Bloodstock 2021: Friday Review
Words: Dan Barnes, Neil Bolton, Tim Finch, Paul Hutchings, Richard Oliver
Photos: Tim Finch
The sun is out once again on Friday and the atmosphere is completely changed from yesterday. With the main stage operational and the S.O.P.H.I.E. and New Blood acting as companion pieces, the Bloodstock vibe is back.
Foetal Juice have the honour of being the first band to play the Ronnie James Dio stage this decade and the first since Scorpions bid goodnight twenty-four months previous. What better way to get the adrenaline pumping but a short, sharp infusion of grinding death metal? [DB]
As an all dressed in black Divine Chaos take to the Ronnie James Dio stage horns fly aloft combining with the cheers and applause of a large crowd. The band waste no time, and fire into their set list with speed and ability. If this band had any nerves about performing on this stage they do not show it. Their 2020 album is the first to show case the talents of Jut Tabor and is heavily featured in this set list. This band are no strangers to Bloodstock having moved up the ranks of the New Blood stage to the Sophie stage to this point here. The Lamb of God flavoured music is going down very well with the Catton Hall attendees and their participation does not go unnoticed by the band. This explosive set concludes with Suicide Silence and both band and crowd are left joyous and gratified. [NB]
One of the highlights of any festival is a set where you are personal friends of a band playing. Having conquered the New Blood stage in 2016, Cardiff based black metal band Agrona have patiently bided their time before their return, but this was possibly their finest hour. A barrier full of Welsh support, a tent crammed to the back and a band who had the balls to open and close with new songs, Agrona were simply magnificent. Vocalist Adara may have only played a couple of shows as the sole vocalist, but she held any nerves under control with a measured yet frenzied performance that perfectly fitted the epic soundscapes that the band deliver. New songs ‘Pontarfynach’ and the epic ‘Cad Goddeu’ bookended three tracks from 2018’s ‘Realm of the Fallen’ (‘Immaterium’, ‘Unbound’ and ‘Storm’s End’) and sounded monstrous, whilst the inclusion of layered synths gave additional depth to the older material. With lighting working in tune with the music, there was at times an almost spiritual feel to the show and as someone who has seen the band on many occasions since their early days, this was something just a little bit special. [PH]
Svalbard are the first of the ‘original’ line up to hit the stage and their modern take on metal sees them combining death metal with post-metal and even some black metal to create an ever-engaging performance. Musically, Svalbard are on point and Serena Cherry’s voice can strip paint off a wall at twenty yards, but she’s so happy to be on stage today that she cannot help but have a broad smile plastered across her face throughout. [DB]
2016 saw Acid Reign triumphantly headline the Sophie Tent with a blistering show. Five years on and H and co headed to a lunchtime slot on the RJD stage. A reasonable crowd had already assembled as the band took the stage and tore into ‘The New Low’. A muffled pop signalled the end of Paul Chanter’s amp and although the rest of the band soldiered through the song, a ten-minute break in the music whilst the techs worked frantically to address the problem visibly destroyed the band’s momentum. If you want someone to fill in, then H is probably your man but whilst he game-fully used his years of stand-up experience to maintain interest, it was clear that this was an opportunity that had been lost and the rest of their set visibly bristled with anger. Paul was understandably furious, and it showed through the next 40 minutes as Acid Reign salvaged what they could from a broken opportunity. By the time ‘Goddess’ and ‘Motherly Love’ arrived the crowd had certainly enjoyed it with the surfers flying over the barrier and pit action intense but only the bravest souls would have fancied tackling the band for a couple of hours afterwards. A real shame but full credit to Acid Reign for delivering in such trying conditions. [PH]
The bill had been chopped and changed to such an extent that as Higher Power take to the stage the young fellow next to me is checking his itinerary and the app to see where Loathe are. He’s crestfallen when I break the bad news of their cancellation, turning apologetically to his girlfriend who does not seem pleased. Although a late addition, Higher Power attract a fair-sized crowd and appear to have brought their own army of fans too. They may not be the traditional Bloodstock fodder, but Higher Power, along with other bands on the bill this weekend represent the future of the British Heavy Music scene and they do a reasonable job in engaging and stirring the pit. [DB]
When Aarran Tucker’s bass gave out after the first few minutes of their set in the Sophie Tent, the Shrapnel frontman simply handed it over to the tech to address and continued to lead the Norfolk four-piece through a set which was spikier than walking over a bed of nails. The band are no strangers to Bloodstock with a couple of previous appearances in 2013 and 2017. ‘Palace for The Insane’ is still having regular spins across the country, and this was a set which was clearly making up for lost time. ‘The Might of Cygnus’ was amongst the top tracks of 2020 and live it was absolutely majestic, encouraging the raging pit to go harder and faster. By the time the band hit the title track of last year’s stellar release, Tucker’s bass was well and truly back in place and the band had blasted through a setlist which confirmed why Shrapnel are now firmly ensconced at the UK Thrash Top Table. Tucker’s vocals and sheer enthusiasm has given the band a new lease of life and the dual assault of guitarists Nathan Sadd and Chris Martin cut through, the sound of sufficient quality to hear the searing lead work. Meanwhile drummer Chris Williams kept everything locked down tight. For their first show in over two years, this was one hell of a show. [PH]
Larissa’s gone brunette and is dressed all in black, as though just about to deliver some Milk Tray [I’m going to leave a key under the mat – hope springs eternal!] as Venom Prison’s stage erupts in jets of flame. It’s been four years since the band last trod these particular boards, in which time Venom Prison have been lauded as one of the best new bands in the country, and on this showing those big words are more than deserved. The likes of Uterine Industrialisation and Defy the Tyrant are enough to rip the skin from your face and to confirm that Venom Prison are the real deal. [DB]
Not going to lie, I fucking love Raging Speedhorn - so the next paragraph or so may be a little bias! Having caught up with the lads pre set and got a big hug off the legend that is Jim Palmer, I headed to the Sophie stage for what would end up being THE performance of the whole weekend.
As Gordon took to the stage to start a rhythmic beat, the crowd start clapping in time and Frank appears singing "Buddy, you're a boy, make a big noise, Playing in the street, gonna be a big man someday". Freddie Mercury, Frank is not, but he's not far off. However, it was during this rendition of We Will Rock You that the realisation of just how much I have missed live music over the past 18 months sinks in. Ingenious Queen cover out of the way, normal Speedhorn service resumes. Melding a lot of the tracks from new album Hard To Kill along with the classics. The Gush stands out whilst Thumper always gets the blood pumping.
This was a set of sheer, unadulterated fury and it was wonderful to see, long may the Raging Speedhorn train roll on! [TF]
The last time The Wildhearts played Bloodstock, back in 2019, they were the support act to a hurricane. This year, and with drummer Ritch restored to the kit after missing the previous appearance, it’s a case of sun’s-out, fun’s-out as the four-piece play beneath a clear blue sky. Ginger has a smile across his face as wide as the mouth of the Tyne and the crowd is lapping it up. Diagnosis, Everlone, Caffeine Bomb, all greeted like old friends; mass singalongs to Vanilla Radio and Dislocated; Ginger and CJ leaping in unison; The Wildhearts really is the perfect festival band. [DB]
Opinion was divided on this year’s Hell Unleashed with critics, me included, unsure about the quality of the vocals. By the time Evile launched into the deadliest finishing duo of ‘Thrasher’ and ‘Enter the Grave’, all doubts about the band’s ability to deliver in the live setting had been dispelled. Put simply, Evile were bloody brilliant in every sense. A setlist that covered every album including a couple from ‘Hell Unleashed’ sated even the most demanding fan. Ben Carter’s phenomenal drumming held everything in place, Joel Graham kept the drive whilst double duty guitarist Adam Smith (also Riptide) slotted comfortably alongside Ol Drake who didn’t put a foot wrong. A stunning version of ‘Cult’ had fists in the air, ‘Infected Nations’ took us back to 2010 whilst ‘Head of the Demon’ from ‘Skull’ proved us naysayers wrong about Drake’s vocals – the man nailed every song. His warm appreciation of his brother Matt drew great applause and showed a humility that we all felt. In a weekend with some stellar thrash performances, this was possibly the most exciting. Evile are back alright and the signs for the 2022 tour with Divine Chaos and Tortured Demon should be monstrous. [PH]
Although I admit to not being the biggest fan of Skindred I recognise class when I see it. And fifteen-thousand people are here to show me how wrong I am. Benji Webb and company own Bloodstock this evening. Their ragga-metal making the Friday throng dance around like maniacs and give ample demonstration of why, after the sixteen or so months we’ve all had, Skindred are a welcome relief. There’s the obligatory Newport helicopter, with T-shirts aplenty being hoisted aloft, creating one of the most memorable images of the weekend. As mentioned above, Skindred just don’t float my boat but I’m clearly in the massive minority and the band should and, I’m sure, will headline this show sooner rather than later. [DB]
One of a number of acts from South Wales who performed over the weekend, Haxan had a very sweet slot headlining the Jagermeister stage performing a slot in between Skindred and Devin Townsend. This very much worked to their advantage as they caught the ear of many people walking back from the Ronnie James Dio stage after Skindred and amassed a huge crowd which swarmed around the Jagermeister stage. The three piece performed a arse kicking set of straight up rock & roll with killer riffs, a fearsome rhythm section and catchy and punchy songs which definitely earned the band a legion of new fans and supporters. [RO]
As the temperature started to cool and the sun began to set behind the RJD stage, things became darker and more disturbing in the Sophie Tent. Liverpool doom trio Conan returned to the same slot they occupied in 2015 and brought a massive wall of sludgy metal which probably damaged a few unprotected ears. Chris Fielding and Jon Davis manage to make the most ground shaking sound, to the extent that drummer Johnny King required a tech to be on hand to readjust various parts of the kit throughout the set. Opening with ‘Total Conquest’, this was an hour to lose and immerse yourself in the sheer brutal wall of noise that Conan bring. Davis’ harrowing vocals scream about the fuzzy riffs, forcing those who had stumbled in by mistake to either flee in horror of join the army of loyal fans who were nodding appreciatively throughout the set. Bathed in dramatic reds and greens, Conan drew deep from their catalogue, but stuck to tracks that they prefer to play live, such as ‘Foehammer’, opener ‘Total Conquest’ and ‘Hawk as a Weapon’ amongst others. Another band where you can really lose yourself in the moment, Conan just about left the tent in sufficient condition for Napalm Death, who followed later in the evening. [PH]
That Devin Townsend is here is a testament to his will to power. The Canadian has had to jump through hoops to play this show and he still had his ten-days quarantine when he gets home. Yet there is nothing to suggest Bloodstock 2021 is in anyway being short-changed as he delivers a set worthy of any of his contemporaries. Having only met the members of his band a matter of days before and with only the previous night’s warm-up show in Manchester under their belts, this new Project create the musical back drop for the kind of maniacal feast for the eyes Devin is known for. Maybe not as astounding as the Retinal Circus but, with a choir, an elephant, a gorilla and a cast seemingly missing from one of Tim Burton’s dreams, the Ronnie James Dio stage is transformed into a wonderland of the strange and mysterious; all of which is curated by Ziltoid himself. Musically, the band are tight and the setlist is drawn from across Devin’s personal history. We even get four (count ‘em) Strapping Young Lad tracks: Aftermath, Almost Again, Love and Detox, making this performance into the celebration of the man’s career we hoped it would be. [DB]
To round off Friday it’s a trip over to the S.O.P.H.I.E. stage for the Godfathers of Grind: Napalm Death. The undisputed kings or brutality have been making their ungodly racket for the best part of forty years now and they are only getting better and better. Last year’s Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatist album is well represented tonight with Fuck the Factoid, Backlash Just Because and the title track, and we get some deep cuts that rarely see the light of day: Taste the Poison, Breed to Breathe and I Abstain being very welcome additions to the set list tonight. Barney announces to those who may not know that Napalm Death is unapologetically a noise band and, in truth, we wouldn’t want it any other way. [DB]