Napalm Death have this year off so it’s the turn of the other Brummie brutalists Benediction to open the main stage today. It does seem as though one or the other is guaranteed to play the festival each year, not that we are complaining as this is just the wake up call we need. Whoops whose had an accident, Dave Hunt playing the first of two sets of the weekend hobbles on stage on crutches and perches himself up, leg on monitor before shrugging it off and stating that you “just get on with it don’t you?” They do this in style with ‘Nothing On The Inside’ and have absolutely no problems in whipping up a pit circle from the off to which I have to will Dave not to jump in and join in. The somewhat cooler and more overcast weather is a bit of relief and allows more rigorous action and ‘Unfound Mortality’ goes off like the clappers getting heads banging and necks snapping in time.  As for the punk laden swagger of ‘Suffering Feeds Me’ it rocks us around and rolls over us like a bastard motorcunt. Solid stuff from these death metal stalwarts, follow that! (PW)

I was intrigued to watch Savage Messiah on the Sophie stage…it’s a good few years since I saw them in fact I’m not sure that our paths have crossed since they changed from their original moniker of Headless Cross. They always struck as the least accessible of the modern thrash bands, having more of a technical slant, not that it’s a bad thing. Today they are firing on all cylinders as they unleash their set of punishing old school thrash upon the audience through tracks like ‘Blade Of Conscience’. Killer solos and energetic riffs are dished out through a layer of flying hair, and ‘Intension Rising’ is aggressive as hell. Just the short sharp shot of espresso the system needs to kick start a second day of metal. (LH)

Much has been said about ZP Theart, the ex-vocalist from Dragonforce. His vocal abilities are undeniable on album, but his live performances have been inconsistent, making this show with new project I Am I probably one of the most important of his career in theUK. Power metal singers generally have an arrogance about them which matches the pomp of the music which I accept completely. Rock star attitude is OK on stage if it doesn’t interfere with the music being played, which it didn’t during their set which began very early atmidday in lovely sunshine that matched the upbeat tempo of the very melodic power metal. I have to admit someone said ZP looked like Captain Jack Sparrow, and I have to agree me hearties. After a short intro “This Is My Life” was promptly belted out with plenty of enthusiasm exuding from the stage. The most accessible songs from the debut “Event Horizon” were aired and created a lightweight bouncy atmosphere similar to the music of Bon Jovi in places though the tunes are much heavier of course. “Cross The Line” stood as a good moment being a highly memorable song with a fabulous chorus. With a short set time the band spent a little time jollying up the crowd which seemed to irritate some people around me, but was part of the show before ending their set with “Kiss Of Judas” and “Silent Genocide”. I’m certain I Am I won most of the crowd over though you can’t please everyone can you.  (MH)

Bloody hell every photographer on site must be in for a look at Dripback, rumours of them being such ugly freaks must have spread.  Their music matches the look, ugly is a great description and as for what is expectantly waiting in the wings behind us in the crowd it looks like only the strong are going to survive when they explode into action. So a year has passed since they last assaulted us on this very stage so what has changed, have they improved into a precise metal outfit. Well no and there would be little point in them doing so as their charm is all about delivering abrasive, short sharp and shocking riots of noise which they do admirably. Playing a mix of their old EP and new soon to be released Russ Russell produced debut album they quickly have the crowd primitively kicking seven shades out of each other as they jump around the stage, pull grimaces and shout out riotous statements like “let’s smash the crap out this place,” which they pretty much do. Dripback deserve being sent somewhere extreme and obscene inEastern Europe, if we are lucky they may even keep them there. At the bar Luci is getting a much needed drink as the band shout out “whose got our record then?” Cue reply from barmaid at top of voice “nobody you’re shit!” Safe innit. (PW)

Taiwanese terrors Chthonic sorely disappointed me back when they played at Shamnation [sic] fest, so I was a little sceptical about seeing them today. However, today sees a marked improvement and there is far more colour to their sound than their flat performance last November. The mid-paced ‘Broken Jade’ marches in with thrashing guitars and a strong melodeath sound, while Freddy Lim’s fierce rasps come over the top. The Eastern nuances come across a lot more clearly today, with rather oriental and ghostly keyboards and nice use of violin. Their set is powerful and sharp, and older tracks like ‘Quasi Putrefaction’ manage to bring some atmosphere to the stage with eerie keyboards and blackened backdrop that emerges through a sea of dry ice. I still find myself thinking that while this band have a lot of good ideas and plenty to say for themselves, musically they are just a little better than average and while they gave a solid performance it far from left me awestruck. (LH)

It was time for Conquering literally and who better to do it than Nola sludge uber-lords Crowbar? I had been looking forward to this as it’s not like the band play that often and it has been since Jan 2011 since they last gave us an up close and particularly rammed show inLondon. Tonight there is much more room for us and the band have loads to roam about on the stage too. Big, bearded, beefy, belligerent and bellicose are all good words to describe this bunch and their music. The ever formidable Kirk Windstein sounds like a wounded bear. Despite the room the band generally don’t need it and after hitting a groove pretty much stay static, trembling under the weight of their music. The crowd pretty much followed suit; nothing goes too fast in Crowbar’s world, it certainly goes heavy though. The ground may well have been hard but as the beat goes on it is impossible not to stomp away at it and hollow out a hole in time to the music. By ‘Planets Collide’ things lightened a bit with vocals hitting a harmonic pitch and sounding not a million miles from the late and much missed Pete Steele. This was one of the sets of the weekend that really did seem far too short but the ending of it with ‘Cemetery Angels’ was its very apt funeral.

No doubt the question on everyone’s mind prior to Mayhem was what’s Attila going to be wearing? Well nothing! No I don’t mean that literally though he had no costume on but was simply being his metal self today. He did explain to me later in the bar (no doubt whilst wondering who the nutter with a chain of daisy’s on his head was), that people tend to expect it and it’s nice to occasionally surprise them by not doing so. So from the marching familiar intro beat of ‘Silvester Anfang’ it struck as a stripped down performance in more ways than one. It played out in a fast and furious fashion with songs like ‘Deathcrush’ taking us right back in time. Although looking normal Attila neither acted or sounded it. Clutching the remnants of a skull it was as though he was taking things to Shakespearian excess as he croaked, spluttered, squealed and grunted through his parts.

Instrumentally as usual Hellhammer was buried behind his kit and there was something almost nonchalant about the way Necrobutcher, Morfeus and Teloch were strumming along. Riffs were jagged and moulded together in shapes that pretty much should not have worked over songs such as ‘My Death’ but somehow it all slotted into place. It came across as though the group just didn’t give a fuck and no doubt they lost the curiosity seekers who were there just interested in the group’s infamy and notoriety rather than the music itself. With this and the daylight playing time there was a certain degree of confusion but despite the sun staying in the sky, the band draped in dry ice exuded nothing but evil. There was no happy joy behind this festival performance as the messy technical riffs and horrendous vocal contortions took us into dark times with songs such as ‘Freezing Moon’ and ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ It was going to be a while before we got the smiles back on our faces after this! (PW)

Being with a crowd of occasional metal heads, and some either new to metal or who have spent their entire listening lives absorbing whatever Metal Hammer has told them to listen to, going en-mass to watch and listen to one of the great hopes of the English underground scene Winterfylleth was always going to be a gamble. For me, this was a no brainer. I’m a huge fan of their recorded work, though living in deepest, darkest ruralshire, I’d never had the opportunity to see them live. Happily enough, the quality of their live performance was such that both I, as unabashed fanboy, and the newbies were all kept happy. When they romped through “Mam Tor”, a shiver (chortle) ran through my spine – and clearly the spines of the assembled throng in the Sophie Lancaster stage. For a band with a relatively complex sound and mix, the sound mix was amazing, keeping the clarity and the fury required to power their sound. Newer tracks fitted in perfectly with more established classics, and the only complaint that any of our listening party had was that we wished that we’d have had more time listening to them, missing the first track as we did due to dilly-dallying and the furious polishing off of “one last can” back at the campsite. (CD)

Waiting for Witchsorrow a pungent smell filled the tent and we contemplated just what the low end rumblings of another favourite live act who play regularly inLondon was going to do this canvas shell. Starting with Aurora Atra from recent album God Curse Us we shaken to the core as the sluggish all consuming riffs invaded our head space. Some audience members it seemed were not quite so sure how to prey at Witchsorrow’s font and decided to launch an inflatable killer shark over the barrier which was somewhat surreal. However the heretic was cast out by the stage manager whose disproving look said it all and the band were able to continue with serious matters such as ‘The Trial Of Elizabeth Clarke. The band managed to stomp away at the right times to snap us out of our lethargy but this mass seemed far longer than expected and at a rough count they managed to get five songs into their set which crushed our souls even if not delivering us from sin. (PW)

Our editors accosted me whilst walking about to review Hatebreed though quite why I didn’t do it in the first place is beyond me. Having been totally underwhelmed by a previous show inManchester I was very cynical about how Hatebreed would go down with a predominantly metal crowd. I needn’t have worried as it seemed BOA fans are all closet hardcore fans, as the band’s show was easily one of the best of the weekend I kid you not. I actually didn’t start writing any song titles down as I expected nothing but once they got to “As They Die” I knew this was to be a monumental set of breakdown monsters. The pit was immense with all and sundry clamouring for a bit of space to do their thing during “To The Threshold”. The song hit hard and fast with “Merciless Tiger”, “Hands Of A Tiger” and “Born To Bleed” totally flattening the crowd. The energy and vibrancy from Hatebreed was second to none over the weekend as I could see non-believers being totally dumbfounded at the stage persona and colossal music on display. Jamey’s banter about camaraderie no matter what you listen to was apt and welcomed. “Doomsayer” was next and was followed by a flurry of two minute violent demolitions right up to the mammoth “Live For This” sang by everyone. As each tune went by the crowd was stirred up more and more until Jamey spotted a young lad in the crowd and got him on stage with his dad I presume. The lad was seven, what a moment for him as the band ended their pulverising set with “Destroy Everything”. As a side note the jackass at CNN that stated that Hatebreed are a white supremacist band needs sacking for incompetence if you’re a pacifist or a good kicking for being dickhead if you advocate that sort of thing. I prefer the latter solution.

Testament’s new album “Dark Roots Of Earth” is truly wondrous and their two recent live shows I’ve caught are equally wondrous, the first being at Wacken this year and followed by this untouchable thrash force at Bloodstock. The eruption of sound from Testament was staggeringly good once “Rise Up” was underway from the new album and immediately followed by “The New Order” before Chuck decided to catch his breath and say hello. “The Preacher” was a catalytic pit detonator as was “Native Blood”, showcasing Chuck Billy’s unbelievable vocal talents. The guys range and texture is enormous and with a delivery enabling you to decipher every word the guy is surely the top singer in thrash. Going on the back of “True American Hate” as a touring slogan works well for stirring nutters up in the pit as does “In The Pit” obviously. The show was unstoppable from the start, with songs being smashed around the set from debut to new and everything in between, with “Practice What You Preach” being a particular favourite with the crowd, as was “Over The Wall”, a crazy thrashfest. “D.N.R.” and “3 Days In Darkness” closed what was possibly one of the most vicious shows of the whole weekend and probably had the largest pit of the weekend too. Bring them back for a headline show please. (MH)

Machine Fucking Head are tonight celebrating 20 years since their first ever gig; now it has to be said that whether you love or hate this choice of headliner this is quite an achievement to have stuck around and managed to stay true to their sound for such a length of time. That said, I find it a little off-putting that someone who has been around for so long can seemingly have the mentality of a 20 year old when giving his cute little speech on the vacuousness of electronic music and how the only stuff that has any real meaning is hard rock and heavy metal. A very ignorant sweeping statement indeed and patronising to boot; this attitude is the epitome of everything I despise about heavy metal fans. All this aside, they are a damn good live band, and Rob Flynn and co plough through a respectable set comprising tracks new and old…’A Thousand Lies’ and ‘Old’ are delivered with ten tons of aggression, and naturally as the opening bars of ‘Davidian’ rings out, the crowd really picks up. There is plenty of clout behind big-hitters like ‘Imperium’ and the more reflective ‘The Darkness Within’ is a real highlight and really comes to life on stage. All in all a good Saturday night finale; not my cup of tea but can’t deny they were a worthy headline act. (LH)

Reviewing team: Chris Davison, Luci Herbert, Martin Harris and Pete Woods

Photos © Pete Woods