Sermon from the Priest…
Review by Emily Castles, Photos by Rich Thompson
Oh Bloodstock… Once again we are met with your glorious magnificence. We park the car in the vast field, traipse off down the familiar bumpy path and enter via the Satanic gates that we wait all year to pass through. In recent years the Bloodstock family has been spoiled rotten (or tortured – it’s out for debate) by high temperatures and blue skies. This year was noticeably more downcast. But perhaps a grey sky is more fitting; the angelic heavens turning on the demonic ritual prepared for us below.
When early risers Onslaught took to the Ronnie James Dio stage, the skies were still clear. It was around halfway through their tumultuous thrash feast that the rain began to fall and the soaking of battle vests began. Onslaught’s rugged roots stretch back to the 80s. Fast, furious and with impressive guitar solos, Sky Keeler, with his long Gandalf locks and weather-defying sunglasses, took the crowd with him down memory lane.
Bristol six-piece Mortishead last performed at Bloodstock in 2015 on the New Blood Stage, so it speaks volumes of their progress that they were able to packed out the Sophie Lancaster tent. They gave a phenomenal performance, emitting a feisty sludge and totalitarian thrash combination. ‘Luke the Bastard’ was as always finely turned out in dapper blazer and tie combo and spent regular intervals tucking in his crisp white shirt (but only the front half – perhaps lessons are required). Notably, keyboardist Nick ‘Slippers’ Luxa-Richards put on a magnificent display. He was, in contrast, wearing a fairly terrifying mask that was almost like a second skin because it barely looked like a mask. When not completely destroying the keys in front of him with a brutal ferocity, he was storming around the stage; the Bez of the metal world. It’s usually just the stage crews on the main stage who get the chance to show off their pyro wizardy but Mortishead somehow persuaded them to ignite a few bonfires in the tent as they literally turned up the heat.
Sadly, by the time Memoriam took to the Ronnie James Dio, it was completely chucking it down. Karl Willetts is not one to take the dark themes of death metal too seriously, introducing one song as a “jolly song about death” and dedicating another to the recently deceased Barry Chuckle, featuring the line “To me, To you.” That’s Brummies for you. Like Onslaught, this was old school at its best and having just released their new album, The Silent Vigil, there is seemingly no stopping these veteran performers.
Perhaps helped by the now torrential deluge, Fahran drew in a sizable crowd over at the Sophie tent. The Nottingham crew put on a good show, but were tinged with a sense of pop-punk that seemed a shade outdated.
One band offering something fresh and exciting were Pelugion, who were one of the most promising newcomers to perform on the New Blood Stage over the whole weekend. The Coventry Metal 2 the Masses winners had a small but active crowd, with singer Andy Sweeney remarking “Hey, we’re playing Bloodstock. If I don’t see even a small circle pit I’m not going to be happy.” A hard rock sound with clean and melodic vocals.
Having carried the slightly ridiculous tag of ‘supergroup’ for many years, Bloodbath at least lived up to it with a ‘super performance’. Made up of Martin Axenrot (Opeth), Anders Nystrom and Jonas Renske (Katatonia) and with Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost commanding on vocals, the Swedish/Yorkshire alliance put on a mesmerising show with notable standouts such as ‘Like Fire’ keeping the heat on in every sense.
There was a slight change in the schedule as the afternoon turned into evening. Suicidal Tendencies fell victim to transport tribulations and were delayed. Lovebites were upgraded from the Sophie stage, to fill the now vacant spot over at the Ronnie James Dio. The Tokyo outfit (and what outfits!) slightly overegged the guitar solos at times in what became a tad repetitive at times. But all was not lost as Suicidal Tendencies took to the absolutely rammed Sophie tent later in the evening. A mad, chaotic, energetic, fun set which involved a heroic crowd-surfing wheelchair-user. Only a band like Suicidal Tendencies can create this feeling of defiance and fun-loving atmosphere. It was a blessed relief that the tent pegs held up!
The rain intensified once more for Emperor. Four years ago the Norwegians celebrated their debut album In the Nightside Eclipse by performing it at Bloodstock in its entirety. This time Ihsahn and Samoth switched focus to its follow-up Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, 20 years after its release. Again the result was spectacular as the black metal legends built to a shuddering climax of ‘I am the Black Wizards’ and ‘Inno a Satana’.
Headliners on the first full day of BOA 2018 were rock veterans Judas Priest, who are now not far off their 50th anniversary. Rob Halford, West Bromwich’s finest son, went through more costume changes than a 2002 Britney Spears, stepping out in a silver fringed jacked and quickly ditching that for a full length black leather number, punctured of course by a few packets worth of silver studs. Although Priest’s wardrobe department worked to keep the tempo high the same was not always the case with Halford himself. The singer made frequent steps off the RJD stage, and not exclusively for costume changes, although at 66 years of age perhaps allowances need to be made. Despite this, Priest’s performance was a memorable one from the moment they kicked off with new track ‘Firepower‘. By the time they reached the encore they were joined by original guitarist Glenn Tipton who sadly recently announced his Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis. So with Tipton’s touring days now in the past this possibly final union with Halford was a particularly poignant one. Together they ended the set with the much-anticipated favourites, including ‘Breaking the Law’, ‘No Surrender’ and ‘Living After Midnight’. As festival finales go, this really did take some beating.