Compared to other European destinations, the UK is starved when it comes to outdoor weekend long metal festivals. In fact, Bloodstock Open Air is the sole trader of all things exclusively metal-tinged. That is why every summer, the nation's metalheads (as well as a solid supply from abroad) descend on the Midland's Walton-Upon-Trent for three days of metal too loud for the crowd. Formed in 2005, the festival has had no problem drawing in their loyalists in addition to waves of curious new adherents, eager to enjoy a wide selection of a variety of metal bands from around the globe.
Although originally catering to the melodic metal fans, Bloodstock have expanded to more extreme tastes – a respectable evolution considering there are no outdoor metal festival options in the UK for those with a black or death metal persuasion. Despite grievances from some of Bloodstock's earliest attendees that power/symphonic/folk metal are woefully represented this year, diversity is a strength of this festival and not just in the line-up; there are countless food options from hog roasts to Indian curries, although this scale of choice is funded by eye-wateringly dear prices. The bar also stocks a commendable supply of ale and ciders too for those who prefer something that isn't Fosters or Strongbow.
Gaps between bands on each of the stages are significantly larger than plenty of comparable European festivals, which has its advantages and drawbacks. Given Bloodstock's frustratingly early end for the last band of the day (presumably because of legal/local pressures rather than something optional), one wonders if these gaps should be shorter to accommodate more bands on to each of the stages.
Friday kicks off with weather-forecast-betraying sunshine and heat, not quite the recommended frame for Swedish death metallers Entombed A.D. on the Ronnie James Dio Stage. Former-Entombed vocalist L-G Petrov fashioned this act after losing rights to the Entombed name, so unsurprisingly all of the set bar 'Pandemic Rage' are Entombed songs including 'Revel in Flesh, 'Left Hand Path' and 'Supposed to Rot'. The sound blurs the guitar work but the hyperactive mosh pit compliments the chainsaw-riffage of classic Swedish death metal.
Ireland black/folk metallers Primordial's last performance at Bloodstock two years ago saw vocalist Nemtheanga lose his voice and so the whole set was an instrumental/karaoke affair. Back on the Ronnie James Dio Stage, such issues are absent today with Nemtheanga passionately crooning along to 'As Rome Burns' and 'The Coffin Ships'. Fans audibly sing along to each lyric as the music espouses Celtic folk, atmospherically-tinged black metal and a depth of emotion. Closer 'Empire Falls' perfectly summarises the talent and influence of Primordial, marrying together a multiplicity of musical textures that makes eight minutes feel like three. The ovation that follows the band off stage speaks for itself.
Their first time in the UK since 1987, America's Flotsam and Jetsam are an excellent booking by the Bloodstock team. Opening with 'Hammerhead' from classic full-length 'Doomsday for the Deceiver', these reactivated thrash metallers deliver classic '80s thrash with soaring vocals a la Geoff Tate of Queensryche. Indeed, singer Eric A.K. still possesses his impressive vocal abilities that put an abundance of younger bands to same. Catchy riffs and an insistence of speed appropriately spawn a flurried mosh pit. 'Desecrator' is a particular highlight with its dazzling guitar work that demands full focus. Hopefully, Flotsam and Jetsam will return to the UK soon for a full headlining show.
Back again on the Ronnie James Dio Stage, Swiss metallers Triptykon proceed to release a hefty slab of atmospheric and creative doom/goth metal hybrid over the sun-washed congregation. Formed by frontman Tom G. Fischer after leaving Celtic Frost, Triptykon open with new song 'Black Snow', clocking in at over an unapologetic twelve minutes. Slow but heavy distorted riffs are speckled with ethereal goth rock guitar melodies with Fischer's matching low voice. For those malcontent metalheads that complained Triptykon was too much of a departure from Fischer's previous works, a cover of Hellhammer's 'Messiah' is aired out and die-hards are ecstatic with this inclusion. They may not be a stereotypical beer-drinking festival band but the insertion of gothic gloom spices up Bloodstock's roster for those who appreciate a salute to variation.
Headlining a packed Sophie Lancaster Stage, Greece's Rotting Christ appear at home on the second stage feeding the desires of those thirsty for something at the darker end of the festival's line up. Throughout their 26 years of existence, Rotting Christ have evolved from an influential black metal act to a Greek folk-flavoured symphonic metal one with some fascinating musicianship. The setlist appeases all, drawing from the entire cannon of their discography. Older numbers 'Transform All Suffering Into Plagues', 'The Sign of Evil Existence' and 'Non Serviam' cycle through a multitude of soundscapes including the atmospheric and the defiant while newer songs 'Noctis Era', 'dub-sag-ta-ke' and 'Grandis Spiritus Diavolos' are a testament to Rotting Christ's constant inspiration and a refusal to recycle the old. The audience's zeal for the Greeks' Bloodstock debut is disclosed in the arrangement of a feral pit and the quartet are proud of the reaction they have stirred in the beer-buzzed crowd. Leaving the tented stage, the overwhelming opinion of those who witnessed Rotting Christ's performance is nothing short of stellar.
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