If you’ve not been, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bloodstock is just another festival, as good (or not) as any other. In many ways, and superficially, that’s a fair assessment. You’ll find the same selection of food, the same vile-smelling toilets and the same battered tents as you’ll find at any other festival, that’s for sure; and if the weather turns mean, you’re in for menacing time that will cheerfully equal any of the other mud baths that seem to form at UK festivals over the course of what passes for summer here. However, that is where the comparisons end because, more than anything else, Bloodstock is a community that is both open and accepting. For the uninitiated, Bloodstock is a chance to both meet casual acquaintances and make lifelong friends; for the returning visitor it’s a chance to hook up with an extended family that come together year-on-year to share a fierce passion for music that is reflected in an eclectic line up in which established acts and new artists rub shoulders across a series of stages that offer something for any discerning metal head.
Arriving on Friday morning (thanks to the vagaries of work) it doesn’t take long to park, find a camping space and pour the first beer thanks to the festival’s compact size and the superbly friendly guidance of the security team. As a result of its location in the rural heart of Derbyshire, Bloodstock is not one of those festivals that seems to dwarf the horizon. Instead, it appears majestically as you round a bend in the road and suddenly its upon you with everything neatly laid out. With minimal fuss you’re inside and exploring an arena that’s filled with every sort of delight, whether its rare vinyl or band t shirts you’re after. Well laid-out, the festival is easy to navigate with every stage easy to get to and plenty of bars and food outlets dotted around all of which goes a long way to maintaining the relaxed and friendly vibe of the place despite the extremity of the music on offer.
Having set up and grabbed a beer, for us it’s a quick trek straight to the Hobgoblin New Blood stage to see Garganjua. The stars of the recent Uprising festival (and what an event that was) it’s amazing to note just how much Garganjua have come on since they opened that event. Ethereal, majestic and the best they’ve ever been, Garganjua pull a large crowd which only seems to grow as their set progresses. The songs, drenched in reverb and thoroughly atmospheric run the gamut from doom to stoner but the emphasis is always on creating an otherworldly feel that too few bands successfully capture. Theirs is a perfect start to our festival and I expect to hear much more from these guys in the future. 8
Heading over to the Sophie Stage we catch up with The charm the fury. Heavy as hell, the band employ a devilish groove but the sound proves muddy in places and the songs have a tendency to blend into one over time. However, the band’s vocalist, Caroline Westerndorp, is most impressive and her powerful vocals and clear stage presence overcome the sonic murk as she belts out the songs with passion and fury, whilst Rolf Perdok lays down some seriously impressive solos. The band clearly impress the crowd who become increasingly vocal as the show wears on, but they could have done with a better sound form the get go. 7
A classic band in every sense, Corrosion of Conformity, well… What can you say? Bluesy, heavy and cool… This is a band that are largely untouchable and, as they lay waste to the main stage it’s clear that the crowd agree. Songs like ‘Albatross’ and ‘clean my wounds’, wisely left until the end, have yet to lose their charm and there’s a power and passion that belies the band’s lengthy heritage. 8
Next up is the legendary Venom who look thoroughly out of place playing in blazing sunshine but who otherwise lap up the adulation bestowed upon them by the crowd. Kicking ass as you might expect, the band bring out the big guns at the set’s conclusion, devastating the field with proto-thrash classics like ‘black metal’ and ‘Countess Bathory’. Throughout Venom are confident and loud and their show proves thoroughly enjoyable. 8
The usually excellent Behemoth take to the stage and proceed to play the whole of excellent recent album ‘the Satanist’ in full. Hugely atmospheric on record, it seems to lose some of its menacing, hauntingly progressive qualities on such a large stage. Whilst the brutal opening blast of ‘Blow your trumpets Gabriel’ is suitably immense, the remainder seems to lack the twisted power of which Behemoth are so easily capable although there is still much to enjoy from these Polish harbingers of the apocalypse. Given the strength of the album being aired, Behemoth should have owned the day, but instead they felt a trifle muted as the set wore on. 7
And so it falls to Twisted Sister to conclude the day’s proceedings. In all honesty, I’ve never been a huge fan of Twisted Sister, but the band’s performance in 2010 was an unexpected highlight of that year’s Bloodstock and I was curious to see if they could pull off the same trick twice.
Twisted Sister played with a ferocity that should serve as a lesson to all bands who wish to headline in the future. No band should have so much energy, least of all one of their farewell tour, and yet the band, ably assisted by the seemingly ubiquitous Mike Portnoy, deliver a set of classics that is so infused with energy it could power a small town. Dee Snider remains a consummate showman and the band pull out all the stops, unleashing tracks like ‘Burn in hell’ (delivered with a brutality that surely explains Dimmu Borgir’s decision to cover it), ‘Destroyer’, ‘The fire still burns’ and ‘I am I’m me’ in a non-stop parade of hits that leaves the audience breathless. Tracks like ‘I wanna rock’, ‘The price’ and ‘I believe in rock n roll’ that truly set the blood pumping through the veins, whilst evergreen classic ‘We’re not going to take it’ is extended to ludicrous levels, engendering a mass singalong that threatens to leave the entire crowd hoarse by the next morning. Holy hell it’s an amazing set and an amazing farewell to a band who seem to really mean it (“this isn’t some Black Sabbath / Kiss farewell” quoth the big man) and it brings the first day of Bloodstock to a perfect close. 10
Waking up with bleary eyes and heads that feel like they’ve been used as a communal toilet by a herd of particularly unfeeling elephants does not bode well, but a touch of breakfast followed by the seething might of main stage openers cambion is all we really need to get back into the swing of things. The band kick things off with bruising melodies, and technical might, and by the set’s conclusion the daylight is starting to feel less threatening. 7
Feeling refreshed, it’s off to the Sophie Stage for the astonishingly good Heretic order. With the stage wreathed in smoke and blood red light, the band deliver epic rock ‘n’ roll straight from Satan’s den. The band prove tight, ferocious and offer up plenty of hints of motorhead over the course of a glorious set that is surely bigger than such an early slot suggests. Songs such as ‘Snake’ (About Satan who has, apparently, been sorely misinterpreted) offer brilliant slabs of doomy metal, whilst ‘Evil Rising’ and ‘burn witch, burn!’ are classics in the making. Make no mistake, The Heretic Order are phenomenal. 9
Speaking of phenomenal, Leicester’s own stoner-doom institution Mage take to the stage to a cheer that damn near rips the roof off. It’s impossible for any of us to know how we might handle a devastating personal experience, but there is great strength and inspiration in the way that the musicians of Mage have pulled together to overcome the tragic loss of guitarist Ben Aucott, paying tribute to their fallen brother with great respect and great love. Throughout the show, there’s a feeling of sadness but also of celebration in the air, and it feels right that the band should be here at Bloodstock, playing these songs once again. Certainly there’s no denying the power of tracks like ‘Old Bones’ (from cracking album ‘last orders’) whilst a personal favourite in the form of ‘Cosmic Cruiser X’ (from ‘Black Sands’) demonstrate exactly why the band are so beloved. An emotional and poignant performance, then, but a cathartic one that sees a talented group of artists crafting something positive out of truly appalling loss. 9
The chance to see Greg Mackintosh’s stunning project Vallenfyre is not to be missed and so it’s off to the main stage to receive a sound battering from a band who draw on the seething power of early Amebix, Paradise Lost and their ilk to deliver a monstrous set that leaves the audience stunned and broken. Bearing a similarly mordant sense of humour to Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes, Greg is a brutal frontman who mixes dry, inter-song announcements with gut churning roars that seem to emanate from the blackest recesses of his soul. Tracks like ‘Cathedrals of dread’ come across better in the blistering sun, with the faster tracks getting a touch lost in the mix, but by the time we get to ‘Savages arise’ (“dedicated to the chavs that hound me every day of my life!”) and ‘splinters’, the band have locked into a ferocious, doom-laden groove that only improves when they dig deep to unleash debut single ‘Desecration’ as the show-stopping finale. 9
Less impressive are Akercocke who appear under-rehearsed and surprisingly sloppy. We soon escape their blackened weirdness and head over to the New Blood stage to see what darkness stirs within. It’s a shame because there’s a great deal of ambition within the band’s music, but it just does not translate well despite the energy the band put into their performance. 4
One of the weekend’s great surprises are Scottish Metal 2 The Masses winners, Ramage inc. Super tight, heavy as hell and with interesting, melodic vocals the band are just brilliant from start to finish. With elements of Devin Tonwsend shot though their DNA, Ramage inc. deploy epic, pop-infused songs that perfectly combine the fury of metal with the sort of melodies that lodge in your head forevermore. The band make a lot of fans in their depressingly short set and I cannot wait to hear more from them – they were simply fantastic. 9
Also massively impressive are Greek Legends Rotting Christ who take to the stage with imperial grace and proceed to assault the audience like the legions of yore, grinding out their dark, mesmerising black metal with a precision that is all the more menacing for its methodical nature. Loud, slow and deliberately brutal, Rotting Christ seem to absolutely revel in their performance and, as they tear into ‘the sign of evil existence’ it becomes clear that, for the faithful, Rotting Christ have just delivered one of the sets of the day. 8
Over on the New Blood stage are another band fresh from Uprising. Recently signed and with a killer EP in ‘I’, Conjurer are dark, dense, hypnotic and violent. Bassist Andy Price remains an intimidating presence whilst guitarists Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose lay down an impressive wall of penetrating sludge. Very, very heavy, Conjurer still infuse their songs with depth and nuance and when, on the opening track, they slither into a jazz-infused mid-section, it simply shows that there’s much more to this band than just bludgeon. As a result, Conjurer get the crowd quickly on side where they remain for this short, blistering set. 7
With the sun blazing down it’s time for the ever-impressive Fear Factory. An extra special show this time around, Fear Factory have been out on the road celebrating twenty years of ‘Demanufacture’. Astonishingly tight, Fear Factory remind a gigantic crowd just what it is they loved about the band in the first place. It’s not all perfect: Burton’s voice does not quite have the power that it once did and he visibly struggles on a couple of songs, but overall it is an amazing chance for the faithful to see a classic album in its entirety including crushing takes on the title track, ‘Soul Bias Resistor’ and ‘New Breed’, all of which sound immense. Dare we hope for the same treatment for ‘Obsolete’? 7
Lately Paradise lost seem to have been getting very much in touch with their deathly side, not least with fantastic new album ‘the plague within’. As a result, their Bloodstock set is a walk on the dark side, the like of which we haven’t seen from Paradise Lost in many a year. Clearly relishing the chance to growl once more, Nick Holmes tears into tracks like ‘rapture’, ’eternal’ and ‘pity the sadness’ with considerable abandon and it’s clear that his stint with Bloodbath has given him a renewed confidence and enthusiasm to tackle such tracks. Very deathly and all the better for being different, Paradise Lost delivered a strong set even if the weather (clear blue skies and sweet sunshine) was not in their favour. 8
What can anyone say about the mighty Gojira? Having produced one of the albums, if not the album of the year with ‘Magma’, the band are on astonishing form and their super-tight, amazingly lively live set would have been the perfect headliner for the day. Opening with ‘Toxic Garbage Island’ and treating us to ‘L’enfant savage’ the band get off to a scorching start, but it’s the material form the new album (including blistering takes on ‘Silvera’ and ‘stranded’) that truly take the breath away. A masterclass in heavy, prog-infused metal, Gojira’s set is nothing short of mesmerising. 10
The day ends with Mastadon and it’s not quite the success it should have been. Dizzyingly loud, yet not as satisfyingly heavy as it should have been thanks to a frustrating sound mix that seems to take the edge off the guitars and the bite out of the vocals, Mastadon never quite deliver the knock-out blow of which tracks like ‘oblivion’ are so easily capable. Highlights such as ‘the czar’ and ‘Blasteroid’ do help things along, whilst a light show that seems content to replicate the Visualizer in Windows Media player (except for ‘Crack the skye’ material) is odd rather than exciting, but overall Mastadon simply do not match the crushing majesty of Gojira. 7
Having seen Heart of a coward a couple of times before, I thought I knew what to expect from the band’s set only to have my ass handed to me by the band. Despite a relatively low billing, the band treat it as a headline performance and there is no question that they are not long destined for such lowly billings. A frontman with serious attitude and presence, Jamie Graham is a revelation, prowling the stage with the demented presence of a serial killer on steroids. Opening with monster track ‘hollow’, the band simply don’t put a foot wrong throughout their short set, laying waste to the field with tracks like ‘Miscreation’ and a bludgeoning ‘Turmoil 1: Wolves’ / ‘Turmoil 2: the weak inherit the earth’. It’s a masterclass in how to deliver a heavy set and the crowd respond by collectively losing their shit, head banging in unison and generally doing their best to destroy one another in a number of amusing ways. It’s an epic set and a near perfect start to the day – Heart of a coward are destined for big things. 9
Over on the Sophie stage, another band headed for the stars appears in the form of Krysthia who do much to demolish the tent and even a couple of technical gremlins fail to slow them down. The highlight of the show is a bruising ‘Minority of one’, but it’s all deeply impressive and whilst the band may have had a lowly spot, there’s no question that they will be moving up the bill quickly if they continue on current form. 8
Similarly, inspirational are Divine chaos who barely pause for a moment throughout their set, delivering track after track is brutal, deathly thrash. With enough energy to set the stage smoking, ‘Divine chaos’ leave no head unbanged. This is the sort of furious performance you want to see from a metal band and Divine Chaos deliver in spades. 9
Darker, doomier and altogether of a grimmer disposition are the ever-excellent Witchsorrow. Kicking off with the evil bass groove of ‘There is No light, there is only fire’, a track so dark it instantly banishes the sunlight from the tent and plunges the audience into a stygian blackness from which they do not emerge until the band’s set reaches its conclusion. Tracks such as ‘Made of the void’ and ‘The martyr’ are impressive and delivered with conviction and the short set very much leaves the audience wanting more. 8
Despite playing a special show in tribute to twenty years of the ground-breaking ‘Nemesis Divina’ Satyricon (it seems to be a year for anniversaries), Satyricon take some time to find their feet. Playing with unbridled ferocity, the sound is muddy and indistinct and the band lack the stately order which they delivered with their last trip to Bloodstock. That’s not to say it’s a bad set – tracks like ‘Nemesis Divina’ and an exhilarating ‘black crow on a tombstone’ emerge with better sound and a blackened rage, but the band have certainly played more impressive shows. Nonetheless, ‘fuel for hatred’ is a devastating climax and, as the show concludes, Satyricon remind the crowd of just why they are so revered. 7
Over to the New Blood stage and it’s a chance to check out Valous who march on stage to the strains of Samuel Jackson’s speech from Pulp Fiction (oh come on, you know which one). Offering up a potent mix of classic metal with the occasional thrash riff, Valous are supercharged by the impossibly energetic presence of vocalist Mat Shutt who launches himself around the stage, striking poses and delivering powerful vocals with plenty of bite. Songs such as ‘Dreams’ seem tailor made for this occasion and the band deliver an impressive and assured performance. 7
It’s back to the main stage for the last two bands of the day, the first of which is Anthrax. There is something inescapably fun about a band who still bound around the stage with the infectious energy of teenagers, and if they are seen as the least serious of the so-called ‘Big Four’, they’re no less musically adept for it. With excellent new album ‘for all kings’ demonstrating the blistering fury of Anthrax firing on all cylinders, the band deliver a masterclass of thrash, tearing into songs both old and new with unstoppable vigour. Joey Belladonna is a joy to watch and his enthusiasm is infectious as he belts out the classics with a voice that reaches Dio-esque heights on a number of occasions, whilst Scott Ian cuts a classic figure as the afternoon sun bathes him in a blazing natural spotlight as if even mother nature approves of the band. Opening with ‘you gotta believe’ and barely letting their collective foot off the pedal, it’s a set peppered with hits including a thrashtastic ‘caught in a mosh’ and a closing run through ‘Indians’ that has the crowd in the throes of ecstasy. Anthrax rule. 9
The festival ends with a performance from thrash overlords Slayer and it’s fair to say that, with excellent new album ‘repentless’ showcasing the band at their hungriest in years, there’s a good deal of expectation. Thankfully Slayer don’t disappoint and appear with their full touring stage set including what appears to be Kerry King’s personal BBQ set and two huge, flaming crosses made out of Marshall amps. It’s a gloriously ludicrous, over-the-top display of metallic bravado and Slayer make the most of it. Not a moment is wasted in a set that is blisteringly powerful and so utterly unfettered that it’s borderline exhausting. All the classics are here from ‘war ensemble’ and ‘south of heaven’ to ‘exile’ and, of course, ‘reigning blood’ and ‘angel of death’. By the end, the audience start to resemble victims of exhaustion, their eyes glazed and necks bowed as the Slayer juggernaut simply runs over them and this is certainly the best festival performance I’ve seen from the band. Slayer shouldn’t still be this good, but it’s almost as if, with two members down, Kerry and Tom have been galvanized into delivering their best performances in an age and both come across as beautifully unhinged. Gary Holt, meanwhile, is an unstoppable riff machine and whilst Jeff Hanneman is sorely missed, Gary does his best to make the role his own. More controversial is the loss of legendary drummer Dave Lombardo who fell out with the band in spectacular fashion, but Paul Bostaph is an underrated monster and his performance is technically dazzling. Although lacking some of the character of Dave Lombardo, Paul is an underrated player and he provides the band with exactly the monumental percussive backdrop that they need at this juncture. Slayer are metal and they bring Bloodstock 2016 to a perfect close. 10
2016 saw Bloodstock play host to a truly awe-inspiring line-up, and there’s no question that the festival is a mecca for heavy metal fans. Nonetheless, what will remain far longer in the mind is the community spirit of a small festival which has never lost sight of its core audience. Whilst there will always be those who find something to whine about online, the organizers of Bloodstock know who their audience is because, first and foremost, they are their own audience. With perfect weather, a plentiful supply of fantastic ales, a strong community spirit that saw complete strangers linking arms to head bang in unison to Heart of a Coward or scream for Slayer, Bloodstock 2016 was an unqualified success and one of the best years yet for a festival that seems to defy all odds and remain fresh year on year. Roll on 2017.
All main stage photography: Katja Ogrin
All Arena Photography: Jola Stiles