If you ever want to see humanity at its most dishevelled – festival Sundays are the ultimate pits of personal, introspective remorse and self pity.
So, as three days of excess and sleeping rough starts to catch up with the Bloodstock natives, you can’t blame them for the dip in the energy level as the first band of the day are announced at 11 a.m. A laboured, hoarse cry of .. “Yayy!” goes up, as Hell, undeterred, strut into the morning air and attempt to blast a few cobwebs away. That’s never going to happen, Hell just don’t have that kind of muscle. What they do have is a street theatre, romp of a show that doesn’t make too many demands of the fragile audience. Ideal for the occasion and ironic as Hell the band claim their style is too intelligent to succeed. Still, as vocalist David Bower, as camp as a pink Christmas tree, strides about, accompanying every phrase with wildly unrestrained hand gestures, we all realise it’s just a bit of a giggle, a touch of Sunday morning Nickleodeon. The preaching from the pulpit pastiche and the grim reaper bloke bring a touch of pantomime to it all. What a hoot! … And then you remember that Hell refer to this nonsense as a “project” which they describe in terms of “intellect” with a recently recorded album, which then brings the realisation that Hell are deadly serious about this. Suddenly the joke’s not that funny anymore.
1349 are no less dramatic in appearance, but a definite notch up musically from the previous band’s PG offerings. However 1349 seem to lack any genuine vitality or enthusiasm, but I guess it’s a big ask to expect the undead to rise before noon. The second number ‘I Am An Abomination’ couldn’t be more apt as the technical problems dogging the main PA throughout the weekend continue and swallow up any chance of the Norwegians achieving their full potential. To be fair the songs are played well enough and the full on ‘Atomic Chapel’ ensures the set finishes on the up, but it’s too little too late. 1349 might feel they have just about got away with it. It’s nearer the truth to say this performance will soon pass from memory, and for all concerned it’s probably just as well.
Next up on the Ronnie James Dio stage, from County Dublin, are extreme metallers Primordial. With roots stretching back to 1987 and a seven album archive – I guess you’ve either got to be into a sound that melds black metal with Irish folk music, or not. It only takes the first two numbers ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ and ‘As Rome Burns’ to convince a sizable chunk of the audience to give the mis-firing Primordial as wide a berth as possible.
The people in the know are headed for the Sophie Lancaster stage and Evil Scarecrow. The Sophie tent is rammed from front to back with a loud expectant buzz. Enter what looks like a bunch of cast offs from the latest zombie shoot ‘em up, and the opening salvo of ‘War and Seek’ followed with the brilliantly titled ‘Vampyre Trousers’, and you cannot help yourself from immediately taking to Evil Scarecrow. What with the intentionally over acted melodramatics and the comically exaggerated goose stepping, Evil Scarecrow know exactly how to play the fool. But this isn’t any old purile, adolescent toilet humour – this is sophisticated sarcasm mixed with playful, well observed irony, and the crowd gorge themselves on it. For all the lampooning stage antics – one thing is abundantly clear, these kids can definitely play. Their accomplished song-writing is showcased as front ghoul Dr. Rabid Hell leads his cohorts through the grandiose ‘Sixty-Six Minutes Past Six’, before the metalised cover of the ‘ThunderCats Theme’ takes the whole shooting match close to genius level. But then comes the heartfelt pain and angst (probably caused by ramming their tongues so hard into their cheeks) of ‘Blacken The Everything’ which takes it way past that marker. Not that these guys would accept such a tag, it’s far too serious an accolade. Princess Luxury and bassist Kraven Mordeth (also in charge of high fives) conduct the full audience robot dance during ‘Robotron’, while Dimitri Pain on guitar and drummer Ringmaster Monty Blitzfist provide the impetuous for the outrageous cover of Europe’s ‘Final Countdown’. By the time it’s all over Evil Scarecrow don’t just have the crowd eating out of their hands; it’s curled up in their laps, purring like the family cat. Just brilliant!
Forged in the Black Country crucible that spawned the roots of metal, it is fitting that Napalm Death are charged with providing the beef to what has been a somewhat light Sunday menu on the Ronnie James Dio stage, and they serve up heaving great slabs of the stuff. ‘Strong-Arm’, ‘Unchallenged Hate’ and ‘Continuing War On Stupidity’ let everybody know exactly who’s in charge here. Once it’s ensured the Bloodstock masses will tow the party line – and in fairness there is little resistance – Barney interjects tirades against anything or anybody that provokes his ire. The pop metal culture, the culture of political corruption, the culture of culture, but mostly the culture of organised religion, ohhh how he lets everybody know of his loathing for that particular culture. But that’s OK because I don’t think Napalm Death have any ambition to go to heaven anyway. Everybody is kept happy as John Peel favourite ‘Lucid Fairytale’ is given an outing and the pleasers are kept at a steady stream, until a cover of the Dead Kennedys ‘Nazi Punks’ and their own stalwarts ‘Suffer The Children’ and ‘Instinct Of Survival’ round things off nicely. Napalm Death manage to salvage the main stage gig before it’s too late, and all it took was a steady traditional English diet of the grindcore recipe they themselves invented. Right, who’s for seconds?
Bloodstock is one of the few places on the planet where Exodus don’t have to live down the infamous ‘Ghost Of Hammet’. Yep, we all know who he was and what he did but who cares, Exodus have been booting metal butt with him or without him for the last 30 years, so we’ll have some of that prime, pure as lightening hardcore stuff if you please. Exodus don’t let us down. They start with ‘The Ballad Of Leonard And Charles’ then trad thrash us to within an inch of our lives with ‘Beyond The Pale’, ‘A Lesson In Violenc’e and the chant along ‘Blacklist’. Coming from a time before there was a school to call old, Exodus are undoubtedly amongst friends here, so it’s easy pickings for them, and quite right too. ‘Bonded By Blood’ and ‘The Toxic Waltz’ winds things up effectively and the boys from the bay can cut another notch on their victory club.
At The Gates.
There’s nothing like a bit of melody to go with a lot of death, and who better to provide it than the guys who first showed that opposites really do attract, At The Gates. No makeup, no dramas, no OTT stage sets. No, At The Gates are still just a bunch of guys who came up with an original sound back in the day, and who like to go and thrash out to people who appreciate that kind of thing. It’s just a shame they don’t do it as often as they used to. Heads down, foot up on the monitors, At The Gates storm their way through ‘Cold’, ‘Terminal Spirit Disease’ and ‘Suicide Nation’. Common sense simplicity is now the order of the day on the Ronnie James Dio stage, and it’s in ultra safe hands because At The Gates wouldn’t know how to be pretentious, even if you brought them the fully illustrated pre-school version of Pretention For Dummies. Instead they just flatten everybody’s ears back with more Swedish crushers like ‘The Burning Darkness’. Absence inspires us to value what we have, so it is no surprise the audience bay like wolves for an encore. Tomas Lindberg leads them back on for ‘Blinded By Fear’ and ‘Kingdom Gone’. As the indomitable Swedes trudge off to relentless applause, one can only hope it won’t be too long before they are seen on these shores again.
The gathering dusk gloom is an ideal backdrop for Morbid Angel, as the long standing Floridian death metal gurus show themselves on stage to the approving roar of the crowd who know that tonight, they are the special ones who will hold bragging rights over those who passed this up. Setting the standard to which the greater portion of those who work in this genre aspire, Morbid Angel are here tonight to show us why. They roll in like a Panzer tank with the bone melting ‘Immortal Rites’ before letting loose the dogs of war with ‘Fall From Grace’ and ‘Rapture’. Azagthoth is at the top of his game and clearly in no mood for compromise. He plays it hard and fast, right down the line, his standard M.O. Vincent admonishes the audience for their poor performance and cheerleads them until he is satisfied they are worthy of what is being laid before them. New songs ‘Existo Vulgore’ and ‘I Am Morbid’ are accepted like sacred gifts by the now rampaging pit. The ferocity of Destructhor’s guitar and Sandoval’s drums propel us through ‘Chapel Of Ghouls’, ‘Where The Slime Live’ and ‘God Of Emptiness’ towards Morbid Angel’s terminal velocity, until ‘World Of Shit’ brings about an almighty frenzied climax and then … nothing, it’s gone and we are all left to wonder if anyone got the number of the juggernaut that just rolled right over us.
When all is said and done, the band chosen to headline the three days of extreme, and at times outlandish metal, is probably the least heavy act of the entire festival by a country mile. But it’s not about that. It’s about a universal truth that binds everybody present together. Every person, spectator or performer, is here this weekend as a direct result of the existence of the headline act. Love them or not, Motörhead are quite feasibly the most influential band in metal today. So when Lemmy strolls on stage and announces “We’re Motörhead and we play rock & roll”, he’s just telling us what we’ve known for most, if not all of our lives. Motörhead are treated like the patriarchal head of a family. We all understand the true glory days are long gone, but the place at the top of the table is unquestioned and unchallenged as we revere everything that they have given us. The set itself is not a greatest hits jukebox but more of a selection of Lemmy’s personal favourites, so for the watchers it was a choice to get on board or walk away. Most stayed firmly put. The opening offerings of ‘Iron Fist’ and ‘Stay Clean’ are popular family snapshots as Lemmy casually moves around with that comfortingly familiar swagger. The machine rumbles on with ‘One Night Stand’ and ‘The Chase Is Better Than The Catch’. We are ‘treated’ to a longer than necessary drum solo from Mikkey Dee during ‘In The Name Of Tragedy’ and ‘Killed By Death’ finishes it all off until ‘Ace Of Spades’ reminds us of why encores were invented. Was this the best performance of the festival? No. Was this the best example of metal at its most extreme? Definitely not. Has time left its mark on one of music’s most enduring institutions? In all honesty yes. Motörhead have still got it though, the next metal generation who kept the pit heaving until the very end are proof of that, and it has to be noted that the decision to choose them to bring down the curtain on an excellent weekend of twists, turns and more than a few surprises, was a good one. B.O.A. 2012 can’t come quickly enough!
Review: Noel Fischer
Photography: Steve Johnston