As usual the numbers are down a bit come Sunday morning, but this doesn’t stop Manc metal stompers Broken Teeth and South Wales death metal outfit Venom Prison from violently rattling the cages of the fragile and bleary eyed.
In metal festival terms this is the crack of dawn (i.e. pre-midday) but those pit troopers who have made the sterling effort of dragging their hungover arses into the main arena are well rewarded, as both starters turn in sets of a decent quality. With Mexican extreme metallers Brujeria also turning up to superbly stick the boot in, everybody appears to be awake now. Good, let’s get on with it then.
There are many of Saturday night’s revellers still “relaxing” on the grass and on chairs, but still there is a sizeable gathering who turn their attention stageward for the arrival of the band who are routinely called the first band in the death metal genre. Few bands have been through the grinder as excruciatingly as Possessed, but the esteem in which they are held is evident in the reaction given to everything they do by the lunchtime assembly. Possessed have always shunned the easier paths so it’s no surprise when frontman Jeff Becerra confesses to wheeling up to the gig literally five minutes before the off. Still, he and his cohorts are proud to announce a new album deal with Nuclear Blast Records and they celebrate with a crunching set that includes newbie ‘Shadowcult’ sandwiched in-between classic tracks ‘Tribulation’ and ‘The Exorcist’. We await with interest, their continued adventures.
Where would the world be without Florida Death Metal? Quiet, way too quiet, that’s where. To stop that happening Obituary were invented, and as drummer Donald Tardy takes the first salute from the Bloodstock masses, the tranquil summer air is torn asunder by a titanic southern death metal barrage. The rest of the players take the stage and hurtle headlong into ‘Internal Bleeding’ and ‘Chopped In Half’. Obituary should market themselves as a hangover cure because the sluggish pit erupts into wonderful fury, refreshed and brand new, hungry for the insane energy which engulfs them. The other half of the brothers Tardy – John – barks, growls and spews his lyrics into the air from behind his swirling, forest thick hair. He demands that the bands commitment to uproar be returned by the watchers. No worries there, it’s a done deal, with more inferno. The string section play with determined aggression, Kenny Andrews contributing pure American muscle to his lead work, as Trevor Peres and Terry Butler back him to the hilt, with solid iron rhythm and bass guitars. Classics such as ‘Find the Arise’ sit perfectly alongside new numbers ‘Sentence Day’ and ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Die’, before ‘Slowly We Rot’ smashes the hammer down on an exhilarating, hostile performance. Ho-lee cow!
You can’t keep a good band down, and Hell are actually a good band – probably. To be fair they must be, to have earned their own hat-trick of appearances at this growing metal shindig. The problem they have this time, is that what they have to offer – the faux theatrics, the histrionics accompanied by dramatic metal riffs, scenery and pyros – has already been done on this stage this weekend (and on of lot of other stages too) and to a much higher standard. Still, they rattle out an “as advertised” set, and as Bloodstock Open Air is a kid friendly festival, it gives the lil munchkins some nice Sunday pantomime to watch, while the grown-ups wait for something a little more age appropriate to them.
If you’re going to do tongue in cheek, you need the best ingredients – like a truckload of banging tunes, the metal party frontman to surpass all of his breed, the talent to afford not taking yourself ever so seriously … and you need to be a band called Skindred. After a quick listen to AC/DC and a passing appearance by Darth Vader, Benji Webbe and the boys set to work and serve up ‘Under Attack’ and ‘Rat Race’. Suddenly there’s an unmistakable bounce about the place, quite literally as Benji goes through his familiar routine of conducting pit activities, berating those watching for not following orders, and effing and jeffing in his endearing sing-song Wenglish accent. Webbe and bassist Dan Pugsley lead by example, showing limitless dynamism as they pump out their hybrid reggae/rap metal to an adoring audience. Wonderfully bearded Mikey Demus is a little more passive, but then he’s got the job of driving this nutter’s wagon forward with his chomping riffage, which he does, naturally. There’s ample opportunity for everyone to get involved as Benji leads plenty of sing-along moments like ‘Kill the Power’ and ‘Pressure’ with a new song ‘Machine’ thrown in for good measure. Ok, there’s a bit of cheesy “I love you man” guff coming from Benji, but hey, what’s a bit of forced virtue signalling between friends? Anyway, it’s all a fantastic laugh-a-second ride, finished off nicely with ‘Warning’ (of course including the Newport Helicopter) and a bit of Carly Simon. There’s lovely.
Alissa White-Gluz is, in reality, a bit of a bear trap. She really does look like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but arriving onstage with the boys of Arch Enemy and thundering headlong into ‘The World Is Yours’ – the vicious trap is sprung the instant she opens that mouth to sing. From bellowing, rasping snarls, to piercing banshee wails, Ms White-Gluz is a rampaging phenom, contradicting any reasonable preconceptions that anyone has about her. Her blue and silver hair and tasselled jacket thrash wildly in the late evening sun as the band rips through ‘Stolen Life’ and ‘War Eternal’. Foot up on the monitor, her talon like fingers gesturing meaningfully, she makes it clear that she may not be the most physically present person around, but right here and now this chick is large and in charge. Arch Enemy are very much a whole entity and they collectively grab their audience by the scruff of the neck and rag them like a ravenous attack dog, thanks to the striking guitars of Jeff Loomis, Michael Amott and the throat thumping bass and drums of Sharlee D’Angelo and Daniel Erlandsson. White-Gluz informs us that this is the final show of a three year cycle that has seen Arch Enemy perform over three hundred shows, and what better place to culminate that epic than here at Bloodstock? To celebrate we are treated to the anthem ‘We Will Rise’ which goes off like an impacting meteor. ‘Nemesis’ climaxes a wholly thrilling display, and the panting gathering can only applaud wildly and wonder as to whatever the next three years will bring from this powerhouse of metal called Arch Enemy.
Dave Mustaine is one of those divisive characters isn’t he? There’s been many, if not all, who have lined up to have a dig or two whenever it suits them. “MegaDave”, “Dave Disdain”, “Megabreath” – all very droll cheap shots, but the thing is, when all’s said and done, David Scott Mustaine Esquire is a legend of huge proportions. Whenever he decides to put in an appearance, anywhere, people will turn up in their droves to see and enjoy his storied body of work – and tonight is no exception. Megadeth take the stage for their second Bloodstock headliner and everybody has come out for this one. There’s little fuss as the band fire straight into a classic ninety minutes of some of the most influential heavy metal music ever created. ‘Hangar 18’, ‘The Threat Is Real’ and ‘Wake Up Dead’ are just for starters. Mustaine pauses briefly to take in the adulation of the packed arena, before continuing the audio feast with ‘Conquer or Die’. There’s many a guitar face-off between Mustaine and his extraordinarily talented lead guitar wing man Kiko Laureiro, which Dave just about wins – he is the gaffer after all. As the benchmark tracks keep rolling we’re treated to some stunning images on the video backdrop that feature everything from extreme Anime and alien autopsy to the horrors of war and hyper drive wormhole travel – extraordinary indeed. It’s a full hour before Mustaine speaks, to explain that it’s better to hear music than to listen him rambling on. This is what a hall of fame career gives you – an instinct for what the people want, and tonight Megadeth deliver, over and over. The Grammy winning ‘Dystopia’, uber Megadeth standard ‘Peace Sells’ and ‘Holy Wars’ finish off a brilliant enactment and closes out Bloodstock Open Air 2017.
As Mr Mustaine tells us – it’s been another record breaking year in terms of attendance, and another supreme advert for the entire heavy metal genre. Bloodstock Open Air continues its rise apace and is becoming as much a part of English heritage as the wonderful countryside in which it’s set – Mega!
Review: Noel Fischer
Photography: Steve Johnston