For a country that has probably contributed more towards heavy music than any other country in the world, the UK is severely lacking in a major, pure metal festival that can rival Wacken, Hellfest, Graspop or Tuska, ever since the discontinuation of the legendary Monsters of Rock in Castle Donington. Download Festival, Monsters of Rock’s successor, manages to draw some of the biggest metal names, but dilutes it with other non-metal and rock acts. The annual Damnation Festival in Leeds is commendably stalwart, but a one-day festival really does not sate the English metalhead’s appetite. The solution therefore is to look towards Bloodstock.
Bloodstock started out as an indoor festival for metal back in 2001 in the English Midlands of Derbyshire. The first installation saw some big names of metal like Saxon, Blaze and Primal Fear, and it was up and running. 2002 saw Diamond Head, Blind Guardian and Gamma Ray appear, as well as Primordial and Bal-Sagoth. In 2003, Nightwish, Edguy, Paradise Lost made their debuts, while Blaze and Saxon returned. In 2004, Gamma Ray and Primal Fear returned, with the appearance of Children of Bodom, Sonata Arctica and Evergrey.
The names were getting bigger, but Bloodstock have always tried to give smaller bands the chance to make their name, especially English bands. Dragonforce made an appearance in 2003, right about the time they were entering the metal consciousness on mp3.com. Evile got spotted in 2006 and later got signed by Earache on the strength of their performance. The Unsigned Stage is only marginally secondary to the Main Stage, with English fans coming to support their mates’ bands.
In 2005, the founders took the brave step of bringing Bloodstock to the Open Air. On the website, they cite Wacken as giving them support and publicity via their “European marketing muscle”, as well as giving them sound practical advice. With Sebastian Bach and Children of Bodom headlining BOA 2005, the outdoor festival was also up and running. Since its humble beginnings, the outdoor festival has gone from strength to strength, with Lacuna Coil, Nevermore, Testament, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames headlining last year, in what is undoubtedly the biggest (maybe the only) festival dedicated purely to metal in the UK.
Bands You Shouldn’t Miss – Day 1
Opeth’s latest effort WATERSHED certainly is a high-water mark in their niche of progressive death metal. They visited here a couple of months ago with Arch Enemy on the Defenders of the Faith tour which I understand went extremely well. I missed that tour, so I’m highly anticipating seeing them live for the first time. www.opeth.com/
Ralf Scheepers, formerly of Gamma Ray and would-be Rob Halford replacement, founded Primal Fear, a band very much in the vein of the old German power/speed metal stuff, while paying liberal homage to Priest. They are no strangers to BOA, having visited in 2001, 2004 and 2006, and BOA may be one of their favourite festivals: “the first open air festival for the summer 2008 is confirmed – a lot of fans in the UK asked for new PF dates – here’s the first one: we’re proud to announce that Primal Fear will come back to the UK to play the Bloodstock Open Air festival on Friday, August 15th 2008!” Scheepers has an amazing scream and the band has some solid material, especially NUCLEAR FIRE, to draw from. Another band I’ve never seen live, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. www.primalfear.de/
Schmier, The Underworld, London, November 2007
The legendary German thrash trio will release their 10th album, D.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N., a couple of weeks after Bloodstock ’08, when they will hopefully give us a sneak preview into the new album. Destruction toured here in November with Onslaught, and while there was some bother about the concert agency which the band was understandably furious about, they won’t be unhappy to return to the UK. Indeed, Schmier had this to say:
“Bloodstock will be the first festival in the UK that DESTRUCTION has ever played. So it’s a kind of a world premier for us. In the old days, it was very hard for THRASH bands from Europe to get on the bill of a well-known Metal Festival in Britain but Bloodstock is a great bill, and we’ll prove to the UK Metal crowd that this German Thrash legend is still alive and is stronger than ever! We’ll kick ass with the best of 25 years! But, also, as our new album will get released over there on September 1st (29th here in Europe), we’ll present a brand new piece of German Steel at the festival too. Exclusive, for our UK fans first! We’re really looking forward to thrashing the Bloodstock Festival the ‘OLD-SCHOOL’ way. Be prepared for “TOTAL DESTRUCTION”.” www.destruction.de/
Mike, The Underworld, London, November 2007
Helloween’s last visit to English shores was in January, on the European Hellish Rock tour with none other than Gamma Ray, leaving power metal fans hyperventilating and wobbly-legged. Since then they have taken the dream team assault worldwide – with the monster European tour over, they went to Japan, South East Asia and Australia (no Gamma Ray), and South America. After the festival season, they continue the Hellish Rock tour with North American and Russian dates already announced for the later part of 2008. Don’t miss! www.helloween.org/
Bands You Shouldn’t Miss – Day 2
Galder, The Forum, London, September 2007
These guys packed out Wacken last year in their evil-laden night performance, and no doubt they will do the same again in Bloodstock this year. Hellhammer is apparently still injured, and so I assume that Tony Laureano will still be handling drum duties for the band. www.dimmu-borgir.com/
This is one of the most eagerly anticipated bands for me personally. I saw them for the first time at last year’s Wacken and wasn’t too impressed with Ripper, but he made me change my mind when Iced Earth opened for Heaven and Hell in November ’07. A month later, poor Ripper was out, and Matt Barlow was back in! To me, the voice of Iced Earth was always Matt Barlow, and it will literally be a dream come true for me to finally see Iced Earth live with him at the mic. The second instalment of the Something Wicked saga will be released in early September, so BOA will be a nice place to give the fans a sniff of future live favourites.
PS: In case you’re wondering, the band consists of Jon, Matt, Brent Smedley (drums), Troy Seele (lead guitar) and Freddie Vidales (bass). It’s hard to keep up I know. www.icedearth.com/
While I’m not a big fan of this band and grind in general, there is no denying two things: one, their influence on extreme metal in general, and two, the power of their live performance. I’ve seen them twice before, both last year, in the No Mercy Fest in London with Moonspell and Behemoth (April), and back home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (September)! Their Malaysian gig brought together our fanatic metalheads from the length and breadth of a region – in a country starved of a heavy metal scene but rich in intolerance and narrow-mindedness, Napalm Death gave an ass kicking performance laced with invective against religion and politics. www.napalmdeath.org/
Bands You Shouldn’t Miss – Day 3
At The Gates
When both At The Gates and Carcass announced their respective reunions and subsequent commitment to touring, there was a collective intake of breath around the world. And I have no doubt that the fact that these two legendary bands would be appearing at Wacken 08 was one of the main selling points of a relatively weak bill this year. At The Gates consist of the SLAUGHTER OF THE SOUL line-up – the Björler brothers Anders and Jonas, Adrian Erlandsson, Tomas Lindberg and Martin Larsson. They have dismissed the possibility of writing a new album (at least for now), so this may be your only chance to see a band that was one of the frontrunners of one of the hottest genres of metal for a while. www.atthegates.se/
These veteran thrashers are not to be missed – I have only recently started digging into their back catalogue (cue ‘better late than never’), motivated of course by their appearance at BOA 08. They play on the 17th of August, on the last day of the festival, and the very next day, the 18th, they make their way south to London to play another show at the Islington Academy. Somehow I think that they will receive a warm reception on both dates. wreckingcrew.com/
Headliners this year at BOA, this revitalised band gains ever more popularity with every passing moment, spreading their music to beyond the metal fandom. With their latest album DARK PASSION PLAY doing remarkably well, Nightwish provides the glamour send-off for BOA 2008, and judging from live reviews and reports worldwide, they will do it with flair and aplomb. www.nightwish.com/en/
Bands to Keep An Eye Out For
The blasphemous nature of this band’s music is belied by their insistence on wearing suits while performing live. If nothing else, this band has courted controversy almost from day one; the release of their latest album ANTICHRIST hit a snag when an American printing plant refused to print the CD inlay; they also defended their views on a BBC 1 show. Frontman Jason Mendonca says of playing at BOA 2008: “We will deliver a mindraping whirlwind of blast violence at Bloodstock. It’s going to be ugly. We will lay waste to Catton Hall with an assault of cadaveric necro terror, face melting guitar work and soul searing hyper blasts.” Mmmm, can’t wait… www.akercocke.com/index2.htm
One of the hottest new thrash bands on the scene today, Evile have supported some major names this year like Megadeth and Exodus, and a return to Bloodstock (this time as a signed band!) is pretty much a no-brainer for the band that live half an hour away from Derbyshire. www.evile.co.uk/
I’ve remained a devoted fan to this band from the Faroe Islands ever since I saw them open for Amon Amarth a couple of years ago. Memorising their latest album LAND before I head for Bloodstock will be one of my main goals in the intervening month or so. www.tyr.net/
I’ve been getting rather well-acquainted with this band over the past three or four months. Having them open for Children of Bodom was a bit of a touring mismatch; having them as third billing on the Paganfest tour was a stroke of genius. If the word ‘epic’ is to carry any meaning whatsoever within a metal context, it has to be applied religiously and without fail when describing this incredibly musical Finnish band. Unmissable for me, I look forward to Moonsorrow’s blackish meanderings amidst a cider-induced haze. www.moonsorrow.com/
I didn’t enjoy their latest offering SWORN TO A GREAT DIVIDE, but it will be interesting for me to see them live for the first time. Also, they have some solid back material which they will hopefully play, especially from their first three albums. www.myspace.com/soilwork
I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing this band as well. Their latest PAYMENT OF EXISTENCE was pretty much flawless from my point of view. They must get sick of the comparisons to Nevermore, but to my mind, a band could be compared to worse. To me, comparisons to Nevermore is pretty much as big a compliment as I could give to a band. Highly highly anticipated. www.communic.org/
Riding high on the recent popularity of the folk metal scene, Eluveitie certainly wowed a lot of English fans on their appearance in this year’s Paganfest. Their music, if truth be told, isn’t very inspiring apart from some weird instruments, but their live show is something to behold. When you get 8 or 9 wacky Swiss (t)rolls dancing about on stage with crazy and arcane instruments, having the time of their life, it’s pretty hard not to get down and wacky yourself. This will be the last performance for brothers Sevan and Rafi Kirder, who are leaving the band after Bloodstock. www.eluveitie.ch/en/
Swallow the Sun
If you ever wanted a band that could bring down the high tempo of the dying evening and provoke some contemplative and introspective thought on the essential condition of Man, only two spring to mind: Moonsorrow and Swallow the Sun. Moroseness, moribundity and morbidity is this band’s forte; my friend of misery amidst wells of cheap cider. www.swallowthesun.net/
Everyone’s favourite pirate band, who hate to be compared to Running Wild and HammerFall, as this reviewer once had the foolishness to do (he has since been scourged with the cat-o’-nine-tails and keelhauled, thrown in the brig and made to walk the plank in shark infested waters). Crazy, nutty, and an excuse for the audience’s tipple of choice to be changed from cider/lager to rum, yo fucking ho ho.
Christopher, Electric Ballroom, London, March 2008
The Canadian death metal legends have left their mark on me in more than one way – the most noticeable being that I can no longer properly spell ‘cataclysm’ without a spell-checker and a great deal of puzzled head-scratching. Ever since Cryptopsy spectacular downfall, Kataklysm are together with (possibly) Gorguts Canada’s premier death metal bands. They were supposed to support Behemoth here in February, but pulled out of the tour to take a breather and concentrate on writing their new album PREVAIL. They have just released it a couple of months ago, so we’ll see at Bloodstock if the time taken off paid dividends or not! www.kataklysmrocks.com/
I saw them open for Firewind and Grand Magus last year and I was pretty impressed with their brand of heavy power metal. I think they’re one of the better bands in the London/English scene, and definitely one to keep an eye out for. www.crowninggloryuk.com/
Not a big fan of doom, and certainly not a fan of their live performances, having seen them twice previously. They seem to have a remarkable fanbase though, which will no doubt make their presence heard at the festival. www.myspace.com/grandmagusrocks
Bloodstock Open Air 2008 will run from 15th to 17th August, in Catton Hall, Derbyshire. Check out the website for more info.