Heavy metal, like any other form of Rock music, has its own sub-categories, such as Prog, Power, Thrash, Melodic and Gothic and many of these are celebrated at the excellent Bloodstock Metalfest in Derby, now a regular fixture on the UK rock calendar. This friendly, yet immaculately organised event gives bands from all over the UK, and some from Europe, the opportunity to play live in front of an enthusiastic partisan audience. With a variety of bands fronted by female singers on the schedule, particularly on the second, more intimate Darwin suite stage, we were invited by the organisers to go along and sample the fare on offer.
Most festivals have a Pre-show event, and this one was a good opportunity to see the popular Austrian band Edenbridge up-close in the tiny Junction 7 venue in nearby Nottingham. On first, however, were the excellent Season's End, whose inventive form of intricate, atmospheric Gothic Metal has already been featured on Musical Discoveries (review). The good news is that they are an excellent live act, despite struggling to fit all six of them onto such a tiny stage, and the band's own strobe light was used to good effect. As well as playing 4 songs from their very promising Failing Light album, they also showcased to new pieces "Evermore" and "Into the Flames" in a 45-minute set that seemed to fly by. As a live act they have lost none of their intricacy with David Stanton and Becki Clarke's vocals blending beautifully, and all six of the musicians serving the material with skill.
Edenbridge have already been championed by this website, and deservedly so (feature). Live they put on a good show, with Sabine proving herself to be an able, engaging live performer, and a second guitarist complimenting Lanvall's dynamic, melodic playing. Showcasing three promising songs from the forthcoming album Shine, including "Wild Chase" with its vaguely Celtic melody, the band performed a rousing 50-minutes set. On the downside, the songs chosen seemed to lack variation until the encore "Cheyenne Spirit," and the band's decision to supplement their live sound with taped keyboards and backing vocals seems questionable.
Friday 03 September 2004
On day one, the Darwin suite was devoted entirely to "Femmes Fatale," four bands fronted by female vocalists, the first of which was Super Massive Object, from the North East of England, fronted by the distinctive figure of Sharon Levy, with her short hair and low slung guitar. With guitarist Colm Scott-Baird providing some searing riffery, the band tore through a set of solid, tight Metal bolstered by some excellent song writing and the charismatic Sharon's aggressive, punk-influenced lead vocals.
Next onstage were Liquid Sky, a metal band from the North West of England, fronted by the delectable Fiona Creaby, who was dressed extravagantly in a dress and cape outfit of uncertain material! The rest of the band were led by the excellent lead guitar of Jonathan Craven and benefited considerably from the keyboard talents of new recruit Joe Rhodes, giving the group's metallic sound richer, more Gothic textures. The band has some talent, but is certainly a little way from the finished article. In particular, extra care needs to be taken with Fiona's vocal lines. She has a fine voice, but one which is not quite being properly used. So the band should look carefully at its song writing. That said, they gave the set everything and deserved their enthusiastic reaction. A band for the future, to be sure.
However, of the acts most likely to receive popular attention, the extraordinary Invey seem the "band most likely." Fronted by the savagely beautiful Claire Natalie, dressed in a daring red dress, this Midlands four-piece band churned out a raw, yet measured set of brief, angry songs. Claire is a mesmerising performer, prowling the stage cat-like throughout the set, grunting, rapping, shouting and just occasionally singing with incredible passion. Whether this type of rock music appeals to you or not, Invey certainly have enough style and passion to get to the top. A band to watch carefully.
Headlining on the "Femme Fatale" stage were Season's End, who played the same set as the night before, but clearly relished the amount of space afforded them on the larger stage, and seemed to raise their game for the occasion. Becki Clarke, in particular, seemed far more comfortable in this environment, singing with beauty and emotion. The highlights of the set remain the two strongest pieced on their debut album, "Touch" and the terrific "Ghost in my Emotion." Watch out for an interview, recorded at Bloodstock, with this very promising outfit soon.
With most of our attention on the Darwin stage on Friday, there was little time to catch any of the more mainstream acts on the main stage, but Finnish band Sinergy fronted by American Kimberley Goss are worthy of mention, their relatively routine Power Metal impressing, despite Kimberley herself, with her mass of long black hair, presenting a strangely inaccessible figure.
Saturday 04 September 2004
Saturday promised less to interest Musical Discoveries readers, though in the end the day was still more than worthwhile. A quick word about Edenbridge's appearance on the main stage. Like Season's End, they played the same set as Thursday, and also seemed to relish the larger stage and big, enthusiastic crowd, giving their set just a little bit more by way of effort. Their strong sense of melody was also welcome amongst the more riff-driven Metal acts on display, and Sabine once again acquitted herself well.
However, the day had begun on the Darwin stage with the extraordinary and invigorating hard rock of Rezin69, fronted by the dapper, Spiderman-shirted Ben Freebury and the lovely Maria Virgilio. The band played a varied and enticing set of excellent heavy rock, spiced with a sprinkling of samples plus atmospheric synths and electronics. With Ben providing raw aggression, both in his singing and fluid guitar playing, and Maria providing melody and subtlety, plus the occasional moment of aggression herself, this was a very contemporary set and very different from the traditional fare on the main stage.
Finally, the remarkable and surprising Cruachan took to the Darwin stage. They are part dark metal band--singer and guitarist Keith Fay often sings with a metallic grunt--and part authentic Irish folk / rock band, with Karen Gilligan's much more traditional--yet powerful--vocals to the fore. Much of the music takes traditional jigs and reels and rocks them up, with the help of versatile and engaging new member John Rollin on traditional instruments, including violin and whistle--at a metal festival? Yes indeed! Keith and John made a striking pair, wearing kilts and daubed in blue wode--hardly traditional metal fare, yet in keeping with the Pagan, anti-Christian stance of the band. They surely delivered the most riveting, and surprising, performance of the festival.
There was, of course, much more to the festival than the female fronted acts discussed here: Balance of Power and Threshold were also particularly enjoyed. The organisers of the festival, however, should be applauded not only for championing women in rock, but also daring to put on more esoteric bands like Rezin69. This was a great weekend, and a great festival.