In August 2022, over fifteen thousand metal fans melted under the scorching heat of an unbearably hot British Summer as Bloodstock Open Air pushed fans to the brink against a four day soundtrack of death, grind, black and thrash metal. Well, twelve months later and, even though 2023’s summer isn’t quite as unforgiving, the fans are back out in force as Bloodstock Open Air returned to Catton Hall.
To kick off the metal party of the year, Bloodstock invited London nu-metal wrecking crew The Violent Inzident along. Ludicrous outfits, 00’s inspired nu-metal anthems, and wicked banter, The Violent Inzident made sure BOA ’23 starts in the best possible way. Now, there is nothing remotely comical about Arizona death metallers Frozen Soul who are here to maul your face with their sludgy filth. Bathed in blue and purple lights, the death metal outfit arrive with the aim simply to pummel. Half an hour or so later they leave the stage mission accomplished.
I’m still yet to be won over by the next band. Arriving with a production more suited to a stage twice this size, controversial Flint metallers King810 make their eagerly awaited return to Bloodstock. Dark and sinister, frontman David Gunn writhes about the stage as this new incarnation of the Michigan nu-metal bruisers slam out their sledgehammer heavy into the open arms of the masses gathered in front of them. Pirate metal crew Vision of Atlantis take things down a more light-hearted route with their riotous metal anthems lifted straight from the high seas and into a packed Sophie Stage.
Industrial/electronic true crime inspired duo SKYND wrap up the first day at Bloodstock with a set that is simply mesmerising. While my first encounter with the band in the mid-afternoon sunshine at Download Festival a few years earlier left me a little unconvinced, seeing vocalist Skynd and her musical partner Father bathed in an eerie light paints the duo in an altogether more spectacular light as they bring the first day of Bloodstock to a sinister close.
Friday arrives and Bloodstock is in full swing as we arrive at the Sophie Lancaster stage to find the gloriously horrible Wolfbastard hurtling through their set. Berating the crowd, swearing, drinking and playing a violent punk/metal cocktail, the ’Bastard set the day off nicely. Next up are Polish blackened/death metal troop HATE who destroy the early afternoon crowd with their corpse-paint drenched ferocity. A quick line-up switch around saw Gatecreeper lurch from the swamps to deliver their spew-soaked filth before disappearing back to whichever filthpit they came out of. Utterly filthy, the band are one of the most highly-rated of the new breed of death metal bands and, on this performance, there is going to be no stopping them.
Next up were veteran thrashers Sacred Reich who gave this crowd what they wanted and that was a no-thrills balls-to-the-wall thrash metal assault. Hurtling through the likes of “The American Way” and “Surf Nicaragua”, the thrash legends were rewarded for their efforts with a dust-raising circle pit. Keeping it old school in the Sophie Stage were Yorkshire crossover crew Pest Control who took us back to the days when we first heard crossover thrash/punk. Bringing the mosh to Bloodstock, Pest Control were one of those bands we were glad we didn’t miss out on seeing. Much the same can be said about New Jersey deathcore mob Fit For An Autopsy who drilled through their set with pinpoint precision and incredible ferocity. Much like Aussie favourites Thy Art Is Murder, Fit For An Autopsy took no prisoners with their deathcore brutality.
German metallers Heaven Shall Burn are one of those bands who, at this stage in their careers, have yet to really make a dent in the UK market. However, a recent tour supporting Trivium and a set at Bloodstock of headliner standard, the Germans wiped the floor with the Bloodstock crowd who lapped up their blistering set. Bloodstock isn’t all about the established acts though with their Metal 2 The Masses bringing attention to the new bands in the scene with To Obey A Tyrant being one of the lucky few to win a slot on the festival and returning the opportunity with a solid set to a busy tent.
As we head into the final quarter of the day, mysterious Portugese black metal outfit Gaerea arrive on the Sophie Lancaster Stage for one of the most-anticipated sets of the weekend and do not disappoint. The masked band throw themselves around the stage blasting out their haunting black metal living up to everything this Bloodstock crowd were expecting of them. Swedish metallers In Flames drew a huge crowd to the main stage for their special guest slot. Promoting their fantastic new album Foregone, the band smashed through a set laden with new favourites and old classics with a particularly thunderous rendition of “Take This Life” going down a storm with the crowd.
So to Friday night’s headliners Killswitch Engage who promised a set with a lot of things going bang. As with every Killswitch show, it’s packed with comedy banter as the band joke about performing as many songs as they can about fire. Of course, they’re not just about the banter delivering an absolutely gargantuan show both musically and visually. The likes of “Rose Of Sharyn”, “Fixation on the Darkness” and “The End of Heartache” were as searing as the pyrotechnics that lit up Catton Hall while their faultless rendition of “Holy Diver” felt like the only way to end the first day of music on the Ronnie James Dio stage.
Now at the halfway point of this weekend and London progressive metal outfit Urne start things off on the main stage in quite phenomenal fashion. Emotional, abrasive, brutal and serene, the group are celebrating the release of their A Feast On Sorrow and do so with a truly jaw-dropping set. Next up on the main stage were Swedish rockers Royal Republic who couldn’t be more out of place on this bill acknowledging as much themselves. However, they also provide one of the most entertaining sets of the weekend with a set that has the field front to back dancing and singing along. Every year Bloodstock throws in a curveball band who wins this crowd over, this year it was the turn of the brilliant Royal Republic.
Next up on the main stage were one of the highlights of the weekend, the absolutely ferocious Employed To Serve. From the thrashy, Slipknot-tinged opener “Universal Chokehold” to the absolutely thundering “Sun Up to Sun Down”, Justine Jones and the band pummel through a flawless set. Over on the Sophie stage, Casket Feeder continue the metallic onslaught with a solid, brutal set while Skin Failure, who feature former members of Black Peaks and Kainoah amongst their ranks crank it up with a set of neck snapping thrashy metal.
For the next couple of hours, the main stage is where its at though. First up New Orleans sludge metal masters Crowbar deliver exactly what you expect them to. Catton Hall shudders under the weight of the sludgiest riffs to be heard all weekend and they do so with absolute zero fuss and maximum impact. Speaking of impact, from the moment hardcore crew Knocked Loose tear onto the stage, one of the messiest pits erupts in front of the stage. Bodies spit over the barrier as Bryan Garris and his bandmates slam through the likes of “Mistakes Like Fractures”. Even when a torrential downpour threatens to derail the band, the hardcore outfit take it all into their stride to deliver 40 minutes of good friendly violent fun.
Away from the main stage, other highlights include the industrial metal of Tribe of Ghosts and the epic symphonic metal from Dakesis on the Sophie Stage while the The Dead XII bring an eye-catching blend of punk, metal and horror to the New Blood stage. Hailing from the North West of England, Bloodmores are straight up old-school death metal and what a wonderful experience it is. Catchy, groovy and relentlessly heavy, there is plenty of moshy sections, blastbeats and guttural vocals packed into their set. Our final trip to the Sophie Stage today saw the ridiculous Gutalax bring their toilet inspired grindcore filth to a packed tent all well up for some disgustingly humourous noise.
Back to the mainstage and former Immortal frontman Abbath strides out into the early evening to a hero’s welcome. For the next forty minutes, the black metal legend gurns his way through a set packed with ice cold anthems like “Ashes of the Damned” alongside an icy blast of Immortal in the form of “The Rise of Darkness”. While the posing and posturing borders on the ridiculous, there is no faulting the black-hearted quality of the music spat from the stage. Continuing the black metal theme, a late addition to the bill saw the Tom G.Warrior led Triptykon perform a set consisting of his earlier Celtic Frost work. Perfect for this Bloodstock crowd, the hordes lap up the likes of “Circle of the Tyrants” for what was surely one of the most iconic moments in the history of Bloodstock.
And so we head to the second main stage headliner of the weekend, the mighty Swedish machine known as Meshuggah. Now, admittedly, the Swedes would not have been our first choice of headliner but the sight of a mosh pit losing their shit to the hypnotic, steamroller driven tech metal powered out by the band is one we won’t forget in a hurry. Jackhammer heavy, there have been some heavy moments throught the weekend across this site but none as downright uncompromising and crushing as this. A surprising choice of headliner at the start of the weekend but, by the end of their hypnotic performance to end the third day, one that couldn’t have been more ‘Bloodstock’.
Sunday kicks off with Irish metallers Dead Label who feel like one of the hardest working bands on the underground metal scenes. Treading similar waters to bands like Machine Head and Lamb of God, the band offer up a brutal start to the day. Following the Irish band, Mongolian metal band Uuhai perform an attention-grabbing set. Similar to The Hu, the band arrive on stage dressed in traditional Mongolian robes blending traditional Mongolian instruments, throat singing into wave after wave of modern metal grooves. Next up, All Hail The Yeti make their return to Bloodstock and pack their set with harrowing tales like “Highway Crosses”. Their scary stories send a shiver down your spine, the riffs get the neck loosened up and, as with their last appearance here, they leave the stage with the question hanging as to why this band feel so utterly underrated.
A quick trip to the Sophie stage amidst all of that sees us in the company of Birmingham metalcore quintet Overthrone who dish out some well-received songs beefed-up with some nice headbanging riffery. It’s back to the main stage though for the next couple of bands. First up are haunting Swedish goth rock masters Tribulation who glide through their eerie, corpse-paint drenched anthems with ease. Another band who make it look easy is Polish death metal war machine Decapitated who hurtle through tracks like “Cancer Culture” with the kind of potent venom we expect from them. The band have gone through extensive line-up changes over the last couple of years but, in 2023, Decapitated are sounding as fresh and vital as ever. “We brought the Californian sunshine with us,” jokes Ugly Kid Joe frontman Whit Crane. He’s not wrong either as the sun beats down on a crowd ready to party to hard rock bangers like “Neighbor”.
Wandering into the Sophie Stage we see a band dressed all in white. It can only be Nottingham spiritualists Church of the Cosmic Skull who have their crowd under their spell from the moment they launch into their ’70s tinged rock. Elsewhere on the New Blood stage, highly-rated Irish band Lavein barrel through their NWOAHM-inspired set demonstrating exactly with they’re now ready to move onto a bigger stage. Polish nu-metal exponents BHP wrap up the New Blood Stage with some banging hardcore-tinged anthems. Rapped vocals and jarring riffs all completed with a DJ what a way for the weekend to sign off. Our trips to the Sophie Stage also wrap up with the utterly magnificent Zeal & Ardour who, luckily for Bloodstock, manage to fix the schedule problems and deliver their full black metal meets gospel meets country rock sermon.
In what feels like the blink of an eye, the finish line is in sight but not before metal legends Sepultura unleash hell on Bloodstock with a brutal set of their tribal anthems. Ripping through “Territory” and “Dead Embryonic Cells”, it almost feels like the band are only just getting started as the likes of “Arise” shakes the foundations of Catton Hall. In a last minute change to replace Helloween, KK’s Priest step in to the Special Guest slot. Despite a mixed reaction to the announcement, the former Priest man (joined by former Priest vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens) literally rip through a set of classic metal anthems including plenty of Priest favourites like “The Ripper” and “Breaking The Law”.
Making their third appearance as Bloodstock headliners, speed metal superstars Megadeth are clearly a popular choice judging by the amount of shirt-wearing fans wandering around the sold-out site or queueing up for the band signing earlier in the day. Mustaine and co don’t disappoint either not missing a beat as they career into opener “Hangar 18” even with a life-size inflatable unicorn bouncing around in front of them. As is the case with Megadeth, you get little fanfare, with the band preferring instead to let the music do the talking. “Sweating Bullets”, “Wake Up Dead”, “In My Darkest Hour”, it’s a catalogue second to none and brings Bloodstock 2023 to the perfect headbanging, eardrum shattering conclusion.