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 Behemoth, Testament, Alice Cooper, and Machine Head 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, Jack Traveller and Danny Heaton were the lucky trio stomping the grounds at Catton Hall, and here is the second instalment of their three-part review of the bands they got to witness across the three days of the festival. To see their reviews of the bands that played on Friday, click here.
Jack: Benediction (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [3/5]
Early (ish) to rise for Benediction on the main stage. Fronted by a jovial Dave Hunt, Benediction laid about themselves with some some good old-fashioned old-school death metal fun. Playing to a good-natured crowd under the blazing midmorning sun, Benediction once again ushered in the festival spirit. The band were reasonably tight, but poor sound left the drums largely buried in murky guitars which lacked definition and ponderous, rotund bass tones. Bad sound is a staple of early main stage performances at Bloodstock however, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected that Benediction would suffer, and in spite of any sound issues, by the end of their set they’d dispelled any lingering hangovers and warmed the crowd up for another day of revelry.
Phil: Savage Messiah (Sophie Lancaster Stage) [3.5/5]
Having had the Saturday morning hangover cobwebs more than ably knocked out of my skull by Benediction’s good-natured steamrolling over at the Ronnie James Dio stage, I decided the only thing for it was to keep the energy levels high by checking out thrash/power metal merchants Savage Messiah over at the Sophie Lancaster stage. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one with the same plan of action, as the front-of-stage area was nicely jam-packed before the band took to the stage with a rousing rendition of ‘The Accuser’. What followed was half-an-hour of energetic, tightly-played metal fusing thrash’s breakneck speed and spittle-flecked aggression with power metal falsetto wails and fretboard gymnastics, which was sadly somewhat hampered by the indistinct sound issuing forth from the Sophie stage’s PA. Still, vocalist/lead guitarist Dave Silver’s dexterous soloing and Halford-esque air-raid siren howls cut through the fizz more than sufficiently, and the band’s tightness and enthusiasm carried sufficiently to the crowd to distract from the less-than-satisfactory mix.
Jack: I Am I (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [1.5/5]
The field cleared ominously prior to the set of I Am I, the new project of erstwhile Dragonforce vocalist Z.P. Theart; many were the dark mutterings and much naysaying was overheard from passers-by before I Am I arrived triumphantly, kicking straight into lead single ‘This is my life’ from debut album Event Horizon. Despite the band’s heroic effort in attempting to maintain some crowd enthusiasm, the audience just wasn’t really feeling it, the field slowly emptying as their set went on, leaving only those travelling from one end of the arena to the other, a severely dispersed crowd and I Am I’s hardcore fans clustering by the stage. Vocalist ZP Theart did his best, careening about the stage and pumping his fists in his best impression of a metal vocalist, but in spite of that, his shrill, piercing tones and poorly supported notes (at times sounding like he was really straining) only served to alienate the crowd further. His band did their part in a solid, if unremarkable fashion, laying down I Am I’s at times classic power metal and at times hard rock stylings, but ZP’s seeming inability to sing his own songs comfortably coupled with the same sound problems that plagued Benediction lost any members of an already hostile crowd who might have been won over. Perhaps it was lingering anti-Dragonforce sentiment from the notoriously elitist and hard to please Bloodstock crowd, but anything less than the performance of their lives just wasn’t going to be good enough, and this certainly didn’t meet that criterion.
Danny: Chthonic (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [2.5/5]
Having sampled all the assorted delights of the party tent the previous evening (which
gets very high marks in my book), I’m not quite in the land of the living in time to see
death metal institution Benediction, who have been placed pretty criminally far down the bill, but we’ll get on to that later. As a fairly paltry consolation I opt to determine
whether Chthonic can improve my unfavourable opinion of them by pulling a stellar live show out of the bag. I’m pleasantly surprised to see my admittedly low
expectations surpassed by the spectacle they enact. Bedecked in their full Taiwanese corpse paint and playing the ehru (a Taiwanese stringed instrument) they look like a grim Cirque Du Soleil! Admittedly, their material is still pretty dismal and generic, but singer Freddy Leung delivers his performance with feeling, despite making an ill advised comment about drinking ‘real English beer’ whilst holding a Fosters’. Moreover, his mention of Taiwan’s lack of an Olympic team in order to garner some sympathy for the cause of Taiwanese independence is a little misjudged, returning comments such as ‘We’re not really a sports crowd here, mate’ and ‘my heart bleeds’! Also, it wouldn’t be a fair representation of the show without mentioning the delectable Doris ‘Thunder Tears’ Yeh, on bass who provides amusement aplenty for many of the more ribald members of the audience.
Phil: Crowbar (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [4/5]
I’ve been a pretty big Crowbar fan for quite some time, so I was pretty excited to see the Lousiana sludge-merchants deliver their city-flattening riffs on the Ronnie James Dio stage. Initially, however, my enthusiasm was dampened somewhat as the band’s opening shot ‘Conquering’ billowed forth from the stage arrays sounding as though it was being smothered by a pillow, while the band themselves seemed content to stand behind their appointed monitors and headbang a bit, clearly hoping the music would speak for itself. Thankfully, eventually Crowbar‘s monolithic dirges began to do just that, the sound gradually clearing enough to allow the mournful melodies masked beneath the muscular, burly grooves to take hold. By the time Windstein and company let fly ‘All I Had (I Gave)’, the bass guitar’s tone had begun to resumble the snarling of some corroded rust-dragon, and the gathered crowd of assembled admirers (myself included) were busy doing some serious damage to their neck muscles.
Danny: Dripback (Sophie Lancaster Stage) [2.5/5]
Besides the obvious advantages, the charge of reviewing a festival does have some pretty major drawbacks. The foremost of these was having to abandon sludge heroes Crowbar’s set a mere two numbers in, in order to meet with some PRs and try to sort some interviews. Two thirds of which failed to materialise, might I very bitterly add! What I did see sounded like pretty textbook Crowbar, suffering from some sound issues, as many of the protagonists on the Ronnie James Dio stage did this year. All told, however, not enough of their set was witnessed to form an informative overview. Once more, I console myself by wandering over to the Sophie Lancaster Stage to imbibeDripback who really up the ante in terms of energy, turning the stage into a pageant of flailing limbs. Front man Wez4’s swagger and Essex brogue may prove a unique selling point, but can wear a little thin after a while. What’s more, the sounds on offer aren’t of the highest order, closely resembling the more generic and unimaginative end of the death/metalcore spectrum. Former members of Ted Maul and Labrat, as well as current members of As she Screams and River Freshney accredit this line up, providing credibility in terms of experience, and their stage presence is virtually an entity in itself. However, like the aforementioned Ted Maul, they arguably promise a lot that they don’t really deliver on. High marks for delivery, but the material often falls a little flat for me. That said, they seem to rouse their supporters into a veritable frenzy of action and their pit is one of the most animated I witness on the smaller stages.
Thanks to our organisational abilities having begun to wane as a result of the combined factors of heatstroke, forgetfulness where phone chargers are concerned, the ever-shifting schedules imposed upon us by fluid interview slots and, of course, alcohol abuse, Danny wasn’t the only OneMetaller watching Dripback – in fact, all three of us witnessed their performance. It turns out that myself and Jack were altogether more enamoured than Danny was – so, in the interest of balance, here’s Jack’s take. – Phil.
Jack: Dripback (Sophie Lancaster Stage) [4.5/5]
Hailing from Dahn Sahf, Dripback have been making a name for themselves in both the underground and more mainstream pastures, having not only toured in support of grind supergroup Lockup and genre heroes Nasum but also made an appearance at, of all places, Download. And well they might, containing ex-members of such luminaries as Labrat. Something of an anomaly at a festival that isn’t traditionaly well-furnished in grind, Dripback were a pleasant counter to the po-faced seriousness of black and death metal, and the pomp of power metal that had so far dominated my weekend. Playing an energetic mix of grind and hardcore, with a goodly dollop of stomping death metal slammage thrown in for good measure, the band dominated the Sophie Lancaster stage, each member in constant motion, inciting the pitting crowd to further and further acts of violence while somehow still managing to give one of the tightest performances of the weekend. Even the traditional sound problems of the Sophie tent couldn’t undermine Dripback, the band managing to combine just the right amount of grindcore’s swagger and irreverence with hardcore’s unapologetic abrasiveness and social awareness. Add to the mix well-written, excellently played songs and you’re onto a winner. Don’t miss a Dripback gig if you can help it.
Phil: Hatebreed (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [4/5]
There was a lot of whinging on the Bloodstock forums about Hatebreed‘s inclusion on the bill – elitist bed-wetters to a man, complaining that the band’s inclusion signalled Bloodstock’s imminent transmogrification into Ozzfest and the certainty of a mass boycott by ‘true’ metal fans. Well, if such a boycott did happen, those tickets were apparently very quickly sold, because Hatebreed played an invigoratingly energetic set to a massed throng of hugely appreciative onlookers – hell, the circle-pit in front of the stage had reached devastating proportions about thirty seconds after Jamey and company launched full-throttle into set opener ‘Defeatist’. Tearing through sixteen tracks of pit-demanding, bruising metallic hardcore in less than an hour, Hatebreed kept energy levels at a heart-attack-risking high throughout their time onstage, balancing crossover/thrash tempos and some of the best breakdowns in the business to crushing effect, Jamey Jasta orchestrating proceedings throughout with infectious passion and enthusiasm. By the time closing track ‘Destroy Everything’ closed proceedings (after Jasta had wrung a few more drops of energy out of the crowd and implored them to engage in roaring the chorus, flinging the horns and bouncing to a degree that made the ground rattle), one couldn’t help but think that the boycotters might well be kicking themselves now.
Jack: Reflection in Exile (New Blood Stage) [3.5/5]
The first band of the weekend that I caught on the Newblood stage, Reflection in Exile had flyered me at the arena entrance, enticing me with promises of blackened death metal, and after getting into a conversation about the merits of that particular subgenre, I had willingly agreed to check them out. The stifling heat of the unsigned tent lent itself well to the band’s focused aggression, the corpsepainted and spike-encrusted brutalists indulging in plenty of heavier-than-thou Behemoth worship, although a lot of the music had an underlying melodicism that spoke of a broader range of influence than most of their contemporaries. Their use of not only breakdowns, but also favouring diatonic scalar riffs and harmonies in thirds as opposed to the strictly harmonic minor tonalities that are the go-to scalar choices for most BDM gave the music a distinctly modern flavour, with plenty of Slaughter of The Soul-esque riffs creeping in. Possibly something that won’t appeal to the elitists, but in those who embrace both the heaviness of BDM riffing and the nimble pedal-tone scalar riffs that have become such a staple of modern metal, Reflection in Exile could find something of a ready-made fanbase. Vocalist Carl Howe also puts in a good effort, his aggressive yet consistent highs injecting the greatest part of the ‘blackened’ into the blackened death metal Reflection in Exile play. The band put in a very tight performance too. Worth a look if you like most things, but I’d most recommend this to fans of the modern, melodic DM bands like Black Dahlia Murder or BDM staples like Behemoth and Belphegor.
Phil: Testament (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [5/5]
It’s a little bit staggering to me that Testament didn’t get the headlining slot at this year’s thrash masterclass, complete with Gene Hoglan’s thunderous skinsmanship, Chuck Billy’s enthusiastic air-guitaring and Alex Skolnick’s peerless shredding, the crowd were eating out of the palms of the band’s hands, indulging in destructive pitting (which I gleefully joined in with, naturally) as the band peeled off classics like ‘The Preacher’, ‘Into The Pit’ and ‘D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)’ alongside cuts such as ‘True American Hate’ and the eponymous track from latest album Dark Roots of Earth which showed that the band have lost none of their ability to pen vital, essential thrash metal anthems. Between-song banter was kept to a minimum, the band instead preferring to throw out salvo after salvo of hook-laden riffage and pulverising groove, and keeping the crowd galvanised as a result. A fantastic showing from a band that shows no signs of losing their edge.
Danny: Orange Goblin (Sophie Lancaster Stage) [5/5]
Orange Goblin are undoubtedly my band of the festival, thus reinforcing my initial prediction. Inexplicably, up to now I’ve somehow managed to miss out on witnessing these titans, but I’m most assuredly a convert, and will endeavour to repeat this experience at every available opportunity. Whilst researching (yes this does happen sometimes!) it came to my attention that Ben Ward is not always the strongest vocalist in a live setting, but it appears as though he’s brushed up recently, and sounds every bit the part as indeed he looks. Speaking of which, he fits his role to a ‘T’, exuding enthusiasm and charisma in spades and commanding the audience’s attention seemingly comes as second nature (as well it should after such an extensive career!). As opener ‘Red Tide Rising’ asserts itself pugilistically into your earholes, moshing becomes more of an involuntary reflex, and this effect continues unabated throughout this fhitkicker of a show. Although admittedly my knowledge of Orange Goblin’s plentiful back catalogue is far from encyclopaedic, it doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of the fare on offer one iota. That said, the sing along to ‘Blue Snow’ is absolutely epic, and by the end I’m grinning like a Cheshire cat, having had my mind reduced to pulp by riff after brain-busting riff. I believe this show was summed up best by my partner in crime Matt, who so eloquently engendered the sentiments surrounding this occasion with the uncomplicated axiom; “fuck Testament“.
Phil: Machine Head (Ronnie James Dio Stage) [3/5]
Despite having been a fan of Machine Head pretty much since day one, I found myself somewhat disappointed with their headline performance this year, though my disillusionment didn’t have much to do with their actual musical output during their time on stage. Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel make up a pretty lethal guitar tag-team, and their later material in particular offers up a surfeit of air-guitar-demanding passages of killer riffs. However, unfortunate moments of self-indulgence end up taking the wind out of the sails of their time on-stage, with too much time dedicated to Robb’s mood-lit sermonizing, or the bizarre decision to play the entirety of Burn My Eyes‘ ‘Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies’ from the CD through the PA, with the band languishing off-stage. Still, when Robb stopped wittering on about how far the band had come (bathed in blue mood-lighting and having his words draped in watery delay, naturally) and Machine Head actually played, their tightness and ability to pen adrenalising metal songs was undeniable, and the inclusion of ‘Block’, ‘Death Church’, ‘A Thousand Lies’ and the inevitable set-closer ‘Davidian’ gave old-school Machine Head fans a much-welcomed opportunity to wreck necks to much-loved songs, while renditions of the feral ‘Aesthetics of Hate’ and the epic ‘Locust’ showcased the band’ growing ability to construct lengthy, yet engrossing compositions. However, when their set ended, I couldn’t help but feel that had their position been swapped with Testament, a shorter set-list would have curbed Machine Head‘s indulgences to the benefit of the momentum of their set, while Testament would have had more chance to shine.
Benediction’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Benediction-UK/186354431385708
Savage Messiah’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SavageMessiahMetal
I Am I’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IAMIOfficial
Chthonic’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chthonictw
Crowbar’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Crowbar-Band/65626548376
Dripback’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Dripback
Hatebreed’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hatebreed
Reflection In Exile’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ReflectionInExileUK
Testament’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/testamentlegions
Orange Goblin’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/orangegoblinofficial
Machine Head’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MachineHead