From its humble beginnings as a one-day indoor festival at Derby’s Assembly Rooms in 2001, the Bloodstock Open Air Metal Festival has evolved into one of the most eagerly-anticipated events on the UK metal scene’s calender – and with a lineup boasting such legends as Immortal, At The Gates, Napalm Death, and Motorhead amongst others, it’s pretty much a given that OneMetal were going to show their faces to carouse, headbang and join in with the wholesome, metallic fun. OneMetal.com music writers Phil Whitehouse, Rob McAuslan and Jack Traveller were the lucky trio stomping the grounds at Catton Hall, and here is the first installment of their three-part review of the bands they got to witness across the three days of the festival. To read what they thought of Day 2, click here – for their Day 3 review, click here.
Xerath [3.5/5] were part of the entertainment on the Thursday night before the festival ‘proper’ began, and having seen them on multiple occasions in the past I was keen to catch them again. Xerath play a form of prog heavily influenced by the rhythmic stylings of Meshuggah and bands of their ilk, but with a unique emphasis on film score style orchestral arrangements beneath the guitars. The band themselves have described this as ‘chug-score’, and that’s a pretty apt description, but it’s worth bearing in mind that Xerath’s music is a little more highbrow than their peers who embrace the current fad for ‘djent’. Unfortunately for them, despite putting in a valiant performance, the sound was atrocious, the only thing saving me from the wall of mush being that I knew the songs. This is of course not Xerath’s fault, and if you get the chance to see them in future, I would highly recommend them.
Opening the main stage on the first full day of metallic shenanigans at Bloodstock 2011 were Swedish traditional heavy metallers Wolf [4/5], who did a great job in waking up the gathered crowd with their powerful, infectious riffs and pounding, no-nonsense rhythms. Our more dedicated readers may recall that our very own Rob McAuslan gave the band’s latest album Legion Of Bastards a glowing review on this very site, and on the basis of the live airings of tracks like ‘Full Moon Possession’, ‘K-141 Kursk’ and ‘Skull Crusher’ (that last dedicated to a roadie who’d suffered a head injury previous to the band taking the stage), it’s easy to see why – the band unspooled crunchy, memorable riffs and extended solos with consumnate ease, all while throwing classic rock shapes and inspiring some energetic headbanging from the audience. A great kick-off to proceedings.
Next up on my ‘must-see’ list were Guildford-based technical/progressive metal act quartet Entro-P [4/5]. I’d been introduced to the group through their debut album Deeper The Hole, and after sampling the band’s intricate songcraft, I was eager to see how they held up in the live arena – so, I dutifully made my way over to the New Blood Stage to check them out. Thankfully, the band were able to more than hold their own live, with their blend of Opeth-esque, technical-yet-melodic guitarwork rubbing shoulders with passages of Gojira-like off-kilter bludgeon. The band delivered their technically demanding material seemingly effortlessly, while bassist/vocalist Jake Archer switched seamlessly from guttural, death metal roars to arresting clean singing equally smoothly. By the end of their 30-minute set, Entro-P had clearly picked up quite a few new admirers amongst the gathered audience – and deservedly so.
After seeing two such entertaining acts in a row, I suppose I was due for a come-down – and that was suitably provided in the form of Luton-based metal quintet Imicus [2/5]. Claiming inspiration from acts like Tool, Alice In Chains and Katatonia, I was naturally expecting a set of moody, melodic and progressive material. The reality was that Imicus actually play a nu-metal indebted set, big on low-end groove and singalong choruses, but sadly lacking in energy and hooks. Vocalist Miller struggled to bring real bite to his screamed vocals, and lacked the presence to carry the listener along with him during choruses which were clearly meant to sound huge and life-affirming, but ended up sounding like fairly pleasant if unexciting background noise instead. Still, it’s possible that the gulf between what I was expecting and what I heard caused my disillusionment, as the fairly-packed Sophie Lancaster stage seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves – but I ended up wandering off just before the set’s end to avail myself of heavier fare.
Some of you might remember my review of Cerebral Bore’s [3/5] debut full length Maniacal Miscreation, in which I lauded the Scottish slam exponents, so I was interested to see if they would live up to my expectations in a live environment. I was not disappointed – Cerebral Bore performed exceptionally, although this was mitigated somewhat by the poor sound in the Sophie Lancaster tent (although not even close to as bad as the sound for Xerath, this was beginning to turn into something of a theme throughout the weekend). Regrettably, I was unable to catch the entirety of The Bore’s set, because they clashed with the next band on my list.
Post-navigational stress disorder was the order of the day – this being the first time I’d driven in the UK, allied to the first time I’d used a GPS unit of any description, meant that the seemingly-simple journey from East Midlands Airport to our hotel became a frustrating exercise in driving up and down the same stretch of road for a bit. Checked-in and on our way, the trip from our hotel to the festival site ALSO looked easier than it actually ended up being – I’d known already that I was likely to miss Wolf and Forbidden, but had set my sights firmly on seeing Triptykon. The more miles and minutes ticked past with no signs pointing to Catton Hall, the less likely this looked…
Fortunately, the organisation of the festival was efficient enough that collecting passes and parking-up was swift, and we entered the main arena in the nick of time to catch a Swiss legend in full flight. Tom G Warrior’s Triptykon [5/5] looked nothing less than completely incongruous in daylight, but the dense waves of sweeping doom issuing from the PA proved the perfect antidote to the trials of the day so far. Suitably crushed into relaxation, we took stock (HA!) of the rest of the day’s musical attractions.
I only caught the end of Rannoch’s [3.5/5] set, but what I did catch impressed me greatly. The band are in the business of death metal with a progressive edge, but while crushing heaviness and musical intricacy is always a good thing, the most impressive thing about Rannoch is their songwriting. Every part I witnessed was well thought out and full of hooks while still being musically interesting. I will definitely be on the look out for another opportunity to catch them in a live environment.
All go on the main stage for me today – up next were a band that hadn’t played the UK in something like twenty years. Coroner [3.5/5] started strongly, despite suffering from bass guitar problems early on, and looked like their return to our shores was going to be fully triumphant. Sadly, their set wasn’t exactly a festival winner – always quite a challenging listen even on record, the Germans paced things badly, ending on a bit of a dour note.
Over the last few years Norway’s blackened thrashers Byfrost [3.5/5] have been carving out a name for themselves, and having just released their new album Of Death (which I reviewed in this hallowed publication), were awarded a slot on the Sophie Lancaster stage. Being a trio was certainly to their advantage, as less instruments on stage meant they had to some extent better sound than the majority of the other acts I caught on the Sophie stage. In particular, Byfrost’s drummer is worthy of praise, putting in an impressive performance and greatly enhancing the band’s show as a whole. That’s not to detract from the other two members of Byfrost, who both did an admirable job, although if I had to nitpick I would say that vocalist Heavyharms seemed somewhat nervous during his crowd addresses.
Taking the opportunity to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the site resulted in meeting up with some old friends, so a sit and a yarn followed to take us up to easily the highlight of the day. Kreator [5/5] have a fearsome live reputation which I am glad to report they more than lived up to. Drawing from all periods of their long career, Mille and the boys benefitted from a loud and clear mix and laid waste to the assembled thrashers. Particular highlights included a thoroughly vicious ‘Flag Of Hate’ and ‘Enemy Of God’, and a spirited runthrough of ‘Violent Revolution’.
The Devin Townsend Project [4.5/5] was one of the most entertaining acts at Bloodstock last year, and was back in 2011 in the wake of two new albums, Ghost and Deconstruction. Following an introductory skit in Devin’s trademark wacky style, proceedings were opened with ‘By Your Command’, a set favourite from last year, and by the close of the first song it was clear that Mr. Townsend was intent on bringing the party spirit to Bloodstock, and judging by the reactions of the crowd, admirably succeeded in this task. For my part, if you had asked me to choose a setlist for Devin to play, I would have chosen pretty much the exact setlist that he did play so I was supremely satisfied. Unquestionably one of the weekend’s highlights for me.
Lawnmower Deth [4/5] were a blast. Nobody that’s ever taken the time to listen to their records would ever imagine them to be anything other than slightly slapdash musically, but the key to their entire appeal is the stage show. Sumo rabbits, ‘surf racing’, top-class banter, and all the hits combined to make for nothing but a bloody good time and the laughs and smiling faces all around me bore out my impression. Great fun, and the perfect closer for me – a few of my friends went to watch WASP whilst I sat down for a chat with Tom from Malefice about the ‘good old days’, comparing notes on bands like Onedice, Snub, Johnny Truant until it was time to head back to my hotel. Roll on Saturday!
Xerath’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/xerathuk
Wolf’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/officialwolf
Entro-P’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/EnTro-P/165379027596
Imicus’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/IMICUS
Cerebral Bore’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cerebral-bore/192210687462914
Triptykon’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/triptykonofficial
Rannoch’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rannochband
Coroner’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/coronerband
Byfrost’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BYFROST
Kreator’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/KreatorOfficial
The Devin Townsend Project’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/dvntownsend
Lawnmower Deth’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lawnmower-Deth/222850577726503