As the festival season draws to an end, the UK’s largest independent metal festival, Bloodstock Open Air, is welcoming the most extreme music fans to Catton Park, Derbyshire.
This year has a stacked lineup, with headliners Behemoth, Mercyful Fate and Lamb of God sharing the lineup with a mix of classic bands such as Exodus, Testament, and Kiling Joke, and exciting newer bands including Jinjer, Lorna Shore and Bury Tomorrow.
Leading up to the event hype was split around 2 main areas; A secret set that the organisers insisted should not be missed, and a potential heatwave that could possibly see the hottest Bloodstock on record. Both of these lived up to the hype.
Arriving on the Thursday, we instantly noticed the heat, and whilst keeping ourselves hydrated with the additional water points on route between the car park and site (not to mention making an early start on the beer supply), we could tell that this was a well run event. Even in sweltering conditions, it was relatively easy to get to camp and set up, with the site being compact and well laid out, and the security checkpoint being efficient but effective.
The Bloodstock site is split between two main areas, the campsite, which is legendary in its late night antics, and the arena, which houses the majority of food vendors, market stalls and of course the stages.
The 4 stages include the Ronnie James Dio Stage (main), the Sophie Lancaster Stage, the New Blood Stage and the Jagermeister Stage. The main stage is a decent sized stage, with viewing screens and good visibility and access, whilst the 3 smaller stages are tented. The sound was fine on all of the stages, however, the Jagemeister stage is extremely small, and the proximity to main stage made it difficult to access and hear the performances.
One of the crowning achievements for Bloodstock is the New Blood Stage, which is dedicated to new talent, and populated of up and coming bands, and those that have competed in regional “Metal 2 The Masses” competitions. We caught up with Lee Margaillan, vocalist for exciting newcomers Collapse The Sky, after they smashed their performance on the stage, who told us “This is a great opportunity for new bands to play on a big stage. Without this a lot of people wouldn’t have heard of us. Hopefully we’ll be back soon on Sophie stage”. It’s clearly a favourite for the fans and artists, as it was busy all weekend, and a great addition to the UK metal scene.
The festival layout was largely unchanged from previous years, and had just enough shade to deal with the intense heat. It is difficult to provide enough shade at short notice, and at times we had to retreat to the campsite between bands to escape the crowds and cool down, but we feel the organisers did a reasonable job, however, they opted for a net canopy as additional shade, rather than something more effective, which was disappointing.
Thursday’s entertainment started in the afternoon on the Sophie stage, with Basement Torture Killings kicking off the festival. Energy levels were high at this point, and they delivered a great performance to an eager crowd. We also managed to catch Itallian comedy metallers Nanowar of Steel, and melodic death metal heavyweights Nekrogoblicon to get our fill of music for the evening, before returning to the legendary Midgard camp to sample some of the fan-made entertainment.
Are you familiar with the sport of “Bin Jousting”? The festival has a tradition of taking two of the campsite dumpsters with willing (and probably very drunk) fans climbing aboard to collide and wrestle until one falls. Obviously this is not a sanctioned event, however, it occurs nightly throughout the festival and watched by hundreds of spectators. When the bins are inevitably confiscated, amateur wrestling tournaments take place. Again, not sanctioned, although the security team stand by to ensure things do not get out of hand. All in all, this is symbolic of the festivals spirit and energy, and it seems to be an inevitable consequence of amassing metalheads in a field for 4 days. We didn’t see any aggression, but we did see a lot of consensual fun being had.
After very little sleep, we entered Friday, with the anticipation at it’s peak for the secret set. Our planned route of bands were Red Method, Heart of a Coward, Party Cannon, Exodus, Testament and Behemoth.
We also made time for the secret set, and were in good position to see metal legends Machine Head. In a tent. In the afternoon. For those unfamiliar with the scene, Machine Head would be well received as main stage headliners at a festival the size of Bloodstock, and would be top 2 at larger festivals. Adding to this, they have been missing from festival line-ups for years, opting for their own shows. They did not disappoint, providing not only the best set of the day, but possibly the best of the weekend.
All the bands we saw delivered great performances, and it was our first chance to witness a full production set from Behemoth at a festival, which was a true spectacle.
Saturday was another busy day, with us sticking predominantly to the main stage. New Jersey based deathcore band Lorna Shore have been around since 2010, however, recent releases have fuelled a resurgence for the genre, with vocalist Will Ramos producing noises that seem impossible for the human body to create.
Other standout performances included Ukrainian prog metal band Jinjer, who never disappoint, and received a heart warming welcome with many Ukrainian flags being flown in support.
Malevolence are a hot commodity in the UK metal scene, and they smashed a headline set on the Sophie stage, bringing out Lorna Shore vocalist Will Ramos for a guest appearance for ‘Karma’, another surprise for fans, and a great addition of an “I was there when” moments.
Moving to Sunday, energy levels were unfortunately low across attendees. Lack of sleep, consistent high temperatures, and the standard “last day of a festival” feeling were prevalent, however, we did manage to rise early to catch Vended, an Iowa based band fronted by Griffin Taylor. The name may sound familiar to metal fans, as he’s the son of Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, and joined by Simon Crahan, also a descendant from Slipknot stock. Despite trying to distance themselves and make it on their own merit, they have very obvious influences. However, they did it well, and have gained some new fans, and new respect for their show.
We also caught a fun set from Butcher Babies, including a crowd-surf galore when they made their way off stage to high five every crowd surfer on their way past whilst performing. A great move to inject some energy into the tired crowd, and a testament to their savvy showmanship.
After spending the rest of the day seeking shade an listening from afar, we returned to watch metal giants Lamb of God close out the festival. Lamb of God consistently deliver perfect performances, and this one was no different, providing a great finale to a great weekend.
Despite extreme heat, the weekend was a tremendous one. Bloodstock is a great festival in terms of layout, organisation, entertainment and community. Variety may be lacking for some, but for the metalheads out there, this is one that must be experienced.