Bloodstock Open Air 2012 Review

Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2012 [Behemoth, Machine Head, Alice Cooper & more]
Catton Hall, Derbyshire
9th-12th August, 2012

So, another year, another Bloodstock. This year was probably one of the most controversial for a good number of years; mainly based around line up. Not only was there a massive furore over the choice of Machine Head as Saturday’s headliners, there was also much discussion of the line up, in general, being poor. Swathes of apparent regulars made it clear that the line up meant they were not purchasing tickets. This didn’t affect Bloodstock in any way, mind. There were over 11,000 people in attendance- the biggest number to date- and the organisers were able to enjoy the fact that their VIP packages totally sold out, and there were not many regular passes left by the time the weekend came around. This year’s Bloodstock was also notable for another, more special reason. Over the course of the weekend, many of the live performances were streamed world wide for the first time ever, and this decision proved to be a resounding success; over 200,000 people across the globe tuned in to watch live footage of the festival throughout the duration of the weekend. In terms of ticket sales, bums on seats and world domination, Bloodstock outdid themselves this year. But what of the festival itself?

Friday started off with a ridiculous heat wave. The fields of Catton Hall overflowed with sweaty, melting metal heads, most of them sweltering in the commonly worn uniform of black band shirt and jeans or camouflage trousers. But this sudden appearance by the sun did not stop them from turning out in multitudes to check out all three stages (four, if we count the Jagermeister Truck acoustic stage). With a cold one in my hand (one of 60+ real cask ales and ciders on sale in the Serpent’s Lair; the extra £100 odd was worth it just for that selection) I trudged to the main stage to enjoy the first few bands. Reading’s Malefice started proceedings with a valiant performance, filled with power and energy and determined to make a name for themselves. These newcomers pulled in a respectable crowd for the first slot of the day, and in my opinion started the festival off well. Followers Freedom Call kept up the energy with forty minutes of pure, cheesy German power metal, and I’m not ashamed to report that it was glorious. Their set was certainly a ‘happy metal party’ and they got the crowd jumping along to most of their songs. With their upbeat melodies and cheerful yet clumsy, Olympics centred banter, almost everyone watching their set had a stupid grin on their faces by their closer. Grand Magus were predictably epic, and the freshness of their material and stage presence makes it easy to forgot how long they have been around for. The Swedish stalwarts showed how thumping heavy metal is meant to be done.

Unfortunately for myself, I was unable to see most of the second half of Moonsorrow’s set as I quickly fell ill with what I now recognise as heatstroke, but the first half I did see was fantastic. They played a good selection of their material, and managed to put on a great performance, despite the fact that much of the crowd was flagging in the somewhat unexpected heat by this point. Their set was also far too short, especially considering most of their songs hit the nine minute mark, and it can only be hoped that they don’t leave it too long til they tour the UK as headliners. I have it on good authority, thanks to my temporary co-correspondent Joe (my brother) that Iced Earth absolutely slayed it. In three words, they were pounding, soaring and epic. The screams of ‘Iced Fucking Earth’ that echoed around the arena barely needed any encouragement from the band themselves, and they left the crowds begging for more. In complete contrast, and in a somewhat controversial claim, Joe felt that Sepultura were a massive disappointment. Clumsy and clunky, they played a set that didn’t contain enough new stuff to be purely Derrick Green era-stuff, nor enough classics to be a ‘classic Sepultura’ show, even despite the inclusion of songs such as ‘Refuse/Resist’ and ‘Roots’. I was back to the arena in time for Dio’s Disciples, the special tribute set up in memory of the late, great Ronnie James Dio, metal legend and namesake of Bloodstock’s main stage. And what a tribute it was. Each and every member of the band put their heart and soul into the performance, and it showed. Nearly every member of the band was almost in tears during their set, and they gave rousing renditions of some of Dio’s best known songs, including ‘Holy Diver’, ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’. We still love you, Ronnie. Whilst Dio’s Disciples got all emotional on the main stage, mention must be made of Hull’s Infernal Creation, who tore up the New Blood stage in the same slot. Bastard, Neiphrobous and Sin were joined by Cryptic Age’s Tom Keeley for the performance, due to bassist Beleth’s recent ill health (swift recovery, dude!) and they laid down their black metal credentials for all to see. Neiphrobous had the disappointingly small crowd in the palm of his outstretched claw, and whilst they deserved to pull a far greater number of people, those that were in attendance were treated to a thirty minute long aural assault of the highest calibre. A fantastic performance by a brutal underground band, deserving of greater success.

The atmosphere in the main arena grew noticeably chillier during the set up for Watain, and it wasn’t just the onset of the evening. There was almost as much of a buzz for these guys as there was for Friday headliners Behemoth. When asked about who they were here to see, countless people answered ‘Fucking Watain!’. All inverted crosses, flaming sigils and fire, Watain were truly a spectacle. Frontman Erik Danielsson (E) soaked the crowd- and pre-prepared, poncho and cagoule wearing security- with blood from a silver chalice, as ominous red lights zoomed over the crowd. They delivered their special blend of hauntingly beautiful and brutal black metal to the masses assembled in the fields of Catton Hall. Their stage show was uncompromising, being the masters of the theatrical and experts in creating an atmosphere both electric and somewhat unsettling. I managed to grab E for a quick chat on Saturday evening, and he summed their performance up in a concise way:

            I think it was very beautiful, it was during the sunset, and the sun came down in a very fitting way I would say. As far as Bloodstock goes, it’s another one of those places where two-leggers gather in the same place. I have an extremely hard time dealing with that, and it’s getting to the point of nausea, but at the same time it’s a good place.

All hail the black priests of metal!

After being suitably roused into a black, unholy frenzy, headliners Behemoth materialised on the stage in a flash of blue light and fog like a furious quartet of Cenobites. It is so, SO good to be finally writing a review of a performance by Behemoth at Bloodstock, and just as good to see Nergal, victorious in his battle with leukaemia, absolutely ripping Bloodstock a new one. The truck full of pyro they commissioned to trek across Europe from Poland meant that they were fully able to flex their blackened muscles and deliver a full Behemoth show to the baying crowds. Ferocious and uncompromising, they delivered a spectacle that will stay in the minds of all those assembled for a long time to come. On the visual front, they did not disappoint. Burning crosses, hooded monks, and a brilliantly clever use of fog and lighting to create a massive, Ronnie James Dio stage sized Polish flag, they looked spectacular. They sounded spectacular, too. With a set list that included fearsome renditions of songs old and new, including my personal highlights ‘Christians to the Lions’ and ‘Slaves to Serve’, Nergal, Orion, Inferno and Seth were the masters of the hordes as Friday evening closed in an infernal frenzy of blackened death metal. Behemoth fucking ruled.

On to Saturday, then, and after catching the end of what proved to be an energetic set by Benediction, on came ZP Theart of ex-Dragonforce fame, and his new band IamI. Theart had a lot to prove today, and even though his distinctive vocals strained a little at times, their raw sort of power metal worked quite well. He obviously loved being on the stage, and whilst it has to be said that their material bordered on repetitive, they gave a commendable performance. Following the power metal was Taiwan’s ChthoniC, who were, in a word, brilliant. They brought their folk-inspired, mythologically-powered black metal to the assembled crowds and performed beautifully. Freddy Lim, erhu in hand, made firm friends with the crowd and inspired an anti-Chinese roar of ‘Taiwan! Taiwan!’ to erupt among the arena. Even though many of them may not have understood the significance of Lim’s impassioned tirade against the Chinese occupation of Taiwan, they sympathised with ‘Chinese Taipei’ and were intensely receptive to the band’s atmospheric sound. The less said about Mayhem, the better. I was intensely disappointed with their lack of performance and the overall sloppy state of their set. Even Attila was boring. They came onto the stage and seemed to leave again soon after, without much fuss. So very anti-climactic. In contrast, the newly reformed Sanctuary were a surprising success. Even though their reformation will probably be at the expense of the fantastic Nevermore, it’s good to see Sanctuary back together. They really entertained the crowd with an energetic and upbeat set, satisfying both old and new fans. One band that personally surprised me were Hatebreed. I did not expect to enjoy the Connecticut hardcore maniacs, but I really did. They gave a performance full of energy and proved themselves to be very proficient at what they do. With Hatebreed, circle pits were always guaranteed but what was good to see was that the pits, orchestrated by frontman Jamey Jasta with safety on his mind, were instructed to help anyone that fell back up to their feet. Hatebreed are a brotherhood, and no one gets left behind or forgotten, as was evident with their touching dedication to the recently fallen, including the Rev, Dimebag, Dio and Paul Gray. Due to other commitments, I wasn’t able to catch much of Testament’s set, but the view from Joe was that they were sick. They played a good selection of old and new and more than satisfied the crowds.

Saturday’s controversial headliners Machine Head came onstage will everything bared and a mentality of proving to everyone present that they deserved to be there. They were there for their fans, but also for every single person who would have rather seen someone else take their place. In my opinion, they more than deserved that headline slot, and proved so with a visceral, rib shaking performance. Clearly humbled and in awe of Bloodstock as a whole, Machine Head plunged into their set with no holds barred. They spattered their set with a good selection of tunes, including fan favourites ‘Imperium’ and ‘Darkness Within’. As had been advertised since their announcement, they also played the 5 ‘Burn My Eyes’ tracks that had been voted for by the fans, in honour of the 20th anniversary of the first live show they ever played, in Mike Scum’s house, for a ‘destroy the house’ kegger party. Fantastic. The tracks chosen- ‘Death Church’, ‘A Thousand Lies’, ‘Blood for Blood’, ‘Block’ and ‘Davidian’– were received with an almost rabid response; a personal highlight was definitely ‘Block’, a track that absolutely slayed the crowd with its chugging intensity. Robb Flynn also proved that his reputation as one of the ‘nice guys’ of metal is more than apt, with a touchingly heartfelt speech about the true, accepting spirit of metal and how stoked he was to be playing on the stage with so many of his metal brothers in attendance. He also showed how much of an expert he is at creating a rapport with the crowd, and even instigated some sort of epic battle between Wolverine and Banana-man. Machine Head’s headliner slot will go down in history as one of the most divisive but brutal sets in Bloodstock history.

There were a number of fantastic performances on both the S.O.P.H.I.E. and New Blood stages on Saturday as well. Witch Sorrow and Winterfylleth both put on fantastic performances; Witch Sorrow’s sludgey, droney doom metal shaking the bowels of all those cooped up in the sweaty, beer soaked S.O.P.H.I.E. tent, and Winterfylleth delivered a set full of competent, slick black metal. But the day has to be given to the mighty Orange Goblin. The fact that the crowd literally spilled out of the tent and created lines at least seven men deep as a huge number of people struggled to watch them can probably attest to the Goblin’s strength on Saturday night. Sludgey, sleazy and soaked in booze and weed, the Goblin were on form and should have been on the main stage. However, the underdog status of the second stage suited them well. Their performance was painfully effortless, and they delivered a strong, sublime set, filling the S.O.P.H.I.E. tent to the rafters with stoner madness. There were also strong performances over at the New Blood stage. Newcastle’s Reflection in Exile were brilliant, and better than many of the bands on the main and S.O.P.H.I.E. stages. Dare I say that they were better than Mayhem? Regardless, they gave their all in the performance and were rewarded with the total attention of a sizeable crowd, pulled into the New Blood stage and away from main stagers Hatebreed. Reflection in Exile are worth watching out for. Saturday’s New Blood headliners, Manchester’s Gone Til Winter, served up a slice of brilliant, dark power metal. Stealing a good size crowd in from Testament– though they deserved many, many more- they performed with their hearts on their sleeves. Vocalist  Talena is a fantastic front woman, with an easy and likeable demeanour and a good amount of stage presence. Their set list included a number of tasters from their upcoming debut LP, Hiding From The Sun. I wish them every success in the future; and good luck to Talena on the forthcoming birth of her baby!

The final day of Bloodstock 2012 dawned with a brilliant performance from epic Canadian metallers Kobra And The Lotus. I think it’s safe to say that Kobra Paige and her troupe of heavy metal warriors won over a new legion of fans on Sunday. And holy hell, can Kobra Paige sing! KATL were a fantastic way to start the final day of BOA, and served up a delightful portion of soaring, traditional heavy metal. Corrosion of Conformity were much better than I thought they would be. I didn’t expect their groovy, sludge metal to be as good as it was, but I was pleasantly surprised. Good set, despite the need for a bass amp half way through! All that can really be said about Nile is that they were fucking brutal. They played a good mix of their stuff, from older material to brand new tracks. My personal highlights were the brutal Sacrifice Unto Sobek, Execration Text and Lashed To The Slave Stick. Their mystical, Egyptological, brutal death metal crushed the arena, and their show was so intensely amazing that it didn’t even matter that the heavens opened part way through. It would be hard for any band to follow such a flawless set, but it could have proven disastrous for Black Dahlia Murder. So many people didn’t want them to be here, and so BDM had an awful lot to prove. But prove it they did. By the end, the crowd had grown into a respectable size and enjoyed their unapologetic brand of death metal mayhem. There were two people in the crowd who certainly enjoyed their set, as their doggy style adventures proved. I think BDM proved many of the haters wrong, and showed that they deserve their place on the line up as much as anyone else. I also dearly hope that Brian Eschbach got his cheesy chips with gravy. As was expected, Bloodstock favourites Evile played to an incredibly enthusiastic crowd and did not disappoint. Even though they seemed endearingly puzzled at the fact that this year saw their fourth year on the line up, they clearly loved being back on the main stage, as did the crowd. The Huddersfield troupe performed a really strong set, including the rabidly received ‘Cult’. Metal underdogs Anvil gave a roaringly successful, and somewhat poignant, performance. They were clearly enthused to just still be performing, and were well received. The success of their story was evident by the number of Anvil patches that could be seen on denim and leather jackets throughout the arena, standing side by side with big names such as Judas Priest, Megadeth and Iron Maiden. Well done, Anvil!

Goth/doom veterans Paradise Lost seemed to delight the crowds with a competent set that entertained whilst being slightly sloppy. Their set list spanned their whole career fairly well, so there was guaranteed to be something there for everyone. From a selection that included game changing album Draconian Times, Nick Holmes and his gloomy troupe played reasonably well, and finished with crowd pleaser Say Just Words. Paradise Lost could have been so much better, but with all said and done they were more than satisfactory. A band that did not disappoint was 2008 headliners and ‘special guests’ Dimmu Borgir. I’m not ashamed to say that Dimmu were probably one of the bands I was looking forward to the most all weekend, and they were astounding. They returned to the main stage with a triumphant performance, full of characteristic bombast and malignantly beautiful orchestrations, and oozing with dark charisma. They had the crowd lapping up every single note and ravenously devouring each morsel proffered, from ‘Gateways’ and ‘Dimmu Borgir’ to ‘Puritania’ and ‘Progenies of the Great Apocalypse’, with surprise appearances from ‘Vredesbyrd’ and closer ‘Mourning Palace’. It’s good to see that they have not lost any of the atmosphere brought by ICS Vortex’s clean vocals; in fact, the majestic choral recording created sweeping, epic atmosphere that melted with the brutal nature of the rest of the performance perfectly. A darkly beautiful, flawless set from one of the most professional and well-oiled bands in the industry.

What can I say about Sunday night headliner Alice Cooper? It’s been just over a week since I returned from BOA and I’m still getting over the spectacle of it all. Alice is 64 years old, and he wiped the floor with most of the other people who had been up on that stage before him. He has still got exactly what it is that made everyone fall in love with him back in the seventies, and I hope he never loses it, because he is fantastic. The anticipation started to build from the moment the vast, opaque banner was pulled up in front of the stage, obscuring the set up and preparations underway behind it, and the time it took to get the stage ready to be Coop’d seemed to fly by. The atmosphere in the arena, as Vincent Price boomed out from the speakers, was electrifying with excitement. Everyone was shoulder to shoulder as people squeezed in, trying to get the best view possible of what was to come. And what did come? A performance that showed everyone exactly how it is done. Starting with ‘Black Widow’, the man himself appeared atop a vast, cobwebbed lectern, resplendent in his spider suit, every single audience member dancing on his hands like puppets. A showman to the very end, Alice proceeded to entertain and beguile for an hour and a half that was stuffed with hits, favourites and rare titbits. I can honestly say that Cooper’s set was the best thing I have ever seen. Unlike the normal, pared down festival performances many bands deliver, Alice Cooper put on a full show, complete with guillotine, skewered paparazzo, pyrotechnics, dead dolls and a giant, guitarist chasing Frankenstein’s monster. I don’t think it would be possible for me to choose a favourite track, but the moment Alice donned a white lab coat and red, elbow length gloves during the opening chords of ‘Feed My Frankenstein’, I knew that Bloodstock 2012 had turned into an ‘I was there’ event. I was there to see Alice Cooper conquer, and prove that he is at the absolute pinnacle of rock showmanship. Almost every single band on the line up, from Watain and Dimmu Borgir to Machine Head and Black Dahlia Murder owe something to Cooper. Without Cooper, the rock concert as we know it would not exist. Theatricality and performance in concert would not exist. Without Cooper, the metal world would be a much less colourful place. Catton Hall turned into a cacophony of noise as every person present hoarsely shouted along with ‘Poison’, ‘Hey Stoopid’ and ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’, and whooped with delight as the unmistakable opening riff for ‘School’s Out’ rang out through the arena. Alice finished his set by striding onto the stage, Union Jack in hand, for a fittingly ferocious ‘(I wanna be) Elected’. Alice Cooper was absolutely phenomenal, and I will remember the feeling I got when I was watching him, a man I have looked up to and admired since I was seven years old and first heard ‘Poison’, for the rest of my life.

Bloodstock 2012 was an incredible achievement, crushing records and paying homage to some of the greatest names in modern metal. I’ll see you in 2013.

Hannah O’Flanagan, 2012

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