Bloodstock Open Air 2011. Day One.
Words: Gary Lukes
Photos: Antony Roberts
In these fractious times, amongst scenes of urban turbulence, Metalgigs made our pilgrimage from the south coast to a field in Walton-Upon-Trent; looking for an escape from all the chaos of the preceding week and eager for our first taste of the Utopian Bloodstock Open Air.
For the uninitiated, Bloodstock began indoors in 2001, before moving outdoors to the relatively spacious surrounds of Catton Hall in 2005 and taking up an annual residency there ever since. The line-ups seem to fluctuate mainly between the pomp and pageantry of power and folk metal to the furious flame, fire and smoke of thrash, death and black metal. Past headliners range from Europe, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish and Stratovarius to Carcass, Cradle of Filth, In Flames and Opeth.
Far more modestly sized than UK rivals such as Download and Sonisphere, it is this very intimacy, coupled with a friendly atmosphere that makes this festival so inviting and appealing. And that’s before we even get to the stellar line-up. As Kreator would later put it, “this is a metal festival by metal heads, for metal heads”. I’m not one that usually likes to give away endings, but let’s put it this way; we wind up liking this festival. A lot.
Oh, and Bruce Willis is a ghost.
The festival is spread out over four days, with the Thursday acting as a warm-up party of sorts. The Metalgigs crew unfortunately arrived too late on the Thursday, following our five hour journey. Because of this, we failed to experience the likes of Xerath and Revoker as the festival warmed up. Shame on us.
So, our Bloodstock officially began on the Friday. Rising late in the morning, we took the short walk to the main arena and arrived in time to see The Defiled kicking things off and in full swing on the Dio Stage. What we managed to catch resembled fairly run-of-the-mill modern, grooving metal. It was a performance that was fairly inoffensive, but also uninspiring. Despite this, they probably benefited greatly from being the first band on the main stage, and therefore profiting from an eager crowd.
Next up was Wolf. Now, although I’d become familiar with their logo over the years, I’ve got to admit that I was far more poorly acquainted with their actual music. So, while patiently waiting in the crowd, I took the opportunity to perfect my best John Fashanu “awooga” and curse the fact that I’d forgotten to pack my leotard this year. Sadly, it turns out that this was not to be a virtuoso solo performance by the legendary, middle-aged, growling gladiator of ITV lore. Instead, we were treated to a set of unabashed heavy metal. Despite my initial disappointment, I cast aside my pugil stick and was able to enjoy their fun, if slightly generic, take on the genre.
This was followed by the Bay Area’s very own, second-wave of thrash sluggers; Forbidden. And they swiftly inserted their boot well and truly up my backside. Inciting chants of “Russ, you’re a fucking cunt”, they battered through a set that mixed classics such as “Step by Step” with newer material such as the pounding “Omega Wave” before finishing off the crowd with “Chalice of Blood”.
I don’t have many negatives about this festival, but one thing worth mentioning is the farcical positioning of The Jagermeister Stage. Virtually imperceptible to the naked eye, we were forced to engage in an epic quest to even find this mythical location. Located right by the side of the main stage‘s sound tower and attached to the side of a Jagermeister truck, we finally found the eponymous stage itself.; glowing orange and about the size of a child’s wendy house.
The Jagermeister Tent was basically a stage assembled to run short sets from some of the lesser known acts in between the bands playing the Dio stage. The concept behind this stage is admirably simple, but seemed considerably less practical in its execution. It was here that we found Tom, main man (in fact, the only man) of Foul Body Autopsy; waiting awkwardly for the deluge of riffs from Forbidden’s set to drown out so he could begin.
However, when graced with extra sets by bands such as these, its hard to be too dissenting. Foul Body Autopsy gurgled out around twenty minutes of seriously impressive brutal, one-man death metal. The style was not too incomparable to Shawn Whitaker’s projects such as Viral Load, with plenty of speedy, technical riffing accented with brutal, head-swaying slammage. I say “one man band“, because it’s difficult to give too much credit to the slightly disinterested sidekick in the cap, crouching to the side of the stage; as his sole responsibility was to trigger the drum machine on command. I mean, Ivan Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell, but I don‘t see anyone calling for the first canine doctorate in psychology. Just saying.
And with the final, dying growls from Foul Body Autopsy still ringing in our ears, we depart to catch more of the same, with Scottish death metal titans Cerebral Bore on the Sophie Lancaster stage. The band proceeded to rip a hole in the crowd inside the tent and fill it with undiluted pandemonium. The pit at times resembling a tornado that would breach the Fujita Scale, as the crowd became a blur, getting down with their bad selves to brutal ballads such as “The Bald Cadaver” and “Maniacal Miscreation“. The band’s combination of grinding, semi-technical riffage and face stomping, brutal slams inciting circle pits like whirlpools, occasionally inhaling poor, unsuspecting bystanders into its murky depths.
If song titles such as “Epileptic Strobe Entrapment” and “24 Year Party Dungeon” leaves you with any doubts as to how seriously Cerebral Bore take themselves or their subject matter, then a brief intermission involving the band flinging cakes into the crowd to the banging beats of Haddaway should not only put those lingering doubts to bed, but smother them with a pillow. However, the band were soon blaring back into barbarous death metal, vocalist Som splitting the packed tent like the red sea, before sending the waves crashing back down together on her command for the festival’s first, and last, wall of death. A definite highlight of my festival.
Next up on the Dio Stage was Triptykon, one of the bands I was most looking forward to. Looking resplendent in his usual uniform of black and corpse paint, Tom G Warrior started the day off the only way he knows how; with an “OHH!”. And with that, the band collapsed into a lumbering, downtuned rendition of Celtic Frost classic “Procreation of the Wicked“; the lurching heads of the crowd mirroring the avalanche of grooves crawling from the speakers . Not content with burying everyone under the rubble of one glorious cover version, they later felt fit to grace us with a colossal rendering of “Circle of the Tyrants“. Why, Mr Warrior, with these Celtic Frost songs you are really spoiling us.
Curiously, for a set limited to forty five minutes, the band elected to close with the gargantuan final track from their debut album, “The Prolonging“. A brave parting shot from one of the innovators of extreme metal, but one that unequivocally hit the target. The song managing to keep my attention for it’s entire twenty minute duration.
Following Tom G Warrior and his motley crew were fellow countrymen Coroner. The recently reformed thrashers blasted out old favourites , including “Masked Jackal” and “No Need to be Human”. Their fusion of thrash, progressive rock and jazz generated a great set that almost made me go cuckoo (they’re Swiss-get it?).
So, while fighting my craving for Toblerone, we took a quick dash to the second stage to check out Byfrost. The band apparently take their name from the bridge that connects Midgard and Asgard in Norse mythology. So it’s a bloody good job they hail from Norway and not Middlesbrough, as “A19 Tees Viaduct” doesn’t sound nearly as frostbitten.. They played out a set of decent, cacophonous, thrashing black metal. If not particularly original. Their galloping riffing and rasped vocal style sometimes evoking the next day’s headliners, with “Horns to the Sky” being particularly memorable.
We returned to the main stage for German legends, Kreator. The band thrashed out an excellent set, including classics such as “Pleasure to Kill“, “Enemy of God“, “Phobia” and “Betrayer“. They introduced the last song of the night with a shout out between the sexes; dubiously declaring the girls the winner. I immediately demanded a recount. The band promised to return as headliners and announced their intention to enter the studio imminently, proceeding to rip into “Flag of Hate” as yet another furious circle pit erupted on the horizon. Forget the recent inner city problems, the violent revolution starts here.
Then it was time for the Devin Townsend Project. Invited back to the festival after equipment and technical problems marred their set last year, the band bounded onstage to a rapturous reception from the packed crowd. Looking dapper in suit jacket, Devin lit the evening sky with his bright, charismatic performance and the kind of incessant gurning that would force Jim Carrey to claw off his own face in defeat. Townsend led his band through a set drawing material from all over his extensive solo discography, ranging from more recent material such as “Supercrush!”(sadly minus the angelic Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals, save for a backing track), all the way back to songs such as “Kingdom” from the Physicist album and the carnivalesque “Bad Devil“ from “Infinity, which was like being serenaded by Hell‘s very own big band.
Ziltoid the Omniscient made sporadic special guest appearances on the big screen between tunes , conversing with Devin and berating the crowd with classic lines such as “Mmm Bloodcock, in Ye Olde Terrance Trent Derby. There‘s a fetid amount of hippies here tonight. Yes, you! Fat man in the Manowar shirt, barf on my nuts!”. Townsend himself punctuated the breaks in songs with maddening, hypersonic proclamations, like a demented evangelist preaching his senseless sermons. The sample-filled sound mix remained clear all performance, no mean feat for an outdoor show. The band finished with their first ever live rendition of “Vampira“, warning us that it could end one of two ways. Naturally, they managed to soar over the finish line. Performance of the day, in my humble opinion.
Bewitched by Devin’s beaming dome, I arrived late to Lawnmower Deth on the Sophie Stage. By the time I got there, the party was in full swing (if anybody asks, I was being fashionably late). The comedic thrashers belted out such Mercury Prize winning classics such as “Did You Spill My Pint“, “Sumo Rabbit and His Inescapable Trap of Doom“ and “Satan‘s Trampoline“. The latter even featuring the Devil himself, shimmering in what seemed to be a tangerine frock and seeing just how many times he could actually bounce up and down on that big, old trampoline. And, despite promises never to play it again, the band even treated the crowd to “Kids in America”, stopping mid song to encourage a rousing crowd shout out to Sophie Lancaster.
From the sublimely ridiculous Lawnmower Deth, it was time to return to the main stage for the day’s headliners, WASP. Amongst a hail of sirens and sweeping spotlights, Blackie Lawless and company sauntered onstage, paunch and all. Belting out a set of almost an hour and a half in length, the band drew largely from their eighties material, but also from more recent releases, such as last album “Babylon“. Blackie stopped the crowd at one point, asking them repeatedly if they were “ready“. I was getting tired of repeating myself when Lawless finally adjusted his hearing apparatus and realised the crowd had been responding all along, leading the band straight into “LOVE Machine”.
WASP certainly know how to handle larger festival crowds, though some banter could do with an edit. Blackie‘s comments about the recent riots, in particular, drawing a fair amount of ire from those in attendance. “Be Somebody“, meanwhile, featured what seemed to be about a half hour of the crowd singing along to the same, single line. But I‘m fooling no one. I was screaming along at the top of my voice. And before I knew it, it happened. I‘d become a WASP fan. My mother would be so ashamed.
An impressively and surprisingly triumphant finish to the first night. Though I still think Hevy Devy should have headlined.