Review: Emily Castles Photos: Rich Thompson
Winterfylleth open the main Ronnie James Dio Stage on Day 2 of Bloodstock 2017 and with a sizeable crowd of early risers there to greet them. The northerners are celebrating their tenth anniversary with a forthcoming UK tour. One of just a handful of black metal bands to perform this year, Winterfylleth delivered a brutal brew of melodic sorrow and ferocious aggression all superbly wrapped in a powerful parcel of paganism.
Releasing their 15th studio album in 2015 in Suicide Society, Canadian thrasher’s Annihilator are fast approaching veteran status, and many old-schoolers rocked up to the Ronnie James Dio Stage to begin their trip down nostalgia lane (with the equally esteemed axe agents Kreator billed later on in the day). Riled up over a toxic cocktail of politics and racism, Annihilator used the 150th anniversary of Canadian independence to add a dash of fuel and a whole lotta’ fury to their live performance, climaxing with the shuddering double header of ‘Phantasmagoria’ and the raging ‘Human Insecticide’.
Over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, Birmingham’s rapidly emerging outfit Kroh were a highly anticipated act and pulled in a sizeable crowd. Fronted by the enchanting Oliwia Sobieszek, Kroh are the relatively new brainchild of Paul Kenney, the founding father of Fukpig and known to many through his association with both Mischief and Anaal Nathrakh. Kroh offer up a heavy doom tablet scorched with a pummeling guitar groove. Sobieszek’s intoxicating dance moves helped shaped the set as assuredly as a witch casting hypnotizing spells as the layers of doom reached out across the tent during ‘Feed The Brain’ before turning the taps on max for ‘Living Water’.
Londoners Abhorrent Decimation provided an altogether more aggressive aural assault course, turning the Sophie tent into a hothouse of bludgeoning death metal and cracking skulls with tumultuous tracks from new album The Pardoner.
The highlight on the Sophie Stage for many were Ohhms. With a heavy, distorted intensely psychedelic sound, for those able to tear their eyes away from the stage during their set, the tent was filled to the brim with a crowd of zombie-like faces. Trance-like, completely captivated by the addictive sound of the Canterbury crew, metalheads exchanged the wall of death for the demonic swaying that is compulsory when listening to such heavy riffage. Formed in 2014 , the band’s debut album The Fool provided the bulk of Ohhms’ pugnacious performance with one new number thrown in for good measure. While enigmatic frontman Paul Waller is an extraordinarily emotive singer for once even he was upstaged by the limb twisting guitarist Chainy Rabbit who ended the set flat on his back, being passed over the heads of the crowd while still strumming like Lucifer.
For those willing to tear themselves away from the Sophie Lancaster and the Ronnie James Dio stages, one band that impressed over on the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage were Sheffield boys Ba’al. A band fresh from the Satanic womb, having only formed last year, Ba’al combined sludge and black metal to create an powerful concoction of progressive metal. These are one to watch.
Municipal Waste undoubtedly brought together the wildest crowd of the entire weekend. The brash Americans are fast, they are angry, they are fun, and they induce the most ferocious of mosh pits. With a picture of Donald Trump being gunned down plastered across their drum kit and all of their merchandise, the band are certainly political and thought-provoking, but also a great deal of fun. The band boast of holding the world record for the highest number of crowd-surfers during a single song. They challenged the faithful to surpass the previous number and duly succeeded as a mind-blowing 532 crowd-surfers spilled over the barriers into the overworked arms of the horrified and unwitting Ronnie James Dio Stage security. One photographer shooting from a platform at stage level could not contain her incredulity, looking over at the crowd, mouthing disbelievingly “WHAT?!”
Kreator were another much anticipated bunch, with many Bloodstockers walking around with ‘Satan is real’ plastered across their backs. The Germans are legends in the eyes of many, but their storming performance revealed that they are not a band preoccupied by the past. Fans were treated to a red confetti explosion, an eyebrow endangering pyro display, as well as silver and white strips dropping from the sky, wrapping fans together as the material proved brutally unbreakable to make this a bonding experience in every sense. Indeed, it even became a memento for many as fans were seen collecting the stuff hours after their set had finished.
Ghost closed the Ronnie James Dio, and hell, did they do it in a spectacular fashion. Known for their exuberant performances, the stage show of Papa Emeritus III and his Nameless Ghouls is viewed widely as a ritualistic passage into the band. Papa’s deathly appearance may be in keeping with Scandi black metal theatricality, but musically Ghost could not be further away. The band embarked on the stage to the instantly recognisable riff of ‘Squarehammer’. Catchy, addictive and inescapable, it’s almost reminiscent of early ’70s metal and Sabbath-esque hard rock.
Ghost are unusual and surprising, a joy to behold. Papa Emeritus III is captivating, and commands attention throughout. As he struts up and down the stage, swirling his hands with prestige and dominance, glaring with psychedelic authority, the captivated crowd is truly placed under his wonderful spell. The metaphorical ritual was, on this night realised, with the band unleashing nuns – or ‘sisters of sin’ – into the crowds to hand out wine and biscuits. Fans fought their way to the front to take part in the most melodic and the most satanic of rituals. With three studio albums under their belt, Ghost delivered hit after hit, with ‘Cirice’, ‘Year Zero’ and the concluding ‘Monstrance Clock’, in which a children’s choir accompanied the Swedes, being particularly memorable. Ain’t no ritual like a Papa Emeritus ritual!