The first thing you notice about heavy metal festival Bloodstock is how ridiculously friendly it is. Clearly there is something about standing in the sunshine and watching huge, bearded Vikings bellowing about Ragnarok and Valhalla that brings out the best in people.
Swedish veterans Amon Amarth’s headlining set on Friday night is a wonderfully celebratory affair, as the band top the bill outdoors for the first time in their extraordinary 25-year upward trudge. Just in case anyone doubted their delight at reaching this new pinnacle, they bring insane amounts of fire and smoke, plus a giant sea serpent, Thor’s Hammer and some battling Viking warriors, while the drummer performs on top of a giant Viking helmet. It’s an explosive spectacle, knowingly preposterous but delivered with real passion. Judging by the startling number of people wearing their merchandise, Amon Amarth have already won hearts and minds in the metal scene, but this was a thrilling triumph nonetheless.
Earlier in the day, Poland’s Decapitated staked a convincing claim to be future headliners: once a pure death metal band, their recent evolution has nudged them towards the metal mainstream, and it is songs from new album Anticult that receive the rowdiest response.
Thrash metal is a big deal at Bloodstock this year, with everyone from old timers Kreator and Testament through to visceral newbies Havok and Shrapnel keeping the spirit of 85 alive, and proving that nothing else sends metalheads into such a frenzy of circle pits and flying lager. US thrashcore scamps Municipal Waste even manage to break a world record for the largest number of crowd-surfers during a single song. You don’t get that at Latitude.
Saturday’s highlights are both a little off-piste for the old-school contingent: King 810 pull off a stunning return to the UK, despite being a guitarist down, with a set that occasionally feels too deep, dark and intimate for the outdoors but that provokes one of the weekend’s most raucous sing-alongs during the climactic Killem All. Meanwhile, Hatebreed get the loudest response of the whole festival by simply battering everyone with positivity and massive riffs. Saturday headliners Ghost pull out all the cod-Satanic theatrical stops. It’s an entertaining 90 minutes of great songs and mischievous weirdness, even though frontman Papa Emeritus III appears to be turning into the heavy metal Frank N Furter, replete with wide-eyed smutty asides.
Sunday’s peaks include the joyous sight of wheelchair-using Possessed frontman Jeff Becerra snarling and howling like the last 30 years didn’t happen, and Skindred’s irresistible ragga-metal hybrid making a field full of exhausted fans dance like idiots for a full hour. It all ends with the most powerful Megadeth set the UK has seen in a long time, climaxing with a truly startling version of the still depressingly relevant Holy Wars ... The Punishment Due. Bloodstock’s cheerful nurturing of the metal spirit even brings the best out of Dave Mustaine, it seems.
- This star rating of article was amended on Monday 14 August from four to the intended five.