Bloodstock 2010 Review – Friday

Ross the Boss w/ Scott Columbus

It’s Friday the thirteenth, and it’s become a wet afternoon in the black country. When Manowar wrote ‘Hail to England’, chances are it was a field not too dissimilar to this one they were thinking of. A field full of damp denim, wet leather, poorly chosen haircuts, and fists raised as far as the eye can see.

Although billed as playing early Manowar material, the lion’s share of the set is taken from Ross’s own ‘New Metal Leader’, and its during these songs that both he and the band seem most comfortable. While their cover of ‘Catch the Rainbow’ is poignant and well received, it’s the true metal anthems we all come for, and, well, we leave happy.

That’s the power of former Manowar Guitarist Ross ‘the Boss’ Friedman.

We’ll even forgive him for Joey DeMaio.

When they play ‘Thor’ or ‘Hail and Kill’ it’s almost Manowar karaoke, but stripped of the battleaxe and loincloth schtick. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is one for the ages.

Ensiferum

Strangely, the weather seems fitting for the folk-soaked-Viking-metal(©) ME) peddled by Ensiferum. And their kilts. I realise I’m watching a half-naked group of skirted men who appear to be burning something, while they scream about Thor knows what.

Ensiferum are FUN. With a typical Scandinavian resolve to not play by any rules, they play a set consisting mostly of songs lifted off of ‘From Afar’, and the inherent diversity goes down a storm. The Morricone-esque outro to ‘Stone cold metal’ jarred a bit on record, but inspires more grinning and arm-in arm dancing than can be seen with the naked eye.

So what if they didn’t play ‘Lai Lai Hei’? They disappear on a slap bass detour and close with a snippet of Dick Dale’s ‘Miserlou’. And that’s good enough for me. If you can find a better way to spend three quarters of an hour in Lichfield on a wet Friday afternoon, keep it to yourself, because even if it IS legal, it’s probably a bit deviant.

Cathedral

Stepping in for a seriously ill Behemoth, it is obvious that Cathedral should have been on this bill all along. This IS the midlands after all, and the Sabbath-via-punk doom of Cathedral was written in and for place like this. The grand overlord of Doom himself Lee Dorrian near single-handedly brought the sludge sound out of the seventies and gave it a new rage and despair. I think that’s what you get for being in Napalm Death.

From the off, Cathedral lunge into a set littered with the songs with the most awesome titles known to man: ‘Vampire Sun’ ‘Utopia Blaster’ ‘Funeral of Dreams’. Songs which thunder both through and around you, like the ghost of a psychedelic bulldozer.

Driven by a gorilla made of smoke. A gorilla who’s loaded on bad acid, dirty resin and cheap cider.

It’s also stunningly clear: Cathedral’s home turf, the Midlands, IS a twisted hybrid between the Birmingham wasteland which gave birth to Sabbath in the sixties, and the sun bleached desert a red-eyed Kyuss crawled out of.

They close with a mighty rendition of ‘Hopkins (Witchfinder General)’. Lee dances EXACTLY like he does in the video. But this time, you aren’t smirking at him – you want to be able to dance like he does.

Gorgoroth

For a while there, I wasn’t sure who we’d ever see again under the Gorgoroth banner. But with all that legal chicanery done and dusted, and Gaahl and King ov Hell now playing as God Seed, Gorgoroth are back to plying the infernal racket they always did.

And it’s LOUD. Pest shrieks, wails, moans and chatters like the cenobite Clive Barker was too scared to mention, and the band themselves throw out the most angular and ugly riffs the main stage sees all weekend. Blastbeats rip through the crowd as the squall of metal that pours out of the PA turns chaotic one minute, to tight and focussed the next. Gorgoroth were never known for over polishing their studio output, here it’s so raw you can almost smell the blood.

And you either like it or you hate it. It’s utterly divisive. The way true black metal should be. This is music to dress like the dead or worship unholy gods to, without a doubt. If their set is anything to go by, their next album WILL be a corker.

Sonata Arctica

Power metal is a tricky one. In some circles, its commonly viewed, as something a bit on the daft side. Then Dragonforce happened, and they wore the power metal badge (albeit with the Extreme-Speed prefix) with a camp pride that left most power metal bands in a quandary –go the Helloween route and stay serious, or embrace the fun.

Finland’s Sonata Arctica chose a third way, and went prog. Albeit, ‘prog via somewhere else entirely’. It may seem like an acquired taste, but, globally, they’re surprisingly popular.

Today, however, it’s a set heavy on songs from ‘Days of Grays’, described by the band as being darker, and less complex than it’s predecessor. So, it’s not quite prog, but it’s still not quite ‘true’ power metal either. The purple Keytar may or may not be symptomatic of this.

Initially beset by sound difficulties which leaves the vocals WAY too low in the mix, we’re given what could be the new way to soundcheck – yodelling. Still, once the mix is finally sorted out, Tony Kakko can finally be heard properly, and the prog/power mix begins to shine. The crowd seems split between those who love the (relatively) new direction, and those who yearn for the older, more metallic material. Until the closing ‘Vodka song’ brings back the daft, and we all go mental.

Meshuggah

It’s hard to talk about Swedish death metallers Meshuggah without using phrases like ‘poly-rhythmic’ or ‘polymetered’, ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental’, or ‘post-thrash’, ‘post-death’, ‘post-math’…… and so on.

All you need to know is, it’s really angry, it’s REALLY complex, you can’t dance to it, or even really headbang to it.

In a live environment, it’s astonishing. Thanks to the multiple time signatures, the band drift in and out of time with each other, sometimes mid-song, mid verse, or even MID-RIFF. When any of the constituent parts align, you can feel entire dimensions quake.

It’s intense, it’s bewildering, its taut, technical and aggressive, and it seems to affect the way your brain works: its only when the rest of the Sonic Abuse team find me halfway through a colossal rendition of ‘Stengah’, that I snap back from god only knows where, thinking god only knows what. Seriously, given a big enough crowd, I could still be out there somewhere.

Powerwolf

Amazingly, this is Powerwolf’s debut UK show. Why this German-Romanian-operatic-power-metal-werewolf-concept band haven’t been here before is a mystery.

Because they’re good.

Very good.

“Leap around, punch the air, growl, howl, sing and shout” good.

I’m almost tempted to say it’s your standard ‘twin guitar attack’, but I can’t: ‘Saturday Satan’ has a riff that sounds like it’s been pinched from the eighties, but you don’t quite know from where exactly. By the time you’ve run through a roll call of the NWOBHM luminaries, you realise a) that the band you are watching HERE and NOW is better than most of the ones you can remember, and ALL of the ones you can’t, and b) that it was a pretty pointless exercise, because they’re now playing ‘In Blood We Trust’ and you’re still none the wiser. So just leave that nostalgia at the door and live for the moment.

Oh, and then there’s Attilla Dorn. It’s so refreshing hearing vocals that don’t fit the roar/shriek/squeak model that a lot of bands stick to, and to hear someone actually BLOODY SING FOR A CHANGE.

‘Werewolves of Armenia’ has such instantly an accessible call and response, that the dual crowd-baiting of Attila and Falk soon has a newly devoted mob baying for more at the end of every song.

(Actually, Falk deserves special mention here – I’ve never seen a frontman/keyboard player before. Every band needs one.)

If you like power metal, they’re the best power metal band you will ever see.

If you don’t like power metal, don’t believe whoever it was that told you they were a Power-metal band: they’re a metal band, and you HAVE to go see them.

Opeth

On the face of it, this should be easy. A band at the top of their game, playing a magnificent set, which included a heart breaking tribute, stage banter which is by turns touching, baffling and frustratingly humble. In reality, describing that hour and a half is excruciatingly difficult. Not too dissimilar from the band themselves.

Snippets and sound bites are easy – Opeth play progressive death metal, with melancholy folk leanings, ‘The Moor’ and ‘Deliverance’ are captivatingly beautiful and hauntingly tender.

Trying to describe Opeth in further detail is near impossible. Opeth specialise in laments to lost…. well, anything really. Chance are there will be a hook, line or growl that will grab you, by heart, gut or throat and hold your fascination for hours.

That hook will make you reach to play the song or album again, make you seek out someone with an Opeth t-shirt, just so you can endlessly repeat ‘Oh MY GOD!” at each other.

By the time they take the stage, the sun has been down for a while, and there’s already a chill making itself felt. Smoke jets in from either side of the stage, and when they meet they are forced upward, where they mix and snake across a giant Opeth logo.

They open with ‘Windowpane’ and deliver a 9 song set, covering pretty much every one of their 9 albums (only ‘Orchid’ and ‘Morningrise’ aren’t represented).

I lose track at one point, to be honest, and realise that while they’ve only played 3 songs, they’ve been onstage for half an hour. One of the opening songs MUST have ended up being about 20 minutes long, but it’s a testament to the band, that I can’t tell you for the life of me which one it was (there was a choice of “Windowpane”, ”The Grand Conjuration” or ”The Lotus Eater”, all of which are likely candidates.)
While they play, you exist somewhere else. It’s been a long, wet day. My feet have been aching for hours, but I only notice when the roar from the crowd that greets the end of every song brings me back round. Mercifully, once they strike up the next number, I’m lost in the swirling riffs, and for all I care, I could be standing on coals.

Despite being the frontman for one of the most acclaimed bands…. well, ever, I guess, Mikael Akerfeld still manages a down to earth rapport with the crowd, and its never short of odd. . The self deprecation is charming at first, then takes a turn into the frustrating.

When Mikael introduces a cover of Rainbows ‘Catch the Rainbow’, you can feel the band and crowd tense. This IS the Dio stage, and Opeth are headlining in HIS place. For once, the humility reveals what could a chink in the band’s armour; and while we ARE told that it would be better to listen to the song at home, in its original form, the live version we are treated to is stunning. For the rest of the night any conversation that mentions Opeth will mention THAT cover.

When the closing strains of ‘Demon of the Fall’ shimmer and fade out, you realise that, yes, they didn’t play song ‘x’ but you don’t really care. This was something special.

All photos by Jolka Dabek

Words by James Dillon-Lee

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