It’s been a few days, the exhaustion is starting to subside, but I still have some great memories of this year’s Bloodstock kicking around that I need to throw out to you lot before they disappear in the vague mesh of neurons that make up my old age. A mesh that took a battering last weekend courtesy of some great acts that had me belting my head around like a lunatic.
Bloodstock’s main stage line-up this year was, for me personally, not as strong as last year’s. That is, it had fewer bands I just had to see. There was precisely one on the main bill that sold the entire festival to me, and who I whinged about enough that my wife finally caved and allowed me to attend. That band was Hatebreed, and I am very glad to say that Jamey and the gang made all that marital strife worthwhile (to me, anyway). Playing an incredible set which threw up the obvious classics as well as a great choice from current release Concrete Confessional, itself as strong an album as they’ve ever dropped, they destroyed… everything.
Earlier in the day I’d witnessed some of that puerile “hardcore dancing” crap during another band’s set, though it seemed to be stepped on very quickly and didn’t put in an appearance during Hatebreed. This is good as I’d hate to have been ejected from Bloodstock for flattening someone’s face. Whether the idiots were stopped by fans or the superb ShowSec staff, I don’t know, but good bloody riddance either way.
This meant that some proper moshing could occur during Hatebreed and such it did. It wasn’t just the setlist that pleased me so much (best I’ve ever heard from them), or the sound quality courtesy of the technical pixies and wizards at Bloodstock, but the crowd. A superb pit with great attitude, all out to have fun belting into each other and flying stage-wards over the heads of fellow fans.
By the end of the all-too-short set, I was utterly knackered and my throat was in tatters. Worth every painful moment.
Barring the headliners, the other main stage acts which grabbed me over the weekend were Annihilator, Testament and Obituary. Jeff Waters and pals (well, he’s the only founding member left) picked some good songs, wrapped up with Jeff’s wonderful self-deprecating humour. He’s right, his Canadian downbeat take on things fits right in with our own view on life and really makes him appear more personable on stage in between songs when he’s not wowing is with classic riffs.
A new song made an appearance, “Twisted Lobotomy”, and it went down very well indeed. Waters claimed the band were heading back to their roots for the forthcoming album, but let me tell you – they’ve dug down to those roots and kept on going. If the final release captures even half of the heaviness of this song then it’s the nastiest, hardest stuff Annihilator will ever have captured in the studio.
Testament are a band that have also never lost their edge, and have in fact gone through a resurgence in recent years. With their last couple of excellent albums, they’ve proved that they still know how to draft a good tune. Bloodstock proved that they also know how to chuck those songs out live as well. With four songs from the recent Brotherhood of the Snake, the rest of the setlist spanned the band’s entire career (almost) from Practice What You Preach through to Dark Roots of Earth.
Extending Testament’s proof that some things do indeed get better with age, Obituary are another band that have never failed to delight. Their recent tenth album, the self-titled Obituary, is every bit as good as anything they’ve ever produced. Their set focused more on their older material (mainly Slowly We Rot and Cause of Death), with a handful from the new release – but it all had one thing in common: quality.
Like Testament, Obituary have a frontman with a unique voice. Both bands are instantly recognisable as soon as those pipes start chucking out sound. John Tardy and his annoyingly gorgeous hair growled and snarled through twelve tracks of classic and modern death metal, a standard that any new band can set their sights on.
This year’s headliners were a mixed bag in terms of genre, which is perfect. Some nice Viking metal from Amon Amarth, some weird light stadium-ish stuff from Ghost and classic thrash from long-standers Megadeth. We could argue for days about who was the best in terms of music, but what’s important for a headliner is putting on a good show… and all three succeeded. In spades. Boxes and boxes of spades.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of Amon Amarth in as much as I’ve seen them live before but don’t know much, if any of their material. I don’t dislike them, I’ve just never got into them, so you can take my review of their set as a very much unbiased one.
It was incredible.
Musically, I can’t complain. The songs were good, the performance powerful and the stage show wonderfully over the top. Burning runes and big beast tentacles were the order of the night and they played to a simply enormous crowd. Surely an audience that size couldn’t be topped?
Ghost managed it. Another band I’m woefully unfamiliar with, they were a very pleasant surprise. With great stage presence, they put on what could be the dictionary definition of a “show”. Pomp, ceremony, over-the top performances, a lovely sense of dark humour and some great stage props. The crowd was unbelievable. I was trying to get from one side to the other and had to walk all the way back to the food stalls at the rear of the festival site to manage it. Speaking to festival management the next day, there were more people on site that night (based on day ticket sales in addition to the sold out weekend allotment) than Bloodstock has ever seen before.
Say what you like about Ghost, and I know a lot of people really don’t like them, they put on a brilliant performance and were without a doubt truly worthy of their headline slot.
Third of the bill-toppers was Megadeth who closed the Ronnie James Dio Stage on the Sunday night. In an interview after Wacken, they promised something special in their Bloodstock set that they’d done before, but which when they last did it was “missing” something. There was much discussion as to what it was and, even days later, I’m still mystified. What they did give was a brilliant performance, perhaps… no, definitely, the best I’ve seen from them in years.
Aided by the fact that Dystopia is their best release of the modern Mega-age, the band seemed to pluck brilliant song after brilliant song out of the air. Around the more modern fare, there were some much-loved classics. Opener “Hangar 18” thankfully wasn’t followed by the poor sequel “Return to Hangar”. Instead, we had a set peppered with the likes of “Wake Up Dead”, “In My Darkest Hour”, “A Tout Le Monde”, “Peace Sells” and “Mechanix” – the last one was always better than Metallica’s snail-paced equivalent, “The Four Horsemen”.
With the visuals limited to a big video screen, admittedly featuring some great music videos especially for the more recent songs, I spent the majority of the set with my back to the stage helping crowd-surfers safely make their way overhead. Like Hatebreed, this was just an incredible audience to be part of. Looking at all the faces lit up by the stage lights I just knew I was in my second home. Everyone was out to help everyone else, security were simply superb, and the sound and visuals carried the show perfectly.
On an emotional level it was never going to beat last year’s Twisted Sister performance. I doubt anything ever will. But what we got, again, for the third night in a row, was a quality band at the top of their game entertaining a ridiculous number of people at one of the world’s best festivals.
Bloodstock – I applaud you. And I’ve not even got to the other stages yet…
Photos by Will Tudor Photography