REVIEWED: Bloodstock Open Air 2018 - Part I

Taking a rare weekend off from slaving away over a worn and battered old laptop, the Dark Matter editorial team heads north to the hallowed grounds of Catton Hall for four brutal and gloriously unbroken days of alcohol-sodden heavy metal excess. In between the beer-swilling, headbanging and bin jousting shenanigans that followed, it's with a raised claw and a can of lukewarm lager that DM is proud to present Part I of our Bloodstock '18 festival highlights...  

 

Stalking onto the Ronnie James Dio stage splattered in blood as though fresh from dismembering screaming victims in their chamber of horrors, BLOODBATH didn’t shy away from the obligatory growling vocals, hardcore drumming and soul-shaking chords of death metal, twisting the genre into their own tortured grotesquery. If you want your music gloriously blasted in your face like acid rain, this was where to be.

 

Birthed in Sweden from a fiendish desire to recapture the spirit of old school style death metal, Bloodbath have been stealthily plying their trade since their debut album in 2002. Despite a few hiccoughs as various members ducked in and out, and formed originally as somewhat of a side-line project, the band have now well and truly hit their psychotic stride. An inky shot of 100% proof classic death, the current line-up is a wet dream, a veritable gallery of greats from Paradise Lost’s legendary Nick Holmes on vocals to Katatonia’s Blakkheim on guitar and the resulting monstrousness is brutally sublime.

 

Sadistically clad in a long, gestapo-chic coat spotted with the red stuff, Old Nick held the Bloodstock audience in his raspy, infernal embrace, dragging them along in dizzying peaks and troughs of glorious, blood-soaked savagery. With a fair smattering of old and new material, one cancerous, cannibalistic fantasy followed another without mercy, as though ripped directly from the band’s bleeding, agonised souls. As a final, deliciously tormented treat, Nick belted out the sickening standout hit ‘Eaten’ with such ruthless ferocity he could have raised the devil himself, and the Bloodbath devotees present literally lost their proverbial.

 

Although not to everyone’s taste, hopefully Bloodbath’s brilliance will merit a better spot (and a longer stretch) in the line-up next time. Yet despite the daytime billing, the shell-shocked audience still stumbled away as though Bloodbath had indeed chewed them up, swallowed them whole, and regurgitated them on the damp festival grass like a congealed pile of gore. (SS)

 

It’s a disconcertingly mellow, sun-drenched summer evening that finds black metal titans EMPEROR poised and ready to unleash their famously frostbitten craft before a dusky expanse of black-clad genre fanatics. But with insanely paced aggression and stirring symphonic complexities potent enough to chill the very marrow in the bones, it’s not long before the Norwegians plunge listeners headlong into a coldly immersive underworld far removed from this earthly realm. And with the trio celebrating the 20th anniversary of ‘Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk’ by performing this landmark release in its epic, darkly expansive entirety, it’s hard to imagine a more absorbing form in which to experience this genre-defining collective.

 

Maintaining impeccable standards of clarity and tautly executed control as its visceral, densely muscular grooves accelerate into a veritable blizzard of hyperblasting aggression, ‘Thus Spake The Black Spirit’ instantly floods the senses with adrenaline. Generously interspersed with a sharply arranged repertoire of dizzying symphonic blasts and lacerating licks topped off with an icy deluge of melodic fretwork, theirs is a perfectly engineered balance of scalding aggression and atmosphere. With its agile lines of snaking riffage and pummelling blasts gathering madly accelerative momentum beneath airily grandiose layers of strings, ‘The Acclamation of Bonds’ is rich with epic, spellbinding presence.

 

Splicing chest-beating vocal hooks and deathly melodic trappings in amongst scalding feats of tightly manipulated aggression, ‘With Strength I Burn’ is met with an unsurprisingly riotous reception among fans. And by the time this relentlessly energised onslaught ebbs away into a luxuriant haze of inky distortion, the seismic waves of applause that follow speak infinite volumes for Emperor’s unwaning power and influence. (FC)

 

This year saw Bloodstock pull out the big guns with some real star power as headline act JUDAS PRIEST stormed on to the main stage in a blaze of effervescent, heavy metal glory. Priest offered an explosive show, and proved that these old school metal-heads with their Aladdin’s cave of a back catalogue are no saccharine nostalgic treat, but are as visceral and arresting as ever.

 

With so many timeless treasures and rare, lesser known jewels at their fingertips, and the hefty burden of keeping both the diehard devoted and fledgling fans satisfied, selecting an appropriate setlist for Bloodstock perhaps proved both a pleasure and a pain. But the choices made were entirely befitting. From the brutal 'Bloodstone' to the flaming 'Firepower', to career-defining classics like 'Breaking the Law' and 'Metal Gods', to the nerve-shattering, tooth-jarring Painkiller, Priest dived in headfirst with every rousing, much-beloved track to unleash hell on Catton Park and drive the crowd positively wild.

 

Encapsulating the cathartic spirit of rhythmic rebellion combined with breathtaking technical brilliance, Priest continue to send shivers down the spine despite their veteran status. From the more experimental to the crowd-pleasing belters, the ripping guitar solos and aggressive tempos stretched the strings to breaking point, and the unearthly, screaming vocals were a match for any eldritch banshee wail. With a sense of the theatrical thrown in, the iconic highlight was Rob Halford riding his motorbike straight onto the stage, an image that no Priest set is complete without.

 

Far from fading from fame or trading on a stilted, static memory of greatness, this very special night at Bloodstock showed these immortal Gods of metal have still got the potential to astonish. (SS)

 

Stay tuned for Part II of our Bloodstock festival highlights report...

 

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