Bloodstock Open Air 2008

Catton Hall, Derbyshire. 15-17 August

Bloodstock Open Air 2008: Napalm Death. Still alive

Napalm Death. Still alive

Photographer: Kate Anderson 19 August 2008

Napalm Death brought their unique blend of joy, Nightwish brought the candles and even At The Gates accepted an invitation of a rare jaunt across Europe... So who decided alcohol was the enemy?

The ever growing three-day rock and metal giant finally had mother nature on its side with downpours being timed for late night revellers only. Thousands piled into their nylon homes for the weekend to break an attendance record for the event and the diverse line-up proved the doubters wrong as festival bosses came good with more mainstream metalcore choices attracting sizable followings. But the bitter taste left in many of the attendees' mouths certainly wasn't from a hang-over - well unless they were rich, stupid or both.

While the campsite banter should've have been about Kataklysm being better than Iced Earth or why hardcore dancing should never be witnessed in a muddy field by adults again, too many metallers were busy protecting their ONE CASE of ale allowed into the campsite ALL WEEKEND by security, or fearing the thought of selling valuables to afford one more brew at almost £4 a pop inside the arena.

However, if BOA proved one thing, it was that maybe you don't need to be drunk to celebrate...

SATURDAY

EVIL SCARECROW open Saturday's main stage with tongues firmly in corpse-painted cheeks, serving up Cradle of Filth -inspired metal with a huge helping of fun. Never again will Bloodstock see as much synchronised robot-dancing as it does on "Robototron", and the band keep smiles on our faces with witty banter between cuts from "Crowcifiction" and "Hell Dog".

RISE TO REMAIN whip up possibly the earliest circle pit in metal history, with mud-soaked moshers spinning around even before lunch. With an aggressive Killswitch Engage style of modern metal, their announcement wasn't a popular one with the Bloodstock faithful but over the course of their short set they more than win over an army of doubters.

CLOUDSCAPE's doomy intro deceives, with simple-sounding power metal following their initial promise. An uninspired set with poor sound and microphone problems makes for a sparse crowd, and it's left to the few barrier-huggers to keep the art of headbanging alive and kicking throughout the half-hour.

Billed as the "New Wave of Folk Metal", ELUVEITIE compliment their metal with such rock n roll instruments as the hurdygurdy, gaita, fiddle and mandola. In the most diverse lineup in the festival's history, songs like "Inis Mona" make Eluveitie the most typical Bloodstock band of the day so far, and the hair-swishing hordes lap it up with horns.

Heavier than a sack of bricks, Finns SWALLOW THE SUN ply their death-doom trade with neck-achingly good riffs. Ever more evident is the fact that the sound man enjoys a drink, but the poor quality noise coming from the amps doesn't taint what is obviously a really great performance. Their songs ring with pain, Mikko Kotamäki's bitter vocals awesome under a dull grey sky.

Fellow Finns MOONSORROW keep things nice and cheery with progressive black metal, songs such as "Ukkosenjumalan", "Pakanajuhla" and "Unohduksen Lapsi" (try saying that after a few pints) sounding truly epic. Snippets from experimental new album "Viides luku - Hävitetty" are aired to great fist-raised reception.

NAPALM DEATH treat fans to the best of 27 years, with everything from new tracks to choices from seminal "Scum". Frontman Barney Greenway looks like he's simultaneously trying to swat a wasp, chew a toffee and pick up change as he "dances" around stage, the grind legends clearly still every bit as deranged as their moshing fans as they tear through painful track after painful track. It feels like far more than 12 rounds by the time someone finally calls time on the mosh pit
no-rules boxing.

SOILWORK's booking caused grumbles with the Bloodstock elite, but if the band know that then they certainly don't care – their set is top-notch by their own oft-poor standards, the sounds of Swedish melodic death pummelling the massive crowd that's gathered to see what the fuss is about. Björn "Speed" Strid barks his way through the set like a police dog in a drugs raid, laying down the gauntlet for Iced Earth and Dimmu Borgir to finish the day in style.

The returning Matt Barlow leads ICED EARTH through a set with everything you could want from them – more powerful than a French cheese shop with not an ounce of shame. The crowd has changed considerably since Napalm Death and Soilwork, so a sea of leather and denim greets the US power kings as they take us through epic songs from their 17 year history.

Like a power-tinged black metal cherry, Dimmu Borgir top off the day in style. There couldn't be more Dimmu merch in the crowd if they had started throwing out t-shirts, as a mob of fans appear to scream back Shagrath's lyrics. Looking every bit like a goth-invaded Bondi Beach, the wave of crowd-surfing makes sure that the unimpressed security learn their pay cheques as highlights like "The Serpentine Offering" ring out.

SUNDAY

"True Scottish Pirate Metal", i.e. ALESTORM, sounds like a great idea but you'd be surprised. This turgid folk/power metal would be better suited to a tent than the main stage, and it falls flat on all but the ears of those jigging at the front – and frankly if you're dancing around whilst dressed as a pirate your opinion shouldn't count for anything.

GRAND MAGUS are a let-down from the second Janne "JB" Christoffersson's starts singing, the cheesy vocals over stoner-doom metal riffs losing appeal to all but the power-metal lovers. While musically songs like "Silver Into Steel" land on your ears like an 18-wheeler, the vocals are a flat and simple disappointment.

MOB RULES take the next stab at playing the first great set of Sunday, and fail. The announcer tells us this is their first time in "The homeland of metal!" but frankly it's a shame they didn't miss their flight from Germany. The moon, shadows, gods – the singer ticks them all – and we never want for keyboard solos.

KATAKLYSM arrive from that legendary metal paradise that is, err, Canada and show us all how it's done. Simple death metal anthems that brew the crowd to boiling point in a moshing, circle-pitting, mass-chanting frenzy. 'Revenge… is a meal best served cold' sends us in to "Like Angels Weeping The Dark" and we beat shit out of each
other like the greatest mass vengeance ever witnessed.

Ever-controversial as only a Christian metal band can be, AS I LAY DYING are the band with most to answer to. The fans who don't simply leave after Kataklysm hang around looking umimpressed – regardless, their metalcore is passionate and professional if not amazingly original. From whence they came no-one quite knows, but hardcore dancers do appear briefly until slapped back into hiding by angry moshers.

American thrash and groove legends OVERKILL are shown the welcome of royalty during their dozen-track set, an older crowd limbering up before hitting the massive pit. As finishers go, the trio of "Old School", "Elimination" and "Fuck You" proves stunning and solidifies Overkill as a highlight of the day.

The chance to see AT THE GATES is shunned by no-one as the biggest crowd of the weekend fights for room to see "Blinded By Fear". Tomas Lindberg's mid-song chat is limited to thank yous and rallying cries to encourage further violence and waves of surfing. With amazing renditions of most of "Slaughter of the Soul", the only disappointment is the exclusion of older material – but there's no doubt that with Tomas and co. firing on all cylinders, this is the finest set of the weekend.

With new singer Anette Olzon in tow, Nightwish are ready to finish the show in style. The crowd shrinks slightly as ATG fans return to tents to polish off the remainder of their crates but this is an impressive performance punctuated with classics like "Dark Chest of Wonder", "The Siren" and later, "Wishmaster" and "Nemo". The opera-metal band sound more rock than ever before with the awesome Anette at the helm, and their stunning rendition of "Wish I Had An Angel" is the perfect way to wrap up Bloodstock Festival.

by Graeme Johnstone

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