After months of “will-it-won’t-it” happen and line-up changes all over the place, the day finally arrived and, after two long, barren years, the grounds of Catton Hall in Swadlincote opened up again with over 15,000 fans returning for Bloodstock Open Air’s 2021 event.
Headlined by Devin Townsend, Kreator and Judas Priest, organisers were going all out to make sure that, even under the most difficult conditions, this was going to be a Summer metal fans would not forget. By extending the festival to five days, by the time V13 arrived on site on Friday, talk around the site was how thousands of metal fans had been making up for lost time by partying harder than ever.
For those fans arriving early doors, Wednesday saw a line-up headlined by thrash veterans Onslaught and fellow UK metallers Beholder, although plenty of noise was being made about the other bands on the bill including shock rockers Ward XVI. With plenty of fans regretting their actions the previous night, there were sore heads aplenty as fans soaked up the action on the second day with the likes of Urne, The Crawling and Godeater keeping fans entertained until headliners Lawnmower Deth put on a Thursday night party to send hardcore Bloodstockers smiling all the way back to their tents.
Arriving on-site to find a decent-sized crowd camped out at the Main Stage, Northern filth merchants Foetal Juice are kicking proceedings off in style with their extreme sounds. It might be a little early for most people but, by the end of their set, Friday is well and truly underway. Following them are thrashers Divine Chaos who confidently thump out their groove-soaked metal. Heads bang as the four-piece batter through their set to an appreciative crowd. With the sun peeking out, what better way to celebrate than with the dose of black-hearted metal on the Sophie Lancaster Stage in the form of the female-fronted hellraisers Agrona. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, the black metal outfit command the attention of those who have been brave enough to join them.
The afternoon continues with Svalbard bringing their experimental mix of rock, black metal and hardcore to a crowd who were probably only partially prepared for the onslaught that Serena and the band were about to unleash on them. That being said, by the end of their set, there were plenty of fans left gobsmacked at what they had just witnessed. The same didn’t need to be said about thrash fools Acid Reign who were utterly at home on the Bloodstock Stage. Rattling through the likes of “Humanoia”, the UK thrashers brought a light-hearted touch to proceedings with their antics.
Things got heavy again on the Sophie Lancaster stage as Midlands doom metal band Garganjua laid waste to the tent with some undiluted heaviness. Riffs rumbled out of the stage and across the field as the band certainly lived up to expectations. Back on the main stage, Leeds hardcore band Higher Power took to the boards in place of highly-anticipated Liverpool experimental crew Loathe who were a late casualty and delivered the kind of set that justifies their name becoming more and more of a familiar one on festivals like this one.
Next up were two of the highlights of the day for me. First up Welsh death metal wrecking machine Venom Prison ignited all manner of mayhem on the stage with their pyro-soaked set. Speaking to V13 earlier in the day, the band told us that their new material was going to see them head in a more diverse direction but, today, the band slaughtered the sun-drenched crowd with a brutal, uncompromising set. Speaking of which, following that, those animals Raging Speedhorn tore up the Sophie Lancaster stage with another unhinged, brutal performance. Always staying on the right side of chaos, this band just get better with age and delivered another astonishing performance to a rightfully packed tent.
A few months ago, it all ended very badly for The Wildhearts at the Download Pilot but, at Bloodstock, the sun was shining, and the band were all smiles as things couldn’t have gone better for the band. Blasting through a classic-filled set, the Geordie band on paper shouldn’t belong on a bill next to death metal and grindcore bands but, fucking hell, as they smash into “Everlone” and the whole field is singing along, this clearly couldn’t be more of a perfect match.
The beauty about the Bloodstock bill is how no genre gets overlooked with thrash fans getting a decent pair of choices on the Friday in the form of Shrapnel who we sadly missed and Yorkshire thrash titans Evile who had necks snapping with their razor-sharp thrash gems.
Back over on the main stage, a packed field was ready for the return of the mighty Skindred who, like The Wildhearts, wouldn’t at one time have been considered as a “Bloodstock”. However, such is the appeal of the band, they fit in at home here as much as they do at Reading/Leeds or V Festival and the way they smash through their set, it’s hard not to fall in love with them over and over again. From the commanding performance of frontman Benji Webbe to the plethora of hits the band have in their armoury to the now obligatory “Newport Helicopter” during “Warning”, there is so much to love about this band and, at Bloodstock, the Welsh band throw their name into the ring for future headliners.
By now we’re heading to the home straight but not before Liverpool sluggers Conan threaten to bring the Sophie Stage tent crashing down around us with their brutish doom. Unrelentingly heavy, bass strings rumble as the band crush those fans who have packed into the tent for a slice of hypnotic doom. With Napalm Death to follow later in the evening, this is definitely only a place for those with a strong disposition.
At first, it seems like fans are pouring out in the masses after Skindred but, as Devin Townsend’s magnificent intro tape kicks into life, the main arena is packed out for what is going to be one of the most glorious moments in Bloodstock history. It could however have been a complete shambles. Quarantining in a hotel for weeks leading upto the gig and with only two days to rehearse with an entirely new band, Devin Townsend was ready for this all to fall apart in the most public of fashion. But it didn’t and for over ninety minutes Devin Townsend did what Devin Townsend does best. He treated his adoring fans to a set that was metal as fuck, it was bonkers, it was jaw-dropping, it had huge elephants, it had everything you could want from not only a Devin Townsend set but from a festival headline set.
The Canadian is joined by, amongst others, James Leach of UK tech behemoths Sikth in delivering what was one of the most unforgettable sets of the weekend. As things progress you can see the relief wash over the face of the Canadian and with this theatrical set becoming more unmissable as it continues, it’s fair to say that day three of Bloodstock had set the bar high for the rest of the weekend.
Tickets for Blooodstock Open Air 2022, featuring Lamb of God and Mercyful Fate, are on sale now from the the Official Bloodstock Open Air Website