Bloodstock Open Air is making plans to return in 2021 and every year festival founder Paul Gregory curates a selection from other heavy-metal-friendly artists, both established and new, who has caught his attention the previous year. In 2021, Paul wants to give a chance to artistic newcomers to win the opportunity to hang a piece of their work alongside his own and other respected creatives in the on-site RAM Gallery, so he’s devised an art competition. To enter you need to design and create your own piece of artwork, based around and inspired by one of the bands performing at Bloodstock 2021. Paul will jointly judge the competition alongside friend and fellow artist, Mark Wilkinson (illustrator of album sleeves for Marillion, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, The Darkness), and the winner will have their work professionally framed, lit, and hung in the RAM Gallery on-site next August. In addition to this honour, the winner will bag a pair of weekend festival tickets, a personal tour of the RAM Gallery on-site with Paul Gregory, and the potential to watch 3 songs from the side of the stage of the band they’ve chosen to create their artwork for (subject to closed stages).
With humble origins as a smaller, indoor festival in 2001, and being headlined then by metal legends Saxon due to connections to organiser Paul Gregory, Bloodstock steadily grew and grew until eventually in 2005 it saw an additional (not solitary) open air version. It is now the UK’s biggest open air metal (not rock) festival. Now, in the open air’s 10th year, a cursory glance at the line-ups throughout the years show its size and stature growing with bigger names from the likes of Slayer, Megadeth and this year’s closer Rob Zombie alongside the underground, the extreme and even the silly (hello Korpiklaani).
Much smaller than the likes of Download Festival, Bloodstock benefits from its close proximity to the campsite meaning if you do fancy a nap to fight off that expected hangover then you are only five minutes away. As you do enter the main arena you are firstly greeted by a cordoned off circle which later in the weekend will see infamous Knight fighting, as illustrated by the many in full knight’s armour throughout the weekend because, you know… metal!
A few paces beyond is the Sophie Lancaster Stage which proudly supports the S.O.P.H.I.E Campaign, and just beyond is the smaller Jagermeister Stage which sits just next to the grounds of the main stage, and even past that is the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage, all within a few minutes walking distance, easy and convenient. Coupled with one of the most consistently pleasant, easy going, and friendly festival goers you will hope to meet (with plenty of families about) and you can’t help but have a fantastic weekend. Welcome to Bloodstock!
As per usual, the festivities really kick off on the Thursday with several bands on the Sophie tent; and a glance at the shirts about show that openers Reign Of Fury have a tonne of fans about. Later on in the day if Welsh death metal hoodlums Desecration don’t get you in the mood for debauchery then nothing will as they deliver a sterling set.
Friday arrives and the rescheduled Nuclear Assault start off the main stage as it would continue throughout the weekend; with troubles, as they play with borrowed gear due to airport confusion. Still they play with intensity and ferocity, if you can get past John Connelly’s cartoon like voice which verges between cringe worthy and suiting.
Despite the glorious sunshine its back to the Sophie tent for the loveable Pronk duo Oaf as they deliver the first truly great moment of the festival with a set chock full of obscenities, humour and incredible songs. Very little will top the image of a packed out sea of Cheshire Cat grins bellowing out the chorus to brand new song ‘Disgusted By Your Genitalia’ this weekend.
The New Blood Stage over the weekend will play host to numerous winners of Bloodstock’s Metal To The Masses winners as well as other great new talents, proving a very worthy place to go if there is a gap in your schedule. Early on in the day is Brighton’s winner, thrashers King Leviathan who combine the pace and energy of thrash/death metal with black metal’s fascination and imagery of the occult. With impressive numbers and a formidable display, it seems the future of metal is in good hands.
Shortly after, the sunshine doesn’t appear to be helping the black metal bands of the weekend as they vividly corpse painted Belphegor seem to be greeted by not only it brightening but butterflies flying around the stage, which proves too hilarious.
There is even plenty of Prog over the weekend, with a wide range of progressive minded metal bands across the stages, which brings up your scribes’ first major clash of the weekend. It wouldn’t be Bloodstock if a stage or two wasn’t plagued with sound issues, and it’s a testament to the loyal masses that Enslaved’s inaudible vocals did not detract from the raucous response from a crowd who adore this darkened, Nordic prog. Outings from newie ‘Building With Fire’ and old favourites like 1997’s ‘Alfablot’ amalgamate perfectly to create one of the sets of the weekend, proving that the spirit and character of a band can cast away sonic snags. An entirely different beast, Australian tech metallers Ne Obliviscaris pack out a rapturous Sophie tent with a rare visit to these shores, and a mind bogglingly complex but stunning set which has everyone in attendance hooked.
The main stage gremlins make yet another appearance as they wreak havoc on Ihsahn, causing a long pause during the set to sort out monitor difficulties. Not that you would have noted the band’s distraction at all as aside from this delay they/he perform an absolute masterclass. Plus it’s a testament to his deity like reputation and the open minded crowd that he can close with a brand new song in ‘My Heart Is Of The North’. The Prog continues with relative newcomers Diatessaron on the New Blood Stage with, sadly, some signs of nerves kicking in and a sound that feels too out of place for the festival, the band seeming too thin and reward with a somewhat disinterested crowd.
Making good use of the close proximity to the campsite means it’s time for a rest to recover from the heat. A few drinks in and it turns out we have accidentally missed the mammoth heaviness of Conan (dammit), but its back in time to see Swedish power metallers Sabaton continue their ascent to one of the UK’s favourite metal acts. Kicking off, as ever, with ‘Ghost Division’ they charge in with the subtlety of a Panzer battalion as the likes of ‘Carolus Rex’ and a rare UK airing of ‘No Bullets Fly’ cause sing-alongs a plenty. The band themselves are certainly having the time of their lives up there, but the set derails somewhat by their insistence on rehearsed comedy routines which are completely unnecessary, especially with the songs they could have played in their arsenal. Still even this cannot take away from one of the most fun sets of the day; plus they have a huge fucking tank on stage.
Since they have been huge favourites in the UK since their inception, and the history they have with UK festivals (that infamous main stage opening slot at Download), it seems about time that Trivium are given the challenge of headlining a major UK festival, in what seemed like it could have been another historic and defining moment for both the band and festival. Sadly they hit problems immediately as they choose to open with the live premiere of brand new song ‘Silence In The Snow’ which has not only been out for only a few weeks but also does not prove captivating enough a song. Things are unaided by the absence of guitarist/growler Cory Beaulieu due to microphone difficulties which result in him getting electric shocks (those gremlins again).
When issues settle however and they hit their stride they show strong a band they are with quite the arsenal of anthems, from stirring renditions of the likes of ‘Like Light To Flies’ and ‘Into The Mouth Of Hell We March’. However the set does prove very inconsistent as for each great moment, there are those that fall flat, like ‘Strife’ and ‘Black’, plus another new airing in the trudging ‘Blind Leading The Blind’ towards the end of the main set. It’s a real shame as at times they are almost exquisite, but at others they seem tired and daunted by the event. The crowd is firmly behind them, but what could have been a monumental occasion sadly proves frustrating.
WORDS BY CHRIS TIPPELL & SARAH WORSLEY