Having established itself as the UK’s (if not the worlds) premiere independent Metal festivals, Bloodstock truly is a special place indeed. From the compact size, the friendly atmosphere and the attention to detail that the Festival owners pay close attention to each year, there is no question that BOA has become a sanctuary for heavy music fans in a desolate horizon of corporate-owned, giant Festival organisations the world over.
The grounds of Catton Hall, Derbyshire, once again opened their gates and hosted a slew of heavy metal fans for the near-sold out Bloodstock Open Air 2023. Pitch black stages, toddler circle pits, summoning the rain gods, and sentient pumpkins – Overdrive were on scene to report back on the madness of the four day festival.
Thursday afternoon brought a collective sigh of relief when it came to the uncontrollable conditions; last years figurative (and perhaps literal) hell on earth reached dangerous and unforgettable highs of 37°C (98°F) with many festival goers requiring medical attention, and with the recent wash-outs happening in mainland Europe (such as the Wacken and Metaldays disasters) there was reason for concern that this years Bloodstock may fall victim to the elements – however the British climate decided to be gentle this year and kick-start the festivities with a pleasantly warm and sunny day.
With the main arena opening at 4pm after early arriving day passers and campers had set up their communities for the weekend, the first band to take stage a swift 15 minutes later in the Sophie Lancaster tent (which is the only stage hosting performances on Thursday) was the self-proclaimed ‘post-nu-sub-core metal‘ collective The Violent Inzident, performing just that in a wacky set including an old-school deep sea diving suit and a giant ‘monkey bird‘ costume, among other questionable fits. A large high-spirited crowd had congregated inside and around the tent in time for Texans, Frozen Soul, opening the set by shooting foam over the audience and christening the festival with some of the first crowd-surfers of the weekend, enamoured by the bands bouncy and groove influenced brutal death metal.
Renowned for their wild theatrics on (and at times, off) stage, nu-metallers King 810 did not forget to bring along props or visual entertainment – in this case, building a gigantic podium for a masked pseudo-president praising capitalism and reminding the masses that they are doomed, while waving and cocky throwing thumbs ups. Vocalist David Gunn and bassist Eugene Gill take the ground floor of the stage, intermittently performing behind barriers of barbed wire and smoke, while guitarist Tim Lucier hides behind a mask designed as a King from a deck of cards – similar to the image on the bands backdrop. An apt performance of A Million Dollars sees hundreds of $100 bills raining over the stage – unfortunately only prop bills.
While all the antics are happening within the Sophie tent this evening, a walk around the full arena is certainly not off the cards or restricted – many stalls are up and running for the weekend ahead offering custom and bespoke jewellery, gothic and military fashion, home decor, leatherwork and drinking horns, and of course multiple stalls selling band shirts, patches, pins, badges, bags, and many more merchandised items. When it comes to dietary needs, Bloodstock has got you covered in every aspect; between meat lovers, gluten-free, vegan and, if you’re looking for it, sushi. Not only does the festival host food and merch, but there is the opportunity to test out your hand at axe throwing, noodle around on some ESP Guitars, and even watch some metal documentaries.
Wrapping up the night (albeit not with any pretty bedtime stories), true crime enthusiasts SKYND perform a mind bending show of heavy electro-industrial rock mixed with some horrorcore. Renowned for her claims to have an imaginary friend who inspires her to write songs, Skynd herself sings the tales of true crime events and horrific murders such as the Jonestown Massacre and John Wayne Gacy while dancing along in creepy stop-motion moves and gurns.
Taking control of synths and guitar is multi-instrumentalist bandmate simply known as Father, and an unnamed drummer, who both don equally mysterious looks underneath hooded cloaks and mesh-like masks which are difficult to grasp a clear look at under deep blue and purple lighting.
Disregarding the idea of taking it easy on the first night is clear on some peoples faces come Friday morning – over in Serpent’s Lair, some have opted to relax and ease into the day with the fantasy/musical movie Labyrinth playing on the big screen at 10am with a coffee in hand, while the delicate yet brave (or simply the non-indulgent and definitely wise) spectators scatter between three different stages; London Metal 2 The Masses winners Shoot To Kill are up bright and early to give the crowd a hardcore awakening at the New Blood stage, Bloodyard open the Sophie tent with a slap to the face with brutal death metal, and sandwiched between the two on the RJD stage, dooM-metallers, Witchsorrow have just become the entire festivals alarm clock.
On the Sophie stage, not only are The Enigma Division playing their first ever live show on British soil, but they are playing their first ever live show – period. As for many bands, lockdown decided to cock-block the entire world from being in each others company for the most part, and The Enigma Division had just formed before the pandemic hit – time spent perfectly by the band to begin writing and preparing for their self-titled debut release in January of this year.
The crowd drawn to their performance was made up mostly of those taking in what they were watching and listening to rather than crawling over each other; bassist Ronan Burns dons a monster 6-string FBASS while sole guitarist Conor McGouran (pictured above) awes the audience with complicated riffs and solos reminiscent to those of John Petrucci and Devin Townsend. On the opposite side of the arena and heavier on the technical side, Lokust have by contrast sent the New Blood tent into a frenzy – amidst the crowd is a sole pirate hilariously and enthusiastically playing a trumpet along to the guitar solos.
Announcements were made in time to let spectators know that there had been a mild line-up swap on the RJD stage; having just played in Dublin the night before, Phoenix thrash metal icons Sacred Reich were caught up in travel delays which, coincidentally enough, seen fellow Phoenix death metal band Gatecreeper kindly take their place.
Mildly confusing to some, a total breath of fresh air to others; enveloped in black cloaks, corpse paint and stands decorated with large chains, duo Zetra introduce the dichotomy of big men in battle jackets and those who genuinely love this style of music to a performance of ethereal gothic synth-pop amidst red lights and fog.
The duo had been brought up amongst many passers-by about their belonging to Bloodstock; that it didn’t fit the bill, or that they didn’t sound like what was expected – but to many it was a pleasant surprise and a breath of fresh air to hear something different. Not far off slightly more easy listening compared to other bands on the bill for the weekend and bringing some 80’s-influence hard rock to the Jager tent, Belfast’s Wild Heat have attracted a full tent of upbeat dancing under the covers despite the glaring sun outside.
Back on the Sophie stage, Leeds crossover/thrash outfit Pest Control bring a super upbeat and high intensity performance – looking at vocalist Leah Massey-Hay full of big smiles and jumping before she starts her performance, you would not expect this lady to come out with the harsh vocal style that she did, and she killed it. To her left is bass player Jack Padurariu donning a pink hat – a tribute to Sylvia Lancaster, mother to this stages namesake Sophie Lancaster, whos life was taken in 2007 after being attacked for being ‘different‘. Every year at Bloodstock, a day is dedicated to both Sylvia and Sophie in the form of wearing an item of pink clothing, and it appears the majority of the festival go-ers have gotten and emulated the memo as there are just as many pink items of clothing as there is classic black.
Square Wild have listed themselves as a genre-bending injection of energy, and that they are – delivering a mix of chaotic and quirky experimental rock with technical bass and bluesy guitar to the New Blood stage. Guitarist and singer, Lucy Shevchuk performs incredible bluesy style vocals alongside some taunting banter – some which got a little too cheeky at times.
With two vocalists and a lot of glam, heavy metallers liven the mood of the Sophie tent with a blend of power and thrash metal, and a surprise visit from Miss Lucifer herself in the form of fire spinning.
Following their performance, the mysterious Gaerea take to the stage with an excellent show of frantic, dreary and chaotic black metal riffs and beats incorporated by themes of misanthropy and self-destruction, harshly screamed by vocalist Guilherme Henriques who twists and turns in unsettling poses around the stage. The band is reminiscent of members of Batushka and Mgla in the sense that they remain anonymous under black masks and black body paint – in this case, the band display the inverted demonic sigil of Asmoday (who is a prince of demons and hell) on their masks, and their own unique sigil on the bass drum heads, and impressive metal stage props.
Given how tight a schedule they ran on and the overwhelming emotions and fatigue that can come along with it, In Flames put on a stellar performance with excellent vocals and sound. Frontman Anders Fridén dons a Clayman t-shirt – his own clothing brand and the name of In Flames‘ 2000 album – and also touches back on older songs during the performance including Only for the Weak from this album.
Festival hopping for the last few days, Killswitch Engage are headliners for tonight, and apparently it is their first performance as headliners since their inception. Certainly not being shy about using pyrotechnics, the band display a ferocious high energy performance alongside some goofy stage banter from guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, between talking about smelly genitals and suitably playing as many songs as possible about fire. After a touching spoken tribute to Lemmy Kilmeister due to members at that moment drinking Lemmy beer and the Lemmy bar being visible from the stage, it only seems fitting that the band wrap up their set with their cover of Holy Diver by Dio, the namesake of the stage they’re standing on.
Returning to the Sophie stage for the final performance before many of the crowd disappear into the shadows for the night, Swedish epic doom veterans Candlemass lurk the stage with confidence and relaxation amidst the incredibly loud riffs, and dark blue and red lights. Perhaps not the safest thing to do, albeit hilarious and apt, a spectator behind the pit pulls a candle out and keeps it lit for as many songs as possible while fighting off people trying to blow it out.
Nope, people haven’t been drawn on with markers in their sleep – today is Corpse Paint Day at Bloodstock Open Air! From morning time to throughout the day, more and more people are wandering through the crowd in different styles of corpse paint. A corpse paint stall had been a hit at Bloodstock throughout the years so it makes sense to host an official day for it – perhaps a nod to the fact that Abbath and Triptykon are to grace the stage later.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just before noon, London sludge metallers, Urne took to the RJD stage opening with the song Serpent & Spirit; a perfect little lead-in medley before jumping into heavy crushing riffs. The band have been making a positive name for themselves since the 2021 album release, also called Serpent & Spirit, and bass player/vocalist Joe Nally points out that the band had coincidentally just released their new album ‘A Feast on Sorrow‘ the day before this performance.
The songs provide a punch of excellent doom/stoner metal with catchy chuggy riffs, and licks – with at one point a mini moshpit breaking out between friends near the sound desk during “The Flood Came Rushing In”. But don’t let the heaviness fool you, as the lyrics are touched with emotion that come from rough life experiences. Wrapping up their set, Nally gives a touching speech and dedicates their last song “Desolate Heart” to friend and Bloodstock producer, Simon Hall.
Tribe of Ghosts are another band who have been creating quite a stir in the music scene – the Brighton quartet offer an excellent performance of hardcore with elements of groove, Doom, Djent,Industrial and at points some ethereal sounds thrown in for good measure.
Vocalist Beccy Blaker points out that she had been in the crowd for Bloodstock last year, and that it was surreal to see people from the other side of the stage. Passing through the arena via the RJD stage, Employed to Serve announce that they need the crowd to lose their minds as they are using that performance to record a new music video which will be released in due time. Edinburgh Metal 2 the Masses winners, Extort provide crushing riffs of groove metal to a loyal and dedicated Edinburgh fan base over in the New Blood tent. Each member covered in black warpaint and frontman Seb Rob in contrasting white clothes, a pit erupts as Rob jumps onto the barrier to deliver harsh growls into a wild pit holding more flags than an embassy.
One thing that absolutely must be pointed out about Bloodstock is how incredibly kid friendly it is. The debate will always linger on how young is too young for a child to attend a concert/festival – there are dozens of kids who are barely school age in attendance, many with their own little patch jackets or mohawk hats.
However, seeing how responsible and careful everyone is around them (including proper ear protection) and how they are actually being included in the fun of the festival (passers-by giving high fives, fist bumps, being taught how to do the horns, etc) it comes out in an incredibly wholesome result.
A major highlight regarding this topic goes to Skin Failure’s performance in the Sophie tent – between fun chaotic hardcore with harsh vocals, and instances of sweet harmonies, a giant circle opens in the pit… not for any moshing, but to allow two toddlers with water pistols sitting on their dad’s shoulders to run around in circles aiming at each other and soaking unknowing standers by in the orbiting crowd – many being hilariously squirted directly in the face. Nearby in the Jager stage, Cumbria’s Repulsive Vision get the crowd moving to their punk injected death metal that formulates a three person mosh-pit in the tiny tent.
A moment of panic sets in over at RJD when security are reminded that Knocked Loose are up next. Renowned for their incredibly chaotic and rowdy audiences over in the States, festival organisers are taking no chances when the band take the stage with their blend of hardcore punk and metalcore, which immediately erupts the crowd into slews of people being passed over the front barrier.
Between screams and growls, frontman Bryan Garris opts to fixate in the distance (whether it be to the horizon or a person) with a stonewalled face and quiet contentment. Oddly enough, the stage antics have not been as energetic as what the band are somewhat known for, however with a lot of touring happening simple fatigue and jet lag could be a culprit.
Spectators’ fears came true when a menacing looking cloud that had been looming for some time finally hit the arena and insane torrential rain left many running for cover in the middle of the band’s set, much to Garris‘ frustration. As luck would have it, the rain completely died off in the space of two songs in which the crowd slowly congregated once again. Perhaps Garris‘ was not taking any risks either, as prior to every song he yelled “this is your last chance!” before the band would break into yet another song.
The famous ‘Counting Worms‘ kicked in with an extremely scratchy, and quite painful to hear guitar riff, before Garris‘ didn’t use the microphone, and opted to let the crowd completely take over vocals for the two-bar long song, and the signature “aurh aurh!”.
Rolling on to earlier aforementioned Corpse paint, legendary lunatic Abbath and band stride on to the RJD stage in front of a backdrop of the latest album releases cover, ‘Dread Reaver‘, and also behind an unholy amount of smoke which makes it at times impossible to see the members during the first handful of songs.
No performance with the Immortal ex-frontman would be complete without odd facial expressions and tongue, which he certainly indulged in, and of course his wise statements of complete and utter nonsensical gibberish between songs. The theme of the stage show offered quite a contrast to the sunny day the festival was experiencing, as the lights were kept to a mostly cool blue, and white hue alongside the earlier mentioned smoke.
The 11-song strong setlist offered a platter of performances from all three albums, with a sprinkle of I’s ‘Battalions‘ and Immortal’s ‘The Rise of Darkness‘, which the band powered through, before Abbath scuttled off stage. Still not entirely sure what was just witnessed on the RJD stage, some of the crowd make their way towards the Sophie tent which resulted in even more insanity, as Czechian’s, Gutalax serenade the crowd with their hilarious diarrhea-themed grindcore.
The audience is in an amusing frenzy of jumps and crowd surfs, with people arriving for the set in full PPE gear and carrying toilet brushes. Seeing a fan up the front proudly holding up a reflective “IN FOUL WE TRUST” sign while 3ft inflatable poops and toilet roll gets thrown around a tent isn’t something you see every day – if there’s one way to wake a person up from an evening slump, this is it.
On a slightly more sane note, over in the nearby Jager tent, Derby’s trio Muddibrooke brings to the table an alt-rock/grunge performance which includes a cover of Leslie Gores “You Don’t Own Me”. Vocalist and guitarist ‘Brooke’ Harriet McDonnell holds that classic raspy grunge voice with smooth lows.
While playing under the title of Triptykon, this evening’s incredibly anticipated performance is actually touching base with Tom G Warrior’s legendary band Celtic Frost. The backdrop goes up to reveal Celtic Frost’s “To Mega Therion” album cover, and after the very chilling Danse Macabre played over the PA as the walk-on track, drummer Hannes Grossmann appears behind the kit with a menacing smirk, and horns raised in the air before the band swiftly break into ‘Into the Crypts of Rays‘.
Breaking out of the stereotype of no smiles, Warrior yells “Hello Download!” into the mic, greeted with a mix of confusion and laughter from the crowd. “We are going to be playing Celtic Frost songs from the first album and first EP”, Warrior proclaims, and spits “You don’t even know what it is yet!” when a very loud cheer comes from the front of the crowd. Excellent sound emits throughout the set, with guitarist V. Santura taking over exceptional solo duties.
Over on the New Blood stage, a strange performance is happening with a man covered head to toe in blue paint, wearing a black cloak, and shaking seashells and incense into the microphone. Cork doom/sludge metallers, Soothsayer definitely bring along a unique and avant-garde show to the festival, which doubles up as an interpretive art-production as well as a musical presentation. Super heavy riffs offer a soundtrack for frontman Liam Hughes’ mysterious stage antics and stalkings.
The electricity is buzzing in the air from spectators awaiting Meshuggah’s performance, which has caused some minor confusion over whether there has been a technical issue with the lighting or if the band intentionally want the crowd in complete darkness.
The familiar riffs of Broken Cog from 2022’s release Immutable suddenly begin, revealing a silhouette portrait display on the stage screens of frontman Jens Kidman standing eerily motionless, which gradually kicks up in vigour as well as lighting as the performance goes on.
The vocal mix seemed to be doing its own thing throughout the set, with Jens‘ voice at times seemingly drowned within the bass and guitars. With not a lot of movement coming from the perimeter of the stage crowd, the pit was a different story, with some next-morning news flashes recalling how they or someone they knew needed medical attention. While the performance became a little repetitive, it was interesting to watch the crowd bop along to the beats at their own interpretation of time signatures.
On Thursday during the arrival to the festival, news went out that German power metallers Helloween could not make an appearance due to frontman Michael Kiske suffering acute laryngitis. The brains behind Bloodstock kicked into action and within an impressive few hours a replacement in the form of KK’s Priest had been verified. Still though, Helloween’s cancellation wasn’t going to deter people from taking part in yet another fun theme day; this time, Pumpkin Day, which saw some of the crowd wearing fun pumpkin shirts, headbands, face-paint, bags, and gigantic blow-up body suits.
Those who were strong enough to last the weekend and make an early appearance to the RJD stage at 10.45am were greeted to a big awakening with Dead Label. Hailing from Kildare in Ireland, a sense of home pride is spotted at the front and centre of the barrier where a Kildare flag has been brought along by people in the crowd.
While the name of the band is a hint on trying to avoid being classified as any distinct genre, it’s safe to say there are elements of groove and hardcore there to entertain the new and old spectators.
While small in stature and very soft spoken, drummer Claire Percival has no problem creating a dichotomy of this when it comes to her playing. Having handed out lollipops in prior days as a hustle to make spectators aware of their time slot, a little sticker was attached to let people know the band were attempting a wall of death world record. Perhaps the early morning start played a part in this not being able to become a reality, but bassist and frontman Dan O’Grady certainly did an excellent job of orchestrating the crowd to split down the middle from the front barrier all the way back to the sound desk during the breakdown for Pure Chaos.
To finish off their debut performance on the RJD stage, guitarist Danny Hall seized the opportunity to propose to drummer and long-term girlfriend, Claire Percival on stage at the very end of the performance. By the way – she said yes!
Arriving to the arena in the earlier hours of the day always seems to offer something interesting and not as conventional as your go-to extreme and death metal, and this rings true with UNESCO-registered group UUHAI – a group of traditional Mongolian throat singers mixed with chuggy and catchy riffs. There is something about the obscurity of this technique between the three khoomei singers that really adds a nice touch to metal music, especially when it is so upbeat and positive sounding.
Curiosity had obviously rang around the arena, as a massive crowd had gathered to witness the collective perform with traditional percussion and horse-head fiddles alongside modern drums, bass and guitar, and left everybody walking away with a smile on their face.
With the backdrop looking like a witchy TikTok girls home decor wet dream, an absolutely excellent mixture of classic rock, psychedelic rock and black metal is found in Sweden’s Tribulation. Just likes yesterday’s beaming sun during a what-should have-been a grim and frostbitten performance, stage-kicking and duelling guitarists, Joseph Tholl and Adam Zaars are looking extremely highlighted in their corpse paint but it actually makes the visuals of the members look much more photogenic and interesting.
Frontman and bassist Johannes Andersson is wearing some interesting lenses or he has incredibly unsettling eyes; either way, it adds to the aesthetics this band have aimed for to compliment this very interesting crossover sound with excellent riffs. Over at the New Blood stage, a heartfelt million words of gratitude comes from of Skypilot, Co. Antrim trio who pull a generous crowd who groove along to the bands alternative rock and metal sound, with excellent bass playing and vocals.
Poland’s technical and groove death metal maestro’s pull a truly massive crowd considering the 3pm time slot, which results in frontman Rafał Piotrowsk being full of smiles throughout the set when he’s not performing harsh vocals and growls. Over some quiet guitar noodling, guitarist Wacław ‘Vogg’ Kiełtyka gives an appreciative speech on the support the band had received over the years.
Having created some absolutely bananas albums while still in their teens, it is strange to see not many people in the audience recognise older songs such as ‘Day 69‘ – the band deliver an incredibly tight set with performances mostly from the Cancer Culture and Anticult albums, but naturally treated the crowd to their famous ‘Spheres of Madness‘ with brought some little new twists to the main riff.
“We brought the California weather with us” jests Whitfield Crane, frontman from the legendary hard rockers Ugly Kid Joe, who conducted the crowd on two separate sides of the stage to cheer with the point of his finger throughout the set. The band brings an upbeat feeling of reminiscence of adolescence growing up in California – despite perhaps 99% of the crowd not falling into that category. It came as a surprise when Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser came out to join the band for a cover of Motorheads ‘Ace of Spades‘ in tribute to the one and only Lemmy.
Smaller bands clashing with metal legends on the main stage is never going to be a fun stint to experience, and this shows for Acid Age being scheduled at the same time as Sepultura over on RJD. Despite the initial small crowd, the Belfast trio put on a stellar performance with their blend of progressive thrash and death metal, reminiscent to that of Gorguts and Morbid Angel.
It must be noted, bass player Jake Martin is a complete monster on his five string Fender Jazz, with intervals of fun and chaotic tapping solos alongside frontman and guitarist Jude McIlwaine. The boys are in luck when Sepultura’s set finishes with 15 minutes to spare and the tent becomes utterly swarmed, creating a frenzy of immediate mosh pits and loud cheers. A mere two hour drive away from where the trio reside, Dubliners and Metal 2 the Masses Ireland winners LaVein maintain the audience and cause an open pit of chaotic throws and crazy runs around the stage with their self-proclaimed metallic hardcore sound.
The mammoth attendance that congregated at the RJD stage for Megadeth’s set gives a clear hint towards why Bloodstock Open Air sold out of their Sunday tickets. Hopping back on the wagon as soon as The Great Grounding of 2020/2021 was lifted and to promote their latest album, 2022’s “The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!”, Megadave and co have been touring extensively throughout the world before making their way to Europe this year for a few festival slots, and have chosen Bloodstock as their UK festival pinpoint.
Off in the distance, a giant white blob looms over the crowd, very slowly riding its way towards the front barrier. Fortunately it’s not any sort of Eldritch horror or another rain cloud, but instead a very cute, but very enormous, inflatable unicorn. Just as it reaches the front barrier, a wave of audio plays over the PA and a montage of Vic Rattleheads graces the large screens, and from behind a kit up pops a perpetually smiley Dirk Verbeuren before the rest of the band swiftly arrive and smash into Hangar 18.
It would be curious albeit funny if at some point Dave Mustaine decided to not address the gigantic unicorn staring him down at the front of the stage, where he proclaims “I feel sorry for whoever owns that because it took you an hour to blow it up” and other unimpressed sentiments, which led the security to confiscating this years unexpected Megamascot. Megadave seems a little under the weather tonight, and at times seems quite timid which is exacerbated with a low mic mix – which is understandable given health concerns from 2019 – but this doesn’t take away from the brilliant performance of riffs and solos.
Guitarist Kiko Loureiro steals the limelight oozing confidence and smiles and James LoMenzo portrays a content high energy appeal. With an almost 40-year back catalogue the band pulled no shortages, performing a 16-song setlist ranging from as many eras as possible, including favourites A Tout le Monde, Tornado of Souls, Symphony of Destruction, and wrapping up the final of two encores with Holy Wars.
Immediately after Megadeth wraps up and says goodbye, the final show for the weekend is hosted in the Sophie tent. New York hardcore unit Biohazard are kicking the shit out of the crowd which leads to questions on whether it is safe, or even possible, to enter the tent since there doesn’t seem to be any space to squeeze by. The massive crowd speaks for itself on how keen people were to grab one last performance before the plugs are pulled and lights turned off on another successful year.
And that’s a wrap for another year. Bloodstock will always be a festival that is for the fans, by the fans, and judging by the way this year played out, there’s no question that next year’s gathering will be just as good, if not better.
Tickets for Bloodstock 2024 are on sale NOW. Featuring headliners, Architects, Amon Amarth alongside, Septic Flesh, Clutch, Flogging Molly, Hellripper, Malevolence, Igorr, Green Lung, Unleash The Archers, Infected Rain, Night Flight Orchestra, and many more yet to be announced.
Purchase your tickets here and take advantage of the early bird offer.
Words and Photos – Nora Kivlehan, exclusively for www.overdrive.ie © 2023