Bloodstock Open Air 2010: Day One - Catton Hall, Derbyshire

Under leaden grey skies hovering with the threat of a lot of more rain, I and 11,000 other metalheads descend on deepest, darkest, muddiest Derbyshire for the tenth anniversary of what is in this humble scribe’s opinion the best metal festival on these shores – Bloodstock Open Air. With tent pitched to the soundtrack of Black Spiders and their uniquely British take on the stoner scene of the 90s, I head into the main arena to start the festival proper. Unfortunately things get off to an ignominious start as Ross The Boss caches in on his past activities with Manowar and subjects the wet crowd to 40 minutes of the most mind-numbing power metal of the cheesiest brand.

Beating a hasty retreat to the New Blood stage sees a distinct upturn in music as Yorkshire lads Grieve treat us to a ferocious slab of unpretentious pure heavy metal; at times they sound a little too much like Pantera for their own good, but there’s no denying that these guys mean business. The same cannot really be said back over on the main stage, as German veterans Rage show very little progress from the mid-80s scene out of which they first emerged, and in 2010 sound more than a little jaded and dated. The only exception is when they pull out a bit of the album Lingua Mortis – apparently the first metal album recorded with an orchestra – and they shift into some completely over-the-top symphonic rock troupe that lifts them (just) above instantly forgettable.

Bloodstock has gained a reputation for leaning more heavily towards the folk end of the spectrum, so it’s no surprise that Finns Ensiferum get a huge cheer as they come to entertain the expectant mob. And being the heaviest of the folk metal contingent, they wake the subdued crowd out of their muddy slumber with aplomb. Back at the New Blood stage, there’s just time to catch Bristolian band Senturia; hardly the most original band of the weekend playing as they do the brand of hardcore that Hatebreed and Terror have been churning out for years, but as accomplished and energetic as they are, it proves to be a popular choice this afternoon.

With Behemoth’s Nergal taken ill and therefore forced to cancel, Cathedral step up at the last minute to fill the gap, and their groovy doom fits the day perfectly as they deliver a sublime collection of their heavier numbers; ‘Hopkins (Witchfinder)’ remains to this day their best song, and the screams of “Burn! Burn!” as they close their set with this monster ring loud around the hills. Despite being fast, furious and heavy, Gorgoroth feel a little out of place here today being the only black metal band on the schedule, and with all the clichés thrown in appear unintentionally a touch comical; it was perfectly summed up as a little eight year old girl skipped by completely oblivious to the satanic wailings behind her...

A quick hop over to the Sophie Lancaster stage and it sounds as if Machine Head are playing; unfortunately it’s not a surprise appearance by the Californians, but instead Collapse, a band desperate to sound like aforementioned thrashers, at which they fail miserably. The band offer up turgid, piecemeal tracks that are shambolic and poorly executed in front of a decidedly lukewarm crowd.

It’s an undeniable truth that Sonata Arctica is the cheesiest band in metal; a few technical hitches do nothing to dampen Tony Kakko’s cringing act, but the melodic qualities of their vast back catalogue cut through the fluff and when they are on their best form, as tonight, they quickly become a guilty pleasure. But soon all that has gone before is obliterated as Meshuggah enter the fray and utterly crush everyone with the heaviest, most devastating and most stunning set of the entire weekend – it does not get any better than this as the eight string guitars thunder through the massed ranks of flailing hair and dropped jaws; they may be on stage for a full hour, but it flies by all too quickly as they hammer out a set leaning heavily on the latest opus obZen in spectacular fashion.

Opeth have the privilege of stepping up to replace Heaven & Hell as tonight’s headliner, and the class with which they woo the audience is a delight to behold, switching from the fragility of opener ‘Windowpane’ to the all-out brutality of ‘The Grand Conjuration’ with such easy and poise. All of Opeth’s songs are mini masterpieces beautifully executed, holding the crowd in delighted rapture for the entire 90 minutes. There’s even a very special tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, with a sublime rendition of Rainbow’s ‘Catch The Rainbow’ that sends shivers down the spine. The wonderful setlist includes personal favourite ‘The Moor’ in all its glory, and a welcome return of old classic ‘Demon Of The Fall’ to round off a perfect evening.

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