Words: Alan Daly
Pics: © Olga Kuzmenko Photography
It’s day three of Bloodstock Festival 2018 and spirits are high after a crowd-pleasing performance by British legends Judas Priest last night. Today looks no less impressive with dozens of international acts building up to another world-class headline climax. First and foremost on our agenda are Irish band Dead Label who are returning to the Sophie stage for their second time after a phenomenal debut appearance here in 2015. Since then, they have played at the “other” big rock & metal festival at Castle Donington, and have had their track ‘Pure Chaos’ featured on the official Bloodstock trailers. In the run-up to their set today, they have laid down a challenge to break the record for the biggest “wall of chaos” ever seen at the Sophie stage. Introduced by none other than Sy Keeler from Onslaught, and after their now-customary intro track from Last of the Mohicans, the trio burst into life, sending the sizeable crowd into an instant frenzy. The solid and punishing rhythm section of Claire Percival on drums and Dan O’Grady on bass are perfectly balanced with Danny Hall’s lead guitar playing and venomous vocals also from Dan. The moshpits spawn spontaneously during ‘Salvation in Sacrifice’ and Dan’s calls for participation are heard and obeyed. New track ‘Forget the Names’ sees every head in the tent banging in unison before it’s time for ‘Pure Chaos’ and the afore-mentioned record “wall of chaos” attempt. Dan parts the crowd like the proverbial Moses, and needless to say, what ensued was indeed pure chaos.
Clashing with Dead Label on the main stage are Greek symphonic death metallers Septicflesh, so we make our way over in time to catch the end of their set. With graphic backdrops depicting the human-fetus-snake crossbreed echoing the cover artwork of their most recent album Codex Omega, the Athens-formed quartet are all about moody atmosphere and darkness, despite the reasonably bright and sunny weather over Catton Park during their performance. We arrive just in time to catch one of their most recognizable songs ‘Anubis’ and the crowd seems to be engaged and responsive. After more than a quarter of a century, core founding members Spiros and Christos Antoniou and Sotris Vayenas prove that they are still capable of a powerful and dramatic delivery with closing tracks ‘Communion’ and ‘Dark Art’.
Speaking of musicians who have been around for decades, next on our schedule are Venom Inc., a band comprised of three former members of NWOBHM legends Venom, who regrouped in 2015 to perform their classic tracks. Not to be confused with Cronos’s still-active original band who played at Bloodstock in 2016 or Venom Prison who performed here in 2017, although one might be forgiven for doing so. Despite releasing a full album of new original material last year, just two tracks from Ave appear on today’s setlist, opener ‘Metal We Bleed’ and recently release single ‘War’. Of course, this is what fans would want and tracks like ‘Die Hard’, ‘Don’t Burn the Witch’ and ‘Leave me in Hell’ are met with resounding approval from the audience. The trio is in top form even though guitarist Mantas (Jeffrey Dunn) is present after suffering a massive heart attack just weeks previously, which as frontman Tony Dolan puts it “is either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid”. Genuinely humbled by the fact that they “would be fuck-all without their fans”, Dolan tells them they are the lifeblood and goes on to explain that he wrote the next song thirty years ago, and some people say it created its own genre. ‘Black Metal’ may not resemble the style conjured by the genre today, but the crowd lap it up, and enjoy the rest of the Satanic inspired set.
Our afternoon is occupied with interviews and we get brief opportunities to catch the live acts. One that we saw in Dublin just a few days ago, and are now appearing for their first time at Bloodstock are American aggrotech group Combichrist. We were initially unsure of how their almost techno style industrial metal would be received by the loyal Bloodstockers so accustomed to classic metal genres like thrash, power, death, and black. However, our worries are unfounded as the five-piece fronted by sole remaining founding member Andy LaPlegua whip up a frenzy of excitement with their pumping beats and pummeling rhythms. The addition of the pyrohex fire-dancing girls fuels the energetic performance further and sing-along tracks like ‘Fuck that Shit’ and ‘What the Fuck is Wrong With You’ prompt enthusiastic audience participation. In true rock ‘n’ roll style, keyboardist Elliot Berlin smashes his instrument to pieces on the stage floor as the surprisingly well-received performance comes to an end.
After some tasty foot-long sausages and a chili and ginger cider, we catch a few brief moments of Alestorm and their pirate-themed frolics. Inflatable ducks, balls, and giant beer can bounce over the heads of the massive crowd as the Scottish five-piece cavort around the stage to the jaunty upbeat thrashy riffs.- This is my first time seeing them, and I’m not quite sure what I was expecting exactly, but the reality definitely fell short of it. Perhaps it was because I didn’t catch the full set, that I missed some of the hilarity, but the audience seemed to be loving the shenanigans. If you like pirates and power metal or giant inflatable ducks, then you probably would have loved it.
From early morning, Cannibal Corpse fans have been easy to spot today. Not from patches on their battle vests or band t-shirts bearing gruesome album artwork, but from the floral Hawaiian shirts that seem so out of place at a British metal festival. Of course, this viral phenomenon was prompted by the now-famous scene in Ace Ventura Pet Detective where Jim Carrey dances his way through the maniacal moshpit at a Cannibal Corpse concert. We even spot a few characters sporting the iconic quiff and mannerisms of Carrey. Unsurprisingly, the reality of the Cannibal Corpse performance is far more brutal than the floral patterned shirts, and Frontman George Fisher needs to do very little to incite the crowd to go wild, giving him plenty of time to work on his windmill head-banging. Thunder and torrential rain threaten to spoil the show, but the dedicated fans persevere, thrashing to classic tracks cherry-picked from their thirty-year career, alongside a handful from their last release Red Before Black including the title track.
Tonight’s climatic mainstage finale is brought to us by French Titans Gojira. The increasingly popular and successful quartet have already performed at Bloodstock three times since the start of the decade, and they have been edging ever closer to this well-deserved headline slot. Ask any of the 18,000 people in attendance at this year’s festival who they have come to see, and there’s a bloody good chance they will mention Gojira. So with the pressure on and the expectations high, the show begins with the cover of darkness and constant drizzle. With epic CO2 cannons and pyrotechnics, backed up by a hypnotic light show and screen display, the Frenchmen proceed to impress and excite the awe-struck audience. Opening with ‘Only Pain’ from their latest release Magma, they fill their 90 minutes set with tracks from all six of their albums, as well as a drum solo that was genuinely entertaining (and not just to give the rest of the band a break). Inflatable whales and dolphins bounce around the crowd as they thunder through fan favorite ‘Flying Whales’, and the crowd is completely immersed in the performance. Frontman Joe Duplantier wastes little time speaking, other than to tell what an immense honor it is for them to headline this year. As an explosive fireworks display marks the end of their show, we can’t help but hope, given their steady climb to success, that they will not forget about Bloodstock festival when they are offered bigger things.
Once again, we see out the night with a 90’s themed metal disco and copious alcoholic beverages. One day to go, and it’s going to be tough to top tonight.