If I thought my arrangements for last year’s visit to this, the peak of independent UK metal festivals, were a bit last minute and random, I upped my game in the chaos stakes this year. From not going at all, to having my other clashing commitments taken off my hands, to considering a day ticket on the Saturday, to running some stuck friends down on the Thursday and being gutted to come back from the gathering atmosphere of excited anticipation, to hearing on Friday that there were nefarious ways and means to get me in, to getting a bit carried away with solidarity drinking at home on the Friday meaning I was late to set off first thing the Saturday, to… Bloodstock.
Glorious sun bathed the place upon arrival Saturday lunchtime that always makes for a more pleasurable atmosphere, and its relentlessness was nowhere near what we have endured at Hellfest. As soon as I was in we were bumping into friends left right and centre, the other great benefit of the gathering at this moderately sized festival enabling that, unlike lost in the oceans of crowd at the larger events.
Off up to the Ronnie James Dio main stage for the first band of the day for me, 1349, Norwegian thrashing black metallers. As ever there’s the slight unsettling of this dark, harsh form in contrast to a jolly afternoon in the sunshine, but more of an issue was the same old theme of the sound here not being great, drum heavy, guitar not cutting through.
Still enjoyable but left to head over to see the somewhat similarly styled Ethereal (above) over at the Sophie/second stage, who despite coming from Liverpool I think this was the first time I’d got to see them. Far better sound to start with and really enjoyed their atmospheric and dynamic shifts through a powerful set, came across as very confident in their intent and delivery.
Stayed here for the Indonesian death/grind of Jasad next, a band I had skipped seeing in the avalanche of noise that is Obscene Extreme but was ultimately glad I’d got to catch them here. Fierce and heavy blasting and thrashing through an energetic set, definitely one of the more extreme experiences of the weekend, the singer tried his best to encourage us to come and visit him over there, and kick Jihadis up the arse wherever we found them. I saw them after and they seemed genuinely pleased with the response they’d gained and the opportunity they’d had here.
A wander back to the mainstage catches the end of Korpiklaani, who were playing a bit more solid and more serious than the drunken jig tunes that has been their mainstay when I ‘ve caught them in the past.
But then we’re at the barrier for the band “from just down the road, in Birmingham”, Napalm Death. As ever it’s consistent, cutting, chaos from the boys, I find myself rising to the surface for “Scum”. John is still replacing Mitch on guitar but there’s no lack to their impact and explosive rage through old and new tracks.
We remain there for another thrashing treat and Dark Angel next. They were an absolute highlight of Hellfest last year, but with a lesser sound here and the novelty of catching them for that first time there it wasn’t QUITE as good, just one notch down on the amazing stakes. Driven by the Gene (Hoglan) Machine on drums their riffs show no mercy and are not short and sharp about it. Great to see Ron getting down to crowd level too, and “Merciless Death” is once again reinforced as one of my favourite songs full stop.
Over to Sophie tent to see US funk thrashers Mordred, who I think I’d last encountered at the Buckley Tiv some decades ago. Fair play, they were still hitting the spot well, and I probably enjoyed them all the more now. The scratching DJ in the mix, plus his guest rap vocals really gave it that crossover feeling that I love from bands such as Senser, maybe a bit of a mad mashup for the more conservative metalheads tastes but good for me.
Death (DTA) on the main stage, a collection of original members (Gene back for another set, the beast) plus a very good replacement for the deceased mainman Chuck up front. Steve Digorgio on bass is orchestrating the tribute/cover band and while they range through their back catalogue it is the older, rawer death metal I prefer to their more tech twiddling latter stuff.
planet of zeus
A change of pace but a real revelation next with Planet of Zeus over at the Sophie next. A massive sound in here to appreciate the vibes in their mix of stoner/doom grooves, really strong vocals and engaging to the crowd here, the Greeks were probably the number one discovery of the festival to me, these finds are always joy in themselves.
Catch a bit of the silly “more swords than you can shake a stick at” Manowar style classic metal action from Hanowar, at the tiny Jagermeister tent in the centre, before dedicating some serious party time over at the Bloodstock Arms and largely ignoring or being quite incredulous at headliners Within Temptation, and their Eurovision song contest-esque style pop/poop metal. It’s all done on a very grand scale with big projected backdrops and operatic dynamics, but it is far removed from what I like so I’ll leave it at that.
We leave the last to be the Italians Fleshgod Apocalypse (below) over at the Sophie, and while there are still operatic undertones from a classical girl singer and a guy playing some upright piano with his back to the crowd, the riffing, drumming and harsh main vocals are of a much harder hitting death tinged variety. The sound is not the best again unfortunately now but all in all it’s a fiery end to the days proceedings
Being strangely civilised and in a hotel there was no great rush to get back in on Sunday, so we had a constitutional breakfast and breakfast cider and got in about lunchtime. The first main draw to the main stage was for the stoner doom power house that is Orange Goblin. (above) Always great fun and they made for a proper party atmosphere with front man Ben whipping up the crowd, backed by some highly infectious grooves.
A bit more serious next with Pro-pain over from the States, some great and clear cut metallic hardcore with pummelling riffs and shout along lyrics. Took a breather from that to get some shade in the Sophie tent and another pleasant surprise, some excellent hauntingly melodic drifting doom from Alunah, a spell binding vocal lulling you in. Will definitely be checking more of these.
Stayed over here for the start of Old Rake, the solo project of the Evile guitarist, and while the addition of quality miming gimps playing guitar and bass rakes alongside him was highly amusing, guitar twiddlery is just so not my thing.
Getting to the second half of Sepultura was much more so, and approaching from the side to see a sea of raised fist hands saluting the stage showed that a lot of other people were into them too. Celebrating 30 years but always dogged by the bickering ex-members I like them for what they deliver, superbly heavy and precise thrash, great new drummer too. “Arise” remains a particular highlight for me.
Wander back to the Sophie for Saille, some symphonic black metal from Belgium. I was not familiar with them but they were actually quite enjoyable to chill out to and savour their epic, multi layered approach, that swing from intense heaviness to more mellow or anthemic sections.
I head up to catch the start of the return visit of Cannibal Corpse, the American death metal veterans, but whilst their ferocity is impressive it does tend to wash over you after a bit. Fortunately entertainment is guaranteed over at the Sophie with relative locals Lawnmower Deth, (below) and their nonsensical crossover thrash. In their reinvigorated current form they brim with confidence and humour and the added theatrics of their (budget) stage show (Cobwoman of Deth vs. Mr Smelly Mop, a “sheep” getting blown up in the “Deth Shed” etc.) just make it a uniquely and surreally British experience. Broad smiles all around, even when getting hit in the pint by giant inflatable balls.
Crossing by the Jager catch the end of Blind Haze, who have been building a very good reputation with their quality stoner grooves, and could easily grace a bigger stage. I resist the urge to run off with the left-handed Rickenbacker bass and instead on a recommendation have an only visit to the New Blood Stage to see Wretched Toad. A very strange mix it was to match their name really, almost funk jazz experimentalism mixed with heavier riffing, not the best sound in there. At least it was more entertaining than the interminable guitar solo coming from Black Label Society on the main stage, that was disturbing our peace while we chilled out on the grass outside, who actually likes this wankery? There is at least a strong finish to the the day and the fest though to be had in the Sophie tent, with first the sharp, modern thrashing of Onslaught. (below)
Yes they have been going for decades but this is one of the best performances I have seen from them, no messing about relentless riff fest, really seem to have become a refined article. And then finish on an absolute high with the devastating lows of Godflesh. (below) Of course I’m an out and out fan-boy but they are also on top of their game at the moment and the ingredients of a new setlist with some previous unaired songs, new visuals as their backdrop, and a mammoth crushing sound mix I was massively happy.
A little post-apocalyptic socialising then I am whisked back to the hotel and to reflect that even though it has been pushed down the festival priority list in the face of some serious international competition there’s no way I take this gem for granted. Definitely up for a return next year.