline BOA 2014 (as their sole UK live appearance) is like petrol on a fire; the crowd explodes with joy.
Lamb Of God are today’s well deserved headliners: the anticipation for their set is killing the ravenous audience, who are eager to welcome the squad from Virginia once again. Randy Blythe stomps on stage, charged up like a lion, ready to burst into ‘Desolation’. However, it’s ‘Ghost Walking’, from Lamb Of God’s latest masterpiece, Resolution, that makes the set truly take off. It engulfs the crowd with pure metal bliss, thanks to Mark Morton’s spine chilling solo.
“We had to cut our last tour short because of some legal problems we had,” says Blythe, referring of course to the tragedy which hit headlines last year after a concert in the Czech Republic. Blythe pays tribute to Daniel Nosek, the 19-year-old killed at a Lamb Of God concert following an on-stage scuffle with Blythe in June 2012; “a fan like me and you,” as Blythe says. The crowd responds with massive cheers, and begin pitting; they nearly break the stage barriers, nearly stopping the show twice. It is like an unstoppable turbine. It’s clear that Lamb Of God nailed it again, culminating with ‘Black Label’. It’s great to have them back!
Day three has sadly arrived too soon, and it starts with the kicking rampage of Irish thrashers Gama Bomb, who wake up the audience in no time. Perhaps their set is lacking a certain element of rawness, but there is no denying they can get a crowd moving, and they set the speed just right.
On the Sophie Lancaster Stage, Lifer and States Of Panic set the spirit for the day just as high. US deathcore force Whitechapel are clearly well-positioned amongst the most wanted of the whole festival as they take over the main stage. Frontman Phil Bozeman is the emblem of the caffeine-nicotine fix fuelling the festival. Tracks like ‘I, Dementia’ and ‘This Is Exile’ are delivered massively loud; Whitechapel kick so hard that it becomes impossible to resist both headbanging and moshing.
The temperature rises, perfect timing for Sacred Mother Tongue to step in, followed by Finnish icons Amorphis and their captivating melodic tunes. With their new album Circle in the air, they positioned themselves as one of the best acts of the whole festival. Their forthcoming UK tour is definitely not to be missed, as many are left wanting for more.
From the desolation of Finnish landscapes to the scorching California sun, faster and louder than hell thrashers Exodus are simply fantastic. It’s remarkable how throughout three decades they haven’t lost one single unit of speed and strength; tonight’s performance becomes the living proof. Coming down from the thrash shores of the Bay Area to the nu-metal coastline of Santa Barbara, it’s time for the Devildriver fury. They deliver an impressive set thanks to frontman Dez Fafara’s unquenchable fire.
Back to the Sophie Lancaster Stage, and Austrian supreme blackened death metallers Belphegor are simply amazing. Their set becomes a unique experience thanks to frontman Helmuth Lehner’s proud stage presence, which is both intimidating and intriguing. Lights are eerily dim and intense, matching their profound hymns.
More state of the art thrash is delivered by Anthrax. By the time they re-vamp ACDC’s ‘TNT’ and bring their unforgettable hit ‘Mad House’, the moshpit becomes as close to a warzone as it can possibly be.
With mighty Slayer headlining the last day, there is not a better way to close the festival. Guitarist and legend Jeff Hanneman (replaced by touring member Gary Holt), who tragically passed away last May, is greatly missed, but his spirit is, and will always be, present. Tonight is the proof: classics such as ‘Angel Of Death’ and ‘Death Skin Mask’ are flared with both the customary Slayer precision and their commitment to always satiate their loyal fans.
American deathsters Dying Fetus have the honour of closing the curtains on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. As Slayer detonate a blasting rendition of ‘South Of Heaven’, Dying Fetus’s drummer Trey Williams attracts fans to the other side of the arena with his killer blast-beats. John Gallagher’s growling in ‘From Womb To Waste’ and ‘Kill Your Mother, Rape Your Dog’ remind the crowd how great this band still is. Dying Fetus win over both long-time and new fans. With Slayer and Dying Fetus waving goodnight, BOA 2013 comes to an end.
With mixed feelings of exhilaration and sadness, the crowd slowly dismantles. Some go back to their camp-sites. while others stop to get one last thrill on the bumper cars, or a couple of pints from the bar. The announcement of Emperor’s grand return has fans already making plans, as it should be. In little under a year, Bloodstock will be back, fans in tow, ready to recapture the greatness of 2013, and surpass it. Bring it on!
Bloodstock Open Air
August 8-12 2013
Catton Hall, Walton-upon-Trent, Derbyshire (UK)
Words: Marcus J. West
Photos: Fabiola Santini
Photo Editing: Blueberryheaven