Bloodstock is the biggest dedicated metal music festival in the British Isles (no, Download doesn’t count), capable of offering top level headliners, such as 2012’s Alice Cooper and Machine Head. This year brought more massive acts; metal legends Slayer and King Diamond, as well as Lamb of God. Predictably, all of the headline acts put in fantastic performances, with King Diamond busting out some Mercyful Fate material and Slayer whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a great show (though one tinged with sadness at the death of Jeff Hanneman earlier this year).
However, this year’s Bloodstock did not run quite as smoothly as expected, with a smattering of technical difficulties across the weekend. Firewind and Sabaton were significantly curtailed. Firewind had an irritating microphone problem which marred their entire set, which was otherwise fantastic. Sabaton’s problems were even worse, with at least half of their stage time filled with troubleshooting. Thankfully, Joakim Brodén’s showmanship and charisma (and gifts of beer) kept the crowd’s good spirits alive until they were able to play, opening with the ever popular ‘Ghost Division’. The band worst affected by sound problems was Dark Funeral who soldiered on regardless but were barely audible. With black metal relatively thin on the ground this year, it was a shame that sound problems robbed Dark Funeral of their ability to create their usual atmosphere of satanic doom.
Thrash fans had a real treat this festival. Anthrax, as well as Slayer, brought a full half of the ‘Big Four’ of thrash metal to Sunday. Municipal Waste and Gamma Bomb (not to be confused with Gamma Ray) put party thrash on the map for this year; each band came out with a rip-roaring set with much crowd surfing and the occasional “not a wall of death.” Extra security actually had to be brought in to handle the sheer volume of revelers going over the rail during Municipal Waste. Death metal fans were also well catered for with appearances from the likes of Gojira, Exodus and Dying Fetus. Gojira in particular put on an enjoyable show, despite having lost their stage setup due to mix-ups at the airport. Dying Fetus’ time clash with Slayer was also a sore point, presenting a dilemma for fans of both.
Of all the non-headline acts of the festival, two in particular stood out over the course of the festivities. These were Hell and Avantasia, both on Saturday. Despite only possessing a forty-five minute slot on the bill for the day, Hell pulled out all the stops, bringing in as many props and pyrotechnics as they could in the short time they had. The high point of their time on stage had to have been the point when front man David Bower stomped out in a hoofed and stilted costume dressed as the devil, complete with a spark-shooting pitchfork. They put more effort into their three quarters of an hour than most bands do for gigs twice that long. Avantasia’s show was just as epic; Tobias Sammet’s side project definitely made an impression on its first visit to the UK (though there was at least one chap in a Lamb of God shirt with a blank expression for the duration). Sammet brought a host of guest singers including Michael Kiske, Ronnie Atkins and Bob Catley to recreate the vocal harmonies which are so integral to Avantasia’s sound. They brought everything together to form a glorious power metal show that verged on rock opera, only matched in flamboyance by Thursday’s Tragedy: All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees and Beyond.
The New Blood Stage offered a good alternative to festival-goers dissatisfied with the line-up for the other two stages. While a significant proportion of the bands appearing were fairly unremarkable (and tepidly received as a result), there were a few memorable acts. Without a doubt, the best of these was Amulet, a quintet with doom-ey lyrics and a catchy, albeit dated, sound. The second band that really stood out was Mask of Judas, a female fronted tech metal band sporting some excellent vocals, both clean and growled.
Despite the persistent technical difficulties hindering the main stage, Bloodstock this year was a success. This was in no small part due to the sheer calibre of the bands present and the attitude of the audience, who were generally very respectful and understanding in light of the sound problems. While the line-up was thrash heavy, it encompassed enough of the genre to avoid tedium and with Emperor all but confirmed for 2014, it looks like the tone is about to change and Bloodstock is going to keep bringing the big names that make it such a must for metal fans all over the UK.
Earlybird tickets to Bloodstock Open Air 2014 are already on sale for £115 and can be purchased here.