Sunday comes around too soon as it means the final day of Bloodstock Open Air Festival. 2016 has been one of the strongest line ups I have seen and I’m already counting down the days to 2017. The plan on my schedule was to watch the first half of Ghost Bath on the Ronnie James Dio stage then catch the second half of the opening band elsewhere but Ghost Bath were utterly compelling as I’ve never seen anything like it before. Four out of the quintet were dressed all in white whereas lead vocalist/guitarist Dennis Mikula was all in black. Their five song set was mainly instrumental apart from Dennis emitting a cathartic scream intermittently. We worked our way near the front and although I heard a few derogatory comments about the band during the day, nobody walked away during their set.
Opening number was ‘The Silver Flower Part 2’ ,a slice of melodic doom punctuated by Dennis’ banshee screams which led straight into the heads down boogie of ‘Happy House’. ‘Ascension’ was heavy stoner which segued into a full on metal workout. ‘Death And The Maiden’ crushed and my set highlight, the nine minute opus ‘Golden Number’ saw the band thrashing away as the song closed with sparse drums and guitars. The band walked off leaving Dennis to finish the song alone on keys before he left the stage to loud applause.
The diversity of the weekend was shown by the arrival on the Sophie Lancaster stage of Exeter based alt rockers Sanguine. Lead by the charismatic Tarin Kerrey, she was a blur of energy getting the crowd involved in the show, starting it with “We are Sanguine and we are here to entertain you.” They certainly did with the fuzzed up dynamics of opener ‘Breaking Out’ with the first of many powerful vocals. ‘Pretty Girl’ smouldered with a marching drum beat, a huge main riff and a killer melodic chorus. The tongue in cheek lyrics in the punky thrash of ‘Bangkok Nights’ and the commercially heavy ‘Save Me’, which reminded me of defunct US band Human Waste Project were my set highlights as they finished their triumphant set on a heavy note with the AC/DC tinged riffing of ‘Raised By Wolves’ and the full on bluster of ‘Social Decay’.
Subtlety probably does not exist in the vocabulary of Krysthla frontman Adi Mayes, an imposing figure to say the least but with a voice to back up the bravado, point proven by the straight for the throat thrash attack of ‘Minority Of One’. A pit forming churning breakdown saw some early morning action. ‘Caged Earth’ began with bleak doom grooves that morphed into abrasive thrash. ‘H+’ oozed out of the p.a system like early Morbid Angel with the kick drumming of Wayne Minney rattling rib cages. His drumming dominated final number ‘Luminosity’, all pure death metal ferocity that opened another feisty pit.
A super group called Metal Allegiance meant a trip back to the Ronnie James Dio stage. Bass player Mark Menghi was the brains behind the project in 2015 which saw an album of original material recorded by a stellar line up that included the four artists performing today. Joining Mark was Mark Osegueda from Death Angel, Alex Skolnick from Testament and personal highlight for me, Charlie Benante on the drums who would also be playing with Anthrax a few hours later. Their eight song set opened and closed with two numbers from the self titled album and to be honest, I preferred them to some of the cover songs played. Said originals ‘Can’t Kill The Devil’ and ‘Pledge Of Allegiance’ were both metal through and through. Covers highlights were a crowd pleasing ‘Wrathchild’ with Mark Menghi thundering out Steve Harris’ bass lines. ‘Into The Void’ was all about Alex’s riffing as he tore through the Black Sabbath classic. ‘Suffragette City’ was a bit shambolic but ‘Iron Fist’ and a Charlie Benante ruling of ‘Fast As A Shark’ saw Alex trading riffs and solos from Exodus lead guitarist Gary Holt who of course would be playing with headliners Slayer later on. The crowd only seemed to light up when an epic ‘Heaven And Hell’ found them in full voice on the commands of Mark Osugueda.
Staying put on the front barrier, we awaited the arrival of Norwegian black metal legends, the mighty Satyricon. They were another band today who chose to play an old album in its entirety. The twentieth anniversary of Nemesis Divina was their choice and its hard to put into words the sheer power that came from the stage. Satyr and Frost, original members from the bands incarnation in 1991 pushed the performance to the hilt aided by touring members Azarak on guitar and Neddo on bass guitar. Frontman Satyr strolls onstage with the confidence of what they are about to do and after an intro of “This is Armageddon”, ‘The Dawn Of A New Age’ was unleashed, over seven minutes of light speed black metal which even the circle pit had trouble keeping up with. It was to be the first aural battery by drummer Frost. His work during the set was phenomenal, the best I saw all weekend with Satyr at one point saying “Our drummer eats other drummers for breakfast.” The title track closed the main set in stunning fashion and their return with a slower but nonetheless heavy ‘Black Crow On A Tombstone’ that went straight into double bass drum overload in ‘Fuel For Hatred’. The spiraling main riff to ‘King’ opened up a huge pit to close a masterful performance.
Unfortunately, technical problems meant that Dragonforce‘s set was cut to only five songs being aired but what we got was the usual tomfoolery with stunning musicianship which is really all that you want. ‘Symphony Of The Night’ from their latest studio release was grandiose even by their standards with lead vocalist Marc Hudson saying it was his favourite song from it. He seemed more animated than usual and now that his hair has grown since I last saw him, looked a little like Sebastian Bach only with a lot less ego! The Maximum Overdrive album was represented by ‘Holding On’ and a crowd pleasing ‘Cry Thunder’. The diehards were treated to a turbo charged ‘My Spirit Will Go On’ with the band making use of the large stage to involve the thousands watching but of course, set closer ‘Through The Fire And The Flames’ was power metal heaven with guitarists Herman Li and Sam Totman goading each other during their over the top, fret burning solos.
Why have I not heard anything by Symphony X before? Somehow they have slipped past my radar over the last twenty years. The New Jersey based band tore into opener ‘Nevermore’ as if UFO were a power metal band with frontman Russell Allen commanding the stage and hitting high notes with ease. The guitar histrionics from Michael Romeo were a real eye opener on the video screens.‘Underworld’, title track from their latest album of the same name was the second of six songs taken from it played today. It featured more ear splitting screams from Russell over chugging grooves from Michael, drummer Jason Rollo and bass guitarist Michael LePond. ‘Kiss Of Fire’ galloped along on a heavy main guitar riff and the pace was brought down by the touching power ballad ‘Without You’ with a huge, melodic chorus. ‘Run With The Devil’, a drum driven, concrete heavy number preceded ‘To Hell And Back’, which was ruled by a dramatic vocal tour de force. Three older numbers ended their triumphant set. ‘Sea Of Lies’ got the ground shaking as the band kicked it out hard with Michael Romeo shredding at warp speed. ‘Serpent’s Kiss’ was a menacing prelude to set closer ‘Set The World On Fire (The Lie Of Lies)’, the most intense song played, full of stuttering riffs and another huge chorus.
A set in stone front barrier spot for Anthrax or a trot up to the New Blood stage to see Footprints In The Custard? I’ve seen them a few times over the years so it was a no brainer but their set today surpassed anything I’d seen them do before. The tent was not just rammed full, there were many outside just listening to them. This was a gig that you experience, not just watch. We managed to squirm our way in to about halfway stage right, then that was it, jam packed. They had just started ‘The Great Outdoors’, the subject matter being about an emo being killed by a bear in the woods so if you had not seen the band before, you were not going to get any sensibility out of them. Razor sharp thrash was dished out by Ross Vickers and Whitty on guitars. Ian Fraser on bass guitar and Paul Linsley on drums pummeled out a solid backbone leaving lead singer Russ Gregory to bound around onstage like a ginger Tasmanian devil. The crowd were as much part of the show as the band with many waving plastic swords throughout and a mind boggling array of inflatables were constantly in the air including penises, sheep, ducks but funniest of all, a bright green saxophone! ‘Party Metal’ was pretty much that with Ross dressing down into a mankini and Russ, a green tutu. ‘Wasted’ was like a turbo charged Lawnmower Deth with realistic vomiting retches added by Russ and the lunacy bar was raised higher with the non PC friendly ‘Swallow Or Its Going In Your Eye’. An encore of an over the top cover of ‘Its Raining Men’ was insane and the reaction from the crowd at the end was deafening.
I last saw Anthrax supporting Slayer almost twelve months ago. As good as they were, the headliners came out
on top but it was a different story on the Ronnie James Dio stage today as Anthrax laid waste to the thousands that went mad when they opened with ‘You Gotta Believe’ from latest album For All Kings, a real return to form proven by the thrashtastic ‘Evil Twin’ and pounding ‘Breathing Lightning’ also played from it. They fitted in well amongst the older classics, first of which was ‘Caught In A Mosh’ and you could not take your eyes off the size of the pit that opened up during it shown on the video screens. The supercharged cover of Joe Jackson’ s ‘Got The Time’ saw long standing bassist Frank Bello providing some aggressive lines along with Scott Ian’s consistently raging rhythm guitar work. Scott also excelled on the adrenaline rush that was ‘Fight Em Till You Can’t’ that was preceded by a crushing ‘Madhouse’ with Joey Belladonna still hitting the high notes thirty years since he first started singing it. ‘Antisocial’ saw the crowd almost drowning out the band with a deafening vocal participation as the set closed with a buzzsaw riffed ‘Indians’. With performances like this, Anthrax will always be worthy members of the Big Four!
I’ve seen Slayer many times since 1987, never seen them play a bad gig but they did not quite hit the mark as they normally do at Bloodstock today. The main thing for me was the sound. We were stage right, front barrier in front of the p.a system on Gary Holt’s side of the stage but when set opener ‘Repentless’ kicked in, all we could hear was Gary’s guitar, Tom Araya on bass and Paul Bostaph on drums and nothing from second guitarist Kerry King on the other side of the stage. I found out the following day from a friend that he had exactly the same problem being at the front, Kerry’s side. All Kerry and no Gary. I was hoping the problem would be resolved during the set but it lasted throughout and I found out later that Slayer track their guitars this way. So my beef is, if you want to hear both guitars, why do you have to get crushed at the front or stand further back? What about those at the sides? Many told me who were standing further back that they could hear both guitars. Apart from this, it was a very strong set and when they hit their stride, they are in a league of their own, point proven by ‘Necrophiliac’, ‘Post Mortem’, and the sheer ferocity of closing four numbers ‘Hell Awaits’, ‘South Of Heaven’, ‘Raining Blood’ and ‘Angel Of Death’. Strangely enough, Tom Araya seemed to forget the lyrics to most of ‘Hell Awaits’ and just turned his back to the crowd and walked to the drum kit while the band played a largely instrumental version of it. At the end of the set he thanked the crowd and hoped we would forgive him. I wondered at the time if it was because of this.
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