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 second installment of their three-part review of the bands they got to witness across the three days of the festival – click here to read their review of the Friday, or click here to see what we thought of Day 3.
Somehow, despite having spent rather a lot of time at the VIP bar on Friday, I managed to rouse myself from my boozy slumber and head towards the New Blood stage in time to catch the first band to play on Saturday – Liverpudlian thrash quintet Bludvera (3/5). Fellow OneMetal scribe Mike Perry recommended this particular bunch in his Bloodstock: Ones To Watch article, so I was looking forward to seeing what they had to offer – and despite having the unenviable task of trying to get a bunch of hangover-addled punters to headbang at 10:30 in the morning, their energetic, if unspectacular thrashings managed to invigorate the gathered crowd. There was a hooky, punkish energy to their heavily 80s-influenced thrashings, which came complete with obligatory wailing falsettos and an ode to the Governator himself in the form of Anthrax-esque number ‘Total Recall’ – however, as yet they don’t seem to have developed a particularly unique identity. Still, they were undeniably entertaining to watch, and after their half-hour set I was definitely a bit more awake than I had been when I first stumbled into the New Blood marquee.
Next up on my ‘to-see’ list were Ohio-based quintet Skeletonwitch (1/5), whose spot opening up the Ronnie James Dio stage was tragically sabotaged by an unforgivably awful live sound. The drums were an inaudible mush of wooly kicks, with no snare presence to be heard, while only one of the two guitarists could generally be heard at a time. Even more bafflingly, singer Chance Garnett’s addresses to the crowd were pretty clear, but as soon as the band kicked into one of their blackened thrash numbers, a supremely distracting, off-tempo delay effect was added to his growls and screams, messing up his timing and generally adding to the shambolic up-front mix. The band soldiered gamely on, and I stuck things out for as long as I could – I’d been quite the fan of their Breathing The Fire album (reviewed here), after all – but about four songs in, when it appeared that the sonic fog wasn’t going to clear anytime soon, I sadly shook my head and took my leave to drown my sorrows in the VIP bar.
I emerged from the bar in time to head over to the New Blood stage once more to catch Lincolnshire-based death metallers Soulsphere (3/5), who played an admirably heavy, yet melodic and atmospheric brand of death metal that seemed to blend straightforward, Amon Amarth-esque rhythmic battery with an almost Hypocrisy-esque melodic sensibility. The band’s frontman (apparently not their usual singer, I later found out) did a good job at keeping the crowd engaged between songs – unfortunately, the rest of the band were somewhat static in their on-stage performances, seemingly preferring to let intense gazes and the steady hammering of the drums do the work of captivating the audience. Still, their sound was a refreshing enough change from my usual diet of brutal/technical death metal that I resolved to check the band out further upon returning from the festival.
Following on from Soulsphere were Liverpudlian quintet Bury The Conscious (3.5/5), who inspired some pretty intense headbanging from the assembled crowd with their heavy-hitting, groove-centric metal. Roaring, death metal vocals met lockstep syncopation and occasional thrashy, mid-tempo passages and solos, while tracks like ‘Iniquity’ showcased some pretty interesting use of loop pedals to create shuddering moments of mechanical chug-choking. Guitarist/backing vocalist Daniel Ford provided most of the on-stage visual entertainment, gurning wildly and Godzilla-stomping around the stage throughout the set and adding a welcome sense of levity to the band’s relentless bludgeon.
A much quieter day for me overall kicked off at the thoroughly sensible time of 1300-ish, with the soothing tones of Dripback (4/5). I made my feelings about their debut EP pretty clear elsewhere on the site, and it’s fair to say the live experience is pretty much exactly what you’d expect – high-kicking, guitar-swinging ownership of the stage with a bruising hardcore/death metal-fusion soundtrack, and probably the best sound of the whole weekend for the Sophie Lancaster stage courtesy of fearsomely-moustachioed devil and all-round top geezer Russ Russell. We even get treated to a belter of a new song, which bodes well for us hearing more from them in the future.
Time for some well-earned breakfast, then, and a bit of progressive metal in the sunshine. Ex-Emperor frontman Ihsahn (4.5/5) could have probably used a longer set, and there were more of the main-stage sound woes that seemed to plague the earlier bands throughout the weekend, but what we did get was sublime. Bookended by ‘The Barren Lands’ (an unfortunate casualty of the sound) and ‘Frozen Lakes On Mars’ (just wonderful), we were treated to selections from each of his three solo records including a superb rendition of ‘Called By The Fire’ from The Adversary.
A bit of a gap in the day’s proceedings allowed me the opportunity to have a wander around the festival site, and attempt to drum up some enthusiasm for the one band I managed to see on the New Blood stage. Pure Negative (5/5) absolutely kicked the crap out of the place, as I suggested they might in my Ones To Watch article – all nepotism aside (ex-Labrat guitarslinger Steve is part of the lineup here), these guys were bloody brilliant. Having not heard the majority of their material with vocals until now, they were as new to me as just about anyone else in the tent, and their frantic techy blend of stoner grooves and pure modern metal brutality, overlaid with frontman Al’s seemingly-endless lung power raised smiles and horns all around.
Hærken (5/5) hail from Birmingham and play a form of chunky melodic death metal. Amon Amarth is the most obvious comparison, not only from a musical standpoint, but also because lyrically Hærken are rooted in pre-medieval English folklore, their songs forming epic tales of Alfred the Great, Saxons, and Arthurian legend. Hærken take this aspect of their performance very seriously, appearing on the New Blood stage in character as larger than life, costumed figures of English folklore. The sound was excellent, as was Hærken’s performance; a highlight being the final song, ‘Torquilstone’, during which at the height of the performance, frontman Justin roared ‘Did not Hærken promise ye a war!?’ before dividing the crowd into two halves (Saxons and Normans, naturally), and arming them with hundreds of inflatable weapons with which to do battle as the song reached its climax. A truly memorable performance, and I hope Hærken do well from their hard earned Bloodstock slot.
I was highly anticipating black metal legends Immortal (3/5) but I have to confess I was a little disappointed. Immortal themselves suffered from sound problems throughout, a dodgy connection affecting Abbath’s guitar seemingly the culprit, which detracted from my immersion. As well as this, I found that I was getting bored waiting for songs I knew in the set (Of course, this is my fault, not Immortal’s; I’m only intimately familiar with At the Heart of Winter, Battles in the North, and Sons of Northern Darkness) and I ended up wandering away before the conclusion of their set. That said, I have to laud them for their iconic stage presence (the much hoped for crab walk made an appearance) and professionalism in barely batting an eyelid at their lamentable sound issues.
That’s it for our reviews of the bands that graced the stages of Day 2 of Bloodstock Open Air 2011 – click here to remind yourself of our impressions of Day 1, and click here to see what our three intrepid reporters made of the acts that made up the third day of the festival.
Bludvera’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Bludvera
Skeletonwitch’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/skeletonwitchmetal
Soulsphere’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/soulsphere
Bury The Conscious’ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/burytheconscious
Dripback’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Dripback
Ihsahn’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ihsahnmusic
Pure Negative’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/purenegative666
Hærken’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/haerken
Immortal’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/immortalofficial