OK, cards on the table here, I am a massive fan of rock music, always have been, always will be, but I am not an aficionado of metal, I don't have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the back catalogue of Pepper Keenan nor would I hold a seminar on the differences between Doom, Black and Death Metal. If you are looking for a surgical analysis of every act that played at Bloodstock then you are in the wrong place, there are loads of sites dedicated to this sort of thing that would scoff at my amateur viewpoints and that could give you the review you are looking for. What my review will do is let you know what it is like to go to the Bloodstock Open Air Festival and whether it is a festival that would suit you.
You'd be hard pushed to find a better place for a metal festival than Catton Park; it's miles away from every sign of life, so there is no chance of any complaints from irate neighbours about their ears bleeding from the noise. It's as flat as a pancake, reducing any of those unfortunate hill vs massive platform boot incidents and it's probably about as central in the country as you can get.
Bloodstock started indoors in 2001 but has been outdoors (Bloodstock Open Air - BOA) since 2005 so it's had plenty of experience, and this shows in all aspects of the event. Size-wise Bloodstock is a 12,000 capacity event, so it's not a huge festival but there are enough people to make it the perfect balance between heaving and intimate. You can get around the main arena in no time and even when the arena is full for the big acts you're not going to struggle to hit the bar.
There are four stages to choose from; the main stage is the Ronnie James Dio Stage (named after the late, great man), the second is the Sophie Lancaster Stage (named after Sophie Lancaster who was murdered for being a goth), then there's the New Blood Stage and finally the compact, bijou and very branded Jagermeister Stage where a number of acts did a second, frequently acoustic, set. These four stages brought you more than 100 acts over the weekend, and four of those played on Thursday for the people who were prepared enough to arrive in plenty of time for the weekend's festivities.
Musically Bloodstock is 100% metal, in a number of guises, but all rock nonetheless. There is a tendency for festivals that are genre specific to feature some acts that are "not strictly" on message, acts that are tenuously linked by a short riff, or one song. They usually fit well on the day, but you can bet your first pint that someone will have spit theirs across their computer when they first found out: "The Prodigy? At [insert festival name]? Is that metal?" You can't accuse Bloodstock of this, it is one of the aspects of the festival that it does not compromise on. I am sure that some will argue with me that band X or group Y isn't metal, but I certainly didn't find any evidence of this.
Bloodstock's pure dedication to metal has one large advantage; it filters out anyone who isn't right into it, leaving a site full of genuine fans who are there to enjoy the music and party as hard as they possibly can for three days.
So the scene is set, we have 12,000 metal fans, four stages, 100+ acts, stocked beer tents and a seemingly endless supply of black clothing and band T-shirts. What could go wrong? Well, although the rock crowd is renowned for being laid back and trouble free, choosing instead to enjoy their mayhem in the music, the moshing and the head banging, it does not mean that they will forgive anything. That is especially true of the music, when bands are fiercely scrutinised and criticised if they don't live up to expectations - trawl a few forums to hear a tirade about any act at any festival. This means that the relaxed atmosphere can still turn on a sixpence if the organisation is lacking or short-sighted. Fortunately Bloodstock does not suffer from this; it is a slick, professional and well put together entity.
Security at an event can test even the most patient of crowds, and I've seen some atrocious examples of that over the years, but the relaxed attitude of the event is reflected in the security who were always (apart from a few serious pit moments) courteous and friendly as a result, I imagine, of the chilled atmosphere in the arena. There will always be exceptions, and some people are more, how shall I put it, officious than others but their overall demeanour at Bloodstock was superb.
Bloodstock has established a reputation for getting a number of UK festival exclusive performances for its line-up and this year was no exception with Alice Cooper, closing the festival on Sunday night, Iced Earth, Sepultura, Nile, Mayhem, Moonsorrow, Freedom Call and Watain all appearing exclusively. Joining Alice Cooper as headliners were Behemoth and Machine Head, forming a trilogy of top metal acts for the weekend.
I've spent years trawling around festivals and have seen many hundreds of bands but Bloodstock was an almost complete set of new acts for me, a reawakening and crash course all rolled into one. I knew Alice Cooper would close the festival in style, and he didn't let us down. How can you fail to with a dramatic, theatrical show packed full of classic rock tracks performed by a man with nearly 50 years of experience under his belt? My mission for the weekend was to try to absorb as much from the other bands as possible and to see which ones would blow me away (and which would just blow).
This isn't a reflection on the bands, or their popularity, it's just my first time view, but I wasn't gripped by Behemoth or Machine Head. I tried to appreciate their moody lighting and pyros, but couldn't connect for one reason or another. I think that this may have something to do with not having heard their recorded music first so I had to try to distinguish their tracks in what seemed like a wall of noise. I am listening to Machine Head's Imperium as I write this and it's much better than I remember on the night. It's not that I am not open to new music, I remember being distinctly unimpressed with Rammstein live but got drawn in by it and loved the whole set.
It all comes back again to Bloodstock being for proper fans of metal. I must have been one of maybe a dozen people who didn't know Machine Head or Behemoth, so was far from the target audience. And this held true across the three days, but it didn't mean that I spent all my time moaning that I couldn't understand a single lyric or hear a melody during all the death metal bands - just a little bit of my time. Nor did it mean that I got no joy from the music at all, on the contrary, there were a number of acts that made quite an impression for lots of reasons.
Cooper aside, you couldn't do better for frontmen than Chuck Billy from Testament and Derrick Green from Sepultura. Both acts were a joy to watch for their energy alone. I warmed to the thrash of Evile thanks to the grins on the faces of the band - there is something great about seeing people loving what they do, in stark contrast to the death metal face that haunted me over the weekend.
I took my hat off to Dave Hunt from Benediction and Anaal Nathrakh, who came on stage on crutches and still managed to be one of the angriest men in Bloodstock and I liked Canadian band Iced Earth for being true to Double Denim.
A rare thing on the main stage was a female artist. Rock has always been a real sausage-fest and this was no exception with representation only coming from Kobra Paige of Kobra and the Lotus and Doris Yeh from Taiwan's Chthonic. There were a few more women on the other stages, but it looks set to stay this way for some time.
Musically I have to say that, in addition to Sepultura and Testament, it was Corrosion of Conformity that made the biggest impression. I must be an old git, but they were just what I needed on a Sunday, some good old riff based, toe tapping rock. I know it puts me closer to spandex than a face mask in the metal Litmus test, not helped by enjoying Dio Disciples as well, but I gave the guttural roars of death metal a go and it just made me want lyrics more.
It wasn't all that way, mind, I love the speed and energy of death metal, and the bands that made an impact mixed thrash and death (to my ear anyway) just enough for a "rock imbecile" like me to keep up. Hatebreed and The Black Dahlia Murder were superb, particularly Trevor Strnad's performance with the latter: he's superb to watch, full of beans (in more ways than one) and has an amazing "Heartburn" tattoo on his belly. It's a bit off the wall, but if you imagine an evil twin of Elbow's Guy Garvey you will be half way there.
Of course, it was the theatrical performances from Dimmu Borgir and Watain that piqued my interest. Norwegian black metal band Dimmu Borgir couldn't use their normal lighting effects to enhance their stage show as they were in bright sunlight, which was ironic considering they were painted white like the cast of Twilight (I was half expecting them to burst into flames).
Watain went one step further by drenching their set with flaming crosses, satanic symbols and real blood. Can't quite picture it? Well, imagine Sauron had made a mistake and given his orcs musical instruments instead of weapons for a party in Mordor and you'll be half way there, then view their gallery for more inspiration. Known for throwing blood at the crowd and anyone else that got in their way (photographers a speciality) I couldn't help but feel a sense of disappointment that they didn't do it while we were there once my relief about not stinking like a corpse has subsided. And judging by the pit afterwards it was restricted to a few small hurls.
There is an awful lot of snobbery between genres in metal, I got some of it just this morning when I wrongly referred to a band as death instead of thrash (shoot me), so I won't apologise for veering away from such discussions but from my point of view the overall line-up for Bloodstock was fantastic. There was representation in most of the genres and I got a massive crash course in rock - and in some cases this was a car crash - and I loved it.
For years now I have heard nothing but positive things about Bloodstock, and now that I have been I can see why. It's a festival that really cares about the end result and the experience that it gives to its attendees, and it cares in other ways too; this year it was raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust and by naming a stage after the tragic murder of Sophie Lancaster it keeps awareness of an issue that should not be forgotten.
Bloodstock's biggest asset isn't its organisation, its choice of bands, its location or facilities, it's how all these things come together with an audience of rockphiles to create one of the most laid back atmospheres to listen to the most eardrum splitting noise in the country. Walking around the site you will bump into vampires, goths, manga girls, goblins, orcs, babies and young children, towering tattooed hirsute men, youngsters with boots heavier than they are and more face paint than a Mr Tumble party but it is always good mannered, relaxed and easy going. I caught not so much as a raised eyebrow from any of the crowd throughout the weekend and even the circle pits seemed polite. I have to salute Bloodstock for putting all of this together, they have created a real gem of a festival which seems to be pitched absolutely right. Of course there will always be someone who complains about everything (and I have to agree that the volume and repetitive nature of the fun fair PA grated) but from my experience at a festival this is about as close as it gets to a perfect one, unless you don't like metal, in which case it would be hell.
Was I blown away by any of the new bands? Have I gone out to buy the entire back catalogue of Behemoth? I have to say, with regret, no, but that's just me and my pedestrian tastes. I was blown away by the festival, it's a real haven for its genre, a rare thing in this day and age. Have you not been yet? Call yourself a metal fan? I've done Bloodstock, why haven't you?
Thanks to Noise Cartel for making room for a little one!
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