Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2015 words by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
After the washout that was this year’s Download festival and the generally dull weather of late, a UK summer festival with actual summer weather was a welcome surprise. Indeed, blue skies graced the Derby countryside for the entire duration of the 2015 Bloodstock Open Air Festival, now in it’s 15th year.
As in recent years, the fun begins at midday on Thursday when the first of 15,000 revelers exchange their tickets for wristbands and stake their plots in the Asgard, Hel, Midgard, Valhalla and Ironwood campsites, all of which are in their familiar locations within earshot of the main stage. The inner gates open at 5pm admitting the early birds into the arena where an ample selection of catering vans, fairground rides, shops and stalls await them. And to warm up those head-banging neck muscles and ear drums, a handful of bands are scheduled to perform in the renowned Sophie Lancaster stage.
Thursday night’s headliners are the self-proclaimed greatest band of all time, Arnocorps, bringing their unique “action-adventure hardcore rock and roll” or “arnocore” genre to Bloodstock for the first time. The six-piece band, born in Austria, but made in America, rely mostly on the 1980’s movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a source of themes and lyrical content. Taking to the stage in combat fatigues and camo face paint, they light up cigars as flag-waving front man Holzfeuer (or is it Arnie?) starts their set by introducing the band before performing tracks including ‘Predator’, ‘Commando’ and ‘Terminator’. A highlight of their set is when one of the guitarists literally surfs on the crowd using his guitar case as a surfboard. The crowd is a mix of those apparently already familiar with their antics and those that look a bit bemused by the act. The entertainment on-site continues into the early hours, with Hobgoblin ales and metal blaring from all directions. But the best is yet to come.
The warm morning sun forces hungover campers from their stifling tents as Friday kicks off at 11am. The honour of opening the Ronnie James Dio main stage goes to old-school thrashers Nuclear Assault, who have been scheduled unusually early to facilitate their touring logistics. The recently reformed Raging Speedhorn and L.A. legends Armoured Saint follow suit, before Belphegor deliver an unhealthy dose of blackened death metal to the bustling audience. With gruesome makeup and what appear to be real animal skeletons on the microphone stands, their dark satanic musical styling is in stark contrast to the blue sky and positive atmosphere of the festival thus far.
Over on the Sophie stage, some more old school thrash metal is on offer courtesy of Hull-based Re-Animator. Another band that recently regrouped after a two decade hiatus, they are reaping the rewards of the recent resurgence in the popularity of thrash with their clean style of riffs, rhythms and vocals. Three of the original members are joined by their new guitarist, introduced by frontman Kev Ingleson, as the “Yorkshire ripper”, Dan Barry, who reportedly learned their full set in just three weeks. The crowd in the tent is initially quite thin, probably due to the irresistible sunshine outside, but quickly builds into a respectable audience, complete with denim-and-patch-clad moshers enjoying the occasional circle pit.
Clashing on the main and second stage are Norwegian Enslaved and Australian Ne Obliviscaris respectively; both delivering their own variants of progressive metal. Enslaved are having “one of those days”, after all of their luggage was lost en route from France, meaning they even needed to borrow the clothes they are wearing, and then technical issues with guitars and vocals result in a sub-par performance in front of an already lethargic audience. Ne Obliviscaris, on the other hand, are getting a great reaction from the sizable crowd in the Sophie tent with their intriguing use of violin and a nice mix of clean and growled vocals. Thankfully, the proximity of all four stages at Bloodstock allows fans the opportunity to easily move back and forth between them without missing out on much.
After headlining Saturday at last year’s Bloodstock with his other band Emperor, Vegard Sverre Tveitan returns this year to perform as Ihsahn, continuing the progressive metal theme for this afternoon. Once again dogged by technical issues, Ihsahn asks the crowd to please allow one minute to resolve them. His request is met with a literal sixty second countdown from the crowd before light-hearted taunts of “liar” are heard. Despite several attempts to fix problems with their monitors, the band resume regardless, promising “We’ll try our best. We might fuck up”. Focusing mainly on tracks from their 2013 album Das Seelenbrechen, but also including a medley of Emperor songs and the unreleased ‘My Heart is of the North’, fans seemed more than happy with the performance.
Judging by the crowd and their t-shirts, one of the most anticipated bands of the day are up next, and Swedish power metal quintet Sabaton unveil an incredibly elaborate, war-themed stage with a huge tank and turret as the drum riser. Their defiant, upbeat, battle-cry songs draw a massive crowd and rouse their fans, spurring fist-pumping and deafening chants, particularly during ‘Swedish Pagans’. When not playing music, the show turns into a bit of a corny comedy routine at times with frontman Joakim Brodén coming out with cheesy one-liners like “Tanks for coming” and outdated jokes about Michael Jackson. Not to be out-done, the audience display their own strange sense of humour by chanting “IKEA, IKEA”, which takes the Swede somewhat by surprise, until he responds that their tank is available to purchase from the home store. Apparently it comes flat-packed and can be ordered using catalogue number 666. Ba-dum tiss.
Friday night headliners are American giants Trivium who join the stage after their intro of Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the Hills’ before breaking into the live premiere of ‘Silence in the Snow’ from their forthcoming album of the same name. The curse of technical difficulties strikes yet again for guitarist Corey Beaulieu, prompting frontman Matt Heafy to joke that it’s keeping him in check like in their early days as a three-piece. Another live premiere of ‘Blind Leading the Blind’ mixed with more than a dozen tracks from their back-catalogue are all well received by the audience which is surprisingly smaller than anticipated.
As Trivium wrap up their set after the first full day of the festival, Dutch symphonic metal band Delain are just kicking off the final set of the Sophie stage. The six-piece formed by former Within Temptation keyboardist Martijn Westerholt, and fronted by powerful vocalist Charlotte Wessels, deliver an energetic Friday finale in front of an impressive crowd. Head-banging in synchronization when not charging around the stage, Delain are the perfect end to an incredible day, leaving everyone thirsty for more.