BOA 2013 Review - 01 . 12 . 2013

Bloodstock: 2013

Review by: Jim

First written for RoomThirteen.com online music magazine, scores are out of 13.

Bloodstock 2013 From The Cradle to the Madhouse

Now on its ninth year running, Bloodstock Open Air has, since its inauguration in 2005, established itself as the undisputed number one heavy metal festival in the UK. As someone who has seen first-hand the evolution and growth of the festival over the years, 2013 promised to be bigger and better than ever before.

As I arrive, barely an hour after the gates have officially opened, the atmosphere is already electric; the tents are already up in their thousands, the music is already blasting out of countless portable stereos, and the beer is flowing like an ever-flowing stream.

THURSDAY

RAVENAGE (11)

By the time folk metallers Ravenage arrive on stage, the Sophie tent is getting busy. The atmosphere around the Bloodstock site on the Thursday is always electric; the year-long wait is finally over and the hordes of metal fans are already in full festival mode. Spurred along by the great crowd, Ravenage deliver exactly what we all want; pint-raising, riff-heavy Viking metal. Ending with the rollicking More Beer! and managing to get the entire tent singing along, surely the only thing that could match such entertainment would be... a heavy metal Bee Gees tribute band...?

TRAGEDY (11)

Wow... it probably helps that most people are fully tanked up by this point in the evening, but Tragedy succeed in packing the tent to the rafters, before delivering a massively entertaining set that was surely the talk of the campsite that night. Coming on-stage looking like regulars from Hell's very own Blue Oyster Bar, they blast through Bee Gees classics and assorted 70s disco hits armed with double-kick drums, metal riffs and a whole lot of sing-alongs. Highlights included playing the intro to Raining Blood before hilariously launching into It's Raining Men, and a heavy metal rendition of Stayin' Alive. The perfect end to the first night at BOA.

FRIDAY

CRUEL HUMANITY (10)

Considering the usual excesses of the first night at Bloodstock, a lot of people turn up at the break of dawn (well, half ten) to watch the Derby blackened death metallers open the proceedings on Friday. After a strong set and finishing on a storming version of Into the Hall of Fallen Heroes from their album Creatures of Fear, the crowd gathered in the new and improved (and much larger!) New Blood tent are well and truly set up for a day of metal.

EARTHTONE9 (10)

Arriving just in time to hear ET9 classics Off Kilter and Withered, the reformed Nottingham alternative metal stalwarts are on fine form and proceed to wake up anyone still struggling with the morning's hangover. Frontman Karl Middleton's on-stage banter raises a grin on more than one occasion as the band continue to impress with their new material, as well as their more well-known songs including ET9 classic Tat Twam Asi. Perhaps not everyone was won over, but personally it's great to see them back, and a fine treat to see them on the main stage at Bloodstock.

DEATH ANGEL (10)

The Bay Area legends blast through a set of unadulterated, old-school thrash metal and, even with the morning's hangovers still fairly ripe, the Bloodstock crowd provide a huge amount of energy to liven up the pit and give the band a great reception. With classics played from their 1987 debut The Ultra-Violence all the way through to their latest pummelling effort Relentless Retribution, the thrashers are on top form and frontman Mark Osegueda appears to be enjoying himself as much as we are.

EX DEO (12)

The arrival of Ex Deo (aka Kataklysm in disguise) follows a lengthy intro that sets the scene for the Roman-themed death metal band. Walking out on stage in full Roman armour, nothing feels cheap or gimmicky as the five-piece blast through forty minutes of pummelling death metal amidst cinematic keyboard atmospherics. Playing a mixture of songs from their two albums Romulus and Caligvla, Ex Deo's headbanging-inducing set is one of the highlights of the weekend, and today their conquering of Britannia is complete.

MIA KLOSE (11)

There's quite a turnout for Swedish Londoner Mia Klose and her band, whose 80s-inspired rock'n'roll raunchiness goes down an absolute treat with the Jagermeister stage crowd. Playing songs off her 2013 album London, the band are clearly on top form with songs like Lady Killer showing off Mia's voice as well as the band's tight instrumentation, and they seem more than happy with the significant audience they've pulled. Room Thirteen caught up with Mia on the Saturday, to discuss the band's successful year so far, as well as future plans.

SKILTRON (10)

Heavy metal with bagpipes from Argentina... what's not to like? I'd been looking forward to Skiltron's set this weekend and I wasn't disappointed. Despite the guitar cutting out briefly, Scotsman Freddy MacKinlay's bagpipes kept the crowd going and the band were soon back in full swing with opener Lion Rampant. Playing a mixed set of fan favourites and a couple from the fantastic new album Into The Battleground, Skiltron pull a very decent crowd and seem to win over anyone unfamiliar with their upbeat folk metal. Ending with an entertaining cover of AC/DC's It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock'n'Roll) (let’s face it, with a set of bagpipes on-stage it'd be rude not to), they can return to Argentina triumphant.

CYPHER16 (8)

A solid set from the London cyber-metallers, if a little let down by a slightly sparse crowd. The Sophie tent is a lot busier by the end though, so they must have done something right. Playing songs off their three currently-released EPs, their melodic-yet-hard-hitting sound clearly wins over a lot of people. They also seem to have devised the genius idea of bringing an actual bar with them on-stage, which consists of a fully-working Guinness tap that one lucky member of the crowd gets to sample. Cypher 16 have a great sound and have a massively promising future. I look forward to seeing what they can pull out of the bag at Hammerfest next year.

XERATH (11)

With their third appearance on the Sophie stage, the Londoners play their best Bloodstock set yet. This time managing to avoid any and all technical issues, they blast through a set of technically-charged progressive metal that's as scathing as it is listenable. The tent is suitably packed, and guitarist Owain Williams gets an amazing send-off for his final gig with the band.

SCAR SYMMETRY (11)

Their first Bloodstock appearance since 2007, Scar Symmetry are clearly keen to put on a show, with their newest line-up including the dual vocal assault of Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist, both of whom get the crowd going whilst alternating between front-stage and standing back to provide backing vocals. One of the most diverse and adventurous melodic death metal bands around and with five incredibly strong albums to choose a set from, their energetic performance is a festival highlight this year.

KING DIAMOND (12)

What a way to open the Bloodstock headlining duties! Not everyone here is familiar with the Danish King and his cohorts, and the slightly sparse crowd seems to reflect this. It doesn't however prevent the ex-Mercyful Fate man from delivering a fantastic performance, with all the classics played to a highly appreciative audience. The show is predictably fantastic, with the entire Ronnie James Dio stage set up like a theatrical gothic musical, giant pentagram and all. The King himself is on top form, his trademark falsetto voice unmistakable as he swans around the set like a carnival horror show ringmaster, peering at the crowd through the spiked gates that stretch the length of the stage. A highly entertaining end to the first full day at BOA.

SATURDAY

3 INCHES OF BLOOD (9)

We all know what to expect from 3 Inches of Blood, and as usual they deliver it with gusto. Tight as hell and playing music that can only have come from the Judas Priest School of heavy metal, the Canadians waste no time in getting the (probably hung-over) crowd energised for their fairly-early morning slot. Fan favourite Deadly Sinners is executed with even deadlier precision as I reluctantly leave the fray and make my way to the New Blood stage.

DIESEL KING (11)

Huge, HUGE riffs and a sound lifted from the sludgiest of sludge swamps, Londoners Diesel King are the New Blood stage festival highlights for me. Frontman Mark O'Regan stomps around the stage, his presence as huge as his biceps as the band plough through songs from their two releases The Ancient and the Nameless and 2013 EP The Grey Man. Gareth from fellow sludge-meisters Gurt joins them on-stage for a storming version of I'm Gonna Take You To The Bank Senator Trent... To The Bloodbank to cap off a cracking performance that leaves my eyes rattling in their sockets. Organ-tinglingly heavy.

HELL (11)

Having missed Hell the last time they played this festival, I made sure I was front and centre for the arrival of Hell. With plenty of enthusiasm, theatre pomp and a hugely impressive stage show, Hell prove to be one of the highlights of Bloodstock 2013. Frontman David Bower poses as the devil himself, sneaking off-stage and coming back on wearing 20-foot stilts and a huge set of devil horns whilst flames erupt on stage, engulfing Andy Sneap and his demonic band-mates. It may have taken Hell twenty-nine years to release an album, but in 2013 they look and sound reinvigorated, and ready to take on the world.

KATAKLYSM (12)

After a storming set by side project Ex Deo yesterday, frontman Maurizio Iacono and his cohorts are on fine form this weekend, and Kataklysm deliver another festival highlight with an utterly pummelling performance. With barely a single visible person not headbanging for the entire duration, songs like Crippled and Broken and opener Like Angels Weeping (The Dark) are utterly devastating in all the best possible ways. Closing on classic In Shadows And Dust, the next band up will be hard-pressed to top the Canadians' performance.

GOJIRA (12)

One of the most anticipated bands of the weekend for many, the French genre-benders return to Bloodstock with a new album and a setlist that has the entire main stage crowd glued to the performance. With older material from their first two albums as well as the much-lauded From Mars To Sirius played alongside newer material from the impressive L'Enfant Sauvage, this is a fan's dream come true, and anyone new to the band has just had the perfect introduction. Randy Blythe joins them on-stage for a storming version of Backbone and the place goes nuts.

SABATON (11)

Entering to Europe's The Final Countdown as has come to be expected, the Swedish war enthusiasts are on top form for their much-awaited return to Bloodstock, playing a host of new songs as well as fan favourites 40-1 and Primo Victoria. There are momentary technical problems but Joakim, ever the charismatic frontman, keeps the crowd entertained. He announces that his usual on-stage armoured vest was lost in transit to England, and one hard-core fan is immediately on the scene to give his own vest up, which Joakim happily accepts in exchange for a few beers. Ending with one of their heavy metal tribute songs Metal Crue, Sabaton are another Saturday highlight. As they walk off, the constantly smiling frontman even gives up his trademark aviators to a pair of young children at the front, who will now forever remember their first ever festival. What a guy.

AVANTASIA (12)

I've waited a long time for Avantasia to grace our shores after their past performances at Wacken and Tobias' troupe definitely don't disappoint. Not all Bloodstock goers appreciate the lighter side of heavy metal, but for those who do, this is a real treat. With guest musicians including Mr Big's Eric Martin, Helloween's Michael Kiske and Magnum's Bob Catley, we're treated to a full-on theatrical power metal extravaganza, with songs from newest album The Mystery of Time going down equally as well amongst the crowd as the older fan favourites. The absence of Jorn Lande and Kai Hansen's cheeky grin is a shame, yet it doesn't stop the supergroup from delivering ninety minutes of power metal gold. Tobias Sammet is on top form as usual and his on-stage banter is highly entertaining, jokingly dismissing Michael Rodenberg as, "the keyboard player with no name" because, "who needs a keyboard player at a festival with only black metal and death metal bands?" But Avantasia wouldn't be Avantasia without keyboards, and the likes of The Scarecrow and power ballad Farewell are certainly testament to that. As Sammet continues the banter with a wisecrack about England having (aside from heavy metal) invented Indian food, "but no so much penalty shootouts!", Michael Kiske partners him for Breaking Away before swapping with the next guest vocalist. Bob Catley's voice has lost nothing over the years, and in between songs he jokes about travelling all over the world with Avantasia and ending up at Bloodstock, five miles from his house in Tamworth. With Bob's exit comes Eric Martin's entrance, and the tempo is upped for Dying For An Angel and Twisted Mind. Being the last gig of the tour, Tobias announces that the crowd's reaction to the final song will be the memory the band take away with them, and the place erupts to the sound of Sign of the Cross. Tobias sounds genuinely honoured to have been able to finish the tour, "in the country of heavy metal", and promises to be back soon, hopefully retaining the services of Edguy drummer Felix "tight as a guineapig's asshole" Bohnke. Judging by tonight's performance, they'll be welcome back any time.

SUNDAY

RSJ (11)

With an unexpectedly impressive backdrop, RSJ's name is literally up in lights as the Sophie stage crowd are treated to a scathing set from the York mob. One of the loudest sets of the weekend, RSJ tear the crowd a new one with their edgy and maniacal metallic hardcore shenanigans. Relentless and intense is the name of the game, and by the time the band go off-stage the crowd look as impressed as they do aurally assaulted.

FOZZY (7)

Ever the charismatic frontman, WWE superstar Chris Jericho arrives on stage full of beans and donning a leather jacket complete with glittering gold studs. It's just a shame Fozzy's more recent output isn't equally as gleaming; the band plodding through a set of solid-enough-but-slightly-drab hard rock anthems, with guitarist and Stuck Mojo man Rich Ward keeping things tight and energetic.

BOSSK (13)

The turnout in the Sophie tent for the returned post-metal troupe is predictably impressive. A truly spectacular performance from the Kent five-piece, proving they are true masters when it comes to hugely engaging and mesmerising instrumental build-ups, followed by utterly monstrous, riff-caked climaxes. When vocalist Sam Marsh steps forward you know what's coming, his monstrous screams the perfect accompaniment to the band's crushing post-metal annihilation of the senses and emotions. Playing new songs The Reverie and Pick Up Artist as well as both songs from their .2 EP, watching Bossk on the Sophie stage was a truly overwhelming experience, and for me the number one performance of Bloodstock 2013. It's great to have them back.

AMORPHIS (11)

No strangers to the main stage at Bloodstock, the Finnish stalwarts are in their element as they deliver another powerful performance that stretches their twenty-three year and eleven album career. Opening with new songs Shades of Gray and Narrow Path from their latest release Circle, Amorphis have clearly lost nothing and are still able to craft songs with huge riffs and masterful melodies. The huge number of fans already familiar with the band's material are clearly enjoying themselves, whilst others walk past looking slightly uninterested. A band with a very interesting back catalogue that stretches multiple genres, Amorphis are well worth investing time in, and on the strength of today's performance as well as word of mouth, a lot of people will surely be doing just that as soon as they get home.

GORMATHON (11)

Despite the amps blowing up and the sound cutting out entirely after only a couple of songs, Swedish melodic death metallers Gormathon's devilishly charismatic performance earns them a heap of new fans as they blast through songs from their full-length Lens of Guardian, as well as newer material from last year's single Land of the Lost and the Celestial Warrior EP. Coming across like Amon Amarth's little brother with a better sense of humour and a longer beard, they're almost a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Swedish giants, but are saved from this fate by being really bloody good. Frontman Tony Sunnhag out-beards Johan Hegg with ease, and his on-stage charisma and crowd interaction is highly commendable as the band plough through Love Is A Motherfucker and the impressive Gormathon. I expect this lot will be back soon, and more than welcome at BOA.

BELPHEGOR (12)

The atmosphere is electric in the packed-out Sophie tent for the much-anticipated arrival of the blackened death metallers. As the lights dim and the shrouds are lifted, the microphone stands are revealed, adorned with bones and various human organs. In the increasing darkness, we are treated to a full hour of top notch, blasphemous extreme metal; the band excruciatingly loud as they play songs from various albums amidst a wash of red lighting. Ending on single (if only top of the pops was still on the telly) Bondage Goat Zombie, the Austrians may be known for being tongue-in-cheek at times, but this pummelling performance was anything but. Senses annihilated, I stagger back over to the main stage to catch Slayer.

SLAYER (12)

What can you really say? SLAYER!! That is what you can say. Judging by the sheer number of people screaming their name at random intervals over the course of the weekend, the thrash legends' much anticipated inaugural performance at Bloodstock was never going to disappoint. With a best-of set that would make most metalheads moist reading it let alone experiencing it, the Bloodstock crowd are treated to ninety minutes of Slayer classics, from Hell Awaits all the way through to World Painted Blood. The performance did however feel slightly clinical, perhaps even cold, and the crowd interaction was minimal. But this is Slayer, and as charming as they are off-stage, they are an unstoppable beast on-stage. We're not here to listen to Tom and Kerry tell us how charmed they are by us Brits, we're here to bang our fucking heads at lightning speed to War Ensemble and Altar of Sacrifice, and watch Kerry King shred like a massive-bearded thrash metal beast. Exodus shredder Gary Holt is note-perfect as he shreds his way through classic after classic, duelling with Kerry King as the duo solo and riff and solo again. As the band blast through Raining Blood go off-stage, the gigantic Slayer flag is suddenly replaced by an altered Heineken logo that reads, "Angel of Death - Hanneman - Still Reigning" and the roar of approval, appreciation, and respect from the crowd, is deafening. With two undeniable classics left to play, Tom's famous high-pitched scream introduces Angel of Death after a storming South of Heaven. Slayer remain, and will always remain, untouchable in the world of metal, and the career-defining setlist tonight is surely testament to that. What a way to end Bloodstock 2013.

As another year comes to a close, it once again feels far too soon to be leaving the hallowed grounds of Catton Hall, and already the countdown to Bloodstock 2014 is on. After another amazing year, a few things are certain: most of the people here this weekend will be here again next year, Emperor's return in 2014 is going to be something very special and, try as they might, telling metal bands not to swear on-stage is a hilariously futile exercise. Even after all these years that have seen the festival grow and grow, it still remains difficult to shake the feeling of camaraderie that surrounds you as you walk around the grounds; another trait shared with its big German brother. Finally, only one thing remains to be said: Bloodstock is not only the premier heavy metal festival in the UK, this is the Mecca of heavy metal in the UK, just as Wacken is to Germany, and it will surely maintain this label for many years to come.

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