It’s August, it’s the UK and it’s time for the most metal festival of the Summer – Bloodstock Open Air 2017! Thankfully this time around mother nature looks favourably on Catton Hall (maybe she liked Amon Amarth), and graces the festival with good weather throughout. Rock Sins continue the tradition of bringing our readers a full breakdown of the weekend established over many years, so let’s kick off with Friday’s happenings!
Forever Still (6) do a solid job of opening up the main stage this year. Their mix of symphonic metal and hard rock isn’t terribly exciting. However Maja Shining delivers a powerful vocal performance and the guitar has enough crunch to it that this set never feels too wet. At the very worst Forever Still’s songs sound like Evanescence b sides, but the young band manage to show they have got potential.
Chelsea Grin (5) really struggle; especially in light of what’s to come with Whitechapel. Its not that their punishing deathcore lacks impact. There’s plenty of that, it’s just it’s the same trick and after the third or fourth punishingly heavy sub drop Chelsea Grin have given about all that they’ve got. It’s not that they lack nuance or subtlety, although they certainly do, it’s that there’s no diversity to their bludgeoning assault.
Having first played the festival in 2013, Whitechapel (8) return to Bloodstock no longer the outsiders that some considered them to be. Whitechapel deliver 35 minutes of punishing deathcore, sounding incredibly tight and polished the whole time. Their set is entirely focused on their later material which might be a disappointment for some fans but these songs feel more suited to the larger stage. And this set is just a strong reminder that Phil Bozeman is easily one of the strongest vocalists to come from the deathcore scene.
Despite Dani Filths iconic status within extreme music, there is very little fanfare for Devilment (6). They might be his more radio friendly project but that doesn’t stop Dani from unleashing his trademark screeches. There is certainly a degree of campy fun to Devilment but things start to wear a little thin by the end of the set. It’s a fine set but one that is totally eclipsed by what was to come later in the day. And Dani’s shout out to Suffolk is one of the weekends most unintentionally hilarious moments.
Soilwork (4) seriously struggle on mainstage especially after such a dominant Whitechapel set and before a Decapitated at the top of their game. Soilwork just have neither the punch of the best of their peers nor the melody that could drag them out of a quagmire of inadequacy. With neither of these things you’re left with a set from a band that simply exists without even the dumb satisfaction of the best moments of Chelsea Grin’s set.
Decapitated (9) on the other hand are utterly astonishing inciting one of the rowdiest crowds of the weekend. Whether it’s new material like Kill This Cult or the extended jam sections that close out Post-Organic and Spheres of Madness Decapitated prove once again they are one of metal’s most brilliant live acts when they want to be. Even technical difficulties with Vogg’s guitar at the beginning of Never provides no more than a stumbling block to their stride. Indeed, it’s a treat to hear Never’s main riff twice with its mechanical bludgeon.
Testament (6) fail to follow on from Decapitated and it’s only partly due to their Polish peers utter mastery of the live stage. Testament’s entire set lacks any sense of impact and with an unusually dour Chuck Billy not leading the charge with his characteristic vigour it’s a set that seriously suffers. Into the Pit might provide a set highlight for the brief moment you forget that Lamb of God have since done that song and better but on the whole it’s a performance entirely out of place with the quality of Testament’s recent studio work and veteran status.
Blind Guardian (7) may have lost all of their gear and production but songs like Valhalla and Nightfall are still more than enough to leave an entire field of metal fans spell bound. There is an almost undefinable sense of class around Blind Guardian’s live performance that places them seemingly effortlessly above their peers. A field wide sing along of Valhalla to close out their set is the perfect way to close their hour slot. As a warm up for Amon Amarth Blind Guardian are perfect.
Amon Amarth (8) have been waiting in the wings for this headline performance for years and produce a towering performance to match. With a giant Viking helmet dominating the stage they walk a very fine line between spectacle and parody but manage to pull it off with remarkable aplomb. Giant burning runes and giant sea serpents and regular appearances from battle vikings keeps the performance silly, but engaging. While the roadies dragging ‘dead’ Vikings offstage, collecting discarded equipment and putting out aforementioned burning runes with fire extinguishers does seem a little bit pantomime it’s very much in the spirit of things. Amon Amarth clearly want to have fun with the Viking imagery so intrinsic to their brand and this just helps that to happen. It’s a headliner stage show that while not particularly original does keep its own spin and provides an enjoyable spectacle.
Of course, the songs should always be the centrepiece of any show and Amon Amarth have great songs. Their power-metal via melodic death metal might lack subtlety but its more than made up for in huge melodic hooks and a substantial amount of heft in the riffing. There’s barely a lull in the set – with a career spanning 25 years Amon Amarth can fill a 90 minute festival set with ease.
Lastly, it is simply great to see a band that have climbed up the ranks over the years at Bloodstock and have finally emerged as a headliner. If this performance proves anything it is that the raucous reception to this first time headliner from Bloodstock’s core group of bands easily crushes some of the much more lukewarm reactions other headliners have received over the past few years.
And so the first day of Bloodstock Open Air 2017 was concluded in a sea of horns (both viking and metal) and fire. Stay tuned to Rock Sins for lots more Bloodstock coverage, including full galleries and reviews from the other two main days of the festival.
Words by James Halstead and Sam Dignon. Photos by Fran Dignon.