It’s that special last month before Autumn sets in, the high summer sun shines down on the most inappropriately weather-attired crowd of the entire year, yes, It’s Bloodstock Open Air. I will never stop being equally amused and proud that the metal community rocks black tshirts, heavy denim, sticky leather and a mass of metalware regardless of temperature, or indeed comfort.
Though this year’s Bloodstock line-up has been the topic of much forum debate and there are some rather under-represented groups (female musicians on the main stage anyone?) this year, you can’t deny there is first-class metal on offer this weekend. Friday sees a beautiful site-wide crab-athon (Crabulon) with Evil Scarecrow, and Corrosion of Conformity tear up the Ronnie James Dio stage with their gritty bluesy metal, to a decent crowd having overcome some mishaps on the route here. “In case you guys don’t know, we lost our guitars in fucking Paris… we’re kind of winging it” the guys let us know, before a calling Donald Trump a dickhead and dedicating the beautifully relevant ‘Vote With A Bullet’ to him.
Over on the Sophie Lancaster stage, the comedically named Foetal Juice hailing from Manchester, sound pretty much exactly as you’d expect – extreme but a little bit silly. Everyone in the tent seems to love them though, which is pretty good going for group of mates who started this for fun.
Heading over to the Kraken Rum garden for a spot of black ice-cream (good work guys, you know this is exactly the crowd to appreciate a gothic dessert) we take the opportunity to check out the merch stall and pop into Lemmy’s Bar to raise a glass (well, plastic cup) to the man, the legend. Back on the Sophie stage XII Boar are absolutely killing it, yelling out “You’re here! You’ve made it to the party” to us latecomers joining them mid-set. It’s a bit of a shame about the noise-pollution next door, the music on the fairground rides is offensively loud and unnecessary. No-one needs to hear Sweet Child O’Mine more than once in half an hour.
Home grown heroes Venom are a massive Friday highlight with their thrashy, wild child behaviour and obvious love of what they do. Calling out “It’s great to see the fucking UK legions” to a roaring crowd, it’s nice to see a proper homecoming. Demon-faced Behemoth are kind of a BOA staple now right? The band are over from Poland, presumably to promote Satanism and murder… *snigger* and for a band who’ve done every trick in the goth manual to seem dark and gloomy, they look like they’re having a pretty amazing time.
Last up is the final ever (yes really, EVER) UK Twisted Sister show on their ‘Forty & Fuck It’ tour, and it’s an absolute blinder. Playing 15 minutes over the curfew, with every single hit you wanted to hear, and a gigantic crowd singing alongside them – Twisted Sister go out with a bang. Like the music or not, you can’t deny they’ve got amazing showmanship and the ability to engage with a crowd on a funny and personal level. They will be hugely missed.
Saturday sees the likes of The Raven Age, off the back of their supporting role in Iron Maiden’s Book of Souls world tour, carving out a name for themselves on the Sophie stage, and Rotting Christ have the main stage under a veil of darkness with their unique melodic metal and some synchronized headbanging. Fear Factory pull in a huge crowd and those 90’s sounds are just so nostalgic it makes us want to buy some of those huge jeans again, you know the kind with safety pins all up the seam and one of those giant ball-chains attached to your wallet.
Grabbing some grub is much more difficult than we had anticipated, this festival has come a long way on the food front since it’s early days of scary burger vs. scary hotdog options. We opt for a Bi-ella (It’s not sexual, it’s just both kinds of paella – meat and veggie. Actually I take it back, that is pretty sexual.) and chilli-inna-bun, which is much less Dibbler than it sounds. Both were awesome and actually worthy of high price tag we’ve come to expect from UK festivals.
Paradise Lost playing in the late evening sun is an absolute treat, but the stunningly beautiful guitars ring out across a sleepy crowd, there are a lot more people sitting down in a post-dinner sun-drenched haze. Only the astoundingly tall Kraken diver is dancing around like a lunatic, presumably taking an in-suit bath in his own sweat.
Over on the Sophie stage One Machine are throwing down hard, their sound is interesting and fresh and there’s a pretty decent crowd in there enjoying it. In the Hobgoblin New Blood tent, Warwickshire band The Face of Ruin have In Flames vibes and we are loving their rowdy set. Let’s hope they return to BOA soon… next year even… on a bigger stage…
On the main stage it’s time for the truly incredible Gojira, and judging by the sheer size of the crowd that has turned out to see them, they could just have well bumped Mastodon from tonight’s top spot. There’s something so strangely hypnotic about Gojira, it’s hard to put your finger on it, but as the sun sets on day two of BOA it’s clear they’re one of the true highlights of the festival already, and ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ is the anthem. Shouting out “Are you having a great day at the festival? Are you drinking enough beer? Are you happy?” It’s kind of adorable that they care about our festival welfare, and everyone is more than appreciative of the brand new tracks from Magma.
In comparison it’s hard to watch Mastodon’s entrance onto the main stage, with dodgy sound and a do-the-job attitude, the magic dwindles a little. Sure, they’re musically strong but there’s less of the awe and more of the ought about them. However, as the night pulls on Mastodon appear to get comfortable and the last half an hour is considerably, thankfully better.
As the hungover masses drag their butts outta bed (well, sleeping bag) for one last day of metal mayhem, the Sunday lineup sees the likes of Satyricon, complete with forked mic stand and altogether too much white face powder – makeover the main stage with their black metal in the rather overcast afternoon. It’s sort of appropriate. On the Sophie stage, Derange deserve a bigger crowd than they’ve got – I mean, no their sound is nothing exactly new, but they execute well and vocalist Cat Pereira is commanding centre stage.
Outside after a bloody (literally, one guy had his head cut open) battle reenactment, it’s time for the final challenges of the Bloodstock’s Strongest Man competition, and get this… the trophy is Thor’s Hammer! Amazing. After a lot of grunting, sweating and swearing, a little crowd participation and some free tshirts being thrown about, a champion is crowned. It’s been a brilliant little event, hope to see it back bigger for next year.
On the main stage there’s a kicking of heels as we wait patiently for Dragonforce to appear. Technical difficulties are blamed and it’s a blistering, albeit short show from the power-metal heroes. Despite the crowd chanting ‘Herman Lee’ rather than Dragonforce before they came on, it really doesn’t seem to have phased the rest of the band, and frontman Marc Hudson yells “We are Dragonforce from London England, and it’s nice to fucking play at home for once”. ‘Cry Thunder’ and ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ have the entire crowd wailing along as crowd surfers flail overhead, which is pretty great considering that’s all we got. Five songs seems hardly enough.
Symphony X are somewhat underwhelming but New Blood’s Valous, immediately followed by amusingly named Footprints in the Custard – are anything but. Both bands are energetic and enthusiastic, an atmosphere that spills over into their rowdy crowds who are loving it.
As the many… many Judges circle the site telling you not to take photos of them, or pretending to terminate delinquents, they can only herald one band. Anthrax hit the stage with all the raw power you’d expect from a band twenty years their junior, they just make it look easy. ‘Antisocial‘ has the entire arena thrashing, and as they close out with ‘Indians’ shouting “This is the war dance, bang your fucking heads! Everyone move ok?” it’s unsurprising to see the BOA crowd comply, hard.
Following up with another of the ‘Big Four’ thrash metal bands, Slayer are here to re-conquer Bloodstock and with a stage top to bottom bathed in real actual fire (how they sustained playing in that direct heat, I have no idea) it’s almost as if they’ve come out to prove they’re children of the underworld. Last time Slayer topped the BOA bill was just after the death of Jeff Hanneman, three years later we see a fresher, stronger Slayer with a giant Hanneman tribute flag, and something to prove. With the massive and iconic riffs of ‘South of Heaven’ and ‘Raining Blood’ reverberating around Catton Park, it’s hard to imagine a better way to close Bloodstock 2016. Here’s to 2016, and wondering what the next lineup will bring…
All photos © A. Hyams 2016. Do not use without permission.