Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the 2009 Bloodstock Open Air festival has gradually moved on from it’s humble beginnings as an indoor one day extravaganza and positioned itself as one of the continents leading metal weekenders. Expanding its scope from its more power-metal-centric beginnings, it now showcases renowned acts that run the gamut of heavy metals associated subgenres, yet never losing focus from it’s appeal, a kind of British Wacken if you will.
Merely a short train ride from Birmingham away, I was at the festival a mere hour after leaving home, and arrived straight to see one of my absolute favourite bands, Richmond, VA’s own MUNICIPAL WASTE. Despite the slight rounding off of their more dayglo-splatter-party-thrash edges on their latest album, ‘Massive Aggressive’, The Waste were without a doubt the most fun band of the festival. Having remained steady visitors to these shores since the 2005 release of their ‘Hazardous Mutation’ album, The Waste were greeted by a near rapturous reception that gradually morphed into full-blown chaos as the set went on. Playing essentially a greatest hits set touching on all four of their full-length albums, we were treated to not only a humungous wall of death, but during ‘Beer Pressure’ the band allegedly attempted to break the world record for the largest number of crowdsurfers during one song. After trying to keep a straight face at the sheer shock that overcame the security guards faces, the sight of nearly four hundred surfers flopping over the barrier (including one poor bastard who was literally flung six feet into the air, subsequently plummeting back to terra firma) like some kind of thrash metal salmon was one of the most enduring images of the weekend, and if I’m honest, of my festival-going life. Closing with ‘Bang Over’, Municipal Waste left to mass applause, with long-term fans and newcomers alike appreciative of the efforts expelled onstage today.
After well-recieved sets from Swedish gothic metal mainstays Katatonia and the first British show in 20 years from teutonic thrash originators Sodom, many could have been forgiven in thinking that SAXON would struggle today, with them being the NWOBHM filling in a thrash/death sandwich. What actually transpired couldn’t be further from the truth, as Biff Byford and his Barnsley warriors served up one of the most memorable sets of the weekend.
Granted, I am in no way a dyed-in-the-wool Saxon fan, as growing up as a child there wasn’t much room for any other bands other than Iron Maiden, but taking the stage with a point to prove and a collective fire in their bellies, they showed how many truly classic songs they had written over the years — personally I was surprised as to how much of their material I recognised. Seemingly annoyed that they weren’t in a loftier position on the bill, Biff had plenty of ammunition for his mid-set banter, and with classics such as ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘747-Strangers In The Night’ (which remained in my head for the best part of a week afterwards) and of course, ‘Denim and Leather’, those who had shown true belief over the years were left vindicated by a remarkable performance of Heavy Metal Thunder at it’s best.
Since their breakthrough album ‘Anthems of Rebellion’, ARCH ENEMY have enjoyed an almost uninterrupted spell of popularity and take to the stage as co-headliners alongside Carcass, with whom they share many musical similarities – hardly surprising given guitarist Michael Amott performs double duty with both bands. Their constant touring has birthed a tight, professional contemporary melodic death metal beast, although this did seemingly lead to a slight sense of going through the motions at times, and despite crowd-pleasers such as ‘We Will Rise’ and ‘Nemesis’, there was a subconscious feeling that Arch Enemy were a little too much indebted to, yet not quite as good as the headliners tonight.
Undoubtedly one of the most important bands in metal history, since their split in 1995 CARCASS have taken on an almost legendary mantle, thanks in no small part to their continuing influence on a multitude of subgenres from Melodic Death Metal, to Metalcore to the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal. Despite the fact that their initial reformation took place last year, the almost 10,000-strong audience welcomed the four-piece onstage like returning heroes, and the rejuvenated Carcass proceeded to carve their way into the psyches of each and every punter with methodical precision, their influential medical-textbook lyrics a convenient metaphor for the manner in which their riffs sliced through the crowd like a morticians scalpel. Drawing from throughout their career, the band covered a lot of bases from their earlier period of gore-obsessed grindcore to the (by comparison) super-polished melodic death stylings of the ‘Heartwork’ and the ‘Swansong’ er, swansong album. After a day of unbridled power and brutality, Carcass were in many ways a perfect headliner for the day (despite the misgivings of Biff Saxon!) and cemented their legacy in the perfect way, that of pure, flesh-ripping sonic torment.
Saturday started with the sounds of Wolf howling from outside my tent, giving way to irritation at the fact that I’d probably missed the Swedish trad-metallers, who last played Bloodstock back in 2007. Still, with a swift beer and burger I was back at the main stage in time to catch THE HAUNTED who have long since moved on from their earlier, Slayer-inspired thrashisms, and have added extra depth and gravitas to their sound, giving their set a fearsome weight. Despite their later albums lacking the sheer impact from The Haunted’s initial entrance onto the scene, the material meshed well with their earlier numbers, and the rousing response was a testament (no pun intended) to their enduring appeal.
Most anticipated band of Saturday for me was easily ENTOMBED, who have been perfecting their trademark ‘Death n’ Roll’ sound for over a decade, spawning a multitude of imitators in its wake. Mixing the earlier, more traditional Swedish death metal of their repertoire with their more groovy moments, Entombed kept things interesting, not least given the fact that vocalist LG Petrov appeared to be arseholed by the time they took to the stage. Highlights included the one-two death stomp of ‘Like This With the Devil’and ‘Damn Deal Done’ from career highlight ‘To Ride, Shoot Straight & Speak The Truth’ as well as a smattering from the breakthrough ‘Wolverine Blues’ album. Closing with ‘Chief Rebel Angel’ Entombed proved why they are held in such reverence by everyone from old-school death metallers to crusty hardcore kids the world over.
Following them were CANDLEMASS, who take the sheer heft of Entombed, slow it down to a funereal crawl, and imbue it with a sense of soulful melancholy. Rightly regarded as doom metal pioneers, their slowmotion take on classic metal was a perfect accompaniment to a sunburnt afternoon. With a set ranging from classic debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus to latest effort Death Magic Doom, and climaxing with a Rainbow cover, Candlemass were another winner today.
I felt that Bloodstock was a little light on black metal this weekend, but with the arrival of ENSLAVED, I was more than happy – if you’re gonna get some BM, you may as well give us some of the very best. With their epic, grandiose take on Nordic black metal, they manage to captivate the gathered audience with riffs seemingly monumental in their scope and range. A real band to lose yourself in, their lengthy, progressive compositions are best experienced at nightfall or in the dark confines of a venue, so their atmosphere suffered slightly, but the strength of their music shone through and ostensibly was over in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately that was the end of my Saturday at Bloodstock, but a mention has to be made of the unfortunate end to the day, in which Cradle of Filth’s headlining set was curtailed due to guitarist Paul Allender being hospitalised after being struck by a gobstopper launched at him from the crowd. A real shame that this is the way the festival will be remembered by a lot of people, COF included, as the audience at Bloodstock- as they always have been- are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered and to tarnish the majority with one thoughtless act is reprehensible. For the record, I personally don’t think COF have made a good album since 1996, but I’d certainly watch them out of curiosity, and if I didn’t like them I’d go and watch something else. I certainly wouldn’t try to ruin it for their fans, which had to be at the very least a thousand strong, if only due to the fear of getting battered. I’d like to think that if the perpetrator was spotted, some swift and brutal metal justice was doled out. Or at least pelted to death under a hail of confectionary.
A late start on Sunday meant that I caught the tail end of Moonspell’s gothic metal before a rapturous roar signalled the arrival of Viking metal berserkers AMON AMARTH. Opening with the title tack from their latest Metal Blade album ‘ Twilight of the Thunder God’, the Norse five-piece whipped the crowd into a frenzy from the off — if hangovers were prevalent today, no one seemed to be showing it, especially not the hard-drinking members of the band.
Whilst labelled and marketed as figureheads of some Viking Metal phenomenon, the band are essentially a death metal act, whose lyrical slant is based on Norse mythology, and a damn good death metal band at that. That said, their material has as much subtlety as a broadsword to the face, yet infinitely more enjoyable, and the perfect soundtrack to a hard night of pillaging. Thor would be proud.
Knowing that work in the morning and Sunday train times would curb the majority of Europe’s set, SATYRICON were essentially my headliners and festival closers. In spite of my sadness of more than likely missing screaming along with ‘The Final Countdown’, I couldn’t have asked for a better closer. Fusing the cold, stark riffage of their earlier output with more straight-ahead rock beats, it isn’t out of place to suggest that Satyricon are the Black Metal AC/DC. Indeed, with the flat out headbanging onslaught of ‘Black Crow On A Tombstone’ it would be impossible to picture a response other than pure unbridled neck damage. Bathed in atmospheric lighting and dry ice, frontman Satyr oozes charisma, clinging onto his monolithic mic stand/trident like a black metal Nemo — or should that be Necro? With other highlights including a vibrant ‘Fuel For Hatred’ and a closing romp through setlist mainstay ‘Mother North’, my festival concluded in an uncharacteristically icy fashion.
And so to another festival, one full of great bands in a great atmosphere with great weather, Bloodstock has again upped the ante for next year, especially given that this weekend saw arguably its highest profile line-up. If you’re into heavy metal in any of its forms you will find something to latch onto, and that’s not even going into the plethora of unsigned bands the festival exhibited on its other stages. With its own enthusiastic audience who left many first-timers moved by their affability, the festival is lucky to possess such a crowd who ensure the atmosphere is lively and good natured — Mr. Everlasting Gigstopper excluded. Next years instalment is sure to build on the best BOA to date.
Review – Duncan Wilkins
Photos – Katja Ogrin