On what was deemed the hottest weekend of the entire year, Devolution packed plenty of suncream and joined over twenty thousand metal fans who eagerly made their annual pilgrimage to the scared grounds of Catton Hall, Derbyshire. Truth be told we hadn’t actually graced these grassroots lands since 2014 as the summer usually meant European Festival coverage for us but the chance to be reunited with the mighty Bloodstock on home soil and reconnect with the diverse and ever growing metal community post covid era was just too good an opportunity to miss out on again, especially with this year’s top shelf eclectic line-up. Bloodstock and all who sail within – we had absolutely missed you. It was truly an exhilarating experience to be reminded of how magnificent this festival really is. Read on to discover some of the most memorable performances of this incredible weekend.
FRIDAY 12TH AUGUST:
Chances are you already know who these boys are. Having worked tirelessly and giving their all show after show after show around the county – it’s incredible and deserved to see them rightfully land the opener spot at this year festival on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. Jeremy and his cohorts are pumped the hell up, its 10.45am and they’re seizing their moment to win anyone and everyone over. Their sound is infectious, groove ridden and deafening and is being perfectly executed by the sextet who stare menacingly stalking and prowling the stage with conviction. Adorning their signature face paint courtesy of our very own Alice Bizarre Make Up Artist they look as intriguing as they sound. Drawing a huge crowd from the get-go things progress throughout their set and this swells to a decent size complete with an impressive circle pit. ‘Messiah’ is a crushing metal anthem allowing you to really let go and release all that tension and anxiety – after all this is why we are here right? There’s also time for a sermon and pages of the bible being ripped up. The sextet remained the talk of the festival throughout the weekend having successfully imprinted om Bloodstock. Outstanding.
Having played London the night before it would seem the New Delhi guys are in high spirits and are suitably warmed up ready to make their UK festival debut bringing their renowned fusion of Nu-metal, Folk metal and Bhangra that complement each other beautifully. Diving straight in with ‘Gaddaar’ the crowd strap in for a high octane set. Vocalists Jayan and Raoul silkily blend rap verses with metal and still make sure they address the importance of mental health and offer some insightful words – “We all dream of becoming something better, something more – but all of us know that’s easier said than done and we all have our doubts and comfort zones and feelings of failure – but underneath all that is the undeniable knowledge that a lifetime of trying and failing is better than a lifetime of what if!” That seems to resonate with so many people listening and sets the mood as the band play the opening riffs to ‘Aaj’. It’s been an exciting and insightful forty-five minutes that comes to a crescendo with set closer ‘Ari Ari’ that unites everyone in this special moment.
The festival’s best kept secret! Machine Fucking Head play a nostalgic ten track set over on the Sophie Stage and it becomes one of those poignant surreal moments in metal history. The band play as a three piece because Vogg is on touring duties with Decapitated but nevertheless the tent was rammed, the vibe was one of sheer delight and chaos and when the first bars of ‘Become The Firestorm’ from the latest album ‘Of Kingdom And Crown’ ring out that just officially invites everyone to lose their shit. Robb Flynn is grinning ear to ear and the band seem relieved and ready to be playing their first show since the pandemic. A sterling rendition of ‘Ten Ton Hammer’ satisfies everyone in the room – many fans here are seeing the band play for the very first time and its closer ‘Halo’ that cements one hell of a performance.
The Ronnie James Dio stage is absolutely built for a band like Exodus sound wise. Their speedy performance ricochets around Catton Halls grounds magnificently and you’re witnessing thrash precision as its finest. Vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza is loving life, and the fans pump their fists to the air in appreciation. ‘The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)’ kickstarts proceedings from 2021’s ‘Persona Non Grata’ and it’s the epic ‘Deathamphetamine‘ that really hypes up the fans who by now have turned up in their hundreds proudly adorning their baseball caps and battle jackets.
When I first saw the line-up, I had placed Avatar as the wild card. Known for their theatrics and outlandish performances coupled with catchy singalong offerings wrapped up in a circus meets clockwork orange style I really wasn’t sure how the swedes would fare here at Bloodstock. Turns out people bloody love them! The Sophie tent seems a fitting space for a band who admirably champion diversity and inclusion and ‘Colossus’ seals the deal immediately. The bands melodic and progressive sound is thunderous and captivating and Johannes Eckerström is a natural ringleader. The hits keep coming ‘Let It Burn,’ ‘The Eagle Has Landed ‘and ‘Bloody Angel’ keep the crowd transfixed and by the final song ‘Hail The Apocalypse’ the whole band are all wide eyed and big smiles knowing they’ve just put on an important and very memorable performance.
For an impressive three decades the enigmatic Nergal and his trusty cohorts have established themselves and certainly made their mark within the black and death metal world. Tonight’s show is a visual and sound feast created to ignite your darkest deepest senses and keep you utterly entertained throughout. There’s also a hell of a lot of pyro going off which really adds to the mood. This polish quartet were born to be showman, Every move, every angle, every prop, every exaggerated movement is geared towards creating a seamless and inspiring performance. And that’s where they excel. Announcing themselves with ‘Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer’ the show gets underway and you are then guided through a magnum opus for the next hour. ‘The Deathless Sun’ and ‘Off To War!’ are played from the latest album ‘Opvs Contra Natvram’ which sees jubilant appreciation from the fans for the new material. It’s a spellbinding performance that leaves you wanting more.
SATURDAY 13TH AUGUST:
Probably the most anticipated act of the day – the deathcore masters take to the stage for their Bloodstock debut in a whirlwind and its time to discover if the band can execute their studio sound in a live festival setting – turns out they absolutely bloody can! Will Ramos and his vocal skills are an absolute anomaly he Is a true wizard when it comes to his range and execution leaving you in sheer awe. The band are on fire providing melodies and blast beats galore giving you tasty musical morsels to devour from every track. Ramos may look angelic, but he and the band are sounding disgustingly demonic weaving some serious dark magic up on that stage with a few of us looking up to see if a portal to another dimension had been conveniently opened during their half a dozen tracks played. ‘And I Return To Nothingness ‘is beautifully accomplished and ‘Sun//Eater’ is inspired. Of course, it’s ‘To The Hellfire’ that were all waiting to witness and its simply magnificent with the crowd taking the opportunity to crowd surf in abundance in this ridiculous heat and lose their shit to a track that is otherworldly, thunderous, and totally unique. Playing early in the day has not hindered the atmosphere one iota and the quintet exit the stage as quickly as they arrived…. simply magnificent.
The band’s anticipated attendance today is met with nothing but a sea of love, admiration, and a mutual respect from the minute they step onto the stage. There are Ukraine flags being flown in abundance, disdainful chants of ‘Fuck Putain’ from the crowd and an understanding that Jinjer’s music is as important now as it ever will be. Tatiana is her usual graceful self, taking in the view before launching into ‘Teacher, Teacher!’ and from then you know that this performance is going to be extremely poignant and emotional. Tatiana has the most mesmerising way of being able to hold all that power and chaos and turn it into something quite beautiful and flawless. Her vocals expertly switch between brutal growls and magical symphonies. ‘Pisces’ allows the pace to slow a little and for the first time all day the sun hides behind the clouds for a few minutes allowing everyone to relish the temporary shade before ‘Vortex’ brings this set to an all too soon end. Jinjer have certainly represented their country with honour today.
The metalcore sextet from Southampton are definitely here to make some noise and wake you the hell up and vocalist Daniel Winter Bates seems to have a lot to say about “the last 2.5 years of bullshit, cancellations, reschedules, loss of jobs, the massive loss of income and the loss of life, for not only bands but everyone around the world”. He has a point and the crowd applaud in full support. The guys launch into their metal blitz starting with ‘Choke’ taking absolutely no prisoners while they bounce around the main stage like gummy bears on speed. Guitarists Kristan and Ed have some wonderful stage chemistry and its always a pleasure to watch a band perform who genuinely love what they do.
Self-proclaimed “undisputed and undefeated kings of death metal” Ingested who hail from Manchester are greeted by an incredibly enthusiastic and large crowd who are currently stood in the Sophie tent in 27 degrees at 7pm – and it was about to get a whole lot hotter in there! The guys are poised to play a brutal no mercy style set and sound incredibly tight as they venomously launch into an assault on the senses. Vocalist Jason really knows how to rev up the crowd and the room is split in half with a command for a “silent wall of death” along with some crowd participation of crouch down jump up. Ending with a minute’s worth of ‘Voodoo People’ by the Prodigy blasting, as the tent clears its safe to say the boys did good.
I always have to give credit to any black metal bands that walk onto a stage in the blistering summer heat with heavy stage wear and thick corpse paint and still give it their all. Much respect! Shagrath is engaging from the onset and opener ‘Dimmu Borgir’ requires crowd participation. Fan favourites ‘Gateways,’ ‘Puritania’ and ‘Mourning Palace’ are included but due to timing issues the band seem to play a shorter set than most. Its beautifully orchestral in places but the set overall feels a little lack lustre and devoid of any real stage atmosphere. The band however do seem to be enjoying themselves though and good to see that some passion has been reignited within the Norwegians.
SUNDAY 14TH AUGUST:
Today was the day that we were all to wear something pink in support and tribute of the incredible and inspiring Sylvia Lancaster who sadly passed away earlier this year. Her legacy and her vital work will live on within the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and it was so heart-warming to see so many people take part by turning Bloodstock pink.
Having the Butcher Babies on any festival bill is always exciting. Their raw energy and momentum are truly contagious and gives the band the flawless ability to win the hearts of any crowd, In their own words they “are here to fuck shit up!” as they have done since their inception in 2011 and with their astonishing dual vocals Carla and Heidi show us how powerful and dynamic, they are. ‘Monsters Ball’ is always the song that sends everyone crazy with its shouty chorus and 2021’s single ‘Its Killin’ Time Baby!’ sounds heavy as hell leaving a few punters with some sore neck muscles after headbanging like maniacs. Signature track ‘Magnolia Boulevard’ is the set closer and causes the crowd to erupt into a sea of hair and horns.
Having first seen the band in 2001 on their ‘Revolution Revolución’ album release tour and becoming an instant fan of their Latin infused metal for nostalgia purposes I headed over to the Sophie Stage to glimpse the band in their current setup and was not disappointed at all. Playing to a large crowd who seem to have taken refuge in the tent away from the blistering sun Dave Chavarri and the boys launch straight into their greatest hits setlist and raise the roof. ‘I Am Loco’ and ‘What Comes Around’ absolutely satisfy those who have come to hear these sentimental tracks and gives the crowd a longing chance to sing back every word. It’s a triumph for the band who look like they’ve loved every single minute.
Closing the New Blood Stage while Killing Joke are playing simultaneously was never going to be an easy task, but Milton Keynes Torus aren’t phased at all and power on to deliver their hard rock set to the humble crowd who have turned out. Having only formed in 2019 founded by frontman Alfie Glass who is joined by bassist and co-songwriter Harry Quinn and drummer Jack Or – the trio are pretty impressive with a large sound. They have managed to competently take their hard rock and 90’s grunge roots influences to create their own Torus blend, which is delivered confidently with intricate guitarwork, precise drums and intriguing vocals. These guys are serious about making their mark so expect big things from them.
London’s Jaz Coleman and Co are a little like marmite – you really do either love them or you hate them – and Bloodstock seems to love them as the band take over the RJD stage with their gothic industrial and tribal fusion bringing something a little different to the mix and allowing for a needed musical reprieve. With such a rich back catalogue of tracks from almost four decades to choose from the selected setlist gives a musical insight into the band and they manage a hefty sixteen tracks with ‘Bloodsport’ ‘Requiem’ ‘The Wait’ and ‘Wardance’ all getting an airing from their self-titled 1980 debut album. Its ‘The Death & Resurrection Show’ is a song that I’ve always appreciated vocally and for its industrial laden vibes and the band close with ‘Pandemonium’ exiting the stage in a cloud of glory and applause.
It’s been a superb day musically so far but it’s now time to head on over to the Jägermeister bar for some much-needed refreshment which then also gives me a chance to check out Irish band Tooms who are closing the stage. The sun is still beating down on us sending some of us into submission, but their sludge infused grindcore with hints and notes of stoner rock and doom have me intrigued. Another striking trio who competently blast their way through the set attracting many passers-by who all step inside the tent curious to see who these filthy noise masters are.
LAMB OF GOD
Virginias metal veterans are like a fine wine…aged to perfection and not one of us witnessing this closing act was truly ready for just how fucking brutal they were going be. Even for them. The last few years with the worlds intense trials and tribulations have obviously affected Randy and Co who use their headline slot to expel all frustrations along with their metal brothers and sisters within this safe space here at Catton Hall. The band ferociously launch into ‘Memento Mori’ and continue with a setlist that never lets up. There’s pyro, there is bass that rattles you to your very core, there’s guitarwork that makes your ears orgasm and the drums pound so hard on your chest that you must catch a breath – its one hell of a spectacle and Randy’s vocals are earth shattering. ‘Ruin’ ‘Walk with me in hell’, ‘Now you’ve got something to die for’ ‘Hourglass’ all make an appearance before the encore treats us to the epic offering of ‘Laid to Rest’ before dedicating the last song to Sophie Lancaster closing with ‘Redneck’ which justifiably sends the crowd into a feral state and we are lapping up every single second of this emotional release which sees so many of us exhausted and exhilarated by the time the band leave the stage. It’s a spectacular end to a victorious weekend.
We cannot wait to return next year and want to take this opportunity to genuinely thank and tip our hats off to the organisers and to everyone who works so tirelessly to be able to put on this incredible event. You should all be so enormously proud.
BLOODSTOCK OPEN AIR, CATTON PARK, DERBYSHIRE
AUGUST 10th – 13th 2023