Bloodstock 2021: Wednesday / Thursday Review
Words: Dan Barnes, Neil Bolton, Tim Finch, Paul Hutchings, Richard Oliver
Photos: Tim Finch
Let’s be honest here – there was more than a few people who didn’t imagine this event would take place. With the lack of any coherent information about what was and what was not permissible and who could go where, there seemed like little chance any outdoor festival would get the go-ahead.
However, some relief came with the success of the Download Pilot back in June and, other than the ever-changing bill, Bloodstock 2021 seemed like it was a goer. The team had promised an extra day, with the festivities beginning on Wednesday with a five-band bill in the S.O.P.H.I.E. tent, being headlined by UK veterans Onslaught and including the final show from Bloodstock luminaries, Beholder, Raised By Owls, Anakim and a return (almost) to the scene of the crime for Ward XVI, whose Saturday morning show on the New Blood stage in 2017 very nearly stole the festival from under Ghost and Megadeth’s noses.
I arrived on site and was shocked at how organised the COVID precautions were; NHS passports were being checked and wristbands issued in a speedy manner so, before you know it, you’re in the main arena, the phone charging point to the left and the dodgems off to the right. As the sun beat down you could feel a palpable sense of relief around the field, as a few thousand punters poked their proverbial noses out and sniffed the free air.
Anakim had the unenviable position of opening the festival. For many in attendance (myself included) it was the first live music people had witnessed for nearly a year and a half so the pressure must have been on for Anakim. Thankfully they completely took it in their stride and performed an absolutely blistering set of technically minded death metal. The atmosphere in the tent was absolutely electric and a moment of complete cathartic joy not only for those getting to see live music again but for the guys in Anakim performing as well. With material drawn from their debut album plus the very recently released The Elysian Void, Anakim owned every minute on that stage and like nearly every band on stage throughout the festival performed with massive smiles on their faces. Live music was back and it sounded spectacular. [RO]
So how would an Alice Cooper type show go down on the hallowed heavy metal fields of Bloodstock? (Daft question really as the man himself has headlined and killed it and few years ago.)
That question is answered this year long before Ward XVI take to the stage. The crowd is large, expectant and noisy. We are entertained by a very capable band and a cast of characters including a ghoulish monkey and participants in fancy dress joining the enthralled audience adding both to the show and the atmosphere. Their current album 'Metamorphosis' is a long story and there is not enough time to tell it completely but what chapters we do get from it are enjoyable and entertaining. We have fire, we have a circle pit and we have joy. The crowd loved, the band loved it! [NB]
With the party in full swing and the beers flowing, nothing was going to stop the death metal and grindcore humour of local heroes Raised by Owls from increasing the temperature. Their mix of comedic silliness and frontal lobe crushing metal bizarrely seems to work far better than it should, and such is their stock that they are a must-see band. Vocalist Sam Fowler’s deadpan delivery on songs such as ‘The Cult of David Dickinson’, ‘Noel’s Haunted House Party’, which saw Mr Blobby (last seen on the band’s hilarious ‘Cleaning out the van’ video) return to the pit for another battering, and ‘Ainsley Harriot Advises You to Give Your Meat a Good Rub’, proved to be sterling entertainment for the packed Sophie Lancaster Tent. [PH]
The former Bloodstock Festival house band Beholder took to the stage early evening for what would be the outfits final ever show. With this news at the forefront of everyones mind the second stage was packed as the band took to the stage. What followed was forty minutes of joyous metal with a set list spanning the bands full career, and despite the weight of expectation on the band for this final show, they pulled it off with style. Not a dry eye in the house as they took their bow! [TF]
Following on from Beholder’s final show might have caused a few bands to take a sharp intake of breath but Bristolians Onslaught have a history and discography to compete with anyone in the UK metal scene. Like many playing across the weekend, this was their first live appearance since February 2020 and the first opportunity to air some of the tracks from the stunning ‘Generation Antichrist’. They soon demonstrated why, when they are on form, they are formidable.
A set list comprising tracks from the new album and a spread from across the decades was thrash perfection with Dave Garnett in superb voice, bringing new life to the older classics like ‘Killing Peace’ and ‘The Sound of Violence’. It was Nige Rockett, a stalwart of the band since 1983 who wore the biggest smile, as days like these don’t come around too often. Onslaught were drilled, tight and ferocious. Backed by a pyro set straight from Old Nick’s lair, two screens either side of the stage and a lightshow that worked in harmony with the band’s music, this was a real flexing of metal muscles with recent members Wayne Dorman and James Perry now completely ensconced in the line-up. Dorman’s lead breaks were amongst the best of the weekend whilst Perry’s powerhouse drumming anchored everything with an iron grip.
The gracious duet with former vocalist and Bloodstock compere Sy Keeler on ‘Metal Forces’ was greeted with rapturous applause; Keeler still possesses the voice but Garnett comfortably matching him note for note. The searing heat from the raging pits climaxed with a visceral double of ‘Power from Hell’ and ‘Let There Be Death’. Social distancing was a far memory as bodies slammed into each other and the circle pits raced. The past 18 months forgotten in 75 minutes of sublime controlled aggression. A worthy headliner for any night of the festival, and on this form, Onslaught’s promised UK tour will be one to savour. [PH]
There was no main stage activity for Thursday and, although there were full programmes on the S.O.P.H.I.E., the New Blood and the Jagermeister stages. Having reviewed Urne’s debut record for this very publication a couple of months back I was interested to see how the band would translate into a live setting. As it turned out: very well.
Sitting in the Rock Society tent as the sun was setting behind, I found myself contemplating the lost year and whether it was responsible for the distinctly not-Bloodstock atmosphere on site. Maybe it was due to people being cautious or possibly the lack of any main stage action means we are missing a focal point; it could even be that people just wanted to get going, but the Thursday at Bloodstock felt like the day before going off to war. [DB]
Tortured Demon have been hanging around the Jäger stage for some time today. Family members and fans wish good luck and press take photos all the while the crowd begins to build and swell. The audience has been drooling for this set for quite some time and it is now reaching far beyond the boundary of the canopy long before the lads kick into their first number 'Desperation’s Grip' and they hit the Machine Head flavoured thrash head on.
A lot has already been said concerning the young nature of these three performers so I have no need, apart from to say if you were in ear shot but not eye shot of the stage you would be none the wiser, their age is not apparent in their music.
'Knee to The Face of Corruption' closes this frantic set including a bearded nun in a circle pit, a wall of death, smiling faces and new fans. And a reported largest crowd the Jäger has ever seen. [NB]
Word trickled through on Wednesday that Bristol’s Mother Vulture had been another forced to withdraw due to positive tests. Last minute replacements Fury were already onsite to deliver their Friday night Heavy Duty set in the VIP bar, so it was a delight to discover that they moved into the opening slot on the Sophie Stage on Thursday morning.
An opportunity to shift hangovers from Wednesday’s overexuberance, the Midlands outfit delivered a slick and polished 30 minutes which proved once more that in terms of pure heavy metal, they are one of the best in the business. Their 2020 album ‘The Grand Prize’ remains a favourite on the playlist and provided the bulk of the setlist although the inclusion of ‘Dragon’s Song’ from’ Lost in Space’ was a special moment. I’ve seen Fury live many times and Julian Jenkins voice never ceases to impress, his rich vocals work so well with the melodic metal the band play. Flanked by the ever-dependable Becky Baldwin on bass, Jake Elwell’s slicing lead guitar, Tom Fenn’s solid drumming, and dual backing singers, Jenkins led the band through a magical half-hour which was over far too quickly. The highlight was undoubtedly the cheesy yet brilliant synchronised hand movements during ‘Burnout’, bringing a humorous and semi-Eurovision element to a fabulous set. [PH]
The first of two appearances for Adam Smith on this years line up sees him and his band Riptide rip a new one in the New Blood Stage. Huddersfield’s four piece thrash squad have a sense of confidence as they begin their afternoon set. An eager crowd has built including members of fellow thrashers Tortured Demon. The fast thrashy tunes begin and the pit begins its anti-clockwise swirl. The bands sound could be described as a traditional trash sound, and it is a noise that I and the audience lap up. New guitarist Tommy Verity fits into the fold seamlessly providing the required amount of speed and crunch. As their stint on stage comes to an end and we move to the outside, I am left with one overriding thought - I fucking love thrash metal! [NB]
If you use social media, you’ll have been hard pressed to have avoided Ashen Crown vocalist Kieron Scott and his constant posts about the band’s appearance on the Sophie Stage. The hype proved to be worth it as the Birmingham death metallers expelled all the stress of the past 18 months with a raging, energetic set that saw the day’s first circle pits explode with far too much energy for a Thursday lunchtime. Scott is the face of the band, prowling the stage and summoning up his demonic growls from somewhere deep, but it’s the engine room of Ashen Crown that bring the damage, with some thick, gnarly riffs shaking the tent posts. New song ‘The Feast’ sounded huge and by the time their set concluded, few in the tent could have left unimpressed by the band’s triumphant second appearance. [PH]
Casket Feeder were one of a number of bands performing to an absolutely packed out New Blood Stage over the festival weekend. It was very heartening to see the amount of support being given to the up and coming bands and the support was well earned with a brutal and energised set from the band. Casket Feeder played a tent levelling 30 minute set mixing elements of death metal and hardcore together in brutal and ferocious style. These guys are definitely one band to keep an eye on. [RO]
Bad Earth have a new line up to show off, and the Jäger stage at Bloodstock is the place to do it. Their stoner rock bounces into action after a small technical difficulty seems to delay proceedings. Those difficulties do not seem to have fazed the three piece, with Karl Ditcher holding his bass guitar almost vertical, Ben Burke frantically beating the drums along with carrying out some backing vocals and with singer Steve Coxon, who dwarfs his Les Paul, smiling while chugging riffs - something the crowd feeds off. A warm reference is made to a former band member watching loyally in the crowd gathering a cheer from fans. 'Wheels of War' tops off this entertaining set, with its mellow groove and rocking chorus. Bad Earth accomplish the task of winning of several new fans. [NB]
One of my most anticipated bands of the weekend was Lincolnshire’s progressive death metal outfit Luna’s Call. 2020’s sophomore release ‘Void’ was one of my top five albums of the year. Sadly, guitarist Liam Underdown was absent due to self-isolation (gutting for him), but the remaining trio, Neil Purdy, Jamie Batt and Brad Laver took to the stage and played one of the most amazing sets of the weekend. If you know the band’s music then you’ll be aware that this is complex stuff, full of light and dark elements, switching from bone-crushing heaviness to soaring ethereal moments. Aided by some clever technology that supported the music and neatly linked lighting, this was 30 minutes that felt much longer. Purdy showed his technical prowess with intricate guitar work and vocals that switched from guttural roars to cleans, no doubt to the amazement of those new to the band. The time flew by. It was totally absorbing and at times breath-taking. This is a band who deserve to be much bigger and next time they play Bloodstock one can only hope they are much higher on the bill. [PH]
Asking a band to step in at the last minute to a festival appearance is a risk. Saying yes to that request is also a risk. Not actually having a fully functioning band at the time of the performance makes saying ‘yes’ even more of a risk. With a stand-in guitar player and a drum machine, Elimination take on the Jäger stage with ease. Break neck thrash with graceful duelling guitar solos is consumed eagerly by the head banging onlookers. Faces of delight are worn upon existing fans and a look of “wow this is good” is adorned upon the uninitiated. Let me tell you, this band have no issue playing fast and a stand-in guitar player isn’t noticeable. Obviously a drum machine is not the ideal band member, but the seething wheelchair crowd surfing masses do not care one jot.
The risk of saying yes has paid off! [NB]
Another musician to release a lockdown album was Josh McMorran, leader of UK technical death metal outfit Bloodshot Dawn. McMorran’s solo project is called Forlorn World. Having released ‘Umbra’ last year, this was his debut show, and he enlisted some high-quality musicians to deliver it live. Last year when I spoke to Josh he was reserved about his clean vocals, having focused on strident death metal roaring for most of his recording career. His fears were certainly overstated, as he delivered the cleans well, the occasional wobble hardly noticed. I’m sure he’d be the first to admit that this is an area outside his comfort zone so kudos to him. Having seen Bloodshot Dawn several times in the past, it was strange to see Josh with only a microphone in hand, and at times, this new role appeared a little alien to him. But these are minor points, because the band he assembled around him pulled the set together with style.
Bloodshot Dawn bassist Giacomo Gastaldi (who apparently will have spent four weeks in quarantine to have played this weekend) constantly scowled at the audience, his foot perched on the monitors. Stage left and right guitarists Reece Fulwood (Mask of Judas) and Charlie Michael (Woe Betide) looked like they’d been playing this album for years. Drummer Ben Adcroft (This is Turin) was an absolute powerhouse, his 280 bpm on ‘Umbra’, final track of the set remarkable whilst Phillip Dunn added deft touches on his keyboards. Whilst Forlorn World may not have stolen the weekend, this was a highly enjoyable set delivered with the quality one would expect from a musician totally dedicated to his craft. [PH]
2016 saw Canterbury doom merchants Famyne make their BOA debut on the New Blood Stage after winning the Metal to the Masses competition for their region. I was not familiar with their music but am frantically acquainting myself with their self-titled debut after a set that was intoxicating from start to finish. Darkness descended in the Sophie Tent as the band weaved their Sabbath infused doom throughout. Vocalist Tom Vane’s voice captivates, his pitch and range semi-gothic in its delivery. Huge slabs of crushing riffs echoed as tracks including ‘Tower’ and ‘Long Lost Winter’ soon cooled the heat that had been so prevalent. Such was the quality, I spent long parts of the set with my eyes closed, letting the music wash over me. It was magical. In a weekend of much intensity, Famyne provided some well needed demonic misery and with their deal with Svart Records now in place, their new album should be one to watch out for. [PH]
Edinburgh’s King Witch were next on the list to see and blew the roof off the tent with a stunning performance. The band are into their sixth year and with two albums worth of material choose a balanced set list that bought their fiery brand of doom front and centre. The tent filled as their show went on, which was pleasing for this is a band who ought to have more credit. Vocalist Laura Donnelly’s soaring range deservedly grabs the attention, and this is a band who can really lay down the riffage, as shown in ‘Of Rock and Stone’ which is an absolute beast of a song. The sight of the whole tent nodding and banging their heads as the track builds to a dramatic conclusion was amazing. Another compelling and bewitching set, the only disappointment was when it ended. [PH]
“Don’t expect us to bring you happiness” announced Andy Clarke, guitarist, and lead vocalist with Belfast death doom trio The Crawling. And they didn’t. What The Crawling did was absolutely crush a rammed tent with 45 minutes of misery. The third band plying the doom in succession, this was completely different from the previous two bands, with not an ounce of joy to be seen. ‘Rancid Harmony’ with its slow, punishing delivery and the thick riffs of ‘Wolves and The Hideous White’ were two of six songs that The Crawling played, their blend of blackened doom enchanting and massively enjoyable, despite the lyrical content. Alongside Clarke, bassist and backing vocalist Stuart Rainey was carefully focused on not smiling, despite the obvious good time he’s having. The riffs rained down, the darkness spread but all around were smiles as old and new fans alike absorbed a set which was phenomenally good. The Crawling are another New Blood alumni, and a pleasing example (like many who played this weekend) of how bands have progressed in the past few years. [PH]
The second night of Bloodstock and the second night that a thrash band took top billing. Lawnmower Deth sit in a different camp to Onslaught, but they hold a warm and fuzzy place in older thrashers hearts, and previous Bloodstock performances are now the stuff of legend. With over an hour to fill, this was a chaotic, anarchic but thoroughly absorbing set with old favourites mixed with four new tracks from the threatened new album. There was a positive response to all four new tracks, with frontman Pete Lee (Qualcast Mutilator) demanding thumbs up or down for each song.
Silliness is of course, is all part of the Lawnmower Deth show, and we weren’t disappointed. ‘Egg Sandwich’ proved to be as ridiculous as ever, with the actual sandwich eating in eight seconds ending in failure. ‘Watch Out Grandmother, Here Comes a Lawnmower’ descending into chaos, ‘Sheep Dip’ bordered on farce with the singalong section with Matt Burton (Evil Scarecrow’s Dr Hell) and Lee lost due to muffled mic sounds but ‘Seventh Church’ ensured that the party was saved with some frantic moshing in the pit and more surfers heading over the barriers. Watching Lawnmower Deth is an experience everyone should have at least once in their life. It’s likely that you’ll want to do it again and again afterwards. A great way to bring day two to an end. [PH]