Opening Saturday’s lineup was Back Down or Die who were good dumb fun. Violent slammy death metal, with the frontman interacting with specific audience members by name, which always adds a nice touch of intimacy to a gig.
I had planned on ignoring Evil Scarecrow because I thought their name was stupid; but while ordering a pint at the Bloodstock Arms, their elaborate costumes and props projected up on the big screen caught my eye, and they turned out to be by far the most entertaining and fun band of the entire festival. A large dedicated corps of followers turned up in robot costumes and with appropriate props to match the band’s silly songs about robot/crab hybrids, waltzing cyclopes, sci-fi war and the misery of black metal. They got the crowd to participate to a degree no other band acheived: seeing thousands of metalheads all crab-scuttle from side to side while waving the pincers in the air attests to the skill this band has in getting the audience to do stuff. The music is a good fun fare, symphonic and synthy. They weren’t among the most musically talented bands we saw but the music is really acting as a vehicle for the wonderfully silly and entertaining stage show.
The north of England has a healthy black metal scene and Old Corpse Road from Co. Durham are an excellent example of the region’s output. Their long, oppressive songs are well crafted to deliver a sense of misery and doom. The three guitarists, the bassist, and I think the keyboardist all sang; this mix of vocal styles provided a great variation to their songs and the lack of a clear frontman oddly supported their big, doomy sound. The overall sound in the Sophie Lancaster Stage was a little too loud, which ended drowning everything out, but these are definitely worth investigating.
Decapitated are a band I have complex feelings about; I enjoy their music and am very impressed by it, but I find them hard to get really into and to remember. I got right up to the front of the main stage to get the full experience of the crowd. The band themselves did their setup and sound check before performing, which I always think signifies an admirable humility and work ethic. They came out and launched into a tight set of technically demanding death metal, performed with extreme precision. The only criticism I would have is that the sound on the guitar was too low (though immediately in front of the stage is always going to have poor sound compared to further back by the mixing desk) and they used several samples for song intros that could easily have been played by the band themselves.
Crowbar were a bit disappointing. They played acceptable but fairly bland sludge, and didn’t really hold my attention for very long, though I had been looking forward to seeing them.
I used the rest of Crowbar’s set to check out the Metal Gallery, which mainly featured original artworks of festival founder Paul Raymond Gregory. Gregory not only provides the original artwork and design for the festival logo, but has painted Tolkien-inspired landscapes and album covers for Saxon, Dio, and Candlemass. The highlight for me was seeing prints of a still life consisting of some maps of Middle Earth and a photograph of Kate Bush, and learning that she’s a fan of his art. No matter how much sludge metal I go and see, I will never stop loving Kate Bush’s music.
With a long gap before any more bands I wanted to see, I wandered around to discover some new artists. Obsidian Kingdom on the Sophie Lancaster stage played expansive songs, with heavy sections separated by proggy dreamy material. The heavy sections have a range of sounds – not all death metal, or black metal, or hardcore – while the mesmerising psychedelic sections make extensive use of feedback, synths and soundscapes. Ultimately I found the dreamy parts just a little bit too long, and a tighter approach to songwriting and use of the material could solve this. Despite this criticism I really enjoyed their set and will look up more of their music.
I only stood for about half a song from Lacuna Coil before heading over to see Canyon Observer, who turned out to be an unexpected gem. Another band with long songs, they only played three of their extremely heavy noise/doom tracks over the course of a thirty-minute set. Their music has a lot of hidden groove and the heavily-obscured vocals make the lyrics entirely inaudible, stripping the voice of meaning and transforming it into another instrument in the wall of sound.
Children of Bodom were classic Children of Bodom – cheesy and shreddy melodic death metal. Though they’re undeniably good at what they do, cheesy melodeath is only fun for while. Seeing them live I always get the feeling once you’ve seen ten minutes of their set you’ve seen it all.
When I saw Carcass in the Czech Republic last year, I was literally left speechless. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say if it wasn’t for Carcass, I wouldn’t be doing this; they were such a foundational band for my interest in extreme metal, and for broadening my taste in music in general, that without their influence I would have turned out very differently. Though seeing them at Bloodstock couldn’t carry the same emotional impact as seeing them for the first time last year, their appearance was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Jeff Walker is an excellent front man, who seems to genuinely enjoy and appreciate the music and the fans. Their setlist covered all the big tracks from their back catalog, as well as heavily representing last year’s Surgical Steel album. One notable moment was when he mentioned Sophie Lancaster, before referring to how that night’s headliners were Emperor, and commenting “The irony’s not lost on me and Bill [Steer, Carcass guitarist]”. I suspect this was a reference to the controversy surrounding Emperor’s appearance at a festival with a stage named after the victim of a hate crime, when their current reformed lineup features drummer Faust, who was convicted for the murder in 1993, a crime that is often thought to have had a homophobic motivation.
Despite the controversy, Emperor‘s set did take place, and it was stunning. This year’s tour was to celebrate the 20th anniversary of debut album In the Nightside Eclipse, one of the most important records in black metal. They played the entire album from start to finish, followed by two tracks from earlier demo tapes and ended with a cover of Bathory’s A Fine Day to Die. Despite the age of the band and the material, their performance was 100% accurate – note perfect throughout, accompanied by impressive pyrotechnics, Ihsahn’s formidable presence as a frontman, and a very atmospheric and thematically-appropriate rain shower. Seeing this band was, for me, like seeing Carcass last year; they are among the acts that have had the biggest influence on my taste in music. We got our tickets nearly a year in advance, after seeing an ad for Bloodstock in Terrorizer magaizine, when Emperor were still the only band announced. In my mind, Emperor alone justify the existence of black metal as a genre and to get to see them live was an experience matched by few others.
After Emperor’s set, we rode the bumper cars for a while, celebrating having just seen the two main acts that we came to the festival for, briefly visited Bloodstock’s Got Talent in the Sophie Lancaster tent – where we saw the little girl from the night before deliver an impressive rendition of Iron Maiden’s Dream of Mirrors – and headed back to the tent to get ready for the festival’s final day.
Tomorrow I’ll put up my report on Sunday at Bloodstock, and the day after may have a bonus post!