Some of Britain’s mightiest festivals started life as wee acorns. Take Glastonbury: when it premiered in 1970, the Pilton mega-party cost a mere £1 to enter and all 1, 500 punters were gifted a pint of milk on arrival. Elsewhere, Reading, now a multi-million pound behemoth, was once a diminutive gala celebrating arts throughout the town.
Oft-labelled as ‘UK’s premier metal’ festival, Bloodstock can also be added to this rags-to-riches roll call.This now beastly riff-worship weekender, launched in 2001, used to be a one-day indoor shindig at Derby Assembly Rooms. These days, a multitude of metallers are bussed in to rural Derbyshire to lose their shit to the biggest, gnarliest bands on the planet.
As regards diversity and star-pulling power, Bloodstock beats the stuffing out of the likes of Download. And, unlike many of its other noisy peers, it openly consults its audience on who should appear. Year in year out, the fans speaketh, and this time round they demanded that Mastodon and Twisted Sister crown proceedings.
Not only were their wishes granted, but the weather Gods also gazed benevolently upon their countryside-defiling orgy all weekend.
Even at the ungodly hour of 10:45am on Friday, Welsh riff-monsters Hark are bathed in a glorious haze of barbecue weather. Appropriately, the hirsute quartet summon flame-grilled slabs of thinking-man’s stoner rock, a roaring harbinger of two other meaty bands performing this weekend – Corrosion of Conformity and Mastodon. From thinking-man’s stoner to drinking-man’s stoner, beer-splattered power-blues trio XII Boar throw the kind of party Lemmy would undoubtedly be happy to hold court at.
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“Metal should be taken seriously, goddamit!” So exclaimed Pythia bassist Mark Harrington prior to their soaring Sunday evening set of operatic power metal. I’m not so sure parody rockers Evil Scarecrow would agree. Some pundits predicted that these jesters’ day in the sun would be over swiftly, but, judging by the enormous turn out on Friday afternoon for a scuttle jig to ‘Crabulon’, those claims appear unfounded. Further silliness rears its head by way of nu-metal re-framers Anti-Clone, but, due to their lumbering, digitised chugging and silly steam punk apparel, this time the joke’s firmly on them. I mean, is it really necessary for a bassist to be wearing a gimp mask in this day and age?
If the serious, stony-faced side of metal is more your cup of virgin’s blood, then Polish hell raisers Behemoth and ancient-Grecian warrior lookalikes Rotting Christ are for you. The former take the raw materials of black metal – rabid vocals, acidic guitars, blast beats – and convert them into rarefied poetry. The latter’s bludgeoning, blackened doom could probably split the immense tombs of antiquity, let alone ear drums.
Nothing stands in the way of the mighty Corrosion of Conformity. Despite having their instruments nicked in Paris and the temporary loss of their drummer, Pepper Keenan and co. plough on with all guns blazing like the crack-team riffers they are. They crank out southern-fried classics like ‘Vote With A Bullet’ and ‘Albatross’ with well-greased ease, and even reprise ‘Clean My Wounds’ as a spaced-out dub jam. Natch!
Bringing down the curtain on their uproarious forty-year career, Twisted Sister exude more brio than most of the youngsters in the audience put together. Lithe, bronzed frontman Dee Snider prances and writhes in front of columns of fire like an 80s WWF wrestler – all that’s missing is the python round his neck! Between interjections on the current state of the music business, Snider and his equally lusty band mates fire out club classics one after another. Despite this superb display of puckish joie de vivre, one sour note is unleashed: with a macho flourish, Snider tactlessly dedicates ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ to international terrorists.
Saturday night finds a triptych of bands that confirm that the current state of the genre is a long way off the knuckle-dragging image painted by naysayers. It’s utterly apt that French tech-death titans Gojira have a passion for the planet, because they are a force of nature. They casually tear through oldies and new tracks with the city-flattening violence of a hurricane, while outwardly remaining remarkably zen throughout. Over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, is that flourishes of jazz we hear? Yes, Norway’s Shining are combining dancefloor-pummelling beats, gloweringly dark hooks and sheets of coruscating saxophone, sounding like an upgraded version of Brit industrialists Pitchshifter. The grafters that they are, Atlanta out-and-proud weirdoes Mastodon take their muddy sound quality on the chin, and grunt and grind through a set of admittedly belting riff-rock odysseys, kept buoyant by Brann Dailor’s octopus-armed drumming.
Which leaves Slayer to close the weekend. My festival compadre posits: “Slayer seem a bit inconsequential in the 21st century”. Compared to the elevated roar of bands like Gojira and Behemoth, the thrash legends do seem a bit run-of-the-mill. But when you’ve got an inverted-crucifix Marshall stack towering above you while Kerry King’s light speed guitar solos shred to the core of your being, who’s complaining?
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Words: Jamie Skey