Bloodstock 2017

A diverse line-up, friendly crowd and good beer had your reviewer converted to this metal festival. Photos: Wendy Keogh

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Do you like your music loud and heavy and your crowds enthusiastic and friendly? Well, Bloodstock may be for you. Beginning in 2001 as an independent indoor one day event, the festival shed its indoor shackles in 2005 to become Bloodstock Open Air (B-O-A), growing its passionate and loyal fanbase year on year, reaching 15,000 this year. I’ll admit, I went to Bloodstock rather sceptical. I’d heard great things but still I wasn’t 100 per cent convinced. It didn’t take long – as soon as the festival was in full swing, I got it. I’ve been to many festivals over the years, picking and choosing over line-ups and, while others may have slightly bigger names, I’d be hard pressed not to return here. The bands and fans I spoke to all said it – there is just something about Bloodstock.

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A few bands played the second stage, renamed the Sophie Lancaster stage since 2009, on Thursday night and there was a hellishly early 10.30am start on Friday for the New Blood stage, dedicated to unsigned bands that won regional rounds of the Metal 2 the Masses competition. Friday’s Main Stage action kicked off with Forever Still. Channelling the likes of Flyleaf and Evanescence, the band performed to a respectable crowd for a day consisting of some of the heaviest acts.

Chelsea Grin and Whitechapel brought a more modern metal vibe to the festival, which continued through to Devilment, Cradle of Filth frontman Dani Filth’s other project. His trademark vocals, accompanied by some big, chunky and catchy riffs, soon got the crowd going. The seasoned pro made being a frontman look easy and fun, and thanked the crowd for not repeating 2009’s gobstopper throwing that led to Cradle of Filth’s guitarist hospitalised. Devilmentt closed the set with the mighty Under the Thunder.

German power metal with lashings of Tolkien-esque themes courtesy of Blind Guardian was the entertainment just before headliners Amon Amarth. Throughout the day the crowd resembled an invasion of northmen so it was no surprise the Viking metallers pulled in a huge audience. They dispensed with their usual longship stage setup in favour of a huge, but not entirely accurate, horned Viking helmet. Johan Hegg led the band with gruff and growly vocals yet his lyrics were still discernible, as he got the crowd to “raise their horns” – not just the hand gesture but actual drinking horns that were selling like hot cakes on stalls across the site. The tradition of epic Viking rowing returned home to Bloodstock during Varyads of Miklagaard (if you’re wondering, imagine thousands of hairy metal fans sat on the floor as if Rock the Boat was playing at a wedding party).

With guitarist Andrew Beal arrested on a weapons charge and unable to get a visa, the King 810 performance was a raw, stripped-down performance

With Friday’s hangovers in check we headed out to watch King 810. (FYI, if you like beer then Bloodstock is a good one, with a decent selection of beers in the arena bars and a VIP bar boasting more than 120 cask and craft ales over the weekend. There is no need to drink overpriced pints of crap lager ever again.) With guitarist Andrew Beal arrested on a weapons charge and unable to get a visa, the King 810 set was a raw, stripped-down performance. Violent images played on screen as David Gunn’s almost poetic and harsh lyrics about life in Flint, Michigan bounded over Korn and Slipknot-style riffs.

Municipal Waste’s party thrash metal had over 700 crowdsurfers piling over the barriers, much to the bane of the security staff and photographers. Hatebreed blasted out a set packed of their hardcore metal fist-pumpers, followed by thrash legends Kreator and the announcement that Gojira will be headlining next year, much to the crowd’s approval. Highlight of the day were headliners Ghost – not the heaviest band on the bill but Papa and his nameless Ghouls put on a hell of a show, as always. With his papal gestures Papa wandered around the stage in his cassock before coming out all suited and strutting like a peacock. The Ghouls may have had their faces covered but their body language was so emotive you could just tell  they were bloody loving it. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this band headlining more festivals soon. They may look scary and darker than Slayer in a blackout but musically they’re more like early Black Sabbath.

Broken Teeth, Venom Prison, Possessed and Obituary were the first half of Sunday’s Main stage. Later Mexico’s finest, Brujeria, brought an absolutely brutal sound to the stage. The majority of their set may have been be in Spanish, with their faces obscured with bandanas, but there was one thing the crowd understood, chanting back with them: “Fuck Donald Trump!” They closed the set with the bizarre Marijuana, a cannabis-themed metal cover of the Macarena.

Arch Enemy were another band that knew how to perform, playing to the crowd, posing and looking good while playing

Theatrical, pyro-loving local legends Hell – one of the originators of wearing corpse paint – scorched the crowd’s eyebrows with hefty use of fire jets bursting from the photo pit. It brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “face melting solo”. Welsh reggae-metal five-piece Skindred got the crowd whipped up next, those that came to check what all the fuss is about instantly joining the party and discovering why they’re so popular on the festival circuit. Frontman Benji Webbe’s effortlessly cool demeanour and passion as he spoke between songs struck a chord with the crowd – “It’s about being you – we don’t follow”, “It’s about coming together”. Fists raised, he spread his message and then, boom, straight back to the bouncy, catchy riffs.

Arch Enemy had a tough act to follow but their return to a death metal sound for the penultimate act felt appropriate. Alissa White-Gluz’s vocals, like that of her predecessor, now manager Angela Gossow, can really separate the men from the boys in what is often a male-dominated genre. Again, they were another band that knew how to perform, playing to the crowd, posing and looking good while playing.

Less can be said about headliners Megadeth, but then they were all about the music, thrashing out hit after hit from their extensive back catalogue. It all sounded good. Dave Mustane looked uncomfortable and lacked presence while in front of the mic but as soon as he stepped away for a solo he was transformed, full of energy and confidence. It was a perfect set for fans but nothing special.

The party continued into the night. Thankfully the weather – bar a two-minute shower on Friday – stayed good until Monday morning, much to my relief after some previous festival experiences. Thank you Bloodstock. I am converted!

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