Words: Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
It’s hard to believe that twelve months have come and gone, and it’s time once more to return to the UK’s largest independent metal festival. After a memorable Summer of great weather, most people are actually sick of sunshine at this stage. Just as well then, that the forecast for this year’s Bloodstock Open Air Festival is mixed at best for the thousands of metal fans, friends and family descending upon Catton park on the 18th occurrence of this heavy music meeting. Attendance has grown year on year, now reaching a record 18,000 in 2018, and while these numbers pale in comparison with the likes of Wacken or Graspop, it’s what makes Bloodstock feel like such a comfortable, relaxed and familiar festival. Of course, it’s great to see BOA growing in stature and popularity and attracting world-class headliners, but it feels like it’s in the Goldilocks zone right now, and we’ve returned hoping that everything is juuuust right.
As in previous years, Thursday is mostly about the time-consuming exchange of paper tickets for wristbands, the token bag search for glass bottles and illegal items, and the establishment of temporary canvas lodgings for the next four nights. Once the practicalities are taken care of, it’s time to make our way to the arena, dine at one of the many fine mobile eateries, quickly re-acquaint ourselves with the merch tents and stalls, and then catch some of the acts performing on the Sophie Lancaster stage. But before enjoying any live music, we briefly stop off at the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage tent which is set up as a cinema for this evening and showing the classic spoof rockumentary “This is Spinal Tap”. The scene where guitarist Nigel Tufnel explains why their Marshall amplifiers go all the way to eleven feels like a good way to start our Bloodstock live music experience. Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it?
Of the five scheduled to play tonight, our first band of the weekend is Portsmouth-based quartet Bloodshot Dawn. They are one of the success stories of the Bloodstock Metal 2 the Masses competition, having won their local competition in 2009 and now making their fourth appearance here at the festival. Their recorded intro track of the Rick and Morty theme tune prompts a sudden surge of people into the tent before the lads explode onstage with their melodic death metal mayhem. Opening with ‘Godless’ from their eponymous debut album, the crowd immediately respond, spawning modest circle pits and warming up their head-banging muscles for the long weekend ahead. New tracks from their latest album Reanimated including the title track and ‘Survival Evolved’, appear to go down particularly well with their fans, of whom there seems to be a large quantity in the bustling tent.
We remain at the Sophie stage for Thursday night headliners, Russian folk metal band Arkona. In previous years, this slot has featured parody bands like Abba-tribute Tragedy and Arnold Schwarzenegger inspired Arnocorps, and while tonight’s finale may not be a stereotypical heavy metal act, they are certainly no joke. The hooded band members make a dramatic entrance through the smoky stage, accompanied by the rhythmic beating of drums and incomprehensible incantations before the first full track. The five-piece incorporate traditional Russian instruments akin to flutes and bodhráns into their impassioned performance with lyrics heavily influenced by Russian folklore and Slavic mythology – not that many would be able to translate. Front-woman Maria Arkhipova (“Masha Scream”) commands the stage with her impressive and emotional delivery, switching seamlessly from guttural growls to hauntingly clean vocals. The audience laps it up and seems to really enjoy the first few live acts of the festival.
The night is not over for those wishing to continue the party. A 70’s themed disco night entertains revelers in the Sophie stage, while a Billy Idol tribute band performs in the Serpent’s Lair in the VIP area. And of course, there’s always bin-jousting with cans of beer for those prepared to outwit the security staff. As we finish up for the night, we reflect on how good it feels to be back at Bloodstock. The best is yet to come.