Bloodstock Festival 2011 Saturday – 13 August 2011

It’s widely accepted that the first band of any festival day are a good test for the PA, fortunate enough to be invited and should just be happy to be on the team. However, every so often …

Having travelled from Ohio, though probably not this morning, Skeletonwitch arrive backstage a ridiculously fine cut fifteen minutes before show time. So, getting themselves together to make it onstage at the appointed hour is impressive, although given what occurs – I think everyone would have been willing to wait. As soon as they make it out into the open they launch into a tirade of hard Midwestern hybrid metal with ‘Upon Wings Of Black’ and ‘Submit To The Suffering’. Wow! This is an undisputed, two punch knockout and it’s clear that Skeletonwitch fancy the job in hand, with material demanding the undivided attention of anyone within striking distance. By the time the third number ‘Crushed Beyond Dust’ rings out – horns are aloft, collective voices are raised in approval and the circle pit is in full motion. What continues is a formidable set, an amalgamation of classic Bay Area thrash, Scandinavian death/black metal and NWOBHM. As front man Chance Barnette barks out the final lines of closer ‘Within My Blood’ – a clear marker has been laid down. Skeletonwitch didn’t just warm up the Ronnie James Dio main stage PA, they left it red hot.

Grave Digger
You just can’t help some people. After all the groundwork done by the openers, German power metallers Grave Digger set about squandering a golden opportunity. Making their entrance to ‘Paid In Blood’ which sounds like the Braveheart soundtrack, it would seem whatever heart Grave Digger have, it certainly isn’t brave. Clearly there are onstage sound problems, but rather than soldiering on, as one would expect from a band of their experience, lead spade man Chris Boltendahl spends much of the opener aimlessly wandering from band mates to stage crew to audience, hands splayed in panic, presumably looking for help and/or sympathy. This is a mistake that Grave Digger will never recover from. Metalheads help those that help themselves and although guitarist Axel Ritt tries to pull it all back together, the damage has been done. The rest of the set is as stiff as a twice buried corpse. Boltendahl does at least try to rouse the audience into interaction during ‘Excalibur’ but this fails miserably and things just look worse. Somebody should have told the hapless Herr Boltendahl, when you’re in a deep hole, stop digging.

Back on the Ronnie James Dio stage Wintersun bring a touch of pomp to proceedings. Their music is not often pit friendly but the musicianship is of the highest quality and is represented well in the live setting. The audience remain attentive and appreciative throughout as Wintersun’s creator and frontman Jari Maenpaa leads his troops through cascading epics: ‘Beyond The Dark Sun’, ‘Winter Madness’ and the climatic finisher ‘Starchild’. The band handles the complexity with ease and although the visual performance provided little to nothing to write home about, the positive crowd response at the end confirmed this level of skill and creativity is to be valued.

If you’re not familiar with Therion you can be caught a little off-guard. A large number of quizzical looks within the crowd hint that the Swedish outfit need to work hard to sell their symphonic metal to an audience that mostly didn’t sign up for this. The show that Therion serve up is a cross between Phantom Of The Opera and Interview With A Vampire, but done in a very hammer horror way. In fact if it turned out there was a writing credit for Andrew Lloyd Webber, nobody would blink. Yes, this is more Shaftesbury Avenue than Bloodstock, but sometimes you’ve just gotta go with it. So, once you get over the initial incredulity, and the production line of singers appearing from every nook and cranny – you slowly start to realise Therion really are quite good at this. Open power chords marry up with some pretty tight riffage, whilst a grand flood of keyboards buttress the plethora of choral and operatic, Wagnerian vocal arrangements. This is not an easy act to get together anywhere, but in the end Therion do manage to pull it off with some aplomb, as songs ‘Sitra Ahra’, ‘Call of Dagon’ and ‘The Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah’ are all accepted generously. I wouldn’t say the Swedes win over a new army of fans, or that anybody understands it more at the end than they did at the start, but it is indeed entertaining. Therion have negotiated some potentially choppy seas today and I think they’ll consider that a result.

Rhapsody Of Fire
Rhapsody Of Fire continue the operatics but their music has more to offer in the way of conventional metal, so the crowd relax a little more as enjoyment comes their way a little easier. Churning out their Hollywood soundtrack, Rhapsody Of Fire are adroitly power metal, with tracks such as ‘On The Way To Ainor’, ‘Dawn Of Victory’ and ‘Reign Of Terror’, with the well earned encore ‘Emerald Sword’ bringing their recital to a rousing finale.

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of fans were more than ready to get back to basics. Thank the Gods, any Gods, Norse, Greek or otherwise for Immortal. Just when it seemed like full on, brutal, head crushing metal was a thing of distant memory on the Ronnie James Dio stage, the arena is filled with enough dry ice to obscure the known planets and three silhouettes – that are Immortal – advance into the open. Jet black hair flowing behind them, studded leather glinting in what little light has penetrated the thick white smokescreen, and that oh so familiar cubist face paint. The trio take their places and the night air is blasted into smithereens as Abbtath, Horgh and Apollyon smash into ‘All Shall Fall’. An almighty roar goes up from the faithful, who in truth, have had their good graces and patience sorely tested by much of what has gone before this today. However, the machine gunning drums, bone shuddering bass and crushing guitar brings out the animal in everybody. The pit churns, Apollyons hair whips around like a set of redlining helicopter blades Abbath snarls out the words with true malevolence. Everything is right in Bloodstock world once more. As the set progresses, the pace – as if it were possible – shifts up a gear and the crowd respond in kind. ‘The Rise Of Darkness ‘is delivered like a jack boot to the solar plexus and then the Immortal standard ‘Call Of The Wintermoon’ shifts it over official breakneck speed. ‘Withstand The Fall Of Time’ and encores ‘Beyond the North Waves’ and ‘The Sun No Longer Rises’ conclude the onslaught as Immortal don’t just bring the house down, they reduce it to dust, by means of waged war.

Review: Noel Fischer
Photography: Steve Johnston

Bloodstock Festival 2011 – Friday Review
Bloodstock Festival 2011 – Saturday Review