Bloodstock Open Air 2009

author EW date 23/10/09

At last, here is the final festival round-up of a summer where have brought you comprehensive reviews of West Coast Riot, Roskilde, Metal Town, Wacken Open Air, Brutal Assault and now finally, for the first time, Britain’s own Bloodstock Open Air. More attentive readers to the site will have been aware that I also went to the Hellfest festival in Clisson, France in June, and will also be in the knowledge that I failed to produce any kind of review on what was a brilliant festival with the greatest and most diverse metal line-up ever known to man. So it was that after finally deciding to go to Bloodstock (BOA henceforth) in August I vowed to learn from my mistakes and try and remember lots to say about a) the festival itself and b) each band I saw. Alas results were mixed but enough was remembered by GR and I to bring you the following round-up of the happenings at Britain's only real outdoor metal festival. Yes that’s right, Download can lick my ball sack.

The Festival

It took me so long to decide upon BOA for two reasons; I had already seen every band on the bill I liked before, and because of the stupid rules and stipulations the organisers have put in the place in past years (as reported by friends). The alarming pre-festival notice online of "no unoccupied gazebos" had many of us in a tizzy as to whether the entire thing was worth it based upon this one action of militant-fun-deprivation, but in the end the thought of a weekend of drinking and metallic chaos won out (as usual). I make no apologies that this description of the festival will come from predominantly my own experiences back in August; others may patently disagree but this is my review, so nerrr.

Travelling with 2 mates to the ground in the evening of the day before, we got so horrendously lost we considered staging our own festival somewhere instead as none of us expected to ever make it despite being no more than 5 miles away. -1 point for festival signage. Alas, through a combination of blind luck and increasing desperation we arrived to the festival late in the evening but with plenty of activity going on around us. BOA is unfortunately one of those festivals where you can't camp with your vehicle. Acceptable enough in theory, but making everyone walk a good half kilometre [Ed note: Hah, at Roskilde Festival you might have to walk nearly 2 km because the festival area is so large], at least, laden with bags, beer, gazebos and enough gear to make us resemble a pack of mules to the camping grounds earns the organisers another minus point.

Having experienced Wacken plenty of times in the past and Hellfest earlier this summer, it was a nice change to be at a relatively small festival like BOA. With two main camping grounds one was never far from toilets, food stalls and the main festival area. The main festival area, aside from the usual assortment of food stalls, bars and shops/merch stands had a variety of fairground style rides too - haunted house, dodge-ems and some others I don't even know the names of. For a small festival, the overall set-up in the main area was entirely admirable, well spread out and sufficiently varied to easily be acceptable for the long weekend.

After being pleased with the above, to my delight the other major worry for the weekend - the expected heavy rain - ceased to be, and though we were subjected to some very strong winds on the middle day, the over-whelming sunshine for the majority showed the organisers had even fixed up the weather for the weekend. Good job!

The Bands

BOA's dedication to promoting the UK underground is admirable, through having one of the two main stages dedicated entirely to this cause, but the end result is a distinct inbalance between the two stages, with one crammed full of (mainly) international and big name acts and the other tucked away in the corner very much playing the proverbial undercard. I, EW, served as no use to the underground watching only main stage bands all weekend and thus will report entirely from this perspective, with GR only watching one band on the Unsigned Stage. Sorry to all the unsigned bands of Britain, maybe next year...

Friday August 14

Blitzkrieg @ 11:00 on Main Stage

Opening up the festival proper this year were NWOBHM survivors Blitzkrieg, a band I had seen a few times before with varying levels of enjoyment. Their support slot on the Saxon UK tour a few years back had been slightly ropey, but a headline performance in London and another festival opening slot - Wacken 2007 - were decent, if unspectacular, performances. Much the same can be said for this half hour of old school metal; Blitzkrieg provided a solid opening to the festival without ever looking like entering into the 'impressive' category. Given the early hour (by festival standards at least) of their set and the inevitable hangovers of most Bloodstockers, the crowd size could have been a lot worse and a mix of songs both old and new had heads nodding. Thanks to the Metallica cover version, most in attendance (presumably) recognised the self-titled classic "Blitzkrieg", which managed to up the energy levels and provided a high note on which to end the main stage's first bout of metal for the weekend. [6] GR

Bloodshot Dawn @ 13:00 on Unsigned Stage

One of the great things about Bloodstock is its support of the UK's unsigned metal bands, with the Unsigned stage running alongside the main stage for most of the weekend. If it hadn't been for such a strong main stage lineup I might have spent more time watching these up and coming bands, but as it was I only caught the full set of one - Bloodshot Dawn. Why these guys in particular? Well, they're are a technical(ish) death/thrash outfit hailing from the same general area as myself and as such I had seen them on several previous occasions and thought a festival tent would make a nice change from the back room of a pub. With their debut album still in the works, most of the material played would only have been familiar to those who had seen the band before, which was probably a higher number than you might think - as an enthusiastic mosh pit lasted for most of the set. The band have been around for six years and countless gigs have obviously paid off, as they delivered an energetic and vicious set; clearly over the moon to be playing at the UK's best metal festival. Highlight of the set was the brilliantly written "Coalition Of Terror", which saw the first - and by no means last - wall of death of the weekend and had many heads banging. [7] GR

Municipal Waste @ 15:05 on Main Stage

Their latest album "Massive Aggressive" may have received a mauling at the hands of EW a couple of weeks ago, but the Waste are unlikely to diminish as a live force and their Bloodstock set showed they're just as at home on a festival stage as they are in a dark, sweaty club. Their brand of crossover thrash always makes for a fast and furious performance from both band and crowd, and whilst the festival setup meant a lack of the stage-diving that usually characterises a Municipal Waste show (bar one epic dive from frontman Tony Foresta at the end of their set), circle pit mayhem broke out before the band had even launched into their first song. Wasting no time at all, they ripped through their short sharp tales of booze, violence and large fish ("This one's about a fucking shark!") with bags of energy and enthusiasm, whipping the already lively crowd into headbanging, mosh-pitting fervour. One of the great things about a Municipal Waste performance is that it can be entertaining even for those with an aversion to thrash: new song "Wrong Answer" saw Foresta's command for a wall of death obeyed; "Beer Pressure" was the soundtrack to a world record attempt for the most crowd surfers during a song - Guinness World Records adjudicator and all - with a new record of 428 apparently achieved; and the George W Bush inspired "I Want To Kill The President" received an Obama update to become "I Want To Chill With The President". Finishing a triumphant set with "Bangover", a song that describes what most people were probably experiencing the next morning, Municipal Waste left the stage having cemented their status as one of the most entertaining live bands around. [8] GR

Katatonia @ 16:20 on Main Stage

Without any doubt the one band that most people I had spoken to were interested in watching were Katatonia, both through a lack of previous chances to catch them live and their melancholy brilliance on record. Having seen them in early 2006 supporting "The Great Cold Distance" I had some idea of what to expect; an over-reliance on very recent material, something I presumed would be accentuated in the festival setting. Alas I was half-right as though we had a few from the aforementioned album (the only of the band's records I've never got into) we were treated to a selection from their four previous albums, including the excellent "Teargas" from "Last Fair Deal Gone Down". Never the most dramatic or exciting of live bands, Katatonia still played a competent set that will be talked about for the sheer thrill of seeing one of their rare live shows rather than what people saw this Friday afternoon. [6]

Sodom @ 17:35 on Main Stage

In the months preceding Bloodstock there had been much internet debate as to whether a Sodom show being advertised for London was genuine or not, as the promoter was rumoured to be a fraudster with a history of taking people's money for gigs that never happen. I can only assume that this was indeed the case, as Bloodstock announced Sodom as one of the last additions to the line-up and word about the London show simply disappeared. Given that the German thrash veterans had not played a UK show for something like 20 years, their appearance was a major coup for the festival and I'm sure it helped shift a fair few last minute tickets. With the gathered masses chanting their name, Sodom hit the stage and kicked things off with "Napalm In The Morning", which made for a good opening choice from a personal point of view, as the "M16" album it's taken from is the Sodom album I'm most familiar with. Despite the excitement of seeing a legendary band for the first time, and the few beers that had inevitably been consumed, for the first few songs of the set I found the performance to be somewhat underwhelming, with the stage feeling too big for the trio. Frontman/bassist Tom Angelripper and guitarist Bernd Kost did not dominate the space like that other German trio - Destruction - had done the previous year. However, as the set progressed the band seemed to find their groove and I began to enjoy their performance a lot more, with classics like "Agent Orange" getting the crowd going. The raw and raucous "Blasphemer" was dedicated to the memory of former drummer Chris Witchunter (who sadly passed away last year) and was followed by a slew of other Teutonic thrash anthems, with "Remember The Fallen" rounding off a historic performance that had fallen short of brilliance but in the end provided solid thrashing entertainment. [7] GR

Saxon @ 18:50 on Main Stage

With the days' drinking efforts coming to fruition, an hour of classic metal anthems from one of my favourite bands was certainly something I was very much in the mood for. Back to a more standard setlist after the one-from-every-album marathon of Wacken, Saxon opened their first BOA (having played the very first Bloodstock indoor event back in 2001) appearance with latest-album favourite "Battalions Of Steel", setting the scene for a blazing performance with a mix of classic tracks both old and new. Saxon may have been around for 30 years, but anyone viewing them as dinosaurs who should just give up would surely have changed their minds after seeing new numbers such as the fast and heavy "Demon Sweeney Todd" belted out with real gusto. However good the new material might be, it was the stone-cold classics that people were there for and the band delivered them in heaps; "Heavy Metal Thunder", "747 (Strangers In The Night)", "Crusader", "And The Bands Played On", "Wheels Of Steel", "Princess Of The Night" - masterpieces of old school British metal, one and all. With such glorious tunes one after the other, it was hard not to be singing along and headbanging for the entirety of the set; anyone who hadn't at least cracked a smile by the time "Denim & Leather" brought things to a rousing close might just be dead inside. [8½] GR

Carcass @ 22:15 on Main Stage

With their quite superlative WOA 08 headline slot still a relatively fresh and happy memory in my mind I was already pessimistic enough to believe that they would not be able to match that performance this time round. Such was the case, but not for any lack of trying from the band; Jeff Walker refrained from wasting too much time talking between songs as the usual veritable feast of goregrind/death metal/melodeath (delete where appropriate) was blasted out to a baying, and by this point if my own state was anything to go by, drunken audience. Carcass are a true reflection of a band who sum up just how big death metal got in the early 90's and still is now; they look thoroughly at home as the extreme headliners of the festival and a show with the confidence to match. [8]

Saturday August 15

Wolf @ 12:00 on Main Stage

My first experience of Wolf in a live environment had been at Bloodstock 2007, the year before the leap was made to the current scale and setup of the festival. Whether it was because of this or just bad luck, that set is memorable because Wolf suffered technical problems throughout, with their gear cutting out all together on several occasions. Whilst this is never a great thing to happen, it did highlight the good-natured charm of the band and their warm relationship with the fans, as beer sharing and a joke strip-tease ensued. This time around all the equipment was in working order and Wolf managed to blast through half an hour of their trad metal without a hitch. The sound mix wasn't the best - a fact not helped by the strong wind blowing through the site - but the band, decked out in matching Anvil shirts, galloped their way enthusiastically through cuts from most of their albums, with half the setlist devoted to material from latest album "Ravenous". The early-ish set time may have meant a lack of movement from the crowd, but the band were well received and got my day off to an enjoyable start. [7] GR

Entombed @ 13:55 on Main Stage

Perhaps it is the ultimate judgement of the bulk of their discography that Entombed, a band who's debut album "Left Hand Path" was lauded to the sky by a then nascent death metal world, have never been a must-see band and this is reflected in their middlish positioning on this years bill. In LG Petrov however they do have an entertaining and unusually happy frontman for a DM band, one who says all the right things to please someone like me - his passion to be there as merely "a headbanger" than as anyone more important than that. His completely lack of ego was nice to see. Without a true classic song to their name Entombed played an enjoyable, if mildly average set but which for the levels of alcohol flowing might have been deemed it rudely interrupted by the prevailing winds at this point. [6½]

Candlemass @ 15:00 on Main Stage

Coming across as more of a Heaven & Hell-styled doom/heavy metal band these days, Candlemass set about their fare in the afternoon's sunshine, perhaps not the best surroundings in which to hear such godly doom classics as "Samaritan" and "Solitude" but you'd have been hard pressed to find anyone complaining. With Robert Lowe at the helm these days a grander darkness is to be felt in his voice (I've always loved Messiah Marcolin though so I can't be too harsh on that particular sorry madman) which suits the old material to a tee. As is the case I have discovered on record however and which has prevented me from truly accepting their post-reunion albums, it somehow doesn't fit perfectly with the uptempo stylings they band tend to get involved in these days. However this charge could equally be levelled at Leif Edling too - perhaps expecting doom-tacular riffs of the quality found on "Nightfall" would be asking a tad too much because frankly all their 'new' material pales into comparison against the sheer quality of their older works. [7]

Enslaved @ 16:15 on Main Stage

Those of you who have read my Wacken review will already have an inclination as to what I'm likely to say about Enslaved. Two weeks after their magnificent performance in Germany, I was more than happy to be seeing them again and expected great things once more. Given their (understandably) lower billing compared to Wacken, it was slightly odd to be watching the band perform in broad daylight, especially when the atmosphere of their music is so suited to the dark, but this did not detract from another sublime performance. As far as I noticed, the setlist had not changed and we were once again treated to captivating renditions of recent material - half the setlist being made up of songs from the last two albums - and older selections. Whilst not quite matching the amazing atmosphere of their Wacken performance, Enslaved put no less effort into their set and showed once again why they're one of the most interesting and immersive bands to emerge from the Norwegian black metal scene. [8] GR

Kreator @ 17:30 on Main Stage

Ever the trusty and reliable festival band, Kreator/Mille Petrozza makes a point of expressing his delight at participating in Britain's only true metal festival (damn straight), and despite surely everyone in attendance over the age of 10 (there were a lot of under-10s...weird) having seen Kreator at least the once, it didn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm with which they were greeted. Being another band for which I, in my typical scrooge fashion, am not overly impressed by their recent, more sterilised efforts, I held back from the general hysteria that seemed to surround me. That is of course until it became Raise....The Flag...Of....HATE!!! Great song it maybe but by the time Mille finished his introductory speech/ramble (check it out for yourself here) I was far too tired to do any flag lifting I'm sorry to say so stuck merely to shaking my mane like some kind of drunken metalhead. Oh...

Pulling no real surprises with the setlist, Mille & co were as expected - tight, brutal and every bit the metal legends one would expect of them 25-odd years into their career. The only way I'm going to ever give them higher though would be to catch them live in 1988. Hmm. [8]

Blind Guardian @ 20:20 on Main Stage

German power metallers Blind Guardian shared the Saturday headliner status with the band we all love to hate, Cradle of Filth, and unsurprisingly performed before Dani Filth & co. I was happy with this arrangement as it meant plenty of time was left afterwards for campsite fun; not desiring to check out CoF even for the sake of it (whose set ended up being cut short after guitarist Paul Allender was struck by a 'gobstopper' thrown from the audience and hospitalised). Hitting the stage to a rapturous welcome, Blind Guardian launched into "Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill)" and I've got to admit, I wasn't quite 'feeling it', with something leaving me slightly underwhelmed. However, I'm sure we've all seen performances that don't quite click at first, but then something indefinable changes and the rest of the set turns out to be great - luckily this was one of those occasions. Next song "Another Holy War" sounded great; Hansi Kürsch's voice in as fine form as any previous time I've seen the band. Blind Guardian are never the most energetic of bands, but it's the music that truly does the talking for them and over an hour of power metal classics were dealt out to a very enthusiastic and vocal audience. Epics such as "Nightfall", "The Script For My Requiem", "Imaginations From The Other Side" and the anthemic "Valhalla" had seemingly the whole crowd singing along, lost in the Guardian fantasy world. It wouldn't be a Blind Guardian show without the massive sing-along "The Bard's Song", which provided the penultimate moment of glory, followed by a passionate and triumphant "Mirror Mirror", bringing to a close what would be the band of the festival for many. [8½] GR

Sunday August 16

Sabaton @ 11:55 on Main Stage

And so the 'Happiest Frontman Of The Festival' award goes to...Joakim Broden! You know how it is by now at a festival - you go to see a band you know nothing about cos your mates want to watch them and while you stand there thinking "hmmm, this bland keyboard-led happy clappy power metal troop should really be German. Why are they Swedish?!" it suddenly dawns on you that the man with the mic is happier than I would be during a threesome with the Olsen twins. Jumping around on stage in the band's uniform of black tshirt and grey camo trousers, Broden ticks all the boxes by saying how happy he is to be there all the way to complimenting Britain on its historical military strength at a certain time in the 20th century when "the Swedish army ran home crying". Cue hearty laughter and the sound of 100 Sabaton albums being sold over at the merch stand. Being a totally homogenous and uninspiring power metal sound offering nothing new to the genre was the least of my concerns for Sabaton were excellent, in turn encouraging me to up the drinking in what had unexpectedly become a brief respite from the alcoholocaust of the previous two days. [9]

Turisas @ 16:20 on Main Stage

Come mid-afternoons on the final day of 3-day festivals the audience tend to start resembling the cast of a smelly zombie movie, traipsing round happily on the nutrients of 3 days of burgers, chips and beer and with the thoughts of many beginning to turn to work the day or two after, thus cutting down on the beerage. Thankfully being unemployed I was happy to continue drinking myself into oblivion and leave such petty concerns of 'work' to my mates, and with Turisas and Amon Amarth to keep one going who could blame me?

There was a time around the release of "Battle Metal" and their now-legendary debut UK gig at the Underworld in early 2005 that I would've collectively married all of Turisas, with the thought of missing a show of theirs on a par with appreciating the music of Cliff Richard. However since the disappointment of seeing the Finnish Vikings supporting some comedy act called Lordi my appreciation has waned and I'd not seen them since. Well here was a chance to make amends. With Turisas you can always rely on a thoroughly involving show with Warlord Nygard commanding his musical troops expertly through a rampaging set of catchy, uptempo folk metal and to my utter relief this hasn't changed with their meteoric rise in popularity. Mixing up their set with songs from both "Battle Metal" and "The Varangian Way", and of course "Rasputin", the band were a total treat to watch live, making their 45 minute set fly by in an instant. My only reservation came with the words Nygard finished with - in explaining this was to be their very last show on the touring cycle for "The Varangian Way" before hitting the studio for the next album, he seemed to me to be suggesting we will not be seeing them in the standard Turisas battle make-up and gear in the future. I can only pray my interpretation was obscured by alcohol; Turisas can NOT lose that image! [8½]

Amon Amarth @ 18:50 on Main Stage

I really shouldn't have been so excited about this performance, which after all was to be my 9th Amon Amarth experience, but 8 previous events dictate this band are ALWAYS on form and included on any festival bill to ensure I go home with whatever the medical term for 'dead neck' might be. Frankly at this point I can't remember exact song titles played but trust me that they relied on their newer material a bit too much for my liking but anyway, much more importantly than this, I was involved in the creation of a new form of gig culture - the first ever epic Viking metal rowing. Keep an eye out for me in amongst that awesomeness.

Amon Amarth seem to be on every frickin' festival line-up in the world for the sole reason that they are amazing. Only the most miserable bugger would not find themselves tapping a foot along to tunes like "The Pursuit Of Vikings" or "Death In Fire" and thus we were all pleased significantly. I say bring on this autumn's tour with Entombed and Evile. [8½] (EDIT: since writing this Evile bassist Mike Alexander has sadly passed away, leaving the two Swedish bands to carry on alone. RIP Mike.)

Satyricon @ 20:20 on Main Stage

Having not seen Satyricon since their jaw-dropping performance with Nocturno Culto at WOA 04 it felt like a good chance to catch up with these particular grizzly Norwegians and see just where their career has taken them to since. The reports of the Roskilde boys weren't too complimentary towards Satyr's less than egotistical leadership at that particular festival; my thoughts were of a supremely confident frontman who has effortlessly transcended the stereotypes many 'in the know' would like to place on him. The best songs of "Now, Diabolical", and to a lesser extent "The Age Of Nero", made more sense live than on record, which when combined with a sterling light and sound show made Satyricon quite a presence in front of our tired, bleary eyes. As you would do if your band possessed a certifiable anthem in their arsenal they finished with the irrepressible "Mother North" before disappearing off into the night to drink some goat's blood, or whatever Norwegian black metallers do these days. [7½]

Europe @ 22:00 on Main Stage

Most people know one thing about Europe - they wrote "The Final Countdown". Unsurprisingly then, their addition as closing headliner had been a somewhat controversial decision, as they hardly fitted in with the more heavy nature of most of the bill. So, was their set a success or a failure? Well, you'll have to ask someone else I'm afraid as both myself and EW were a bit, erm, out of action. I recall being in front of the stage for the whole of Europe's performance, and they definitely played "Rock The Night" and "The Final Countdown", but every other detail is rather hazy. One thing is for sure though - the place went crazy when the iconic keyboard intro to "...Countdown" started up. Going on what slightly more sober friends and other reviews have said, Europe put on an impressive show and won over most of the sceptics and cynics; seizing the opportunity to play to a crowd they wouldn't normally find themselves in front of and prove they're more than just one hit wonders. It seems the organisers knew what they were doing after all! [?] GR

Final Thoughts

So all in all it seemed everyone who went had a great weekend. I personally travelled with pessimistic views on how the organisation and camping-side of the festival would be but I left in a state of relief that all my worries were needless. Credit to the organisers for the all-round excellent work that had gone into the show and for pulling in the best line-up of a British metal festival in many years. In it's current incarnation the festival is just about at the perfect size but as word spreads expect BOA to get bigger in years to come, and if future years pass off as successfully as this one expect to see yours truly doing his bit for the British festival cause by attempting to drink it's bar dry.

Now let's enter the winter and Christmas season, recover from this year's excellent festivalling excesses and start planning for the summer of 2010!

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