Pictures : Olga Kuzmenko
Words: Alan Daly
Bloodstock, we’re home! Just like opening the front door after a long day at work, pulling up at Catton Park on Thursday morning is a welcome return to familiar and relaxed surroundings. A year seems like forever to wait, but as always, there is much to look forward to. This year, Amon Amarth, Ghost and Megadeth are the top-billed acts, and as is customary, there are more than one hundred other bands lined up to perform on four stages over four days. For the first time in its thirteen year history, weekend tickets sold out in advance of the festival, and unfortunately for some, this means long queues to enter the campsite amid stricter-than-normal security checks. Thankfully, the weather is fine, and the forecast promises more of the same for the rest of the weekend.
Campers stake claim to their preferred patches of fresh grass, be they in Valhalla, Midgard, Ironwood, Hel or the newest addition, Ragnarok, and pitch their temporary residences. Of course those who splashed out on VIP tickets set up camp in the Serpent’s Lair or simply move into pre-erected lodgings, where servants tend to their every whim (ok, maybe they didn’t have servants, but VIP tickets are still a good way to spend an extra few quid if you’ve got it). Those who patiently endured the waiting lines in the afternoon are rewarded with an evening of music in the Sophie Lancaster tent, headlined by female-fronted Finnish power metal sextet Battle Beast. A spirited start to the weekend offering punters the opportunity to stretch those crowd-surfing muscles and test their ballad lighters. But the fun doesn’t stop there, and the Pyrohex girls and guy deliver #titsandfire (well, fire anyway) before The 4 DJs of the Apocalypse play everyone’s favourite metal disco tracks until the early hours.
A cloudy start to Friday morning provides welcome shade in the otherwise exposed tents for hungover heads to wake up and plan the day ahead. Food stalls offer a wide variety of brunch options to choose from as we make our way to the Ronnie James Dio main stage to enlist the services of Knoxville deathcore outfit Whitechapel to blow the cobwebs from our brains. It’s a brutal return to Bloodstock for the boys who last played here in 2013 and have released two new albums in the interim; Our Endless War and Mark of the Blade. These new albums dominate their 45-minute set, alongside some fan favourites from their preceding eponymous album. The crowd are eager, engaged and energetic and not afraid to express their excitement so early into the festival.
After a brief and unexpected rain shower, we return to the main stage to catch the Polish technical death metallers Decapitated. Another band making their second appearance at Bloodstock, they have a considerable following in the audience, judging by the size of the crowd gathered and their familiarity with the music. Having just released their seventh studio album Anticult, they open with two brand new tracks ‘Deathvaluation’ and ‘Kill the Cult’, before playing some older, more familiar numbers. Frontman “Rasta” Piotrowski whips his ass-length dreads around as his band mates deliver a punishing performance that sets the bar high for the remainder of the festival. In all, half of their set is taken from their one-month-old release, which is a testament to their confidence in the new material, and a decision well-received by the fans.
And speaking of Testament, the old school bay area thrashers are up next, ten years after their first slot at this festival, and still lean heavily on their popular 2016 album Brotherhood of the Snake in their setlist. There is little doubt that classic thrash is as relevant as ever here at Bloodstock, with patch-covered denim battle vests to be seen at every turn. A blustery change in the weather detracts from the sonic enjoyment of their trusty delivery, but most are nonplussed, particularly when early tracks like ‘Into the Pit’ and ‘Disciples of the Watch’ from 1988’s New Order turn the pit into a whirlwind of denim and leather.
Equally legendary is the German power metal quartet Blind Guardian, who, in their thirty-year career has been at the fore of their genre with an impressively stable lineup. Founding frontman Hansi Kürsch is surely one of the least animated or stereotypical metal vocalists that this reviewer has seen, but his no-frills style does not lessen the band’s allure to the hordes of fans singing along to their epic tales of folklore and fantasy. Kürsch jokes about how his English has improved since their last visit to Bloodstock in 2009 and comments that he disagrees with the common perception that they are a “happy metal band”. Whatever their opinion, the crowd seem pretty happy with the performance.
A brief visit to the Sophie stage gives us an opportunity to catch Bloodstock virgins Lionize during the 45-minute main stage change over. Having missed the chance to see the Maryland rockers performing in Dublin two nights previously while we were en route to Derbyshire (alongside Irish Metal 2 The Masses winners zhOra and Na Cruithne), we were curious to see how they would fare at a festival synonymous with music much heavier than their blend of heavy rock, reggae, and funk. Pretty well, it turns out, although some might question the shiny gold suit worn by frontman Nate Bergman. Don’t expect to see Lionize on the Dio stage anytime soon, but a welcome addition to the Sophie stage for those who aren’t fans of power metal tonight.
Usurping Blind Guardian from their one-time headline rank on the main stage (back in 2002 when Bloodstock was an indoor event), Amon Amarth triumphantly return for their fourth appearance, but their first time topping the bill. As anticipated, their stage show is peppered with pyro and props, with the drum kit mounted on a giant Viking helmet. The crowd gets many-a-chance to raise their Viking drinking horns to make a toast to Odin or Thor, as frontman Johan Hegg leads, and demands them to “skull”. Hegg also attempts to break the record for the most people engaged in epic Viking rowing (think of the classic wedding party piece “rock-the-boat”, but with bearded, sweaty metallers, pretending to propel a longboat). While hundreds, if not thousands, did indeed get on the ground, sadly, the record attempt falls short of what could truly have been an epic event with a bit more encouragement and direction from Hegg. There’s plenty of burning props and exploding hammers to accompany their triumphant tracks making their performance a satisfying choice of Friday headliner.
Copious beers and metal discos wrap up the first full day of music at Bloodstock 2017. It has not disappointed, and we eagerly anticipate the two jam-packed days to come.