Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2014 [Down, Emperor, Megadeth & more]
Catton Hall, Derbyshire
8th-10th August, 2014
Bloodstock 2014 came and went like an almighty clap of thunder. Before I even knew it, it was August and that time of the year when the bearded horde descends upon the sleepy Derbyshire countryside for the UK’s most metal weekend. A line up chock full of interesting names that promised to deliver crushing sets, more beer than I could comprehend and a surprising number of costumes and Native American accessories awaited me. As always, I’d coughed up the extra money for a VIP ticket- again, I will say that it is WORTH IT- but this year, let me start by giving a negative review. The VIP toilets were shocking. Usually they are cleaned regularly, supplied with toilet paper and soap and all the mod-cons that help to make the price that much more acceptable. This year, however, it was horrific. I realise that with the weather they were going to get dirty- but I would have been okay with mud. Little brown fishes are not so okay.
Anyway… After being thoroughly slaughtered by the Thursday night pre-party and starting to pick my way through the VIP bar’s 103 real ales and ciders, I awoke on the Friday morning, blinking with bleary eyes into the blazing sunshine. Fitting that the opener was Bloodshot Dawn, then. A good start to proceedings, followed by the always satisfying Entombed A.D. It’s the second time I’ve had the pleasure of watching these guys and they were just as good as before- even though they’re in a different form from last time. Irish extreme metallers Primordial followed, with an absolutely stellar set. I’d caught a bit of their set the last time they played Bloodstock, and made sure I was able to see the whole thing this time round. It was a good choice, because their particular brand of black-ish metal is excellent live. A smidgeon of thrash was added to the mix by Flotsam & Jetsam, who entertained for the whole of their set and were a good choice, as were industrial metallers Prong. Both bands were received enthusiastically by the crowd and there were few heads still during their slot on the main stage.
Controversial opinion time- I don’t like Triptykon. I will never forgive Tom G. Warrior for the glam metal Celtic Frost ridiculousness, and even though on paper I should appreciate Triptykon’s doomy line of metal, I just don’t like it. It was all very grim and frosty and plenty of people did like it, but it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. Hatebreed, however, reminded us exactly why they were one of the best received bands of 2012. Perfectly on form, as always, they were energetic and exciting and definitely one of the best acts of the weekend. The same cannot be said for Dimmu Borgir, and frustratingly it wasn’t their fault. I was looking forward to Dimmu Borgir; they are one of my favourite bands and their 2012 set is still one of the best I have ever seen. But this year they were plagued by technical difficulties and a sound mix so bad keyboardist Gerlioz left the stage. Arriving at least twenty minutes late, and forced to stop and start throughout, when they did play they proved that they could have been great this year. Such a massive disappointment. Friday night headliners Down took the stage to an arena buzzing with anticipation and excitement and baying for blood. And, whatever you may think of him as a person, you have to hand it to Phil Anselmo– he is the perennial frontman. They filled Catton Hall with their groovy brand of metal and crushing riffs, and teased the horde with ten to fifteen seconds of Pantera classic Walk.
Saturday morning started with, in my opinion, the performance of the weekend. Evil Scarecrow. I need to take a moment to dedicate this whole review- and, at the very least, an entire paragraph- to Evil Scarecrow. Eleven o’clock in the morning and the arena was absolutely rammed. We’re talking Special Guest to Headliner amounts of people. Very much a story of success against the odds, Evil Scarecrow are something special. They manage to be simultaneously funny and extremely clever, and also just extremely fucking good. They turned Bloodstock into a heavy metal ballroom, filled with waltzing Cyclopes (cyclopi? Just what is the correct plural term here?), they commanded first an army of (totally in sync) shuffling Crab(ulon)s, then an army of Robot(atron)s, and finally managed to get almost every lucky bastard assembled there to war-march around the sound desk. We are talking an arena wide march. Even if we only moved about ten foot forward, that’s still an impressive feat. Every single person there had a huge grin on their face. If you weren’t watching, you missed out on history.
Shining had a bit of a hard act to follow, unfortunately, and it was a shame to see such a reduced crowd watching them. Their somewhat bizarre jazz-extreme metal fusion was quite refreshing, however, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a saxophone on the RJD stage before- or will again. Decapitated were as expected- brutal- and Israel’s Orphaned Land were a nice surprise. I’d never really heard any of their music before, but their progressive tinged metal was much better than I thought it would be. Crowbar were awesome, with bass lines so shuddering and crushing that I could feel my liver shaking. Following their set with Italian pseudo-goths Lacuna Coil seemed a bit of an odd choice- in fact, in general I felt that the line up could have been re-arranged across all three days- but Cristina Scabbia and her cohort were on fine form. There was a nice selection of new and old, including some of the better tracks from latest album Broken Crown Halo. I know a lot of people criticize Children of Bodom for being one-trick-ponies. In my opinion, that just shows that they know what the winning formula is and stick to it. Alexi Laiho and Janne Wirman deliver guitar and keyboard solos with sickening ease that almost borders on laziness, but Laiho was his usual ball of boundless energy. An unexpected setlist including fan favourites such as Hatecrew Deathroll and Lake Bodom, they were fantastic as always.
Controversial opinion time the second- I think Carcass are past it- or at least, Jeff Walker is at any rate. It almost seemed like they were going through the motions, tearing through a set filled with classics with an almost clinical, sterile precision. Apt for a band whose latest release is called Surgical Steel, true, but it seemed like they lacked heart. Saturday evening was all about one band, anyway. Emperor took to the stage to celebrate 20 years since the release of their seminal album, In The Nightside Eclipse. They were flawless. There was an almost reverent atmosphere in the arena as they turned the temperature frosty and filled the venue with their chilly, eerie brand of black metal and reminded us all why they are and will always be one of the best in the business. Plus- when are we ever going to see Ihsahn, Samoth and Faust playing together ever again? It was an incredible moment, something I will never forget.
I will admit something now- I only saw four bands on Sunday. The celebrations from Emperor nearly killed me, and I slept through both Arthemis and Aborted. However, I have it on good authority that Arthemis put on a valiant performance, and that Aborted were savage. I managed to rouse myself from the darkness in order to make it down to watch Valkyrian favourites ReVamp perform in an absolute downpour. Floor Jansen is a force to be reckoned with, and it’s easy to see why she has been nabbed by Nightwish. She had those assembled to watch in the palm of her hand and did well despite the odds. I then returned to my tent to recover some more, only to discover that a veritable tempest was beginning to blow. The first tent to fall victim to the wind was- ironically- the Tangerine Dreams tent-hire company’s reception tent, followed swiftly by a gazebo that took to the skies with captivating elegance before landing with one leg impaled in another thankfully empty tent. A quick conversation led to the decision to pull up camp and leave later that evening, so by the time we had cleared up and packed everything in the car, we’d missed both Biohazard and last-minute stage-switchers Avatar. Obituary, however, were worth catching for some decent, straightforward and relentless death metal.
Saxon were everything I expected them to be- cheesy, fist-pumping and glorious. Good old Biff was on fine form, and they were well received by a crowd of an incredibly diverse age range. By the time they played Denim and Leather, the whole arena had been brought together and it was easy to see why so many people got on board with Saxon’s campaign to have Heavy Metal recognised as a religion in the last UK census. Amon Amarth were absolutely outstanding. Fire-breathing dragonheads, upon which guitar solos were performed, filled the stage and Johan Hegg led the Viking hordes through a set that perfectly represented their catalogue of greats. They reminded me why they are one of my favourite bands and why I will always throw my horns up in the air when I hear any of their songs. Unfortunately, this is where my Bloodstock experience ended as we made a run for it as the weather worsened and the storm moved in. This does mean that I missed MegaDave- sorry, I mean Megadeth– but controversial opinion the last? I wasn’t particularly bothered. Had I been more in the spirit of things and had imbibed a fair bit of cider I’m sure I would have enjoyed them, but being sober and eager to leave before the wind picked up again it wasn’t much of a loss.
Bloodstock 2014 was a rollercoaster ride of technical problems, triumphant performances and crazy weather. But I would not have missed it for the world. The performance of the weekend, as I feel I have already clearly shown, was definitely Evil Scarecrow, and I will give them less than five years until they are special guests, if not headliners. Even though we’re still waiting for any announcements, there’s nowhere I’d rather be from the 6th to the 9th of August next year. I will see you then.