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Thursday, 17 August 2017

A View From The Field: Bloodstock 2017 (Review By Paul)

Bloodstock 2017 10 – 13 August, Catton Hall, Derbyshire

A mouth-watering line-up of some of best heavy metal around meant that for the first time the weekend camping at Catton Hall sold out several weeks before the festival started. With a decent weather forecast the weather gods shone brightly once more on the righteous and there was more demand for sun screen than ponchos and wellington boots.

Before getting into the music, a few observations about the event. The positives as always far outweigh the negatives.


  • The simple but oh so helpful ramp at the pedestrian crossing on the way into the festival site was a godsend. No more lugging precariously loaded trollies up and down steep steps. A real positive move and one that made accessing the site so much easier
  • Then there was the sensible idea to open the gates earlier than advertised to keep the crowds moving. Being in and pitched with a cold one in hand by 12:30pm was a fantastic feeling and as the queues mushroomed as the day progressed due to the necessary bag searches, it was impossible not to feel a little smug for getting the arse out of bed and on the road a little earlier
  • The nightmare scenes which have confronted every festival goer when opening that portaloo only to be confronted by a turd mountain are a thing of the past at BOA. The toilets were cleaned regularly and every one I visited was clean, stocked with loo roll and hand sanitiser and about as much as I could demand as a punter. Plus points to the team for a brilliant job (haha!)
  • Apart from one year when the Gestapo took control of security, it has always been friendly and well organised. This year was no exception with most of security, be it ShowSec or the Festaff volunteers, magnificent. My one complaint is minor but for the guys on the entrance to the arena, use the word “please” when asking to search my bag. It makes it much more pleasant and costs you nothing. Thanks!
  • The overall running of this event blows my mind every year. 2017 was fluid, smooth and ran to time in most cases. The sound was generally spot on, the visuals stunning and getting Sy Keeler from Onslaught as a compare was a stroke of genius. The impressive performances from those at the Explosive Ape weight lifting ring, improved range of food stalls and merchandise made the whole event incredibly professional. A superb effort and my hat is very much doffed in your general direction.

There are few negatives. My main beef is one I’ve taken up directly with BOA. The fairground next to the Sophie Tent has irritated me for years. My frustration peaked this year when all I could hear was fucking Sandman when watching Seasons End. Move it or mute it. Please. My only other real beef is with the campsite fucktards who give not one shit for their fellow metal heads. Five in the morning is designed for quiet. I’m happy to admit that I hit the sack by midnight on every evening. I’m not a fart, I just need my sleep. I’m expecting to be disturbed until the early hours by choosing to camp in Valhalla. But 5am? Really? Anyway, I’m looking forward to VIP next year.

Thursday

Thursday is regarded as party day at BOA. Having arrived and set up the main goal is usually to chill out and relax with mates whilst getting a few beers down the neck. The serious music starts on Friday. But kudos to BOA, they usually whet the appetite with a few decent bands in the Sophie Tent on Thursday evening. First up and with the honour of opening the festival was Edinburgh based Ramage Inc (6). Led by the affable Brian Ramage, the Scots progressive ambient metal was sufficient to get a fair crowd enthused and they gave it their all. However, the band sounded slightly disconnected at times and their complex style was a struggle to appreciate fully. Ramage appears to have adopted almost full Devin Townsend intonation which often distracts from the solid sound which the band are clearly capable of making.

The power metal of Pisa’s Wind Rose (6) promised much. With three full releases under their belts including this year’s Stonehymn, the Italians confidently took to the stage dressed like extras from the Dothraki scenes in Game of Thrones. That’s where the promise ended as the band’s schizophrenic sound which combined folk, thrash and more time changes than a Meshuggah back catalogue. A strong reaction from the metal hungry and alcohol fuelled crowd was encouraging but the band’s confusing output was ultimately disappointing.

Finland’s Battle Beast (7) have built a solid reputation over the years with supports to Nightwish providing them with a good amount of exposure. Their visits to the UK has usually been limited to the odd night at The Underworld in Camden. The crowded tent told you that this was Thursday night and the masses usually lap up anything that is on offer. The Finns certainly offered a strong show and their symphonic power metal was appreciated with the harder edged Black Ninja and We Will Fight inviting the necks to warm up for the weekend ahead. In between songs, it was guitarist Juuso Soinio who did most of the speaking, coming across very much like a Eurovision Song Contest compere. The band’s vocalist Noora Louhimo captures the attention with her strong clear vocals although the head of steam which had built up dissipated quickly with the ballad Far From Heaven.

Friday

Shaking the cobwebs at the ungodly hour of 10:30am, Swindon’s Merithian (6) kicked off proceedings in the New Blood Stage. The band have a sound which mixes KSE with Slipknot and their heavy groove was designed to blow out any remaining beer aches. Unfortunately, with frontman Liam Engel masked up ala Corey Taylor and a vocal style to match, the band’s chunky style didn’t quite work. I’m not sure about the image or the sound but there is promise within this band.

The Copenhagen symphonic metal of Forever Still (5) did little for me last year when they supported Lacuna Coil and I should say that unfortunately their generic sound did nothing to improve my view of them. Lead singer Maja Shining has a decent enough voice although lacking the power of other singers of this genre. Maybe it was a big ask for the band to kick off the day.

No such problems for the groove stoner rock of Bradford’s Iron Rat (8) who took their opportunity to showcase their filthy sound with both hands and didn’t let go for the full 30 minutes. Their doom laden riffage soon had the crowd in the Sophie Tent moving and their enthusiasm was infectious. Playing tracks from the new album Monument, Chris Flear and co were the first of many to deliver their own headline set.

The deathcore of Salt Lake City’s Chelsea Grin is a sound I cannot abide and their opening assault was sufficient to drive me to calmer areas of the site. Luckily it was to catch the sheer dynamism and energy of Leicester’s Internal Conflict (8) whose groove laden metal was deservedly catching a warm reception. Slashing riffs and some screaming vocals from enthusiastic frontman Adam Kyle were well appreciated and this is a band to watch out for. Certainly a plus point for a Friday lunch time.

Next up in the Sophie Tent was Bristol outfit Endeavour (8) These guys have been kicking on the door for some time and their latest release Bring Upon The Rising Day has been on the stereo for some time since its release back in May. Chris Hawkins is every inch the front man with his strong vocals and continued encouragement of the crowd. Their progressive metal was well suited to a festival like this and the head crushing pieces soon got heads moving. One of several outfits who played their sets with such passion that you could have sworn they were the headliners. Big things to come from these guys.

Hampshire outfit Dendera (9) are another outfit who have big things ahead of them. Two years ago they put in a blistering opening set supporting Death Angel and Queensryche in Bristol and their set was one earmarked from the day they were announced. In vocalist Ashley Edison, who also has the front of house gig with Power Quest, the band have a natural front man and one hell of a singer. Their classic yet totally current sound won over the very healthy and receptive crowd. The twin pronged attack of guitarists Stephen Main and David Stanton retain a very British approach. Tracks from the newly released Blood Red Sky EP segued effortlessly with older songs. One of the sets of the weekend without a doubt. Catch these guys soon. You won't be disappointed.

Back on the main stage, having avoided the squealing Dani Filth and the mundane melodic death of Soilwork, it was time to change gear and oh yes, it was pushed into sixth. Poland's Decapitated (8) have visited BOA before but this is a supremely confident outfit whose latest release Anticult is surely a contender for album of the year. Opening with a double from said release, the band rode out a minor technical hitch with ease and eased into a 40-minute masterclass in death metal. Kill The Cult sounded as crushing live as on album and that hook is just immense. Rafa Piotrowski's gravel soaked vocal barked out the lines as Waclaw 'Vogg' Kieltyka made it sound like there was at least two of him, such was the intensity of the shredding. Spheres of Madness helped close the set down far too early. Just superb.

Hampshire continued to rule in the Sophie Tent with a breathtaking set from progressive symphonic metallers Seasons End (8) making their fourth appearance at BOA. In Becki Clark the band possessed one of the most beautiful voices of the weekend which contrasted perfectly with the brutality on display across much of the weekend, whilst David Stanton pulled double duty after his set with Dendera; 20 minutes to turn around and then back on stage. A real trooper. The band's live sound is encouragingly heavy and the audience knew how to respond with huge cheers. With a follow-up to 2005's The Failing Light promised soon, 2017 should be a good year.

If Decapitated pushed the temperature up a level, the next band on the main stage stoked the furnace even higher. Californian thrash veterans Testament (9) are approaching their 35th anniversary but these guys show no signs of slowing down. This was an astonishingly impressive performance, effortless and intense. With a catalogue to die for, the only problem that Chuck Billy and co had is what to cram into their hour-long set. The band went balls out with four from last year's Brotherhood Of The Snake, including a scorching Stronghold before a smattering of classics got the old school members of the crowd roaring. Into The Pit ensured that the action at the front remained intense whilst Low, Practice What You Preach and Disciples Of The Watch allowed Chuck Billy to prowl the stage playing his microphone stand, hitting ever note of messrs Skolnick and Peterson's solos. Meanwhile it was once again a masterclass behind the drums as Gene Hoglan laid waste to the field with his machine gun performance. Testament should have headlined by now and I'd have cash available for a bet on them getting there in the next couple of years.

The UK thrash continued to be represented by Shrapnel (7) whose incisive shredding made ears bleed in the Sophie Tent. The Norwich outfit have been carving their own niche in recent years and a previous appearance at BOA had impressed. It was no different this time as the band thrashed through their set.

One of the most requested bands for BOA on social media for many years has been German power metal legends Blind Guardian (7). The band are capable of headlining Wacken with ease so it was somewhat surprising to see large gaps in the audience as the intro music to The Ninth Wave filled the air. A rather muted performance from a band who are usually so spectacular live was quantified when vocalist Hansi Kursch explained that all their show and gear had been lost by the airline flying them into the Midlands. Guardian continued making use of Amon Amarth’s warm up gear and performed admirably. Kursch has a stunning voice and interacted with the audience superbly. An interesting set including Nightfall, The Script For My Requiem and Mirror Mirror before the audience participation of The Bard’s Song and of course, Valhalla. This band deserve another go and hopefully they will be back before too long.

Occupying the ghost shift in the Sophie Tent, Maryland funk rockers Lionize (10) took their hour long set to the max. As the tent slowly filled, the groove of a rock band who have been on the road for several months must have surely enticed many. For the uninitiated Lionize are unique. Their fusion of blues, rock, reggae and funk is spectacular. Technically there was not a band on the weekend who got close to them. Picking their heavier material and beefing up some of their lighter tunes, the band started hard with Replaced By Machines and didn’t slow down until they hit the end. Guitarist and vocalist Nate Bergman, resplendent as always in his shiny bacofoil jogging suit, played some mean licks whilst the clever lyrics never fail to bring a smile.

To his right, the soulful Hammond organ of Chris Brooks who adds mean backing vocals whilst left side stood Henry ‘Hank’ Upton, all charged up energy and rampaging bass lines. Securing the back line, drummer Chase Lapp looked at times to have many more than two arms as he flailed all over his kit. Closing with a stunning ten-minute plus freestyle session, the band pulled out one of the sets of the weekend. You get the feeling these guys play as hard to two people as they do to 20000. Possibly the highlight of my weekend and an honour to watch.

Few bands work as hard as Friday night headliners Amon Amarth (9). A band that have served their time on the circuits around the world and are finally in the big league. Their headline set promised much and did not disappoint. More pyro than the US 5th Army, rampaging Vikings running around the stage with their swords raised high, a huge long-boat dominating the centre of the stage and even a sea beastie appearing towards the end; visually it was captivating. However, all the props in the world mean nothing if you don’t have the tunes and by Odin do the Swedes have a locker full of anthems ideal for this event.

As the sun set The Pursuit Of Vikings heralded 90 minutes of chaos, rampage and most of all fun. A packed main arena raised their horns, sang and chanted, gasped at the ridiculously glorious spectacle on the main stage and banged their heads in salute to the pure heavy metal that was in front of them. And then we rowed. Oh yes, the sight of thousands of metal brothers sat on the floor doing the death metal equivalent of Oops Upside Your Head was glorious. This is what BOA is all about. Johan Hegg is an ideal ring leader, grinning from ear to ear, cajoling the masses in front of him to pump the air every few minutes with horns or fists. It was magical escapism and by the time Twilight of the Thunder Gods had blown the final bits of dry ice into the East Midlands night there was nowhere any of that crowd would have preferred to be.

Saturday

Technically progressive death metal may not be everyone’s cup of tea at 10:45am on a Saturday morning but a fair crowd gathered in front of the main stage to catch San Francisco’s Fallujah (7). Having lost their singer Alex Hoffman under a month ago put additional pressure on the band but they did a fine job of crushing skulls and shaking that Friday night hangover out of the system.

No strangers to BOA, Manchester black metal masters Winterfylleth (8) took the tent by storm a few years ago with a massive headline set. Watching the band in the blinding sunshine is an unreal experience and as often happens, the band’s detailed technical metal sound initially suffered from a poor mix with Chris Naughton and Dan Capp’s guitars drowned out by the punishing drumming of Simon Lucas and Nick Wallwork’s thundering bass. Despite this the band delivered yet another stunning set although interestingly nothing from the latest The Dark Hereafter. Their winter tour should be nothing short of breath taking.

Birmingham’s Kroh (6) changed the mood to a more gothic feel in the Sophie Tent but their rather routine metal was of limited interest and attention soon wavered. Meanwhile the routine thrash of Havok (6) on the main stage encouraged a decent crowd to open the pits and as the sun continued to beat down early casualties slowly emerged.

If you wanted a lesson in how to thrash with quality, then Canada’s top selling metal band of all time Annihilator (9) proceeded to hand it out on a plate. Jeff Waters may be as nutty as that other crazy Canadian Devin Townsend, but he knows how to craft a tune and the band raced through 40 minutes of very new stuff via the unreleased Twisted Lobotomy and plenty of old school with WTYD, Alison Hell, the splendid Phantasmagoria and set closer Human Insecticide all receiving huge receptions from a very healthy crowd. Long overdue and an outstanding debut.

South Wales MTTM winners Malum Sky (6) had managed to gather a decent turnout in the New Blood Tent but sadly their progressive metal appeared to be griped with nerves as the band struggled to be cohesive. The Welsh theme continued in the Sophie Tent as Merthyr upstarts Florence Black (7) followed up their boisterous Steelhouse Festival appearance with a raucous set which had the trio sounding as heavy as I’d ever heard them.

If you want carnage, then you invite US thrash head cases Municipal Waste (8) to your party. 45 minutes of absolute chaos ensued, with the valiant security at the front hoisting 711 crowd surfers [that’s about 5% of the entire crowd folks!] The band’s no-nonsense approach really is an acquired taste but for those that like it, the taste is delicious.

All this paled into insignificance in comparison to THE set of the weekend which followed. With a huge stage set in place, German thrash legends Kreator (10) delivered an absolute monstrous set crammed full of evil brutality. From the opening Hordes Of Chaos to the concluding Pleasure To Kill, Mille Petrozza and co hit the throttle hard and then pushed the boot through the floor. Huge blasts of red and silver confetti may not sound particularly sinister but it worked magnificently. Fallen Heroes contained a montage of rock legends no longer with us with the faces of Lemmy and RJD looming large. This is a band who are at the top of their game. Imperious and confident, Kreator have a game plan which they stick to and it works magnificently. If these guys are not headlining in 2019 then not even Satan is real.

After the announcement of not one but two headliners for 2018, a quick hop to the Sophie Tent saw UK thrash icons Xentrix (8) really in their stride with new vocalist Jay Walsh looking comfortable and adding quality to the really good quality sound the band make.  

After that it was a bit of an ask for Ghost (8) to match it. However, the mysterious Swedes (if that is what they still are) did their best. An impressive church stage set, cleverly targeted lighting and enough dry ice to fill the Vatican added to the spectacle. Of course, the music is still the main thing and even though the band has incredibly only three albums to its name, there is sufficient in the catalogue to keep most happy. The purists were no doubt secretly loving it whilst standing arms crossed and scowling or back at their tents consoling themselves on yet another can of lager. Rumours abound that Dave Grohl was hitting the skins as one of the nameless ghouls but regardless who it was, the ghouls rocked hard and were more animated than I’d ever seen them before. What slowed the band somewhat was the theatrics of Papa Emeritus III whose narratives were lost towards the back of the field and some long pauses between songs. The arrival of the Sisters of Sin was another five minutes where we could have been rocking. There was the difference with Kreator whose assault didn’t allow time for air. By the time encore of Monstrance Clock arrived, I was ever so slightly bored.

Sunday

The final day and the sun was still blazing across the field. The Strong Men were in full swing with their huge guns lifting astonishing weights. One of the most anticipated bands for me were GraVil (8) whose two releases No More Forgiveness and Thoughts Of A Rising Sun have received regular airtime. The technical groove supplemented by Grant Stacey’s roaring vocals ensured that the earth moved early on a Sunday for the first time in a long while. Visceral riffs sliced through the air and those who made the effort were rewarded by a far too short 30-minute set which flew by. More GraVil as soon as possible.

Two years ago, the Jager Tent reverberated to the sound of Leeds rock ‘n’ roll powerhouses Blind Haze (9) kicking out all the jams with Ben Ward from Orange Goblin looking proudly on. The band, whose recently released Bastard EP is stonking were the perfect tonic with their old school approach hitting all the right notes. Front man and bassist Conan’s self-depreciating humour belies a magnificent attitude and the band delivered a set of rollicking good three-minute songs which sit very much in the Motorhead/Budgie/Goblin/Tank box. Whilst Conan grabs the attention, it’s fair to say that John Nicholson on guitar is the author of many tasty licks whilst drummer Jason Hope is very much from the Philthy Animal school of drumming. I expect big things from Blind Haze. If you get the chance, see them. They rock!

I really wanted to see Brujeira (3) but their cacophony of regurgitated vomit meant I lasted one song before fucking off. It was not something to tolerate when other options were around and instead I got the opportunity to catch some of Wretched Soul’s (7) fabulous set. The Canterbury thrash/death outfit had drawn a good number and their intense honest metal was refreshing. The band led by vocalist Chris Simmons were on fire, another outfit who were taking their opportunity by the balls. Deep cutting riffs, intricate hooks and good heads down thrash always does the trick. Another band I’ll be keeping an eye out for in future months.

There were very few bands I hadn’t seen before at BOA 2017 but one I was determined to see was the grandfathers of death metal, San Francisco’s Possessed (9). With sole original member Jeff Becerra accompanied by long time drummer Emilio Marquez, guitarist Daniel Gonzalez, bassist Robert Cardenas and new boy Claudeous Creamer, this wasn’t quite the old school line up but boy was it hideously good. Becerra may be confined to a wheelchair but that doesn’t stop the legendary vocalist from coughing up those horrifying guttural screams as he rolled around the stage, headbanging with all his might.

The first of a double whammy of death metal, Possessed captivated the crowd with an astonishing set comprising legendary tracks from Seven Churches and 1986’s Beyond The Gates. When the intro to The Exorcist cut across the Catton Hall turf the hairs on the neck just leapt up. There are few times when it really is a privilege to say I was there but to see such a revered band having such a great time was amazing. With Possessed signed to Nuclear Blast and promising a new album in 2018 the legends may be back on our shores sooner than expected. Mighty stuff.

As if having the legendary Possessed wasn’t enough, the afternoon hazy sunshine was shattered again with the arrival of Floridian death metal masters Obituary (9). With necks still aching it was time to get back in the pit. It’s been three years since the band played BOA and nothing changes. John Tardy and co walk out onto the stage, lay waste to all around and then walk off again. It is simple stuff but oh so clever. Bookending their set with two of three tracks from debut Slowly We Rot, this was a band in imperious form. Tardy says little between songs, saving his breath for the growling delivery synonymous with the band. Two new tracks from this year’s excellent self-titled release fitted into the setlist without a problem, Ten Thousand Ways To Die particularly gruesome. Slowly We Rot inevitably closed a mighty display from another absolute masterful outfit.

Having seen Hell earlier this year I used the opportunity to sort the final bits out for the return journey. By all accounts the pyro was off the chart although some new material would be welcomed. New material will be forthcoming soon for Newport’s finest, who were making their BOA debut. Unsurprisingly, Skindred (9) destroyed the entire field, and despite the controversy of booking them for an all-out metal festival, there is no denying that in the live arena few bands can get near them. Sound The Siren, Doom Riff, Pressure and Nobody kept the action intense in the pit and encouraged a fair bit of awful bopping at the outer reaches. As Warning arrived with the inevitable excitement of the Newport Helicopter, a premature ‘copter allowed Benji one more potty mouthed tirade before the entire field erupted. Full marks to the ShowSec crew who all joined in, to much mirth.

Having seen Skindred three times this year allowed me the opportunity to pop into the New Blood Stage for a final time and catch Mist (8). A fantastic decision too as the Solvenian doom outfit blew me away with their Sabbath influenced occult metal. Bone crunching riffs and the atmospheric soaring vocals of Nina Spruk spiraled those in the tent away from the ragga metal raging outside and to a different place. Mist have massive potential and I hope to see them again. The hunt for their album has commenced.

Sadly it was almost time to depart the hallowed halls of BOA due to other commitments, but I finished on a massive high with a blinding set in the Sophie Tent from Italian power metallers Arthemis (8) who may have been playing for one of the smaller crowds of the day but delivered a headline set of stunning quality. With a catalogue of eight albums including this year’s Blood Fury Domination to choose from the band had little difficulty ramping up the thrashier side of their sound whilst Fabio Dessi’s infectious enthusiasm was as brilliant as his clear sky rocketing vocals. A huge ovation from a band rarely seen on these shores. If you get the chance check them out.

So with a heavy heart I skipped the Arch Enemy set and made my way to the car park and the drive home. I was aching from camping and walking more than 40 miles over the four days (yes, seriously, my pedometer recorded it all). This BOA was superb for all the right reasons. 2018 can’t come soon enough.

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