I’ve just come back from my annual festival trip, this time to Bloodstock Open Air in the West Midlands. If lists of heavy metal bands and their performances is your thing, read on; if it isn’t, read on anyway and try something new today!
Bloodstock is easy to get to, with the festival operating a shuttle bus service from nearby Lichfield City train station to the festival site. My Bro-in-Chief Conor and I arrived in Lichfield about 4pm, made a quick visit to Aldi for supplies, and got the bus out to the campground. All the sites are named after the worlds of Norse mythology – we chose Asgard over Valhalla, being the two nearest our entrance, and later learned of Midgard and Hel. Unfortunately we arrived just a little too late to set up our tent and get into the arena in time to see opening band Balls Deep and their groovy, catchy aggression.
We spent the remainder of the evening getting familiar with the arena, the shops, and the variety of available beers. One great find was the Prat in a Hat thrift shop, fronted by two huge bins of second-hand hats. They stocked all sorts of hats: an enthusiastic festival goer in a newly acquired bike helmet told us with great confidence “There’s a hat in here for you, and there’s a hat in here for YOU.” And sure enough, I found a nice camo-print baseball cap that fitted me well. Thank you, mystery hat sage. Other stalls had camping gear (which might literally have saved my life as I forgot to pack a sleeping mat), clothes, CDs, and novelty items or accessories. Bloodstock also had an excellent variety of foods; we filled up the first night on delicious roast pork baguettes with apple sauce and crackling. The Bloodstock Arms pub had a couple of beers from Wychwood Brewery (the brewery that makes Hobgoblin) and some smaller craft beers alongside Strongbow and Fosters. One section of the arena was taken up by fairground rides, because being strapped to a giant mechanical rotating claw and spun around in the sky is pretty damn metal.
The atmosphere is very open and friendly; everyone we dealt with, from other fans to the security and amenities staff to the few musicians we met, were pleasant and welcoming. I never had a moment where I felt unsafe or threatened. The one criticism I would have of the festival is that they could communicate more clearly; the arena is very easy to navigate but the campsites aren’t clearly signed, and we had to buy a lanyard and booklet to get any information about the schedule. In other festivals I’ve been to, schedule information is part of the ticket price, and you get a lanyard or something along with the wristband that grants you entry. Asking the customer to pay extra to find out when the bands they want see are performing feels a little much, and the programme booklet wasn’t very useful; it had short bios for the bands, and listed the stage and day they were appearing, but not the actual times of their performances.
After missing Balls Deep, we didn’t see any more bands apart from catching a few minutes of Monument, who seem to play classic NWOBHM very much in the vein of Iron Maiden. We opted for an early night to recover from travelling and to get up early on Friday to see:
Goat Leaf on the New Blood Stage, who play nice crunchy stoner metal. Despite the fact each song felt pretty similar, they had an entertaining set. I was greatly impressed by how the bassist broke his bottom string in one song, played the remaining few minutes up an octave, and then changed his string during the next song only to come back right in time for the awesome bridge riff.
Gurt on the Sophie Lancaster stage were next; where Goat Leaf wrote great songs that were all a little similar, Gurt had a wider variety of sounds but individual songs were only built on a handful of ideas. Otherwise this was good sludge, with a charming frontman who threw inflatable dinosaurs and Gurt t-shirts into the crowd and called out support for other bands on the UK sludge scene. The singer from a fellow band called Diesel King made a guest appearance, and his deep core-y growls were a nice complement to Gurt’s more screechy vocals.
Death metal veterans (under a slightly new name) Entombed AD were first band we saw on the main stage, competently delivering both classics from the Left Hand Path era and new material. They played well but I don’t feel I got anything fresh from the experience of seeing them live again.
Primordial were next on the main stage, and as the only Irish band we recognised on the bill we had to. I’ve not spent a lot of time on Primordial since discovering them at Brutal Assault last year, but I had enough familiarity to get excited for Coffin Ships and Bloodied But Unbowed. Primordial fill me with feelings about manliness and honour and ethnic pride, but in a really positive way rather than an obnoxious hardcore bro way. They managed to fit five of their long songs into their set, rather than just three like the last time I saw them, and Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill is a powerful frontman, who is theatrical but utterly serious and convincing. If you’re into any sort of folky or doomy or black metal, especially if you’re Irish, you ought to start listening to this band.
Flotsam and Jetsam were a bit of a disappointment; adequate but uninspired old school thrash. They’re worth a listen if you’re a thrash fan looking for something new, but they didn’t hold my attention for longer than a few songs. They were also the first band where I noticed problems with the sound; one of the guitarists was barely audible.
We passed by Ten Foot Wizard playing on the Jägermeister Stage, a tiny open-sided tent next to a Jägermeister bar; the few songs we caught showed a nice mix of stonery metal with speedy breaks. Very entertaining and worth checking out.
Triptykon, current project of Tom G Warrior from Celtic Frost, have great material and played it well, but the festival atmosphere didn’t suit them and the sound was quite poor. Despite the disappointing show, from what I heard I’d check out their records and expect to enjoy them. Tom G Warrior is beginning to look like someone’s granddad.
At this point I should apologise for making a joke about hardcore bros earlier, because Hatebreed were the next band we saw. They play great metallic hardcore, and that their sound and image can be hijacked by fans that embody the negative stereotypes of hardcore music doesn’t reflect on them as a band whatsoever. Jamey Jasta is a frontman with entertaining, insistent crowd interaction – almost pantomime-like at times, as he split the crowd in half for a competition to see who could cheer the loudest. He invited a five-year old fan from the front of the crowd and his dad up onto stage, which was very sweet. Their music is something I have to be in the mood for but there’s no denying they’re very good in their chosen style.
Theatrical symphonic black metallers Dimmu Borgir were next, eventually. Their set started late, was plagued by interruptions due to technical difficulties, and again had significant sound problems. They played the few songs I knew early enough – and there’s no denying Progenies of the Great Apocalypse is an awesome track – but the impressive pyro couldn’t salvage the set.
Sludge veterans Down were Friday’s headliners. I don’t know their catalogue particularly well but they played a great set and were absolutely on form. If you want big tasty sludge riffs, Down provide. As a frontman, Phil Anselmo rambles (drunkenly?) about music and fans and life. He mentioned a band called Iron Drugs and a band by this name does exist, but I’m not sure whether he was referring to them or just drunkenly improvising. It’s all very charming – though for a man who has faced accusations of racism in the past (and is from Texas and shaves his head), calling the audience ‘blackies’ felt a little odd. Anyone who has ever seen a metal fan knows what he’s getting at and I’m certain there was no intent to offend, but surely there would be a safer term to use? Their set ended with a load of people coming on from offstage during the last song – techs or another band or something – swapping around instruments and generally having a laugh, which gave the final performance of the night a great party vibe.
Wandering about the arena afterwards we met a lovely Welsh family with the most metal five-year old girl I’ve ever met, who had strong opinions about Iron Maiden, and an impressively well-patched battle jacket for one so young. We caught an impressive rendition of Let the Bodies Hit the Floor at the metal karaoke session in the Sophie Lancaster Stage, which was followed by a metal disco. After shouting myself hoarse to Blood and Thunder I headed back to sleep and get rested for Saturday, the main day of the festival for me.
Reports on Saturday and Sunday will come tomorrow and the day after!