Bloodstock Open Air 2012 – THE ULTRA REVIEW
By: Chris Davison
I have been a devotee of Bloodstock Open Air Festival since their very first event, held at the Derby Assembly Rooms, an indoor venue in the English midlands. In the early days, it was very much a power metal lovers’ paradise, but had enough variety to snare me, and with a cool, “for the fans” attitude, has kept me coming back for more. Eventually, the festival outgrew the indoors, and relocated to Catton Hall, a stately home in Derbyshire, which can now boast an annual pilgrimage of 12,000 or so metal fans, playing music over three and a half full days, and offering the whole camping experience.
I had planned (not in any recognisable sense of the word) to cover this in the form of a vlog, but alas, the cam that I took from home had loads of footage of my kids shot by my wife. Sure enough, a quick telephone call confirmed that as she hadn't backed this footage up, so I couldn't delete it. This, in turn, meant that my options were for just over 90 seconds of available HDD space.
On reviewing my footage, there is a short (10 seconds) expose of my tent, (of which, more later), and about 80 seconds of the back of Stuey's (again, more of which later) head, while Iced Earth play. Therefore, this will be a more traditional blog post, interspersed with video clips (or entire concert playlists) from the live feed (or otherwise) on YouTube. Hey, if this footage is yours, and you're not down with this entirely amateur, metal loving site using your video that you've uploaded to an open source archive, let me know, and I'll take it down while insulting your questionable heritage.
First, like any good fantasy epic, I have to introduce you to the party. Our festival throng has grown and morphed over the years, but there are some common players. 2012 BOA Davison Campees included:
·Stuey – Like me, a metalhead in his late thirties. Also like me, he has been known to enjoy the odd alcoholic beverage. Stuey serves his Queen and country in the armed forces. He does not enjoy power metal, and is owner of a folding camping chair that's also a recliner.
·Harry – A metalhead in his forties, though he doesn't look older than thirty, much to everyone's chagrin. His waist size is approximately the same circumference as my thumb, and most of the time he's a fairly laid back chap. That is, of course, until the music starts. He can then often be seen in the pit and crowd surfing, much to the amusement of the party and the bemusement of his kids once he gets home.
·The Cones – Mr. and Mrs. Cone have fast become firm disciples of the less well known reaches of metal, from their starting position of loving mainstream metal outfits. They're a little wary of growled vocals and my love for Spam™, but are good people. Mr. Cone needs to excrete at least six times a day.
·The Cone-In-Law – Mrs. Cone's brother. He's an all round music fan, and plays keyboards in a bizarre prog band. He doesn't say much, but when he does speak, his dry humour really tickles my funny bone.
·The Hazard™ - The newcomer to the group is The Hazard™ – a youngster (i.e. in his twenties). He's still very much in his first flush of life, and wholeheartedly throws himself into whatever he can find.
The journey to the event took a little over three hours by car, and parking the car was as trouble free as the best of previous years. The hike from the car park to the main camp site took around twenty five minutes, in an uncharacteristically hot English summer mid-day glare of the sun. As seasoned BOA'ers, we were well prepared for this slog. Cruel memory had taught us that bringing only one days provisions was the best approach, as in previous years, attempting to yomp across an uneven muddy field with 48 440ml cans of beer was a crippling and dispiriting affair. Amusingly, the trip – this year with a mere 12 cans of beer, tent, food and clothes, was trouble free, while all around us fellow metal heads cursed as their backpacks slipped, their bags tore and their beer and possessions spilled around on the floor.
Entering the festival took a mere ten minutes, and at last we reached our campsite - “Hel.” As metalheads of advancing years, we often choose to stay in the “quiet” camp (which, apparently, has a midnight curfew), as opposed to “Midgard,” which can often be heard partying until 6am. By partying, I, of course, mean shouting "MANOWAR” and “YYYYYRRRRRAAAAAARRRGH” as loud as humanly possible.
Setting up my new four man tent, (a bargain at £30 from ASDA – a proud member of the Walmart group, apparently), was fuss free, and thus did I set up my new camping chair. This chair – bought from a discount supermarket, lasted 20 minutes before collapsing under the weight of my considerable bulk. As we had chosen to arrive on the Thursday, there really wasn't any reason to enter the main arena, as the entertainment only began on the Thursday evening. Thus it was that we began to drink and eat Spam™, the tinned meaty treat that we all adore. A suitable amount of consumed Guinness later and we adjourned to see the one band that we had all agreed to see, in the Sophie Lancaster tent. The Sophie tent is essentially a big-top circus style indoor tent, which seems to hold a couple of thousand people at a time, and with a notoriously poor sound – this year not helped by the PA company failing to provide any audio equipment to the organisers, who then subsequently had to get some arranged in less than a week's notice.
In any event, Viking Skull entered the stage happily, with their no-frills Motörhead meets Orange Goblin style of denim-und-leather greasy heavy metal. While I was a little disappointed that they didn't decide to play more from their magnum opus, Doom, Gloom, Heartache, And Whiskey, nether the less they played a solid, rocking set which set the tone admirably for the weekend.
With the mere notion of a hangover, Friday emerged with the traditional Bloodstock morning rituals. These include meeting at the cars, driving to a nearby town, where we enter the nearest supermarket, buy provisions for the day, along with a hot breakfast from their “resteraunt,” and utilise their toilets for the morning download. It is essential to get to the supermarket early, as roughly 5000 metal heads have the same idea each day – which then transforms the supermarket restrooms into a no-go area of filth and colon-based villainy by roughly 10am. Once I had performed these rituals, we re-entered the main arena. First up for our delectation were the mighty Grand Magus, a band that can always be relied upon to provide top class entertainment. Despite questionable fashion sense (tight jeans?), J.B. Was is the consummate showman, and played a crowd-pleasing set amid another day's shiny sunny glow.
Moonsorrow were up next, and as ever, I just wasn't interested in what they had to offer. I must have seen them three times over the last five or so years, and they've always been kind of tedious. Luckily, the fine chaps at Wychwood breweries were selling properly conditioned pints of their superior Hobgoblin Ale (editor: readily available at fine retailers here in SoCal) among the horrible lagers in the main arena, and thus did Stuey and I begin to sup our own body weight in premium ale.
Iced Earth were next on the main stage, and while I do always enjoy them when I listen to them, I've never really been a huge fan. I was particularly nervous since Barlow left as vocalist, yet Stu Block really distinguished himself as an excellent vocalist and performer. Even the normally taciturn Stuey was seen to nod his head in approval.
Sepultura were next on the main stage, which was a good thing, from my perspective. I may be a heretic against the mainstream opinion, but I think they're at their best now since the mighty Arise album was released. Indeed, both of the Cones were highly impressed, especially Mr. Cone, with his love of all things thrash. To my eyes and ears, it's always great to see such a nice guy as Derrick Green get some love from the crowd, and their renditions were as energetic as they always were. Having seen Sepultura in the mid nineties – during which I thought the band were merely coasting, it was brilliant to see them apparently making an effort again.
Thanks to a change of line up, I found myself sitting in my camping chair and supping cider while I could hear the strains of the Ripper Owens-fronted Dio Disciples playing, which I would have missed even if I'd have run from our far flung position in the campsite.
They sounded pretty good, though, which was more than could be said for Watain. I'm afraid that I really don't get them or their “more evil than thou” shtick. To these tired old ears, they sound like an inferior, second rate Dissection.
Make up your own mind there, but were it not for the burning crosses and magazine coverage, they'd just be another also-ran black metal crew for me. Ho hum. Finally, the headliners appeared. It had been a difficult couple of years for Poland's best known metal outfit (note to BOA organisers: Vader, please), with last year's festival appearance cancelled due to Nergal's ill health, yet here they were.
With a spectacular stage show, the sound man deserved a medal with maintaining the quality of the sound throughout the performance, and keeping everything legible across the vast distances of open ground. A sterling end to the music of day one.
Following a fraught morning on Saturday, where we were seemingly incapable of meeting at a predestined time at a predetermined location, and following a hectic drive, we arrived just in time to see Benediction playing on the main stage at an ungodly hour in the morning. Despite the proliferation of hangovers apparent in the crowd, the venerable grind bastards had a good audience who appreciated their unpretentious take on grinding death metal. Dave Hunt gave his all on vocals, despite apparently only having the use of one leg due to some kind of unfortunate accident.
We saw the irrepressible excellence of Winterfylleth on the Sophie stage deliver one of the standout sessions of the weekend, though regrettable apparently nobody has seen fit to upload their performance. Instead, I present to you a comparable performance from their recent Manchester gig.
Cthonic and I AM I were both utterly dreadful – the former for their watered down take on symphonic metal, and their only saving grace apparently the utterly ravishing Doris.
I AM I, the new band of the former Dragonforce lead singer, are a band that are painful to watch and even worse to listen to. Their performance marked a nadir for the weekend, reminding me just how terrible power metal can be.
Following that happy clappy plastic nonsense, it was down (arf arf) to Crowbar to inject some proper emotion into the festival. I was actually halfway through a delicious pint of the Bloodstock festival ale when I heard them coming onto the stage. Though they have long been a favourite of mine, I hadn't been able to see them at all, and thus I was extremely excited by their appearance. I wasn't disappointed. They delivered a shattering display of flawless sludge.
I decided to sit out Mayhem and Sanctuary, instead enjoying a delicious triple-decker Spam™ and crisp sandwich, drinking cider and guzzling on dry roasted peanuts until it was time to trek back to the arena for Hatebreed. They produced the most insane pits of the whole festival, and produced a crowd pleasing set of metal-heavy hardcore. Alas, during this very performance, I was pick pocketed by some opportunist scumbag, who stole £70 of my case before jettisoning my wallet, forcing me to cancel my debit cards. To whomever you were: you are an utter failure as a human being, and I wish nothing but a pox upon your pitiful life.
I actually saw very little of the Testament show, though you can catch it all here...
... because I was prepared to watch (for me) the band of the weekend, the brilliant Orange Goblin. They actually appeared at the very first Bloodstock Indoor festival, but had been banned from appearing thereafter, as they had trashed their dressing room in an alcohol fuelled orgy of destruction, urged on by the naughty chaps in Sabbat (UK). Well, the ban had evidently ended, as I trailed into the Sophie Tent again. I was actually fairly upset when I entered, still smarting from having been a victim of crime, yet the magic of Orange Goblin was sufficient to enable me to be instantly lifted into a happy state. They were quite simply magnificent, and (rarely) Ben Ward was sober. Alas, you'll have to make do with another live performance that I saw this year (trivia fact: I feature in this video).
I find Machinehead to be very, very dull, aside from their debut album and selected songs from the Ashes To Empires album. Harry and The Hazard™ decided to go and watch, though, fans as they are of the music. We were bemused therefore when they returned a short time later, apparently irritated by the continued onstage babbling of Rob Flynn during the performance. Their brand of vaguely thrash tempered meat and potatoes heavy metal drifted across the camp site while we continued to drink, however, which was as it should be.
Sunday, as is the tradition for Bloodstock, was the strongest set list of the weekend. This is dreadful, as by this stage, I had been eating utter crap for the entire weekend, not slept properly despite my deluxe tent, and been through hangover hell and back again. I also hadn't had a shower since Thursday morning, and smelled like something that had crawled from the very depths of Hades. My tolerance level for teenage metalheads in Slipknot tee-shirts with a predilection for shouting “SLAYYYYERRRRR” was also wearing very thin.
Sunday really began with a bang at about 7am, when my innards decided that I should desperately need to evacuate my bowels. Even at this fresh hour, there was a huge queue for the portaloo bank. Luckily, my intestinal fortitude allowed me to delay disgrace, and thus I was treated to what was a wonderfully clean toilet sensation. After days of dodging them in lieu of supermarket facilities, this year the festival toilets were actually cleaner. Amazing. First band of the day were Corrosion Of Conformity, a band I have loved since the release of Blind. Alas, this was the band performing as a trio, and they continually teased with snippets of, but not full songs from their Blind-to-In The Arms Of God era.
Nile, however, were a complete revelation. Their intricacies were kept intact by some artful production, and there was palpable glee on the face of Karl Sanders as he gazed out onto the waiting crowd to see so many people there to witness their ithyphallic take on Hollywood Middle Eastern- tinged heavy metal.
Evile's set of very Metallica-esque thrash songs met with muted applause from our throng, though they are seldom anything other than dependable and steady.
I decided to leave the gonzo appearance of Anvil, having formerly seen them supporting Motörhead and having found them understandably average, but with a curious level of anticipation around them. It seems that the documentary had whet the appetite of the less discerning members of the crowd, including some of our very own party who ventured into the arena and were pleased enough to see them. I leave it up to arch miserable bastards Paradise Lost to perfectly capture the nature of my jaded festival spirit with stage banter as dry as my mouth felt; Paradise Lost played a completely polished set, even though it tended to shy away from their earlier works and from Icon in its entirety.
Bringing up the rear of the festival was Dimmu Borgir, who had previously played an absolute blinder at the festival as headliners. That was before the departure of ICS Vortex and Simon, and certainly before the bizarre nature of Abrahadabra. Despite these setbacks, they played a fairly rocking set, and though certainly pared down (with none of their usual pyrotechnics and looking slightly odd in the evening sun), Dimmu Borgir represented the final throes of extreme metal in the festival, and threw everything into it.
Alice Cooper played a huge set, rammed full of every conceivable fan favourite, complete with his traditional flair for theatre and showmanship. Even the hardest of hearts, (mine in particular), found it hard not to enjoy the spectacle. As the ticker tape rained down from “Elected,” it was time to file out and sleep under canvas for one last time, before waking bright and breezy and driving back to normal life.