With the weather nothing like the crispy oven-cooked hellfire of last year’s Summerpocalypse, Bloodstock is a much happier place this year, and not even the first downpour of the weekend can dampen the spirits. Especially as today is Corpse-paint Day where everyone is invited to daub themselves in black and white make-up and become angry badgers for the next few hours.
Prog power act Ambrius open the Sophie stage to shouts of “Gloucester!” and the tent full of hungover metallers is soon left mesmerised by killer riffs and Sam Shiers‘ versatile vocal cords. Looking very different to their tent-worrying Bloodstock 2021 debut, former Manchester trio Tortured Demon are now a quartet, and the huge crowd that turns out for them receive the perfect dose of blistering high-octane thrash. Having camped in Midgard for years, Birmingham four-piece Dakesis are a Bloodstock band in every sense and take to their task with fierce determination. Epic choruses are sung, fists are raised and LGBTQI+ flags are waved as the band deliver their message of equality.
Eight Norwegians dressed as flamingos is pretty much all you need to know about Trollfest, their brand of drunken pink madness leaving people in stitches or wondering what the absolute fuck they just watched. Another eight-piece, Swedish act Brothers of Metal bring the Sophie Saturday festivities to an end, entertaining a crowd still showing no signs of wear and tear with metal epics like ‘Prophecy of Ragnarök’ and ‘Powersnake’, the only downside being a noticeable lack of guitars in the mix.
Back to earlier and Nu-core act Seething Akira open the main stage today. Despite not being much of a fan previously, I’m won over in double quick time as the Portsmouth act jump their way through the likes of ‘Something In The Water’ and ‘Smile Thief’ in a contagiously energetic start to the day. Always a festival for wild contrasts, it’s no surprise to find that carefree glow does not last for long. If you like your songs warm, bright, and fluffy then London trio Urne really aren’t the band for you. Riffs heavier than a sack of angry Rottweilers bear down on vocalist Joe Nally‘s shoulders as he opens his soul, screaming, “There must be more to life than this”! A fantastic set. Just not one for party animals or happy people.
Royal Republic on the other hand are bum-spankingly good fun as they bring silly grins and clap tracks to the main stage. Hook-laden pop-rock in the vein of Electric Six, the band quickly find themselves among a field of new friends as they get the audience singing the choruses to ‘RATA-TATA’, ‘Full Steam Spacemachine’, ‘Tommy-Gun’’ and ‘Anna-Leigh’ in no time at all, even ripping into a fun cover of Metallica classic ‘Battery’ to seal the deal.
For a change of pace, I head over to the VIP tent for the first day of Krushanory, an hour of Motörhead and Black Sabbath stories with some Sharon Osbourne baiting thrown in for good measure from DJ, artist, TV presenter, and professional alcohol and recreational drug enthusiast Steve “Krusher” Joule. After ending on a sombre note about the death of former ‘Head guitarist Würzel, it’s time to head back to the main stage for Crowbar. No frills and no messing about, non-stop planet-sized riffs with their own gravitational pull, and a massive fuck off beard. You know exactly what to expect at a Crowbar show and once again they deliver the goods.
It’s corpse-paint and crab-walk time next with Norwegian black metal legend Abbath scuttling onto the main stage. Silly facial expressions, razor-sharp riffs and Immortal covers turn a happy Saturday afternoon into a blizzard beast from Blashyrkh but nobody is prepared for Triptykon and their hour of Celtic Frost covers. The sound is monstrous, the riffs are beyond crushing and Tom G Warrior‘s guitar tone is still not of this Earth. From ‘Into The Crypts of Rays’ through ‘Dethroned Emperor’, ‘The Usurper’, ‘Jewel Throne’, ‘Procreation of the Wicked’ and eventual closer, ‘Necromantical Screams’, TriptyFrost/CeltiKon are simply incredible. Not many people can get away with saying “Hello, Download!” at Bloodstock and get away with it but Warrior and his distinctly unmerry band are a sight to behold and one of the best main supports this festival has ever witnessed.
The gauntlet is hereby thrown down for Swedish headliners Meshuggah but although bewildering the crowd with their off-kilter time signatures and epilepsy-inducing light show, something just seems to be missing tonight. There’s sarcastic wit from vocalist Jens Kidman and logic-defying rhythms from drum master Tomas Haake but despite admittedly thrilling versions of ‘Demiurge’, ‘Rational Gaze’, and ‘Future Breed Machine’, everything seems a bit… perfunctory. Look, there is simply no possible way a Meshuggah show can ever be called disappointing – especially when watching newcomers to the band trying to headbang in time with the music. And even with a perceived lack of intensity and the absence of ‘Bleed’ it’s still a mightily impressive show. Just not quite the triumphant headline performance for which we are wishing.
Dead Label kick things off on the main stage, getting the crowd to participate in one of the biggest walls of death the festival has ever seen before promptly upstaging themselves by having guitarist Danny Hall propose to drummer Claire Percival in front of an applauding crowd (thankfully, the marriage request is accepted). The next curve ball of the weekend is delivered by Mongolian throat singers Uuhai (apparently pronounced “Hoo-rah” in English) who, with the help of traditional instruments, strange vocal noises, and killer tunes, leave much of the early morning crowd in a state of happy bemusement. The brilliantly named All Hail The Yeti follow with sufficient amounts of Mastodon-style piss and vinegar but the one thing that truly sticks in the memory is the “woah-oh oh-oh” on ‘Slow Season’ sounding a little too much like ‘Maneater’ by Hall and Oates. No, don’t go and listen to it. Some things can never be unheard.
There’s always an exception to any rule and Tribulation are just that. A corpse-painted act performing on the main stage in the middle of a (mostly) sunny day and not actually suffering. Comprising traditional and blackened riffs, croaky shrieks, and neoclassical flourishes, their brand of gloomy Goth metal works perfectly on songs like ‘Melancholia’, ‘Nightbound’ and ‘Hamartia’ making this one of the biggest and most welcome surprises of the day.
After catching the second day of Krushanory where the stories of sex, and general rock and roll debauchery came to a thoroughly entertaining conclusion, it’s time for some old-fashioned death metal and extraordinarily long dreadlocks courtesy of Polish noisemongers Decapitated. Blasting through the likes of ‘Cancer Culture’, ‘Spheres of Madness’ and ‘Iconoclast’, the band leave the moshpit in a satisfying state of carnage, ready to return for a full UK tour later in the year.
For those of “a certain age”, US rockers Ugly Kid Joe not only bring the tunes but also pure ’90s nostalgia as they roll back the years with the likes of ‘Neighbor’, ‘Panhandlin’ Prince’, their cover of ‘Cats in the Cradle’ and of course ‘Everything About You’, a song largely ridiculed by metalheads at the time but now sung louder than virtually anything else heard today. And when singer Whitfield Crane, sporting a highly acceptable Motörhead shirt, introduces Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser for a riotous version of ‘Ace of Spades’, Catton Park rises as one to salute fallen hero, Lemmy.
After catching enough of Church of the Cosmic Skull to know I definitely need to hear more, it’s back to the main stage for Brazilian thrash pioneers Sepultura who proceed to blow the absolute shit out of anybody within earshot. An absolute monster of a set featuring old staples such as ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, ‘Refuse/Resist’, ‘Territory’, ‘Arise’, ‘Dead Embryonic Cells’, ‘Propaganda’ and a storming ‘Ratamahatta’ the band also plough through ‘Isolation’, ‘Ali’, ‘Agony of Defeat’ and ‘Guardians of Earth’ all taken from latest album Quadra (Nuclear Blast). Frontman Derrick Green has improved so much as a frontman over the years and holds the Bloodstock faithful in the palm of his hand for a set that is over way too soon.
It wouldn’t be a festival without a last-minute high-profile cancellation and this year it’s German legends Helloween who are forced to pull out, singer Michael Kiske suffering from acute laryngitis. Metal fans are a forgiving bunch though and some loyal ‘Weenies still turn up to the arena in full pumpkin costumes, fully aware of their heroes’ absence.
Rising to the challenge with the barest minimum of notice, KK’s Priest arrives in the nick of time to knock it out of the park with a mix of old Judas Priest songs and original material. Classic cuts like ‘Victim of Changes’, ‘The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)’, ‘Night Crawler’, ‘Hell Patrol’, ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’ and ‘Burn in Hell’ sit next to newies like ‘One More Shot at Glory’, ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’, ‘Reap the Whirlwind’ and ‘Brothers of the Road’ all of which, rather unsurprisingly, sound exactly like Judas Priest. Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens screams for all his worth as former Priest guitarist KK Downing piles on the riffs and the audience belt out the lyrics to ‘Breaking the Law’ and of course, ‘The Ripper’. A great show during which you can’t help but think the world would be a much happier place if the two bands could just set aside their differences and go out together on tour.
After ensuring I catch at least some of Swiss avant-garde act Zeal and Ardor who give an extremely good account of themselves in the Sophie tent, it’s over to the RJD stage for the final headline act of the weekend. No stranger to controversy, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine finds himself in the thick of it again this weekend as the band are forced to cancel an acoustic set at a nearby venue to perform the same show at the festival instead. A scheduled seven songs quickly becomes four due to time constraints and technical issues but most people who have forked out the extra hard-earned seem fairly happy with the intimate show and Q&A session.
It’s the headline show that the vast majority are here for though and for a third time Megadeth help Bloodstock break all previous attendance records. As ever, you’re never quite sure of what type of show you’re going to get until Mustaine walks onto the stage, but you just know the highly noticeable five-foot-tall inflatable white unicorn being marched straight into the centre of the pit is going to test his patience. Luckily, he doesn’t actually seem too perturbed by the sight, and the air-filled mythical creature is quickly disposed of anyway.
A better showing than their last headline performance, Mustaine gets straight down to business delivering the riffs. ‘Dread and the Fugitive Mind’ and ‘Trust’ make surprise appearances, as does the superb ‘Angry Again’. ‘We’ll Be Back’ is the only track to be lifted from latest album The Sick, The Dying… And the Dead! but there’s only so much time for new songs when the set is filled with classics such as ‘Hangar 18’, ‘Sweating Bullets’, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, ‘In My Darkest Hour’ ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due,’ ‘Wake up Dead’ and an abridged version of ‘Peace Sells’.
Heading back to the Sophie stage, it’s time for reunited Brooklyn bruisers Biohazard to close out the festival in ferociously sweaty style. The tent is bristling with pure rabid energy as the band smash into ‘Urban Discipline’, ‘Shades of Grey’, ‘Down For Life’, ‘Tales From the Hard Side’, ‘Wrong Side of the Tracks’, ‘Black and White, and Red All Over’, ‘Victory’, ‘Love Denied’, ‘Punishment’ and ‘Hold My Own’, plus the standard Bad Religion cover of ‘We’re Only gonna Die’.
Although there can be no stage invasions from the crowd tonight, Guitarist/vocalist Billy Graziadei still enjoys his usual frequent visits into the audience, appearing at the barrier and on top of heads every chance he gets. Bassist/vocalist Evan Seinfeld directs the huge circle pit mayhem from the stage while there are even a few words from guitarist Bobby Hambel at the end. You have never seen so many sweaty, middle-aged men throwing themselves around a moshpit like they were still teenagers, rolling back the years before going back to work a couple of days later, battered and bruised but completely satisfied with their hour of brutal physical exertion.
So, there were have it. Another glorious weekend of metal revelry ends with big grins, overflowing toilets, torn clothes, and dangerously excessive amounts of alcohol. People are already ordering their tickets for next year having seen the likes of Amon Amarth, Architects, Clutch, Malevolence, Septicflesh, Rotting Christ and Night Flight Orchestra announced for next year, the only disappointment being that, for now, it all has to end tonight.
Another superbly organised festival, Bloodstock continues to improve and adapt all the time (although the extra long hike to the media box office is something I could well do without) but certain things do need addressing. The inflatable fun in Midgard took up much-needed camping space, obvious drug dealers were allowed to go about their business unchallenged, pickpockets and thieves were out in force, and the lack of internet proved to be an issue for many. Arguably the most noticeable problem, however, didn’t come from drugs, booze, or smashing into each other with wheelie bins but from the proliferation of fold-up chairs on the Sunday evening which made it not only difficult but also dangerous to get in and out of the crowd without crashing into someone.
Still, such is the work ethic of the organisers, you already know these and any other issues will be looked into. From a taste standpoint, of course, there will always be complaints. The more seasoned metal fan tends to want older acts while younger folks usually demand newer bands. It’s impossible to please everyone but Bloodstock gets it right more often than not.
From the campsite camaraderie to the bands themselves, from the different attractions to the food, drink, and merchandise, from the regulation silly costumes to the headbanging toddlers in ear protectors. An adult yet family atmosphere ensures thousands of metalheads will continue to be drawn for years to come to these Derbyshire fields referred to by many simply as “Home”.
Read Part 1 here:
WORDS BY GARY ALCOCK