I do like to write about a festival – particularly when it’s one I haven’t attended before. To many in the UK heavy metal community, Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2017 – in the stately old grounds of stately old pile, Catton Park – is less a festival and more a family get together. And, at some 15,000 strong, this year saw Bloodstock’s largest day so far in terms of attendence. Aside from three stages of bands, from the big names to precious new blood, it also boasted a one hundred strong arsenal of craft beers, record label stalls and a cultural exhibition.
Long story short: if you’re metal or even vaguely galvanised by a thin metallic layer of alloy….it’s likely to be a large weekend.
And it was.
So, on returning home, I had wanted to sit down at my desk, clear of mind, probably wearing a pair of specs and a jumper (metaphorically, obviously), to write an intelligent, insightful review from crystalline memories.
Well, that hasn’t really been possible. Sorry. I remember there was definitely Jagermeister cocktails, there was definitely decent beer, surreal conversation and friendly kung-fu-free pits. Oh yeah, and metal bands. Lots and lots of metal bands of every make and model…..
The Iron Maiden Influence?
Deathcore receives a lot of scepticism from the older metalhead in the UK. But, at the end of the day, it’s merely a label. I have only a passing knowledge of Chelsea Grin but early doors on Friday, they offered some of the spine-jarring drops of the kind I had expected to be the calling card of Whitechapel – who followed them, incidentally.
My fascination with this Knoxville six-piece is relatively new and, to put it mildly, I was slightly excited to see them live.
So, did they bring the staccato, jarring groove they do on record so well? Mainly, yes.
Increasingly, Whitechapel have harnessed the ability to write a really memorable tune and “Elitist Ones” sounded incredible while “Mark of the Blade” is a certified modern classic. The only issue I have is, what the tits is up with all these three guitar bands springing up?!
Is it just because Maiden decided to do it?
I seriously doubt the rationale of ageing millionaires should be similar to cash-strapped men in their twenties struggling to sell enough march to pay their rent! Aside from the ability to keep a doubled-up riff going at the same time as a melody line, do the mighty Whitechapel really need three guitars? Hell no! As James Hetfield once said, “With strings, the more you use, the less you hear.”
I still loved the shit out of them though!
Spheres Of Madness
Decapitated are enjoying the same kind of renaissance Meshuggah experienced when they released Obzen. It’s the act of hitting your stride, that moment in a band where everyone is in perfect harmony, everyone is pulling their weight and the quality tunes just spew out of every orifice. It’s amazing to witness and even better to throw yourself head first into a crowd of likeminded individuals to.
I kind of predicted that they would open with “Deathvaluation” – before steaming right into stone-cold career highlight “Kill the Cult” – and when they did, things got rather festive! Circumstances compelled me to counter-flow the pit which only ended when a dude, of approximately the same dimensions as me, scooped my ass up and carried it for a lap.
If said dude is reading this, I’ll say only what was said to me when I paid the favour forward the following day; “That was awesome!”
Gagging On The Viking Snake….
You’re in safe hands with Testament and their current supergroup guise and despite a few sound issues during their set, it would take a lot more to defeat Alex Scholnick; a man so proficient and who exudes such warmth and positivity that it’s impossible not to be a little bit in love with him.
Blind Guardian also packed out the main stage – Bloodstock entertaining the Power Metal contingent en masse. Not a subgenre I’m particularly knowledgeable about but I had some enlightening talks with subject matter experts during the weekend. however, the first night’s headline slot belonged to Amon Amarth and after their shameful position first thing on a Sunday morning at last year’s Download, it was great to see them up where they belong; bathed in fire and strobe lights, joined on stage by a full cast of sword-swinging warriors and yes, a giant serpent!
Horns were indeed raised \m/
Progressive Death Metal Vs Mother Nature
The weather could have gone either way on Saturday morning just after ten when I got on my horse and set off to ride the jolly old range. It’s possible that it was only the crushing attack of Fallujah that parted the clouds once and for all and committed Mother Nature to the lovely day we got. I’d never seen these guys before – though I have spun Dreamless a few times in the last year. It was an impressive show and one that had no regard for the fact that they were first on and the crowd was barely conscious.
Fallujah are witheringly heavy and frightening technical, their twin guitarists haughtily shooting occasional glances at their seven-strings before blasting off into tapped sections that had scant need of a plectrum. That, and the finger-style attack of their bassist, meant that for all the grind and bombast the music maintained an ethereal, dreamlike quality.
A classy and somewhat unusual act.
King Fought The Law And The Law Won!
I missed King 810 – there I’ve admitted it. Despite the fact that I favourably reviewed their sophomore effort for this very website, I needed a break and a drink. I’m old – sue me. However, a charming gentleman in a pink dress and blonde wig that I was drinking with later that night (sorry brother, didn’t mean to scare you!) described them as “appalling”. Detained on a firearms charge, King 810’s guitarist, Andrew Beal, was not present and his parts were played offstage by a member of their crew.
Elsewhere it was a Saturday replete with thrash metal. Holding it down for the younger generation, Havok cut a slightly less potent set than they did when I saw them at Heavy Scotland earlier in the year. Their sound was a little muddy and due to timing issues their set was cut short. That said – their bass player – god damn that guy is good. Pumping it up for the older generation was my old friend Jeff Waters and the Annihilator boys. I am happy to report they turned in a far slicker set than the last time I reviewed them. While I still miss Dave Padden, their new line up has had some time to lock in now and everyone – Jeff included – looks a bit more comfortable. Annihilator also debuted a new song – old skool almost to the point of kitsch (in a good way) – and so freakishly quick and heavy that I’m now officially excited about their new album.
Where’s the Goddamn Brakes on This Thing?!
Saturday afternoon and (long) into the night proved to be my Bloodstock high point. Literally. Anyway, Hatebreed and Kreator both kicked unholy ass and Ghost – a band who since their admittedly fantastic debut album, I have oft dismissed – won me over. Fact is, Papa Emeritus III (or whatever he’s calling himself this week) was a far more witty and compelling frontman than I had expected. Even without the sexy nuns and the light show, Ghost are a song writing masterclass and remain the best thing on offer in occult rock.
Of course, the awesome thing about Bloodstock is that even after the main stage headliner has wrapped, there’s still more metal to be had. I’m ashamed to say, my brother had hit his tent like a sack of mouldy spuds by then but something about Saturday completely severed my brake cables and Macabre were the perfect running partners. Three hillbillies (can you still say that?) dead-panning about serial killers between bursts of tumbling old skool grind?
Yeah, that works.
The Ballad of Megadave
You know who he is and he knows who you are. Pretty good thing really, because it would take the audio ass-kicking of some of Sunday’s big-hitters to rejuvenate the crowd for Megadeth’s final showdown. Happily, cultural touchstone Possessed were able to provide the inspiration that, for me, Brujeria fell way short of.
Seven Churches is an important record in metal history and I was keen to find out how they would come across live. Rather well it turns out, and courtesy of their two hired guns on guitar Possessed brought a modern sheen to their vintage material. While we’re on the subject of vintage, Sunday was my first ever dance with Obituary, despite having been a fan since the release of Slowly We Rot. How’s about a slothful rendition of “Chopped in Half” straight from the Floridian swamps to get suitably acquainted? That’ll do nicely.
I’d just like to take a moment to mention Arch Enemy. I’ve seen them a few times in recent years so I was fairly ambivalent to their appearance on Sunday’s bill, despite my debilitating crush on their current Loomis/White-Gluz powered line up. It’s certainly fair to say I didn’t expect them to, once again, impress the way they did. “The World is Yours” is a clear indicator of the calibre of song we can expect from their upcoming album and the Amott/Loomis instrumental section and the apex of their set is a truly glittering piece of musicianship. Incidentally, during Arch Enemy’s set, three prats in microlight gliders decided to cross the festival ground. I’m sure the whomping bass and distant roar of the crowd from up there must have sounded quite surreal. As must the sight of fifteen thousand metal heads giving you the middle finger.
Megadave (as he now seems to be universally known) has gone to great pains to espouse the greatness of new guitarist Kiko Loureiro. Tonight, more than last time, I see his point. But is he better than Friedman?
Of course not. Though technically they may well be on a par, it must be remembered that Friedman was responsible for composing those exotic, ‘what fucking box?!’ leads in the first place.
While the band sound incredible, old Megadave himself seems progressively rougher these days. That once belligerent snarl is a shadow of it’s former self and he looks a little weary of it all. Though I understand his decision to drop tune a semi-tone to aid his voice there are times where it robs Megadeth of a little of their nuanced cleanliness. That said, it’s a great set that, given the strength of the Dystopia material, is able to make frequent diversions away from the ‘greatest hits’. It’s a fitting end to the biggest crowd attendance of any day at Bloodstock to date.
Small is Beautiful
You’ve got to hate that Monday morning thing at a festival where you wake up to hear people breaking down their tents and getting ready to bug out and return to reality. Worse still, my brother and I had a horrendously long drive ahead of us. As I packed down the trusty tent it occurred to me that, right now, Bloodstock walks the perfect middle ground between event size and calibre of band. It’s small, it’s ridiculously friendly and you can get from your sleeping bag to any part of the crowd you like in less than five minutes. That is a very beautiful thing. Were Bloodstock to grow exponentially until it became the vast, sprawling leviathan that Download has become, I don’t believe that would be a good thing.
I get it: the organisers need to make money, they need to sell tickets so they can keep booking top-flight headliners. But it should also be remembered that dates like this in the heavy metal community’s calendar are a chance to check out the stars of tomorrow and the underground heroes of yesterday just as much as they are a chance to see one of The Big 4 just one more time. Happily, that is something that the organisers of Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2017 seem to understand. I hope they will continue to do so for a long time because if any community understands the folly of pursuing mainstream acceptance at all costs, it is ours.