Live gig review by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
It’s the morning of the final day of the Bloodstock festival and we are awoken by the sound of heavy rain and gusty wind battering our tents. There’s only so long you can delay answering the call of nature, so we bite the bullet and psych ourselves up for a soaking.
Our first stop is at the Ronnie James Dio stage to enjoy some Belgian death metal; brought to us by Aborted. A gory backdrop of zombie corpses brandishing drills and saws, flanked by two banners reading “Raise the Dead, Kill the Living”, sets the mood for their vulgar display of power. Frontman Sven de Caluwé exudes energy and aggression as he pounds the stage and himself; screaming and growling indistinctly at the world. His hostile persona wards off the rain clouds and the skies begin to brighten during the set. Their apocalyptic sound and earth-trembling bass guitar and machine gun double bass drumming get the respectably sized crowd moving in the now very muddy mosh pit. Their set runs slightly over time as there appears to be some dispute over the time remaining, but they finish by promising to return to the UK later in the year. For the third day in a row, we have chosen our first band of the day wisely, and are again ready for anything that the bands, and the weather can throw at us.
As Aborted leave the stage, a festival spokesperson announces that due to a delayed flight, Graveyard will be unable to make their 15:20 slot on the mainstage, and instead will swap with Avatar who were originally scheduled to play on the Sophie Lancaster stage at 20:00. An interesting trade-off for Avatar; a shorter set, and the risk of their fans missing them based on the publicized stage times, versus the opportunity to play on the much bigger main stage and to poach some new fans. How could they refuse?
In the meantime, sunny blue skies welcome veteran Brooklyn hardcore punk/metal act Biohazard to Bloodstock. Opening with ‘Shades of Grey’ from their 1992 sophomore album Urban Discipline, they bounce around the stage with unstoppable energy. The crowd jump in unison to the punk and hip-hop influenced classics. Biohazard are apparently forced to make changes to their setlist in response in response to technical issues which plague them throughout their set, but they don’t let it detract from their enthusiastic performance. Despite having nine albums in their back catalogue, they draw entirely from their first three albums of the early nineties for their set, save for ‘We’re Only Gonna Die’; a Bad Religion cover. In an unexpected move, front man Billy Graziadei jumps off stage during ‘Wrong Side of the Tracks’ and engages personally with the front row fans. Even more unexpectedly, he climbs over the rail and stands on the shoulders of surprised fans and plays out the end of the song from his precarious perch. The crowd go wild for the finale of ‘Punishment’; reportedly the most played video of all time on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, and more than a hundred crazy fans jump the front rail and scale the stage for a full-on stage invasion. Definitely one of the highlights of Bloodstock 2014!
What could possibly come close to matching this level of manic energy and anarchy? Irish thrash metallers Psykosis certainly give it a shot. So how does an unsigned band playing their first ever UK gig fill the New Blood tent at Bloodstock to capacity? With free beer, inflatable beach toys, gratuitous nudity, and the help of some aggressive guerrilla self-promotion throughout the festival, of course! They have promised 400 bottles of complementary home-brew during their set, and have piqued the curiosity of thousands of revellers that cram into the venue even before they set foot on stage. And the crowd, led by a loyal contingent of Irish fans, chant “Psy-ko-sis” loud enough for those paying £4 a pop for beers at the official bar to recall frontman Tony Corcoran’s dubious promise of complementary booze. These four lads earned their slot here today by winning the public and judges votes in the only Irish Metal 2 The Masses competition which saw over sixty bands compete for this coveted opportunity. They have been compared to an early Metallica, and their old school thrash tracks could be dropped onto Kill ‘Em All without upsetting a casual listener. True to their word, the band pause after ‘Beach Season’ to throw crateloads of Psykosis-labelled plastic beer bottles into the salivating crowd, helped by none other than Bloodstock organiser Simon Hall. The audience scramble for the “PsykoPiss” (as it was later dubbed) and toss the beach toys back and forth as the band launch into another frolicsome track ‘Sea of Beer’, spawning the biggest (and possibly only) circle pit in the New Blood tent. All of this might seem like gimmicky distractions, except that the music and performance are bloody enjoyable, and have the name “Psykosis” on the minds and tongues of thousands of entertained fans afterwards.
Now it’s time for a theatrical performance from Swedish melodic death metal band Avatar who are enjoying their unexpected promotion to the main stage. The similarities to heyday Marilyn Manson cannot be disputed with gothic themes and the black eye makeup and lipstick of flamboyant vocalist Johannes Eckerström. Dressed like a cross between a ringmaster and an evil clown, he regularly interacts with the audience in a creepy voice, asking “Do you want to start a fire? Will you burn with us?” before playing ‘Let it Burn’ from their 2012 albumBlack Waltz. The impressively large crowd clap along and sing loudly, particularly during ‘Bloody Angel’ and ‘Paint me Red’, obeying Eckerström’s instructions: “If you know it; sing along. If you don’t know it; sing along”. An overall enjoyable performance that will undoubtedly have introduced their music to some new fans who can catch them again in December when they return to the UK.
Another band from the island of Ireland are up next on the Sophie Lancaster stage. The Belfast-based Stormzone have been playing their old school heavy metal for almost a decade and have four studio albums under their belts. They start five minutes earlier than scheduled, which is surprising, as many Bloodstock regulars rely on the normally accurate programme so as not to miss their favourite acts spread across the four stages. Their music is classic eighties NWOBHM and delivered with precision and plenty of enthusiasm. But much like Monument on Thursday night, they fail to get our blood pumping. Perhaps this is more of a personal preference of the genre, but the sparsely populated Sophie tent would seem to affirm our feelings. Perhaps the poor support was partly due to the fact that they are clashing with metal legends Obituary on the main stage. Perhaps it also explains their early start; hoping to get a few songs in the bag before the audience inevitably make their way across the arena ten minutes later.
We follow the trend, and sneak over to see how Obituary are faring on the Dio stage. It is their second appearance at Bloodstock, having performed here four years ago. The Floridian death metal band was established over a quarter of a century ago, and its founding members were playing together for years before that, firmly establishing them as pioneers of the genre. Their setlist includes songs spanning their entire career, including the title track from their as-yet unreleased new album Inked in Blood, and they are delivered with precision and raw brutality. Fans of the band were not disappointed with the performance, and those who had secured themselves a comfortable vantage point for the remaining main stage acts and headliners were treated to a crash course in death. As their set draws to an end, the wind begins to gust beyond the limits of some of the tents in the arena. Structures that have not already collapsed are hurriedly dismantled and riggers climb the lighting and speaker stacks to secure them. It feels like there’s a storm-a-coming; in more sense than one.
From one genre-defining legend to another iconic band that helped to forge an entire genre of genres; Saxon are considered to be one of the leaders of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal in the late seventies. This is their fourth appearance at Bloodstock and they hold the accolade of having headlined the inaugural one-day indoor festival in 2001. During their set, metal patriarch Biff Byford recalls their first ever metal festival; at Donington park, when it was called “The Monsters of Rock”. He elaborates; “In those days it was a one-day thing. You came, you enjoyed the music, and then you fucked off”. With a catalogue of no less than twenty studio albums, selecting tracks for a one hour set would never cover all of the bases, so they focus more on Wheels of Steel and Denim and Leather from 1980 and 1981; including both title tracks in the setlist. Biff reminds us that they are celebrating their 35th Anniversary this year and acknowledges “That’s a long fucking time”. Before the finale of ‘Denim and Leather’, Biff announces that he would like to invite someone they met at a gig in the Whisky A Go Go in 1980 to join them onstage. Dave Mustaine is greeted with cheers from the crowd as he plays along with his Flying V. Despite being “aging metallers”, Saxon still put on an incredible show and the old school fans in the audience rock out to classic tracks like ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ and generally party like it’s 1979.
The penultimate mainstage band of the festival are another Swedish act; Amon Amarth deliver a spectacular show inspired by Viking and Norse mythology. Two massive smoke-breathing dragon heads dominate the stage, and a barrage of pyro and smoke engulf the podium from the outset. Amon Amarth have one of the largest followings at this festival if the number of branded tshirts and patches are any indication, and the huge numbers in attendance confirm the suspicion. They open with a trio of tracks from their latest album Deceiver of the Gods and proceed with a stomping selection of tracks from their nine album catalogue. By now, the crowd is packed tightly around the main stage almost oblivious to the light drizzle as they enjoy a thoroughly entertaining visual and aural extravaganza from the Swedes. With copious pyrotechnics throughout their show, it really feels like this is the climax of the festival, and it’s hard to see how any band could possibly top it.
And so, the final act is nigh. At least that was the original plan, but it appears that Megadeth have drawn such a crowd to the Dio stage that Satan’s set on the Sophie stage is postponed, presumably due to poor attendance. Dave Mustaine gets a hard time from a lot of metal fans these days; mostly for water that’s far under the bridge, and mostly undeserved when one weighs up his past grievances about Metallica and the world in general against the early Megadeth masterpiece albums that ironically were spurred by the afore-mentioned grievances. And Dave knows that these early albums will be well-received here tonight. After a recorded intro of ‘Prince of Darkness’, the set starts proper with a non-stop trio of ‘Hangar 18’, ‘Wake Up Dead’ and ‘In My Darkest Hour’ setting the tempo and expectations high. Large screens display imagery pertaining to each track as it is played, and later in the show, they play some short movie snippets where Megadeth have been mentioned such as Wayne’s World. Mustaine’s voice has always been far better in the studio than live, but tonight his voice sounds better than it has done in recent times. At least that’s how it seems when fifteen thousand fans are singing along word-for-word to the classic tracks. It sounds a little less impressive during ‘Kingmaker’; the only song played from the 2013 release Super Collider, making us wonder if it is in fact the audience voices that sound so great. Either way, Megadeth play a cracking ninety minute set of all the fan favourites while Dave struts confidently around the stage basking in the limelight. He spots a little kid at the front row and invites him up to the stage to the best seat in the house, gives him a pick and comments “I know I act all tough, but now you know I’m really a puss. That’s the future of metal right there. We gotta look after it”. A cheesy publicity stunt to inflate his own ego? Possibly. But frankly it doesn’t matter. The crowd are enjoying the music and everyone is satisfied. Surprisingly, the encore includes a cover of Thin Lizzy’s Cold Sweat (OK, so they played two tracks from Super Collider!), which is a personal highlight, and a good point to wrap up this mammoth review.
Another fantastic Bloodstock festival comes to an end, and already speculation about next year’s installment is being debated. This year and last saw three of The Big Four perform. The fourth is practically impossible, but we can always dream. More likely suggestions have been In Flames and Iced Earth, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Or just buy the early bird tickets anyway; we won’t be disappointed!