Just like a birthday and the MOT, the annual heavy metal shindig that is Bloodstock Open Air is upon us once again. 2019’s edition has been mired in controversy since February, when the organisers dared to announce Parkway Drive as their Saturday headliner, a controversy which made 2009’s Europe-gate appear to be little more than a minor disgruntlement. Add to that the withdrawal of Code Orange a few weeks before and the very unexpected cancellation of Dimmu Borgir through bad health just days before the gates opened and 2019 was looking somewhat ill-fated.
Thursday skies under which tents were being pitched hardly even suggested anything like the apocalyptic elements predicted: blazing sun saw the beginnings of a tan and clear blue skies generated discussions of shorts and beaters. Bloodstock 2019 kicked off musically with the beast that is Barbarian Hermit awakening and lumbering into life. NOLA riffs and big old smattering of groove gets the Thursday party well and truly started. Blind River are a no-excuses rock band - no airs or graces, just balls-out Rawk! and the crowd in the Sophie Lancaster Stage lap it up. From last years’ New Blood stage to Thursday on the Sophie, it’s been a hell of a journey for Mancunians Footprints in the Custard and they grasp their opportunity with both hands; judging by the size of the crowd they attract Bloodstock is with them every step of the way. Returning after three years Ten Ton Slug pretty much pick up where Barbarian Hermit left off with their brand of doomy sludge played against an irresistible groove.
Over the years the Thursday night at Bloodstock has grown from casual entertainment to being an integral part of the festival experience. This year the organisers has surpassed themselves and set the bar ridiculously high for 2020 by booking Greek legends Rotting Christ. The tent is rammed and the punters are a good dozen deep outside to witness the band deliver a crushing set culled from across their distinguished career. It goes without saying that Rotting Christ, more than 25 years into their existence, have honed themselves into a machine incapable of playing bad shows and this, their third Bloodstock appearance, feels more complete that either 2014 or 2016‘s shows. It is a sixty-minute master-class of Hellenic dark metal, but their hour is over far too soon and the crowd start to drift away to the bars or to their beds with the promise of what the weekend will bring.
Incite open the main stage proceedings on Friday with a groove-laden thrash attack guaranteed to get the blood pumping. On the Sophie stage Zealot Cult delivery an ungodly brutal death metal assault sure to rouse even the most snoozey from their slumbers. The main stage sees a 1-2-3 of old-school thrash born in the 1980s. Beginning with a rejuvenated Xentrix who played in the tent a couple years ago but now venture out into the sun with a killer
new record and Jay Walsh on guitar and vocal duties. His delivery is close enough to former main-man Chris Astley to do justice to the older numbers but far enough away to belie any accusations of being a copyist. Death Angel play a set from across the whole of their not insignificant career and appear to be having a blast doing so and Metal Church bound around the stage like a group of over-excited puppies. They close their set with a mighty version of Faith Healer but I can’t help but lament the omission of Ton of Bricks.
When the history of Heavy Metal is written some names will stand out as being defining artists: Max Cavalera will be one of those names. We all know his work in Sepultura but he has been two decades or so with Soulfly and, judging by this years’ excellent Ritual album or these live sets, then Max is far from being creatively spent. Soulfly hit the stage just after a downpour of Biblical proportions but the weather doesn’t seem to dampen the ardour of the gathered throng. You can’t even accuse Max of playing the nostalgia card as the expected Sepultura classics are conspicuously missing from this afternoon’s show.
Children of Bodom play their 4th Bloodstock show and seem a bit lightweight and safe after Max and co. Their keyboard driven metal not really able to compete with Soulfly’s tribal rhythms. Tesseract are something of a brave booking for Bloodstock this year and even braver considering their lofty billing. But their modern technical prog goes down storm and wins over the hearts and minds of all but the most ardent doubter.
Powerwolf bring a big production to Bloodstock and their stage show looks impressive. There are plenty of people getting down to it but plenty of people voted to call that ship Boaty McBoatface so you can’t always trust the masses to get it 100% right. Raging Speedhorn provide an alternative and draw a sizable crowd into the tent where they punish those in attendance with an aggressive twin-vocal attack. No one escapes unscathed.
Friday night headliners Sabaton have Bloodstock form and have worked their way up the bill over the past ten years. The tank is out tonight along with a small-armed conflict worth of pyrotechnics. They have big riffs, sing-a-long choruses and an eye-damaging stage show. No matter what you think of their music, Sabaton are always great value. Fellow Swedes Grand Magus have the daunting task of trying to follow that but are more than up to the challenge. They deliver an hour of hard rock infused metal with every track designed to get both fists and blood a pumping. Job done.
It’s ominous when the security staff are going around the camp-site early on Saturday morning advising people to lower flag poles and dismantle gazebos as there’s a bit of a breeze due our way. It doesn’t look too blustery at that time, but down comes the beloved Red-Rose, little knowing the affect that incoming wind would have on the day.
Cancer Bats are square-pegs in round holes on this bill but they have masses of experience and great songs and their short set is a triumph. Swallow the Sun released a tremendous new album earlier this year and have complexity and atmosphere to spare; but bright sunlight is not the obvious back-drop for their sound and some of their ambition is lost. Shame really, that a downpour would have given Swallow the Sun a natural effect, but much of the subtleties and nuances are sadly lost. Evil Scarecrow are on again.
Deathcore and Bloodstock are not natural bedfellows: Whitechapel have played a couple of times and Chelsea Grin put in an appearance a couple of years back. Thy Art Is Murder have shown with their new album they are able to transcend the limitations of the genre and deliver a set that the faithful can appreciate without alienating the vast majority of the Catton Park crowd.
The cancellation of Code Orange was a shame but not when the replacement is The Wildhearts. Stalwarts of the 90s British scene and now back with their best album since Earth Vs... they set about playing it perfectly for a festival. They’re on, they play and then they’re gone, all far too quickly.
And then nothing.
Cradle of Filth were supposed to be up next but the weather has conspired to delay them to the point that they’ll play tomorrow instead, leading to a rejigging of the bill. We wait. And wait. Fearing that the wind will rob us of Anthrax. But fear not, for the ‘thrax are late but they smash straight into it with a no-nonsense set of classics, including nothing later than Got the Time from 1990.
So to Parkway Drive - the most contentious of Bloodstock headliners yet. So many nay-sayers, so much rubbish written by the faceless keyboard warriors, so closed-minded. In order to survive Bloodstock has to embrace the likes of Parkway Drive and, in my opinion, the Australians played one of the best Bloodstock headlining sets I’ve seen and I go all the way back to the Assembly Rooms in 2001 so that’s no small statement. They have the presence, they have the stage, they have the tunes and they have the personalities to crush Bloodstock 2019. And they do. Which just leaves the fearsome Black Metal machine that is Taake to close out the tent which they do in diabolical style. Although the weather tried its best to mess things up Saturday at Bloodstock 2019 was triumph.
I imagine nature, having not managed to best the punters with the wind, decided to try a different tack for Sunday.
Aborted’s unholy noise is performed in front of a back-drop depicting the cover of their latest album, a portrait of Lovecraftian creatures breaking through the barrier between worlds. It is, like Aborted’s music an image of madness, but nothing compared to the Biblical rain that sweeps across Catton Park today. In the campsite punters are packing up their tents and we’re just a couple of millimetres shy of knocking together a quick ark.
The Hellfest vs. Manowar saga draws on but with Ross the Boss you know you’ll get the tunes without the drama. A raft of early Manowar songs are aired before KK Downing walks onto a stage for the first time in a decade and knocks out a couple of Priest numbers. It is, quite literally, Heavy Metal Heaven. A couple of hours later and Mr Sister - Dee Snider - is back at Bloodstock, a new album and a host of Twisted Sister classics, playing it perfectly for an anti-diluvian Sunday afternoon.
According to the talk around the water-cooler, the Saturday had sold more day tickets than any other day at Bloodstock and those people who bought day tickets for Cradle of Filth were given free entry into Sunday. Cradle’s first return to Bloodstock in ten years following from the gob-stopper incident of 2009 is a bombastic triumph and fitting that in Dimmu Borgir’s absence Cradle of Filth scratch that particular itch.
I am a big fan of Queensryche’s early material, even up to the somewhat patchy Promised Land so it was awesome to see the new line-up honouring the legacy with a set pulled from all aspects of their long career. Plenty of Rage for Order, some from The Warning and even the old Queen of the Reich herself. Obviously Empire and Operation: Mindcrime are well represented alongside newer material show that Queensryche are far from their own tribute
band. Which just leaves Scorpions to bring the curtain down on Bloodstock 2019. They have the history and they have the tunes but time is catching up to the perennial Germans and there’s a hint of cabaret about the show, not least in the fact that Scorpions are the first Bloodstock band to utilise a vanity ramp.
So, another Bloodstock Open Air folds itself into history, but with the promise of next years’ show bringing Sacred Reich, Vio-Lence, Butcher Babies, Skindred and The Black Dahlia Murder to Catton Park. Let’s just hope the weather is a little more kind.