With the weather changing it’s mind on the opening day of Bloodstock Open Air 2018 more times than Neymar making dives at this Summer’s World Cup, our foray into Catton Hall found metalheads of all kinds from the shirtless to those somewhat more weather proof. It felt oddly appropriate then that our first musical encounter of the day was with Nick Holmes and friends of Bloodbath (7), who probably could have taken their post-performance shower by standing out in the fields rather than heading for the amenities. All jokes aside, this was Bloodbath doing exactly what they do, delivering brutal death metal to an ever swelling, appreciative audience. A very solid, enjoyable performance which set the tone for things to come.
The first of a few visits to the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage then followed, where Rock Sins caught the tail end of Edinburgh Metal To The Masses victors, melodic metallers A Ritual Spirit (6). There was enough in the couple of songs we saw from singer Oli Bowker and co to show exactly why they had come out on top north of the border, so A Ritual Spirit are a band definitely worthy of further investigation.
Worthy of further investigation would be a dramatic understatement for the next band who took to the New Blood Stage, Nottingham black / post-metal meets noise merchants Underdark (8). If you imagine Cult Of Luna and Anaal Nathrakh having a baby with an added dash of Alcest, you’d get reasonably close to what Underdark sound like and live it is absolutely ferocious, punctuated by wonderful melodic moments which give a great contrast. If what we’ve described sounds like it might be to your liking, then please go and check Underdark out in the flesh, they were hugely impressive. After catching the beginning of their set, we made a quick 30 second stroll to the main stage to catch a bit of Lovebites (JP), heard one song, and then decided we were better off with Underdark, so back we went!
The next band on the New Blood Stage were Stoke alt-metallers Sertraline, but they aren’t getting a full review due to this reviewer also being the band’s PR representative – the fully biased view is that they were fantastic. Back at the Ronnie James Dio main stage, power metal favourites Kamelot (8) were launching into Insomnia from their excellent 2015 album Haven, the album that fully revitalised the band’s career after something of a shaky transition with then-new singer Tommy Karevik. Although mother nature and the wind threatened to play havoc with the sound for a song or two, this was quickly rectified.
The aforementioned Tommy Karevik was on fantastic form throughout Kamelot’s return to Bloodstock, handling songs from “his era” in the band such as Amnesiac and Veil of Elysium and older favourites like March Of Mephisto and the always brilliant Center Of The Universe like they were all his own songs. Once Human’s Lauren Hart was a much welcome guest appearance during Mephisto and really showed her full range (growled and clean) during the set closing Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy), which was a brilliant end to a performance from a band who are always a huge pleasure to see live.
There’s something almost unnerving about watching a band like Emperor (9) in the brilliant sunlight, but such is the musical spell they cast over Bloodstock that such things are quickly forgotten. Having played through their seminal clasic In The Nightside Eclipse on it’s 20th anniversary on their previous trip to Catton Hall in 2014, the 2018 outing saw the celebration of another album in full, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk.
To the devoted, the entire set will have been received like a blessing from the underworld; to those slightly less clued up on Emperor, it was still a mighty spectacle to behold. In particular, the likes of Thus Spake The Nightspirit and The Wanderer are completely enthralling, while Ihsahn lives up to his deserved reputation as a mesmeric frontman. Following the completion of the full run through of Anthems To The Welkin, Bloodstock is treated to two favourites from In The Nightside Eclipse. I Am The Wizards sees heads banging and hair flying all over the place as the gloom began to descend with the sun setting over Catton Hall. Finally, with a nod to Rob Halford and the way he always introduces Breaking The Law at a Judas Priest show, Ihsahn had the assembled masses bellowing Inno A Satana back at him for a triumphant conclusion to what will undoubtedly have been one of the sets of the weekend.
There was a fair gap between the end of Emperor and the start of Judas Priest, so the day’s only trip to the Sophie Lancaster Stage was in order to catch some of Bleed From Within (6), who had amassed a huge crowd. Their new album Era has been much heralded this year, and their blend of metalcore was going down very well with the assembled throng. In the twenty minutes or so we were able to see, Bleed From Within were technically fantastic, but didn’t leave as much of an impression compared to most of the other bands seen on the day.
For over ten years, the Bloodstock Open Air Festival powers that be have been trying to get The Metal Gods themselves, Judas Priest, to headline the festival. When it was announced that they were finally coming to Catton Hall for the 2018 edition, excitement was rightly through the roof.
With that said, it’s a little bit hard to understand Judas Priest’s (7) appearance at Bloodstock, or rather the setlist, as the performance generally cannot be faulted. One would have expected some of the songs from their fantastic new album Firepower to make an appearance, and this was duly the case with the title track providing an excellent opening to the set, while Lightning Strikes and Rising From Ruins also made very enjoyable appearances before the encore. But that aside, this was a night crying out for a greatest hits set, so when the likes of Grinder, Saints In Hell and Night Comes Down are getting airtime instead of The Hellion / Electric Eye, Diamonds and Rust or pretty much anything off Painkiller bar the title track, it just feels like some poor choices had been made. No doubt some of the long time hardcore fans will have eaten up the deep cuts, but will have gone over the head of the more casual in attendance.
Seeing Catton Hall come alive to belt out Turbo Lover (with added disco ball) as one just added to the feeling that this was a missed opportunity. Of course once Judas Priest hit the home straight the classics did come left, right and centre (You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’, Hell Bent For Leather and Painkiller all appearing before the encore) everyone was having a wonderful time, it just took awhile to get there. As with other festivals on this run, Judas Priest brought their legendary guitarist Glenn Tipton out for a few tracks in the encore (the equally legendary Andy Sneap having more than ably deputised for him up to this point). Glenn was rightly given a heroes welcome as Catton Hall rocked out to Metal Gods, Breaking The Law, the highly apt No Surrender and the obligatory closing Livin’ After Midnight, closing Judas Priest’s first visit to Bloodstock in exactly the way one might have hoped for.
Judas Priest photo by Katya Ogrin. Ihsahn and Tommy Karevik photos by Tim Finch. Emperor crowd shot (header image) by Steve Dempsey. Underdark photo by Leigh van der Ryl.