Review by Emily Castles
Photos by Sean Larkin, Rob Stanley & Tony Gaskin
The second day of this year’s Bloodstock Open Air festival again began with barbecue weather. In exchange for bare chests, today the fans opted for t-shirts in an attempt to cover up their drumstick-lolly arms.
The queue for the Kraken ice cream was just as long despite the regular ice-cream vans still failing to draw customers in; who wants normal ice cream when you can have it metal?
One of the first bands to take to the Sophie Lancaster Stage were Mage. A mix-match of experienced musicians from various bands of various sounds, Mage are hard to define but arguably lie somewhere in between doom and stoner metal with plenty of energetic riffage. Despite sadly losing guitarist Ben Aucott last year, Mage have carried on gallantly and impressively. The Leicester lads remembered Ben in their poignant set and did him proud.
Across at the Ronnie James Dio Stage, Gregor Mackintosh’s Vallenfyre earned points for starting the slowest mosh pit of the festival. As opposed to the usual raucous wrestling matches, the slow and droning delivery of Vallenfyre meant fans instead found themselves taking a casual stroll around the mosh. And it was brilliant. A nod to old school death metal, Mackintosh often introduced songs such as ‘Desecration’ in a few caustic words, at one point snarling ‘this one’s about chavs!” Vallenfyre proved as bleak and brutal as the cool Bloodstock stall that sells animal skulls.
Back performing on the Sophie stage were Vodun. Think neon paint, African drums, and the female equivalent of Benji from Skindred. It was odd and relatively entertaining. It was certainly an energetic performance, but perhaps may only have appealed to those who like their metal tribal and slightly off kilter.
However, soon after this the magnificent Rotting Christ took to the Ronnie James Dio Stage to one of the biggest crowds of the festival. They instigated the biggest pits, the most fist pumps and arguably the most ferocious fans. These metalheads were not crowd surfing just for fun, they were surfing towards the Greek Gods themselves.
Forming in 1987, Rotting Christ were not only one of the early forefathers of black metal but one of the first metal bands to arise from the home of Hades himself. Twelve albums later, Rotting Christ are now one of the biggest names on the circuit and their performance didn’t disappoint. With songs such as ‘Ze nigmar’ and ‘The Sign of Evil Existence’, Rotting Christ sent every metalhead into a spin with a swirling haze of brutality straight from Hades’ pits of hell.
Unfortunately, Canterbury’s Famyne were forced to battle with the Greek giants resulting in a rather pitiful crowd at the New Blood Stage. However, it was clear that they already had a dedicated following after the release of their self-titled EP. The band were extremely narrative and each song told a distinct tale; think The Story Makers, but the doom version with lots of great riffs. It was doom at its rawest, with each note ringing slow and heavy.
One band who certainly didn’t struggle with drawing in the crowds were Midlands quartet Conjurer whose set commenced just as Rotting Christ were finishing, seemingly pulling in every sweaty body which hadn’t been mangled in the ferocious pits in front of the main stage.
With unheard of numbers, the New Blood Stage didn’t know what hit it as eager metalheads tried to push their way inside the tent. It was a free for all; trying to squeeze in to watch Conjurer was treated with similar necessity and fervour as commuters trying to squeeze onto the last train of the night. Brutal.
And of course the hardcore Brummies’ didn’t disappoint. With their debut EP ‘I’ well received a few months ago, Conjurer produced a merciless set which blew the faces of those that narrowly survived Rotting Christ. Little did they know, Conjurer were going to be just as killer.
Back on the main stage, French favourites Gojira surfaced to perform to the masses. It was clear that this was a highlight for many with a bigger crowd than many past headliners. With an awe-inspiring pyro show and a giant inflatable shark swimming through the crowds, it was a memorable performance from start to finish. With the recent release of new album Magma, 20 years on since they formed Gojira, their always atmospheric soundscape and stop-start riffage proved as unique and original as ever.
Saturday headliners Mastodon were equally as anticipated although arguably failed to bring in the crowds to quite the same extent as Gojira. Much changed and evolved from their earlier albums, many old Mastodon fans may have been surprised by their performance. The white leather-fringe jacket was more a nod to Motely Crue than to their all-black attire that was a familiar sight in their younger years.
That’s not to say their levels of musicianship are not top drawer, with some compelling time changes and shift in moods, although the greatest reception was inevitably reserved for early favourites such as ‘Crystal Skull’ while the closing tones of the likes of ‘Blood and Thunder’ remind us why we all fell in love with them all those years ago.
A View From The Pit – Tony Gaskin
It was an early start yet again on the Saturday as Northampton’s latest metal export Black Ink Sun took to the New Blood Stage at the un-godly hour of 10.30. There has been plenty of chatter about this young band and despite the tortuously early start, the tent had a good sized crowd eager to see what all the fuss was about. And they didn’t disappoint.
Their furiously frenetic style of blackened death metal got those juices flowing and the hangover haze was soon forgotten. Front man Jamie Barker has great stage presence and is obviously loving every second of it. Tracks taken from their latest EP Take The Fall are the back bone of this set and show a maturity that has set them up to move on to the next level. One of the stand out bands on the NBS this weekend and definitely ones to watch out for.
Next up for me were a band with one of the stand out names of the weekend – Ten Ton Slug!
Part of the Irish contingent, this lively bunch entertained us to a bouncy set of groove laden sludge. Again a decent sized crowd had descended on the NBS, thanks mainly in part to the Slugs making sure every single one of the 20,000 or so metal heads knew about them!! Not the heaviest of bands playing this weekend, but not far off. They have more groove than Garganjua and less venom than Conjurer so fit nicely into that niche between the extremes.
Continuing the more doomy vibe of the day were Heriot. This trio from the borderlands of the West Country certainly flatter to deceive. Looking fairly meek as they walk onto the New Blood Stage, they unleash a bludgeoning array of grimy doom riffs that are up there with the heaviest of the weekend.
Taking their cue from the likes of Conan, the vocals are sparse and sporadic, almost a side dressing to the main course of sludge and hardcore. Try and imagine a Helmet 7 inch played back at 33rpm (vinyl is cool again isn’t it?) Some might think it a bit repetitive, but the faster, hardcore style sections help to break up the monotony for me. Check ‘em out.
Now if the slow pace of the sludgy doom was not your thing then next up on the New Blood Stage were a true old school Hardcore outfit.
Vendetta UKHC do not hold back, they do not pull their punches. Vendetta UKHC do exactly what it says on the tin. M2TM competitions up and down the land are opening our eyes to bands such as this, underlining the fact that our provincial towns can produce top quality metal bands to match any found in the big cities.
Unlike our previous band, Vendetta UKHC from Peterborough do not flatter to deceive. Straight from the get go you know that as the band strides onto the New Blood Stage you’d better hold onto your hat. Straight up, brutal HC is the order of the day. Frontman Adam C has the confident swagger of a man who has been there/done that. His rapid fire vocals are full of venom and fire, and combined with the blistering guitars and pounding drum & bass sections you can feel your blood rising. In my opinion, the UK Hardcore scene has been overwhelmed somewhat in recent years by the influence of a much watered down post-hardcore scene imported from across the pond, but there is a revival and it’s definitely good to see that it’s getting recognised through events such as M2TM and Bloodstock.
I did catch some of Famyne‘s set and all of Conjurer‘s and to be honest can’t add much more to what Emily said in her piece, apart from the fact that I would advise any young band starting out to check out Conjurer. Read/listen to any of their interviews and go see them live. One of the best bands of the last 12 months to me and their progression has been a text book lesson on how to do things the right way.
My next band on the NBS were Regulus. If you weren’t a fan of Doom/Stoner style rock and metal then today would have been an education for you. Some of the best unsigned bands in those genres were gracing this stage over the weekend with a big chunk of them today. These were another of my finds of the weekend. Big chuggy riffs and hypnotic stoner grooves gave my flagging body a much needed early evening boost. Their songs have a seductive catchy flow to them, bringing to mind the similar feel you get at a Clutch show.
My last foray into the pit for Saturday was for The Face Of Ruin, my home town boys and winners of the Birmingham M2TM, which we all agree is the most important as its the birth place of metal, right? Only joking, but tongue in cheek it may be, we’ve certainly had a habit of giving Simon Hall a major headache when it comes to choosing bands from the Birmingham 6. This year he was swayed by the fast, energetic brand of death metal that these young lads produce and not only that you can feel the energy exploding from them on stage.
Front man Alex Mumford has a permanent grin on his face and this high octane, fun approach is infectious. But don’t let this fool you, there may be a jovial side to this band but they play killer shreds and blistering blast beats. The skill and technique on display are of the highest order, and this along with their almost innocent demeanour is like a breath of fresh air. I may be a teeny bit biased, but definitely a band to stick on the “ones to watch” list.
Check out all our band photos from Saturday below, or CLICK HERE to view all our photos from across the weekend