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Bloodstock

Live Review

Venue: Catton Hall, Derbyshire

Down, Emperor and Megadeth send Derby into delirium

FRIDAY: A cheery canopy of blue skies looms over the hallowed Catton Hall turf, but all below is dark, destructive and as proudly metallic as Bloodstock tradition demands.

GURT [7] play sludge so heavy that witnessing their gleefully vicious set at the Sophie Lancaster stage is like being submerged in flaming dinosaur shit. Only a thousand times more enjoyable, naturally. NO SIN EVADES HIS GAZE [7] should be much higher up this bill, the vexed New Blood stage sound doing them few favours but the band’s gleaming vitality telling its own compelling tale. ABHORRENT DECIMATION [9] are fucking phenomenal today, more than earning a packed tent and thunderous reception with a supercharged display of pin-sharp death metal power. KROKODIL [7] have the riffs, the tunes and a steadily increasing buzz around them, and yet vocalist Simon lacks the presence to make their crushing and inventive sound detonate with the efficacy it deserves. Keeping it grim, old school and steeped in chaos, DE PROFUNDIS [8] blast, grind and shriek like Satan’s henchmen on a joyride through the Vatican. Malevolent job very much done.

ZEROZONIC [7] are peppy and play a storming, thrashy set that echoes the glory days of Pantera and while DEALS DEATH [6] fare better with the crowd, they lack power despite their obvious enthusiasm for the event. WINTERFYLLETH [9] take to the SL stage as the heavens rain down and technical problems hit. The British quartet don’t allow it to hinder them, though, and they win over a host of new fans with new material and a steely resolve. DIABOLICAL’s [6] melodeath, however, doesn’t keep up the momentum and while the Swedes certainly have skills, they don’t grab the attention they should. SKYCLAD [8], meanwhile, completely flip the atmosphere around and their folk-tinged metal has the tent moving from front to back in gleeful unison before ROTTING CHRIST [9] bring a phenomenal performance to the masses. The Greeks are untouchable tonight and old-school tracks and new songs highlight just how impressive the Hellenic tribe are.

The Ronnie James Dio stage opens under the thunderous weight of BLOODSHOT DAWN [8], who show promising signs with a mixture of death metal intensity, rolling Southern swagger, classic solos and technical licks. Vanguards of Swedish death metal ENTOMBED AD [8] are great at what they do, blitzing through new and old material with thrash and groove and culminating in a jaw-dropping rendition of Left Hand Path. Ripped and torn righteous Irish metallers PRIMORDIAL [8] play an infallible set that marries Alan Averill’s dark, unmatchable charisma with blackened Celtic themes. FLOTSAM AND JETSAM [7] haven’t played in the UK since 1987 and are given a hero’s welcome. Their neat mix of thrash classics and epic stadium fillers is just the ticket. More UK shows please!

Proving it only takes three men to create a colossal sound, New Yorkers PRONG [7] don’t mess about, offering the perfect antidote to afternoon lethargy with hardcore-edged metal that gets fists pumping and beers a-chugging. 

Burdened with an appalling mix that smothers Tom Fischer’s vocals – and virtually everything else – with a low-end dirge, the sheer metallic force generated by TRIPTYKON [7] is still enough that the sun itself eventually resorts to cowering below the horizon. Sporting Motörhead t-shirts and Blue Öyster Cult guitar stickers, you’d be forgiven for thinking HATEBREED [8] had something to prove. They don’t, and Bloodstock loves them, judging by the numbers who have braved the biblical downpour to see them. 

Unfortunately the arrival of DIMMU BORGIR [5] is severely delayed due to a myriad of technical issues. Even more unfortunately, however, rather than soldiering on regardless, vocalist Shagrath seems more concerned with blaming the “incompetent people” behind the scenes. And despite some eyebrow-singeing pyro, their set becomes a particularly workman-like slog. They might lack the pyro and spectacle of some of their fellow headliners, but one thing DOWN [9] have that no one else does is one Philip H Anselmo. The metal legend’s presence and charisma makes the NOLA quintet’s career-straddling set somehow seem less like a headline performance and more like an invite into their practice space: raw, relaxed and brilliant.

SATURDAY

The epic-reaching BABYLON FIRE [6] were always going to find the going tough at 11am on the Sophie Lancaster stage, although death metal groovers THE KING IS BLIND [7] fare better with their relentless bludgeon. Sitting uncomfortably between Saxon, Primordial and folk twiddler Nic Jones, OLD CORPSE ROAD [7] are as confusing as they sound – although clearly popular nonetheless. 

Many near the second stage think they can hear Soundgarden playing. They can’t, it’s just THE MERCY HOUSE [5], whose enthusiasm can’t make up for their shortfall in originality. Bringing the real heaviness back, Finns PROFANE OMEN [7] slay the curious few with their deceptively catchy rock-hued death metal. 

This is the last-ever show for Yorkshire trad metallers CONQUEST OF STEEL [9] and the boys play their hearts out during a truly epic performance. The air of celebratory glee soon vanishes, however, when Spanish post-metal mob OBSIDIAN KINGDOM [7] bring their gloomy atmospherics to bear. It’s hard not to be impressed by the vicious synchronised windmilling of Norwegian death metal veterans BLOOD RED THRONE [7] and the accompanying sound is suitably savage. Reformed NWOBHM outfit BATTLEAXE [8] are simply built for Bloodstock and clearly win new fans with rocking renditions of tunes such as Legions Unite, Ready To Deliver and Chopper Attack. Ably led by a killer vocal performance from Liv Jagrell, Sweden’s SISTER SIN [7] do a great job at getting heads banging with some high-energy, balls-out metal-charged rock. It’s standing room outside only by the time HELLYEAH [7] explode into action, Vinnie Paul reminding everyone why he’s such a legend as he tears through a set of power-groove metal that’s eagerly lapped up by all.

EVIL SCARECROW [8] are silly: they know, we know, but they’re clearly becoming a phenomenon, their early morning main stage show of utterly potty pomp getting one of the biggest audiences of the entire weekend throwing grass in the air and war marching around the arena. SHINING [8] are so emphatically into what they’re doing that even missing equipment doesn’t faze them. Their self-styled ‘black jazz’ is curious but entirely engaging and those signature saxophone parts carry far across the sunny field. DECAPITATED [8] take to the stage with a heroes' welcome and with their backdrop proclaiming ‘From pain to strength’ it’s obvious to both band and audience that this a big deal for them. The Polish death metal act proceed to decimate and Spheres Of Madness completely kills. ORPHANED LAND [7] and their Middle Eastern-tinged metal are deliciously heavy and despite the Israelis taking a little time to hit their stride, when it all comes together it’s wonderfully anthemic.

The grinding sludge of CROWBAR [7] is better suited to the intimacy of an indoor venue but even so, nothing comes close to the cataclysmic emotional weight of The Lasting Dose. Despite being the wildcards in an extreme bill, LACUNA COIL [8] smash out an impeccable set of anthems like Heaven’s A Lie, Our Truth and beefy new track Die And Rise, all with epic proficiency. It feels like ages since CHILDREN OF BODOM [8] did anything meaningful but today reminds us why they deserve main stage billing. From the key-laden powertrip of Silent Night, Bodom Night to the defiant cry of In Your Face, the Finns totally own it. 

For all Jeff Walker’s acerbic griping, CARCASS [9] are a joyous and haughty proposition today. Whether revisiting their gruesome roots via Genital Grinder and Reek Of Putrefaction or reaffirming their reborn prowess with a seething Captive Bolt Pistol and a monumental, closing Heartwork, this is a legendary band on top form and a perfect demonstration of extreme metal’s flexibility and fire. Will this be the last-ever EMPEROR [10] show in the UK? If it is, it’s a suitably mindblowing one, as the Norwegians revisit the mysterious squall of In The Nightside Eclipse, imbuing it with a muscular resolve that their younger selves would have struggled to match. Their main set ends with a genuinely affecting Inno A Satana, but it’s a final encore of Bathory’s A Fine Day To Die that reduces the diehards to blubbering wrecks. We may never see their like again.

SUNDAY

It’s ludicrous that someone as talented as AARON KEYLOCK [7] is a mere 16 years old but if anyone can shred like Gary Moore, this young buck can. Something about OCTOBER FILE’s [8] savage post-punk suits the bleak weather attacking Bloodstock, even through the Sophie Lancaster marquee. Halfway through the soundman pushes the right buttons as the set reaches its zenith in equal parts groove and absolute nihilism. Medieval mob HAERKEN [7] get gimmick points for adorning the crowd with inflatable swords.

MORGUE ORGY [7] are more fun than they have any right to be. Mixing synth into slams and giving it a lick of ska tempo is an odd choice but it certainly works. In stark contrast, VOICES [8] bring a cloud of negativity and their super-blackened death casts a shadow over the tent. STAHLSARG [5] tread a more traditional BM path but their enthusiasm doesn’t mitigate their soulless rehashing.

STORMZONE [7] push the more trad heavy metal vibe back on the SL stage. The band are all boundless energy and huge vocals and the dedicated few at the front make their presence known. KROW [7] and their groove-laden death metal are a nice counterpoint and they punish the crowd with a deep, heavy sound while COLLIBUS [8] take things back to basics with a hard rocking atmosphere and a self-assured stage presence.

Switched from the main stage to the Sophie stage due to a delayed flight, it could be argued that Swedish retro rockers GRAVEYARD [8] and their plaintive, moody tunes fare rather better indoors and in darkness. In a curious move, SATAN [9] have their stage time pushed back so that they don’t clash with the main stage and close the festival with absolute, heavy metal joy. Fists are raised, “Satan” is chanted and words are shouted back at the stage in complete togetherness. There’s a real sense of community this evening and it’s heartwarming to witness.

Feeling hungover and grumpy? Main stage openers ARTHEMIS [7] will sort you out. An eight-legged heavy metal joy machine, the Italians are as irresistible as ever today and look like they might burst with happiness from the thrill of it all. ABORTED [8] bring a different kind of party vibe; one that comes drenched in offal and pieces of shattered bone. An unrelenting force for death metal supremacy, the Belgians take the breath away with their precision and groove, ending with a carnivorous Saw And The Damage Done. Bloodstock burps appreciatively. Known best for After Forever and Nightwish, Floor Jansen heads up REVAMP [7] for a spot of operatic metal as the sun makes an appearance. While the songs are essentially tuneless, Floor kicks ass, not even letting some irksome mic problems dampen her spirits. BIOHAZARD’s [8] authentic fuck-you attitude and energy has the pitters splattered in mud during Down For Life before they invite hundreds of fans onstage for a rebellious finale. Nutters.

AVATAR [8] are moved to the main stage due to Graveyard being delayed and the theatrical Swedes revel in the opportunity, their over-the-top rock putting a grin on many faces. On the cusp of releasing a new album, Floridian death metal legends OBITUARY [8] tear Bloodstock a new one with crushing renditions of songs old and new. Perhaps miffed at not being higher on the bill, SAXON [8] make it as difficult as possible for anyone to follow them with an outrageously entertaining set featuring wall-to-wall classics and a guest spot from none other than Dave Mustaine on Denim And Leather. Flanked by smoke-belching dragons and glowing runestones and powered by enough pyro to start a war, AMON AMARTH [8] serve up a mid-paced menu of Norse fare which, although fairly predictable, has the near-capacity crowd halfway to Valhalla by the time the final battery of explosions atomises what’s left of their senses. In the history of hit-and-miss shows by MEGADETH [8], tonight’s headline slot spears the bullseye. Delivering a calculated and thus populist greatest hits set, Mustaine and co remind us just how many great songs they’ve got: Hangar 18, Wake Up Dead, Tornado Of Souls, A Tout Le Monde... the list goes on. A rousing, feelgood finale to another simply brilliant Bloodstock.

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