Life frequently has its dark and dismal edges. 2016 has felt exceptionally dark and dismal at times. So, it is with some irony that the sunniest, cheeriest and most life affirming days can come from three days in a field celebrating the best in Metal.
Bloodstock is the place where your t-shirt can be any colour as long as it is black. It is the place where you can enjoy a nice cup of tea whilst taking in some brutal Norwegian Death metal or lie back and catch the rays whilst serenaded by some Grindcore. Families can lay out their picnic rug whilst the little ones form their own circle pit armed with inflatable two-headed axes. And down the front, age just becomes a number as the generations surf over the writhing bodies and get delivered over the barriers before running around and doing it all again.
Entertainment wise, the nuts and bolts of the line-up, Bloodstock 2016 really delivered. Friday night was a party spirit as Twisted Sister played their last ever (and only) UK show as part of their 'Farewell 1976-2016' tour. Whilst they may not seem the usual Bloodstock fodder, their reach and history surpass all labels and a healthy crowd turned out and were transported back to the heydays of the eighties. Fire, sparkles, studs and yes, hair like a lion's mane. Enigmatic Dee Snider showed no signs of slowing down physically or in speaking his mind: "It's nice to be at Bloodstock, the only true metal festival in the UK, not that bulls**t Download. And if you think I'm saying that because they were too cheap to hire us, I am!"
But don't worry unduly, the masses weren't for rushing off for perms as they'd had their fill of the customary Bloodstock ingredients - Behemoth, Venom, Corrosion of Conformity had pounded the eardrums earlier.
Saturday's headliners were Mastodon who started slow but rescued it by the end. Their nervous set did come off the back of another strong day. The long awaited reunion of Akercocke was a welcome return, whilst Rotting Christ stole the day with a powerful and gut wrenching set. And once again, Gojira delivered not just musically but marine-wise too. The French band, who are avid supporters of marine conservation, were greeted with plenty of blow up orcas but the crowd surfing sperm whale made quite the impression. Think of it as a metal version of Finding Dory. No-one was deflated after the Gojira set, well except for the sperm whale and that's a whole other story...
Sunday, still baked in sun was the day sunburn lines overtook tattoos as the body mod talking points. There was still time to admire the Strongest Man bouts, turn cultural in the RAM Art Gallery, eat black Kraken ice cream or down a pint in Lemmy's Bar. The Sophie Lancaster second stage and the Hobgoblin New Blood stage were well worth a visit with too many mention so what I would ask is you discovered (or rediscovered) a band let us know in the comments! I'm going to call out Acid Reign, Beholder and Bull-Riff Stampede as high points on stage two. On the New Blood stage it wasn't just the emerging talent on stage that warmed the cockles of my heart but the vigorous crowds many attracted made up of loyal supporters and those keen for a new musical injection. Take some time to give Chronicles, I Saw The World Burn and Ramage Inc.
But the time was coming to call an end to this little corner of Metal heaven (or hell depending on where you want to be) and the penultimate offering on the main stage Anthrax set the bar perhaps too high for Slayer to follow. Anthrax blew the huge crowd away with a set list of classics and new tunes, plenty of pyro and a comfort on the stage which most bands never accomplish. Should they have headlined a night? I didn't get the impression they gave a goth's skull where they were on the line up or what title they had, they were just in the mood to play the hell out of it that night.
Festival closers Slayer lacked the crowd interaction that Anthrax thrived on, but still put on a storming performance expected. A safe set list with plenty of classics and a set dressing to match was a fitting end to a raucous, loveable and ultimately, unbeatable festival for atmosphere.
Bloodstock has cemented itself into the festival calendars and stayed true to its ethos - By the fans, For the Fans. Its head is not turned by shiny trinkets or evolving into nothing more than a numbers game. Long may it continue, and may the bigger festivals take note.
Many thanks to my festival sister Natasha Rudkin for the wonderful photographs!