Bloodstock 2017, 10 – 13 August, Catton Hall, Derbyshire
The yearly pilgrimage of metal to Catton Hall was another brilliant weekend full of fantastic music, fantastic company and plenty of alcohol flowing. This was also my first time going VIP at the festival. Here are my thoughts on the 2017 edition of Bloodstock Open Air.
With the horrifically terrible weather we have been having in the UK of late people were a bit nervous as to whether the site at Catton Hall would be a mudbath or not. Luckily our fears were put to rest at the sight of plenty of grass and blazing hot sunshine when arriving at the VIP campsite on Thursday afternoon. Once the tent was up and airbed inflated drinks were cracked open and Bloodstock had officially started. I am guilty of using Thursday evening more as a social event rather than watching bands and this year was no different with the majority of my evening spent chatting and drinking at the Serpents Lair bar.
I did manage to get to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch a good chunk of Gurt (7) who brought their dirty filthy riffage to a respectable crowd. A muddy sound meant that their normally powerful sound was lost but their performance cannot be faulted. The only other band I managed to catch on Thursday night were headliners Battle Beast (10) who were one of the absolute highlights of the weekend. Playing to a fully packed out tent their mix of power metal and traditional heavy metal really got the party started with the powerhouse vocals of frontwoman Noora Louhimo demanding a fervent response from the inebriated audience. Tunes such as Bringer Of Pain, Black Ninja, King For A Day and Touch In The Night had the crowd banging their head and singing along and you could tell the band were enjoying themselves just as much as their audience. An absolutely fantastic start to the festival and a brilliant way to bring the Thursday night party to a close.
Some of the definite perks of VIP camping are the nice 'proper' toilets, the availability of hot showers and the quietness of the campsite meaning that when you are done partying you can get yourself a good nights sleep meaning that when I woke Friday morning I felt refreshed instead of my normally repulsively hungover self. Friday was probably the weakest day of bands for me overall but I got into the arena early and caught a good chunk of Forever Still (6) who played an interesting but rather forgettable style of modern melodic metal. I stuck around to watch a bit of Chelsea Grin (2) but immediately regretted it. Chelsea Grin are one of those bands I had never heard but was aware of so thought I would give them a chance and ended up being the living personification of everything I despise about modern metal. A complete overreliance on soulless breakdowns, monotonous chugging riffs and a one dimensional frontman. I give them points for effort and that's it.
Next band I managed to catch were the Dani Filth fronted Devilment (7). These were a surprise for me again having never heard them previously. A nice mix of influences from heavy metal to thrash metal with gothic metal undertones the band played a varied and enjoyable set. Next up were one of my most anticipated bands of the day Sweden's melodic metal masters Soilwork (8). It had been a while since I had last seen Soilwork and they absolutely did not disappoint playing a fantastic set which covered a good chunk of their discography including songs such as The Ride Majestic, Bastard Chain, Late For The Kill, Early For The Slaughter to sing along set closer Stabbing The Drama. The band were on absolute top form especially the vocals of frontman "Speed" Strid. The sound was a bit muddy to start but improved as the set went on.
Next up were one of the highlights of the weekend the mighty Decapitated (10) who played an absolutely ferocious and flawless set. I didn't give an overly positive review to their latest album Antikult but the songs from the record performed live sounded absolutely vicious and sat comfortably alongside older songs such as Day 69, Homo Sum and Spheres Of Madness. This was a set of precision and brutality which absolutely floored the crowd at Bloodstock. Absolutely sublime stuff.
Being an old school thrasher the next band up was my most anticipated of the day - Bay Area thrash legends Testament (9). I managed to get a nice spot very close to the front which ended up being a massive plus as during the set a bit of a breeze whipped up affecting the sound quality for those further back in the crowd. For me the sound wasn't affected and I got to see a fine set from one of the best thrash bands in the business with new songs such as Brotherhood Of The Snake and Stronghold sitting alongside old school classics such as Into The Pit, Practice What You Preach and a rarely played Low. By the time they walked off stage my neck was tense and my voice was hoarse which is exactly how things should be at the end of a good thrash show.
Next up was the special guest slot and an absolutely triumphant return to Bloodstock of power metal legends Blind Guardian (9) who played an absolute blinder of a set. Opening with the epic The Ninth Wave from 2015's Beyond The Red Mirror album' from there on it was nothing but old school Blind Guardian much to absolute joy of the audience who were one of the loudest of the weekend. Ripping power metal tunes such as Welcome To Dying, Born In A Mourning Hall, The Script For My Requiem and Valhalla plus acoustic sing along The Bard's Song - In The Forest were performed impeccably with special mention going to lead guitarist André Olbrich and powerhouse frontman Hansi Kursch. This was a set which proved that power metal still has a massive part to play in Bloodstock and that we need more bands such as Blind Guardian on future lineups.
And then it was onto probably the most anticipated set of the weekend - Friday night headliners Amon Amarth (9). This was their first big festival headlining show and Amon Amarth brought all the goods with an epic stage show to match the epic Viking themed melodic death metal of their music. As the intro tape started the audience started going absolutely berserk with the excitement in the air like electricity. Amon Amarth hit the stage opening with the classic The Pursuit Of Vikings and a barrage of flames jetting from all over the stage. An impressive 90 minute set followed with a set that contained songs such as First Blood, Destroyer Of The Universe, Runes To My Memory, Death In Fire and all time classic Twilight Of The Thunder God. A huge section of the crowd (myself included) partook in epic Viking longboat rowing to the rousing Varyags Of Miklagaard which was an amazing sight to behold and one that I hope was caught by the film crew. This was easily the best I have seen Amon Amarth perform and they absolutely proved that they are capable of headlining a festival. They can only go up from here and they absolutely deserve it.
With Amon Amarth bringing things to a close on the Ronnie James Dio stage there was still one band left to go on the Sophie Lancaster stage and that was Colombian black metal fiends Inquisition (8). I didn't watch the whole set after being pushed around for an hour and a half during Amon Amarth I desperately needed a sit down, food and a drink but what I saw was an absolute crushing display of black metal might with savage riffing and a maelstrom of blast beats raining down like hellfire on the audience. For a two piece Inquisition made a lot of noise and a big impression on the crowd watching. A nicely violent way to bring the bands to a close on Friday night.
Another hangover free morning and a wake up to glorious sunshine signalled a good Saturday at Bloodstock or as I called this day 'Thrasherday'. Things got started with Fallujah (8) who were determined to wake up the crowd with their progressive and technical take on death metal. A brilliant set with sombre melodies and atmospheric sections mixed in with some ferocious riffs and stunning lead guitar work that unlike a lot of tech death bands did not descend into wankery. A great way to get things started.
Next up were UK black metal heroes Winterfylleth (7) who played a rousing yet vicious set of atmospheric black metal which was unfortunately let down by poor sound quality. The band performed impeccably and with a good sound mix this could have been one of the highlights of the weekend. Then it was one of the many thrash metal bands of the day the first being Havok (8) who played a full pedal to the metal blistering set of politically charged thrash metal. The foot came off the pedal slightly for the funk metal influenced F.P.C. and 1984 influenced Ingsoc but the rest of the set was a blur of thrashing frenzy with songs such as No Amnesty and Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death whipping the crowd up.
A hop over to the New Blood stage to catch the brilliantly ridiculous Raised By Owls (8). Through their hysterical videos on YouTube and lots of word of mouth Raised By Owls achieved the largest crowd ever assembled at the New Blood stage with people literally piling up outside trying to get in. The band absolutely took it in their stride and played a blistering set of death metal and grindcore all themed around the silliness of British culture. We had such ridiculous sites as the crowd dancing to the Chucklevision music, a wall of death based on the two different ways of pronouncing scone and the brilliant hilarity of songs such as Ross Kemp On Gang Bangs, You've Been Mary Buried and Ainsley Harriot Advises You To Give Your Meat A Good Old Rub. This was one of the most talked about sets of the weekend and I'm sure Raised By Owls will be returning to Bloodstock in the near future.
After a little break I returned to the Ronnie James Dio stage for one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend - Canadian thrash legends Annihilator (9) who were making their very first appearance at the festival. The band played a generally old school set with songs such as Set The World On Fire, W.T.Y.D. and the classic Alison Hell. What was a big surprise was the inclusion of a brand new song entitled Twisted Lobotomy which is easily one of the most ferocious and aggressive songs Annihilator have ever done and leaves me feverishly anticipating their new album. Party thrashers Municipal Waste (10) arrived after that and proceeded to literally lay waste to the Bloodstock crowd with a high intensity set of high speed thrash. The crowd absolutely lapped it up with probably the biggest circle pits of the festival to thrashing anthems such as Beer Pressure, Sadistic Magician and Born To Party. Last time they played Bloodstock they attained the world record for number of crowd surfers during a song. Having since lost the record Municipal Waste were determined to regain it and with the assistance of a rabid Bloodstock audience they absolutely smashed the record with an amazing 711 crowdsurfers.
Next up were hardcore heroes Hatebreed (9). I'm not a massive fan of Hatebreed finding their albums dull and repetitive but these guys live are a whole different experience. A crushing set of all out violence as well as all out positivity this was a huge adrenaline rush from start to finish. Jamey Jasta proved himself as a first class frontman pumping up the crowd for blinding hardcore anthems such as Defeatist, Live For This and In Ashes They Shall Reap.
Then it was for me the finest set of the weekend the unstoppable German thrash horde of Kreator (10) who for the first time to Bloodstock brought a full stage show complete with impressive stage dressing, confetti, ribbons and plenty of fire. These were just minor enjoyments though in comparison to the absolutely jaw dropping performance by these German thrash legends. Unusually this was a set majorly made up of 21st century Kreator material which shows how strong their recent output has been. A set which featured modern Kreator classics such as Gods Of Violence, Satan Is Real, Phantom Antichrist, Civilization Collapse and Enemy Of God had the crowd eating out of their hands whilst old school classics such as People Of The Lie, the ultra violent Pleasure To Kill and Total Death off the debut album had the old school fans in an absolute thrashing frenzy. One of the most memorable and moving moments of the set was the performance of Fallen Brother off latest album Gods Of Violence which is a rousing metal anthem to all the musical idols we have sadly lost over the years. Images of the fallen appeared all over the screens on stage as Kreator tore through the song. A brilliant tribute. Kreator have always been an absolutely fantastic live band but this set was on another level. Easily one of the greatest sets of heavy music i have ever seen performed. Absolutely flawless. I really did not want them to leave the stage.
I hopped over to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch some of the recently reformed Xentrix (7). These old school UK thrashers have very recently gained a new frontman and guitarist in Jay Walsh of Bull-Riff Stampede. A very fine choice as the band performed a very tight set of old school thrash. After that set by Kreator this felt a little pedestrian but that's no fault of Xentrix who played excellently. I think any band playing after Kreator would have felt a bit weaker. The headliners on the Ronnie James Dio stage this evening were the mysterious Ghost but I am not really a fan so I took this time to get some food and then have a sit down and several pints of cider with friends in the VIP bar.
I resurfaced in a bit of an inebriated state and made my way to the Sophie Lancaster stage to catch final band of the evening - murder obsessed metallers Macabre (8). I have been a fan of Macabre for years and this was my first opportunity to see them live. They did not disappoint. If you are unaware of Macabre all their songs are based around serial killers and mass murders. The music was a deranged mix of thrash metal, death metal and grindcore with the unhinged vocals of frontman Corporate Death echoing around the tent. There was a long monologue before the start of each song demonstrating the bands wonderfully dark sense of humour. We also got treated to the Macabre Minstels acoustic rendition of The Cat Came Back as well as the country influenced punk of The Bloody Benders. A lot of people were seemingly confused by this musical mixing pot and the dark sense of humour throughout but I absolutely adored every second. Definitely a band I would like to see return to the UK soon.
Due to the excess consumption of alcohol on Saturday night I woke up on the Sunday morning feeling rather sorry for myself. After a very long shower I went back to my tent and sobbed for about half an hour before I picked myself up and dragged myself down into the arena for the last day of bands. I managed to catch the last few songs of Cardiff's own Venom Prison (7) who performed a vicious set of their hardcore inspired death metal. I have seen Venom Prison in small venues around South Wales so it was awesome to see them up on a big stage playing to a respectable crowd. The audience were a bit muted but I think the majority of people were suffering this morning.
After some food and a bit of the hair of the dog it was back to the arena for Brujeria (7) with their Mexican drug lord themed death metal and grindcore. Although they all wear bandanas across their faces for anonymity one of those playing was unmistakably Shane Embury of Napalm Death. The band played short sharp songs with a cool old school death metal groove helping the audience shake off the last vestiges of their hangovers. Next up were another of my most anticipated bands of the weekend - the godfathers of death metal Possessed (9). This was my first time seeing the band live and expectations were fully met. The band got things started with material off The Eyes Of Horror EP working back to the Beyond The Gates album before finishing with material from the legendary Seven Churches album. A truly ferocious set showing how relevant these 30+ years old songs are with select cuts being Confessions, Tribulation, The Exorcist and genre defining Death Metal. We even got a new song off their upcoming album which will be the bands first release since 1987! A wonderful set of extreme metal nostalgia.
Following Possessed were another death metal legend - Florida's own Obituary (10) who played one of the most blinding and heavy sets of the festival. A perfect sound helped the band bring absolute devastation to the Bloodstock crowds. There were no gimmicks just a straight up set of pummelling old school death metal. The set was very heavy on songs from the first two records Slowly We Rot and Cause Of Death which was very pleasing to the old school fans in the crowd. Material from new album Sentence Day sat comfortably with the old material as Obituary are not a band who have really modified their sound. They are a bit like the Motorhead of death metal but if it ain't broke don't fix it.
From a set with no gimmicks and showmanship to a set chock full of it next up were UK old school heavy metallers Hell (8) with their fire and brimstone set (and there was plenty of fire). Despite technical difficulties such as microphones and guitars cutting out Hell kept the show going and had the crowd enthralled with a set of theatrics, pyrotechnics and shit kicking heavy metal. David Bower is one of the most charismatic frontmen in metal always putting 100% and more into his performance. The theatrics of the set were fantastic with David Bower dressed as a 15 foot Satan, huge jets of fire and exploding bibles amongst other things. This didn't detract from the music though which is fist pumping old school heavy metal with a very English horror flair throughout. Absolutely brilliant stuff.
I really cannot stand Skindred so went and drank cocktails with friends for the duration of their set returning for Arch Enemy (8). It had been a good while since I last saw Arch Enemy with both Jeff Loomis and Alissa White-Gluz joining the band in that time. This was a set made up of half Alissa fronted material and the other half older material. You got songs such as You Will Know My Name, As The Pages Burn, My Apocalypse, We Will Rise and Nemesis. I was slightly disappointed that there was no very early material played but the band only had an hours set to play with. This was the final show of the War Eternal tour cycle and the band played absolutely perfectly with the dynamic between guitarists Michael Amott and Jeff Loomis being of special mention. Alissa also proved herself as more than a worthy replacement for Angela Gossow.
It was time for the final headliners of the weekend the legendary Megadeth (8). Landing myself a good spot at the front of the audience I was ready for a set of metal nostalgia. Megadeth were the second metal band I ever listened to and hold a special place for me. Seeing them live is always transports me back to my 14 year old self and the excitement of finding all this wonderful metal music. This set was no exception. There was very little interaction from the band with them simply bombarding the audience with songs from throughout their long career. Kicking things off with the classic Hangar 18 they then jumped to recent album Dystopia for The Threat Is Real before a barrage of classic songs such as Wake Up Dead, In My Darkest Hour, Sweating Bullets, She-Wolf and a surprising performance of Mechanix (Tallica's Four Horsemen with different lyrics) from debut album Killing Is My Business...And Business Is Good!. The performances from the band were second to none but special mention must go to lead guitarist Kiko Loureiro whose playing was one of the highlights of the set. An absolute jaw dropping display of guitar pyrotechnics and easily one of the best guitarists who has ever played in the band. As well as more songs from Dystopia and more classics dotted throughout the set we got a closing trio of Symphony Of Destruction, Peace Sells and a truly blistering rendition of Holy Wars...The Punishment Due. This was a fantastic set to bring about a close of festivities on the Ronnie James Dio stage.
There was however just one more band left to go and that was the mighty Wintersun (9) bringing the party to a close on the Sophie Lancaster stage. It's been a good few years since their last appearance at Bloodstock and Wintersun made sure they made up for that time by playing an absolutely epic set. The only new song played was opener Awaken From The Dark Slumber (Spring) with the majority of the set taken from the self titled debut album and previous album Time. We were treated to absolute feast of epic metal from Winter Madness to Starchild to Sons Of Winters And Stars and closing epic Time. This was an absolutely triumphant set and a fantastic way to bring Bloodstock 2017 to a close.
This was the biggest Bloodstock to date with a sell out crowd for the first time but also some of the biggest stage productions ever seen at the festival. There was a bigger diversification of bands playing with big mainstream acts such as King 810, Skindred and Ghost performing alongside bands such as Blind Guardian, Kreator and Obituary. This diversification can only be a good thing especially for ticket sales but there's always the worry that the organisers are now going to chase the big mainstream metal bands rather than the ones who actually fit in with the ethos of the festival. Whether this will happen only time can tell but things are already looking good for the 2018 edition of the festival with both Gojira and Nightwish confirmed as headliners