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Wednesday 17 August 2016

A View From A Sunny Field: Bloodstock Festival 2016 (Saturday)

Bloodstock Festival -Saturday

Saturday held some heavy hitters for the MoM crew with the likes of Rotting Christ, Paradise Lost and Gojira still to come the heaviness was increased tenfold since the Friday, so up beer, bacon and lazily we made are way to the arena as the thought of Cambion and Kill II This didn't interest me at all we chilled at the campsite for a bit too long unfortunately missing Mage but in time for the third band on the main stage the excellent Vallenfyre (8) the side project of Paradise Lost guitarist Gregor Mackintosh the death metal outfit are a particularly evil mob with lots of extreme tendencies bringing a gap between death and black metal, swathes of riffs hit you right between the eyes as Mackintosh gives a particularly volatile performance on the vocals screaming, screeching and roaring at every opportunity. I'd never seen Vallenfyre before but I would definitely see them again, it severed as the perfect aperitif for the heaviness that was to come.

There had been a lot of wrangling going on about the next band. Were they in? Were they out? Had they breached some kind of agreement? Whatever the truth was finally it was sorted and Akercocke (5) took to the stage for their first gig in six years, they seemed to have considerable performance rust on them as the vocals seemed shot and after a couple of songs I gave up and headed over to the Sophie Tent for the spiritual awakening of Vodun (8) the London three piece was the right antidote to Akercocke, their groove laden, percussive hard rock got you body moving as the band stirred themselves up into a frenzy on stage their voodoo groove, Ogoun pounding the rhythmic, tribal beats while Marassa peels off riff after fuzzy riff being both guitarist and bassist, but your eyes are focused most of the time on Oya the vocalist who howls and moans like she's possessed using percussion instruments to augment the already propulsive sound. In the live filed Vodun are magnetic and mystical getting everyone in the Sophie tent caught up in their musical spell.

From Spells to curses back on the mainstage for the Greek metal legends Rotting Christ (10) a band that we first saw at BOA two years ago laying waste to the Sophie Tent with a stunning headline performance, filled with ominous atmosphere they create along with mountains of visual aides and lighting effects. There was a lot of talk in our camp whether they could have the same impact in the middle of the day in the bright sunlight but as the Diamanda Galás' Orders From The Dead blared out of the PA the band led by the incredibly charismatic Sakis took to the stage a blasted into Ze Nigmar from most recent offering Rituals which rapidly moved into the first of three from Katá ton Daímona Eaf̱toú (True To Your Own Spirit) the excellent Kata ton Demona Eautou with the other two tracks from that album being the impressive encompassing In Yumen-Xibalba twinned with Grandis Spiritus Diavolos meaning that the majority of their set came from their two most recent albums interspersed with some classics like Thy Sign of Evil Existence.

What is always so impressive about Rotting Christ is that just how sonically powerful they are, their songs encompass a few styles from death, to black, through doom, to classic metal but they are all delivered with a commanding performance from the four piece led by Sakis. If you consider the occult lyrical content of their songs many focus on spiritualism, Satan and the occult, welcoming everyone watching and listening to their unholy church which puts Sakis in the position of Bishop leading the dark sermons as he and George Emmanuel play riff after earth moving riff as the rhythm section of Vangelis Karzis (bass) and Themis Tolis (drums) conjure thunder in the backroom. As the set progressed with very little interaction from the band, another key to their imposing stage show, our collective necks were throbbing from the headbanging taking place until finally with the climatic Noctis Era the show was finished and we all took a collective breath.

All of our fears were washed away by the band, they are equally as impressive in the middle of the day as they are at night headlining. Yes that was special but this was yet another fantastic set from a band who cross genre and indeed language barriers with every album performing songs in English, Greek and Latin meaning that the Church of Rotting Christ is one that knows no factions just come together and bang your head.

We had to take well earned beer and food break after that forgoing Fear Factory's industrial stomp and retreating to the campsite for yet more dirty Strongbow (Dark Fruits and Cloudy), John Bleeding Smiths (Extra Smooth no less) and as much pot pasta as we could eat. With Mr Hewitt sticking to the camp myself and the rest of our group Stief and our resident love birds made our way to the main arena for British doom-mongers Paradise Lost (9) who were on seriously good form playing a wide set drawing three songs, No Hope In Sight, Flesh From Bone and Benath Broken Earth from their killer recent record The Plague Within although the growls have been toned down since I last saw them. Paradise Lost's frontman Nick Holmes is one of the major parts I love this band, his vocals can be a bit hit and miss but today he was at his best, however other than his vocals his between song banter is some of the best.

He is possibly the grumpiest man in rock music dedicating one song to "The worst lighting man in the world, God" due to the fact the sun was hitting him in the face for the duration of the set, as Holmes is the old curmudgeon, Gregor Mackintosh is his silent partner in crime (albeit not so silent in Vallenfyre) chugging away along with Aaron Aedy and Steve Edmondson. The set was strong drawing from classic such as Gothic with Eternal and Rapture along with the The Last Time and Hallowed Land from the monstrous Draconian Times, Paradise Lost once again showed why they have such longevity with a back-catalogue of stone cold killer songs and a performance style that is endearing and entertaining.

From the pounding Gothic doom to razor sharp modern thrash in the shape of late additions to the bill Bull Riff Stampede (8) who stepped in at the last minute to replace Myrath. This proved to be a masterstroke by the BOA bosses as Bull Riff are currently riding an upward curve and to see them not far off releasing their excellent second record was great as they set the Sophie stage ablaze with their intense aggressive brand of pure thrash metal dual guitars shredding, drums flailing, bass galloping and vocal snarling, their set went by in frenzy of technical guitar playing, blazing solos and proper thrash songwriting which was the perfect pick me up we needed after the slower pace of Paradise Lost to ready us for the monstrous (pun intended) special guests that were about to take to the main stage.

 I'm going to say this now and most of the MoM agreed with me (which is unusual) the French masters of only the heaviest metal Gojira (10) should have headlined the Saturday they have enough albums, memorable songs, outright heaviness and most importantly a stage presence that rivals Rotting Christ's earlier in the day. They also have a stunning new album with Magma which meant that they didn't have the L'Enfant Sauvage light up head to use as a visual piece this was backdrop banner and four men playing the most crushing groove heavy metal but by Odin's Beard that is all they needed as they opened proceedings with a thrilling trio of Toxic Garbage Island, L'Enfant Sauvage and The Heaviest Matter In The Universe. As is always true with Gojira playing you feel them rather than see them every song shifts your internal organs with the massive down-tuned riffs credited to Joe Duplantier and the ever bouncy Jean-Michel Labadie the fret slides and general rhythmic discord is driven mercilessly by the magnificent drumming from Joe's brother Mario who uses his kit like a weapon.

On new songs Silvera and Stranded Christian Andreu displayed his lead guitar skills with the more melodic touches they bring, however there was no rest, some breif snippets of interaction from Joe but then it back to bone shattering and turning your insides to jelly with Flying Whales, Wisdom Comes and the neck snapping Backbone. At 12 songs the set was hand picked for maximum impact and volume with small gaps in proceeding to allow the huge crowd to compose themselves before the next aural battering, Gojira should have definitely headlined Saturday and they shouldn't be playing third fiddle to Alter Bridge and Volbeat, but that's an argument for another time. The Bloodstock was triumphant bore witness to Gojira the arena band!

With the strains of the French groove metal still ringing in our ears it was time for the main stage headliners Atlanta Wildlings Mastodon (8) who I've personally seen numerous times and yes they are a good band but they did seem a little out of place as a headliner still with mountains of psych filled, stoner metal riffs along with some very recognisable songs such as Colony Of Birchmen, Blood And Thunder, Megalodon all coming at the end of the set it was up to them to fill the rest of the set with some of their other more progressive numbers sprinkling in a recognisable number here and there playing a mammoth (again pun intended) 20 song set list backed by some trippy visuals the band ploughed through their set with little interaction, triple vocal delivery and riffs a-plenty however despite this being a festival headline slot they didn't do what both Twisted Sister and indeed Slayer did and stick to 'the hits' playing 6 songs from their most recent album and neglecting the massive sing along Curl Of The Burl yes OK we got some older tracks from their breakthrough record Blood Mountain as well as from Leviathan but The Hunter was all but ignored. Despite some glaring omissions (in my opinion) in the setlist, the crowd were receptive in spite of the band just locking in and playing off in their own little world.

I think there was just a sense of apathy from myself after being destroyed by Gojira mere moments before, Mastodon are a band that bring continuity with their live show, they will probably never start incorporating the vaudeville elements of Twisted Sister neither will they have the sheer live power of bands such as Slayer but it was good to see them getting some recognition for their years slogging away in the live field. No Mastodon may not have been the most popular choice for headliner (or indeed special guest) some of the message boards were down right derisive and personally I think the headliner and special guest roles should have been flipped, but Bloodstock likes to mix it up and showcase headliners that many may not have seen in that position before (if ever).

It always does seem to be a little sink or swim doing this and Mastodon didn't sink but there were moments where they were treading water a little still, the amassed hordes were there to witness a bit of history that hopefully will make many other festival operators realise that there are new headliners rather than the same tired ones we've all seen before. They just ignore them where as Bloodstock embrace them. As we headed back to the campsite, we stupidly forgot Acid Reign were in the tent and missed them (next time it is), we talked about future headliners (Judas Priest?) and then turned our attention to the eclectic final day that was waiting for us.   

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