Review by Paul and Emily Castles, Photos by Sean Larkin
Any unsuspecting observers strolling up to the Ronnie James Dio Stage on the Saturday morning of Bloodstock, while many of the previous night’s drunken party animals were still nursing sore heads in their threadbare tents, one could be forgiven for mistaking early risers Shining for a 90s boy band.
In matching black smart attire with neatly gelled-back hair, Shining adopted a kind of Westlife-at-a-funeral appearance. An unusual looking bunch, and not just for Bloodstock. The Norwegians fused metal and jazz elements through the addition of a saxophone and keyboard to create an electro buzz. Their set offered something different to the familiar distorted growls that normally cascade down from the main stage. While happy to navigate their own waters rather than follow like lemmings, Shining pack a pretty mean punch with their incessantly destructive sound gradually pulling more and more punters to check them out.
Another distinctive act who were much anticipated and very well-received was Israeli progressive metal group Orphaned Land. The metal world is no stranger to tales of death and destruction. However, Orphaned Land’s carefully woven stories are not mere figments of the imagination. When such a heavily politicised and thought provoking band such as this emerges, fans are instantly drawn into their world.
Opening with the title track of their acclaimed All is One album, Kobi Farhi was instantly taken into the hearts of the crowd with his endearing personality, passion and honesty. With some spine tingling songs the sense of emotion was heightened by the recognition of the conflict burning more fiercely than ever in the Middle East. But while Kobi draws from his experiences of living in Israel he does not use the privilege of the platform to rant and preach. In fact, taking time to reflect on Orphaned Land’s deserved recent joint success with Palestinian band Khalas at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods Awards, the frontman joked: “The only conflict we have is over who will pay for the beer.”
Among numerous highlights in one of the sets of the festival was the impassioned ‘Brother’ which he dedicated to Khalas. Kobi’s charisma and inciteful performance was reminiscent in many ways of Serj Tankian; even his finest Bhangra moves giving the SOAD man a run for his money!
Bringing us a little closer to home were northern medievalists Old Corpse Road. Their strength and inspiration is drawn from history as opposed to politics and their set in the Sophie tent was of epic theatrical proportions inspired by literary giants such as King Arthur or Robin Hood… but with guitars instead of swords, obviously.
Indeed, when all the members sang together the parallel to the merry men of Sherwood Forest was uncanny and spectacular!
However, there was nothing quite so humorous on the agenda when Polish juggernaut Decapitated treated those in front of the RJD to some punishingly brutal death metal. Attracting one of the biggest crowds of the weekend (or at the very least the highest amount of crowd surfers!) they opened with the mighty ‘Lying and Week’. Frontman Rasta’s level of commitment was hypnotizing, with his ferocious head spinning sending his foot long dreads cartwheeling like a windmill in the face of a tornado. This was mirrored by a circle pit that seemed to gather in numbers throughout their stupendous set.
NOLA legends Crowbar were another to command the RJD delivering a tankerload of the heaviest sludge and doom of the day. Legendary vocalist Kirk Windstein, with his impressive greying beard made reference to their ‘unique’ quality during the middle of their set, echoing the words of their New Orleans counterparts Down, headliners of the night before. Having spent over 25 years together, Crowbar are now the stuff of metal folklore, proving that experience is everything while their pounding performance underlines that Capt Kirk is as fierce and fresh as ever.
Following the likes of Crowbar and Decapitated onto the RJD takes some doing but there was never any question that Carcass would be up for the job. Many metalheads would have been happy to see the men from the Mersey headline which is testament to how their profile is now bigger than at any time during their 30-year history.
Taking the stage to the now familiar strains of 1985, the intro to the brilliant Surgical Steel album Carcass launched themselves into ‘Buried Dreams’ from the 21-year old album Heartwork before thrashing their way through the ‘Cadavar Pouch Conveyor System’ from Surgical Steel. Self-deprecating singer Bill Steel may have referred to Carcass as “old timers” but no-one was being kidded. Carcass have never been as vital or as venomous.
While Catton Park can occasionally feel like a male only domain there was some female-fronted performances to report on, none better than Sweden’s Sister Sin. After touring with Arch Enemy several years ago, the band earned a small and dedicated fan base. Their performance on the Sophie stage was fuelled by the erratic pacing and fist pumping of singer Liv Jagrell who did her bit to level the scales in the battle of the sexes with a bold brand of old school metal.
Over on the New Blood stage, south coast dual-fronted symphonic crew Metaprism did not quite match Sister Sin’s performance. Supported by a bed of heavy riffs and guitar solos, Theresa Smith’s vocals were at times swallowed up by the distortion.
After dissolving in 2001, reuniting in 2005 for three years, and reuniting once again this year to perform at select festivals across Europe, the appearance of Norwegian legends Emperor was always going to cause a stir.
With scraped back hair and Buddy Holly glasses, frontman Ihsahn proved eyeliner is not obligatory to be hailed a black metal God. Performing their imperious debut album In the Nightside Eclipse in its momentous entirety, the Norwegians’ set was much anticipated as possibly one of their last ever live shows.
‘Into the Infinity of Thoughts’ had the years rolling back with its searing riffs and manic barked vocals. For many who thought the chance of ever seeing Emperor perform had long since gone the next hour or so was to be treasured with dark classics such as ‘Towards the Pantheon’ ripped through the night air.
Emperor’s climactic and cathartic set ended not with one of their own numbers but Bathory’s ‘A Fine Day to Die’ bringing the curtain down on Day 2 of Bloodstock in mesmerising fashion.