Bloodstock Open Air 2019: review, best bands and what we learned from Catton Park

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Bloodstock 2019

Bloodstock 2019 returned to Derbyshire and Getintothis’ Nedim Hassan braved the mud to take in a metal festival packed with spectacular performances.

Bloodstock have always been bold with their choices of headline acts.

This year, however, there was some heated debate stirred up by the inclusion of Australian metalcore outfit Parkway Drive as main stage headliners on the Saturday night.

With last year’s festival enjoying record crowds and next year’s event set to be a celebration of their twentieth anniversary, 2019 was always going to be a tricky year for the organisers.

Yet, despite the potential hazards (and challenges with unseasonably stormy weather), Bloodstock Open Air 2019’s bill proved to be as vibrant, diverse and uncompromisingly heavy as ever.

Thursday evening’s sunshine lulled us into a false sense of security as Greece’s premier black metal band, Rotting Christ, took to the Sophie Lancaster Stage for a compelling and powerful set.

Little did we know that the heavens would open later that night and curtail the party atmosphere in the camps.

The downpour on the previous night did little to dampen the spirits of the eager punters on Friday morning.

Armed with wellies, ponchos and rain coats – as well as lots of denim, leather and even corpse paint – there were a healthy number of early risers who waded into the main arena.

We love the sound of death metal in the morning.

Ireland’s Zealot Cult oblige us with their murky, primordial Florida inspired sound. The swampy Sea of Suffering is particularly effective at loosening our neck muscles with a spot of head banging.

Stepping out of the tent with smiles on our faces, we head over to the main Ronnie James Dio stage where Britain’s Xentrix provide fresh evidence as to why so many fans were excited by them when they first emerged in the 1980s.

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Once heralded as the UK’s answer to Metallica, Lancashire’s finest thrash metal merchants demonstrated their enduring ability to write seriously heavy, chugging riffs as they plundered choice cuts from their comeback album, Bury the Pain, before whipping us into a frenzy with a vicious version of No Compromise.

Merseyside’s own Midnight Prophecy were up next on the Hobgoblin New Blood stage and, although they admitted to us afterwards that they had felt nervous beforehand, the classic metal band immediately took command to deliver a majestic set.

Thrilling versions of killer songs like Oblivion and Ridge sounded absolutely massive on the New Blood stage and by the end of their set the crowd’s chants of “Prophecy, Prophecy” could be heard throughout the tent.

Our addiction to tea then led us to seek refreshment in the indispensable Motley Brew tent.

The timing couldn’t have been any better. As soon as we sit down with our cuppas, the heavens open and torrential rain lashes Catton Park, sounding like machine gun bullets from inside the tent.

The storm dissipates serendipitously just in time for Soulfly to take to the stage.

Soulfly

Such is the power of this band that they seem able to push the clouds back with their groove-laden, tribal gatherings like Prophecy and Babylon.

By the time they launch into a blistering version of Dead Behind the Eyes the sun actually comes out.

Soulfly are a tough act to follow but Children of Bodom are up to the job with their pristine approach to melodic death metal epitomized during a ferocious version of recent single, Under Grass and Clover.

It’s then quickly back to the New Blood stage to see Merseyside’s rising black metal stars, Marw.

Emerging amidst purple neon lit billowing dry ice, the band pull no punches during an intense set.

Vocalist Chris Furlong’s combination of tortured croaks and strangulated screams meld with the twin guitar attack to mesmerizing effect during epic songs such as Propagation.

TesseracT’s stock continues to rise and their emotional performance on the main stage only serves to confirm their status as the UK’s premier purveyors of djent, technical, progressive metal.

The beauty of their multi-layered sound lies in the way that songs like recent single Luminary can deal with thoughtful subject matter in a refreshingly tender and powerfully heavy way.

Powerwolf somehow manage to steal the crown as band of the day.

Their invitation to the crowd to take part in the “only holy heavy metal mass in the world” is greeted with delight.

Corkers like Army of the Night and Demons are a Girl’s Best Friend see raised fists and banging heads from all sides of the arena (including from those adorning werewolf masks).

Yet it is Amarta Strigoi with its prolonged bout of audience participation that is incredible to behold. The sight and sound of metalheads across the park attempting what are tantamount to operatic warm-up exercises is simply joyous.

Sabaton bring the heavy artillery as they bring the curtain down on the main stage for Friday.

Spectacular staging, including an attempt to convey the horrors of the trenches during World War I complete with sandbags and wire fence, ensure that songs such as The Red Baron are lapped up by the massive crowd.

As vocalist Joakim Brodén recalled during their set, ten years ago the band were one of the early opening acts at Bloodstock, now they are one of the most popular metal bands on the international scene and their assured set confirmed this.

With over sixty guest beers to choose from in the Serpent’s Lair VIP bar, we emerge bleary eyed on the Saturday in time to catch Swallow the Sun on the main Ronnie James Dio stage.

Swallow the Sun

Their classy brand of reflective death doom metal is the perfect tonic for those still nursing aching heads.

The very personal and emotional content on latest album When a Shadow is Forced into the Light still translates effectively onto the live stage during epic song Firelights.

Ironically, given the band’s name, the sun makes its first appearance of the day during a stunning version of Stone Wings.

Evil Scarecrow predictably bring out the nutters.

The guy in front of us with the full-on dinosaur costume being a case in point. Still we cannot help but get sucked into attempting our best robot impressions for Robototron.

Meanwhile over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, Red Method bring everything but the kitchen sink – dancing girls dressed as angels, masks and, of course, riffs in abundance.

During closing track, Split, the dancers reappear only this time in straitjackets.

Bang your fucking heads” order Germany’s Dust Bolt as they launch into an infectious set. Dead Inside with its slowed down chugging riffs absolutely compels us.

While they lay down the gauntlet as one of the best thrash acts on display over the weekend, we also watch as a dad trains his son in the ways of metal culture by starting a mini mosh pit amongst family members.

Over on the main stage The Wildhearts look like they’re having the time of their lives during gems like Vanilla Radio and I Wanna Go Where the People Go.

While people of a certain age (including this writer) would have identified with Ginger‘s diatribe against hernia operations – “shout fuck you hernia!” wins the award for the strangest crowd request of the weekend.

Spearheaded by Sin Quirin from Ministry and featuring Johnny Ray on vocals, 3 Headed Snake treated the crowd in the Sophie Lancaster tent to their debut live performance.

The classic sounding metal act hit the ground running with killers like Symbiotic and Money God. Ray’s powerful and piercing voice shines through on the impressive Wisdom Screams and, on this evidence, this is an outfit destined to make a serious impact on the international scene.

Unbeknownst to us in the Sophie tent, something of a crisis is starting to unfold for the festival organisers at this point during Saturday’s proceedings.

High winds had already affected the large video screens on the Ronnie James Dio stage, but they were now threatening to derail the entire evening as they played havoc with the lighting rig forcing a temporary pause to the main stage bill altogether.

With a reshuffle now in order and Cradle of Filth’s appearance shifted to the Sunday, many were beginning to wonder whether we would see any more action on the main stage for the rest of the night.

Indeed, the high winds across the country appeared to be causing issues for international bands travelling to the festival, with Generation Kill and Skeletal Remains’ highly anticipated appearances unable to go ahead.

Thankfully, stepping into the breach on the Sophie stage are Black Shuck (who were originally slated for the smaller Jagermeister stage).

This is fucking huge fer us” proclaim this grinning, likeable Irish trio. They proceed to unleash heavy artillery and the crowd quickly warm to them with some energetic circle pits.

Given the disruption caused by the strong winds, Anthrax‘s performance (and that of the crew to get them on the stage) takes on added importance.

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Thankfully they are more than up to it and brighten the moods of the faithful with searing versions of classics such as Anti-social, I am the Law and Time. Highlight of their frankly brilliant set is Madhouse, with its monstrous riff remaining one of thrash metal’s defining moments.

Anthrax’s defiant set in the face of adversity was joyous, yet headliners Parkway Drive are simply breath-taking.

Anyone doubting the Australian metalcore outfit’s credentials as a legitimate festival headliner are quickly made to eat their words.

Parkway deliver accessible, memorable, anthemic but megaton heavy riffs by the truckload.

A dramatic spoken word intro under (for the first time this weekend) clear skies leads to an absolutely gargantuan version of the The Void.

On Dedicated vocalist Winston McCall roars “12 years I’ve fought for this!” In the face of the naysayers, the sense of triumph embodied in this song’s performance is almost palpable.

Thankfully, Sunday does not see a repeat of the dangerously high winds. Instead, much of the daytime sees regular showers that turn Catton Park into a quagmire.

Belgium’s Aborted blast the early revellers on the Ronnie James Dio stage with their, at times, ridiculously fast brutal death metal. The rain also decides to join in and blast the mosh pit with a downpour.

At least the shower is mercifully brief, and the energetic crowd at the front does not seem to care anyway, drying themselves off within circle pits and a wall of death.

Former Manowar guitarist, Ross the Boss, puts the pedal to the metal with a crowd warming set of old school, no nonsense anthems like Sign of the Hammer.

Manowar staples like Hail to England are met with an enthusiastic response, but the loudest cheers are for legendary former Judas Priest guitarist, KK Downing, who joins the band for rousing versions of The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown) and Breaking the Law.

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It is then Soilwork’s turn to exhibit their highly virtuosic brand of melodic death metal, which is exemplified by songs like Full moon Shoals from latest album, Verkligheten.

Meanwhile over on the Sophie stage, Wheel are a genuine surprise.

Strong melodic guitar driven prog metal with long segments of instrumental jams is their forte and their execution is mesmeric in places.

Exquisite clean guitar work on final song Wheel builds on a cacophonous rhythmic pulse to absorb the enthusiastic audience. These guys could definitely be ones to watch.

Back to the main stage and true metal legend Dee Snider never, ever fails to deliver the goods.

Dee Snider

He implores the crowd to shout “fuck yeah!” (apparently only country artists say “Hell yeah”) before launching into a set that features old Twisted Sister favourites like Under the Blade and Burn in Hell alongside prime cuts from latest album For the Love of Metal such as Become the Storm.

Dee also prompts cheers all round as he attempts to persuade Mother Nature to stop drowning us.

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Over on the New Blood stage it quickly fills up once Polish melodic metal outfit Setheist emerge for their scintillating set. Their giallo horror influenced, theatrical sound is marshalled superbly by fiendish frontwoman, Maksymina ‘Maxi’ Kuzianik.

Speaking of theatrics, Cradle of Filth‘s brand of vampiric black metal delights the sizeable crowd over on the main stage. With pyrotechnics in abundance, old classics such as Her Ghost in the Fog are captured in all their horrific majesty.

Progressive metal pioneers Queensrÿche do not disappoint during their maiden Bloodstock performance.

Led by vocalist Todd La Torre, electrifying versions of classics like Jet City Woman and Operation Mindcrime sit effortlessly alongside lesser celebrated material like I Am I, but it is the seminal Eyes of a Stranger that is greeted with absolute delight by all in the vicinity.

The air is thick with incense as Batushka perform to one of the largest crowds of the entire weekend to assemble in the Sophie Lancaster tent. Their unique ecclesiastical approach to black metal serves to create an absorbing spectacle.

The word ‘old school’ is overused. But The Scorpions are proper old school heavy rockers – guitar solos, drum solos, a proper encore in which they try to convince us that they’re actually leaving, it is all there for their headline set.

Scorpions do not change, but, as we were all about to realise, they do not lose their sting either.

Scorpions

Klaus Meine, Rudolf Schenker and co still sound massive.

Their unmistakable overdriven guitar sound reverberates around Catton Park as they run through classic song after classic song. Incendiary versions of Big City Nights, Bad Boys Running Wild, BlackoutThe Zoo, and Rock You Like a Hurricane had us all reaching for our air guitars.

While the ballads – Send Me An Angel and (of course) Wind of Change compelled us to reach for our lighters (or more commonly our phones) as we swayed along.

Unashamedly mainstream, yes, but who cares? We couldn’t think of a better way to close proceedings on the Ronnie James Dio stage for another year.

Roll on the twentieth anniversary. Although if Mother Nature isn’t more kind to us we may have to set Dee Snider onto her.

The nine best bands at Bloodstock Open Air 2019

Parkway Drive

Parkway Drive

Proved the sceptics wrong with a set that left us in awe. Metalcore has never sounded more anthemic.

3 Headed Snake

Rarely has a debut performance been this impressive. Sin Quirin’s star studded classic metal project are the real deal.

Soulfly

Max Cavalera’s outfit never fail to impress and their consistent ability to write memorable groove-laden hooks shone through on newer songs from last year’s colossal album, Ritual.

Powerwolf

Powerwolf

Their invitation for the crowd to engage in their “holy heavy metal mass” was embraced wholeheartedly.

TesseracT

These British progressive metal luminaries continue to impress with their compellingly emotional and melodic approach to djent.

Queensrÿche

These progressive metal legends show no signs of slowing down, regardless of line-up changes over the years. Their maiden appearance at Bloodstock was nothing short of triumphant.

Scorpions

Scorpions

An obvious choice maybe, but these veterans brought the festival to a close with a set packed full of triumphant rock anthems delivered in their inimitable style. Besides, Rock You Like a Hurricane is still one of the greatest metal songs of all time.

Anthrax

Anthrax

In the face of adversity from the elements, their timeless thrash metal masterpieces made sure that everybody raised their horns on the main stage once again.

Dust Bolt

During a weekend packed with heavy hitters from the world of thrash metal, Germany’s Dust Bolt reminded everyone that they are a serious force to be reckoned with.

Images by Getintothis’ Will Tudor

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