Bloodstock Open Air 2011 @ Catton Hall, Derbyshire, 12-14 August 2011


Another year, another Bloodstock. The UK’s longest-running metal festival returned again with a robust lineup, featuring a vibrant mix of the legendary, the up-and-coming, and Immortal.

My first port of call was to the Sophie Lancaster stage, to catch Scotland’s own gruesome death metallers CEREBRAL BORE already ploughing through their set and the power emanating from the stage was staggering. This being my first exposure to the band I wasn’t sure whether the power emanated from the acoustics inside the tent, much better than that of the main stage — a trend that continued throughout the weekend — or the fact that their guitar sound was so down-tuned and heavy.
Rising above this slamming rumble of contemporary DM was the gurgling, growling, pig-squealing vocal stylings of what had to be a fat, hairy Glaswegian death metaller. But no, this was the work of one Simone Pluijmers, a petite Dutch girl in possession of one of the bands most formidable weapons. Online, many haters have hated, claiming their increased column inches in the UKDM underground have been solely down to this one Unique Selling Point, but vitally, they possess all of the musical chops to back this up; mixing technically adept riffing with a more one-dimensional yet purposefully chugging backbone, topped off with a ludicrous sense of humour.

Whilst OTT lyrics and concepts have been a staple of death metal ever since Cannibal Corpse first ripped entrails from that virgin’s lady part (and Cerebral Bore embrace this themselves with the Josef Fritzl-celebrating ’24 Hour Party Dungeon’), I’ve never seen a band pause their set momentarily to play a sample of long-forgotten 80s pop berk Haddaway’s ‘What Is Love’, a one-time-only moment for Bloodstock, I’m sure.


After solidly caving in hundreds of heads with all the decorum of a one-sided Glasgow estate shoeing, my ears were ringing and echoing the pleas of Haddaway himself — Baby don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me. No more.

However, like a glutton for punishment I hot-footed myself to the main stage where the latest project of one of extreme metals most legitimately important artists were about to start. With his previous acts Hellhammer and Celtic Frost inspiring countless bands in their wake, Tom G Warrior’s TRIPTYKON were formed after the triumphant rebirth of Celtic Frost with 2006’s universally lauded ‘Monotheist’ ended up in a messy dissolution of the act after irreconcilable differences with members of the touring lineup at the time. Triptykon’s debut, ‘Eparistera Daimones’ was instantly acclaimed, a natural progression from the latter day Frost material, bolstered by an even greater emphasis upon doomy primitism.

So Tommy G and his Warriors took to the stage and instantly discharged Celtic Frost’s ‘Procreation of the Wicked’ through a Triptykon filter and levelled all in front of them, with its lumbering, ominous riff stretched out and played at a tempo that regressed beyond merely half-speed, instead played at something approaching prehistoric-speed. Played through his trademark Ibanez Iceman guitar daubed in nightmarish Giger artwork, his guitar sound was one less made of electronic signals and distortion pedals — rather one channelled magickally through the yawning maw of a Megalodon.

The set was perfectly paced, with ‘Goetia’ following, its insistent and irresistible double-bass tempo causing many a head to bang, yet still being able to rein in and use relatively simplistic riffs and slower breaks for optimum dynamism. Every lurching string bend, every chugging palm mute adding to the overall atmosphere, with the frontman’s pleas for god to have mercy upon him marrying nicely to the purgatorial, drudging atavism conjured by the band.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

Frost’s ‘Circle of the Tyrants’ was offered next, with its patented death grunts meaning I could finally cross off ‘hear Tom G Warrior go ‘Ugh!’ live’ from my personal bucket list before the remaining twenty minutes of their set was devoted to album closer, the aptly-named ‘The Prolonging’. As devastating live as it is on record, its slow-burning mix of sludge and repetition making a mockery of those fears that their dark imagery, so commanding and intrinsic to their sound on record would be hampered by their criminally early set time.

It takes a truly great band to force you, on a rainy afternoon in English daylight, to submit to their wills and carry you along on their journey with them, and Triptykon were one of a few bands who I’ve witnessed who have been able to pull it off without sacrificing an inch of what makes them special. I’m sure they would be even more astounding in a packed, darkened club, but this was a triumphant performance on all levels and arguably the performance of the entire festival.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

Over on the Sophie stage, OCTOBER FILE pulled an impressive performance out of the bag despite a relatively sparse turnout given that they were most likely flying under the radar for the majority of the Bloodstock audience. Those that did give them the time of day were treated to an energetic, intense set echoing the likes of Killing Joke as much as it did the harder edges of post-hardcore.

With bass player Steve Beatty marauding around the stage, mouthing the lyrics like a Steve Harris less inclined to sport stripy spandex leggings, the band were clearly enjoying the experience and it reflected in a super-tight, punchy set. Unfamiliarity with the material meant that I felt more of a passive observer, although their fans present were vociferous in their praise — not least one clearly mega-inebriated shirtless fan who pinballed between barrier and floor throughout their set, screaming vague, unintelligible praise at them between songs. Certainly not the quintessential Bloodstock band by any stretch, but definitely one that you can expect to hear a great deal more from in the future.
An ill-thought-out nap meant that I had to hurtle from the campsite scarcely in time to catch teutonic thrash masters KREATOR finish their evisceration of the main stage with a particularly vicious rendition of ‘Enemy of God’. The red, sweat-drenched appearance of the battered bodies limping from the pit exhibited that the preceding forty minutes had seen the Germans do what they do best — pummel you relentlessly with top-drawer, classic thrash metal.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

After the gremlin-ridden disappointment of last years appearance, Canadian arch-lunacist Devin Townsend was back again — this time with a score to settle — with his DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT. Having cut his teeth as vocalist for Steve Vai years ago, the supremely talented Townsend has carved a name for himself as a both a musician and producer of serious merit, firstly with Strapping Young Lad, then via his myriad of projects culminating to them coalescing into their present form.
The set is introduced on the side screens by the space alien glove puppet Ziltoid — one of Devin’s more outlandish flights of fancy — that sees him both verbally sparring with Townsend and the crowd (“Hey you, fat man in the Manowar shirt, barf on my nuts!”) and gives the whole affair a light-hearted undercurrent that instantly gets the crowd on his side. It’s certainly a unique counterpoint to the musical endeavours displayed, with the opening ‘By Your Command’ approaching ten minutes in length and demonstrating the same kind of futuristic, staccato riffing and multi-layered washes of samples and effects that colours most of his work.

Swiftly followed by ‘Supercrush!’ — or, as introduced by Ziltoid – “Supercrush, hippies — Eat shit!”, the vocals of Anneke van Giesbergen of The Gathering fame relegated to backing tape doesn’t stop the whole song threatening to soar and spiral away from the stage cloudwards. Devin’s reliance on backing tracks doesn’t impact on the sound in the same way it was hampered the year previously, making for a more concise and direct approximation of his fabled multi-tracked production style in a live setting.

Clad in a silver-grey suit with his shaved head nestling precariously on top, Townsend looked every inch the extra-terrestrial mad scientist, careering around the stage whilst gurning, funny-walking and pelvic-thrusting at the crowd and anyone who dared glance in his direction. Bug-eyed in his absolute conviction in his material whether it be the gentler ‘Truth’ or the knowingly-OTT, organ-led swing of ‘Bad Devil’, this particular Mr. T was all about playing the fool as opposed to pitying him.


At a celebratory climax, Devin first dragged one of the festival organisers onstage to lead a singalong of ‘Happy Birthday’ in her direction. With one eye kept on atoning for the previous years problems, ‘Vampira’ capped the set, having never been played live before. With gloriously histrionic vocals soaring over a chorus steeped in heavy metal traditionalism, and its grand guignol keyboards exposing it as the Rob Zombie song Rob Zombie wishes he could have written, it acted as a perfect set closer. On one hand expertly played, created with a knowledge of structure and a keen ear for melody and pop sensibilities, but on the other, a wilful, maniacal glee in sending up conventions and subverting form, and generally acting the giddy bollocks.

And so it was left to the most feared terrorizers of the Reagan-era moral majority, of Tipper Gore’s sworn enemies W.A.S.P to close proceedings for the Friday night. Having enjoyed riotous performances by both Europe and Twisted Sister over the past couple of years, the fact that the band haven’t really been taken seriously by the mainstream media over the past decade or so is considered largely irrelevant for the majority of the crowd. At this time of the evening, a days worth of booze in the belly demands nothing more than some classic, brain-switched-off singalong party metal and W.A.S.P were more than up to the task, albeit with a few reservations.

Led by the indomitable Blackie Lawless, attention was piqued immediately with both ‘On Your Knees’ and ‘L.O.V.E Machine’ aired within the first three songs, with sound issues largely absent and Blackie’s voice in surprisingly decent form. Resembling some kind of cross between an unpainted Gene Simmons and Mortal Kombat’s Sindel, he still exuded star power despite ungracefully preening around the stage whilst tottering on stack heels, and making the audience wonder as to whether a girdle is equipped beneath the leather and sequins.

Striking a good balance between tracks from the classic era and their later material, the set was decently paced, with the newer tracks killing time between those identifiable classics, with the likes of ‘Wild Child’ and ‘Chainsaw Charlie’ perfect late-night festival fodder, with crowd participation actively encouraged and lapped up by the boozy hordes.

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Those seeking a deeper meaning behind all this were kept searching as W.A.S.P nowadays have little of the same drive and eagerness to offend the status quo that made their name some twenty-five years ago, instead replaced by just a mere whiff of them going through the motions. Indeed, as Lawless is now a fully-signed up born-again Christian, there would be no exploding chainsaw codpieces onstage, nor any references to fucking like a beast tonight.

That said, the likes of ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’ and the closing ‘Blind In Texas’ are metal classics that cannot be argued with, neither can their inclusion atop this bill. A festival always needs a big-name, good-time show closer, and W.A.S.P delivered on all fronts tonight. It was now time to crash after the exertions of the day, or to keep the beer flowing back at the campsite in eagerness for another day of prime metal, this time reigned over by a certain set of Blizzard Beasts…

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

The lineup on Saturday was mostly made up of various symphonic / power metal bands with a few exceptions — which was fantastic for the large plastic sword-wielding contingent on which Bloodstock have built their success — but not great news for this particular scribe who would have to be more selective with his band choices and take a chance to check out the festival as a whole.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

As ever, Bloodstock catered for its fans more efficiently than the majority of many of the larger, more corporate entities masquerading as festivals nowadays with a variety of food outlets, shops selling the usual array of ridiculous headwear de rigeur at festivals since time immemorial, and most importantly a bar with options outstretching the standard festival fare of watered down beer or cidered up water. It also boasted benches outside, perfect for relaxing whilst still well within earshot of the main stage.
Folk-Metallers Finntroll’s jigging jiggery-pokery was never going to convert me to drinking mead from animal horns, so instead headed to the second stage to catch HAMMER OF THE GODS. This four-piece collective hails from the north and south of England and play a blend of dark, oppressive doom-tinged hardcore metal. Most obviously, they do this whilst wearing togas and/or big massive fuck-off Spartan helmets, straight from the movie 300.

With a vocalist resembling a cross between Keith Caputo and Iggy Pop losing a fight with a sheet yet still in possession of a detached, atonal roar, they had a magnetic frontman for their slab-heavy riffs to orbit around. And despite evidently still being in the throes of the previous nights epic booze damage the charisma generated was tangible.

Musically, they are a little more up-tempo than I’d expected, with the emphasis on chugging hardcore rather than drawn-out doomery, although the huge guitar sound and occasional drops of pace bringing this element slightly to the fore. The immediacy of their riffs are deceptively catchy, which coupled with their distinct visual emphasis will surely make them stand out from the pack.

Of course, performing in the larger tent meant that they had a sound to make each palm-muted chug stretch the skin backwards across your face, making their seemingly too-brief set fly past. Rumoured to include luminaries of UK acts old and new – from Landmine Spring to Winterfylleth — Hammer of the Gods are sure to be featured heavily across the extreme music landscape when their debut full-length finally drops. Like a hammer. Ho ho.

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As a founder member of the legendary Emperor, ISHAHN can lay claim more than most to having indelibly altered the DNA of Black Metal as we know it today. The number of festival-goers who have gathered to experience a rare live outing from the man is a testament to his enduring popularity and the reverence with which he is treated. In terms of whether this is due to his three-album-old solo venture as opposed to his previous works is open to discussion, although those expectantly waiting for an airing of Emperor material were to be left disappointed. The set revolved around tracks from his trilogy of solo albums, which delve deeper into the dramatic, symphonic black(ened) metal that coloured the later Emperor releases.

Despite a starchy, unassuming stage presence that gave the impression of a geography teacher on summer break, Ishahn masterfully led the band with confidence. The six-song set — all of which composed solely by the man himself — exhibited many textures, flavoured with a progressively-inclined desire to expand beyond and weave within the still-relatively-formulaic structures. It is the sense of near-classical grandeur that proves to be Ishahn’s signature, with his epic clean vocals as commanding as ever.

You did feel that many of the nuances were lost at an outdoor festival, with the elements doing their damndest to ruin the atmosphere. The wind was swirling, stealing pockets of sound, and the rain never allowed you to lose yourself in the music — which coupled with the early-afternoon setting constantly reminded you that you were stood in a wet field in Derbyshire.


Ishahn completed the impressive set with the blackened thrash assault of ‘Frozen Lakes on Mars’, and
left to a positive reaction, although the lack of a sure-fire crowd pleasing Emperor cover was the source of much annoyance to some of those watching. However, Ishahn proved this afternoon that the wealth of ideas coursing through the project that carries his name are more than a match for those established in the band that made it.

I also discovered later that Ishahn in fact teaches guitar for a living to pupils at a school back home in Norway, so the comparison to a teacher on summer holidays is entirely valid.

With Ishahn the only main stage attraction other than the headliners for me today, I positioned myself back at the Sophie Lancaster stage to await the arrival of London’s grimy punk aggro-merchants THE ROTTED. Rising from the ashes of the capitals celebrated hack n’ slash bovver boys Gorerotted, this latest incarnation has added a boisterous, swaggering shot of D-beating crust punk into their crudely stitched-together sound.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

From the get-go it was apparent that no prisoners were to be taken, with the outlook defiantly old-school in approach, the dirt under their fingernails a badge of honour. With imposing frontman Ben McCrow leading the charge they demonstrated enviable stage presence, with the swirling dreads of guitarist Tim giving the appearance of a miniature Cthulu taking stage left. The swelling ranks of eager metallers taking refuge from outside and in the company of something a bit heavier were more than happy to oblige them, with a surprising number of fully signed-up converts already moshing for the cause.

Taking stylistic cues from all of the classic DM tropes (Carcass, Entombed, Autopsy) yet played with an intensity only coming from punk rock, the set occasionally suffered from an over-reliance on the tried-and-tested, although as an antidote to the dreary symphonies of Therion and the overblown pomposity of Rhapsody of Fire emanating from the RJD stage it worked a treat. As ugly as a week-old corpse and just as crusty, The Rotted’s upcoming, Russ Russell-produced full-lengther will surely see them raise their game and profile once again.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

By this time, my body was constituted of 10% human being, 85% cider and 5% Immortal corpsepaint so I was rudely awoken from my unplanned afternoon kip outside of the second stage by the opening notes of the headliners although it took another song to rouse Johnny Doom next to me from his! Myself, and probably the vast majority of yet another encouragingly heaving turnout to the tent spent a couple of hours last month in the company of Iron Maiden, on yet another arena-straddling enormotour. I’m guessing that none of us spent that show wondering to the whereabouts of their peers, although this question was answered in quite the dramatic fashion by revitalized NWOBHM survivors ANGEL WITCH.

Their eponymous debut album was released back in 1980, the same year as the fellow Londoners released theirs, and we all know that Maiden propelled off into the stratosphere on the back of it. However, Angel Witch scraped through various lineup changes and other difficulties to remain one of the great missed opportunities of the nascent NWOBHM movement, although it did sow the seeds for them to be acknowledged posthumously as one of the lost treasures of the era, and one of the cultiest of cult bands.

With their legend having grown since their passing, their latest reformation saw vocalist/guitarist Kevin Heybourne assemble a new lineup, not of hungry young up & comers, nor of hoary old rock exhibits either. Instead he enlisted drummer Andrew Prestridge and saw Will Palmer (of UK doomsters Shallow & Sloth) and Napalm Death / Carcass / Firebird guitar legend Bill Steer welcomed into the fold. This lineup generated one hell of a noise on the second stage, a ton heavier that their advanced status would have you believe.


With the band performing under their iconic baphomet logo — as displayed by a multitude of discerning musicians on T-shirts since the eighties — you were transported back in time and really made to feel like you were witnessing something special, with the first five tracks all taken from that classic debut.
It was noticeable how in the years since their demise a number of bands have appropriated their sound and been influenced by their raw, semi-occult metal. The likes of the ominous, soulful ‘Sorceress’ certainly has lived on in like-minded acts throughout the years — Cathedral, we’re looking at you!

After nearly an hour of classic, unadulterated heavy metal sounds, a triumphant set was concluded with their anthem, Angel Witch’s ‘Angel Witch’, taken from the album… ‘Angel Witch’. Featuring one of the most irresistible choruses ever committed to tape (you know, it goes “You’re an Angel Witch, You’re an Angel Witch”) it succeeded in getting the entire tent singing along to the obvious awe and shocked delight of Heybourne himself. I was there, and I can guarantee that no one there in that tent with me managed to scrub the chorus from their memory, at least until they got home and I can’t guarantee that it wasn’t bouncing round their head at work for the rest of the week. And its miles better than Iron Maiden’s ‘Iron Maiden’ from the album ‘Iron Maiden’ as well.

And to the band we’ve been waiting a year for, the Blizzard Beasts of Blashyrkh, IMMORTAL. With the assembled cheers still fresh in our minds from the announcement twelve months ago, the volume was ratcheted up again when the lights started to dim upon the main stage and plumes of thick dry ice crept across every inch of the boards. Having enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the years between their split in 2003 and subsequent reformation, the band have been infrequent visitors to these shores and the Horghs — sorry — hordes of fans filling the main arena demonstrated just how eagerly awaited these Black Metal godheads were, and as a venue, Bloodstock couldn’t have been more suitable.
A powerful barrage of double-bass and a fiery shower of golden pyrotechnic sparks heralded the arrival of the Norsemen, breaking into the title track of their comeback album ‘All Shall Fall’. Frontman Abbath and sidekick Apollyon galloped onto the stage, both resplendent in their gleaming leather and spikes.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

Thankfully, all prime Immortal elements were present — Abbath’s cold riffs jabbing incessantly into your gut, with the aforementioned double-bass assault and heads-down, into-the-abyss blasting from Horgh providing a whirlwind rhythmic backbone. All eyes were focussed on the enigmatic frontman, with his famous Popeye-with-laryngitis vocal style croaking out over the field. A showman more in the vein of Gene Simmons than you’d believe, when not stood, bandy-legged at his microphone, he’d be trotting around the stage, waggling his tongue at the front rows before crab-walking to another section to pelvic-thrust at them.

Musically, the band take influence from and include elements of melodic death metal, thrash and classic metal within their sound, smoothly integrated with their black metal core over the course of their eight studio albums. Aided by a well laid out setlist, it meant that the likes of the Scandinavian melodeath influenced ‘Damned In Black’ could be followed by the more straight-up Black Metal orthodoxy of ‘The Call of the Wintermoon’. To the disappointment of possibly only me, this didn’t see Abbath introduce his wizards hat for a guest appearance, although he did provide us with a textbook death croak — later in the song trumped by a double death croak.


With such a range of material to encompass, the set was brimming over with crowd-pleasers, from the slick, Iron-Maiden-gone-Grimm ‘Solarfall’ to the mid-paced banger, ’Tyrants’, which saw fists, swords and giant plastic inflatable cocks thrust into the air as one. The band could still bring the violence though, with ‘One by One’s high-speed blasting stormwinds making way for a breakdown straight outta the Bay Area. ‘Blashyrkh’ was a welcome highlight, with seemingly the whole field screaming the ‘Mighty Raven Dark’ refrain. In fact the only dampener was the never-ending snap, crackle n’ pop, seemingly coming from Abbath’s guitar which annoyingly permeated every break in the set. It was such a celebratory atmosphere in fact, it didn’t seem like a dampener at all, you just kind of put it down to something to do with all the ice or something and carried on enjoying the show.
Energy levels didn’t drop throughout the crowd all set, and neither did they onstage. Until the end of the show, Abbath and Apollyon were pacing the stage, switching positions, with the vocalist identifiable throughout by his trademark gait and badger makeup shining like a beacon. He’d also managed at this point to develop some new leg kicks like Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. Finishing with the glacial ‘The Sun No Longer Rises’ the band departed to the arguably the biggest and most positive reaction of the weekend.


Sunday was arguably the strongest lineup of the three days, with a bill intended to rouse you from your-self inflicted stupor to get real value from todays proceedings. Stylistically continuing things straight from last night were black metallers 1349, although sadly, that was the only trait they were able to share with Immortal. They struggled fruitlessly with a sound mix still seemingly shaking off its own hangover; and where Immortal looked larger than life in the dark with their lighting and smoke, early on a Sunday afternoon the corpse-painted figures over there on the stage commanded none of the presence.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

PRIMORDIAL were afforded more of the same damn luck, making their long-awaited appearance at the festival after a career spanning nearly two decades of critically-acclaimed epic, black-tinged metal . Having recently delved into their back catalogue I was enthused about seeing how their widescreen celtic vistas would translate live, and initially, all went swimmingly. The opening ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ — lead-off track off their latest album, ‘Redemption At The Puritans Hand’ — opening with a slow-building, brooding atmosphere before the track kicks in proper, all elegant, stately riffage coalescing with vocalist Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill’s brawny, commanding vocals.

With a sound as large and awe-inspiring as the Irish cliffs, and the ethereal atmospheres weaving mist-like throughout, Primordial were delivering a victorious performance, and making a ton of new friends until tragedy struck — Nemtheanga’s voice suddenly deserted him. Unable to summon the domineering vocals with which to lead his band to their final glory, his abject disappointment was etched into his face. It’s certainly not as embarrassing to the general concert-going public as the accidental bee-swallowing antics of Touch’s frontman at the first Donington -or indeed the Cradle of Filth guitarist who had their Bloodstock headlining set cut short by a flying gobstopper — but surely an experience the Irish vocalist will not want to remember for the rest of his days.

His bandmates bravely soldiered on in his absence, but without their charismatic frontman, all their good work seemed to have been undone and the crowd’s reaction was largely built upon sympathy at the conclusion of their set. Surely a Devin-style second bite at the Bloodstock cherry should be theirs next year?

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Thankfully, there were no technical or vocal problems for the next band, most probably given that no gremlins are man enough to dare mess with the righteous anger of everyone’s favourite grindcore progenitors, NAPALM DEATH. Making their second appearance across Catton Hall, the relatively early time did little to dampen the rage and savagery emanating from onstage. With a setlist spanning both their early developments in grind through to their latter day material, the distinction was clear between both eras despite a somewhat muddy sound. Their earlier material revelled in their more simplistic riffery and looser structures, whilst the more recent numbers were finely honed and technically adept.

The likes of the opening ‘Strongarm’, ‘Diktakt’ and ‘Next On The List’ are reminiscent of the lean, fat-trimmed grind of Nasum (the much-missed Swedish grinders who arguably are responsible more than anyone for Napalms early 2000’s renaissance period). The styles of grindcore – but also death metal and hardcore — are distilled to its purest essence til nary a fleck of meat can be found atop their sinewy compositions.

With frontman Barney Greenway propelling around the stage, forever bound by that invisible bungee cord of his, the band give as much energy as is generated by the relentless, pulsating blastbeat undercurrent, courtesy of Danny Herrera. Guitarist Mitch Harris wrenches Napalm’s giddily aggressive riffs from his flying V whilst providing his signature screeching backing vocals, head tilted back like a Velociraptor doing his best Lemmy impression. Meanwhile, bassist Shane Embury seems to be attacking his bass as opposed to merely playing it, with an energy and hunger that puts many of his peers to shame, some of which are arguably at least twenty years his junior nowadays. There’s not a second where his trademark mop of hair isn’t plummeting downwards in a blur of aggression, albeit with a tangible sense of still feeling the music, even though some of the tracks are nigh on twenty five years old now.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

With a brace of covers — Cryptic Slaughter’s ‘Lowlife’ and the Dead Kennedy’s fascist-baiting ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’ – nestling amongst tried-and-tested classics such as ‘Unchallenged Hate’ and ‘Suffer The Children’, the dust cloud rising in front of the stage like the angel of death’s wingspan emblazoned across the cover of ‘Scum’ is testament to the enduring appeal of Napalm to not only the grind freaks, but to metallers of all shapes and sizes. Of course, the glee emanating from this writer reached fever pitch whenever the band delved into their first two albums, with classics such as ‘Scum’, ‘Lucid Fairytale’, ‘Social Sterility’ and ‘Life?’ aggressively bursting from the PA with their churning, Celtic-Frost-gone-Repulsion riffs and guttural, dog-barked vocals. I’ve definitely witnessed more in-your-face, more concussive performances from Napalm over the years, but even in a well-lit field on Sunday afternoon, they took no prisoners and left to a reception befitting a truly legendary, ground-breaking act.

From one set of bona fide legends to another, this time in the form of AT THE GATES, who are making their second appearance at Bloodstock after their initial reformation back in 2008. Much to my chagrin I didn’t attend that particular instalment of the festival, and like many others, I was resigned to the fact that my chance had passed to witness the Swedish five-piece gracing a stage. Thankfully, the metal gods saw fit to smile over Catton Hall, enabling me to finally catch this most influential of extreme bands in a live setting.

Opening with the title track of their genre-shaping swansong, ‘Slaughter of the Soul’, ATG were granted arguably one of the best main-stage mixes of the whole festival, ably recreating the sound of that inherently important album in a live setting. Frontman Tomas Lindberg cut a feral figure, stalking the perimeter of the stage, the ‘Devil Rides Out’ Satan emblazoned on his Cursed T-shirt (ten scene points there, sir!) staring holes through the audience in unison. By the time the first song had ended, we’d been treated to enough razor-sharp, thrash-riddled melodic death metal to make clear that we were on to a winner here.

The classics kept coming, the likes of ‘Terminal Spirit Disease‘ lashed outwards into the crowd like razor-lined whips, ‘World of Lies’ steamrollered across us like a tank slowly rolling forwards at headbanging speed, and ‘Cold’ negated its own chorus as it was blatantly clear that the dead were in no way the only ones smiling. As the reptilian guitar lines of ‘Suicide Nation’ intertwined and rained down upon us from a serpent sky it was becoming increasingly hard-pushed to imagine what this lot would have been like live in their heyday.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

Finishing the set with a frantic, race-to-the-finish-line blast through ‘Need’, the band left the stage, and for a moment or two actually convinced me that the show was over, albeit with one massive great fuck-off exclusion. Ah no. The ominous sample that opens ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ crackled through the PA, its static transferring into the crowd by way of bristling, eager expectation. Then ‘Blinded by Fear’ kicked in, and all was right with the world. If your idea of ‘right’ is a massive, teeming moshpit of course.

For some — most likely those who were present three years ago – this set may have acted as more of a consolidation of ATG’s timeless brilliance rather than a heart-stoppingly triumphant return; but for me especially, this set was awesome. There was no sense of the reformation acting as a mere money-spinning exercise, and the set was played with conviction, skill and heart. And besides which, I’d been waiting three more years then the rest of those buggers, so I win.

Before decamping to watch Leather Dave and his Morbid Angels, I headed to the unsigned set to catch the last half of LIFER’s headling set. These Newport reprobates share DNA with long-missed cosmic wreckheads Acrimony and downright bastard hooligans Black Eye Riot, and they didn’t sound too far from the results of a boozed-up car wreck between the two bands.

As their name suggests, the band do owe a particular debt to Down, although with hints of the twin Blacks — Flag and Sabbath – liberally scattered throughout. Roughly-hewn sheets of metallic abandon clattered against beer-breathed, bad attitude street punk with imposing frontman XXXX still managing to instil his gravel roar with plenty of emotion.

Drawing from their debut record, ‘Cursing Them Out’, Lifer managed to impress all of the respectable crowd with a heart-felt, aggressive set, that with greater exposure will appeal to fans of Down, Black Label Society, and other tried-and-tested booze soundtracks. If the whole point of the unsigned stage is to get out there, put on your best show and try to attract as many new fans as possible, then Lifer scored a real win today.

This time twelve months ago, the main support on the final day were one of the absolute legends of classic Death Metal, Cannibal Corpse, who pulled off a memorable and well-received performance. Fast forward a year and another mob of DM legends are primed to warm up the RJD stage, in this case Floridians MORBID ANGEL. Despite being responsible for creating some of the most timeless brutality of all time, there was a tangible nervousness in the crowd, with Morbid Angel having released the most divisive record of their career in the shape of ‘Illud Divinum Insanus’.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

The somewhat overdramatic fear of having their idols take to the stage and taking a long, steaming slash all over their legacy meant that they were greeted with not quite the rapturous (pun fully intended) welcome befitting a band of such lofty stature. Evidently, the flirtations with techno and industrial on their last opus had tarnished many peoples enthusiasm, although it would be quite the disservice if anyone suggested that the band had lost their touch, as the setlist deftly covered all bases and only the grumpiest of shits would have found fault with what was played.

Bursting out of the traps with a rabid, utterly unfuckwithable quartet of ‘Immortal Rites’, ‘Fall From Grace’, ‘Rapture’ and ‘Maze of Torment’ — all culled from their genre-shaping first three albums — it was as if this was the fabled Morbid Angel of old. Despite increasingly turning into a death metal version of Nikki Sixx, the imposing frame of the returning David Vincent, coupled with his gruffer-than-gruff vocals made for quite the commanding frontman; and with Trey Azagthoth running those famous spidery fingers up and down the fretboard with malevolent dexterity they demonstrated a stage presence befitting their legendary status. In the absence of the crocked Pete Sandoval, Tim Yueng’s frenetic technical high-speed blasting was impressive although lacking the sheer elemental power of his predecessor.

‘Existo Vulgore’, ‘Nevermore’ and ‘I Am Morbid’ were the only tracks aired from the latest record, and playing them in a row, in the middle of the set seemed designed to pre-empt any negative vibes from the crowd, although the choice of newer numbers were played safe, with none of the electronic flourishes or danceable beats that aggrieved so many of their fans. Personally, I would have been interested to see maybe just one of the more controversial numbers played to gauge the reaction, as in playing it safe suggested that maybe the band aren’t standing up for the record to the same extent that they suggest in the press.


Swiftly returning to their tried & tested, they upped the heaviosity stakes with powerful versions of ‘Where The Slime Live’ and ‘God of Emptiness’, with the immense riff of the latter slowly crawling through the field, its atmospheric, intimidating riff cracking branches in its wake, almost Lovecraftian in its colossal menace. Having been one of my favourite tracks since first seeing its memorable video on Headbanger’s Ball almost fifteen years ago, I was completely chuffed to finally see it performed live, although I had to keep checking under my shirt just to make sure I hadn’t started to sprout demon’s wings (YouTube the video to make sense of that!)

Finishing the set with ‘World of Shit’, everyone seemed to gasp a sigh of relief, given that no legacies were piddled upon. Granted, the band chose to play safe rather than giving some of their more controversial new material a chance to shine in a live setting, although who in their right mind could claim that playing a crowd-pleasing set on a lofty position at a festival was a bad idea?
And finally, to the Sunday headliners and final band of Bloodstock 2011, a relatively popular and well-regarded combo known as MOTORHEAD. Surely these would be the perfect headliner, a band known to everyone who has ever even glanced at a guitar. Whilst I’ve probably thrown the term ‘legendary’ around more than once this weekend, usually to acts within the relatively confined scenes of Black & Death Metal, Motorhead are the one band this weekend that can legitimately have that tag attached to them, having enjoyed a career of staggering longevity but without — for the most part — compromising their ideals.

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2011

And with the crowd gamely brushing off hangovers and tiredness to welcome them onstage like heroes, it was a real surprise to find the Motorhead who took to the stage a shadow of what their legend would have you believe. From the outset, there were no real noticeable issues, the trio taking to the stage with their famous biker-gang swagger led by the indominable figure of Lemmy, cowboy hat atop his world-weary visage, Rickenbacker strapped to him like a rifle. ‘Iron Fist’ opens proceedings, with their fabled snaggletoothed speedball of gnarled blues, hard rock and bost-nosed punk aggression, swiftly followed by ‘Stay Clean’. It was hard to gauge that this performance wasn’t quite up to scratch from the first few tracks, but the cracks started to show soon after.


Lemmy’s between-song introductions seemed slurred and just a wee bit pissed off for some unknown reason, even though he had a packed field hanging on his every word. The sound wasn’t too shabby, although certainly not as loud as they proudly declare on most of their merch, but the main concern was twofold; the relative brevity of their set, and the numerous omissions that you would swear would be in a set by the ‘Head (‘Overkill’ and ‘Bomber’ two prime examples). I know W.A.S.P weren’t fucking like beasts on Friday night, but at least Blackie Lawless has the excuse of doing it for god nowadays. (Now that’s a statement I never thought I’d hear myself utter) For a band closing arguably the UK’s premier heavy metal festival, these sins seemed almost unforgiveable.


Thankfully, the set concluded with ‘Killed By Death’ and the ‘Ace of Spades’ so at least we were sent home happy, but it seemed a case of too little, too late and the fact that they finished 20 minutes early meant that this edition of Bloodstock suffered a mediocre close to proceedings this year. Needless to say, the rest of the weekend was comparable to previous editions — great atmosphere, a real sense of community, and a veritable smorgasbord of the best in multi-genre Heavy Metal, just a few miles up the road from its spiritual home. See you next year.

Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin


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