Doesn’t time fly! My tenth Bloodstock Open Air Festival and definitely the most enjoyable due to the quality of the bands on show. Over one hundred played this year and I managed to catch over forty of them over the weekend playing on four stages. A mad dash to the press accreditation area and then to the New Blood Stage for the first band of the day, Swindon Metal To The Masses final winners Merithian. Amazingly enough this was only their fourth gig and their seven song set flew by fronted by hyperactive vocalist Liam Engel wearing a Beetlejuice like mask. Set opener ‘The Chosen’ was chock full of thick, chunky riffs backed by a teeth rattling bass guitar assault. ‘Never Dead’ upped the pace as the riffs rolled out in waves of Deftones like grooves. Latest single ‘Grow’ was all about twin guitar leads and a more laid back vocal and was about as commercial as they got, point proven with Liam asking “Do you want something heavier?”. The result was a Slipknot like beast called ‘Enslaved’. Cathartic blasts of hate flowed through ‘Confessions’ and set closer ‘State Of Mind’ drew the first wall of the death of the day at eleven am!
Next up were Oxford final winners K-Lacura, a five piece who hit the ground running with the turbo charged hardcore of ‘Craquelure’ driven along by some fast footed drum work from Lambo. ‘Beneath The Buried’ was a short, sharp burst of no compromise punk and set closer ‘Severed And Silenced’ was a hybrid of sludge doom passages and melodic hardcore. Job done! A mad dash for my first visit of the day to the Sophie Lancaster Stage to catch Internal Conflict who aptly describe themselves as “pure metal fury”. I spied their manager Angel Merry proudly watching them from the side of the stage as opener ‘The Rising Tide’ was a sheer adrenaline rush of scything riffing, jackhammer drums and a paint stripping lead vocal from Adam Kyle. The mighty down tuned brand new song ‘Catharsis’ shook the ground that headed off into proto thrash metal territory midway. ‘Deprivation’ was a cataclysmic finale lapped up by a near full tent.
Next up on the Ronnie James Dio Stage were Knoxville, Tennessee metallers Whitechapel who strangely enough had a line of perfectly white towels draped over their stage monitors, only one of which was used by lead vocalist Phil Bozeman. ‘The Saw Is The Law’ pounded out of the huge p.a system with their three guitar attack providing a grinding foil for a bellowed vocal. ‘Faces’ was a black, suffocating cloud of doom followed by the Godzilla stomp of the furious ‘Our Endless War’ but my highlight was the early Godflesh like industrial workout of ‘Let Me Burn’.
A brief uphill walk back to the New Blood Stage saw Wolverhampton Metal To The Masses final winners Ashen Crown who only formed less than a year ago, play their ninth ever gig! They are already one to watch out for as the hypnotizing Candlemass on steroids like riffing of ‘Unbroken Faith’ kicked off with a maniacal vocal from Kieran. Dry ice gave the image of the gates of Hell being opened as they crashed into the gruelling ‘Crimson Sea’. The Dead Skin Mask like intro to ‘Blood Beneath’ preceded a full on black metal crush. ‘Fall Of Thine Eyes’ was foot to the floor thrash that strangely ended up with some of the pit sitting down for some air rowing and set closer ‘Guilty Of Hatred’ was sheer black metal from the Black Country!
A mad dash back to the Sophie Lancaster tent which was packed out saw us missing the first song from Morass Of Molasses as they tore into the fuzzed up boogie of ‘So They Walk’. Frontman Bones The Beard introduced ‘Ashtabula’ as a song about “Love, death and bad railway management”. It lumbered along like every dinosaur in Jurassic Park bearing down on you. ‘Wrath Of Aphrodite’ was a Blue Cheer like freak out with Chris The Beast on drums doing his best Animal from the Muppet Show impression. ‘Serpentine’ was a heavy blues jam peppered with wailing lead breaks as their set drew to a manic close with ‘My Leviathan’ featuring the vocalist of Negative Thought Process adding menace to the eerie grooves.
Hitchin Metal To The Masses final winners Raze The Void like to write long songs. So long that they managed to squeeze only three in their thirty minute set on the New Blood Stage. Stage clashes meant that I missed their opener but ‘Morientum Terra’ twisted and turned, hitting hard like early Opeth. The headbanging inducing instrumental midsection was mind blowing! Set closer ‘Raison D’etre’ was a glorious epic of supercharged space rock.
Polish tech death metallers Decapitated then proceeded to tear up the Ronnie James Dio Stage to a sea of surfers and circle pits. They had already drawn a huge crowd as the metronomic chug of ‘Death Valuation’ crushed. ‘Kill The Cult’ flew by on thunderous double bass drumming from Michal Lysejko and a heavy mid section. The full on assault of ‘Never’ launched a steady stream of crowd surfers which increased as the quicksand thick riffing of ‘Spheres Of Madness’ blasted out.
If ever a band deserved a place in the so called Big Four of thrash metal, it has to be Testament! Since 1983 they have consistently released high quality albums and their latest release Brotherhood Of The Snake featured heavily in their eleven song set. Man mountain Chuck Billy had a permanent smile throughout, obviously appreciating the overwhelming crowd response. They are a much heavier band since I last saw them now they have Gene Hoglan on drums and he powered along personal favourites of mine ‘Into The Pit’, Practice What You Preach’ and ‘Disciples Of The Watch’ with the twin axe attack of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson still raging away. I would have liked to hear something from their debut album The Legacy but with limited stage time, they only have so long to play.
Another full to the gills Sophie Lancaster Stage saw Norwich based thrashers Shrapnel highlight the quality of UK metal on offer as they took no prisoners with a nine song set. Opener ‘Red Terror’ was a dizzying arsenal of riffs barked out by the imposing Jae Hadley. ‘The Virus Conspires’ was an old school chugger with speedy time changes in the choruses. Twin lead breaks flew threw the powerful ‘Eternal War’ but my set highlight was the hate fuelled headbanger ‘Pariah’.
As Manowar sang in their Hail To England song, “Long was our wait, our meeting with fate is tonight”. Well we have had to wait two years for the eagerly awaited return of tribute band HanOwar to grace once again the Jagermeister Stage with their fun filled take on the classics. Lyrics were fluffed but who cares as they opened of course with ‘Manowar’ to a huge crowd that circled the stage. ‘Hail And Kill’ was even more imposing with a battle of plastic swords thrown out by Kieran McCarthy followed by a huge crowd vocal backing to ‘Fighting The World’. ‘Heart Of Steel’ featured an hilarious sampled keyboard intro and once again, the crowd almost drowned out the band. A lung busting ‘Hail To England’ preceded an all too soon final song. Of course it had to be ‘Battle Hymns’, dispatched with all the pomp of the original as we finished off what was left of our voices, waved plastic swords around and fired our party poppers when the song kicked in.
In complete contrast, it was time for Ronnie James Dio Stage headliners Amon Amarth to impress highly. It was a much bigger gig since I last saw them at a couple of hundred capacity venue in Stoke so today I got to see the full stage show with the Viking longboat bow either side of the drums. A stirring intro tape saw the band stride on and launch into the majestic ‘The Pursuit Of Vikings’ with the commanding bark of frontman Johan Hegg bellowing into the evening air. Latest album Jomsviking was represented by three songs played from it. ‘First Kill’ was a total heavy metal barrage with eyebrow singing front of stage pyro. ‘The Way Of Vikings’ saw the band atop the drum riser as two warriors fought onstage with swords and shields to a background of furious drums and blistering twin lead guitar breaks and ‘At Dawn’s First Light’ was almost heavy folk metal. Heaviest song played was a booming ‘Twilight Of The Thunder God’ with Johan wielding a giant hammer to trigger more pyro. Set highlight for me was a grinding ‘Father Of The Wolf’ which was backed by a dazzling light show and a fully armoured Viking warrior patrolled the stage. A fitting end to a tiring but rewarding day.