Bloodstock, Day 3
Words: Gary Lukes
Photos: Antony Roberts
WE SLEPT TOO LONG! Having made the most of the magnificent metal disco and spending the night cajoled by the deviant influence of two certain band members, we found ourselves waking, literally, to the sounds of Hell rumbling in the distance.
Although we had unfortunately missed Andy Sneap and the second-coming of the NWOBHM Hell-horde, we arrive in the main arena, bleary eyed and furry of tongue, shortly before 1349 were due to start their set. We consoled ourselves with the fact that there’s surely no more effective a wake-up call than Norway‘s pestilent sons. Unless, of course, they play a set consisting completely of the ambient tracks on “Demonoir“. As it turned out, ambient filler material was the least of our worries as the Norwegian’s abhorrent alarm-call was duly dampened and diluted by further microphone problems and a sound mix that seemed to spume from a sea of silt and slush.
It would be harsh to lay any of the blame at the feet of the band, but no matter where I positioned myself, the sound struggled to seep through with any calibre of clarity. Minus Frost on drums, the band drove forward, their setlist thankfully free of filler and spread pretty evenly throughout their back catalogue. Unfortunately, following the magisterial experience of Immortal just over twelve hours earlier, comparisons can never be too kind. Even the explosive “Sculptor of Flesh” was rendered impotent by the mix. The band’s strident musicianship was muddied and hampered by the same mic issues that plagued bands the day before and, finishing up with a relentless rendition of “Atomic Chapel”, the band left the stage promising to return in October.
However, 1349’s difficulties were tame in comparison to the vocal issues that would befoul Primordial, a band whose set I’d been anticipating all weekend long. But it was a performance I will never forget. The band opened with the rousing “No Grave Deep Enough”, and were looking on course to deliver one of the performances of the weekend. However, catastrophe came calling towards the end of second song “As Rome Burns” as Alan Nemtheanga’s vocals cut to a halt. Plenty more permanent than mere microphone problems, it soon become apparent that Alan‘s voice had vanished completely as any attempts to address the crowd resulted in a crackled croak of a call. A real blow as it meant we lost of one of the most unique and vibrant voices in metal. However, the band played on, stout-hearted and undeterred.
Whether or not Alan had been hitting the karaoke too hard the night before is down to mischievous speculation, but the gig itself turned into one of the most rousing sing-alongs I’ve ever been a part of as the crowd filled the void left on vocals. There was no moment more galvanising all weekend than witnessing a choir of hundreds croon in time to the chorus of “Coffin Ships”. Give yourselves a hand, people. Inspiring performance.
From the sobering turnaround of Primordial to the metallic merriment of Evil Scarecrow, who were already mid-carnival by the time I showed my face on the Sophie Stage. The band has apparently been circumventing the gigging circuit for some years, but this was the first time I’d been regaled with their mix of hardcore and thrash metal topped with a playful peppering of black metal histrionics. And there was no better way to greet me than with an absurdly awesome cover of the theme from kids’ classic “Thundercats”. It was a rendition magnificent enough to make Mumm-Ra mosh. The band then decided to “bring the mood down”, falling into the delightfully downbeat “Blacken the Everything”.
Then it was time for the crowd to be a part of history, by participating in a Guinness Book of Records, record-breaking attempt at robot dancing as the band governed a gallant attempt by a packed tent to dance in the synchronised shape of a perfect-robot-square to the timeless tune of “Robototron“. The group ended the set by testing our black metal knowledge, threatening to walk if we couldn’t hum along to The Final Countdown. Thankfully, the crowd were kvlt enough to pass this, the troo-est of tests. As the band played out, I even witnessed a circle pit to Europe. I can now check that one off my bucket list.
We staggered out into the blinding sunshine just in time to witness grind/death stalwarts Napalm Death commence decimation on the main stage. Putting in a blistering performance, you know what to expect with Brum’s scummiest sons and they delivered with a set that included covers of Cryptic Slaughter‘s “Lowlife” and Dead Kennedys classic ”Nazi punks fuck off”. Thirty years together has honed the group into a compelling killing-machine as Barney stomped the stage like a gorilla with herpes, throwing his usual shapes, his limbs thrashing as if in the grips of a seizure.
The band didn’t shy away from vintage material, firing off the double-barrel blast of “Fascist Control” and “MAD” before blowing it all to shreds with the admirably abrupt “You Suffer”. They also ventured into more recent material, with Barney having to fend off heartless and harsh heckling over his beloved choice of towel, firing back with the equally depraved “When All Is Said and Done“. Forget curling up to an episode of Antiques Roadshow, as the band lobbed a ferocious “Suffer the Children“ into the mix it suddenly became apparent that this had all the hallmarks of a perfect Sunday afternoon.
Next up was Hammerfall, with vocalist Joacim Cans and axeman Oscar Dronjak in especially fine form. The band even found time to cover “Bang Your Head” by Quiet Riot, finishing their set with the anthemic “Let the Hammer Fall”. It’s an abridged report, however, as by this point Rhapsody of Fire and the dreaded Therion had filled me to the brim with epic riffing and soaring vocals, so I could only stand to spend my time intermittently with the Swedes. What I witnessed was certainly decent enough, but the shadow of indifference reared it‘s ugly head from deep within and all I was left with was a detached sense of apathy.
So, we left to see Hellish Outcast on the Second stage. The Bergen band were a Norwegian supergroup of sorts, consisting of members of Keep of Kalessin and Byfrost. Playing sacrilegious death metal with a heavy, grooving thrash influence, the band converted many in attendance with their savage psalms and chaotic canticles
There are many that maintain Exodus should be regarded as part of a “Big Five“ of thrash, seemingly swindled out of their position as one of the Bay Area‘s elite. On the basis of today‘s performance, the prosecution would have a very strong case. Emerging onstage from behind their amps to the one-two salvo of recent album openers “The Ballad of Leonard and Charles” and “Beyond the Pale”, it wasn’t long before vocalist Rob Dukes was orchestrating and conducting circle pits with the twist of his finger. Although their set seemed way too short, the band ensured long-time fans were sent home happy with “A Lesson in Violence“ and “Bonded in Blood“ before sewing up the set with “Toxic Waltz“, inciting one of the festival‘s biggest circle pits; consuming all as it careered around in a chaotic corona.
(Photographers note, by Antony – at this point I buggered off to go and catch the mighty Talanas whilst our reviewer got some grub. I can’t recommend this band enough for fans of technical progressive death. They seemed at ease on stage bantering with the crowd between songs, before blasting into some seriously complicated riffs and time signature changes. Comparisons to Akercocke have been ripe but Opeth is the nearest thing i can compare them to, especially with the clean vocal sections, however their heavier parts are heavier than modern day Opeth, leaning much more to death metal than Opeth’s blackened sound. I expect they’ll be playing way bigger stages very soon. Here’s a couple of snaps)
There are certain bands that pass you by the first time around. There‘s no explanation, just an absence of affinity; it just doesn‘t seem to click. Then one day, you experience the eureka moment. Bloodstock was my epiphany, At the Gates was the band.
Opening with “Slaughter of the Soul“, my indifference towards the band was being hacked steadily away as they sliced through classics such as “Cold“, “Suicide Nation“ and “Under a Serpent Sun“, the guitars cutting like a razor and Tomas Lindberg‘s vocals as vicious as it’s ever been. The band spent the majority of the set concentrating on the legendary “Slaughter of the Soul”, but still found time to air older compositions such as “Spirit Disease“, “Raped by the Light of Christ“ and “Windows“. They returned to the stage for an encore of “Blinded by Fear”, with Linberg possibly blinded by alcohol, yelling out “Come on London, let me see your hands“ to a bemused midlands audience; surprisingly not greeted with a sea of hands brandishing middle fingers. The band made amends, finishing with a vicious version of “Kingdom Gone”. I may be at least sixteen years too late, but I think I get it now.
Next up, the New Blood Stage was playing host to Lifer. This was my first encounter with the South Wales mob as they blew, full-bore, into a compound of cronic groove, smoking retro guitar licks and blunt-force thrash. Careering onto the stage to “Curse Them Out” and sounding like Down and Corrosion of Conformity sharing a bowl, the band could only lament the fact they‘d been denied the privilege of a live sheep sacrifice, shortly before tearing into the ferocious “Goathead”. A bud-ding talent if ever I heard it.
There’s not many band’s creating as much of a stir in the underground than Morbid Angel right now. Currently enduring a level of backlash not felt since Cryptopsy prodigiously pissed off their fan base with “The Unspoken King“, the Morbid ones have embroiled themselves in enraging and disappointing their long-time fans with a very noticeable shift in style. However, opening with “Immortal Rites” is a pretty worthy way to alleviate any doubt and atone for any aberrations. It wasn’t entirely enthralling though, as it was pretty clear from the start that Dave Vincent is using a similar vocal style to that of the recent album. It’s a tone that foregoes the demonic diction of old school death metal and sounds similar to many of the more modern death metal bands or, dare I suggest, some of the heavier metalcore vocalists.
“Fall from Grace” followed by “Rapture” led me to believe the band were working through the first songs on each album chronologically, which certainly managed to soften my suspicions. But as soon as I let my guard down, they hit me with “Existo Vulgore”, “Nevermore” and “I am Morid”; that’s three tracks in a row from controversial new album “Illud Divinum Insanus”. Mercifully, they’re a trio of the more sufferable songs, but it’s still a burly blow to be blindsided with. Dave Vincent even leading the crowd through a stadium-style chant of “Morbid!“ before the latter track. The band attempted to make amends though, backtracking all the way to the beginning of their careers with “Angel of Disease” followed by a crushing “Chapel of Ghouls” and the gargantuan groove of “Where the Slime Live“.
People seem to have drawn a great deal of positives from Morbid Angel’s performance and, while I’m not willing to waste time writing them off, it was not what I would consider to be an entirely exhilarating set. Even without the suspect middle portion of the setlist, the band’s performance sometimes seemed to lack some passion, but perhaps this was just due to the scale of the setting. As the band finish strongly with “World of Shit”, it’s obvious that it’s far too rash to simply dismiss a band with a back catalogue of this standard. If they could just forgo the industrial influence on record, perhaps a return to death metal domination is not beyond them.
Legendary hellraisers Motorhead were chosen to headline and close the entire festival. Which is a shame as it seems any hell must have been raised long before they stepped onstage. Looking distinctly dishevelled, the band staggered their way through half a set before the whole thing broke down completely, with Mikkey Dee disappearing offstage at one point.
Despite being able to restore order and resume playing, the damage had been done as Lemmy slurred his way through the setlist, resulting in Phil Campbell painfully attempting to take over the frontman duties. Ending on “Ace of Spades“, it sometimes felt like I could have been watching a covers band pounding through a pub set as the band shambled offstage almost a half hour early. The official line is that the band were unwell. We’ve yet to receive a direct quote from a certain Mr. Jack Daniels.
Anyway, forget Motorhead, the real headlining act took place in the Earache tent store shortly after Lemmy had stumbled offstage, where we were treated to a poetry reading of Cerebral Bore’s lyrics to family favourite, “24 Year Party Dungeon”.
And what prose it is: “In my basement you won‘t find her, she‘s my daughter, I must ride her. Leave my semen deep inside her, I can‘t think how I could be kinder“.
Not to mention: “I eat chicken when I pump her fud, I love chicken, yum yum nice. Zinger Tower gives me the power to deflower my own kids”.
Someone, make Cerebral Bore Poet Laureate right now.
And so ends our Bloodstock experience. Surely one of the greatest outdoor music festivals in the world today. No Linkin Park, no Biffy Fucking Clyro, just three days of metal. Mark August 10-12 in your 2012 calendars now. We’ll see you next year.