The weekend metal fans across the UK have been looking forward to finally arrived and Bloodstock 2022 was here. With 15,000 descending on Catton Hall in Swadlincote for a line-up headlined by Behemoth, Mercyful Fate and Lamb of God, and a supporting cast of nearly a hundred other acts, not even intense heat could stop this being one of the most unforgettable weekends of the year. Here are some of our highlights and a stack of a photos from the weekend.

Friday

Whether it was the effects of the heat early on but the New Blood Stage tent was packed for Stoke thrashers Helfekted who wasted no time as they hurtled through a brutal set of neck-snappers well and truly setting this metal party off. Next up a short trek to the main stage a few hundred yards away saw us already dripping in sweat and that is before the London industrial/groove metal wrecking machine Red Method hit us with a set of crushing anthems like “Messiah”. Now, while their set might not have had the same impact as it did when they flattened the Sophie Stage a few years ago, they made sure Bloodstock was well and truly up and running.

Following the tech-metal juggernaut that was Heart of a Coward and jackhammer offerings like “Collapse”, one of the most intriguing bands of the weekend, New Dehli crew Bloodywood hit the stage and whipped an already buzzing crowd into a frenzy with scathing anthems like “BDSK” making sure that many more people now consider this band to be a future headliner for this festival.

Now, the worst kept secret in the history of badly-kept secrets saw Robb Flynn and Machine Head play an impromptu set on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, and it meant that with twenty minutes to go until the band took to the stage the area around the tent was almost impassable. Thankfully, while the returning metal icons powered through their set in the searing heat of a packed tent, there were still plenty of fans around the main stage for the return of another icon, Doyle. Fully made up and sporting the familiar Misfits quiff, Doyle and his bandmates spat through a dust-kicking set of “love songs” for the faithful few who had hung around. Heading into the mid-afternoon heat and what more ludicrous way to spend it than in the company of Gwar. With equipment covered in protective sheets, the costumed lunatics sprayed their way through a feast of messy beheadings and disembowelments including Joe Biden and our very own Queen.

As we headed to the final part of the first day, there was no slowing down as the heat increased and the bands came thick and fast. Punk rock legends Discharge snarled their way through their punk rock musical nailbombs while thrash veterans Exodus brought some good, friendly, violent fun to the main stage as thrash classics like “Toxic Waltz” saw a stream of bodies whipping over the barrier. Of course, if you want thrash, then who better to bring in than Bay Area veterans Testament. Still an absolute force to be reckoned with, Chuck Billy is a powerhouse of a frontman who air guitars his way through “Rise Up” and classics like “Into The Pit”. It was up to Swedish metallers Avatar to wrap things up for us on the Sophie Stage with a performance that was as visually captivating as it was hypnotic with crowd favourites like “Hail The Apocolypse” feeding the gathered masses everything they desired.

Ever since they were announced as Friday night headliners, there had been an anticipation for Polish death/black metal heavyweights Behemoth to arrive at Bloodstock and deliver an almost life-changing set. As stage time came around, the atmosphere around the main stage was crackling. Even when frontman Nergal suffered technical difficulties during the early moments of the set which, momentarily at least, threatened to derail the momentum, the band soldiered through and delivered one of the most hellish sets to have shaken the grounds at Catton Hall. Powering through their fire-filled satanic death metal, new and old tracks, including tracks from upcoming new album Opvs Contra Natvram like “Off to War!” and “Ov My Herculean Exile”, the outspoken Polish titans kept their promise to deliver one of the most spectacular experiences ever to have been witnessed at Catton Hall. What a start to our weekend.

Saturday

If you thought Behemoth’s Friday night fire show took temperatures to unbearable levels, that heat showed no signs of dropping as Danish death metal band Baest’s foundation-shaking brutality kickstarted Saturday’s proceedings. An early morning demonstration of muscle-loosening heaviness, the Danes pummelled through their set with smiles on their faces giving the early visitors to the main stage mosh pit a good workout. Over on the Sophie stage, Hull sludge/doom scumabgs Mastiff were making a right nuisance of themselves as they peddled out the filth of tracks like “Beige Sabbath” to an appreciative audience. The heaviness was coming thick and fast now with local lads Draconian Reign delivering an epic set of black-souled symphonic deathcore on the New Blood stage. Of course, the masters of that game were yet to come but, in terms of up and comers, the UK lads certainly did their cause no harm.

One band who need no introduction to UK audiences was London noise/mathcore crew Pupil Slicer and although our paths only crossed briefly, their chaotic hardcore was as potent as ever even in this heat. Speaking of heat, one of the hottest new bands around, it looks like Spirit World brought the Las Vegas desert heat with them along with the coolest look of the festival and a stack of vicious death/punk/hardcore anthems. Probably a new band to many, their performance today showed why their growing fanbase already includes the likes of Gary Holt and Max Cavalera.

Another quick stop off on the Sophie Stage for UK thrash/hardcore brawlers Cage Fight saw the band, led by energetic vocalist Rachel Aspe, whipping through their set but, by now, hordes of black t-shirt clad fans were already vying for a spot around the mainstage for the appearance of US symphonic deathcore heavyweights Lorna Shore. Despite having no soundcheck, the band delivered an absolutely impeccable display with vocalist Will Ramos sounding truly hellish through the likes of “To The Hellfire” and with the band’s Pain Remains album just around the corner, expect more high profile slots to come.

Sylosis were Sylosis. There isn’t really much more you can say. Their brand of technical thrash was clinically excecuted and, given the bands either side of them, their set didn’t do anything more than you had expected it to. Watching Ukrainian tech metal favourites Jinjer take to the stage was an emotional sight. Ukranian flags flew high in the crowd as Tatiana and the band walked out to a heroes welcome to play a phenomenal set including a jaw-dropping “Pisces”. Our final afternoon band on the main stage came in the form of Brit metalcore crew Bury Tomorrow who steamrolled through live favourites like “Choke”. A brutal way to head into the evening’s festivities.

It’s hard to wonder who has suffered more in the wait for this moment? For symphonic black metal legends Dimmu Borgir, their journey to Bloodstock has been one hampered by technical difficulties, illness and COVID making their return a long and torturous one for their legions of fans. It came as no surprise then to find the main stage almost at its busiest as the band strode out into the early evening baking sun and gave the masses the perfect Saturday evening sermon. Swathes of relentless black metal and epic symphonies pierced the air as the Norwegian band made sure their return was one of thoe most unforgettable sets of the weekend.

However, if we’re taking about long-awaited returns, it has been over twenty years since occult heavy metal legends Mercyful Fate graced a festival stage. A suitably theatrical stage, epic songs and the familiar face paint and voice of King Diamond, their performance was everything their ever-patient fanbase could have wished for and provided a suitably evil way to wrap up a day that was hotter than hell.

Sunday

Waking up on Sunday morning to news that hardcore legends Life of Agony had unfortunately pulled out due to illness put a bit of a downer on our journey to site but seeing a busy pit greeting last minute main stage openers Skarlett Riot certainly made the news more bearable. Skarlett Riot grabbed this opportunity with both hands and ensured the final day had a full throttle start. Next up were Vended a band unfortunately tagged as “featuring sons of Slipknot” by many but today proved their worth with a performance that melted the faces and battered the eardrums of a crowd who arrived, like us, part-excited/part-intrigued by what they offered. Manchester thrash/hardcore crew Guilt Trip were in no mood to mess about in the Sophie Tent spitting out their aggressive sounds to an arm-swinging, spin-kicking moshpit.

Butcher Babies provided the day with a party atmosphere which was something the line-up desperately needed in the almost debilitating and seemingly ever-increasing heat. Bouncy, energetic tunes and choruses that had the entire field in party mood, the Butcher Babies made sure Bloodstock’s sunburnt crowd had a smile on their faces. There were no smiles though over on the Sophie Stage as Spanish black metal terrors Noctem grimaced and gurned their way through their set.

One of the originators of the “black metal” sound Newcastle’s Venom Inc had promised fans their classic Black Metal album in all its glory and delivered on that promise. Part Motorhead part classic black metal, the band spat through the album with devil horns aplenty being thrown throughout the crowd. Despite the heat sapping the energy of the crowd, there was still no let-up as rising UK chaotic hardcore band Heriot flung themselves through their set before grindcore ragers Cattle Decapitation tore through their furnace-temperature material over on the main stage. Absolutely raging from the getgo, the San Diego quickly disproved any doubters that their savage sound would be lost in a setting this side.

By now the heat was becoming unbearable in the main arena so who better to provided the soundtrack than Swedish black metal legends Dark Funeral. In full corpse-paint and body armour, the Satanic overlords thundered through their set barely stopping to catch breath putting on what was quite a jaw-dropping display. The same could be said for Austrian outfit Belphagor who provided a similarly evil slice of black metal fury on the Sophie Stage playing to a packed tent. Sandwiched in between the pair, we saw the much welcome return of nu-metal/latino crew Ill Nino who had the entire tent bouncing along to classics like “God Save Us” and “What Comes Around”.

So, Bloodstock 2022 approaches the home straight. It’s been a long, brutal weekend but organisers made sure the best was yet to come starting with Jaz Coleman and his anarchists in Killing Joke. An interesting choice of special guest but with Randy Blythe from the headliners expressing his excitement at seeing the iconic punk rockers stomping about the stage, the reaction from the crowd showed that he wasn’t the only one.

It’s been almost ten years since Lamb of God graced the stage at Catton Hall and as they slammed into opener “Memento Mori”, it felt like they’d never been away. With Vio-lence guitarist Phil Demmell joining the line-up, the band delivered a simply sublime headline set peppered with classics and tracks from their upcoming Omens album. Steamrollering though “Ruin”, a pyro-laded “Walk With Me In Hell” and many more, it felt like Lamb of God had returned in 2022 as an altogether more potent force.

Any worry that their set would be met with a muted response from a crowd weather beaten from the heatwave and three days of music proved non-existent with security working overtime to deal with bodies flying over the barrier as the Richmond heavyweights brought the main stage to a close with lethal renditions of “Laid to Rest” and “Redneck”. Breathtaking stuff from a band who are heading into their new album cycle in unstoppable form.

And that’s a wrap on Bloodstock 2022 but with organisers already announcing a slew of acts for 2023s weekend including headliners Killswitch Engage and Megadeth along with Gatecreeper, Fit for an Autopsy, King 810, Zeal and Ardour and Unto Others, we’re already counting the days down to next Summer. We’ll see you there…

For information and ticket details for Bloodstock 2023 which returns to Catton Hall from the 11th-13th August, visit the official Bloodstock Website

Poster for Bloodstock Open Air 2023
Author

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.