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Bloodstock Open Air 2018 – Did Nightwish give us ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ ?

Words and Pictures: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media

As the Saturday closed on what has been described as a defining set from Gojira, the heavens were kind enough to open and provide the levels of rain that grandparents had long been requesting because “the garden and the lawn is desperate” instead of waiting just one more day till the festival was over and done with for another year. One day Mother Nature, that’s all we asked for….. 

So whilst the crowd was dampened although not to the levels experienced by another Midlands rock and metal festival located some miles down the road over the last few years, it was enough to warrant a trip to Motley Brew as soon as we arrived. There’s ‘nowt as necessary as a hot cuppa on a murky, damp day. 

Refreshed and stuffed thanks to possibly the largest iced muffin ever baked, we headed into the main arena for a dose of Monument on the main stage. As had become the norm over the course of the weekend, many of the bands performing earlier in the day were benefiting from great lighting and more flame cannons than a mildly warm day in hell could offer. As such, Monument’s set got a great reaction from the band and the number of people going over the barrier kept the bemused Showsec team rather busy when they were perhaps hoping for a gentler start to the day.  

Over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, Doomsday Outlaw delivered another pristine set and reaffirmed the rumours that they will be one to watch out for over 2018/2019. With debut album Suffer More receiving nothing but top marks across the board, the band acknowledge that their ace in the hole is lead singer Phil Poole. A man who looks like he should be fronting Kaiser Chiefs rather than a heavy rock band like Doomsday Outlaw but possessing a voice that suits their music perfectly and a body that seems to be powered by rocket fuel and jello. He bends, twists and turns like a man possessed all the time the band move around him like the planets revolving around the sun. They suit a large stage and make the most of every inch of it. An inspired choice to open the day and a band that will be much higher up the bill next time around. 

Evergrey offer some of the most glorious lighting of the weekend. The blues contrasting perfectly with the black and white imagery on stage, the ‘cool’ look at polar opposites to swathes of garish colour or deepest blacks that some other bands presented over the weekend. Of course their blend of progressive metal goes down a treat, as expected setting up punters perfectly for the arrival of Amaranthe. Perfectly blending the roars and growls (for those that love their music with a bit of spice) with clean vocalists thanks to three stunning vocalists including new arrival Nils Molin (Dynazty) this should have been their moment. It would have been if not for issues with the backing tracks that seemingly refused to play and as such a good 15 minutes of the set went down the drain. Thankfully, Johan Andreassen stepped up to the plate and kept the crowd entertained with some European comedy gold and eventually the band kicked in. And boy what they could deliver in 30 minutes spoke volumes about what they could do with a full set. Maybe they could try again on tour with Powerwolf later this year. 

Fozzy delivered a slab of American hard rock that was wholly unexpected having never heard a note from them before. Fronted by former WWE wrestler Chris Jericho who may have gained a few inches on the waistline but still knows how to move with the energy of a teenager on stage, Fozzy were great fun. I’ll add them to the list of studio output to check out.

The act that caused the biggest [sic] amount of fan ranting was the inclusion of Mr Big on the bill. Cries of not metal enough all the way through to “I’ve sold my tickets” took place in the months leading up to the festival. When the band finally took to the stage however, they admitted that Bloodstock wasn’t necessarily the perfect festival fit for them but with good nature, humour and 4 of the best musicians you’ll find on the circuit these days, the band just got on with it. Hits, solos and Billy Sheehan on bass… what more could we ask for. No bottles of suspect liquids thrown on stage, no desertion of crowds to other stages, people simply stayed, watched and enjoyed it, singing along word for word in many cases. Can your guitarist play using a power drill like Paul Gilbert? No….. exactly, then shut up!

And so to Nightwish, a band I’ve seen multiple times over the years. From the small(ish) Astoria venue [R.I.P] through to huge pyro fueled performance at a packed Wembley arena in support of the last studio album, Nightwish have grown and grown into a world class headline act. Like Mr Big though, there are detractors in the audience. Is it epic over metal? Should they be headliners? All questions were answered with what can only be described as one of the most visually impressive live shows ever. Huge video screens which had additional screens built into the drum and keyboard risers that allowed the ‘show’ to grab the audience by the throat and ram home the fact that the band were more than worthy, this felt like it was their birthright.

The setlist below shows tracks carved out of their impressive career and it’s comforting to see that the list isn’t just a selection of the hits. It was a fan friendly set but also a set containing the tracks that mean a lot to the band as well. The impressive showcase from their last album, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’,  is the immense ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.’ Part I-IV are played out to some of the stunning visuals mentioned earlier, making their autumn tour dates a must, before the fan favourite ‘Ghost Love Score’ is played. The latter fast becoming the band’s Bohemian Rhapsody to the point where they even leave the stage during an extended instrumental piece with a solitary candle burning on the screen before returning to close out the song. the remainder of ‘The Greatest Show…’ and the set. Utterly mesmerising. 

SETLIST: 

Intro (1 Minute Countdown Timer on screen) / End of All Hope / Wish I Had an Angel / 10th Man Down / Come Cover Me / Gethsemane / Élan / Sacrament of Wilderness / Amaranth / I Want My Tears Back / Devil & the Deep Dark Ocean / Nemo / Slaying the Dreamer / The Greatest Show on Earth (Chapter II: Life; Chapter III: The Toolmaker) / Ghost Love Score / The Greatest Show on Earth / (Chapter IV: The Understanding; Chapter V: Sea-Worn Driftwood)

Watain then have the privilege of bringing the festival to close on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. To say it was unnerving would be an understatement. The smell of rotting pigs blood makes the tent feel like a portaloo that’s just been emptied (you’re not quite sure where the smell is coming from but it hangs in the air). The stage is decked out with spikes, speaks and imagery that fits the band perfectly. Most of the stage is lit on fire and the local fire brigade are on hand (in large numbers) just in case the tent goes WOOF!

Some photographers are wearing rain protection clothing convinced by other togs who clearly enjoyed the wind up, that they were about to get doused in pigs’blood. They may well have thrown it out into the crowd but during our opening songs, the atmosphere , fire and flames, lighting and opportunity to shoot the band remained thankfully very dry.

I’ve never been a huge fan of this style of music but there’s no denying the set was something else. Huge, molten, tribal, almost cultish the audience hung onto everything the band fired at them. Cult leaders take note, this is how to pick up your followers! 

Staggering home wanting a cup of tea but also harbouring a desire to worship at the dark lord’s alter, Bloodstock 2018 came to an end!

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