In a blaze of heat and sunshine, not to mention one of the best line ups ever, the organisers of Bloodstock 2012 pulled off the best festival yet with some aplomb. With so much amazing talent, SonicAbuse was charging around the site like mad folk, just trying to hit as many acts as possible, and that’s ignoring the allure of the fairground, the wonders of the tea tent and Hall’s Dorset smokery (our favourite place for food at a festival ever). Quite simply, Bloodstock 2012 was bigger, better, more exciting and more fun than ever before and as a final word we would be remiss if we didn’t sing the praises of the security who were friendly, professional and immensely hard-working (particularly the Scottish gentleman who greeted us every morning – sir, we salute you!)
In the past Bloodstock has always been a place to check out the very best that the metal scene has to offer, both new and old, and this year was no exception. Whether you wanted to headbang like a fool to Machine Head, gawp at the amazing theatrics of Alice Cooper or rock out to the amazing Reign Of Fury, you truly could always find something on worth watching, an amazing feat for any festival, so much so, in fact, that it was hard to find time to eat, shop at the various stalls or brave the toilets (which were actually not too bad).
If you’re a complete idiot then you went online and moaned about Malefice opening the main stage. Everyone else stood in the sizzling mid-day sun and witnessed the band march on to a suitably epic introduction full of malicious intent. A loud, proud UK band it’s hard to imagine a better opening act and as they unleash their vicious, churning riffs, which come tearing off the stage thanks to a fantastic mix, Dale prowls the front of the stage firing up the crowd with commands to “Bang your heads!” and the band’s performance is never less than blistering. By the time of closing track ‘Omega’ the entire crowd, cynical or not, are won over, and it was a proud moment listening to the cheers as the boys left the stage.
Freedom Call, in contrast, do not sound so inspired, their unashamedly old-school metal gathering a reasonable crowd but it sounds somewhat flat compared to the monstrous riffs of Malefice despite an enthusiastic performance.
When it comes to blazing, heroic metal, it doesn’t come much better than Grand Magus who, for a three piece especially, inhabit the stage with such ferocious authority that you’re transported to a different world altogether. With JB in fine voice and new drummer Ludwig a rhythmic powerhouse, it’s a crushing performance with only the solos occasionally losing definition in the generally crisp mix. Sounding as monumental on stage, if not more so, than on record ‘like the oar strikes the water’ devastates the steaming crowd and, indeed, so thoroughly metal are Grand Magus that during their performance, two dragonflies (surely the most metal of insects) are seen to settle on the tattooed leg of a fan in front of SonicAbuse and start mating. The high point of the set comes with a rip-roaring ‘Valhalla Rising’ and then a quick snippet of ‘Dazed and confused’ leads us into the mighty closing torrent of ‘Hammer of the north’.
Maintaining the epic feel of Grand Magus is no easy task, but if anyone can pull it off it’s Moonsorrow who, despite a smaller crowd, attack the stage with aggression and conviction, their blackened soundscapes awash with folk and symphonic influences yet still managing to say resolutely heavier than hell.
A brief trip to the Jagermeister tent sees Birmingham band Dakesis tearing it up in fine acoustic style to an appreciative crowd. Even stripped down to the core, the band are an exciting prospect and as front men go, they don’t come much more enthusiastic, likeable or gifted than Wayne. A rousing ‘Valhalla’ even gets the crowd singing along and there were a fair few Dakesis t shirts floating about over the weekend… big things beckon.
Back on the main stage Iced Earth feel twice as loud as any other band of the day, but the mix is off with the bass overpowering the guitars and generally they don’t seem able to match the epic perfection of Grand Magus. The crowd the band draw is huge and clearly Iced Earth’s darkly fantastic music is ideal for the Bloodstock stage but the vocals start to grate after some time and they are arguably the weakest band of the exceptionally strong day.
Sepultura, however, have been going from strength to strength of late and the field fills quickly as the mighty act take to the stage. Sporting a stripped-down set, Andreas’ guitars sound razor sharp whilst the percussive assault remains unparalleled in modern metal – new drummer Eloy Casagrande fitting in like he’s been in the band all along. Derek, however, is undoubtedly the star of the show and throughout he prowls the stage looking lean, mean and utterly convincing. It is a fast, furious assault the Seps bring down upon us and amidst the classics blasting from the stage we get the awesome ‘kairos’, a devastating ‘convicted in life’, the deadly ‘mask’ as well as an old-school pleasing run through ‘refuse/resist’, ‘territory’ (with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens helping out) and, of course, ‘roots’.
It is easy for people to describe Sepultura in the past tense, but such commentating is lazy in the extreme. Sepultura demonstrated that they are just as relevant as they ever have been and with the material from new album ‘Kairos’ fitting perfectly into the set it is more than clear that Sepultura have plenty of surprises left in them.
As the dusk starts to fall it is Watain who take to the main stage (tragically clashing with Alcest) to perform a mass communion that employs all manner of awesome pyrotechnics to draw you into the band’s blackened heart. With burning crosses flanking the stage, enough fire effects to light up the Olympics and the band’s own atmospheric performance it is a solid preamble to the mighty (and much-anticipated) Behemoth. There is, perhaps, an element of style over content, but there is no doubt that the band can pack a real punch when they choose to and their ceremonial appearance, coupled with the glacial riffs floating off stage mesmerise the swelling audience and for many the performance provides the perfect metallic backdrop for the evening.
For Behemoth this is nothing less than an emotional home-coming for a band cruelly robbed of their performance two years ago after front man Nergal was diagnosed with cancer. With darkness having fallen, the band take to the stage with a song so utterly brilliant any other band would save it for an encore – ‘Ov Fire and the void’ – which simply crushes the huge throng assembled to worship at Behemoth’s blood-drenched altar. The sound is immense, the sense of occasion palpable and it is soon clear that Behemoth are natural born headliners.
It is a remarkable experience, after the fire and the fury of the day, to listen to such surging, technical death metal capped by Nergal’s commanding performance is nothing short of mesmerising. With flaming crosses, the band’s trademark mic stands and songs to die for, Behemoth prove to be the perfect close to a blistering Friday.
Perhaps staying up half of Friday night was a mistake, but it sure was worth it and so we haul ourselves out of bed with just the weakest of groans before heading off to the Sophie stage to catch the awesome Savage Messiah, who were most recently seen touring with Evile. The band hit the stage terrifyingly early and instantly drew a huge crowd, as if from nowhere and proceeded to lay waste to all before them with a blisteringly loud sound and the energy of youth and a fiery passion on their side. The band easily lived up to their promise with a performance that welded searing riffs with soaring vocals with the result that their vicious thrash with a trad twist captured the hearts and minds of all those present and with a bit of luck the next time we see Savage Messiah they’ll be on the main stage where they so clearly belong.
Having missed their slot on Thursday Marionette implausibly appear on the tiny Jager stage to a small but exceedingly appreciative crowd. Dressed for their occasion, their electronics heavy brand of heavy metal deserves a larger stage, but fair play to all concerned for getting them on.
Over on the main stage it’s the turn of Chthonic who appear, somewhat incongruously, in a patch of blazing sun. With a traditional intro paving the way, the band have long deserved a slot on the main stage and their inspirational music and remarkable stage presence demands attention from the off. The sound is huge – sweeping majestically off the main stage, and the band’s commitment to touring means that their performance is a tight, well-honed beast with Freddy and Dorris in particular taking great delight in roaming the sizable stage. ‘Broken charm’ sounds immense and teaching the crowd to say ‘cheers’ in Taiwanese is equally inspired. Stunningly, the band announce that they’re playing not with their own drummer, but Dan Mullins from the legendary My Dying Bride. You’d never know it from the proficiency of the band and sticks-man alike and the crowd roar their appreciation in a huge chant of ‘Taiwan’ at the close of the show.
The pussy-munching Krusher appears next to introduce the legendary Crowbar who have returned to the UK to unleash their ferocious brand of sludge-metal to an appreciative audience. The crowd gathers quickly as a tidal wave of corroded riffs flood from the stage. A rare UK appearance, Crowbar are heavier than the apocalypse and as brutal as ever. Like Sabbath filtered through a cement mixer the riffs shake you to the very core.
Sadly, despite a huge wave of anticipation, Mayhem are not so bold. There’s a feeling of excitement in the air as the band’s legendary logo is hoisted, but following a militant intro the band take to the stage amidst floods of smoke looking unconventionally conventional and lay down a savage black metal that is brutal but somehow lacking in the spark you might expect from this veteran and most controversial of bands. Perhaps it’s the size of the cavernous stage, or the thought of playing in daylight, but Mayhem just don’t make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck in the way that they should and it feels a little like a missed opportunity.
Over on the Sophie stage Witchsorrow make up for Mayhem’s apparent lack of enthusiasm with some proper, old-school doom which opens on a suitably horrific intro before turning the air black with tar-stained riffs and unholy vocals. Worshipping at the altar of Reverend Bizarre and Electric Wizard, the band play a particularly syupy style of doom dedicated, seemingly, to erasing the thin light penetrating the tent with bass-heavy anthems of misanthropy. With a reasonable sized crowd there to appreciate their efforts, Witchsorrow’s dense, unrestrained performance borders on the hypnotic and the band are nothing less than awesome.
Similarly on the New Blood Stage Reflections in exile are tearing the place apart. Corpse painted and surrounded by a dense fog of dry ice, the crowd may not have been the largest, but this is very much a case of everybody else’s loss as the band put on one hell of a show. The singer ranges from helium-fuelled shriek to guttural ferocity – he has an impressive range – whilst the rest of the band are musically tight, unleashing a toxic brew of evil riffs and percussive vengeance. Genuinely powerful, if you dig Behemoth then this home grown mob should be your next stop. As the band announce at one point “Fuck hatebreed! We are louder, we are better, you are better…” They were right you know… Check them out here you will not regret it.
One of the most anticipated bands of the weekend thanks not so much to their legendary status as to the remarkable power of current album ‘dark roots of earth’ Testament are the ultimate tale of determination in the face of adversity and the return of the band to the Bloodstock stage is a joyous affair. With two albums under their collective belt now since their unfortunate hiatus, it is their most recent effort which is a near-perfect thrash masterpiece and as the band’s deafening, epic intro-tape peals out the crowd swells noticeably. The response to Testament’s arrival on stage is nothing short of rapturous and then the band tear into ‘rise up’ (unfortunately with the intro tape still playing in the background for the first verse) which, technical issues notwithstanding, is every bit the mosh-pit creating anthem its authors imagined.
The band are clearly on fire and at their very best, Chuck Billy pulling his trademark air-guitar moves and Alex Skolnick looking as cool as ever as he tears into the songs. It’s an emotional, adrenalin charged performance and Testament look and sound god-like as the golden sun sheds the last of its rays over the stage. Track such as ‘the preacher’ receive a huge response, whilst new songs ‘native blood’ and ‘all American hate’ fit in as if they’ve been there all along whilst ‘in to the pit’ sends the assembled crowd into a frenzy. Let’s hope they come back soon.
As darkness falls it is up to Machine Head to close the Saturday. With the monumental ‘I am hell (sonata in C#)’ the perfect first song for the set Machine Head demonstrate unequivocally that they are the ideal headliners for a festival such as Bloodstock and anyone who foolishly harboured doubts must have felt pretty damned silly as form the moment that the band hit the stage Rob Flynn and co owned the Bloodstock stage. Huge bursts of fire, acoustic interludes, impassioned speeches… the set had it all and more but what set (and has always set) Machine Head apart are the songs. ‘Aesthetics of hate’ (dedicated as ever to the memory of Dime) kicks serious amounts of ass, ‘Imperium’ is still a super-charged anthem of devastating might and whilst the whole band sound awesome, it is Rob’s mighty voice that deserves the greatest amount of plaudits, his vocals ringing out loud and clear. Of course this being a special event (the 20th anniversary of Machine Head’s first ever show) the band are eager to mark the occasion and so five songs from ‘Burn my eyes are aired over the night including a none-more-brutal ‘a thousand lies’, a devastating ‘death church’, a rampant ‘blood for blood’ and the ever-green classic ‘Davidian’ all shot through with highlights from more recent albums, the most notable being a caustic run through of ‘locust’ which bears all the hallmarks of a Machine Head classic, and ‘Halo’. The only slight miss-step is a lengthy speech followed up by the semi acoustic ‘darkness within’ which serves to slow the set down but overall one can only hope that all of the internet flamers who moaned about Machine Head on the bloodstock forums realise just how damned stupid Machine Head made them look – it was an immense show.
As the skies start to darken on the Sunday morning the mighty Corrosion of conformity (surprisingly low down the bill) play to a sizable crowd, their groove-laden metal an apt soundtrack to the near-inevitable hangover. Highlights include a vicious ‘Holier’ which sees the band unleashing the immortal line “In my mind, where’s your God? He’s in your head” and whilst the sound is a little muddy the band turn in a ferocious performance that gets the day going with a vengeance.
No less impressive are Black Dahlia Murderwho delivered their trademark toungue-in-cheek metal to an intense mid-sized crowd that seemingly included a naked man who disrobed and appeared, hoisted in the crowd mid-set. Some things you just don’t need to see…
Acknowledged kings of Egyptian-themed death metal Nile have a rapidly growing throng before they even get near the stage which allows for some unintentional comedy when the compere tries to announce the band before they’re ready, earning himself a stern rebuke from the band in the process. A huge chant finally draws the band on stage and their technical death metal is allowed to run rampant across a steadily dampening field as the long-threatened finally appears. Drawing material from ‘ithyphallic’, ‘black seeds of vengeance’, ‘those whom the gods detest’ and more it is a brutal set generously drawn from across the band’s career but it doesn’t feel quite right somehow. Perhaps it is the earlier technical difficulties, or the cavernous stage swallowing the atmosphere, but in the harsh light of day Nile, whilst still remarkably technical, fail to conjure the atmosphere of their own gigs.
Over on the New Blood stage, however, ‘Reign of fury demonstrate exactly why they should be on a larger stage. With Bison’s vocals piercing a crystal clear mix that renders the guitars razor sharp , they turn in a blistering performance that includes the wonderful ‘Psycho intentions’, a song which clearly fires up the decent-sized crowd (especially as ROF are up against Evile) and sets the pit alight. Reign of fury are fresh, exciting and deserve to be getting many more listeners soon. Testament-esque in places and boasting sweet leads, it is ‘World detonation’ which cements the excellence of the show. Much better in the flesh than on record (and bear in mind the record was awesome) Reign of fury put on an awesome show – make sure you check them out before they turn huge. Find them here.
Evile, meanwhile, we know are awesome. New album ‘five serpent’s teeth’ is the pinnacle of their not inconsiderable career and they just keep on moving up that BOA bill, every time moving closer to becoming the headliners they surely deserve to be. We’re truly privileged to have thrash acts of such power, precision and passion as Reign of fury and Evile, and as Ol announces the darkly beautiful ‘in memoriam’ the song takes on a particular emotional resonance given that this is the field where Evile’s story began. Meanwhile thrashers such as ‘cult’ sound as epic now as it did when it was first aired and Ol’s voice sounds better than I’ve heard it before – his growl is suitably gritty and his clean voice tuneful and rock solid. So there you have Evile – perfect sound, perfect set, perfect show. Tracks such as the rarely aired ‘Centurion’, the brutal ‘infected nation’ and the stunning ‘enter the grave’ all highlight the fact that Evile stand tall with acts such as Testament and Slayer and they just keep getting better.
Next up Anvil are refreshingly jovial and whilst their sound may be sloppy their attitude is endearing and utterly metal. The small but intensely affectionate crowd gather to witness the band’s amped-up, eccentric proto-thrash but while ‘666’ and ‘juggernaut of justice’ rock along in fine style it is ‘13’ that highlights the fact that underneath the messing around Anvil can be very good indeed when they put their minds to it and by the end of their show the crowd has grown considerably.
Paradise Lost, back at BOA and looking pretty pleased (well as pleased as PL ever look, anyway) to be so high up on the bill are one of the UK’s most respected bands and over the course of their all-too-brief set they demonstrate why. Opening track ‘the enemy’ comes surging out of the PA and singer Nick sounds on brutally fine form, whilst it is truly wonderful to see Paradise Lost afforded the respect by a crowd that keeps on growing throughout the set. Classics abound with ‘honesty in death’ fitting right in, ‘forever failure’ receiving a monumental cheer, ‘pity the sadness’ kicking the mosh pit into gear and ‘as I die’ still sounding as good as ever with the crowd chanting along in unison. The only slight blip is the perplexing use of unnecessary backing tracks, most notably on ‘faith divides us, death unites us’ – surely one of the band could step up to deliver such a short line? But all is forgiven when the band smash out closing anthem ‘say just words’ before leaving the crowd sweaty and thrilled after such a glorious set list.
An odd band to see in the daylight, the last time we saw Dimmu Borgir at Bloodstock they were headlining, but this time round the honour belongs to Alice Cooper and so Dimmu appear in daylight looking amazing in their Abrahadabra gear and delivering a brilliantly crisp performance to an appreciative crowd. Tracks such as ‘spellbound by the devil’ sound tighter and more focused than ever, the band a vigerous unit who ruthlessly pursue perfection whilst Shagrath plays the giddy master of ceremonies demanding allegiance at every turn and gaining it, with the crowd willing to follow whatever dark paths he indicates. Tracks such as ‘Dimmu Borgir’ and ‘Gateway’ sound immense and while for a band as typically visual as Dimmu Borgir the stripped down set is a surprise, it is also a benefit as it allows the strength of the songs to shine through without any theatrics blurring the senses. Highlights include the awe-inspiring ‘serpentine offering’, although in truth ICS Vortex’s clean vocals are very much missed, a deathly ‘Puritania’ and the brilliantly epic ‘Progenies of the great apocalypse’ and there is no doubt that Dimmu Borgir are a powerful band and a difficult act to follow indeed.
That is unless you’re Alice Cooper in which case you simply march on stage (well, appear at the top of a giant, cobweb-festooned staircase) and deliver what must be the tightest, slickest, most engrossing rock ‘n’ roll show currently out there. With Vincent Price’s narration introducing the show ‘black widow’ kicks things off and from then on in we’re very much in the world of Alice. This is a real rock show – blazing lights, mental props and songs to die for, Alice Cooper is unstoppable as he unleashes ‘Brutal planet’ with a twirl of his baton, ‘Million dollar baby’, ‘no more mister nice guy’, ‘hey stoopid’ (complete with the largest crowd of the weekend) and many more. A snake is brought out for ‘Snakebite’ whilst ‘wicked young man’ with its disturbing fascist overtones is surely one of Alice’s best tunes in recent years.
With a band who are more than just proficient – they are every bit as into the show as their demented ringmaster – Alice Cooper is the best Sunday closer yet and with a cornucopia of classics, all of which are aired, he simply takes over Bloodstock for the hour or so he’s on stage. ‘Poison’ is a rousing sing-a-long, memories of Wayne’s world are evoked with ‘Feed my Frankenstein’ (are we worthy? Alice seems to think so) and ‘Schools out’, complete with segue into ‘another brick in the wall (part 2)’, is devastating. Put simply no one puts on a better show and Alice Cooper reminded everyone exactly why he’s had a wildly successful career spanning six decades – the man rules. As BOA 2012 closes in an explosion of glitter and applause we file out dizzy with the spectacle we have just witnessed.
BOA 2012 was without doubt the strongest year yet. With decent facilities, friendly security and a sensibly sized crowd it is busy enough to have a strong festival spirit and yet small enough to be able to enjoy it comfortably. The music was ubiquitously excellent and the headliners sublime – how BOA will top it is another matter, but for now we salute the organisers, bookers and behind the scenes folks who made BOA 2012 the best festival of the year.
All photo credits Jola Stiles 2012. If you use them please credit them.