Horns Up Ya Shitters! Toby Cook Goes To Bloodstock

Quietus Man of Metal Toby Cook goes to Bloodstock and does battle with the likes of Motorhead, W.A.S.P. and Exodus

Dirty, sweaty, needlessly hairy and oblivious to the basic conventions of personal hygiene; they drink smokers spit from hollowed-out animal horns and think Dr. Martens, a kilt and a t-shirt with a truly indecipherable logo is appropriate weekend attire; they smoke too much weed, are uncomfortable when having to function as part of mainstream society and even their comedian of choice, Bill Hicks, had little time for them ; they are the only people on the planet who can appreciate the ‘genius’ of Yngwie Malmsteen and in short they do very little other than "draw stars upside down, get drunk and listen to metal".

Yes, as ironic as it may seem given that mainstream society is increasingly about little more than being brain-numbingly eager to volunteer into some sort of Apple-led, Orwellian future that involves watching disguised televised freak shows and eating mush that may as well be Soylent Green (you’d never know until someone Tweets: "OMG! Just found out it’s made of people!! LOL!"), mainstream society often takes a pretty dim view of us metalheads. And yet as the rest of the country had just finished tearing itself apart via rioting in most major cities – riots that left many members of that society wondering what happened to their capitalist utopia, but not for one minute considering the thought that the atrociously violent self-expression on display may have been in part down to the fact that a society that measures its self expression via who you voted for on X Factor is already pretty fucked – over 11,500 mostly peaceful, mostly drunk, metalheads descended on a field on the outskirts of Derby for the UK’s largest Metal festival, Bloodstock. Not with the intention of proving anybody wrong, merely with the intention of throwing some horns and rocking-the-fuck-out!

In an age where the festival calendar is dominated by either the sponsorship-up-your-ass mega festivals, or pretentions hippy-fests with ‘no bad vibes allowed, man’ policies, Bloodstock is somewhat of an anomaly – not to mention a heartening success story – grown as it has to its present size barely 11 years after starting as a one day event in the comparatively humble surroundings of the Derby Assembly Rooms. What further sets the festival apart is their policy of not just booking the big draws and current headline makers (see: Morbid Angel), but also making room for the unloved pioneers (see: Angel Witch), the legends (see: At The Gates) and the absolute, total unknowns (see: the entire New Blood stage!).

Unfortunately, although having lived in London for nigh on four years, it turns out that I am totally unable to competently navigating my way out and as such manage to time my arrival just as arguably the heaviest band on the entire festival bill take to the stage: Tom G. Warrior’s Triptykon.

Actually, fuck ‘arguably’ because if there’s a heavier, more threatening band on the bill, I didn’t see them. Three twenty five in the afternoon, peppered with intermittent sunshine and surrounded by middle aged men clearly here only for W.A.S.P. and inexplicably sporting poodle haircuts 23 years after they went of style may not be the perfect scenario in which to experience Triptykon but as they take to the stage something profound happens; It may not seem the wisest decision to open your set with a track from your previous band’s debut – in this case Celtic Frost’s ‘Procreation (Of The Wicked)’ – yet by the time the group lurch into ‘Goetia’, the dark, malevolent intensity of Warriors current project seems to take on an physical presence, like an ever advancing line of riot police. With every kick drum hit and punishing power chord they take a giant step further forward, forcing the breath from your body and moving the entire site about four paces further back. Even the dude that looks like Dave Lee Roth’s Viking lovechild seems suitably impressed.

Compatriots Coroner are up next, although unfortunately due to interview commitments I somehow conspire to miss about 85 percent of their set. This proves to be more of a painful experience than forking out the £15 necessary to acquire a tray of chips not only because today marks their first UK appearance for over 14 years, but also because it causes me to miss ‘Semtex Revolution’. Closer ‘Grin (Nails Hurt)’, however, is so fucking good I spill most of my chips. Shit. Further adding to the frustration caused by missing Coroner is the fact that Kreator are next on the bill. I fully expect to make some bloggers so angry that they minimise their YouPorn window when I say this, but I just don’t like Kreator. Yes, as part of the German ‘Big 3’, they’re inarguably one of the best thrash bands to come out of Europe – achieved by a solid mix of death metal-tinged thrash and not much liking God. But they’re not Slayer… Stop trying to be Slayer!! (‘Enemy Of God’ is bloody good live though).

After the farce/impromptu stand-up routine that was Devin Townsend‘s set last year, whether he liked it or not he had a point to prove this year. This will no doubt have been written a thousand times, but to say he more than proved it would be beyond an understatement. From the Bloodstock specific skits from what looks like Jim Henson’s foreskin, but is actually his Ziltoid puppet, to a set seeped in now instantly recognisable favourites, notably ‘By Your Command’ and ‘Supercrush!’, Townsend feeds more and more off the deserved adulation received from an admittedly un-partisan crowd. ‘Stand’ and ‘Juular’, from the recently released Deconstruction, have perhaps not had the time to fully sink into fans psyches and the decision to close with the never-before-played-live ‘Vampira’ may not have gone down as well as expected, it’s one of those ‘had to be there’ performances.

That is of course unless you had to be watching Lawnmower Deth over in the Sophie Lancaster Stage, which you really should have been. I, as well as 90 percent of those who had stuck around for the entirety of Townsends set, almost literally shat out a lung running to catch the last half hour of the criminally underappreciated Nottingham band’s set. In an era where thrash is arguably as popular as it’s ever been, whilst the likes of Evile are happy to basically rip off Metallica in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously, it’s a pleasure to see that relative oldies Lawnmower Deth have filled the considerable tent to capacity by inviting on stage both a man in a boiler suit and a rabbit masked named ‘Sumo’ and a man in an orange, flower-print dress and Satan mask, bouncing on a trampoline through ‘Satan’s Trampoline’.

So it falls to W.A.S.P to bring the curtain down on day one of Bloodstock 2011. Again, W.A.S.P are a band I’ve never really ‘got’; to say they’re a poor man’s Kiss/Motley Crüe would be harsh in the extreme, but where’s the appeal? These days, W.A.S.P. are all about Blackie Lawless – and why not, if nothing else he’s a consummate entertainer and the poodle-hair mafia and their kids down front lap up every minute of their hour and a half set – but for me it’s just a bit boring: too many extended bass breaks whilst he talks shit, too much talking shit between the music – they don’t even play ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)’! I mean, come on!

So, just like that, day one’s over, and, stepping over Dave Lee Roth’s Viking lovechild (who by the looks of it passed out sometime around an admittedly stirring ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’), it’s back to the tent to prepare for day two…

It’s a Saturday and it’s a festival, so I figure that a can of Carlsberg and a soggy, two day old cheese sandwich is a perfectly acceptable breakfast, but I get some pretty funny looks from some of the other early risers in the press tent, so decide it’s best to head out and catch W.A.S.P.

For a band who claim to have only arrived on site 15 minutes before hitting the stage, Skeleton Witch play with a ferocity and tightness many bands will later fail to match, and although the crowd is sparse and too hung-over to fully lapse into the beer drowned headbanging fury that usually accompanies their shows, you could scarcely wish for a better eye-opener that the groups particular brand of black/death thrash. (Yes, it does sound like a medieval yeast infection, doesn’t it!)

With that cheese sandwich beginning to repeat on me already, and a distinct lack of quality on the main stage, it’s over to the Sophie Lancaster to be aurally assaulted by London’s DripBack – who frankly not only look like they would have been participating in the recent riots, play like they’re still on a buzz from it. Honestly, they’re the sort of metal band I should hate; thuggish and far too keen on beat-downs, somehow the intensity of their death metal stained hardcore, coupled with truly engrossing riffs makes them something like the equivalent of scratching an itch ’til you bleed: you can’t ignore it, and despite the increased pain with every scratch, you can’t stop… and it’s immensely satisfying (or do I need therapy?).

Back on the Ronnie James Dio stage, and at the other end of the artistic spectrum altogether, the infinitely more cerebral Ihsahn appears to have brought a boy band with him – ok, so in his current solo incarnation the music might be more expansive and far less bleak than Emperor, but I mean, honestly, the dudes in his band look like 17 year old Top Shop models – no matter how much the keyboardist shakes his blonde dreads about. The fact that someone of his stature has a mere 45 minutes is nothing short of criminal, yet the closing brace of ‘Misanthrope’ and ‘Frozen Lakes On Mars’ still somehow managed to force even the emerging sun to retreat and cower behind some suitably ominous clouds.

Given that Wintersun and Therion are a bit shit, after several pints of Hobgoblin and heated debate about why Helloween are terrible and why 51/50 is such a fucking great album, the second stage once again beckons as it’s about time for The Rotted. As you may have already read somewhere, previous to their summer touring schedule The Rotted’s guitarist, Tim Carley, managed smashed up the little finger in his left hand. But The Rotted are made of sterner stuff than most, and if he was suffering any ill effects they never showed (except for a brief moment when vocalist Ben notes that "this one might sound a bit different. We’re not Dream Theatre, but sometimes we need all four fingers – y’know!". In fact, such is their obvious commitment to the cause – not to mention the quality of their new, far crustier material – that fan favourite, and old Gorerotted number, ‘Only Tools And Corpses’, sounds alarmingly tame.

If anyone knows anything about commitment, though, then that anyone is Angle Witch‘s Kevin Heybourne; anyone else that formed a band once more popular than Iron Maiden, yet that somehow managed to fuck it up would have given up long ago. Tonight however, Angel Witch are nothing short of a revelation. Bill Steer brings an inimitable quality to any band he becomes involved with, and although Angel Witch prove no exception, this performance goes beyond the impressive and into the annuls; undoubtedly one of the best performances Bloodstock has seen in its history, the crowning glory being the look on Heybourne’s face – a mixture of sheer amazement and knowing justification – as the entire tent erupts in a chorus "you’re an angel witch, you’re an angel witch" that continues even when the band stop playing.

For most in attendance though, tonight is all about main stage headliners Immortal. And why not? After the self indulgence of W.A.S.P. last night, the knowingly ridiculous theatrics of Immortal are a brutal breath of fresh air. As Kiss loving, Motörhead fanatics – albeit ones who happen to play thrash leaning, black metal – Immortal are quite possibly the perfect Bloodstock band, and the fact that it’s taken them so long to finally appear here only adds to the palpable sense of excitement running through the crowd throughout. Whilst an ill wind somewhat dampens their sound at the most inappropriate of moments as well as removing such large swathes of dry ice you can often catch a glimpse of drummer Horgh (if you seen Immortal before, you’ll know how unusual this is!). Nothing can really spoil this; from Abbath’s bizarre crab-walks to the immaculate renditions of ‘The Call Of The Winter Moon’, ‘Tyrants’ and closer ‘The Sun No Longer Rises’ it’s an immaculate performance. And with that it’s once again back to the V.I.P. bar.

For those of you that may think that covering these events is a glamorous pursuit, bare this in mind: I may have headed back to the V.I.P. bar, but it’s fucking expensive, and it’s cold. There’s only so long I can stand to sit outside swigging from a two litre bottle of vodka and Dr. Pepper (don’t ask) and soon enough mild embarrassment (and rapidly declining equilibrium) force retirement to the tent once more.

It’s day three, the third and final and final day – which, as much as I love metal, is a good thing as already 11 am seems like an un-godly hour to be waking up by. As un-godly a time to be waking up as it may seem, it’s decidedly less un-godly than main stage openers, the Andy Sneap featuring, Hell – who finally released an album earlier this year, 29 years after forming. Vocalist David Bower’s theatrics may well provide an interesting visual spectacle, but really it’s too early for mock self-flagellation, sermon-esque song introductions delivered from a skull emblazoned pulpit and play-it-like-you’re-headlining NWOBHM.

It’s probably too early for corpse paint too, as 1349 take to the stage at around midday. Much as Gorgoroth suffered by playing in the sunshine last year, so do 1349 this year, and to make matters worse a decidedly ill wind, as appropriately atmospheric as it might be, totally distorts the groups sound; this, coupled with a faulty microphone and not even a hint of fire breathing from drummer Frost makes for a disappointing, if not intimidating set. Mind you, their problems are nothing when compared to the tribulations suffered by Primordial‘s Alan Nemtheanger, who’s voice quite literally vanishes about a third of the way through the Irish black/folk metal groups set – I mean, it literally vanishes! He’s singing and porridge-ing and them… nothing! He goes off, drinks some tea, tries to speak, and nothing comes out! The band attempt to complete the set, with the crowd indulging in some impressively loud and constant karaoke, but it’s not the same. If there’s any justice, they’ve be invited back next year.

By now you pretty much know exactly what you’re going to get when Napalm Death show up, and today proves no exception. Career spanning set? Check. Ultra-modest, every-man shtick from Barney? Check. An insane amount of songs crammed into a mere 45 minutes? Check. ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’? Check. Attempt by the band to catch the crowd off-guard and sneak in ‘You Suffer’? Check. A cover of Cryptic Slaughter’s ‘Lowlife’? Really? Yes, really. Awesome.

HammerFall are up next; I fucking hate HammerFall.

And so too does Exodus’ Gary Holt, as a decision by the formers sound engineer to rearrange the entire input list causes both a late arrival on stage by the latter and a whole multitude of sound problems that result in Holt not only cycling through several different guitars – often mid-song – in an attempt to find one that works but also in him playing the entire set with a look on his face similar to that of Steve Martin in Planes, Trains And Automobiles in that bit where he arrives to pick up his rent-a-car only to find it’s not there. The late start might cut the set three songs short, but we still get ‘A Lesson In Violence’ from vocalist Rob Dukes (Yeah, see what I did there!?) as he instigates the largest circle pits of the weekend during ‘The Toxic Waltz’.

This is it, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for all weekend – actually, if I’m honest, I’ve been waiting for it for the last three years! – At. The. Gates. It has to be said there’s something of a ‘shameless-money-grab’ vibe to bands who: A) Reform after lengthy absences (especially when no one wants them to – Smashing Pumpkins, I’m looking at you here) and B) continue to tour sporadically even after having completed a ‘final tour ever’. At The Gates may only be guilty of the latter, but they have at least removed the ‘final tour ever’ detail from their back drop. A multitude of problems have affected many of the bands on the Ronnie James Dio stage today, yet At The Gates are affected by none of them; whilst their show might not have quite the same impact as their last appearance back in 2008, no one cares – even the poodle haired gentleman from Friday have re-emerged to headbang out of time. It’s a measure of both the bands lasting impact on extreme music and the adoration bestowed on them that not only can they get away with performing an encore despite their positioning on the bill, but also that the noise made by the crowd when they return for ‘Blinded By Fear’ and ‘Kingdom Gone’ practically drowns them out.

If any of you have read my last Columnus Metallicus you may already be aware of my thoughts on the new Morbid Angel record, Illud Divinum Insanus, (yes, I liked it. No, I wasn’t dropped on my head as a child) yet as brave as it was to actually release something so polarising it would have been well in the realms of complete fucking stupidity to fill their set with cuts from it; thankfully the group recognise this and we’re only treated to ‘Existo Vulgoré’ and ‘Am I Morbid’ from it. The rest of their intimidatingly professional, if slightly soulless set, is dedicated to the classics – no matter how many times I see ‘Where The Slime Lives’, I can’t get enough of it… Nor can I get enough of the unintentionally comic banter of David Vincent!

And so here we are, at last: the final band of Bloodstock 2011: Motör-fucking-head. It’s a good bet that if there was no Motörhead there’d not only be no Bloodstock, there’d be very little metal indeed – maybe none! There’d be no Metallica, no Immoral… no anybody! I’d still be taking debilitating drugs before work and consequently would still be selling people travel insurance with totally inappropriate levels of cover. And Top Shop would have had to find a different band’s logo to put on t-shirts to sell to people who wouldn’t know good music if it face-fucked them. So, y’know, respect due, an’ all that.

Tonight though, if we’re all honest, it’s just not happening for the legendary trio. Yes all the songs are there – opener ‘Iron Fist’, ‘Metropolis’ and ‘One Night Stand’ – and indeed they start pretty well, but then, around ‘The Thousand Names Of God’, it all goes turd shaped: Mikkey Dee disappears and, part way into the song, so do Lemmy and Phil Campbell. A lengthy silence ensures and upon their return, things just aren’t right – the set lasts barely over an hour and closer ‘Ace Of Spades’ is played at the pace of a funeral march (which somehow seems appropriate). And that’s it!

Given that Bloodstock 2011 was not only been the biggest, but the most diverse and entertaining yet, it’s a truly sad way to end – especially as it’s Motörhead. I mean, if it were W.A.S.P. that fucked up, who gives a shit? but Motörhead!? Days later the band released a statement to say that they were all suffering from illness, and little else – we have to assume it’s the truth, but if you ask me, it’s better not to dwell on – it’s Blood-fucking-stock and it’s Motör-fucking-head, and that’s really all that matters. Remember all the other bands that fucking ruled, the bands that killed it… Or don’t remember it at all and, put yourself in the position of Dave Lee Roth’s Viking love child, who once again shows up Monday morning in the car park, shirtless, looking more than just a little dishevelled and very, very confused – he’ll be back next year, so will I and so should you be… unless you like indie music, then, maybe don’t come, maybe just, y’know, fuck off indie-kid. Horns up, ya shitters!

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