Bloodstock is the UK’s premier heavy metal festival, and while the majority of the bill is unapologetic in its metallic abandon, prog is steadily infiltrating the event.
Diatessaron are, in many ways, a quintessential modern prog rock band: multifarious of texture and tone but subtly rugged and muscular. The elegance of their melodies provide great contrast with occasional bursts of angular riffing. Some punters nod thoughtfully, others bang their heads. Everyone departs having been charmed and disarmed.
Sumer’s similarly timely sound has a similar effect, their post-metal explorations exhibiting just enough grit and growl to keep the thrashers happy. While some of their peers rely too heavily on ethereal atmospheres, Sumer start with sharp songs, building a cathedral of woozy ambience around them. Despite a slight lack of stage presence, the band are clearly lost in the joy of their own efforts.
This time last year, Ihsahn was headlining Bloodstock as frontman with black metal legends Emperor. Now, he’s free to showcase his extraordinary solo work, with its fervently progressive ethos and mixture of the cerebral and the vicious. Kicking off with three tracks from 2013’s mind-blowing Das Seelenbrechen, this is not an exercise in shameless crowd-pleasing. Instead, the Norwegian defies a few technical hitches to hold a huge crowd spellbound, particularly with the thunderous disquiet of Frozen Lakes On Mars and an unexpected glimpse of recordings to come on the freshly-minted My Heart Is Of The North; a song confirming Ihsahn’s artistic fearlessness, along with his knack for penning exhilarating riffs, remains absolute.
Opeth have nothing to prove, not even at Bloodstock where the Swedes’ heavier moments are more likely to hit the target. With Mikael Åkerfeldt in subdued mood, it’s left to the towering brilliance of The Drapery Falls, Heir Apparent and a predictably devastating Deliverance to strengthen the band’s bond with the metal faithful. No matter how far Opeth stray from the metal path, they remain adored here for their uniqueness and stubborn refusal to please anyone but themselves.
The most commercially potent band at Bloodstock by some distance, Within Temptation pull out all the stops on their return to the festival they first headlined in 2005. With Sharon den Adel on exquisite vocal form, and a set list that provides a startling reminder that this band have tons of fantastic songs, the Dutch crew look and sound like worthy bill-toppers; sonically immaculate, gently exuberant and laudably slick, they make the majority of their symphonic metal peers seem sorely lacking in personality and warmth. From the infectious bluster of Paradise (What About Us?) (replete with video footage of Tarja Turunen’s guest turn) to the twinkly-eyed splendour of a closing Mother Earth, this is a triumph.