Sunday, February 25, 2024

Bloodstock 2022 – The Review

There are several inalienable truths within the metal community; If someone goes down in the pit you pick them back up. If you’re using a portaloo by day three then you’re taking your life in your hands, and most of all, Rob Flynn doesn’t do festivals. Well, this year Bloodstock tore up the rulebook once again. In retrospect, it was the worst kept secret of the summer, but for those not “in the know” it did sound a little far-fetched to think it could happen. 

But it most certainly did.

After a year off in 2020 for reasons I can’t put my finger on, and last year’s held-together-by-Gaffatape lineup due to travel restrictions and so on, the anticipation for this year’s festivities has been almost palpable. 

Day one started like any other Bloodstock Thursday, just sweatier and with more traffic diversions you could wave a sat-nav at. But just like our tongues, nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for this one. The realisation that I would have to make two trips from the van to get fully set up (three if you count the journey I made without the keys) in the 30+ degree heat began to fill me with a near murderous rage, but good old Bloodstock had cathartically provided the perfect vent for those frustrations by inviting the very stabby Basement Torture Killings (BTK) to open proceedings. By far the biggest stage I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Millie Rose and her band of miscreants inhabit, they quickly filled the Sophie Lancaster Stage with their brutal riffs and filled the bating crowd with teddies for evisceration.

BTK were a tough act to follow but the Elder Scrolls-inspired sludgy, riff-heavy melodies of Thuum certainly hit the spot for many as the capacity inside the tent began to swell. Despite seeing my first crowd surfer at around 17:05 (Yes, I’m looking at you, Tom) it was the high energy brought by Mother Vulture that really got the pits going. With more than just a nod and a wink in the direction of MC5, this band knew how to keep the crowd wanting more. Watch this band go places.

In a wonderful quirk of billing the evening to a certainly less than serious left turn with Italian comedy metallers Nanowar of Steel bringing their mix of Steel Panther meets the BeeGees in an elevator to the seemingly unsuspecting masses, promising them all a place in Valhallelujah for good measure. These we followed closely by the faultless Nekrogoblikon, with their real-life actual goblin mascot John Goblikon doing his best to wind up the excitable masses in front of the death metal wall behind him.

Dark Tranquility

Sweden’s melodic death metal favourites Dark Tranquility were tasked with closing day one, before the Sophie tent was already full to the rafters – many more even spilled out of the sides to appreciate the eerie, atmospheric tones under the ominous full moon. This is a group in full command of their audience and they were eating the palm of frontman Mikael’s hand by the end of the now inevitable encore. Proper headliner material.

Day two was where the troubles really became evident for many people. Disabled access issues, lack of suitable shade, and the sheer volume of demand for water outstripping the already increased supply meant the mood was a little split by the time the main arena opened at 10 am Friday morning.

Those who had the ability, common sense, or sheer bloody-mindedness to persevere were more than handsomely rewarded though with three more days of blisteringly good bands.

Red Method, opening up the Ronnie James Dio Stage for 2022, have an almost cult-like following, and although the crowd weren’t fighting for space the ones who made their way to the barrier definitely made sure their presence was felt. With an eye-catching stage presence and the energy of their performance, Red Method will have made a name for themselves with many passers-by whose eyes and ears ended up glued to the stage instead of making it as far as Lemmy’s bar for their breakfast beer. Those who did make it passed, however, we spoiled for choice of opening acts with the blackened thrash of Stoke’s Hellfekted on the New Blood Stage, whilst the Sophie Stage was rudely awoken by the tech/slam/grind stalwarts Crepitation.

From now on my attention was split and I didn’t much care for it. Too many places to be and only one little old me. With the knowledge that from shortly after lunchtime I would barely have a moment between sets thanks to a brilliantly crafted line-up, I took this time to take out a mortgage and buy a burger, familiarising myself with the regular trade and charity stands. Great to see so many familiar faces returning once again.

Were it not for the unnecessarily repetitive drone from the kids’ fairground rides, and if I had rigged up an intricate set of mirrors I could’ve had my cake and eaten it. As it was, decisions had to be made (and I’d hit my 20,000 steps by 13:30).

My first proper trip of the day to the Sophie Stage was for Party Cannon; complete musicians, complete idiots. Dirty heavy slam, more inflatables than you can shake a phallus at, and a 14-minute harpsichord solo. Which one of these things is not like the other?

Back in 2019 one of the 2020 headliners for the Sophie Stage was announced to be New Dehli’s Banghra metal pioneers, Bloodywood. As disappointed as I was to not see them headlining the tent where I think they really could have brought the roof down, it was warming to see them draw such a big crowd at the Ronnie James Dio Main Stage in such unbearable temperatures. I’m reliably informed by roaming friends that All Hail Dog and Haint were absolutely spot on during this time too, but I could only spread myself so thin.

Being privy to information on the mystery band’s identity I couldn’t resist checking it out for myself from stage right. Everyone knows someone who knows someone or has a guy on the inside, but even armed with this knowledge, a lot of people were finding it hard to believe that the secret band scheduled to play the Sophie Lancaster Stage at 14:45 could Possibly be Machine Head! Could it?

The band (minus Polish guitarist Waclaw)’s first public performance in the flesh since before the pandemic, and the first time vocalist/guitarist Rob Flynn has opted to play a festival for over ten years, this was not to be missed.

The last time I saw Machine head they opened for Metallica at a sold-out Wembley Stadium, and they brought every single tight-as-f*ck decibel with them to the claustrophobia of the tent at Bloodstock. From the second they burst on stage to new single ‘From the Firestorm’, until the obvious closer, ‘Halo’,  the increasingly sweaty pit was insatiable.

Leaving after a half dozen songs I had to check out Doyle. The 14-year-old Misfits fan inside of me, who to this day still puts my hair in a deathlock in the mirror every time I wash it, would have struggled to forgive me. On this occasion, I had few allies. A combination of the soaring temperatures and the allure of Machine Head left just a half dozen avid circle-jerks kicking dust in each other’s faces. I can’t be sure which was the cause and which the effect, but vocalist Alex Storey’s disinterest was matched by the lacklustre round of applause by all but a few hardened misfits in the crowd.

GWAR’s blood-filled cannons soaked the growing crowd after the mass exodus of the Sophie tent, followed by Exodus themselves delivering their unmistakable NorCal eighties thrash and their west coast neighbours Testament with journeyman Dave Lombardo joining them on drums.

Exodus | Photo by Ash Crowson
Sleep Token

Time for some more to-and-fro between the Main Stage and the Sophie Stage in order to catch the genre-dodging Avatar whose highly polished set was complimented beautifully by the Swede’s visually hypnotising stage performance. Sleep Token closed proceedings at this location, with their chilled, melodic offerings. Although not to everyone’s taste, it felt a comforting juxtaposition to what came before…

And that was the (I mean this in its most literal sense) awesome Behemoth. The Polish four-piece set out to conquer all, and playing below the meteor shower it was hard to argue with their uncompromising black metal sacrifice. Thirty years of brutality could be heard for miles around the Derbyshire hills as the flames and red light from the stage heated and lit the crowd as powerfully as the sun had done all day.

Behemoth | Photo by Ash Crowson

Saturday on the Ronnie James Dio Main Stage was bookended by some of the finest metal Northern Europe has to offer with Danish death metallers Baest setting out their stall, only for Finland’s thrash punks Lost society to come and kick it down immediately. The dedicated fans at the front were clearly not suffering ill-effects of yesterday’s sun, bin-jousting or any kind of hangover. Even frontman Samy couldn’t resist joining them this side of the barrier before the end.

Local deathcore boys Draconian Reign have only been active a couple of years and scored their spot on the New Blood Stage by submitting their debut EP, so understandably their reach wasn’t huge before today’s set, but I expect that all to change soon. Their place on the bill was more than deserved and word of mouth about their performance will spread quickly. Watch this space.

Like many, I was also unfamiliar with SpiritWorld until this point, but with thousands waiting with bated breath for the next band on the Ronnie James Dio Stage, the Vegas-based, self-styled “death westerners” will now be a memorable name in many a curious ear. The waiting crowd were forced to boil in their own sweat even longer than anticipated when travel issues caused Lorna Shore to only arrive on-site ten minutes before they were due on stage. The quick turnaround didn’t show in their performance and the New Jersey deathcore act soon had thousands eating right out of their hands. Frontman Will Ramos has become somewhat of an internet celebrity of late, even outside of the metal community thanks to his truly insane vocal abilities and these were clearly evident today. This will have been a lot of peoples’ performance of the weekend and it really is hard to argue with that based on this showing.

Liverpool’s Novacrow appear to be one of the hardest working small bands at the moment. Between fighting their way through the metal2the masses heats and grand final they found time to join the HRH Road Trip out in Ibiza, before recording and releasing two music videos before their performance on the New Blood Stage. A huge fan favourite then took their rightful place on the main stage; Future headliners Jinjer.

Jinjer

With the ongoing atrocities in their homeland of Ukraine, Jinjer have become legally recognised ambassadors for the nation and are uniting people wherever they go. With the noise created by the crowd and the seismic chanting, along with the sea of yellow and blue flags, you would be forgiven for thinking you were joining 60,000 football fans in a stadium as opposed to 10,000 metalheads in a field. The outpouring of love for hit song ‘Home Back’ was almost tribal and ‘Picses’ had waves of fans swaying together in unity. Tatiana is one of the most imposing and impressive vocalists in the scene at the moment and with such a finely tuned operation joining her it really doesn’t feel like it will be long before they return to this stage at the top of the billing.

Black metal powerhouse Dimmu Borgir finally took their rightful place on the RJD stage after failed attempts in 2019 and 2021’s reboot. It was worth the wait. Truly mesmerising and for me a great end to an energy-sapping day.

Dimmu Borgir | Photo by Ash Crowson

King Diamond’s Mercyful Fate ended a 20+ year hiatus this year for the festival circuit and there were more than a couple of people who had been counting down the days recently. Whilst the falsetto is obviously not as potent as it once was, the occultist stage performance and dramatic effects perfectly complimented the mesmerising black metal blasting from behind. A deep dive into the back catalogue sandwiched new track ‘The Jackal of Salzburg’, hinting at the potential of a new album in the new year.

Mercyful Fate | Photo by Ash Crowson

Sunday. The beginning of the end. This weekend had been quite the endurance test, and by the time the gates to the arena opened for the final time, the campsites were half empty. Some had left at sundown the previous night and many more had packed up ready for a quick dash later today, and who could blame them? Temperatures had peaked in the mid-thirties and the extra measures in terms of water points and shaded areas had fallen well short of people’s expectations. However, those who had survived this far still had plenty to look forward to.

Unfortunately, due to illness, Life of Agony were unable to take to the stage which led to an ad hoc change of running order which left some confused. The announcement was made over social media, but with 4G signal being non-existent, and the wifi being expensive and patchy at best, it was anyone’s guess as to what the changes were.

As it turned out, melodic hard rockers Skarlett Riot were the main beneficiaries. Moving from 13.30 on the Sophie Stage, they began today’s proceedings over on the Ronnie James Dio Main Stage infront of a sizable crowd and will have made many a new follower with their high-octane performance.

The baying crowd had an extra hour to wait for Bloodstock newcomers Vended to take to the stage, but they immediately made the Iowan’s welcome “Bloodstock Style” with energetic circle pits and even a wall of death below Taylor’s guttural vocal performance. Shortly after this the highly anticipated Butcher Babies stormed the main stage. Unphased by the sweltering heat the LA dual vocalists Heidi and Carla growled and screamed through a high-energy set after announcing “we are Butcher Babies, and we are here to f*ck shit up”, which they very quickly did with an energy unmatched by anyone else on today’s main stage.

A social media campaign earlier in the summer requested people wear pink in honour of Sylvia Lancaster and it was enlightening to see how many people showed support by honouring this request. Sylvia was the mother of Sophie Lancaster, a girl tragically killed in cold blood on her way home one night simply for dressing as a goth. The story made international news and drove Sophie’s mother, along with a dedicated band of volunteers, to set up the Sophie foundation (Stamp. Out. Prejudice. Hatred. Intolerance. Everywhere). The foundation educates youngsters and adults alike as well as campaigning to change the law to recognise that what happened to Sophie was a hate crime, a hugely important factor when considering sentencing.

S.O.P.H.I.E is still going strong and the tent that bears her name housed more than its usual quota of bodies for much of the afternoon as people tried to escape the fireball in the sky, with Noctem and Heriot taking full advantage before the hugely impressive Orbit Culture. Old school South American nu-metallers Ill Nino, death metal crusties Strigoi and blackened Austrian death metal originals Belphegor powerfully rounded out the pre-headline slots in the tent quite effortlessly.

Despite the weather, there was still great attention focused on the Ronnie James Dio stage this afternoon, unsurprisingly so considering the running order saw Cattle Decapitation heading up Venom Inc and Vio-lence before things took a dark turn. Dark Funeral put on quite the show, very at odds with the scorching temperatures and relentless light. Pentagrams, corpse paint and far too much leather for a day like today meant the Black Metal Swede’s performance will last long in the memory of those who witnessed it.

Killing Joke would not have been many people’s guess to clear the way for the festival headliners but their anarchic grooves and pure showmanship of frontman Jaz Coleman actually set things up quite nicely for what was to come.

A reminder of the earlier announcement regarding next year’s lineup graced the screen causing a figurative wall of death between the waiting crowd. Killswitch Engage will finally make their Bloodstock debut headlining the Ronnie James Dio Main Stage, with the mighty Megadeth closing proceedings on the Sunday, along with Devildriver, Decapitated and King810 all announced so far. The hour that followed was one of reflection for most after a physically and mentally draining few days. Some chose to return to the camps to tidy ready for departure, and plenty decided to throw whatever cash they had left behind the patch stalls and Lemmy’s bar whilst recounting their weekend experience, but it was soon time for something special.

Headlining Bloodstock for the first time since their 2013 appearance frontman Randy of Lamb of God bounded on stage to a raucous welcome and the whirlwind didn’t stop for 90 minutes. Throwing himself from monitor to drum-riser and windmilling his four-foot dreadlocks the band’s dedicated fans were more than happy to match his intensity. For a band that has been steadily growing in popularity for over 20 years in such an energy-sapping industry, their zest for life and performance is obvious and infectious. Closing the weekend with highly charged favourite ‘Redneck’ was a perfect ending to what had been an extremely difficult few days.

There were many tears on the way out of the arena, some happy, some sad. Some were overawed by the evening’s performance, some were just happy to have survived the dangerously high and dry conditions. Either way, it is hard to imagine that every single one of them won’t be back again next year. Consider this your mother*cking invitation!

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