An entire weekend of sunshine is an absolute rarity during British summertime, but a weekend at Bloodstock Open Air where you’re not at risk of trench-foot even more so. This year’s BOA, hidden in the depths of Derbyshire at Catton Hall is awash with lobster-faced metalheads having a ruddy good time, and the kind of lineup that is set to shake your bones.
Taking a little tour of the arena shops and eateries you can get your hands on pretty much anything your little black heart desires, from limited edition vinyl to second hand band tees to support The Teenage Cancer Trust or a huge portion of brisket-inna-bun from The Texas Smokery. People are whizzing around on fairground dodgems or being shot up into the air in a bungee cage with unrivalled glee, it’s just a shame for Sophie Stage Bands that have to compete with the blaring music coming from the rides. One such band is German power metallers Messiah’s Kiss who’s tight-pants, crimped-hair and solid rocking set is unfortunately overshadowed by the twister ride’s expulsion of Welcome to the Jungle.
Donning the traditional black metal corpse paint the indiscernible growling of Belphegor is pretty one-dimensional overall, though die-hard fans crowd the front, the main contingent of the arena is set on lounging around with ice-creams, hitting each other with blow up guitars or having a good old nap. Enslaved come with a rockier shred-heavy edge yelling to the sunbaked crowd “We are Enslaved from Norway, Hello Bloodstock England!” before Ihsahn (of Emperor fame) takes to the main stage with his own brand of black metal prog. For such an unassuming quiet sort, he certainly knows how to captivate a crowd, but unfortunate technical difficulties (or is it perfectionism?) seem to put him on the back foot from the off, it’s clear he’s not happy with the sound.
Hyperactive Jersey boys Overkill were a huge hit last time they graced BOA and this year is no different, coming in loud and confident they proceed to blast through their brilliant screechy eighties thrash set yelling “We are your cousins from Jersey, whether you like it or not!” and doling out some serious face-melting guitar solos. I am I with former Dragonforce vocalist ZP Theart gather a decent crowd on the Sophie Stage, but it’s Swedish extroverts Sabaton who take the prize for best of the day on the main stage, with their huge stage set. What’s not to love about a band who sets their drummer atop a tank which actually fires pink pyro? With matching camo-trousers, black ops vests and mirrored aviators they could have walked right out of a 90’s Smash Hits boyband centerfold but luckily for all involved they sound considerably better and it’s a wave of flame cannons, ticker tape explosions and full throttle heavy metal. Joking around the crowd chant of ‘Ikea’ is quickly picked up as frontman Joakim Brodén tries to sell his bandmate “If you want this guy, you can find him in the Ikea catalogue. He comes this big… and you fold him out. He comes under number 666 I guess…” before dropping into fan favourite ‘Swedish Pagans’. Following Sabaton’s explosive finale, as has become BOA festival tradition, the first band of the 2016 line-up is announced to be homegrown heroes Venom, to a massive roar from the crowd.
As hot day turns into chilly night, Trivium hit the stage to an intro of Maiden’s iconic Run to the Hills, giving everyone a chance to air guitar it out and warm up a bit. With twin creepy skull things hovering above the stage (they sort of look like Frank the dead bunny from Donnie Darko…) and blasting smoke cannons, the sound is the clearest it has been all day, and Trivium give a good solid, if not exactly awe inspiring mix of old hits and new material. Technical difficulties cause havoc for guitarist Corey Beaulieu who misses playing the first two songs due to “getting electrocuted by [his] microphone” and soon after throws the mic stand claiming “my face is getting shocked to shit!”. Despite the setback ‘Becoming the Dragon’ and ‘Strife’ get a small circle pit going and they finish strong on ‘Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr’ to cheers, despite the fairly thin crowd in front of them.
Saturday sees another corpse-painted posse 1349 bring some doom and gloom to an otherwise sunny day, everyone seems to be loving ‘Atomic Chapel’ but it’s all a bit hard to take seriously in the nice weather and I kind of want someone to tell them it looks like they haven’t rubbed their suncream in properly. Plenty of panda-faced people with yesterday’s sunburn and hangover-applied mascara actually look sort of similar. Finnish folk-metallers and lords of the extraordinarily tight-pants, Korpiklaani are unashamedly fun and upbeat. You can’t beat a good silly jig around in a field with your mates, toasting with ales from hollowed out horns, and Korpiklaani bring exactly that to the party. With a giant inflatable football making its way across the crowd and super catchy ‘Vodka’ (or Wodka as they seem to say it) they just put the life back into the arena after a sleepy afternoon.
Local lads Napalm Death always bring the noise, frontman Mark "Barney" Greenway looks like a toddler having a rage tantrum but the sentiment is as usual anti-establishment for ‘When All is Said and Done’ and ‘Scum’ and it is pure gritty energy. 25 years after their last time in the UK, thrashers Dark Angel lead some sweaty circle pits with doom riffs and serious shredding a pretty big crowd has turned out to hear them play and give some crowd-surfing a go.
Last time Opeth played BOA, there was a definite lack of spark and a pretty sparse turnout, but today, this is the aligning of the powers that be and they are joined on stage by the perfect sunset for their eerie but beautiful music. Opeth greet the mesmerised crowd “Good evening… er where are we… Derby. Good evening England. We came all the way from Stockholm Sweden to play for you… which takes a long time if you’re walking like we do.” and joke about a night out after mixing their record here some time ago, and getting fish, chips and a glass of milk. Countering, the crowd keep up the earlier joke of chanting ‘Ikea’ only to hear back “Are you saying Ikea? It’s Swedish… is that what they’re saying? Why not, I have a shitload of Ikea furniture at home. You know Volvo too? Also Swedish…” and they finish up with epic ‘Deliverance’.
Back in the olden days (ten long years ago) when Bloodstock was a little metal fest held in the Derby Assembly Rooms, tonight’s headliner Within Temptation blew our metaphorical socks off. Back tonight with an epic stage set and a number of costume changes the symphonic melodic metallers soar to new heights. Dressed in a white PVC bustier, black pleated skirt and some sort of binbag-esque cape, Sharon headbangs her way through the set with so much energy it’s amazing that she never breaks song once, the vocals are immaculate and when she stops to mention that guitarist Stefan “…had an accident last week, he has a bruised rib. He’s trying his best, he’s here for you tonight” a roar of approval is elicited from the now densely packed crowd. ‘Our Solemn Hour’ and the refrain “Sanctus Espiritus” have even the clueless chanting along and the energy the band exudes is infectious. With the full force of ‘Stand My Ground’ ringing through the arena, bursts from flame cannons and an elevated platform for lead vocalist Sharon to run around on top of, it’s clear this band mean business. With the addition of some fringed arm gauntlets, a cellist and the help of some smoke cannons the band sail through their jam packed set, with Sharon pausing to ask “This is a male dominated festival… where the girls at?”. Whilst she could of course be talking about the sea of people in front of her, it is a good question raised at the overwhelmingly male dominated main stage acts this year.
Unfortunately a massive sound blunder befalls the unlucky band as they try and fail to start ‘Ice Queen’ once, twice and then “You wanna try for a third time? You sure? Okay, third time it goes otherwise I’m going to skip it… maybe this song is cursed!” yes, you guessed it – on the drop for the third time the PA completely loses its shit again. Of all the places for this to happen though, Britain absolutely love an underdog. The crowd cheers on through a massive drum solo and stick it out for massive finale with ‘Covered by Roses’ and the incredible ‘Mother Earth’. Floating above the stage in a billowy white cape Sharon calls out “We waited ten years to come back here, thank you so much for having us”, and we hope it won’t be another ten years before we see them here again.
You could definitely do worse for your hangover than starting Sunday off with a big old heap of Orange Goblin, who rock the cobwebs right out of your dusty ear-holes, but its Pro-Pain’s chuggy steam roller metal that instantly blows a speaker with their heavy riffs. It’s a pretty good sized crowd in the arena but the effects of possible liver damage and sunstroke seem to be weighing heavy today. Luckily Sepultura are on hand to deliver a downright dirty and dark set, with rolling drum and a celebration of their thirty year anniversary.
Finnish fury Ensiferum take to the stage with a melodic Viking style intro and proceed to windmill their hair in dangerous ways, but the ever creepy Cannibal Corpse really dig deep into the weirdness, singing songs about “shooting blood from your cock” and growling at the crowd “Don’t sit around rubbing your girlfriend’s tits and ass, she’s not here to look at you… she’s here for ME!”.
With all the dark and heavy stuff that’s graced the stage this weekend, it’s a nice change of pace to have Black Label Society providing the rockier edge, and Zakk Wylde sporting a signature flamboyant guitar is as ever shred-heavy and brilliant. Following BLS Bloodstock’s second band announcement for 2016 is revealed to be epic 2012 headliner, Behemoth.
As the skies darken on the final night of Bloodstock 2015 and the painted up zombies come out to play, the stage comes alive with the monstrous legends of film on huge backdrops for headliner Rob Zombie. Whilst this isn’t the stage sets we’ve become accustomed to seeing at bigger festivals, it allows Rob to really showcase himself as the attraction. With some serious dance moves, a good bit of lunge-work and some fairly seductive gyrating, he’s a force to be reckoned with. The rowdy frontman rocks hobo-chic in a way that makes you think vomiting in your own dreadlocks and sleeping in a bog look like it might actually be a good fashion choice, but the music is what’s really pulling us in tonight. No-nonsense gut busting drums, huge riffs and dirrrrty lyrics is what takes Rob Zombie from comedy metal to genius, and absolutely everyone is going full throttle mental for ‘Living Dead Girl’. Especially the female zombies in the audience who actually are living dead girls tonight. A little bit of James Brown funk thrown into the mix does no harm “You can’t listen to metal all day right?” says Rob (and really, who doesn’t want to see Rob Zombie studio-54 it up whilst singing about being a Sex Machine?). Rob is also suitably impressed at the calibre of crowd surfing in the UK “That’s some crazy fucking crowd surfing using a couch… I remember when it was a chair, now it’s a sofa?!”.
Mass crowd pogo-ing, chants of “We wanna fuckin party” and LED lit guitars all add to the spectacle, but it’s being told that “The past few years doing shows in the UK have been some of the most fun we’ve had in twenty fucking years” that really gets us to put our hearts on our sleeves for Rob Zombie, we know Rob, we know we’re awesome at metal. You’re welcome.
Kicking out big blow up balloons into the crowd and dropping a cheeky Ramones cover (Hey Ho, Let’s Go – Blitzkrieg Bop obviously) is great but still doesn’t hold sway against classic (and Guitar Hero favourite) White Zombie song ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’ as the call goes out for “All the young people, put your hands in the air. Now turn around and wave at all the old people in the back. Remember when you used to stand in front?”. A little snippet of fellow gore loving metal icon Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ is snuck in alongside a huge guitar solo, played on the tiniest guitar ever and after a short encore Rob Zombie return for an encore in matching Union Jack trench coats to a massive roar of appreciation from the crowd. We might not be the most outwardly patriotic of countries, but damn do we love it when those treasonous scallywag Americans decide to rock our flag.
Closing out the night with firm favourite ‘Dragula’ is the perfect note to end on, and happy little rotten-to-the-core metalheads go forth into the night satiated after rounds of raucous applause and chants of ‘Zombie’. It’s been an incredible set, night and weekend for Bloodstock-goers and with next year’s tantalising announcements, there are sure to be immediate ticket sales during tomorrow’s early bird release. So it’s with a heavy but happy heart that we doff our caps/bandanas/horned helmets and Stetsons to the BOA organisers and look forward to more exciting announcements about next year’s lineup.