Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The last stand of the big bands. With Black Sabbath, Aerosmith and countless others over the last couple of years doing their ‘final’ tours and including Donington as a must-do stop, we seem to have these epic/ sad endings coming thick and fast. Honestly though, given I’m about half a generation behind the curve of these bands, I’m pretty glad I’ve had the opportunity to see them at all. Tonight it is the turn of the mighty thrash merchants Slayer to bid us farewell, in their last ever UK show, and the Zippo Encore stage area is awash with black tshirts as far as the eye can see. This is hands down the fullest this arena has ever been in the whole of Download history, and I can see half a dozen kids-on-shoulders who have yet no idea how insanely lucky they are to be at this show, given that these guys have been playing for almost 40 years.
The stage is set with all the trappings you’d expect of metal royalty, pentacles, skulls, chains, fire… and the crowd are already chanting ‘Slayer’ in unison. Walking onto the stage with all the clear purpose and confidence of a band who have made performing live their home, it’s a sobering moment to think that we are about to see this for the very last time, that this is our metal history we’re saying goodbye to. We can’t wallow for long though, ‘Repentless’ is wild and immediately gathers a hot and chaotic mosh pit, before the band break into early track ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’. It’s certain that tonight we’re getting a history lesson.
We’re spoilt with a list of raw, furious shredding from ‘Disciple’ to ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ as pyro cannons shoot flames across the inside of the stage and inverted crosses burn in the darkening night. Rocking a ‘Kill the Kardashians’ tshirt, guitarist Gary Holt is ripping Donington a new one alongside Tom Arya and Kerry King in his signature belt chains, and as the first ominous notes of ‘South of Heaven’ shimmer across the arena, I feel actual chills. Slayer played at the first festival I ever went to – here at Donington for Ozzfest 2002 and those notes, that moment will be forever etched into my memory – now, alongside this one. As the band scream into the iconic ‘Raining Blood’, thousands of people are windmilling their hair and headbanging like their necks aren’t over 30 and going to be immobile by work on Monday, it’s a sight to behold.
Shutting Donington down with ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and ‘Angel of Death’ is exactly the fire fueled, gut-punch of an ending I expected of Slayer, they are masters of their craft and Gods of the genre, that much is undeniable. With a final “Thank you for being here” and Tom Arya reluctantly leaving the stage, with what looks to be tears in his eyes, we in the crowd can only chant their name in appreciation and thanks. I think it’s testimony to their legacy that everyone is just still standing, still throwing horns into the air – instead of legging it straight to the main stage. This night is too important to so many, and I hope we gave Slayer the farewell they deserved.
The countdown is on, three weeks until Catton Park is overrun by a hoarde of the weird and wonderful, your punks, goths, metalheads, geeks and freaks. Yes, it’s almost time for Bloodstock Open Air – the UK’s premier Metal fest.
Let’s take a look at what BOA 2018 has to offer…
Headlining Friday night at BOA are the mighty Judas Priest, tipped to be bringing some ahem, serious fire-power, alongside material from their new album… ‘Firepower’. It’s going to be a memorable show that’s for sure, but it’s not all about the headliners at Bloodstock – Friday offers up a plethora of bands we rarely get to see at other festivals in the UK, like Emperor and Suicidal Tendencies. We also can’t wait to walk with zombies Wednesday 13 and get our thrash on with Onslaught, we are coming fully prepared to leave this festival with RSI of the neck.
On the Sophie Lancaster stage we’ll be looking out for metal goddess Doro, and we’ll definitely be checking out the New Blood stage to fill our boots with brand new music to add to our playlists.
Gojira are back after a year off, but this time taking the Saturday headline slot to showcase their unique brand of metal and having seen them hit BOA in 2016, it’s pretty clear we’re in for an incredible night. Also on Saturday’s menu, the beautifully weird juxtaposition of Scotland’s own pirate power-band Alestorm, followed by New York death metallers Cannibal Corpse. I’m down for that sort of variation, it keeps things interesting. We’ll also be turning out for Combichrist, and Israeli band Orphaned Land over on the Sophie stage.
Sunday’s finale spot, perhaps somewhat controversially goes to Nightwish, a band who are no stranger to drama throughout their career. Indeed this will be the third time the band have headlined the festival, with yet another different vocalist – Floor Jansen. However Nightwish undeniably deserve the accolade of closing out Bloodstock, having topped the bill twice before and drawing from a massive eight studio albums worth of music, we’re catching them on the ‘Decades’ tour, which is bound to be celebratory. Also on Sunday, SFG are looking forward to At The Gates, Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed fame, and Evergrey but the biggest hype by far is for American rock crooners Mr. Big. We simply cannot wait to karaoke the hell out of ‘To Be With You’ in the cheesiest way possible. Might even slow dance. There’s something fantastic about Mr. Big featuring on the same bill as Watain – over on the Sophie stage, who we will also be sure to catch. If you’re heading there too, take a poncho for the gore and keep your phone in your pocket. Trust us. It’s gonna be a wild one.
If the music isn’t enough to satiate your appetite over the weekend, or there’s a bit of a lull in your lineup, you’ll find plenty of other stuff to see and do at BOA this year. Take a stroll through the BOA RAM Gallery which features the incredible artwork of Paul Raymond Gregory, various photographers’ shots from previous years, and new this year – an entire Judas Priest wall.
Meet your heroes and get your stuff signed! Bloodstock has always had a great band-to-fan signing tent with loads of opportunities to meet and greet, so make sure you take along any special CD sleeves for your favourite band and check the signing times.
Muscles 2 the Masses – BOA’s very own Strongman/Strongwoman competition now has an amateur division for festival-goers (who have competed in qualifying heats already) to be crowned Bloodstock’s Strongest Man, in a series of events which centre on… well, you know, lifting stuff up, mainly. If that doesn’t take your fancy, we’ve heard Battle Reenactment is back on the menu – who doesn’t love armored dudes beating seven shades of hell out of each other?
Late night DJ’s and movie screenings after the bands are finished are also being laid on for the drunks and nosferatu among us, so if all your mates have crashed and burned for the evening, pull up a pew for Spinal Tap and make some new pals.
There’s no slacking on the food front either, for a smaller festival the options are excellent whether you’re a straight up carnivore, a vegan or somewhere in between. Grab yourself a brisket sandwich between bands, pick a veggie paella or an entire Sunday dinner in a Yorkshire pud, but for my money – I’m making room for a crazy hot chili in a bread bowl also known as Bunnychow. Oh and you’ll find your morning hangover cure over at the famous Motley Brew, I particularly love their ‘Sweet Chai o’Mine’ mugs and the fact that you can also get a massage while you convalesce.
BOA’s main arena boasts a massive array of shops in which you are sure to find anything and everything a metal fan needs – you’ve got your patches and pins, your leather chaps, extremely obscure black metal tees, jewellery emblazoned with skulls, studs on absolutely everything and of course, viking drinking horns. If you’re looking for rare vinyl or CD’s – Bloodstock has your back, particularly brilliant if you’re looking for something better than the programme to take into the signing tent (I once found a vinyl of The Final Countdown and got Europe to sign it, they were not thrilled to recall their hairstyles…).
As for official merch, you’ve got your straight up festival tees with the incredible Bloodstock artwork, and a heap of other stylish variations, but this year I’m after some of the new offerings, particularly the leggings, hip flask and leather cuff. It’s great to see BOA venturing into more merchandise variation, and we’ll definitely be getting hold of the branded reusable cups for our beers too.
So what are you waiting for? Tickets are on sale HERE
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…