LIVE: Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2017

By Rhian Wilkinson

Words: Rhian Wilkinson / Photos: Emma Stone

Very few spaces in music feel as accepting, diverse, and special as the field at Bloodstock Open Air. Headlined by Amon Amarth, Ghost and Megadeth, Download’s slightly more extreme cousin was a joyous weekend of headbanging and horn raising.

There is a real sense of community at Bloodstock, from the families with toddlers, through to the three-deep generations laying out their camp chairs to await the main stage headliners. It’s not groups of lads – it’s groups of dads, and sons, and mums, and daughters, and everything in between. It has the sense of a big family barbecue – it’s warm and friendly.

Bloodstock is fundamentally more accessible, and therefore diverse, than any other festival in the heavy space. From the man rocking a full viking ship mod on his electric wheelchair/bed, through to the countless attendees repping legacy Bloodstock merch, it is clear that this is a festival that cares about its audience, and it’s reciprocated. On a predominantly flat field, with large viewing platforms for disabled punters, Bloodstock doesn’t feel exclusionary. In fact, they can celebrate having one of the most ethnically and socially diverse crowds seen at a festival in 2017.

The crowd is a delight. Yes, there are groups of men going hard on their horns of craft ale, but they don’t feel threatening. Bloodstock’s demographic is slightly older than that of Download, and there is a sense that these punters are here for their love of music – not their love of hitting the booze. The crowd isn’t intimidating, the pits aren’t violent, and the bands are constantly reinforcing ‘If someone falls, pick them up’. Multiple times throughout the weekend battle vest bearing individuals turn around to strike up conversations between sets, endlessly keen to share their stories of gigs long past. 

Highlights from the crowd included the most metal dad imaginable, waist length beard and hair in full battle vest denim, chasing around his little girl, who was delightfully dressed as a triceratops, in a matching denim cutoff jacket, complete with Metallica patches. In the sun of Friday, a group of five middle aged metalheads posing with their Mr. Whippy 99 Flakes was a sight to behold.

The line-up did not disappoint either. From Testament’s glorious hair blowing in the wind, onto Blind Guardian’s explosive set, right through to Amon Amarth’s full viking show on the Friday night, it was clear that Bloodstock came onto the field with the intention of playing to win.

Amon Amarth’s headline set featured a colossal viking helmet drum riser, fire and smoke galore, and even on stage viking fights. The culmination of 25 years of viking metal makes for a satisfying headline show and you couldn’t swing your viking axe in the crowd without hitting at least three pieces of Amon Amarth merch all weekend through. The band has stalwartly trooped their way to Valhalla, and they’re being celebrated for it. 2011’s ‘Surtur Rising’ featured heavily, as did 2016’s ‘Jomsviking’. ‘First Kill’ was a highlight – there is something quite powerful about a field of battlevests crying out “I am an outcast. All alone. I’m a nomad without home.”

Things didn’t slow down from there, with Saturday’s main stage line-up featured a killer set from Municipal Waste, including the classic ‘Headbanger Face Rip’. Returning to the festival after a year off, Municipal Waste clearly aren’t pleased with Gojira’s 2016 usurping of their claim to fame. ‘Most crowd surfers over the barrier’ has been a long standing point of pride for Municipal Waste and frankly, they weren’t leaving till they’d claimed back their thrown. Calling onto stage a ‘World Records Judge’ otherwise known as Cam, they whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Rumour has it the real number of surfers over the barrier during their set was upwards of 700, but figures haven’t been confirmed.  

Special mention needs to go to Flint, Michigan’s King 810. Despite being down one guitarist (unable to travel due to legal reasons), King turned up. Yes, they played to a backing track, and if you’re a bit of an obsessive you could complain that it sounded thin – but honestly, it didn’t matter.

King 810 are making metal feel dangerous again, the way heavy music should feel. They’re taking the scene back to the fearful curiosity that artists like Marilyn Manson and Slipknot invoked. Yes, it’s a safe space, but it should feel like a knife’s edge. There is a hardness that King 810 embodies that very few other bands are able to sustain in the current musical landscape. The visuals were unsettling and effective, treading the line between arthouse film and gang territory documentary – but most importantly, King got up and played. There wasn’t any theatrical crap, it was just heavy, angry, violent music. ‘Kill ‘Em All’ was roared back by the crowd, proving that Slipknot aren’t the only metal band who can get a singalong going. 

Sunday’s bands followed accordingly. Hardcore at 10.45am isn’t an easy thing to pull off, but Broken Teeth did it. Judging by the man in head to toe leather and wrist to elbow spikes standing with his sword raised in the centre of the circle pit, Bloodstock received Manchester hardcore’s finest well.

Venom Prison positively tore the main stage up before lunch on Sunday, and as one of only a handful of women gracing the stage, Larissa held her own. With more space to play with than the dinky spaces they’re normally confined to, Venom Prison opened up and let rip. It was reassuring to see the crowd throw up horns again and again over the weekend for young bands that are pushing boundaries. Obviously bands like Obituary are incredible, and proving that they still have some fight in them after more than 30 years, but seeing a scene embrace young artists is exciting.

Metal tends to be dominated by legacy acts, and it takes a lot to break in. With artists like Broken Teeth bringing hardcore, Venom Prison with feminist death metal, and Puppy with their metal fusion that no one quite seems to be able to define entering these spaces, it’s exciting to see a future in extreme heavy music. 

If you enjoy heavy music, and the unique community that it cultivates, Bloodstock Open Air is a very special way to spend a weekend. A lot of love goes into it, from the bands on the stages right down to the curated art gallery and choice of vendors.

2017 celebrates the festival’s largest attendance to date, quite a mean feat in a year of economic uncertainty. With the announcement of Gojira and Nightwish as headliners for 2018, hopefully we will continue to see the rise of Bloodstock in years to come.