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Bloodstock 2012 Recap

Before you read the recap, browse the massive photo gallery from Bloodstock

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This being my third Bloodstock in a row, it felt much more like a yearly traditional visit with an old friend than it did “work”. Boasting what was described by many as being their “best line-up yet” and also the best weather I’d ever seen in this little corner of Derby, BOA 2012 was a beautiful experience, without a doubt.

Regardless of the fact that Bloodstock is steadily growing in attendance and might, it is one of the few festivals that still feels “intimate” – like you’re among family. (Not the dysfunctional, embarrassing, “bat shit insane family” that you consistently try to avoid every holiday season, but the GOOD kind of “family”.) The ones you have obscene amounts of fun with, and can’t wait to see every summer. 

Friday, August 9th, 2012

Things started out on a thrashy and powerful note with the UK’s own Malefice and Germany’s Freedom Call. It never ceases to astound me how many metal heads are present and accounted for, to show loud and proud support in the blinding late morning sun, when most self respecting metal heads would still be asleep, wearing a blackout mask, and harboring an elevated blood alcohol content from the prior evening’s festivities. Considering that the festival officially starts a day before the main stage opens up, many of these intrepid fans were up burning the midnight oil, and getting the party started, the night prior. Kudos to all the early birds on site who showed up to provide support for the day’s openers! You’re what it’s all about.

 GrandMagus

Grand Magus

Up next, were power metal trio Grand Magus from Stockholm, Sweden. Having never seen these guys live before, I knew when they strutted out sporting epic beards and aviators, with their vocalist Janne “JB” Christoffersson wearing a threadbare, vintage “Rainbow” t-shirt, we were likely in for some good, heavy, old-school style metal. This turned out to absolutely be the case, and I enjoyed them tremendously.

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One of the things that’s most enjoyable about Bloodstock is the effort they put into keeping it a true metal fest, while also providing enough variety among the genres to truly offer something for most everyone. There are some folks who will never be content as long as there are bands on the bill who are not their absolute favorites, but sadly, it’s an unrealistic sense of entitlement to think that EVERY band will EVER be to any one person’s liking – unless that person cares to put on their own festival.

Sepultura at Bloodstock

Sepultura at Bloodstock

The next three bands up, Moonsorrow (Finland) Iced Earth (USA) and Sepultura (Brazil) offered the masses hearty doses of pagan and death/thrash metal in one fell swoop. Then, a healthy dose of bittersweet nostalgia came next in the form of Dio Disciples, made up of musicians who had performed in the past with the great Ronnie James Dio, the man whom Bloodstock’s main stage is named after.

Featuring Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals, belting out the tunes with a hauntingly Dio- esque flair, the emotion was palpable on both the stage, and in the crowd, as we all paid homage to one of the most legendary vocalists of all time, a man of compact stature, but with a voice as big as the heavens.

With what seemed an abrupt and discernible drop in temperature, things took a sharp turn from the heavens, and plummeted into a much darker space as a strange, earthy, and somewhat foul aroma began to waft through the air.

I was starting to feel a little bit euphoric…

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And with that, the Swedish bringers of chaos took the stage. In a scalding hail of pyrotechnics, blood, incense, and rotting animal flesh, Watain came skulking out, and with them…my long time dream of seeing them in all their full glory, on a massive festival stage, with all their bells, whistles, and regalia…finally came true.

Watain at Bloodstock

Watain at Bloodstock

Promising to “bring down the sun”, they did just that, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my need to constantly adjust my camera settings to the rapidly fading light was my mind and eyes playing tricks on me, or a sinister and bizarre phenomenon that was actually occurring. Yes, nightfall is always inevitable, but the sun seemed to set rather startlingly and abruptly on this day, as if it had been forcibly slam dunked into the horizon by an unseen and malevolent hand. I watched in awe as the sky turned a blazing, intense orange color, then almost immediately after, went dark. The open air nature of the festival did not allow for the full “essence“ that usually accompanies Watain to be as heavily absorbed as it would be in an enclosed environment, but every so often, the wind would blow just so, and I’d remember where I was – some transcendental place where everything is surreal, vicious, hyper-color, and extraordinary.

This was a perfect segue way into the next act who would be the evening’s headliner, and a long overdue guest whose very presence at Bloodstock this year packed far more punch than just mere musical and entertainment value.

Bloodstock 2010 was my very first time to attend this festival, and I recall waiting for months with great anticipation to see Behemoth on that stage back then. This band holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, one of the most profound being that they headlined the first actual tour I ever covered as a fledgeling photographer – Australia, April, 2010. It was the first time I had ever left the continent of North America due to a crippling, pathological fear of flying. When this opportunity presented itself, I was faced with the pressing dilemma of either conquering my fear now, once and for all, or letting it continue to rob me of valuable life experiences, and of seeing the world.

Behemoth

Behemoth

I chose the former, and accompanied by my favorite travel partner ever, Xanax, I boarded a flight alone to Sydney, wondering the entire time if I was crazy, then concluding that I indeed was, but if given the choice between crazy and dull, again, I’d choose the former. Without hesitation.

Now, 2.5 years, four continents, and eighteen countries (some of them 4 or 5 times over) later…I owe a lot to that fateful little trip to “the land down under”.

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Fast forward four months to August, 2010, and there I was getting ready to board another long flight to Helsinki, Finland, then over to the UK to cover my very first two festivals ever, Sonisphere, Finland, and Bloodstock. Behemoth was slated to perform at both festivals, and would be the only people there I knew. But, recalling the positive experiences I had in Australia, I wasn’t afraid at all.

I was sitting at my gate at San Francisco International Airport, just minutes before I was to depart for Helsinki, when the text message arrived:

“We won’t be at Sonisphere, and probably not Bloodstock, either. Nergal’s in the hospital. The situation is quite serious.”

I felt like I’d been dunked in ice water, and my heart literally stopped for a second or two – just long enough to take my breath away. Whether or not it was “women’s intuition”, the fact that I’m a hyper-vigilant ICU nurse when I’m not snapping pics and writing articles, or perhaps a little of both, mixed with something else unexplainable, I can’t be sure…but I knew.

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I just knew.

I grappled with the thought of going home, and just saying “Fuck it. It’s not worth it. I can’t do this…” but then, they announced boarding was about to commence, and with sweaty palms, trembling hands, a knot the size of a bowling ball in the pit of my gut, and tears in my eyes, I stumbled forth and handed the gate attendant my boarding pass, and got on the plane, with no idea what the fuck I’d do with myself once I landed in this strange and faraway place called “Finland.”

Bloodstock 2012 Recap

Sonisphere and Bloodstock 2010 were amazing, and I met some wonderful people there who have since become some of my dearest friends, and my regular “summer festival companions”…but Behemoth should have been there, and that will always feel a little melancholy to me, in retrospect.

So, as one could well imagine, finally seeing them take the stage at Bloodstock 2012 was a tearful and exceptionally poignant moment for me.

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They were massive, just…massive. The crowd went full-on apeshit, and Behemoth played their collective asses off. I recalled speaking with Nergal and Orion on their first tour after Nergal recovered, and them mentioning that they felt they still needed some time to become the “well-oiled machine” that they had been prior to Nergal’s illness. I noticed no deficit in their performance during the “Phoenix Rising” tour, but only the musician can truly attest to whether or not their performance was what they would want it to be. Again, this is only one observer’s opinion, but they stormed that stage in Derby that fateful night, and gave Bloodstock the performance of a lifetime, not a moment too soon, but well worth every second of the wait.

I’m not ashamed to say that at one point, I had to lower my camera due to the risk of salt water damage, because I was weeping like a hysterical ass.

It was an indescribably perfect ending to the first night of Bloodstock.


Saturday, August 10, 2012

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Fresh from a rather subdued, civil, sober, and culturally enriching evening with Mayhem and Watain where no trouble was caused, no hotels disrupted, no rules broken, and no debacherous legends forged, I arrived at the festival grounds, ready for day two of the Bloodstock madness.

A couple of UK bands got things rolling this morning, old school death metal vets Benediction, and straight up, good old fashioned hard rockers, I Am I opened up the main stage and got the bleary-eyed, hung over masses moving. Third up, were Taiwan’s Chthonic, an extremely visual and surprisingly heavy melodic death metal act, they really held their own with the crowd, and while I’d only seen them play in medium “club sized” venues in the US previously, they had no problem owning a festival sized stage, quite effortlessly.

Crowbar

Crowbar

Crowbar were up next, and things got a bit sludgier and doomier as the NOLA boys took their places, and delivered their trademark punishingly heavy riffs to the very receptive audience.

Despite a rash of very strange tales already circulating like wildfire around the grounds about these notorious Norwegian black metal mischief makers, and their alleged unsavory deeds the evening prior, all members of Mayhem managed to appear on the stage relatively intact, and successfully perform a fantastic and versatile set of works old and new for the screaming masses. Being one of my favorite acts, hands down since prior to puberty, I was stoked to see these guys again, and will never tire of their special brand of irreverence. I’m surprised I was actually able to compose some shots of their set since I was jumping up and down manically, and urinating during the entire duration of their performance.

Necrobutcher from Mayhem

Necrobutcher from Mayhem

I was pleased to note that Necrobutcher was sexy as ever – suntanned, shirtless, chugging beer, and wearing mirrored sunglasses while working the crowd. My only regret is that he didn’t commandeer a mic, and scream profanity at the audience. That’s when he really shines. If I were a man, I’d be Necrobutcher. Small, resilient, wiry, outspoken, and unapologetically candid, waving a bottle of booze in your face with one hand, flipping the bird with the other, and making sure every other word I uttered was “fuck”. Fuck, yeah.

I got a little taste of home for the remainder of day two, as the afternoon and evening were closed out by four American bands. Power, thrash, and metal-core all had their diverse moments in the sun as Sanctuary, Hatebreed, Testament, and my neighborhood boys, Machine Head finished off day two of Bloodstock 2012 with a fiery bang. Boasting some insane pyro, and a characteristically brutal set, Machine Head were in top shape, and proved they haven’t lost their edge one bit, since I first saw them play at a tiny, poorly aerated, now defunct little dive called “Berkeley Square” back in the 90’s. Seeing them years later on a huge stage in the UK was almost as surreal as randomly smashing into Robb Flynn in Frankfurt, Germany earlier this year as he was stepping off a plane from SFO that I was about to board to head home. Considering I run into these guys fairly often in far off corners of the world is a bit odd, since they live, literally, right down the street from me…but I rarely see them at home too often anymore. Life’s a bit funny that way.

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Sun, August 11, 2012

The final day of Bloodstock is always met with mixed emotions, as there is a certain feeling of relief in knowing the work is nearly done, but an even more pressing feeling of extreme sadness knowing the fun is almost done, as well. Those of us who have gotten used to Bloodstock as a “yearly tradition” begin the “countdown to BOA” the day after the festival wraps, and get ourselves all worked up throughout the year as we wait for the next August to roll around. As one other photographer once said to me “I don’t wanna wish my life away, but can it be next year again, now, please?”

First up on the main stage was Canada’s Kobra and the Lotus, who regrettably, I did not see, due to having to come to the aid of a friend who was caught in a rather precarious situation that morning, and needed assistance. My apologies to Kobra and the Lotus for missing their set, and I do hope to catch them again in the future.

By the time I arrived in the photo pit, was beginning to forget that I was in the UK at all, as the first three bands I caught on the final day of Bloodstock were also all local boys from the U.S.

The Black Dahlia Murder

The Black Dahlia Murder

Corrosion of Conformity, Nile, and The Black Dahlia Murder brought a relentless onslaught of doomy and technical death metal sounds to the ears of the morning and early afternoon crowd, and were followed by a little bit of old school thrashy fun by Canada’s Anvil. Always the showmen, Lips and co. provided their usual brand of humor, coupled with the vintage thrash sound their fans have grown to love and expect from these perserverent metal veterans.

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UK’s Paradise Lost were up next, and they were a pleasant surprise for me, as I’d never seen them live, and while they aren’t a band I’d sought out in the past, they really impressed me with their technical ability to capably combine elements of doom and thrash and, pack a pretty blistering and energetic punch at the same time.

Dimmu Borgir

Dimmu Borgir

Providing direct support to the headlining act were Norway’s Dimmu Borgir. Oddly, despite the number of Norwegian bands I regularly have the opportunity to cover, I had never seen Dimmu perform live prior to this day. Knowing full well they get their share of flack from the black metal community for having become too “synthesized” over the years, I wasn’t sure exactly WHAT to expect. I did take into consideration that the debate was a moot point to me, anyway, since I fully believe in creative freedom, and if your idea of a “great band” is you playing the wax paper comb, while your grandmother farts through an empty paper towel tube into a mic, then so fucking be it. Who am I to judge?

I rather enjoyed them, and despite all the cries of debate and protest I have heard over the years regarding their sound and their image, I can honestly say, in my unbiased and truly objective opinion, that they appear to genuinely LOVE what they are doing, and were obviously having a hell of a time up there, playing their asses off and putting every ounce of energy they had into it. The crowd loved them, and they loved the crowd – it was obvious. No complaints here. I thought they were great.

Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper

Rounding out BOA 2012 with a theatrical and visually spectacular explosion of the senses was Detroit’s own Alice Cooper. A legendary shock rocker, boasting a career spanning nearly five decades, there were kids in the audience witnessing this spectacle up close and personal whose PARENTS were not even born yet when Alice began wowing audiences with his special brand of decadence and revolutionary creativity.

Sporting the full spectrum of guillotines, pyro, grotesquely malformed mannequins, and other horrific stage props, Alice brought the haunted house to the public a couple of months prior to Halloween. I considered it an honor and a privilege to be able to observe such a legend at work. Regardless of whether or not a certain musician or band is “my cup of tea” or my “style”, I HAVE to give props to anyone who has stuck to their creative guns and marched to the beat of their own drummer longer than most of the people I know have even lived, period. Alice is a bit of an American icon, and it’s not every day you get to watch him perform on a massive stage, and stand just inches away from the man himself.

It was a bit surreal, and overall, a perfect end to yet another perfect weekend at Bloodstock. I can’t imagine how they are going to top this in 2013, but I have a feeling they will not disappoint.

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Special thanks to the Gregory family and all the cast and crew at Bloodstock, Adam, Nelly and Nina @ The Noise Cartel, Ester Segarra, Foxicus Metallicus, and Taya Uddin for the hospitality and transportation, and all the bands who melted faces and crushed souls at Bloodstock 2012. Very special thanks to Watain and Mayhem for making my mother panic, yet again, this year. She loves that shit. Last year, it was riots. This year, it was…you.

Browse the massive photo gallery from Bloodstock

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