Valhalla might be the spiritual home of Vikings, but true metal warriors of the UK know that Bloodstock Open Air, bursting forth from the sleepy hills of Derbyshire, is the little black heart at the centre of the earth. As thousands of eager beavers (in clothing based on various shades of melancholy) pour from the campsites into the arena on Friday, an unexpected heatwave produces an eye-watering Jaeger-sweat in the hungover masses.
The excitement is buzzing beneath the surface in a low hum as the crowd begins to convene around the main stage for opener death metallers Malefice (4/10), who receive a fairly subdued response, probably due to the already extreme heat and early start, quickly followed by German power-metal band Freedom Call (7/10), who flail about the stage in a whirlwind of hair and great big Viking style fun. Frontman Chris Bay stutters through a quick joke “We’re very disappointed, we’re here in England and it’s not raining!” as they hurtle into namesake ‘We Are Freedom Call’, eliciting jersey shore-esque fist-pumping in the throng. Beardy metallers Grand Magus (9/10) are a mid-afternoon treat with their punchy hard rock and furious shredding, with ‘Sword of the Ocean’ and they yell a quick “England, we salute you” before dropping into ‘Valhalla Rising’.
Moonsorrow (6/10), with their bloodied faces bring gravelly screams to a new level as they compete to see who can hair whip the hardest, but they’re met with overall apathy as the day is just powerfully hot and everyone appears to be in an afternoon slump, bar the jet-black haired dedicated fan hanging over the barrier and windmilling for his life. American metallers Iced Earth (7/10) are disproportionately sweet compared to Moonsorrow, so it’s hard to take them too seriously. Luckily they’re out for a good time and are happy to provide a light-hearted set with new vocalist Stu Brock. Thrashy Sepultura (8/10) with wild lead Derrick Green, are a sweaty business as crowd surfers surge the stage, including a wiry young man dressed in a fetching floral frock who continues to mosh whilst being manhandled out of the pit. ‘Chaos AD’ and ‘Roots’ triumph as the rowdy crowd bounce with fevered abandon.
Dio Disciples (8/10), although classically brilliant and an amazing tribute to the late great Ronnie James Dio do bring down the mood a little, with former Dio guitarist Craig Goldy almost shedding tears on stage at one point. Joined by vocalists Ripper Owens (of Judas Priest and Iced Earth fame) and Toby Jepson (Little Angels) as well as James LoMenzo (bassist of Megadeth and Black Label Society) it’s a trip down memory lane (especially opener, ‘Holy Diver’) as well as a superband mash-up, but it definitely puts a bit of a dampener on Sepultura’s buzz. Security and media staff are seen donning ponchos, surgical gloves and waterproofs at the warning of ‘gore’ for Watain (6/10), but it’s a pitiful couple of cupfuls of pig’s blood that actually meet the crowd. They’ve got nothing on Gwar, real or not. The rest of the show is moody and dark, featuring a stage set overburdened with things on fire, inverted crosses and the typical macabre makeup a la Eric Draven in The Crow, but they fall into the samey category so easily that those on the fringe begin to look bored a couple of songs in. Over on the Sophie Lancaster stage, headliner Alcest (7/10) switch confusingly between soft melodic metal and thrash, and due to being on at the same time as Watain, appear to lose half their crowd halfway through.
Main stage headliners Behemoth (7/10), are here with a vengeance after having to pull out of their 2010 BOA appearance due to frontman Nergal’s Leukaemia diagnosis. Pyrotechnics herald ‘Fire & Void’ and the stage is set with their custom python mic stands. This might not be the most raucous crowd BOA has ever seen but everyone seems to be truly appreciative of ‘Christians To The Lions’ and ‘Conquer All’, saluting Behemoth for returning triumphantly.
Saturday sees the sunny weather continue, as crimson-faced metallers arrive for another day of moshing, and Taiwanese Chthonic raise a few male pulses with pint-sized gothic bassist Doris Yeh and an interesting mix of traditional music from their country over black, riff-heavy metal. Crowbar (7/10) provide no nonsense riffage, where Mayhem (4/10) create puzzlement. Bewildered arena goers pull faces of distaste as frontman Attila plays with a bit of plastic skull and screams nonsense into a bloody bone styled microphone. Over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, Norwegian export Winterfylleth (6/10) play new track ‘Parade of Light’ and later a packed out tent sees headliners Orange Goblin (8/10) soar through trademark headbanging beats mixed with a tint of blues to ecstatic applause.
Sanctuary (7/10) put the world to rights with their brand of powerful American heavy metal, sun-glinting mirrored aviators and Bruce Dickinson-esque high notes. Hatebreed (8/10) play a blinder to a pretty huge crowd with the likes of ‘Diehard’ and ‘You Bleed Now’ getting a great reception, yelling “Anyone standing still on this next one, give them a little Bloodstock motivation…” for hugely popular ‘Live For This’.
Testament (8/10) certainly know how to whip a crowd into a frenzy, with crowd-surfers galore and raw thrashy goodness, but it’s Machine Head’s (9/10) 20th Anniversary show that brings about a giant circle pit and more hair windmilling than an 80’s throwback band. ‘Imperium’, ‘No More Lies’, ‘Halo’ and ‘Davidian’ almost cause the arena roar to pass the decibel limit on the festival and they deftly put paid to any forum bitching that went on beforehand.
The final day begins a bit of a grey affair, but only a few drops of rain manage to dampen BOA 2012 as fans at the front embrace Nile (7/10) and Black Dhalia Murder (7/10) who soundcheck by requesting “Chips with cheese and gravy” before thrashing out ‘Necropolis’ and shouting the unfortunate “It’s fist o’clock” to a sniggering crowd. Huddersfield lads Evile (7/10) seem to be having a lovely time and joke around between songs, and Canadian crazies Anvil (8/10) are pure comedy genius. Beyond the fact that they’re basically caricatures of themselves and a bit of a Spinal Tap type giggle, they are actually pretty good and Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow’s maniacal face pulling is enough to make anyone smile.
Yorkshire band Paradise Lost (7/10) blast ‘Honesty In Death’ and ‘Pity The Sadness’ but it’s Norwegian black metallers Dimmu Borgir (8/10) who are the most surprising act of the day, bringing melody and breathtaking harmonies to what could have been a bit of a comedic performance. Behind the standard black metal makeup (painted faces, battered leather, fringing) there lies a well arranged package of complex symphonies and it speaks to more than the standard screamer crowd.
Despite the cornucopia of incredible bands on this year’s BOA bill, none tick the wishlist box more than Sunday headliner and demi-god Alice Cooper (9/10). The man knows how to work his way round a pair of leather trousers and still has an amazing voice regardless of his decades of performances. The show is perfectly rehearsed and more like theatre than a rock concert, but maybe this is what’s missing from a lot of current bands – we like a little sparkle on our cupcakes, and sparkle is Alice’s forte. Giant confetti cannons, multiple costume changes, a live snake and a playlist overflowing with hits such as ‘Poison’, ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ and ‘Hey Stupid’ as well as closing with style in a mirrored tophat and tails for ‘School’s Out’ and ‘I Wanna Be Elected’. Seeing Cooper finish up brandishing a huge Union flag only fuels the crowd’s enamour of him and it’s clear he’s stolen the show for many in the arena tonight. Thrashers, power fans, pure metal heads and rockers alike can’t help but join in with the legend that is Alice.
Bloodstock gets to pat itself on the back tonight for a weekend well organised, it’s hard to balance a bill with such stringently defined sub-genres as there are with in the ‘Metal’ bracket, but they’ve managed to pull it off successfully. What with the most favourable weather of the whole festival season and some cracking entertainment, we sincerely doubt anyone is going home disappointed. See you in the mosh pit for Anthrax next year…
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