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Bloodstock 2016 live review – Catton Hall, Derby

Slayer and Mastodon head up Bloodstock – summer’s celebration of heavy

THURSDAY

What do we want? A heavy metal festival with no mud. When do we want it? Now would be good. And so Bloodstock begins, bathed in sunshine and soggy with beer. This promises to be a special and very metal weekend. Norway’s SUBLIME EYES [7] ensure that Bloodstock hits the ground running with a noisily received splurge of groovy melo-death grit and huge bags of enthusiasm. KARYBDIS [8] once again confirm their status as unsung UK metal heroes: their time will surely come, but until then they keep making new friends. SUMER [5] let the party atmosphere slip, though, their slick but familiar post-Tool meanderings never quite catching fire. Thankfully, Ireland’s PSYKOSIS [8] are on hand to shake things up again with their fast and fiery beer-drenched thrash attack. Drunken order restored. The opening night ends with PHIL CAMPBELL’S ALL-STARR BAND [8] and no one needs to restate the poignancy of the occasion, with Lemmy’s Bar newly opened and no justification needed for more tributes to the late, great man. The highlight of a raucous set of covers and jams comes when Dee Snider joins the band for Born To Raise Hell and the entire tent goes absolutely fucking berserk. A fitting rock’n’roll celebration.

FRIDAY

The sun is blazing as HARK [8] wake everyone up on the Ronnie James Dio stage with some of the biggest riffs Catton Hall has ever heard. And some of the best beards too. GLORYHAMMER [6] are ridiculous in the best possible way and go down a storm, even though there’s a strong sense that a joke is being ironed wafer thin here. In contrast, EVIL SCARECROW [8] just get funnier and more irresistible as time goes on. Bigger venues await them, but judging by the response to Robototron, Crabulon and new anthem Hurricanado, the Notts nuts have nothing to fear. Daft bastards.

The gloomy but grand industrial stomp of Sweden’s MISERY LOVES CO [7] lives up to the name, but vocalist Patrik Wiren finds it hard to suppress his excitement at being back after a 16-year absence. STUCK MOJO [5] aren’t going to win any prizes for the most intelligent or subtle band at Bloodstock, with Rape Whistle and Charles Bronson baffling inclusions at best. Yet there’s enough character and commitment from guitarist Rich Ward to see his new recruits home. There are few things that make more sense than CORROSION OF CONFORMITY’s [7] rugged riffs being blasted out over a sun-baked field, with Pepper Keenan and co impressing whether they’re playing it straight down the line on Albatross or during the elongated jam of Clean My Wounds.

Kicking off the Sophie Lancaster stage, FURY’s [5] 80s power metal is better at full clip than at a clumsy mid-tempo, killing the mood with the bloated patriotism of ballad Britannia. BOSS KELOID [8] are more like it, their molten doom and engaging interludes raising the temperature on an already hot day. Londoners BRUTAI [6] reach frequently for the epic with their ever undulating melodic prog metal, but too often feel lacklustre. The nu metal circus is in town with ANTI-CLONE [5], who remember their gimp masks and blunt aggression, but forget to pack any decent tunes. Dressed like post-apocalyptic asylum escapees META-STASIS [7] drag you into their man cave, such is the primal nature of their testosterone-fuelled assault, creating a raging pit.

Not even being crammed into the smallest corner of the Jäger tent halts rock duo THE HYENA KILL [8] from delivering a brief but rabid set jam-packed with muscular grooves and filth-laden riffs. Eardrums be damned. It’s been two years since Dutch metalcore mob THE CHARM THE FURY [7] hit a UK stage, and lead screamer Caroline Westenorp is clearly determined to make up for lost time – her harmonious yet heavy vocals engaging the appreciative handful watching on the SL stage. Formulaic but enjoyable. Songs about masturbation and healthy eating advice aside, FOETAL JUICE’s [7] low-end death/grind cacophony could wake the dead. Profanities and beers fly around the packed tent as the four-piece take us to Hell and back in all their guttural glory. Few bands have as much fun as XII BOAR [7], who have a riot delivering their classic riffs with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. Bloodstock mainstays BEHOLDER [7] continue to ride the wave of latest effort Reflections, with Wasting Life the peak of their modern take on trad metal. If BEYOND THE BLACK [7] were feeling any pressure about this being their UK festival debut, it certainly doesn’t manifest. Ethereal melodies sit alongside bombastic pomp whilst a solid cover of Whole Lotta Love showcases Jennifer Haben’s ability to step out of the symphonic box.

Debate who the ‘real’ VENOM [9] is, if you must (clue: it’s this one), but no one sane could deny that Cronos and his henchmen absolutely destroy Bloodstock today, cramming 15 gnarly assaults into their slot and peaking with a vicious Black Metal. They will, Cronos avows, be back for even bigger things. Ooh. BEHEMOTH [9] follow and are as dominant a force as ever. Striding boldly onto the stage, swaggering frontman Nergal is a focal point of burning intensity and rarefied charisma, bestowing upon his flock a searing rendition of recent album The Satanist in its entirety. TWISTED SISTER [9] take their final bow on UK shores, and it’s one hell of a party. They sound sharp and mean, frontman Dee Snider the archetypal rock star, never stopping moving, causing hilarity with his keen wit. Paying fitting tribute to metal’s fallen heroes one minute, and rocking Bloodstock to its foundations with ubiquitous classics I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take It the next, they remind us one more time of why we all fell in love with heavy music.

Coming on after Twisted Sister have effortlessly owned the entire festival is a major challenge, but DIAMOND HEAD [8] are on scintillating form. Their new songs sound great, but it’s Metallica-promoted classics like Helpless, The Prince and Am I Evil? that bring the house down.

SATURDAY

CAMBION’s [5] uninspired djent suffers from a washy sound, but packs enough punch to get sleepy heads banging in the sunshine on the main stage. KILL 2 THIS [6] seem happy to play their first show in 12 years, but their industrial-tinged nu metal shows its age. VALLENFYRE [8] mean business, seeming like they really live as filthy a life as their crusty grind and withering doom suggests before AKERCOCKE [7] make a welcome return, bringing a uniquely British sense of gentlemanly grandeur to their rabid Luciferian homilies, deepening the disturbing qualities of their fearsome blackened death even in the light of day. ROTTING CHRIST [8] then elevate proceedings with a majestic display of heartfelt blasphemy in the mid-afternoon sun, subjecting gleeful acolytes to their blackened, groove-laden brutality.

The entertaining gothic histrionics of THE HERETIC ORDER’s [8] songs on the SL stage are matched by the macabre theatricality of their stageshow, while the more conventional Sabbathy-chug of MAGE [7] fares just as well and is a fitting tribute to their late guitarist. THE RAVEN AGE [6] don’t quite hit the heights their melodic metal promises, but new song Angel In Disgrace bodes well for them. France’s eccentric MISANTHROPE [7] make up for a thin crowd with a larger-than-life presence and classic doom tones, while ONE MACHINE [6] win some new admirers with their enthusiasm and energetic power metal.

The immense turnout for a 1.30pm slot (never mind the pull of Akercocke over on the RJD stage) is a testament to THIS IS TURIN’s [8] blackened tech-death ferocity. Necks are happily snapped whilst affable frontman Darryl Jones’s screams veer easily between EBM and traditional hardcore. Abnormally soulful, power trio VODUN [8] entice curious punters in with their fiery blend of afro-futuristic beats and unbridled aggression. Their performance is akin to a live ritual as Chantal ‘Oya’ Brown pummels her tambourine like a woman possessed, her mesmerising vocals reverberating from front to back. THE KING IS BLIND [8] smash the absolute shit out of Bloodstock with their extreme metal-cum-doom shenanigans. An inspired cameo from Winterfylleth’s Chris Naughton on All The Daemons Are Here leaves us shaking our heads in glorious disbelief. BULL RIFF STAMPEDE [7] may be the worst band name of the festival, but their intense thrash assault more than compensates. The devil is in the details of Norway’s SHINING [8], who bring something a little different to proceedings, winning over an initially hesitant audience with their distinctive brand of saxophone-infused metal. They really should be bigger than they are by now.

On the RJD stage, FEAR FACTORY [8] celebrate 20 years of Demanufacture by playing it in its glorious, ear-rattling entirety. Replica and Self Bias Resistor sound as fearsome and fresh as they did back in ’95, whilst Burton C Bell puts in a blistering performance of Pisschrist. The spectacle of PARADISE LOST [8] serving up melancholic anthems like Hallowed Land and Rapture with such morbid panache could melt even the chilliest of hearts. That’s not to say that newer material doesn’t equally titillate the masses, though, with a colossal No Hope In Sight inciting a handful of unexpected pits.

GOJIRA [9] look, sound and feel very much like the most vital band in metal right now. There’s just no denying the seemingly limitless power of Backbone and Silvera when played with such precision and passion. MASTODON [7] have all the mindbending visuals and city-flattening songs to ensure their first UK festival headline slot is a triumph. But while they finish on a scintillating home run, the sluggish, stuttering first half just can’t compete with the path of devastation left by the Frenchmen. UK thrash never got the props its finest exponents deserved, but the return of ACID REIGN [8] on the SL stage may help to redress that balance. From Humanoia to the closing Motherly Love, the resurrected mini-legends are the perfect tonic for anyone flagging after two days in the sun.

Mastodon: they come bearing "city-flattening" songs

Mastodon: they come bearing "city-flattening" songs

SUNDAY

Much-hyped Americans GHOST BATH [7] take their immersive blackgaze extremely seriously, and while it’s certainly full of dynamic structures and emotive feeling, the RJD stage crowd’s imitations of Dennis Mikula’s pained vocals add some welcome light relief to the oppressive bleakness. You could put your mortgage on HEART OF A COWARD [8] to deliver the goods and they do so with ferocious aplomb. The sheer weight of their smart but brutish sound is again a force to be reckoned with. Despite doctor’s orders to take it easy, frontman Trevor Phipps and UNEARTH [8] are in irresistible form and full of their usual vigour as they storm through a set stacked with enviable heavy hitters from Zombie Autopilot to recent rager The Swarm.

Supergroup-of-sorts METAL ALLEGIANCE [6] unleash a rousing collection of covers, Iron Fist, Fast As A Shark and Heaven And Hell being standouts. Mark Menghi’s reverence for artists lost is undeniably heartfelt, but an attempt to cross-meld genres mid-set fails with their butchering of Bowie classic Suffragette City. Celebrating 20 years of Nemesis Divina, SATYRICON’s [7] largely one-album setlist struggles to translate as an engaging festival performance. Fortunately their cold fury finally coalesces in triumph, with majestic renditions of Mother North, Fuel For Hatred, and K.I.N.G.

DESERT STORM [7] mount a successful early morning invasion of the SL stage with their muscular stoner rock. SANGUIN [5] alternate between stock metal riffs and gimmicks, a brief take on House of Pain’s Jump Around failing to ignite proceedings. There isn’t much nuance in KRYSTHLA’s [7] blunt-force, percussive battery, but then subtlety isn’t really their strongpoint. Long songs and duelling solos are the order of the day for DIVINE CHAOS [7], delivering dry-throated, thrashing rage. WITCHSORROW [7] benefit from a crisp sound that helps show off the subtleties of their bombastic, apocalyptic doom and DERANGE [7] look set to reaffirm their status as tech-metal darlings, Cat Perreira’s raw-throated rasps and plaintive refrains playing off the complex rhythm section. Demented Finns channelling ancient Japan, WHISPERED [7] have struck upon a gloriously unprecedented formula and they back it up with a performance that’s equal parts fire and foolishness. Nothing comes close to VEKTOR [9] today, however. The sci-fi thrash crew are in a league of one right now, and the crowd chants their name with mounting intensity as their pulverising yet exploratory set progresses. MEMORIAM [8] are UK death metal royalty, with Bolt Thrower and Benediction members churning out some of the bleakest brutality since the post-punk era. PYTHIA [7] stir the enthusiastic revellers with their captivating mix of symphonic metal and Bay Area thrash sensibilities. Recently recruited chanteuse Sophie Dorman copes more than adequately with her soaring range and operatic flourishes.

RJD stage technical issues bleed into DRAGONFORCE’s [7] delayed set, rendering Mark Hudson’s vocals inaudible during opener Holding On. The subsequent performance feels rushed, but full-throttle renditions of Symphony Of The Night and Through The Fire And The Flames are impossible to resist. US prog-metallers SYMPHONY X [7] blaze triumphantly through numbers from current album Underworld and a handful of revered classics, not least bombastic stomper The Serpent’s Kiss. The chaotic jubilation during a rousing finale of Indians is enough for people to question why ANTHRAX [8] have never headlined Bloodstock. Opener Y_ou Gotta Believe_ aside, the tracks from For All Kings fit in seamlessly to a set bulging with metallic pedigree. Inverted, fire-spewing crosses, and songs about Satan, war and serial killers – you know exactly what you’re getting from main stage headliners SLAYER [7] and it’s hard to fail on their current form and with a setlist boasting new tracks, deep cuts and some of the greatest metal songs ever written.

Bloodstock closers GOATWHORE [8] revel in the huge crowd that’s descended upon the Sophie Lancaster Stage, and summon the most unlikely carnival atmosphere through their malicious blackened death and sheer showmanship. Even the security guards are joining in the crowdsurfing, perfectly summoning up Bloodstock’s celebratory spirit.