Review by Chop, photos by Sean Larkin
Interviewing schedules double-checked, Sean chomping at the bit to race around like a man possessed and snap anything that moved on (any) stage, and with Paul near as damn it on main stage duties (read his review here), it freed up a certain scribe to check out a band or two on the Sophie and New Blood stages. As it transpired there were more than a few pleasant surprises throughout the day…
Main stage first though, and another chance to check out Bloodstock veterans Beholder. It would be fair to say that whilst I’ve always found them to be solid and get the crowd on side, I’ve never really been that convinced. I suspect that this could have been the performance when they finally clicked for me. Their thrash-tinged classic rock repertoire was delivered with considerable aplomb and the sizeable gathering lapped it up. Were they really on for forty minutes? Hard to believe as it absolutely rattled by. Spot the convert!
Knocked out of the Birmingham Metal To The Masses competition at the semi-final stage in 2012, Gehtika licked their wounds and re-entered this year’s contest with a new found focus. Having won a keenly fought final, now the time had arrived for them to grasp their opportunity with both hands and boy did they nail it. If Beholder’s time on stage flew by, Gehtika’s seemed to be over in minutes, such was the style and entertainment they provided in their blitzkrieg of a set. Fusing various elements of extreme metal together seamlessly, musically there were an absolute tour de force. Utterly compelling, these fellows have the ‘it’ factor by the truckload. Keep your eye on them, they could well go far. Spiffing!
Egyptian-themed or Middle Eastern extreme metal bands? Nile obviously. Melechesh. Orphaned Land. Add Cairo’s Scarab to your list – now! Making their first UK appearance they took to the Sophie stage like the proverbial duck to water. What impressed most was the depth of their compositions – simplistically death metal, but with keyboards adding a symphonic element, and vocals adding texture amongst more familiar guttural outpourings. Then add a melodic quality and a groove/swagger that many a band would kill for. Their songs have an anthemic feel, apparently even more evident on their recently completed second album, so the band gleefully informed me over the weekend. Hard to sum up just how good they were although the frenzied reaction from the packed tent gave the game away somewhat. Staggering performance fellas and a pleasure to meet you all!
Power metal doesn’t feature prominently on the favoured genres lists of Paul or myself, but a certain level of curiosity attracted me to see Avantasia. Being as objective as possible the sound quality was superb, with immense bass tones, and their catchy hook-laden set went down well with an enthralled crowd. In line with recent releases several guest vocalists were introduced during the hour and a half epic set. It’s unfair of me to comment on the music as clearly it isn’t my bag, but Tobias certainly won the crowd address of the weekend award. “It’s great to be in England, home of metal, Indian food, and lousy penalty shoot-outs! I’m a Bayern Munich fan! I’m allowed!” Inspired. Variety is the spice of life and you can’t fault the organisers for booking such a different act, or the crowd for getting so joyously involved.
Meanwhile, while all this was going on, two acts were soldiering on in the New Blood tent. Skreamer had attracted a reasonable crowd, certainly an energetic one judging by the ferocity of the pitting and the wall of death. Suitable accompaniment, it has to be said, to the power and groove that the band were dishing out. The Infernal Sea were also well supported and delivered an impressive slab of old school black metal. Especially impressive considering they were achieving this as a three piece band with vocalist, or more pertinently one guitarist. Clearly they’ve done a lot of work with their head settings and overall tunings/tone. Two bands to track down and see full sets I suspect…
With reviewing roles reversed for the final day, who would emerge to challenge the – on paper anyway – thrash metal stranglehold? Ahead of the game there were obvious candidates, but would a dark horse emerge to grab the plaudits? All will be revealed in the final day’s review and festival summary appearing here soon!