A terrible group rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ accompanies the shuttle bus transfer from Lichfield to Catton Hall. My hand is numb and my fingers are practically lacerated from carrying a poor plastic bag filled with food and beer from the local Tesco. I need to piss. But there is nothing which can detract from the fact that in a few minutes’ time, we will be arriving at the 2012 edition of Bloodstock Open Air.
90 minutes later, the tents are up, the first beer is consumed, and we head over to the arena, which should be opening. It’s very hot. The gates open, and the carnage duly begins. We start with a brief look around the stalls – at first, CDs and t-shirts both seem rather expensive, but there are some cheaper stalls (I pick up 4 CDs over the weekend).
But anyway, to the bands. The first band of the weekend, and one of the two I see on Thursday is Saturnian. They play the same music as Dimmu Borgir, but on a lower scale. I’m not a huge Dimmu fan so naturally this doesn’t appeal to me much, but it’s a passable way to begin the weekend. I miss Marionette and Bloodshot Dawn, so the next band I see is Viking Skull. They’re much more enjoyable than Saturnian – and I should think so, they’re essentially headlining the pre-party – and their riffs and songwriting truly get the show on the road. The setlist is a little poorly ordered, as two songs are played in a row which essentially had the same riff, but it’s a headbangable set nonetheless. The night finishes with comedy from Steve Hughes, who is a decent, but not fantastic comedian (the appeal to the Bloodstock crowd clearly comes from his billing as a heavy metal comedian and the fact that he used to be in Slaughter Lord).
Friday begins on the New Blood stage with the band In Coma – the only reason why we stick around for the entire set is that they’re the only band on at the time. Their brand of core-y melodeath is dull, and the female harsh vocals are poorly done to the point of being grating. Still, they’re not as bad as the appalling Malefice on the main stage. The jump-da-fuck-up attitude is as laughable as their music, which is modern groove metal interspersed with breakdowns. If the choice weren’t between them and a symphonic power metal band, I’d be leaving at this stage.
Speaking of power metal, Freedom Call are a much more attractive proposition live than on record – they’re great fun, and although their music might not have any depth to it, this cannot spoil the ‘happy metal party’ they espouse in either drunken or broken English. The first band I’m really looking forward to of the weekend is Grand Magus, but unfortunately they’re a little disappointing – the set is good, but it really does show how the material from newest album The Hunt pales in comparison to older material. I didn’t get there at the very start, but I don’t believe they played anything from their masterpiece Iron Will either. That’s not to say they give a bad performance, mind.
After a short break for some lunch, I catch the first few minutes of Moonsorrowon the main stage, who seem live like they are on record – decent, but overlong and not involving – before going over to the Sophie Lancaster stage to watch Sweet Savage. For a band who are famous for a Metallica cover, the reformed NWOBHM band come across well, despite their material not being particularly strong and frontman Ray Haller’s insistence on talking about Metallica all the bloody time. Their newer material sounds about as good as the older, but clearly the whole set revolves around playing ‘Killing Time’, along with their closing Thin Lizzy cover.
Back to the main stage, and Iced Earth are playing. I can’t call myself a huge Iced Earth fan, but I do really enjoy Burnt Offerings and The Dark Saga, so I’m disappointed that nothing off either of these albums is played, focusing instead on last year’s Dystopia and presumably other more recent material. It’s obvious that Jon Schaffer is a talismanic vocalist, and it’s clear that recent songs would be boring without him, although his machismo is not endearing. There’s time for a half-hour break before Sepultura, who promise a set of classic material but in fact deliver mostly Chaos AD material along with a few tracks off the abominable Roots and Kairos. It’s great when they play ‘Beneath The Remains’ and ‘Arise’, however, and although ‘new’ vocalist Derrick Green comes across like Fred Durst at times, he doesn’t detrimentally affect the old songs at all. It’s an energetic performance ruined by a god-awful setlist.
Once again, a half-hour break before the mighty Dio Disciples. The performance is a fitting tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio after whom the main stage is named – both Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and Toby Jepson do a good job at sounding exactly like him, and the set visits every stage of the man’s career, from Rainbow, via Black Sabbath and his early solo classics, to the later stages of his solo career ('Magica', for instance). The crowd sings along and it’s the best performance of the weekend so far.
I arrive to Watain a little late after getting dinner, unfortunately missing my favourite song of theirs (‘Malfeitor’), but the melodic black metal band puts on an impressive stage display, being the first band of the weekend to use pyrotechnics – and with the darkening sky around us it works particularly well with songs like ‘Stellarvore’. Naturally, the setlist mainly rotates around Lawless Darkness and Sworn To The Dark, but those albums are there strongest material. As their set runs some way over their allotted time, I leave about 15 minutes early to catch the end of Alcest. There’s little difference between Alcest on record and Alcest live, but the atmosphere in the Sophie Lancaster tent is perfectly conducive to their brand of blackened shoegaze, and the quality of frontman Neige’s work is well apparent.
And so to the day’s headliners, the almighty Behemoth. Perhaps the least famous of the three headliners, their studio material is probably the strongest of the three, and their live performance is more than a match for it. After having to pull out of the festival previously due to a cancer scare, frontman Nergal is glad to be alive, and the night adds to the mystique of old material and the brutality of the likes of ‘Demigod’ and ‘Slaves Shall Serve’. Closing with ‘Lucifer’ is a good idea, and what appears as a fairly mundane track on Evangelion comes alive in the live setting as it brings in the night. The mix is very good, and it’s possible to pick out individual melodies and instruments during blastbeats, which is an unfortunately rare occurrence.
After a shockingly good night’s sleep, the first band of the day is Apollyonon the New Blood stage. Much better than their counterparts In Coma of the day before, their slightly death-y thrash metal wakes everyone up. They’re not a band I’d seek out to listen to, but they’re more than passable. The first band I’m really looking forward to of the day, however, is Benediction. Death metal with d-beats is a great idea, and I don’t see why more bands don’t play that style. And despite Dave Hunt’s lack of properly functioning legs at the moment, they put on a great performance, the large crowd they draw (at 11am, no less!) attesting to the quality of the Brummie veterans.
I have a brief look in at Savage Messiah, but they’re uninspired and the mix does them no favours – a generic modern thrash band playing generic modern thrash is not something I really want to waste my time on, and I don’t see why Earache Records (a fairly consistent label for those not aware) waste their time on them either. Much better, however, are Dripback– although by appearance we’d presume they were either a nu metal or ‘wigger slam’ band, they actually play a very palatable mixture of death metal, grindcore and hardcore. They use breakdowns tastefully and in extreme moderation rather than to excess, and the enthusiastic response they receive from the crowd is well deserved.
Chthonicare a fairly generic symphonic black metal band, and their fame is due to three main factors. Firstly, they’re Taiwanese; secondly, they use oriental scales and occasionally instruments in their music; and thirdly and perhaps most importantly, bassist Doris Yeh is very attractive. Still, these things can’t make up for a frankly lacklustre performance, and although their most recent album Takasago Army was a big step up in terms of quality, they still essentially embody the term ‘overrated’.
I don’t like Crowbar so I give them a miss, and there’s nothing on any of the other stages until the almighty Mayhem. After they open with ‘Deathcrush’, it’s fairly certain the set is going to be good, and although the weather is a little bit too… happy for the band to have their full effect, mixing newer stuff with classics about evenly works well, and they even pay tribute to their legacy by closing with ‘Carnage’ and the title track off the Pure Fucking Armageddon demo. A very impressive performance by one of the bands of the weekend.
Winterfylleth are very, very dull live (although I’m warming to their studio output), so after a couple of songs from their set I leave to go and see Sanctuary. Although the two new songs they play are frankly terrible, their older material is performed with the same aptitude I don’t doubt it was in their heyday. It’s a very good performance, and of course they close with the classic song ‘Battle Angels’.
Back at the Sophie Lancaster tent, and Witchsorrow put on a very good performance – they play stoner-ish doom, a style which I’d never seen live before, but their excellent riffs and atmosphere make for a great set – I’ll have to give their album a proper listen. After this one, I’ll even let them off for entitling a song ‘Breaking The Lore’ (if you don’t get that, you clearly need to go back to metal school).
The only New Blood band I’d heard before the weekend is our next stop (frankly, who gives a shit about Hatebreed?). Doomed are a hugely promising band – the From The Crypt EP is very good, and the Slovenian bunch also put on a great live show. Unfortunately very few people turn up to see them, and I don’t manage to catch one of the t-shirts they throw out, but this can’t deter either me or them. They’re changing their name soon due to problems with other bands sharing their name to Verminate, so keep an eye out.
Testament are fucking huge within thrash circles – just bordering the big 4 in terms of importance. Personally, I don’t like much of their post-80s stuff, but this is an exciting, energetic performance. The older stuff is marred a little bit by Chuck Billy’s new, inferior vocal approach, but it’s still impossible to deny the vitality of classics such as ‘Into The Pit’, ‘Practice What You Preach’ and ‘Over The Wall’. The fact that ‘Native Blood’ seems to be the only song the organizers play between bands on the main stage makes it irritating to listen to now, but Testament are Testament and that’s what Testament are.
I give Orange Goblin a miss due to being absolutely knackered, and with low expectations head over to Machine Head. Their music’s no longer attractive to my ears, and Rob Flynn gives an absolutely retarded speech about house music, generalizing fans of the genre to background music listeners, but the 13 year old in me erupts and songs like ‘Halo’ and ‘Davidian’ are not only well performed but send the crowd absolutely wild. That said, you won’t find me joining the ‘MACHINE FUCKIN’ HEAD!’-chanting idiot parade soon.
We start Sunday with Seprevation, who are a very nice surprise on the New Blood stage. They play old-school style death/thrash, and although they wear their influences literally on their sleeves with a Sepultura ‘Schizophrenia’ shirt and a Sadus cover, their music is undeniably good, and induces the only 10.30am moshpit you’re ever likely to see. After them, Kobra And The Lotus are a huge let-down. The Canadian band play trad-ish metal with female vocals, but the riffs are neither interesting nor exciting, and said female vocals are constantly shrieky and high-pitched to the extent that they begin to hurt my ears after a while.
An early lunch means that the next band I see is Flayed Disciple. Although the misogyny is not cool, the music is, and the furious headbanging in the crowd is for a reason. Their debut album Death Hammer is well worth a listen. Unfortunately they didn’t play my personal favourite ‘Ejaculate While Killing’ before I went to see Nile, who played a set filled with mainly post-Annihilation Of The Wicked material, aside from the closing brilliance of ‘Black Seeds Of Vengeance’. It must be said they put on a good show, and although their new album is somewhat disappointing, they know what their strong material is (‘Lashed To The Slave Stick’ gets played), despite the conspicuous absence of ‘Papyrus Containing The Spell To Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is In The Water’.
The Black Dahlia Murder are not very good. Although they’re preferable to the other bands on at the time (Crimes Of Passion and Dream Catcher), they really don’t have much going for them aside from one strong album in Miasma, off which they play only one track. The tough-guy attitude is irritating too – I turn up to cries of ‘FUCKING BRUTAL’ and ‘It’s fist o’clock! Get those hands in the air motherfuckers!’.
On the other hand, Evileare excellent. Although their studio output has been lacklustre at most since debut Enter The Grave, it does translate well to the live arena. The crowd is wild, and tracks like ‘Cult’ and ‘Infected Nation’ become good all of a sudden. Closing with the fantastic ‘Thrasher’ (the song featured on Rock Band for which they are known) can’t be a bad idea either - the pits are insane for its duration.
Although Anvilare best known for the Spinal Tap-esque documentary about them, they actually produce fairly good NWOBHM-style music (it’s not actually NWOBHM due to them being Canadian). Certainly both ‘Mothra’ and the title track off their magnum opus Metal On Metal come across well (there’s a rather surreal guitar/vibrator solo in the middle of the former), and their recent material is surprisingly strong. Frontman Steve Kudlow seems genuinely delighted to be there, which adds a delightful whimsical element to the performance.
Paradise Lost are decent, but not great. Opening with the monumental ‘The Enemy’, their set descends into weaker mid-period material rather quickly, with only ‘As I Die’ off Shades Of God from their classic era – no rendition of ‘Gothic’ to be found. The tracks off their latest album Tragic Idol have a curious vocal element to them where Nick Holmes’ voice seems to be half an octave higher than on the record without creating dissonance.
The second-to-last band of the weekend are the incredible Anaal Nathrakh. Although I’m beyond tired at this stage, I can’t resist the pits for this one, and Nathrakh blaze through a set that is best described by the title to closer ‘Pandemonic Hyperblast’. Visiting every album on the way (including a delightful ‘Do Not Speak’ from Domine Non Es Dignus), Dave Hunt is as brilliant in his second performance of the weekend as he was in his first with Benediction. To top it off, a ‘wall of death’ forms upon the utterance of ‘We’ve been told by the organizers we’re not allowed to ask you to form a wall… (wall of death forms)… of death, wall of death, wall of death’.
The final night is headlined by the legendary Alice Cooper. Playing a set filled with classics and one new song (‘I’ll Bite Your Head Off’), his performance is spectacular as expected (despite a drum solo in the middle) – he arrives on stage dressed as a spider for ‘Black Widow’, and visits the likes of ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘Is It My Body’, ‘Poison’ and ‘School’s Out’ on the way through to spectacular encore ‘Elected’. The arena is full of burly metalheads singing their hearts out for ‘Only Women Bleed’, and the performance is very involving despite the lack of stage talk. Undoubtedly the best performance of a fantastic weekend.
The excellent: Dio Disciples, Watain, Behemoth, Benediction, Mayhem, Witchsorrow, Doomed, Seprevation, Evile, Anvil, Anaal Nathrakh, Alice Cooper
The good: Viking Skull, Freedom Call, Grand Magus, Sweet Savage, Alcest, Apollyon, Dripback, Sanctuary, Testament, Machine Head, Flayed Disciple, Nile
The average: Moonsorrow, Iced Earth, Chthonic
The bad: In Coma, Sepultura, Savage Messiah, Winterfylleth, The Black Dahlia Murder
The dreadful: Malefice, Kobra And The Lotus