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Saturday, 15 August 2015

A View From A Sun Drenched Field: Bloodstock 2015 (Reviews By Paul & Matt, Contributions by Nicola & the MoM family)

Bloodstock 2015

12 hardy souls set out from South Wales at a quite disgustingly early hour to rendezvous at Strensham Services at 9:00am as we once again headed North to the hallowed grounds of Catton Hall for Bloodstock Open Air 2015. As always, cars were packed with too much, anticipation was high and the weather forecast bloody amazing!

Thursday

All parked up and in the queue by 11:10am, we were pleasantly surprised by a much more relaxed and friendly approach from ShowSec security this year and even happier when the metal hordes began pouring into the camp sites before the advertised opening time. By 1:00pm we had pitched the nine tents and commenced sortie No. 2.

Having made three trips to the cars to retrieve all the items we had brought with us, organised sleeping quarters and set up camp chairs, it was time for our traditional Sunday roast, this year with rump steak as the meat of choice. The steak was accompanied by a selection of vegetables and potatoes and the option of gravy too, not forgetting the mandatory glass of wine. By now Rhod had already hit the deck and was lying unconscious in a pile between the tents. Nick heroically volunteered to stay with the booze sodden bartender as the rest of us headed to the Sophie Tent for a bit of pirate metal.

One of the finds of the weekend in March at Hammerfest had been Red Rum (8), the East Midlands pirate outfit whose folk metal had been great fun to watch. A packed tent enjoyed 40 minutes of jigging and generally having a good time as Red Rum belted out tune after tune. Dedicating They’re Taking The Hobbits To Isengard to the recently departed Sir Christopher Lee generated a reception that wouldn't have been out at place at Comic Con and maybe that one moment genuinely sums up the world of the metal head. Make Port, Drink Port, Drenched In Ale and Elixir Of Death continued the pace before the place went nuts for Red Rum. Another excellent show from a band well worth catching if you get the chance. Heading back to the tent we marvelled at Stief’s newly purchased A-Ha t-shirt (five whole Welsh pounds). Little did we know that he would not even finish in the top three come Sunday.

(From this review onwards we will strive to provide the most niche t-shirt seen at said gig- Ed)

As the rest of the crew headed back to the tent, I (Matt) honed in like an intergalactic space hunter on the Action Adventure Rock And Roll of ArnoCorps (8) who play the music of Austrian historical tales that have been bastardised by Hollywood (Their words not mine). When Long Tall Sally blared out of the P.A we were strapped in and ready to GET DOWN!! As the drummer, two bassists, two guitarists (rock and roll symmetry) and frontman Graf all piled on to the stage they pumped out riff after riff of muscular metallic music with Preadator kicking off the assault before Commando, Terminator and I'm Ballsy getting the heroes and sheroes in the crowd chanting along as the band flexed their musical and physical muscle. As a tribute to the work of our Lord Schwarzenegger ArnoCorps are a band that take their music seriously albeit with a tongue in cheek, the band can whip up a crowd perfectly, finishing the 'party' night on a high, make sure you check out ArnoCorps in a sweaty club near you as they are bound to make you Let Off Some Steam!! (Sorry)

Friday

On Friday morning with the weather not just holding but absolutely stunning, it was no surprise to find Rhod up and ready to mosh at 6:00am, with absolutely no sign of any hangover whatsoever. Bastard!

Kicking off things on the main stage, New York thrash legends Nuclear Assault (6) transported some of the older members of the party back to 1986. Crashing through a 12 song set, which combined old school thrashers, including five from Handle With Care, and with a couple of tracks from their latest EP Pounder sitting comfortably in amongst the set list, Dan Lilker and crew blew out the early morning cobwebs without really pulling up any trees. Still, a decent enough start to the day but things were about to get a whole lot better with one of the sets of the weekend.

Back in 1984 an album cover with a knight on it caught my eye in a record store in Cardiff. That album was March Of The Saint by Los Angeles outfit Armored Saint. Although they never reached their full potential, their undoubted quality and the vocal talents of one John Bush were never in doubt and of course, Bush went on to front Anthrax for several years, releasing some real quality with the New Yorkers. A really decent release this year in Win Hands Down meant that the Armored Saint set at BOA was pencilled in from the start. It proved to be a good move as Armored Saint (8) put in a storming 40 minute set laden with goodies. Opening with Win Hands Down and then having the confidence to hit March Of The Saint second, Bush and co really worked the crowd and their traditional metal laced with thrash was well received by the early afternoon crowd, by know blinking into the strong sunshine that was flooding the field. Finishing with the excellent Can You Deliver and Madhouse (no, not THAT Madhouse) complete with young family member on additional guitar and backing vocals, Armored Saint demonstrated vitality and quality. 

Drifting into the Sophie tent, caught by the pull of German power metal I found Nick and Matt already nodding their heads along to some catchy riffage from a band making their first appearance on UK soil for many years. Good, honest power metal always goes down well with the Musipedia crew and Messiah’s Kiss (7) was pretty solid if unremarkable. (Great leather trousers on frontman Mike Tirelli and a solid showing from Persian Risk man Wayne Banks on bass)

After a quick break it was back to the RJD stage to catch Swedes Enslaved (7) who were whipping up a storm (okay, dust cloud) with their unique melodic infused extreme metal. Kitted out in black uniforms the band, who I've always liked without being over-enthused benefited from a decent sound and crushed a few heads with a range of tracks from their vast back catalogue. Grutle Kjellson, bassist and vocalist cajoled the crowd who responded well. However, one of the sets of the weekend was just minutes away and this was a real treat. New Jersey thrash outfit Overkill (9) has been delivering the goods for over 30 years and their last album, the outstanding White Devil Armory showed no let-up in form or style. You know what you get with Overkill and we got it. Kicking off with the pit-inciting Armorist, founder members Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth and DD Verni, ably supported by 15 year veteran Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer on guitar and drummer Ron Lipnicki tore a big hole in Catton Hall with a set list honed from 16 full releases over the past years. Hammerhead and Electric Rattlesnake emphasised Blitz’s unique vocal delivery whilst in between songs it is always funny to hear him speak in exactly the same way he signs. The action at the front was relentless and by the time Iron Bound, Elimination and the inevitable Fuck You had been delivered it was a real opportunity to be able to catch your breath. (I think Nick put this better than any of us with his cry of Fuckin' Overkill accompanied by a mini fist pump)

Over on the Jager stage I (Matt) managed to catch some of City Of Thieves (7) who played a short but rewarding set of booty shaking rock n roll getting the small crowd grooving, there is always some great talent on Bloodstock's smallest stage and City Of Thieves have proved themselves to be ones to watch in the future.

Inevitably, given that several members of our party are massive Sabaton fans, we made sure we got much further into the action for the arrival of Friday’s special guests. After a set sabotaged by appalling technical issues two years ago, the Swedes were clearly determined to put on a blistering set and brought their full pyro set including the tank! As then The Final Countdown segued into The March To War the arena, by now packed to capacity, exploded as Hannes Van Dahl took his seat atop the drum kit set on the top of the tank and the band ripped into Ghost Division. Is there a better set opener in the world of rock and metal? I doubt it very much. Sabaton (10), who in the minds of many should have been provided with the headline slot then provided possibly the best hour of the weekend. A varied set which mixed tracks from several albums and included three goodies never played live in the UK before (No Bullets Fly, Panzerkampf and Far From The Fame). The interplay between Joakim Brodén and the rest of the band was filled with humour, verging into cabaret at times but demonstrating how tight a unit the current line-up has become. The ovation that they received as The Art Of War brought the main set to a close eclipsed virtually anything else seen over the weekend. A powerful encore of Night Witches, Primo Victoria and old favourite Metal Crűe brought too short a set to an end. God knows how they will follow this in their UK club tour in March but it'll be just as much fun. Quite Brilliant fun and decent heavy metal to boot!

The decision to include Trivium at BOA raised the hackles of many of metal's keyboard fraternity; as much rage as the angst that greeted the Machine Head announcement. Putting the band on as headliners was a huge move. Now, Trivium is, in my mind, a band large enough to at least hold the top billing at the Second Stage at Download, but hello Gregory family, this ain't Download. To be fair to the Florida outfit, they obviously play where they are booked. It’s the name of the game. Trivium (8) bravely hit the stage with a new track, the title track from the forthcoming Silence In The Snow. Now that takes some balls. And then the gremlins hit again. No Corey Bealieu guitar, leaving frontman Matt Heafy to shoulder full fret duties along with vocals. Did it notice? I've got to be honest; although you could see the anxiety on the stage, hardly surprising for their first outing for several months; Trivium is a really professional outfit and held it together excellently. Beaulieu’s guitar was not back on line until the third track, Becoming The Dragon by which time he’d also suffered an electric shock or two from the mic stand. It took a while but once they got into their stride, Heafy and co. really did look like a band now ready to fulfil their promise and cope with the pressure of being the new torch bearers of metal. The Trivium back catalogue contains some monster tunes with crushingly heavy riffs and we got a fine selection during the 90 minute set. Into The Mouth Of Hell We March, Throes Of Perdition and the obvious Anthem (We Are The Fire) got the majority of the crowd banging furiously. Supported by an impressive stage set and back drop of two huge skulls, we also got another new track, Blind Leading The Blind before a mighty finish with Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation and the double hammerhead encore of In Waves and Pull Harder. My only negative is that Matt Heafy still presents himself as a latter day Hetfield, right down to the cut off denim with patches. Now, given that 50% of the crowd was dressing in a similar vein, this might be a harsh criticism but I’d like him to become a little more relaxed and develop his own identity. However, that is small beer in an otherwise impressive headline set.

Friday’s winner of the t-shirt faced stiff competition but the reaction from the crew to the man wearing the Cliff Richard tee surpassed the totally brilliant Cilla Black shirt which was also spotted.

Saturday

As Saturday dawned bright and sunny, a leisurely start for the crew with nothing much whetting our appetite first thing, we rested with a few beers and prepared for an afternoon in the field. First up was some black metal malarkey courtesy of Norwegians 1349 (7), who looked quite bizarre in the blazing sun and heat. 1349 deliver black metal by numbers and kicked out 40 minutes of Satan worshipping filth to a healthy turnout who had been starved of corpse paint clad lovelies to watch. Olav "Ravn" Bergene delivers standard BM vocals whilst Satyricon drum machine Frost drums the shit out of his kit. It should have got a whole lot better with the arrival of Finnish folk nutters Korpiklaani (7) who arrived on stage to a massive ovation. However, a dull and leaden middle part of the set killed much of the enthusiasm that had been building and their set was rescued by the inevitable Vodka, which reignited the jigging and usual bad dancing. That was worth the 7 on its own.

Over to the Jager tent to witness Pig Iron (7) for the second time within a year, this was an acoustic style show which suited Pig Iron's bluesy style, with songs like Golden, Hitch and Wildcat Birdhead the band played their biggest tracks but a few were left off due to frontman Johnny Ogles' obvious illness, for a man who was clearly sick as a dog his voice was still flawless and the band rounded out by Dan Edwards bayou acoustic, Hugh Gilmour's thumping bass licks and Joe Smith's drumming meant that the band still carried a sense of heaviness in the acoustic format, as Edwards guitar duelled with Ogles' harmonica. The band seemed to be having a great time and won over a lot of people who had never heard of them, for a fan like me (Matt) it was just great to see them live again!

A trip to the Sophie Tent was rewarded by a quite brilliant set from UK traditional metallers Godsized (9) who delivered 35 minutes of simple awesomeness. This is a band that has been around since 2008, and their Sabbath/Zepplin infused metal went down a storm to those seeking a bit of respite from the relentless heat. Glen Korner (vocals and guitars), Chris Charles (guitars), Gavin Kerrigan (bass) and Dan Kavanagh (drums) take a bow. A real highlight.

Back to the main stage to catch the tail end of the Gene Hoglan double duty afternoon and as you neared the RJD stage there was no doubt which mountain of muscle was seated at the rear of the stage. Hoglan is an absolute machine and he was absolutely destroying. Dark Angel (8), a meaty thrash outfit from California has been in existence since the early 80s although there have been several hiatuses. Having reformed in 2013 the band was on fire, with Jim Durkin and Eric Meyer shredding viciously whilst Ron Rinehart was ringmaster, exhorting the dust clouds to rise from the huge circle pits. Closing with a monstrous Darkness Descends and Perish In Flames Dark Angel left a huge mark on the afternoon which was building nicely. A small detour to catch Mordred's (8) set in the Sophie Tent with some hip shaking funk o' metal Mordred flawlessly merged thrash, rap, funk perfectly, for a band that have only recently started gigging again they were tight and played like it was the 1980's all over again.   

As Hoglan took a deserved rest, it was time for a real tribute band, the arrival of Death DTA (9). All metal heads who know their history will acknowledge the place of Death and Chuck Schuldiner in the development of extreme thrash metal. Founded in Florida in 1983, they were hugely influential. Comprising Gene Hoglan, Bobby Koelble (Death), Max Phelps (Cynic) and Steve Di Giorgio (Testament, Sadus, Death), this was one trip down memory lane and a total acknowledgement that they were on stage to honour one of the metal fallen. Ten tracks of brutality covering the Death catalogue, opening with The Philosopher and closing with a phenomenal Crystal Mountain and Pull The Plug; this was a performance that had everyone entranced for the entire hour.

And so to Saturday’s special guests. The mighty Swedes Opeth (9) who delivered a faultless set in their allotted hour. The months on the European festival circuit take their toll on bands and Opeth had clearly flown in only hours before. An hour allows Opeth to provide you with a mere taste of their wares, with Mikael Akerfeldt keeping his dry humour and wit to a minimum. The set provided a taste of Pale Communion with Eternal Rains and Cusp Of Eternity before a stunning Drapery Falls from Blackwater Park increased the tempo. Sticking to a riff heavy formula, the hideously heavy Heir Apparent broke necks before a pulverising 14 minute Deliverance battered the rest of the crowd into submission. And they said Opeth had gone soft. Fuck. 

So the Saturday headliners had to follow Akerfeldt and co and even though the style was different the delivery was slick, the visuals astounding and the musicianship was as tight as a cyclists shorts. With Mr H heading back to the tent the it was left to me (Matt) to cover the headliner and as they set up myself and my beautiful other half (camera in hand as always) headed down the front. The anticipation grew and as The Silent Force intro started up the small but loyal crowd awaited and as the band came on stage they burst straight into Paradise (What About Us?) with drummer Mike Coolen and Jeroen Van Veen's bass laying down a steady rhythm and Ruud Jolie and Stephan Helleblad's guitars giving chunky licks, it was Martijn Spierenburg's keys that had the most power though giving Paradise and indeed the rest of the set it's symphonic power, just before the first verse Sharon Den Adel came on to the stage throwing the horns and Within Temptation (8) were cooking with gas. Within Temptation started life as a purely symphonic band but after the Unforgiving the band took a more metallic, straight forward rock style expressed perfectly on the anthemic Faster and the Maiden-like Iron which featured riff after riff and sublime solos. 

Den Adel is fantastic frontwoman her stage presence is beguiling, with various costume changes adding a theatrical element, but it's her flawless vocal delivery that wins over the crowd, all the guests featured on the albums appeared by screen and backing track rather than live, Howard Jones came on Dangerous, before Fire And Ice led into the mass singalong of Stand My Groud moved via Iron into And We Run which has electronic hip hop style to it allowing Coolen's drums to really shine (until later) and had Xzibit spitting rhymes on the screen, yet again a mass singalong to What Have You Done? led into the final part of the main set, now this is where things got a bit disappointing, After Edge Of The World and The Heart Of Everything it was time for Ice Queen and the track started out quietly with the keys doing the work and as the guitars kicked in a bang and then nothing. The band continued playing but nothing was coming out of the P.A. After a bit of frantic playing the sound returned and they started again and yet again bang nothing, the frustration was bubbling below the surface, but Sharon maintained a calm exterior.

The band went of stage but Coolen remained and filled with possibly the most heroic drum solo I've ever seen, around five minutes later the band returned the sound returned and the build up began, everything crossed we waited and yet again as the guitars hit a pop and nothing, more playing around the mic came back, Sharon shouted to bring her some wine and they went off again. Upon returning they opted to skip the song and went straight into the encore of Covered With Roses and Mother Earth realising that time was not on their side. A truly majestic, greatest hits, set spoiled by technical gremlins that apparently dogged them on previous dates, my advice is to sort out the sound problems whatever it takes as this sort of thing should not happen to a headline band (never mind two!)      

Saturday had only one winner: The 2005 Rod Stewart tour t-shirt beat all around. The competition was hotting up.

Sunday

Sunday morning at BOA is traditionally a day to hold one’s head gingerly after two full days of metal combined with substantial amounts of booze and bacon. However, this Sunday was a bit special and we headed out at the ridiculously early time of 10:15am to get pride of place on the barrier in the Sophie tent. Two beautiful Welsh flags draped the barrier as South Wales finest, the superb Triaxis (9) went through their sound check. Yes, it was fan boys to the front. What a treat we had, with Krissie, CJ, Becky, Glyn and Giles proving once again what a fantastic outfit they truly are. Launching straight into Liberty from the excellent Zero Hour, we gained the benefit of a quality sound system and the rare opportunity to see the band on a larger stage than normal. The band took full advantage, Glyn peeling out the solos, CJ delivering another supremely confident performance and Becky running back and fore as if she was trying to shred calories, all the while, combining her pounding Rickenbacker bass lines with the powerhouse drumming of Giles. Meanwhile, stage front and centre was owned by Krissie who continues to amaze with her stunning vocal range. Once again the microphone was held far away from her mouth as she belted out Sand And Silver, Victorious and Stand Your Ground, already classics from the new release. Closing with the fine Black Trinity, Triaxis made that early start 100% worth it. They never fail, they never disappoint.

As we hit the main stage again, another Swedish outfit arrived and delivered a decent 40 minutes of standard heavy metal fare. Wolf (7) entertained and got the head nodding for their set although much of their stuff sounds a little much too routine. That is not a description you can apply to London’s Orange Goblin (9) who came, saw and owned the entire field. There is no such thing as a bad Goblin show and in the lunchtime heat with a beer in hand, this was absolute bliss. Big Ben Ward (you have to describe him as that) beamed from ear to ear, encouraged a wall of death and managed to get many circle pits going during their 45 minute set. Opening with Scorpionica, the band scorched through a mix of old and new, including the retro Saruman’s Wish, The Filthy And The Few and a rare outing for Quincy The Pig Boy before Red Tide Rising from Eulogy For The Damned completed a ball busting set. I'm already counting the days until we see them in the Bier Keller in December.

It continued to get heavier and heavier with the arrival of Sepultura (7). Currently celebrating 30 years, the Brazilians drew an enormous crowd. Packing their set with old school Sep classics, the mosh pits didn't let up for a minute. A new song, Sepultura: Under My Skin didn't do a lot for me but the opening riff of Refuse/Resist and set closer Roots always make you nod your head (or want to break something). Having seen Soulfly kick the shit out of the Globe recently, I’d have to sit firmly in the Max camp if forced to choose but the Seps continue to move forward, celebrating the legacy of one of metal’s most influential bands of recent times. More folky music metal with Ensiferum (6) who did very little for me providing more violin and squeeze box than you can shake a stick at but many of their songs just blended into one

A quick 40 winks in the tent enabled me to push into the final afternoon and evening and 20 minutes watching Lawnmower Deth (7) always raises a smile. My only visit to the Jagermeister stage was worth it as I caught four songs from Blind Haze (8) from Leeds who were excellent. A power trio carved out of the Motorhead School, the bizarre sight of Ben Ward’s wife dancing on stage with the band for the opening number whilst the security guy looked on helplessly very amusing. Between the jokes and general drinking the Leeds three piece played rampaging rock music that got the head nodding and the drinks flowing.

In between this I stuck my head above the parapet to catch a couple of songs (if you call them that) from George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher and the rest of Cannibal Corpse (7). Ice Pick Lobotomy and I Cum Blood was sufficient to reassure myself that the godfathers of death metal remained true and hadn't added a keyboard solo or two. Following CC, the worst decision of the weekend: I plumped for Zakk Wylde and Black Label Society (6) instead of French crazies Trepalium. I’ve seen BLS several times, most recently in February in Bristol where the 15 minute solo had been bored to tears. With little interaction between songs, the special guest slot of Sabaton and Opeth seemed a million miles away as Zakk delivered solo after solo after solo. A slightly disappointing set list did include The Blessed Hellride and Suicide Messiah and as always concluded on a high with Stillborn. However, it was a bit of too little too late and I think it will be a while before I put myself in front of Zakk and his Marshall stack. Oh, and using sheets with the lyrics on? Really? Take off another point.

Meanwhile on the Sophie stage our newest intrepid reporter Nicola went with Nick and Stief (old hands at all this by now) to soak in the sights and sounds of the aforementioned crazies: Sunday evening saw a quick detour to the Sophie stage to catch the French Death/Groove/swing metal outfit; Trepalium (9). Despite contending with a set clash with one of the weekend's notorious crowd-pleasers, Black Label Society, Trepalium pulled an impressive crowd to deliver an all-round blinding set. The tempo was kept high during a setlist that intermixed the swing-metal songs they have become more recently associated with, i.e. Guede Juice and Sick Boogie Murder, to the more death-metal induced songs such as Usual Crap. A particular highlight included their rendition of Fire On Skin, fuelled by the rage of an off-stage scuffle between Punda and event security that served to heighten the intensity and atmosphere. Overall, Trepalium used their set to command the stage and remind us that their brand of 'swing metal' provides entertainment without being gimmicky or sacrificing on the heaviness of the metal. To quote our very own Nick Hewitt "It shouldn't work, but it just does."

As the end rolled in, with the backdrop of one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've ever seen over Valhalla, we trooped back in to catch one last set. It was a good one with a 75 minute extravaganza from Rob Zombie (8), Piggy D, John 5 and Ginger Fish. The usual B-movie stage set with Kong at the rear and a cracking light show enhanced the bubble-gum anthems that Zombie has become known for. A couple of covers which he’s been throwing out this tour slightly weakened the set list in my opinion, with Blitzkrieg Bop adding nothing. The more obscure Lords Of Salem, and the staples of Thunder Kiss '65 and Pussy Liquor ensured that there was ample opportunity for jumping and head banging. A final blast of Dragula and bang, that was Bloodstock Open Air for another year. (A fair few minutes before the advertised finish time).  As always, an excellent weekend with fine company and some bloody brilliant music. Next year has Venom and Behemoth. It will probably have me but we shall see (A point I agree upon - Matt)

Oh, and Sunday’s t-shirt winner: Lionel Richie. Nice.

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