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Review: Various Artists - Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2008
Various Artists
Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2008
Venue: Catton Hall
City: Derbyshire, U.K

Show date: August 15, 2008

Review online: August 23, 2008
Reviewed by: Lars Christiansen
Readers Rating
Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2008

Rated 5/5 (100%) (5 Votes)

Starting way back in 2001, Bloodstock has come a long way since its humble indoor beginnings hosting the likes of Saxon, Skyclad and Blaze to a few hundred ardent metallers. Come the first open air festival in 2005, the festival was drawing bigger names and larger bills, culminating in this year's festival, which saw over sixty bands snapping necks and throwing horns to a hoard of around ten thousand slavering metal fans over a 3 day period.

In the past, Bloodstock has generally been seen as a Power/Traditional Metal festival, but the 2008 offering presented its most diverse line up to date, incorporating just about every genre of metal you can think of. Thus, my interest was piqued enough for me to pull my lazy arse out of my pit to see what fun and frolics this year would throw up.

DAY 1: FRIDAY 15th August 2008

The first day started off a little too early for Swedish power metallers SAINT DEAMON to kick off the festival with anything more than a squeak, with only a small throng of people congregate to watch their set. Their 'lite' metal really did nothing for me, but they certainly had the enthusiasm to carry them through their half hour set. The fact that a couple of girls in front of me pulled their lighters out at 10am in the morning for their softer musical sections should say it all really — it was a bit like a boxer coming out for round one and attempting to tickle his opponent into submission.

Next up was English thrashers EVILE who were a much more enjoyable prospect all together. Opening with 'Thrasher', the mosh pit opened up, and the festival got a proper kick in the arse it needed after the wet fart that was SAINT DEAMON. Brothers Matt and Ol Drake's guitars were in complete synthesis with each other, befitting a band many years their senior, with the rhythmic bass and drums powering tightly through the bassy mix. These guys never had to worry about the fact they had only their debut album to pull tracks from for their set when you consider they have such killer cuts as 'Enter the Grave', 'Man Against Machine' and 'Bathe in Blood' to rely on to really get the crowd worked up into a frothing frenzy. It was towards the end of Evile's set that I spotted two dudes wearing SAINT DEAMON t-shirts. "Heh, the only two at the festival" I thought - and indeed that was true, when I realized it was actually two members of the band walking across the concourse to the VIP area.

Following that set was never going to be easy, but NWOBHM old timers PRAYING MANTIS did a pretty good job in my opinion. After only hearing the odd track here and there previously, I'd got it into my head that these guys were more hard rock than metal, but in the live environment they were as metal as it gets. Sounding extremely Maiden-esque at times, they powered through such tracks as 'Children of the Earth' and 'Panic in the Streets' with vigor. Needless to say, I was left impressed enough to seek out one of their albums from the merch stand after their set. Good stuff.

Sticking with the main stage for now, I'd been anticipating TYR's set with high expectancy, even after their recently released 'Land' album that I found so disappointing. I managed to get right to the front row to experience it, and thankfully I wasn't left disappointed. Though fairly static on stage, the power of their performance shone through, with 'Hail to the Hammer' and 'Ramund Hin Unge' being the highlights for me. The songs they played from 'Land' also took on a new life in the live environment, though they still paled in comparison to their earlier material in my opinion. All in all though, a great performance and a solid set from the Faroese Vikings.

It was shortly after TYR's set that I noticed the phenomenon that was 'cup man'. Basically, the event organizers had the great idea of offering 10p per each returned cup as an incentive for not littering the arena. However, a handful of people — 'cup man' in particular, had obviously taken this far too seriously, trawling the whole arena for dropped cups to return. At around £3.50 / $7 a beer, I can partly understand his quest. By the time I first spotted him, he already had around 30 cups stacked in the pocket of his combat trousers. I'll give an update on his progress when necessary.

Up next were English blackened death metallers AKERCOCKE who, despite early sound problems, ended up owning the main stage. "It's time to bring some FUCKING SATANIC BRUTALITY to Bloodstock" barked frontman and guitarist Jason Mendonca without a hint of tongue being planted into cheek, and boy, he wasn't kidding either. Once they'd got their aforementioned early muddy sound problems out of the way, the sonic cataclysm that followed was hugely impressive, managing to purvey even the slightest nuance into their overwhelming Death Metal blasting. The fact that I was familiar with their material no doubt helped, but they still had one of the clearest sounds for a band that plays at such speeds with a fair amount of technical dexterity. Undoubtedly the band of the day thus far.

DESTRUCTION followed, with Schmier looking every bit the colossal maniac as he strode confidently onto the stage. Though, something wasn't right during the opening song, with Schmier looking angrily to the side of the stage, gesticulating furiously at the sound men for their overly bassy mix with silent guitars. A minute later, and he's still not happy, storming over mid-song to Mike's amp, peering closely at the head, before clicking the power switch 'on'(!). Man, I wouldn't have wanted to be that sound guy after the gig. Schmier reacted angrily once again, swatting a mic stand in his way back to center stage in a way that Godzilla smashes skyscrapers, glancing irritably over to the sound man at various points throughout the rest of their set. Still, fun and games aside, the German thrash monsters played a killer set, full of energy and bile. Classics such as 'Eternal Ban',.'Thrash Til Death', 'Bestial Invasion' and 'Mad Butcher' were all belted out with supreme velocity and venom, that no fan could've been left wanting. Thrash perfection.

'Cup man' update: A.W.O.L, probably seeking more cups.

I only caught part of PRIMAL FEAR's set due to 'technical difficulties' (getting gut rot after a dodgy burger if you must know — a.k.a 'The Bloodstock Trots'), but they seemed to be well received by the large crowd baying to their every note. Not bad, even though I did miss most of it.

Next up were SOULFLY. — yes, that Brazilian hip-hop/reggae dudes band. Having briefly walked into the unsigned tent when they started out to be met with the even less impressive garbage that was SORCERER'S SPELL, I decided to sit through Max and co. drive yet another nail into the coffin of his metal credibility. Even the Sepultura medley of 'Dead Embryonic Cells/Beneath the Remains' didn't raise my expectations for the remainder of their mallcore set. Upon their entrance to the stage, the announcer said "they're returned to the thrash"... he lied. Oh, yeah. Max tried to order the crowd to 'Jump da fuck up' too. Comedy gold.

After an extended wait, the much awaited HELLOWEEN took to the stage to rapturous excitement and applause. The consummate professionals all around, Andy Deris and co. know exactly how to work the crowd up through maximum participation and entertaining showmanship. Their more popular classics such as 'Halloween' and 'I Want Out' were of course aired as expected, as well as newer stuff such as 'As Long As I Fall' from their most recent effort. The thing that mainly stuck in my mind from their set however was their cheese-filled extended rendition of 'Perfect Gentleman' - undoubtedly the most camp thing I've ever witnessed at a metal performance. Deris enrobed in a shining red suit jacket, top hat and cane danced like a douchebag — even more hilarious than the video than they made for it. Limp wristed parts aside, it was entertaining as hell.

'Cup man' update: His array of cups has reduced massively from when he was last spotted, meaning he'd probably gotten enough for a free beer. Good stuff.

10pm stuck, making it time for the days headliners, who came in the shape of opinion splitting Swedish progressive group OPETH. Whatever your opinion on their music, you can't take away the fact that they're a more than capable live performers. Frontman Mikael Akerfeldt's ability to have the crowd eating from the palm of his hand is impressive, with his sharp tongue and humorous stage chat in between songs adding to the close-knit feeling between the crowd and band. The fact that they chose to air newer tracks such as 'Heir Apparent' to older favorites like 'To Rid the Disease' and 'The Drapery Falls' was welcomed by most, with everything played album perfectly in a thoroughly professional and enjoyable performance. A great way to end the first day off in my opinion.

DAY 2: SATURDAY 16th August 2008

After catching the dying seconds of CLOUDSCAPE's set on the main stage, my second day at Bloodstock started off on the unsigned stage with the English doom trio WITCHSORROW, and what better way to start than with a bunch of hairy nihilists tearing at my eardrums first thing. Pulling off an impressive set of doom, they finished off with a thoroughly convincing 'doom' version of Mayhem's 'Freezing Moon'. Fantastic!

'Cup man' update: Still seeking more cups, I'm almost entranced in fascination watching his eyes scanning the floor like some sort of cup Terminator, even when bands are on. He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity or remorse. He absolutely will not stop until he has enough cups to get another free beer.

Heading out of the unsigned tent, I found RISE TO REMAIN beginning their set. RISE TO REMAIN, I have been reliably informed, have Bruce Dickinson's son Austin on vocals. Didn't stop them sounding like Lamb of God having a 'ghey-off' with Killswitch Engage though. Run to the Hills!

After that waste of a band slot, ELUVEITIE came on to a great reception. These guys were an interesting watch, if not for their bastardized version of the earlier In Flames sound (albeit with a greater folk influence), then for the fact that they just had so much going on onstage. Bagpipes, whistles, flutes, bodhran — these guys had just about every instrument you can think of, mostly playing at the same time. The mix must've been a bitch, but thankfully the sound guys pulled it off with aplomb. Full of energy and spirit, ELUVEITIE undoubtedly won over a lot of new fans with their lively performance.

I made my way to the front for SWALLOW THE SUN to get the full effect of their performance, and a powerful, if not slightly understated performance it was too. The personal highlight for me was a heartfelt rendition of 'Don't Fall Asleep', with its broken willed doom/death melodies going over the heads of the majority of drunken metallers around me. To me however, they really conjured a fantastically morbid atmosphere — and as Murphy's Law would have it, the sun went in during their set, instead replaced with dark clouds hovering forebodingly overhead. I couldn't have asked for a more perfect soundtrack for the change in weather. Great stuff

Staying up the front for the next few bands, next up came Norway's progressive masters COMMUNIC (who were introduced as coming "all the way from Denmark", much to their obvious annoyance!). Settling into their rhythm quickly, a now shorter-haired Oddleif Stensland led the attack with his emotion filled vocals and technical guitar skills tearing out tracks from every one of the bands three albums. Their sound wasn't great at times, but it was bearable enough for me as I knew all of their material fairly well already. Pretty good, but I was expecting more. Still, a lot better than when I saw Nevermore - a band they're often compared to

Belting onto the main stage next came MOONSORROW, who came running on, covered in blood, arms swinging at their instruments, feverishly gurning like the best of them. Playing a range of material mainly coming from their older albums, their blackened Viking feast really was worth the festival ticket price alone. It was a shame they didn't play some of their more epic tracks, but, seeing as they only had a 45 minute set, it wouldn't have left them with much time for anything else. Windmill head banging, fist pumping, crowd surfing (on actual surfboards in some cases) and devils horns were on the menu all around. I even saw 'cup man' glance at the stage for a few seconds, before I realized he was probably just eyeing up a cup that had been thrown next to the vocalists foot.

NAPALM DEATH was the last band I stayed up front for on Saturday, and they were definitely the band that got the most violent crowd reaction. I don't think I've ever seen so much aggression coming from a mosh pit. Shying away from their more recent material in the main, the band even drew on their earlier grinding tracks such as 'It's a Mans World', which they've not played for many years. Grinding Death Metal blasted for the full set (let's face it, they don't really do ballads), including the mandatory Dead Kennedys cover of 'Nazi Punks Fuck Off' and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it epic that is 'You Suffer'. Barney Greenway did his usual 'granddaddy dancing at a wedding' shape throwing, whilst the rest of the band headbanged their neck muscles into oblivion. Thoroughly enjoyable.

'Cup man' update: Chatting to an old guy with frizzy grey hair. He's probably threatening him into signing up for some kind of cup pyramid scheme with his phase-plasma rifle w/ 40 watt range, cunningly concealed in a box of roses.

Next up were the much maligned SOILWORK, who sounded as poppy and sugary as ever. The synthesizers often drowned out the guitars, and vocalist Bjorn Strid kept drawling on in his American accent (s'funny, I thought he was Swedish) about making the circle-pit bigger. Seriously, people can't mosh to that shit no matter how hard they try — so stop it. A few faster numbers with choice solos made sitting through their set a little easier, but not that much.

With ICED EARTH up next on the main stage, I have just enough time to check out the special guests on the unsigned stage, who just so happened to be brutal Australian death metallers THE BERZERKER. The tent was packed, and the heat rose to almost unbearable temperatures testing even the most strong-willed of fans, who were all drenched in sweat. As THE BERZERKER finally hit the stage around 20 minutes late, their sound proved to be the worst at the entire festival. As a completely unlistenable mess of bass and drums flew out of the PA missing any semblance of guitars, I realized that two songs in I couldn't stand any more, so made a slow trek to the exit through other peoples sweaty bodies. Eugh.

Back to the main stage, ICED EARTH were shortly about to arrive. There was a huge following for these guys, many people desperate to see Matt Barlow's return to the fold. Included amongst those people was 'cup man', who had actually pulled up a folding chair to watch them from afar - I couldn't believe it. Belting out tracks old and new such as 'My Own Saviour', 'Ten Thousand Strong' and 'Declaration Day', they played hard, and they played well. Barlow sounded great, and Schaffer posed like a metal supermodel between chords, glowering at the crazy reception in front of him.

10pm once again clocked around after the euphoric reception that ICED EARTH had just received, to follow with Saturday's headliners DIMMU BORGIR. I wasn't expecting much musically, but had a good feeling they'd put on a decent show (especially as they'd managed to fly in pyrotechnics for their set). Whereas their music comes up short, their stage show is pretty impressive (stopping short of a full balls out Kiss show :)). It was all corpse-paint, black leather, spikes and... well... a vocalist that sounds like Popeye. The crowd lapped it up, myself included, and the pyros were awesome (flamethrowing, fireworks, explosions — all sorts). A fittingly explosive end to the 2nd day sent home the festival goers with great memories.

DAY 3: SUNDAY 17th August 2008

So, the final day has arrived. Missing out the likes of HEAVEN'S BASEMENT on the main stage (who really didn't sound like my sort of thing at all), and the second half of the fairly entertaining trad metallers CROWNING GLORY, I headed straight to the unsigned stage again to watch DE PROFUNDIS batter the fuck out of everyone there. The band's Death/Doom approach worked awesomely inside the tent, with many a fan passing by stopping in the tent, enticed by the sounds coming from within. Their bass sound shone through the mix, rattling and slapping amongst the monolithic guitars, battering drums and guttural vocals. Good stuff.

ALESTORM were up on the main stage after the doom-filled frolics of the unsigned tent, and they quickly became the band of the festival for the majority of the people I spoke to — myself included. A word to completely sum up these Scottish pirate metallers — FUN. The fact that they entered the stage to the strains of Will Smith's 'The Fresh Prince of Bel Air' summed up their intent for the rest of their riotous performance. Hilarious stage banter (including talk of their hatred for Ninjas, love of rectal sex and wenches) and fantastic energy came across perfectly, leaving the crowd screaming 'We want more, we want more'. The more uptempo hits as 'Death Before the Mast' and 'Wenches and Mead' went down as well as a cold ale, with the slower 'Nancy the Tavern Wench' having the crowd singing along in drunken abandon. They even pulled out an impromptu version of 'What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor'. Totally awesome, if they play at a town near you — they're unmissable.

Up next came GRAND MAGUS, who had a tough job following the performance of ALESTORM. However, follow it well they did, powering out hit after hit such as 'Iron Will', 'Kingslayer' and 'Like the Oar Strikes the Water' (the latter of which, was dedicated to Great Britain's rowing Olympic gold medal the day before!). Both Janne and Fox were in fine voice and high spirits, adding to the uplifting feeling of their set. All in all, it was an awesome set, 100% metal.

'Cup man' update: Still tirelessly collecting cups - naturally.

Following two awesome performances in a row was never going to be easy, but Germany's MOB RULES did a fine job. Their first performance in the UK saw a dedicated set of fans enjoying their set — with myself sitting with a cold beer watching from afar. Not particularly my thing, but they seemed to be good at what they do.

Next up came the Canadian hyper blasters themselves KATAKLYSM. Playing with a super bass heavy mix, they decimated much of what's left of the dwindling MOB RULES crowd who hung around too long in the wrong place. Lots of angry skin-headed fat necks crawled out of the woodwork to mosh and crowd surf as if their lives depended on it. Playing a fair cross-section of material, they did still lean more towards the slower live environment-friendly tracks from their last two records, all of which sounded better than they did on plastic. The track 'Crippled and Broken' summed up the aftermath of their performance, with a deep trench dug into the ground where the field used to be. Even with Maurizio's incessant bleating for bloodshed and violence in the crowd didn't mar their performance — good stuff.

The next band on the bill caused the most upset on the Bloodstock forums. For some reason, the organizers saw fit to add AS I LAY DYING to the bill. As if SOULFLY and SOILWORK wasn't enough for toilet and food breaks! Anyhow, they were late on, and played a shortened set to an utterly uninterested crowd, so thank heavens for small mercies. Apparently, I heard the singer mention of them having 'problems on the border'. The British border police must've strengthened their policies on letting gays into the country. Huzzah!

OVERKILL. Need I say more? Their first performance in the UK for many years saw them tear the place up, and then some. I've never seen a human pyramid form in the pit before this set. Plus, I've never seen a crowd surfer being carried above fan's heads whilst duct taped into a huge armchair. Completely bizarre, but utterly metal — it's just a shame it wasn't 'cup man' in the chair. Crashing out classic after classic from their huge discography, OVERKILL really did lay Bloodstock to waste — my 2nd favorite performance of the day after ALESTORM. Ending up with the double body blow of 'Elimination' and 'Fuck You!!!' the crowd were left tattered and torn from metal thrashing awesomeness.

'Cup man' update: Missing, possibly enveloped by cups somewhere.

Playing what was to be their final UK performance after OVERKILL was the re-formed Swedish melo-deathsters AT THE GATES. All memories of the crap music that the members decided to release after their dissolution in 1996 was banished upon the opening chords. The material from 'Slaughter of the Soul' and 'Terminal Spirit Disease' sounded excellent, but the earlier material they played at times sounded jumbled (which was a pisser for me, as I like their early stuff better). However, seeing as the earlier stuff generally sounded jumbled on plastic too, it didn't detract too much from the overall performance - heheh. Playing nearly all of 'Slaughter of the Soul', an utterly evil version of 'All Life Ends' from their debut EP (which actually got me covered in goosebumps it was THAT evil sounding), this was pretty much melo-death heaven for all those who attended.

Finally, we come to the closing band of the festival — NIGHTWISH. I must admit, I wasn't particularly excited about seeing these guys, having never been more than a casual listener of their early material. The guys came on stage to the same pyros as DIMMU BORGIR had the night before, but without half the onstage antics and even less musical interest for me. Thus, I lasted two songs (one of which was 'Bye Bye Beautiful' I believe) before I said farewell to the festival and made my way back for some much deserved rest.

Undoubtedly the best metal festival in the U.K at the moment, Bloodstock is obviously setting its sights on being the U.K version of Wacken in the coming years — judging by the great bands on offer this year, and the huge amount of flags from various different countries that were flying throughout, I can see that becoming a distinct possibility sooner rather than later. HORNS UP!

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