Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2015 words by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
It’s the final day of Bloodstock Open Air Festival and thousands of hungover heads and sunburned bodies are making the short trek from the green grassy campsites to the main arena for a third helping of metal from the buffet. Lunchtime sees Irish trio Dead Label onstage in the Sophie Lancaster tent, a venue significant to the band because the murder victim after whom it is named was the subject of the first song they wrote together. Inspired by heavy metal giants like Metallica and Machine Head, Dead Label have perfected their heavy but accessible sound thanks to a solid rhythm section with Claire Percival on drums and Dan O’Grady on bass (and vocals). Meanwhile, Danny Hall on guitar fires out riffs that Kirk Hammett would be proud of. Dan screams at the crowd: “I don’t care how hungover you are; You’re going to knock that shit out” before launching into their so-called bang-over song, ‘Overdose’. They even treat the crowd to a new track, ‘Bloodletting’, that is so new that it isn’t even going to be on their forthcoming album Throne of Bones, but was written especially for their summer European tour. They finish up their set, which is frankly too short, with fan favourite ‘Void’.
And going from one hungry new Irish band to another, the Hobgoblin New Blood stage plays host to Animator, the winners of the Irish Metal 2 The Masses competition. The thrash metal quartet from Wexford have been promising “Free Craic” at their show, and those that came along are not disappointed (except those who thought there would be free crack, an understandable mix-up caused by the Gaelic word for fun). Singer James Doughty nonchalantly asks: “Are we all going to get fucked up? Are we all going to be getting sick on our shoes?”. Thankfully, nobody throws up at their show, and the lads play a blinder of a set featuring tracks like Ultra-53, inspired by an alleged CIA mind control program in the early 1950’s.
Out on the main stage, the iconic Brazilian legends Sepultura are celebrating their 30th year, opening with ‘Troops of Doom’ from their debut album released way back in 1986. Of course, the cynics can still be heard saying that it’s not Sepultura without Max, but Derrick Green has fronted the band for longer than Max, and while their early albums are unrivalled, Green does a great job delivering both old and new tracks. The setlist is comprised of ten songs chosen from nine albums, and is as good a retrospective as could be hoped for in the short time allowed to them.
There’s a distinctly Celtic feel to the day, as a third Irish band are set to perform on the tiny Jagermeister stage. In an unprecedented move, Simon Hall chose two bands from the Irish Metal 2 The Masses final to play at Bloodstock. While Animator were the overall winners, Hall couldn’t resist giving Snowblind a slot on the festival’s most intimate stage, and in fact named the band in his personal top ten list of acts not to miss this year. Their progressive/thrash metal is a satisfying mix of heavy and trippy, and the three Dublin-based lads are completely engrossed in the precise technical delivery of their mostly instrumental tracks.
For those who enjoy mathcore, the Sophie stage is the place to be to catch Italian five-piece Destrage. With obvious similarities to bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, their technical, irregular rhythms and style send the modest crowd into a bit of a frenzy. Once again, the glorious sunshine undoubtedly robbing them of a bigger audience which they definitely deserve.
Back outdoors, iconic New York death metal band Cannibal Corpse are tearing shit up on the Dio stage, and the crowd are going absolutely nuts. The sun is still splitting the stones, but it’s not deterring crazed fans from head-banging, moshing and setting the weekend record for crowd-surfing. Frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher challenges the audience: “Bang your Goddamn heads. Try to keep up with me. You will fail miserably, but try.” Performing more than a dozen tracks including ‘A Skull full of Maggots’ from their debut album Eaten Back to Life released 25 years ago this month and ‘Icepick Lobotomy’ from their latest album A Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse prove that they are still one of the most brutal and disgusting bands in metal. Case in point, Fisher announces “This is a love song. It’s about shooting blood from your cock.” before performing ‘I Cum Blood’ from their controversial 1992 album Tomb of the Mutilated.
Less likely to offend, but just as popular with the Bloodstock audience is Black Label Society featuring and formed by Zakk Wylde. Opening their set with ‘The Beginning… At Last’ from their first album Sonic Brew, Wylde starts as he means to continue by shredding out riff after solo after riff on his hypnotic signature guitars. With tracks taken from almost all of the albums in the BLS back catalogue, fans seem to enjoy the impeccable performance from one of the true craftsmen of metal fretwork.
Finally it is the moment that 15,000 satisfied and sunburned metal fans have been waiting for; the Superbeast himself Rob Zombie is ready to headline the closing day of the festival. The stage is flanked by huge portraits of movie monsters like Frankenstein’s and the Wolfman, and along three podiums at the front of the stage are the random words “Love Death Sex – Suck Die Crush – Hate Kill War”. Zombie gets straight down to business with ‘Teenage Nosferatu Pussy’, ‘Superbeast’ and ‘Demonoid Phenomenon’. A steady stream of die-hards make their way over crowd and the rail, followed by a huge inflatable couch, prompting Rob to comment on “the crazy fucking crowd surfing”, and recalling that he remembers when they used to use chairs, “but now they use sofas”. He admits that he’s not even sure whether tonight is the last night of the festival, but he is well aware that it’s the last show of his own tour. He encourages all the strong guys to lift the pretty girls onto their shoulders for ‘Living Dead Girl’ and many undead couples oblige.
John 5 seems to be relishing his performance with plenty of costume and guitar changes, many covered in blinding LEDs. During his solo, Zombie fetches a miniature guitar for him which he uses to perform the end of said solo. A cover of the Ramones’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ proves popular with the audience and a barrage of giant beach balls during the tongue-in-cheek ‘Pussy Liquor’ [pun intended] makes for a party atmosphere. Surprisingly, and somewhat disappointingly, there are no pyrotechnics during the show, but the music proves powerful enough to keep everyone satisfied. For the encore of ‘The Lords of Salem’ and the inevitable ‘Dragula’, all four members of the band don Union Jack trenchcoats, and have some fun swapping instruments around during the finale.
Zombie calls it a day, wishes his fans peace and a good night, and leaves the stage as quickly as he arrived. The lights stay on, and the festival MC takes to the stage for the final time to thank just about everyone and their mother for helping to make this year’s Bloodstock festival great. As anticipated, there is an announcement about the 2016 line up to follow. A big screen teaser hints that Behemoth will play next year, and it is confirmed that they will perform their hugely popular albumThe Satanist in its entirety for the first time ever. Earlier in the weekend, it was revealed that old-school extreme metallers Venom will also grace the Catton Hall mainstage next year.
And just when you think it’s all over, there’s always a little bit more. In the Sophie tent, Birmingham post-metal duo Godflesh have the honour of being the final band on stage. A metal band without a physical drum kit is always going to be a bit unusual, and its not to everybody’s taste, but the intentionally dark and moody stage, and the bass-heavy trace-inducing music coupled with synchronised psychedelic video tracks playing on the backdrop are the perfect wind-down for many. Others retire to their cars or tents for the final time. Others party all night long.
By midday on Monday morning, Catton Hall looks like a post-apocalyptic ghost town, with tents and camping gear strewn far and wide. The festival staff will undoubtedly have this place back to normal within days, and we’ll all be back to do it over again next year. Can somebody arrange a repeat of the weather?