Review by Paul & Emily Castles, photos by Sean Larkin
It’s the outdoor festival of the year for extreme metal fans. Joining the 12,000 disciples at Catton Hall Park to report on the opening day of Bloodstock Open Air 2014 were Paul Castles and his daughter Emily.
‘The metal family’ is a touching term of endearment that you hear warmly bandied about like a fluffy pillow at Bloodstock as old friends and bands reunite at Catton Park for three days of the finest and most furious extreme metal sounds. However, it wouldn’t be metal without at least one grumpy git and after a set plagued with technical problems that role did not have to be offered twice to Shagrath. “If these people weren’t so incompetent….” the Dimmu Borgir frontman growled like a bear with a sore head.
After the Norwegians’ set was delayed for around half-an-hour even the trademark deathly white corpse paint could not fail to conceal the anger bubbling beneath the surface. For a band whose entire set is dependent upon creating a gothic atmosphere in which to deliver their deeply dark satanic performances, the delay inevitably took the gloss off their customarily apocalyptic performance.
As they eventually took to the stage, opening with ‘Allegiance’, the faithful were greeted by a deafening thunderburst of explosions and raining fire, almost offered by way of compensation for the frustrating delays. The ensuing spectacle though was worth the wait, the patient fans devouring the nightmarish metal from these Scandinavian warlords despite a setlist shortened by at least a couple of songs.
Fellow bleak black metallers Winterfylleth were also briefly victims of technical teething problems on the Sophie Lancaster Stage although likeable frontman Chris Naughton seemed to take it on the chin in comparison to Shagrath – arguably a testament to British optimism triumphing over Norwegian barbarism.
The northern crusaders never fail to hit the heights live and the crowd were also treated to the title track from the band’s superb new album The Division of Antiquity.
Despite these technical hitches, the opening day of Bloodstock 2014 more than lived up to expectations, starting while croissant crumbs were still wrestling with beards as Rotherham dwellers Goat Leaf set cloven hoofs stomping on the New Blood Stage.
Although by no means among the heaviest bands of the festival, Goat Leaf were able to combine tuneful riffs with grunge-inspired vocals to conjure up a sound appealing to both metalheads and those who prefer their medicine with a softening sweetener, especially so early in the day.
Londoners Gurt offered a similar level of accessibility over at the Sophie Lancaster Stage, albeit with a heavier and more thickly sludge-influenced sound. With slow, heavily distorted guitars and raspy, growling vocals, Gurt proved one of the more unique bands on show, living up to the reputation of absurdity gained though their videos.
There was certainly a fair crowd for Gurt, perhaps boosted by those who had seen them supporting Dopethrone on the Canadians’ recent visit.
The Sophie Lancaster stage also hosted Krokodil who pulled in a crowd of younger metalheads who were keen to show their support.
Deals Death from Gothenburg followed a few hours later, man mountain singer, Olle Ekman’s, huge and fearful stature, magnifying the death metal delivery.
However, perhaps one of the most impressive death metal ensembles of the day was Abhorrent Decimation over on the New Blood stage, who although performing before a small crowd, delivered one of the most brutal sets of the day. ‘Not bad for a bunch of posh boys from Brighton,’ as the lead singer joked.
The best of the ‘New Blood’ wasn’t always to be found on the New Blood stage. Formed in 2012 and having only been performing as a full band from March of this year, progressive metal band Oakhaart, from Gloucestershire, gave those gathered under the Sophie tent a highly entertaining half-hour or so.
The hardcore heavyweights of the day on the main Ronnie James Dio platform came in the shape of the crushing Connecticut crew Hatebreed, with Jamey Jasta sending the eagerly anticipated ferocity levels soaring skywards.
Hatebreed completely owned Bloodstock for the best part of an hour with familiar refrains such as ‘Live For This’ sending circle pits spiraling like mad dervishes, before finally stomping off to the rabid cries of ‘Destroy Everything’.
Also appearing on the RJD, and shattering the speakers with some seriously tuned down guitar and bass, was Tom G Warrior and his trademark woolly hat, who brought a deadly dose of doom to the festival with the titanic Triptykon.
The quartet really are riding high at the moment on the back of their remarkable new album Melana Chasmata and while some new material was aired, Tom was also happy to look back over his shoulder with some old Celtic Frost material. This certainly won approval from the gods as the heavens opened for a timely downpour – the first of the festival.
Finally, as the dark of the night began to descend over the sprawling Catton Park, sporting a Discharge t-shirt by way of saluting his punk heritage and influence, Phil Anselmo entered with the mighty Down – Friday’s headliners on the Ronnie James Dio Stage.
Down proceeded to deliver something approaching a greatest hits set with ‘Eyes of the South’ immediately setting the party in full swing. Arguably with more range and variety in their sound, Anselmo was in relaxed mood, talking of Down’s ‘unique roots’, whilst equally making reference to his former band Pantera through emotive dedications to the legendary Dimebag Darrell and a brief, but much welcomed and appreciated, rendition of the immortal ‘Walk.’
Swigging from a wine bottle as opposed to the more accustomed plastic cup of the cheapest possible ale, Anselmo as ever proved a humorous and charismatic performer, growling “Shut up!” when the crowd started to roar its approval. “This ain’t no Motley Crue concert!” he barked, although there really was no need!
With songs such as ‘Witchtripper’ and ‘Stone the Crow’ Down more than lived up to expectations as the NOLA vibe embraced Bloodstock, warming its collective heart, as the night air started to descend. By the time they bowed out with the completely compelling anthem ‘Bury me in Smoke’ the crowd were just about done – although with enough energy still racing through their bodies to face two more days of action.