Memory of a Festival: 021: Bloodstock Open Air 2014

A first for me, in attending Bloodstock for the first time, and a first time in fifteen years camping at a festival (I last did so in 1999 for Reading – you know, back when they still booked bands worth seeing). It wasn’t my first festival where the rain was torrential, though, but even so this was a load of fun, thanks to both the bands and the people.

Bloodstock Open Air 2014
Catton Hall Estate, Derbyshire
08/09/10-August 2014

If you are a regular reader of this website, you’ll know the drill when it comes to festival reviews – I write about the bands that I saw, and occasionally other elements of the festival. If you are new here, hello. I’ve got a reputation as being somewhat opinionated at times, so please bear that in mind when reading. Otherwise I try my best to be positive.

So – Friday was a part-day for us, really, as myself and a friend were travelling up Friday morning. Delays on the M1 in particular meant that we were later than we would have liked, which meant missing Primordial, but no matter – I’ve seen them before and reports were that I didn’t miss anything new, or that I hadn’t heard. So, the first band I got to hear were Ten Foot Wizard, who I caught on the small Jagermeister Stage on my way to the main stage – and their filthy, heavy stoner doom was fairly entertaining for the couple of songs I caught. Not the kind of music I can listen to for hours on end, but certainly enjoyable.

Prong setlist:
Eternal Heat
Lost And Found
Rude Awakening
Carved Into Stone
Revenge…Best Served Cold
Whose Fist Is This Anyway?
Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck

The reason I left a bit earlier than I otherwise would have liked, though, was for a good reason – to ensure I caught all of Prong. Because somehow, over listening to the band for twenty years or so (since I first heard Cleansing), I’ve never managed to see them live. It isn’t as if they haven’t played enough in the UK, especially in recent years, it is just that I’ve been really unlucky with the timing. So this time I made damned sure I saw them, and I was rewarded with a set heavy on old favourites – and also a fairly direct demonstration of exactly why the term “groove metal” appeared. Prong really do groove – the bass is really heavy, propelling the thundering beats forward, and interestingly they nowadays at least use none of the electronics that peppered their nineties material, playing guitar, bass, drums (and vocals of course) only. Not that this affected the killer closing pairing of Cleansing favourites Whose Fist… and naturally Snap Your Fingers…, both of which use little subtlety but tons of style in making themselves heard. Yes, longer would have been nice, perhaps, but it was great at least to catch these somewhat neglected legends onstage.

On a broadly warm and sunny afternoon (although they did somehow conjure up an epic, short, storm during the set), Triptykon felt just a little out of place. Thomas Gabriel Fischer glowered onstage in all black, along with his band, and their grinding, relentless metal juggernaut seemed to continue for an awfully long time without really engaging me. There were Celtic Frost tracks in there somewhere, but the sheer lack of light and shade kinda turned me off fairly quickly. A shame, as I quite liked what I’d heard of them on record. Maybe I need to catch them on tour on a cold winter night.

Following that, Hatebreed, I have to say, were an utter revelation. I’ve had a passing interest in the band for some years – their line in metallic-edged hardcore is certainly of appeal to me at times, and they’ve had a run of singles over the years that have broadly been top-notch. But I always thought that the live environment was the place to be with Hatebreed, and so it proved. A hurricane force, hour-long set that absolutely flashed by, delivered all of the expected material, had a happy, positive attitude throughout (personal empowerment and group togetherness of course being common themes in their music), and absolutely slayed at the right moments. Highlights? There were a few, thats for sure. This Is Now and Live For This got the crowd chanting, while the breakdown in Perseverance was unbelievably heavy. Not to mention a kick-ass Ghosts of War (a Slayer cover, of course, that really does ram home their primary influence musically) and a closing Destroy Everything that judging on the massive, massive moshpit that resulted, was an instruction taken literally by the crowd. Anyway, consider me fully converted to the band’s cause after the brilliance of that set.

Dimmu Borgir setlist:
Progenies of the Great Apocalypse
Lepers Among Us
The Serpentine Offering
Mourning Palace

About ten years ago, Dimmu Borgir appeared to have hit the big time. Their two albums in the early part of the last decade were immense, bombastic symphonic black metal albums that seemed to have everything, and then it all fell apart when Mustis and then ICS Vortex left – which for me robbed the always-combustible band of most of their creative forces. The last couple of albums have, frankly, been patchy at best, and this left me wondering exactly what we were going to get. Happily, though, it was realised early on that this was going to be a set heavy on their best material – in other words, not a lot of new stuff.

But, not everything goes to plan, and momentum was checked early on by a lengthy gap after a slightly-stilted Allegiance as one sound issue after another was fixed, and the result was a visibly annoyed band, judging on Shagrath’s comments later in the set – and this meant that some songs were dumped from the set to make up time. What was played, though, was an awesomely tight set with no weak points. Particularly the four tracks aired from Death Cult Armageddon, a reminder of a time when Dimmu Borgir were doing the finest symphonic black metal going, while the near-industrial-metal of Puritania was a demonstration of just how much Mustis is missed – with him they were thinking way outside the usual confines of the genre, to create amazing, punchy songs that sounded like no-one else. It’s a shame that their material now is just “run of the mill”.

One band that are absolutely anything but “run of the mill” are Rotting Christ, who headlined the second stage on Friday night. A massive crowd packed into the tent to see them, and the band delivered a set that was enthralling from start to finish, drawing both from their past and fairly heavily from their extraordinary latest album (top five in the albums of 2013). Having feet in both the death metal and black metal camps has meant that the band appear never to have felt constrained by one or the other, and indeed their influences stretch way wider, into various national “folk” music realms in Eastern Europe and occultism, something that hit a jaw-dropping peak late in the set with a monstrous Grandis Spiritus Diavolos that was quite possibly the best song – complete with the whole crowd roaring the titular chant – I heard played live all weekend.

The thing about festivals, as I quickly remembered come Saturday morning, is that you somehow adapt to surviving on little sleep and a diet of alcohol and junk food surprisingly well – and all of a sudden that comparatively early start of 1030 for the bands is actually no problem at all, especially as I’d been up since about seven. So I was even able to catch New Blood Stage openers Back Down or Die, who were fairly predictable hardcore with a great groove, and were certainly worth seeing. The problem for them, though, was that as their set came to its end, many seemed to drift away to get a spot for Evil Scarecrow, who were opening the main stage. In fact, judging on the size of the crowd for them, pretty much everyone who was awake on the festival site made sure they saw them. One thing to bear in mind is that Scarecrow are an unsigned band, with a distinctly tongue-in-cheek take on black metal (amongst other subjects), and they got one of the biggest crowds of the weekend aside from the headliners. There was good reason for this – they were fucking hilarious, as well as clearly being pretty talented musicians. There was the Thundercats theme. There were epic robot costumes. There was an entire crowd throwing crab claw shapes and shuffling side-to-side. There was waltzing, for fucks sake. Oh, and there was robot dancing. Not your average extreme metal festival set, then, but the most fun I’ve had at a gig in ages. The band couldn’t believe the reaction, either, judging on how many times the lead singer was left speechless in between songs, but they fully deserved the plaudits. Now, will someone fucking sign this band?

After that, Shining had me scratching my head a bit, I must admit. Apparently they started life as a jazz quartet (!), but now cross the boundaries between metal, jazz and various points in between. There were time signatures that might be too complex for Tool, there were saxophones, there was epic riffage. It is certainly a brave departure from just about anyone else in the metal scene, and absolutely won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you want to know where jazz and metal meet, here is your answer.

Over on the second stage was a band recommended by a friend at the festival. Old Corpse Road didn’t half sound like old-school Cradle of Filth, not that this was a bad thing, a solid symphonic black metal sound that translated well to the live arena, and I think I only heard two songs in about fifteen minutes. Brevity not their strong point, then, but who cares when they sound this good?

Decapitated, on the other hand, were a band that I really wanted to enjoy more than I did. Their viciously technical death metal is impressive, yes, but not for the only time over the weekend I found myself getting bored of a death metal set fairly quickly. Then again, I’ve never really been one for the whole Gothic Metal thing, either, so I was a little surprised to find myself enjoying Lacuna Coil a bit more than expected. I even recognised more songs than I thought I knew, too…

Doing other things prior to the rest of the evenings entertainment meant I only caught the latter half of Children of Bodom‘s set, which meant I missed the song I wanted to hear. The thing is, I heard a few variants on the same idea later in the set, mainly as Bodom appear to have settled on their death-meets-power-metal style early on and pretty much have mined the same concept since. So, guilty fun for a while, then just a bit tedious.

Carcass setlist:
Buried Dreams
Incarnated Solvent Abuse
Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System
This Mortal Coil
Reek of Putrefaction
The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills
Unfit for Human Consumption
Genital Grinder / Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore) / Exhume to Consume
Captive Bolt Pistol
Corporal Jigsore Quandary / The Sanguine Article

It is kinda amazing to think that the return of Carcass was now about six years ago (I saw them at their Damnation 2008 show, which was their first UK show in thirteen or fourteen years), and in that time they’ve gigged sporadically and then released a surprisingly good comeback album, too. So it was a shame, perhaps, that the crowd here was a little tepid, barely giving the band the respect they really deserve. It wasn’t as if the band didn’t deliver what any Carcass crowd would want – there were the old grindcore tracks, the more melodic mid-period stuff (opener Buried Dreams absolutely crushed, again), and a good chunk of the new album – but momentum was checked by a sudden halt due to what appeared to be a potential medical emergency in the crowd, a few technical issues and just general delays. Jeff Walker was on belligerent form, tearing into the organisers, other bands, and making various dry asides, and I got the distinct impression he was fairly annoyed with the response too. Still, I thought they were great, and that intro to Corporal Jigsore Quandary gets my neck muscles tensing every time.

Emperor setlist:
Into the Infinity of Thoughts
The Burning Shadows of Silence
Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times
Beyond the Great Vast Forest
Towards the Pantheon
The Majesty of the Nightsky
I Am the Black Wizards
Inno a Satana

Ancient Queen
Wrath of the Tyrant
A Fine Day to Die

No such problems for the crowd with Emperor, unsurprisingly. Their first show in the UK in years (and I’m still kicking myself for missing their last London show, back in 2006 or something), there was no way I was missing this. Billed as a twentieth anniversary of In The Nightside Eclipse, their still astonishing debut, the set was effectively that album and a few other tracks of a similar era – and as a whole, it sounded immense. Gone was the slightly thin production of the album (even if compared to albums released by peers around the same time, it was light years ahead of anything else), and the five-piece band here tore into the material leaving us all slightly dazed to start with. Without the intro track, really, the blistering opening to Into the Infinity of Thoughts is one hell of a rush, a storm of blastbeats and buzzing guitars that Ihsahn’s vocals got lost in a bit, but interesting the choral samples utterly soared. Any sound issues, though, were solved quickly and the album passed by in a flash, and before we knew it we were into the endgame, with the titanic riff and vocal roar that opens I Am The Black Wizards causing a shiver down my spine.

The best was yet to come, though. The closing Inno A Satana was a revelation, with the clean vocals given more of a prominence alongside those choral sweeps, and it sounded utterly fucking amazing, like a song (ironically, I guess) descended fresh from the heavens. If they’d left things at that I’d have been happy, but instead in the encore they rolled out two of the songs that started it all, from the infamous Wrath of the Tyrant demo, before making a nod to their origins by covering Bathory’s A Fine Day to Die, and making it sound entirely their own. Or maybe, making it obvious just how much they were influenced by the Swedish proto-Black Metal legend. Either way, for an hour and a quarter, Emperor were utterly majestic, the one band I came to see at Bloodstock above everyone else, and frankly they were the best band of the weekend by miles. There are murmurs around, too, that this was the last-ever Emperor show, as the members of the band lay the name to rest, making me even more relieved that I saw them here.

Mind you, if they were to suddenly to announce shows in 2017 to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Anthems…, I’d be there quicker than the blastbeats on Ye Entrancemperium

After a morning that dawned with a horrendous storm that fairly quickly turned the festival site into a muddy swamp, it was a later start to the day and so I missed a band or two on the smaller stages – and a chance conversation with the wonderfully named Byzanthian Neckbeard in the bar later in the morning suggests I missed a trick not seeing them. Apparently Iron Monkey style sludge, and they weren’t wrong, having listened to them since. Happily with that name, they did indeed have epic facial hair. One band I did catch a bit later were that days main stage openers Arthemis, who perhaps understandably had a sparse crowd thanks to the conditions, but in the main were likable power thrash.

Over on the second stage, October File unleashed another half-hour of exceptionally loud metallic post-punk, I guess, still with a fairly obvious Killing Joke influence but somehow nowadays sounding even heavier and louder than they did in the first place. Some feat. I really couldn’t get into Aborted, though, whose popularity at the festival was perhaps shown by the multitude of their T-shirts seen across the fields. If you like really inpenetrable deathgrind, I’m sure you’d love them, but it is a genre that has never really done much for me, and after less than half of the set, it had me wondering off to the bar.

Revamp were a band I knew nothing about prior to the festival, and a number of my friends were really excited about them. The band are fronted by Floor Jansen, the current singer in Nightwish, and it really did show. Needless to say, not my bag, and I lasted about a song. Which meant I had the chance to head back over to the second stage for the curiously named Morgue Orgy.

Their opening statement was “Hi, we’re Morgue Orgy from Birmingham, let’s have a fucking party.” They looked to be having one on stage, too, powersliding across the stage, getting the crowd to wave rather than throw horns, pissing around and grinning like loons. Their tech death was ace, too, and as a recent interview with Terrorizer notes, they are much more interested in having fun with playing music than being deadly serious about it. Going on how great their set was, they have a point.

Passing back to the main stage, I remembered to catch some of Resin, a band who I’d had recommended to me the previous day but I had managed to miss on the New Blood Stage – so their acoustic set on the much smaller Jagermeister stage had to do. I’d heard they owed more than a little to Alice In Chains, and my friend wasn’t wrong – the first thing I heard was a wonderfully downbeat take on Down in a Hole, while amongst their own grunge-lite songs there was also a marvellous acoustic take on Sweet Child Of Mine.

The reason I was heading back to the main stage was to see another band from my past. Ok, so not quite the Biohazard of old – Evan Seinfeld left the band a few years back to continue his career in the adult film industry, amongst other things, apparently – but this was a great nod backwards. And this really was something of an exercise in nostalgia, with a few newer songs scattered here and there, but the bulk of the set was built around their tough-guy, rap-metal-hardcore from the early-to-mid nineties when they were at the peak of their popularity. I’d never got ’round to seeing them before, so this was absolutely fine by me – with old favourites like Tales From The Hardside and Down For Life sounding tougher than ever. However, the best moment was when they invited what appeared to be most of the moshpit up on stage for the closing, celebrationary Punishment that undoubtedly spooked the security staff somewhat – and somehow the band got through the song while the moshpit was resumed onstage! Finally, though, to paraphrase another joke: how do you know a band are from NYC? Don’t worry, they will be sure to tell you…

After that, it was time for yet more death metal. Obituary are older hands than most at it, mind, not that it made most of this set any more interesting. A chugging set that seemed to last at least twice as long as the allotted time, at least the closing Slowly We Rot – just twenty-five years young – was fantastic, I guess. Over on the other stage, the Brazilian band Krow brought more chugging death metal. They did make a point of flyering the main-stage crowd earlier in the day, though, and seemed friendly enough, so I thought I’d at least make the effort of checking them out.

As we got into the evening, it was time for some eighties legends in Saxon. Initially I wasn’t completely convinced I was going to know all that much, and then it became clear that they had no great interest in playing their newer stuff, instead concentrating on the material that got them famous in the first place. So, yes, there was Wheels of Steel, there was 747, there was Heavy Metal Thunder, and even Dave Mustaine even joined in the fun, playing an additional guitar on Denim and Leather. Biff Byford still has his air-raid siren of a voice, and while old-school Heavy Metal doesn’t really do too much for me nowadays, Saxon were hugely enjoyable here and it appeared that much of the crowd thought so too.

Initially I was a little surprised that Amon Amarth were so high up on the bill, until they took to the stage, anyway. Their rousing, surprisingly melodic metal songs about Vikings and legends sound enormous live, and indeed they look like Vikings, particularly the man mountain of a lead singer Johan Hegg, who has a personality as large as he is. In addition, there were immense amounts of pyros, an impressive stage set, and things culminated in the use of a fucking enormous hammer setting off enough fireworks to bring down a building. As a friend put it, there was a Viking, on a dragon, with a massive hammer. What’s not to like?

In fact, to my mind, there was more personality in the first Amon Amarth song of the night than there was in the entire ninety minutes of Megadeth that closed out the weekend. Yes, they are thrash metal legends, and yes, they played the hits (even opening with Hangar 18), but fucking hell they can be tedious. Dave Mustaine’s stage patter is about as cliched as it gets, and some of the songs weren’t much better – but most of all, at points it just turned into a guitar wankfest. We counted forty-six guitar solos, of which at least twelve were in the first two songs.

For me things finally improved when a storming Peace Sells ripped through the night sky, but by that point I was really itching to go and get some sleep – the damage had been done. For others, including some of my friends, they reckoned that this was the best Megadeth show they’d seen, so I guess I just really don’t get Megadeth after all.

Even with that slightly tepid ending, this was a great weekend. A festival that has grown organically and is, broadly, clearly well-organised and much-loved, with most of my friends and many others being regulars at the festival, and this was also shown in the mainly friendly atmosphere even during the heaviest and darkest of bands. One downer – especially with the beer being comparatively cheap – was the outrageous pricing of most of the food stalls, but then I guess the festival can’t do a great deal about that. And being some way from any other village, never mind town, I suppose the stalls know full well they have a captive market. But even that didn’t detract from what was an wonderful festival, and I’m already considering next year – band announcements awaited, of course.

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