If you were to ask us what the best metal festival in Britain is, there’s a damn good chance we would stop whatever we were doing, scream “Bloodstock!” and then reminisce and praise the event incessantly. Download might have a hell of a line-up, but Bloodstock has space to move, a humble atmosphere, and leftover grass after the fact. And guess what, it also has a f*cking great line-up!
Upon arrival, there is little camping space left, but after the tedious deprivation of the setting-up-of HQ is done with, it doesn’t mater. Nothing matters. All that means anything is the music, and what an incredible unit of metalheads is formed by the plethora of power and aggression of these amazing bands! Strolling gleefully to the stage is a march of brothers side by side, all of them with the same purpose as you – to lose their minds in a nirvana of metal. The past is nothing, no matter how foolish our mistakes, or how detrimental our actions – here, we are in a different world.
Thursday and Friday are steady nights, full of new dogs bringing their underground talents to the forefront. By Friday night, the place is bustling. Municipal Waste tears the crowd to shreds, leading up to impressive performances from Voivod and Accept, and then the dinosaurs that are King Diamond bringing the night to heel, fans transfixed by the glorious melodies, and singing along (or at least, trying) with King Diamond himself. As mind-blowing as these performances are, the places to be that day are the New Blood and Sophie Lancaster stage. Just…wow! It’s times like these where you wish you could be in four places at once. But no matter where you are that day, you’re having a blast.
When you’re not watching the bands, there’s all sorts of stuff happening. Fairground rides, beer, and knights beating the sh*t out of each other (Seriously, this has to be seen to be believed). And what festival is complete without the opportunity to chill under a gazebo by a warm fire pit, with a comfy chair to gently fall to sleep in? (it is worth noting that this writer doesn’t have a gazebo, a fire pit, or a comfy chair).
Saturday’s the day it starts ‘appening. You are damned if you don’t visit the Dio stage that night. Gojira deliver the goods mid-afternoon, guttural growls never sounding so good. The peak of the set is the foreshadowing performance from Randy Blythe, who steps on stage to the joy of everyone, and shows off his incredible vocal skills for a short period, revving us up for the highlight of the evening that is Lamb of God. Seeing this band live, at long last, is proof of what this listener already knew, that LoG are phenomenal musicians. They are one of those rare occasions where the live music lives up to the high standards of the disc, and this band are a treat and a half. The infuriating technical difficulties are only a result of the festival’s awesomeness, surely? C’mon, the barrier is breaking. We’re metal heads, we don’t like barriers.
If Saturday is when it began, Sunday is when it kicks off full force. This was the most difficult day. So many huge bands, so little time…So why not check out the Jagermeister stage? This writer is fortunate enough to catch York metal band The Bastard Sons (pictured), a pleasant surprise for the crowd. The familiar sterile-crowd feeling sets in at the beginning, but as time progresses and people become familiar with them, heads start to bang and everything is great. The announcement of free CDs drive many to the forefront, and one bloke in particular claims, “That’s some of the best music I’ve heard all weekend”. Hell yeah, discoveries are always the best.
But hell, run back to the Dio stage, because Exodus are on! This band has had a lot of line-up changes throughout their time, but it’s amazing to see them in action. It’s also a thrill seeing Gary Holt shredding – further anticipation for the headliner of that night…
Before we go any further, here’s a tip we learned the hard way. Don’t bring a hot drink with you to the front of a crowd at a DevilDriver gig. The madness will make you wear it, and it will burn. Despite that misfortune, they are f*cking brilliant. It doesn’t take long for the circle pit to consume us, and then it’s every man for himself. More advice for this situation: Don’t look back. Just run.
At this point, while we are overly aware of the awesomeness happening at the other stages, it is physically impossible to move. Anthrax followed by Slayer is too good to be true. Two of the big four, in one night?? Nope, we’re not moving an inch. Anthrax is great for the hardcore fans and the nostalgia. Seeing Joey Belladonna on stage is something to write home about, as are the chugging riffs, and Scott Ian’s inspiring enthusiasm. Aside from this, and considering everything else going on at the time, there is the sense that we could find more excitement elsewhere. The big four have survived three decades, and much respect to them for that, but it’s safe to say they aren’t the pinnacle of metal. Damn good performance, but nothing mind-blowing. The hardcore fans are loving it, though!
Now Slayer…holy f*ck! This is without a doubt, the highlight of the event. We are yet to see a bad performance from these guys. Great set list – many of the obvious favourites, with some surprises thrown in too. While it is mind-blowing, it is also the most emotional performance knowing that Hanneman will not be joining them again (RIP). But a humble tribute in the form of an enormous and appropriate poster is a great send off! We could go on at some length about this part of the night, but the fact remains: If you haven’t seen Slayer yet, do it now!
Packing away the tent and dawdling unwillingly to the bus is like stepping onto an intimidating box of sh*t to take us back to prison. Reality sucks. But everyone who was there will keep the memories forever. The friendships made that weekend (you know who you are) will never fade.
But hell, this isn’t the end. Emperor are playing next year. How much are the tickets?