Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Oh Bloodstock, it’s good to have you back. After the enforced lay off of 2020, the good folks of the UK’s loudest festival were back with a vengeance and made this the biggest and (arguably) best of their history.
As always, there were a mind-boggling number of bands to see and with such a huge range of sub genres of rock and metal no-one could complain that the bill wasn’t diverse. From Norwegian Folk wood chopping to riffs and vocals so raw and powerful that they could scorch the sun, here was everything Metalheads could dream of and much more.
With the Download Pilot paving the way a few weeks earlier, it seemed like Bloodstock was the full-on launch back into business for large scale rock festivals and there was certainly a celebratory atmosphere both onstage and off, the relief and joy palpable as people met together to enjoy the metal family once again.
With well over a hundred different bands playing over the five days this was a long-awaited chance to drink, headbang and mosh amongst several thousand of the best and biggest community on the planet. Time and again throughout the festival there was reminders that we are one and all in this together, a sea of black band t-shirts, colourful costumes and horns raised as a symbol of defiance against all those who would try to crush the spirit of metal and its fans. Bring the heavy metal thunder!
For those seeking a slightly gentler wake up than the relentless and ear shredding assault that was Foetal Juice on the Ronnie James Dio stage wouldn’t have gone far wrong with the blistering and hugely enjoyable rock of King Creature on the Sophie stage, their well-received set setting a high standard for those following.
Equally as impressive though was the eight-legged boogie machine that were Pearler in the New Blood tent on Friday morning. Specialising in good old, heads-down hard rock with a touch of Guns n’ Roses swagger, the Welsh quartet know how to play hard and tracks like rifftastic opener ‘Worzel Chuggage’ set the mould for what’s to come.
One of the keys to their success is not just the ridiculously catchy material, ‘Angel and the Bad Man’ and ‘Fortified’ being prime slices of no-nonsense headbanging nirvana, but also the huge charm and likeability they display.
Led by the bear like presence of Wendell Kingpin, Pearler exude bonhomie and the sort of humour that guarantees a good night at a watering hole in their company.
Kingpin’s vocals and guitarwork, matched with fellow six stringer Andrew Evans and the rhythm section of drummer Gwary Hunt and Freaky on bass provide all you need for a blinding night out, minus the beer, their old school metal ramping up the excitement and full of sharp song writing. The party starts here.
In sharp contrast musically, Svalbard brought something definitely in line with the modern ethos of hardcore post-rock and growled vocals mixed with a fragile beauty that was somewhat otherworldly.
The contrast between the guttural singing of Serena Cherry and her gently cultured speaking voice was something to behold and the sheer fire they put into their ethereal black metal was as crushing as it was impressive.
Riffs and an all-out aural assault that could flatten cities literally burst from the speakers and it’s hard to get away from the idea that one day they could be headlining the very stage they dominated for their all too brief set.
Young Birmingham combo Insurgent brought their own fire to the New Blood Stage, easily winning over the masses there with their perfectly crafted dualling of metallic riffs and the glorious vocals of frontwoman Katie. Bursting with a youthful energy and determination to make a huge impression, the quartet punched well above their weight and tracks like ‘Eclipse’, ‘Counterpart’ and ‘Zero-Sum’ are destined to become vital elements on the scene, the new EP ‘Sentient’ a game changer.
When people like Gene Simmonds claim that ‘‘rock is dead’’, he obviously hasn’t heard Insurgent and you get the feeling that their sky-rocketing journey is only just beginning.
British Thrash legends Acid Reign made a very welcome return to the scene in 2015 following a twenty-three-year hiatus and at Bloodstock they proved exactly why they’re held in such high esteem. With a fury and verve that saw them included in the Big 4 this side of the Atlantic, the years have certainly not diminished their potency and their set was nothing short of incendiary.
Still fronted by Howard ‘H’ Smith, they unleashed a torrent of high calibre old school thrash that kicked off with a frantic ‘The New Low’ and took in highlights like the stately heaviness of ‘Hardship’, a nose-bleeding ‘Goddess’ and majestic set closer ‘Motherly Love’.
Over on the Sophie stage, Primitai play a set that harks back to the very best of the early stirrings of Prog Metal mastered by such giants as Queensryche.
Already hugely accomplished, the fire of recent album ‘Violence of the Skies’ is given full reign in the live setting and tracks like ‘Valley of Darkness’ fill every inch of space of the tent with its passionate and huge scale.
Following on from their triumphant set at Steelhouse, The Wildhearts once again tore up the festival stage and brought their own brand of dirty rock ‘n’ roll to the masses.
In a set jammed with singalong classics like ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go’ and ‘Sick Of Drugs’, it was also new material like ‘Dislocated’ and ‘Let ‘Em Go’ that packed a huge punch.
Ginger remains the epitome of a rock frontman but shorn of all the overarching theatrics that some are guilty of, his honesty and integrity central to his character and their performance, his guitarwork perfectly meshing with C.J. in a wild swagger that is as good time as it’s hard hitting. If you don’t enjoy a Wildhearts show you’d better check your pulse.
Following them was a tough ask but who better than Skindred to continue the party? The opening one-two of ‘Stand For Something’ and ‘Rat Race’ got everyone on their feet, wearing a groove into the field, a sea of arms raised aloft in triumph.
It was a non-stop party from the first note onwards and Benji held the entire audience in the palm of his hand, his suit as bright as his personality, easy going and funny, especially when gently chiding the crowd when asked to throw t shirts out to them ‘’they cost twenty-five each…go and get your own!’’.
With a snatch of ‘Back In Black’ in ‘Doomriff’, the Cameo-like vocals in ‘That’s My Jam’, the irresistible mash up of ‘Jump’/’Jump Around’ and a powerfully polemic ‘Kill The Power’, here was a setlist perfectly formed for maximum impact.
Following a heartfelt introduction, speaking about the effects of Covid upon the world, a beautiful rendition of new acoustic favourite ‘Saying It Now’ couldn’t have been better and it was just down to ‘Warning’ to totally bring the house down, the sight of several thousand people doing the ‘Newport Helicopter’ one to bring a gleeful joy to everyone there.
With the Jagermeister Stage right on the edge of the main crowd, it was a swift walk to catch the must-see set by Haxan, the trio kicking up a storm that the smaller stage couldn’t contain as people surrounded them several deep on all sides.
Having played a few dates on their previously delayed first major headline tour, the band were raring to go out and prove themselves in front of a partisan audience but obviously word has quickly spread, such was the fervour that greeted them. Given the strength of material like ‘Skeletons’, ‘Black Sheep’ and ‘Grave Digger’, it seems like the sky is truly the limit and the passion that Sam, Harriet and Jess put into their music is utterly infectious.
With their debut album ‘White Noise’ still creating ripples, the trio provide the ballsy hard rock and melody that should see them attracting yet more to their ranks and this sparky, on the edge performance was another showing of why the raw power of music is still alive and very much kicking. Following on in the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and Vanilla Fudge, right up to the present, Haxan again show that a trio can make as much noise as anyone.
There’s no-one on the planet like Friday night headliner Devin Townsend, the polymathic Canadian bringing everything but the kitchen sink to his retina frying, mind blowing set that saw everything from guitar duelling alien puppets and a drumming elephant to the stage.
With a fan picked set that saw fourteen tracks covering his solo career, time with The Devin Townsend Band and Project and even numbers from Strapping Young Lad there was something for everyone. As with his usual approach, there was a huge amount of self-mocking humour along with the dazzling musicianship and eye-popping visuals, Townsend the consummate entertainer.
Suitably for the occasion, there was a heavily metallic feel to the set with tracks like eviscerating opener ‘Aftermath’, a blistering ‘Love?’ and the crushing power of ‘Regulator’ that saw the singer/guitarist howling into the night sky. Whacky old favourites like ‘March of the Poozers’ was greeted with a roar and the hugely ambitious prog metal of ‘Deadhead’ took things to another emotional level entirely, the vast sweep of the music seemingly reaching out and touching the cosmos itself.
Doubly impressive was the lengths to which the performer went to ensure his appearance at the festival was a memorable one, having isolated for ten days and drawing together an incredible bunch of UK based musicians with barely a scant few days to rehearse and play such a demanding set.
It all paid off handsomely though as things were brought to a climax in a three-song run that was as dazzling as it was diverse. Dubbing the song ‘‘cheese’’, Townsend brought a twenty-piece choir on to join in the life affirming ‘Spirits Will Collide’ and added the aforementioned percussive pachyderm along with a brass playing gorilla to add an extra layer of madness.
Finishing with a scorching ‘Detox’ and suitably gothic ‘Vampira’ Townsend bid his farewells, knowing that he came, he saw, he conquered and he rocked hard. With a celebratory burst of fireworks to mark Bloodstocks 20th anniversary, the night on the mainstage closed, people wandering off with friends to try to fully take in the mind bending spectacle they’d just witnessed. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Whilst the previous night saw Devin Townsend taking the crowd on a trip through intergalactic highways, London quintet Borstal brought us back down to the reality of the mean streets of London in a furious display of ‘Oi’ based mayhem. Accompanied by two masked bruisers standing either side of the drum riser, the band brought a blast of urban freshness that immediately grabbed those gathered at their opening slot on the Ronnie James Dio stage.
Playing high octane hardcore with blistering intent, there was an honesty and integrity that could only come from lives lived in authentic ways and their message of defiance cut through as sharp as any scalpel. Tracks like ‘Dark Path’ and ‘Viscous Circles’ poured out in a torrent of riffs and spat vocals, the effect like a bucket of ice-cold water to the senses.
Remarkably, this was their first show together but judging by this it certainly won’t be the last time we see them on the big stages. As equally at home in the dark clubs of the capital and the huge expanse of Bloodstock, the sheer verve and commitment of Borstal should see them making some very big waves indeed.
Clashes are sometimes inevitable so the choice between stages is one that will see decisions based purely on personal choice, rather than merit. Those who sought something a little more refined packed into the Sophie Lancaster stage to see some high-class prog-tinged alternative metal by Midlands combo Netherhall. With high, keening vocals, swirling rhythms and punishing yet surgical riffs, songs like the epic ‘Disintigrate’ won over the early morning audience and point to even greater things with the release of their forthcoming debut album.
Londoners Wargasm UK were a great choice for the early afternoon slot on the RJD stage, their own brand of high energy electro punk metal mixing several disparate elements, the punk pop vocals of Milkie Way and the rock rap screaming of Sam Matlock a heady brew that shouts from the rooftops.
A blistering ‘Rage To Order’ and ‘Pyro Pyro’, which nodded towards the heads down energy of The Prodigy mixed which sweeter, laid-back beats, brought a blast furnace heat. By the time they’d thrown in a punchy cover of N*E*R*D’s ‘Lapdancer’ and high-tension closing number ‘Salma Hayek’ it was all over, the band having come and done exactly what they wanted and left the crowd baying for more.
Coming in off the back of the critically acclaimed ‘Sleeps Society’ album, While She Sleeps brought their ‘A Game’ to Bloodstock in a welter of metalcore blasts that is destined to see them fill arenas in the not-too-distant future.
Bringing their own Sheffield steel, the quintet ripped into a set heavily featuring songs from the new album and saw muscular heavyweights like ‘Brainwashed’, ‘Four Walls’ and ‘Silence Speaks’ rippling with barely controlled fury.
Managing to combine aggression with huge amounts of melody, Lawrence Taylor and his compatriots show they’re more than ready to join Bullet For My Valentine and Funeral For A Friend in the big leagues.
Without doubt one of the hottest acts in the country, Hawxx were additionally one of THE bands of the festival and their set in New Blood turned out to be one of those ‘‘I was there’’ moments. The multi-national four piece swept onto the stage and well and truly made it their own, their volcanic power shaking the very ground they stood on in a display of utter dominance and self-assured confidence in the tracks.
Whilst the material pulled no punches and was a viscerally thrilling aural experience, it’s their ability to balance the attack of the impossible-to-contain feral nature of the music with absolutely killer three-part harmonies that provide a steel fist in a velvet glove. An unmistakable retort to the misogyny that fills not just the music industry but life itself, there was no holding back, the lyrics as impactful as the heavy and coruscating music. Here onstage were four warrior princesses, ready to take on the world and winning decisively.
Theirs though wasn’t a rage against everyone but more an all-inclusive stand that actually united, drawing those assembled into their own family and showing the firm belief that when we stand together, we can achieve anything. Mixing older tracks with new, ‘Death of Silence’, ‘Blunt’, ‘Low’ and ‘Dogma’ hit heavy and it all points to a future where their names will be on the lips and posters on the walls of people all over the globe, such is their ambition and potential.
Having stepped up to the plate, the release of pent-up energy like the unwinding of a coiled spring was something that was both wonderful and somewhat overwhelming to see as they played their first gig since lockdown started. You get the distinct feeling that this isn’t a band hitting their peak yet but that they’re just building up the speed to launch themselves well and truly into the stratosphere. Truly magnificent.
33 years after first forming, Paradise Lost have lost none of their edge, their own grand of Gothic Doom Metal as influential as it ever was and latest album ‘Obsidian’ showing that they still have plenty more to say.
In a sweeping set that brought a grand and ominous darkness to the festival, the Nick Holmes fronted Sheffield legends brought out fan favourites like ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Shadowkings’ along with a number of tracks that hadn’t been played live for a decade, including ‘Shades of God’ and ‘Jaded’.
From the elegiac power of ‘Forever Failure’ through to the driving Goth of set closer ‘Say Just Words’, Paradise Lost brought the darkest recesses of their catalogue to starkly brilliant light.
Having built up a fearsome reputation as one of the leaders of European Thrash, Kreator brought their close on four decades to bear in a headline set that was nothing short of a masterclass of just how to do it.
The German giants seemed ageless during their lengthy set, the levels of aggression and sheer brutal force as potent as ever and with a back catalogue that most bands would give several limbs to have, cherry picked their set for maximum impact. From the moment they tore into the classic ‘Violent Revolution’, the pyro flames shooting high enough to touch the roof, it was a non-stop race through to the finish, the punishing riffs and bone grinding drums and bass like being punched in the face.
It’s only by watching a set like this that you truly begin to realise just how much the advent of thrash had a seismic effect on rock music, bringing it to life for future generations and possibly providing it the boost it needed to continue. Sure, there would have been giants like AC/DC and Iron Maiden still pushing forwards but newer generations have arguably come into and stayed with Metal because of bands like Kreator, their ilk creating the same impact as Black Sabbath did in the late 60‘s and early 70’s. The crushing power and menace of ‘Phobia’, where heaviness and melody are perfectly balanced, still takes your breath away as the pit gets wilder and wilder.
There’s a touch of the Celtic twin guitarwork of Thin Lizzy in the anthemic ‘Hail To The Hordes’ and this, alongside the 100 m.p.h. heads down charge of ‘Endless Pain’ shows the breadth of their material perfectly, marking out Kreator as more than a one trick pony and showing why they still endlessly fascinate after such a long career.
With the cataclysmic hat trick of the relentless ‘Flag of Hate’, ‘Betrayer’, the band joined by Dani Filth on vocals and the final farewell with ‘Pleasure To Kill’ it was over, the Teutonic Thrash Titans having affirmed their place in not only Bloodstock history but also in the hearts and minds of metal fans young and old.
A quick trip to an overspilling Sophie tent saw the hordes soaking up the power and glory of another legend, this time in the figure of former Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. Kicking off with the titular ‘We Are The Bastards’ it was a riotous celebration of high calibre, groove laden rock ‘n’ roll that showed that the band grow more potent with each passing year. Whilst the set was peppered with Motorhead classics, it’s their own material that speaks volumes and is in no way overshadowed by the love and familiarity of Lemmy and Co’s back catalogue. Definitely their own men, this is a band that inherently was born to rock hard and the song writing of tracks like ‘Step Into the Fire’, ‘Son of a Gun’ and ‘Dark Days’ screams quality.
Replacing the recently departed Neil Starr, Buffalo Summer frontman Andrew Hunt has proven a very popular and perfect temporary replacement, his vocal style a great fit for both the band and material. Whilst entering such a tight set up as exists here must have been daunting, Hunt seems to have been welcomed whole heartedly into the family and certainly showed no sign of nerves in front of such a vast audience. The fact that he made ‘Head standards ‘Rock Out’, ‘Born To Raise Hell’ and ‘R.A.M.O.N.E.S.’ his own speaks volumes and the capacity crowd lapped up every note as he, Phil, Todd, Tyla and Dane Campbell made this a night to remember.
With an all killer no filler set, the band got in, rocked hard and showed just what class is, their performance a highlight of the weekend for many there. Closing with Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’ and the double knockout blow of the inevitable and universally loved ‘Ace of Spades’ and a phenomenal ‘Killed By Death’ it was a resounding victory for the Welsh combo. The perfect way to close the day, you couldn’t get much finer than these Bastard Sons and it shows they really can’t be slowed or stopped, their place assured in the annals of rock history.
Don’t you just love lazy Sunday mornings and that sense that there’s no rush as all is right with the world. For those who got up early enough there were treats aplenty instore and the day started off with the extraordinary Seidrblot on the RJD stage.
Transfixing the morning risers with their stripped back Viking Folk music, the trio enthralled and entertained in equal measure, the traditional instrumentation and low singing conjuring ancient ghosts from the mists of time.
Accompanied by two fire wielding dancers, there was something absolutely otherworldly at play here and you feel the Gods of Valhalla would have been very pleased with this offering.
Bloodshot Dawn had no issues in being loud and ferocious after this gentle start though and their full-blooded set brought a Death Metal tornado to the quickly growing audience as people desperately sought to have their faces ripped off by the rising stars.
Even being forced to go with a temporary line-up seeing some changes in personnel due to Covid immigration restrictions didn’t slow down their relentless, bruising attack and with a new album and plans to tour in the works, the future seems assured and this certainly won’t be the last time we see the band on huge stages.
Another band raring to go and packing out the New Blood tent, Suffolk power metallers Sorceress of Sin impressed from the very first note. Considering this was their live debut, the set was even more impressive and there was a cohesion here that many strive for after years of being together.
With the quicksilver fretwork of Constantine Kanakis leading the charge, it was the extraordinary vocals of Lisa Skinner that really tore through the tent, a Valkyrie scream that rattled fillings and tore apart bodies and souls. A highlight of the set was the pneumatic ‘Empyre of Stones’, its hammering riffs and sledgehammer rhythm pointing towards great things still yet to come.
Liberty Lies brought their modern take on old school hard rock and metal to the Sophie stage and won over the crowd with the sheer exuberance of the performance and strength of material.
With a sound not a million miles away from Alter Bridge, they manage to blend huge hooks, frantic riffing from Josh Pritchard and the alternatively melodic and roaring vocals of behatted frontman Shaun Richards into a powerful brew as perfectly illustrated by bangers like ‘United Nothing’.
With the thunderous groove of Miles Stevens and Adam Bagshaw driving the whole machine, it looks like they may well be getting the big breakthrough they’ve long deserved and by this showing they’re hungry and match fit enough to grab that chance by the scruff of the neck. No messing, good old adrenaline-soaked hard rock played perfectly. What more could you ask?
It’s true to say that without Diamond Head a lot of the bands who played Bloodstock this weekend just wouldn’t exist. Genuine legends, led by the inimitable Brian Tatler, they set the blueprint for Metallica and all those to come and remain an inspiration to this day.
From those early and life changing days of ‘Lightning to the Nations’ right up to the recent ‘The Coffin Train’, there’s always been a high level of writing and performance that has seen the band retain their core audience whilst constantly bringing in new fans.
The addition of singer Rasmus Bom Anderson in 2014 was a key moment in their recent history, the Dane bringing a turbo charged freshness into the line-up after some rocky times and he’s more than proved himself alongside Tatler and stalwarts Karl Wilcox on drums and rhythm guitarist Andy Abberley, bass player Dean Ashton slotting right in just shortly after.
Seamlessly mixing material from the historic debut, right through to the latest album, this was a six-song masterclass in grand scale hard rock that was both crushingly heavy but capturing the dynamics that would so influence Lars Ulrich and Co.
From the brawling opening riff and muscular drumming of opener ‘Bones’, we were straight into classic territory and aural nirvana for young and old metal heads.
Helpless’, ‘Belly of the Beast’ and ‘The Messenger’ spanned the years, each as powerful as the last before the proto boogie of ‘It’s Electric’ came in a rush. It was just down to the marching majesty of ‘Am I Evil?’ to finish off the set, the crowd a sea of raised fists and horns before Tatler took centre stage to unleash the song’s quicksilver fretwork and then into THAT riff.
The song still has the menace and power to sound like the best Hammer Horror soundtrack ever written and will forever be the one tracks that truly started an entire musical genre.
It was a heroes welcome and one that Diamond Head well and truly deserved, the band never disappointing and showing just why they’re still a huge draw to this very day.
Stoner rock heavyweights Orange Goblin gave no quarter and with the blistering start of ‘Sons of Salem’ opened a set that reiterated just what a formidable presence they are on the scene.
For the next hour the quartet smashed heads and faces with their hard rock maelstrom that grabs the furious rock ‘n’ roll of Motorhead and mixes it with the whip-smart verve of Clutch.
Ben Ward appears as a giant presence at the front of the stage, guitarist Joe Hoare and new boy Harry Armstong on bass flanking him as Chris Turner seems determined to destroy his drumkit. It’s a powerful image and the amount of effort and sweat they put into their performance could probably power nearby Derby for a week or two.
Solid slabs of rock in the form of ‘The Filthy and the Few’ and the incendiary and furious psychodelia of ‘Some You Win You Lose’ don’t let you take a breath, the band squeezing every last ounce of adrenaline from each note. ‘The Devil’s Whip’ is a charge to the finish that would leave Mo Farrar in its dust and ‘Quincy the Pigboy’ and a scorching ‘Red Tide Rising’ leave the audience spent, needing to seek medical help as the dancing and carnage in the pit lay waste to swathes of them. Ridiculously primal, this is supercharged, high octane rock music at its best.
With a keen sense of light and shade, Wolf Jaw are equally powerful in the Sophie tent, their rolling and eminently tasty rock and roll bursting with energy. With a sound way bigger than it’s thought possible, the three-piece exist in the space between Led Zep, a metallic Stones and the Foos at their most furious.
There’s swagger and confidence here but it’s absolutely deserved and along with highly impressive sets by bouncing and irresistible, groove laden hard blues monsters The Howling Tides and the filthy glam metal of South of Salem you can be sure that the future of rock music in the country is in very good hands.
Veteran Northern Ireland punk rockers Therapy? brought their full hard-hitting armoury with them, the set packed with classics and fan favourites alike. Still blazing with a bright fire that can be seen from outer space, Andy Cairns, Michael McKeegan and Neil Cooper know how to put on a show with not a note wasted, the message put over in crystal clarity through both words and music.
As fresh sounding as when they first emerged three decades ago, you get the sense of a band who still have a lot more to say and resting on laurels has never been an option.
Kicking off with ‘Potato Junkie’, ‘Knives’ and ‘Trigger Inside’ Therapy? mean business, their kicking against the Establishment adding gasoline to the flames.
It’s not all spit and vitriol though as the tongue in cheek introduction, done in a Rob Halford tribute style, to ‘Teethgrinder’ brings smiles all round but there’s a distinct frustration here that speaks of the bone deep frustration with the way that those in power have approached and dealt with the current global crisis.
With a bristling cover of Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ and the classic set closer ‘Screamager’ it was another triumph for the trio and one that cemented their reputation as a main stage festival act. Untouchable.
From the razor-sharp punk rock of Therapy? to the OTT power metal of Gloryhammer is quite a leap for anyone but that’s the beauty of Bloodstock and the sea of inflatable broadswords and unicorns that heralded their arrival was a big indication that the faithful were gathered for the quest.
A suitably epic ‘The Siege of Dunkeld’ opened the show and from there it was a headlong rush into sheer madness with ‘The Lands of Unicorns’ and ‘The Hollywood Hootsman’ all played and sung with a conviction that would be hard to be churlish about.
Whilst there is a lot of humour present and a knowingly camp, over the top ethos to it all, the musicianship was never short of stellar, the ‘power’ most definitely put into the ‘metal’.
With the wielding of the Gloryhammer itself and a romp through ‘The Unicorn Invasion of Dundee’ the adventure was over, the band having won not just the prize they were seeking but also the massed ranks before them.
Since famously played the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at the hallowed grounds of Castle Donington in 1980, few bands have appeared at as many festivals as NWOBHM legends Saxon.
Introduced in suitably loud style by the larger-than-life Brian Blessed, the band tore into ‘Motorcycle Man’ and there was no looking back from there. Following ‘Battering Ram’ the classic ‘Wheels of Steel’ was a surprise so early in the set but it had the effect of just ramping up the excitement even more as the veterans sounded as fresh as if it was minted yesterday. Similar to the headliners, time seems to have not affected the quintet, their commitment to heavy metal never diminished and the obvious joy they felt being onstage, their natural home, lighting up the sky.
Biff is still the consummate frontman, the ringmaster to the metal troupe he leads and his voice still as rich and potent as ever. With Paul Quinn by his side there seems to be nothing the pair can’t do and with a relationship that goes back almost four and a half decades, it’s certainly one that bears fruit.
Guitarist Doug Scarratt adds his own sprinkling of magic into the piece while the perfect rhythm section of Nigel Glocker and Tim ‘Nibs’ Carter show exactly what a locomotive powerhouse they are, Carter still headbanging and having the time of his life as much as he did when he first joined the band in 1988.
Recent album ‘Thunderbolt’ brings us Motorhead tribute ‘And They Played Rock And Roll’ and it’s a great blast of nostalgia as the sound reaches over the crowd and into the back of Lemmy’s Bar that dominates one corner of the field before the pumping bassline of ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ and ‘Denim and Leather’ promote a mass singalong. From the fast and heavy ‘Never Surrender’ to the stately ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, the set highlights that Saxon have always had the knack of writing great songs.
Although primarily focussing the set on the three stone cold classic album run of ‘Wheels of Steel’, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ and ‘Denim and Leather’ there’s still plenty more here and ‘Dogs’ of War’ and ‘Solid Ball of Rock’ are as good and anthemic as anything written in those early years.
With a closing salvo of ‘And the Bands Played On’, ‘The Power and the Glory’, ‘747 (Strangers in the Night)’ and ‘Princess of the Night’ it truly was a treat for young and old as the generations of Saxon fans raised their fists in salute to this titan of the genre.
There was really only ever one band who could follow that and Judas Priest certainly pulled out all the stops, their hugely anticipated headline slot the perfect way to bring a close to the stage and festival that night. The start of a tour celebrating a half century of Heavy Metal, the next two hours brought plenty of surprises along with the expected favourites in a display that dazzled and reaffirmed their place at the very top of the tree.
As the intro music of fellow Brummies, Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ faded, a giant version of the Priest ‘pitchfork’ logo arose from the stage, it’s lights shining across the arena, before the band ripped into the live debut of ‘One Shot At Glory’, the first of many surprises.
With his gold studded suit and big white beard Rob Halford made for a striking figure, a Heavy Metal Father Christmas celebrating their Golden Anniversary in no uncertain style. Like Biff Byford before him, the years have in no way diminished his incredible voice and quite how he still manages to hit the notes he does is a mystery known only to God himself.
With the ever-reliable founding member Ian Hill holding down the bass at the back, Scott Travis pounding his kit and the twin guitars of Richie Faulkner and Andy Sneap providing those trademark Priest harmonies, it was euphoric business as usual.
After ‘Lightning Strikes’ burst out of the speakers at a head spinning tilt it was down to the grinding and melodic power of ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Coming’ and a freshly revitalised ‘Exciter’ to carry on with the wave, the latter like a jackhammer to the skull.
Complete with mechanical backdrop, ‘Turbo Lover’ sounded huge, its stuttering riff hitting you in the chest before ‘Hell Patrol’, ‘Valhalla’ and the anthemic ‘The Sentinel’ brought us all the way back to ‘Rocka Rolla’, the title track of their debut played live the first time since 1976. As powerful and ear shattering as ever, the stomp of ‘Victim of Changes’ was met with thousands of heads banging in unison, classics ‘A Touch of Evil’ and ‘Dissident Aggressor’ following shortly afterwards.
With another live debut in the form of ‘Invader’ and the ferociously blistering ‘Painkiller’ showing Priest truly are the kings of their chosen field and the leaders and inspirers of generations of metal bands and fans, it was a clear home run to unassailable victory. ‘Electric Eye’ and ‘Hell Bent for Leather’, complete with Halford sat astride a motorbike as ever brought the set to a close before the singer beckoned Glenn Tipton out from the wings to join the band onstage.
It was an emotional and perfect high to finish on as ‘British Steel’ trio ‘Metal Gods’, ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ closed the show, the band coming together at the front of the stage to take their bows.
Celebrating twenty years of Bloodstock and fifty years of Judas Priest, this was an altogether triumphant display of why the Metal family are the biggest and best in the world, the music set to ring at maximum volume for many more decades to come.
Photography by Lindsay Smith for MPM – Copyright to all Images Lindzrs Media – Full Gallery Below.