It’s August again which can only mean one of two things. Either a TINAS delegation are off to Derbyshire for the best festival in the UK or angry wasps. This year we lucked out and got both. Chris and Dewie converged on Catton Park, cans of Raid in hand, to see what delights were in store at Bloodstock Open Air 2015.
A delayed train necessitates some scurrying across the site to catch the mighty Oaf’s ridiculously early and just plain ridiculous set at the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Yes, profanity and lyrics about bodily functions are neither big nor clever but Dom Lawson’s bowel-loosening bass chords and inventive wordplay matched to James Raiment’s jazzy trad-grip drumming elevate the duo’s songs from schoolboy humour to the scathing born-astride-the-grave with only middle-age can engender.
The anti-religious ‘Marker Pen Cocks’ with its refrain of “Are you easily offended, cunt?” may not have Oscar Wilde worried, but it’s several shades of subtlety better than the ubiquitous festival favourite – Cradle Of Filth’s ‘Jesus Is A Cunt’ t-shirt.
The ad-libbed repartee between pronk’s answer to Fry & Laurie gets the sizeable crowd on-side. New songs ‘Suckmaster Burstingfoam’ and ‘Disgusted By Your Genitalia’ go down a storm, the latter producing what is destined to be the feel-good singalong chorus of the weekend.
Evil Scarecrow’s Dr. Hell stalks the stage during ‘Fuck Off Seagull’, antagonising everyone with his middle finger salute while inflatable seabirds are gestured back at him. It’s pure prog-punk pantomime and a hugely enjoyable appetiser for Bloodstock 2015. [CM]
Opening with the catchy-as-hell “Win Hands Down”, the title track from their latest album, Armored Saint are greeted enthusiastically despite the guitars being horribly low in the mix. Old favourite “March Of The Saints” is similarly marred with muddy sound, but the energy of the band and the quality of John Bush’s voice never falter.
The sound guy’s coffee clearly kicks in by the third number and Catton Hall’s dusty field is treated to a tight 40 minutes, mixing their classic era metal anthems and newer more melodic hard-rock fare. The selection seems to please existing fans and draws new converts too. At the heart of every song is what makes the Saint great – a big fat chorus that sticks in your brain for the rest of the day.
As the metal thrashing madness of “Raising Fear” and vocal gymnastics of “Reign Of Fire” ring out, there is plenty of fist-pumping and headbanging both onstage and off. As they close their set, they’re joined by a lad who appears to be about 8 years old, singing his little heart out and strumming away on a guitar like a wee rock god. The guitar isn’t plugged in, but then it’s likely Justin Hawkins‘ isn’t either most of the time and high-pitched exuberance never let him down. [D]
Ten minutes into Enslaved’s set on the main stage bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson reveals that the band’s luggage is still in Charles de Gaulle airport. There was certainly no sign of any such misfortune as they battled through set-opener ‘Thurisaz Dreaming’ on borrowed equipment and in clothes which smell, we are informed, of farts. ‘Building With Fire’ melds Kjellson’s harsh vocals with the more mellifluous tones of keyboard player Herbrand Larsen. The schizoid aesthetic engendered in the contrasting vocal styles and dynamic shifts from the soaring and melodic to bludgeoning primal power give Enslaved a crossover appeal that is reflected in the crowd response. Ice Dale’s impassioned guitar solo on ‘Ethica Odini’ illustrates how naturally these musicians can shift stylistically while keeping their signature sound.
They finish up with ‘Alfablot’ from 1997’s ”Eld”. The throwback to their earlier, extreme metal period sparks an enthusiastic circle pit. The Norwegians have long straddled the progressive and black metal divide and after thirteen albums continue to fuse the two better than almost any of their peers. That crossover appeal and the band’s constant desire (or perhaps need) to push down barriers will continue to see them rise through the ranks. Their spirited performance this afternoon in the face of ill fortune and adversity is testimony to that. [CM]
Going up against a band as revered as Enslaved seems a tad unfair for Ne Obliviscaris who have travelled all the way from Australia with substantial amounts of their own gear. A feisty clash over on the main stage, but the tent is pleasingly full and the sound is crisp and loud as they greet the crowd with beaming grins.
Bringing their own set-up certainly helps with the piercing clarity of their performance on the SOPHIE stage as they unleash sprawling, epic blackened death barrages, tempered with rich vocals and violin flourishes.
They have evolved so much in such a short space of time, possibly to a point where they can leave the barked vocals behind and focus on the long instrumental sections and the soaring melodies of Tim Charles‘ clean singing.
But as they segue from “Colossus…” into “Pyrrhic”, the unearthly growl of Xenoyr reminds you of the beautiful balance he provides and the essential trade-off between the harsh and the sonorous in everything they do. With a crowd mostly standing in genuinely rapt attention and studying the spectacle, there is still room for a sizeable moshpit and some crowd-surfing towards the end.
Newer song “Curator” is a spectacular maelstrom of noise that’s a bit much to take in over a festival PA on first listen, so may have lost some impact on members of the audience unfamiliar with their work, but the trademark elements of their sound are all present and the pummelling death metal attack and soaring chorus ring out with such conviction that one has to wonder how soon this troupe will be back here on the main stage or substantially higher up the bill. One can only hope a UK tour will follow soon. [D]
From last year’s headline slot with Emperor, Ihsahn graces the Ronnie James Dio Stage in the late afternoon, fronting a new band since parting ways with Leprous. The clean-cut trio behind him look about fifteen-years-old but soon make it clear this is no boy scout jamboree. ‘Hiber’ from latest album, ”Das Seelenbrechen”, is a hymn of sorts to winter and the north wind, mocking the sunshine that is bathing Catton Park. Despite the impressive musicianship, interpreting this avant-garde metal with skill and finesse it becomes clear there are technical problems as five minutes of poking and prodding wires in the keyboard rig attest. “We’ll try our best”, the leader asserts. ‘Pulse’ and ‘Tacit’ are whipped into shape with no obvious degradation in sound or professionalism. This is one of this fresh-faced band’s first appearances, their refusal to be fazed under less-than-ideal circumstances is impressive.
Less impressive is the reaction of some quarters of the audience. Some Neandarthal throwback shouts ‘Black metal!’, clearly pining for the frozen Norwegian fjords rather than the more experimental ‘Frozen Lakes On Mars’. There is a palpable sense of unease and boredom around – Ihsahn’s music is too sophisticated for some, it would seem. I’m sure that the inclusion of a rearrangement of his former band’s seminal ‘Thus Spake The Night Spirit’ is more down to its writers restless spirit than an appeasement to those who find forward motion problematic, but it does feel more like pandering to that element than a genuine will to reinvent.
The announcement of a new song to close the set is greeted with loud cheers – the bulk of this crowd are really enjoying this set and holding the band aloft through their sound issues. ‘My Heart Is Of The North’ bodes well for the next album, thematically and musically it is quintessential Ihsahn and that means quality. It may go over the heads of stick-in-the-muds but there are many more who hang on this man’s next move. [CM]
Talking of Neandarthal throwbacks it’s time to head over to the Sophie Lancaster Stage for some Caveman Battle Doom. Despite a key personnel change with the departure last year of their drummer, Conan have been going from strength to strength due in no small part to their superb ‘Blood Eagle’ album and tireless commitment to live work.
Cowled in black hoodies with baseball caps, faces barely visible, the trio tentatively introduce the Black Sabbath-45-played-at-33 ’Crown of Talons’. As the track gathers in intensity its fug looms around the well-filled tent, punctuated by shouted almost monosyllabic utterances dripping in reverb.
The down-tuned riffs retain a lot of sonic character – each chord harmonically interesting in its own right thanks to an excellent job by the sound guy. When guitar and bass are left to hang in the air they take on the sonic complexity of a drone band or dark ambient artist. At those times when main-man Jon Davis isn’t vocalising he’s constantly angling himself to the amp to ride that feedback and add texture to the massive thunderous wave pouring from the stage, but that swaggering doom swing is never far away. New recruit Rich Lewis is proving to be an extremely musical drummer – with this kind of material it would be so easy to burden it with leaden plodding percussion and it is his sympathetic response to the riff that instinctively gets the pit circling.
The paradox with Conan is how tracks like ‘Hawk As Weapon’ and ‘Satsumo’ can sound so crushingly nihilistic, elemental, yet be so vibrant and life-affirming – the soundtrack to a prehistoric mammoth rising exhausted and victorious after hours of struggle to free itself from a burning primordial tarpit. They are quite literally awesome live.
Conan are riding a wave at the moment (if only judging by the number of their t-shirts spotted around today) and this Bloodstock performance has cemented that reputation. The best band of the day so far and a tough act for the headliners to follow. [D]
With a huge backdrop full of battlements and horned skulls, Trivium are sure to let us know before they even take the stage that they are 100% heavy fucking metal, but it is perhaps not wise to open their first ever festival headline appearance with a new one, despite the buzz surrounding it. That said, “Silence In The Snow” has an amzing hook and gets people singing along from the get-go, so pessismism can be cast aside straight away.
The sound is initially not quite the punch in the face we have come to demand from these Floridian neck-snappers but when the tech issues clear (and Corey’s guitar is actually audible after being absent entirely from the mix for the first couple of numbers) the noise is thunderous and crystal clear.
“Becoming The Dragon” gets heads banging and Paolo proves that if you have the talent and flair then a bass solo can genuinely be the highlight of a song. With a set focusing more on the singalong anthems than the earlier roar and thrash material, Trivium keep the crowd entertained with a polished and assured performance coupled with a dizzying light show.
That said, the breakneck speed of “Light To Flies” and “Pull Harder…” are still welcome highlights and remain sonic catalysts for some massive circle pits.
Although they are quintessentially ‘metal’, they still pull out hard rock gems like the Dokken-esque “Anthem” and modern day classic “Dying In Your Arms” which keep the mood of the crowd buoyant and beer-swilling. Some old schoolers sneer at the ‘not metal’ sensibilities of such crowd pleasers, but if you can write a song as catchy and exuberant as that, why the hell wouldn’t you?!
Another new track “Blind Leading The Blind” is dedicated to Ronnie James Dio, with Matt giving a very heartfelt account of the time he met the legend whose name graces the main stage here, and proves an even better appetiser for their upcoming album than the opener.
With staples like “Gunshot To The Head Of Trepidation” and “In Waves” sounding particularly vicious tonight, the only downside is that they stand out a little because the rest of the set doesn’t quite pack as much punch. Overall the band are tight and fiery, but it is only once or twice this evening that they are the truly incendiary mob they can be when everything gels.
Closing with a blast of “Heaven And Hell” is an undeniably classy touch and is greeted with a thousand raised pints and out of tune bellowing from across the field.
An assured performance cements their status as worthy headliners and let’s hope they get more opportunities to top festival bills, but perhaps what they really need is to recapture the visceral energy of their smaller indoor shows and cut back on the production. [D]
A genuinely excited Delain bound onto the SOPHIE stage with what is clearly the best sound of the weekend so far. Starting a little late is no bad thing tonight as it means they commence their show just as the mainstage is ending, and although the tent is already pretty well packed, it soon heaves as more and more metalheads cram into the astonishingly brightly lit big top, and raise the temperature from ‘sweaty’ to ‘sauna’.
A sea of hands wave, punch the air and throw the horns for the next hour and a bit and most present seem to know every word. The constant bouncing, windmilling and leaping of Charlotte Wessels doesn’t detract from her vocals one bit as she leads the chorus of several thousand here present.
One after another they belt out “Army Of Dolls”, “Stardust”, “Milk And Honey”, “The Gathering” and manage to cram in an almost perfect setlist of chugging riffs, swathes of keyboard and and silky sweet vocals.
Despite a new touring guitarist being added to the mix, they are tighter than Lemmy‘s jeans and keep the pace up with barely any between-song chat, though what little Charlotte does say is brimming with enthusiasm and sincere gratitude for the ecstatic crowd response.
Although most would have wanted a rendition of “April Rain” which is sadly absent, closer “We Are The Others” resonates with everyone here and sums up the sentiment of this festival and the message behind the Sophie Lancaster stage. We are all here because we are a little different from the run of the mill. We are a mixture of freaks and geeks, crusty old gits and hip young punks, but most of us have probably at some point in our lives been either shunned or ridiculed by the in-crowd yet bonded by our love for metal.
What happened to Sophie was a tragedy that still fosters resentment and anger many years on, but the fine work being done by the S.O.P.H.I.E. charity http://www.sophielancasterfoundation.com and the message of unity and forgiveness is one that makes this song so apt. Having dedicated it to her when they first released it, what could be more fitting than playing it to close this stage tonight in memory of her legacy.
Not mawkish and not sentimental, but genuinely vibrant and life-affirming, Delain end the day on a high and are back in the UK in October with the wonderful Anneke van Giersbergen in tow, which is surely not to be missed. [D]