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Festival review: Bloodstock Open Air 2016

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Between the 10th and 14th August, the usually tranquil and unexciting locale of Derbyshire’s Catton Park was transformed into the heaviest and most brutal metal festival in the UK.

Bloodstock Open Air has built a legacy over the past fifteen years as being a “true” metal event, sticking to the heaviest end of the rock n’ roll spectrum while fellow festivals like Download have been forced to pander to the "commercial" concerns.

You’re not getting bands like Muse, Fall Out Boy and Chase & Status at Bloodstock folks! This is where the real hard-hitters play.

The 2016 addition to the Bloodstock lineage was a truly unforgettable one, a true rollercoaster of a weekend!

Thursday

Thursday is the warm-up day, with the main stage out of commission until the Friday. The smaller Sophie Lancaster Stage provided the first night's metal fix.

Highlights revolved around legendary Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell who officially opened the festival's very own Lemmy Bar and saying a few heartfelt words to the fallen rock god.

“Our music is timeless when you play it loud,” Phil said of the band he dedicated 32 years of his life to, “play it quiet and it sounds crap.” It was a truly bittersweet opening.

Later in the evening, Campbell and his new band, the Bastard Sons (★★★★☆), headlined the Sophie Stage. After giving audiences a taste of their upcoming EP by starting with the original track ‘Big Mouth’, they spent the rest of the night performing a series of covers and loving tributes, featuring songs by the likes of Motörhead, ZZ Top and Black Sabbath.

After being joined for their closing song by Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider and Corrosion of Conformity front-man Pepper Keenan, it was clear that Bloodstock really was underway. Its first night was truly a non-stop, rock n’ roll party that would have made Lemmy proud.

Friday

The first full day of Bloodstock 2016 was ushered in by Hark’s (★★★☆☆) performance on the main stage. Nobody envied the group’s task of kicking off an entire weekend and given the circumstances, they pulled off a decent set, even if the crowd was still either waking up or arriving.

Hark’s show was blown out of the water by the interactive, hilarious, visual and intense Evil Scarecrow (★★★★★), whose mastery over their crowd is second-to-none. The band are heroes of Bloodstock, having opened the main stage in 2014 and in the process, drew the biggest 11am crowd in the history of the festival. How they were on this early in the day astounds me.

However, the sheer success of Evil Scarecrow made me pity Brutai (★★★★☆), who clashed with the band on the second stage and in the process, drew an insultingly small crowd given their ability. Nonetheless, the British five-piece still delivered a performance that showcased great promise on their part; heavy as hell riffs combined perfectly with soaring, melodic choruses to showcase what fans can expect when they drop their debut album later this year.

Moving on to later in the day, the old-school British thrashers Venom (★★★★☆) delivered a set that was consistently strong throughout, delving into ‘80s classics like ‘Countess Bathory’ while also displaying newer cuts like ‘From the Very Depths’. Things don’t truly hit the stratosphere, however, until their closing song: the signature anthem ‘Black Metal’. The song truly energised the crowd as well as the band, as front-man Cronos left the mic several times to let the rabid hordes of Bloodstock scream the chorus right back at him.

The energy carried over through Behemoth’s (★★★★★) performance, which was doubtlessly the highlight of the Friday. The group played their pioneering 2014 album The Satanist in full, never once missing a beat, laying down fan favourite after fan favourite in a set that truly demonstrated the power of that album and Behemoth as a whole.

Twisted Sister (★★★★★) closed the day in what was to be their final UK show. Much like the tone of the Lemmy memorials of the day before, the headline act put on a very bittersweet performance. It felt like the end of an era, but it was doubtless that Twisted Sister went out with a bang, covering cuts from their entire career and interacting constantly with an energised and, simply, happy crowd.

Saturday

On the Saturday, Cambion (★★★☆☆) laid down an onslaught of progressive thrash metal that viciously forced the hangovers from the heads of all in attendance before a day of death metal followed.

Over on the New Blood Stage, Edinburgh-based progressive metallers Ramage, Inc. (★★★★★) were the surprise of the day, laying out a sweltering performance in the small tent that some bands couldn’t rival on the main stage. Think Dream Theater meets TesseracT and you will have a rough idea of what to expect.

The big takeaway of the Saturday at Bloodstock was a simple yet crushing message: “Listen to Ramage, Inc.!”

Paradise Lost (★★★★☆) changed the pace, delivering an hour-long set of mid-speed, gothic, doom metal. Much like with Twisted Sister the night before, the set covered tracks from every era of the band, up to their latest album The Plague Within (2015). The slow, pounding guitars drove the audience into a frenzy of deep headbanging.

At this point, it became apparent that there’s a trend of the main supporting band completely annihilating the festival and all within its vicinity, as French thrashers Gojira (★★★★★) easily out-performed their successors and Saturday headliners in Mastodon (★★★☆☆). Clearly, the biggest misstep of Bloodstock 2016 was not having Gojira headline on the main stage, as their visceral, fast-paced, progressive riffs and the pounding drumbeats completely dwarfed everything that Mastodon’s arsenal was to bring forward. The intense shouts of Gojira’s singer Joe Duplantier welcome forth a passionate, intense crowd reaction that any metal band would have trouble out-doing.

Mastodon meanwhile seemed to be devoid of energy during their headlining performance. The band were doubtlessly a wildcard, with many wondering if they could compete with fellow headliners in Twisted Sister and Slayer. Clearly, they couldn’t. Their interaction with the crowd for the majority of their set was non-existent, and the band members’ chemistry with each other was poor. The only thing that saved them was fan favourite tracks like ‘The Motherload’, ‘Oblivion’, ‘The High Road’ and ‘Blood and Thunder’, all of which had the crowd roaring in delight.

Sunday

Sunday roared into existence with Ghost Bath (★★★☆☆), an eclectic and intriguing onslaught that left the audience in joyous bewilderment, mostly at the band’s innovative and guttural use of vocals. Heart of a Coward (★★★★☆) took over with a show that truly engaged the crowd, with the band getting their onlookers to headbang, mosh, sing and more to truly brush away the Sunday morning fatigue in a very engaging way.

The all-star line-up of Metal Allegiance (★★★☆☆) – consisting of Gary Holt, Mark Oseguada, Charlie Benante, Alex Skolnick and more – was truly a spectacle and an event to be a part of, performing some brilliantly fun metal covers like Motörhead’s ‘Iron Fist’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Wrathchild’, but for whatever reason, they failed to captivate the audience the same way Phil Campbell did at the start of the weekend.

DragonForce’s (★★★★☆) set was delayed by ten minutes due to “technical issues”, but once they hit the stage with classics like ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ and ‘Cry Thunder’, the Bloodstock attendees were putty in their hands.

Progressive thrashers Vektor (★★★★☆) kept the energy high on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, laying out an hour of brutal, fast-paced, undiluted metal, primarily showing off their new concept album, Terminal Redux (2016).

Anthrax (★★★★★) continue to lay out stunning show after stunning show to the point where the metal community is honestly starting to take both their efficiency and prowess for granted. To think that the band has been going for 35 years with every member entering their fifties and that they are still performing this expertly is astounding. Doubtlessly they are the best band of Bloodstock’s final day.

Slayer (★★★★☆) are just as old as Anthrax, but with this band, their age is starting to show to a greater degree. Their performance is reminiscent of Mastodon’s in its limited communication to the crowd and the band members seeming lack of chemistry. But that said, given the numerous tragedies and line-up changes the band has endured in its elder years, it is still a miracle to see them performing on-stage, let alone to the technical degree to which they still play. And doubtlessly, the capacity crowd appreciateD the legendary thrashers, with roars of approval coming at the start of tracks like ‘Raining Blood’ and War Ensemble’. Truly, the enthusiasm of Slayer’s fans is what puts the band above and beyond Mastodon’s set the night prior.




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