bloodstock open air festival 2023, catton hall. 11th august, day one

As I descended on the hallowed turf once more for my annual ritual, I couldn’t help but soak up all of the visual and aural delights and ponder on the fact that if home really is where the heart is then Bloodstock is well and truly, once again and without doubt, home for 20,000 like-minded metal heads for the duration of this weekend.

No sooner had I set up camp in the Media Tent than it was time for me to enter the fray and kickstart my Bloodstock with a healthy slab of Doom to shake off the cobwebs courtesy of the UK’s very own Witchsorrow, and they kicked off the Ronnie James Dio stage with style, poise and a complete battering of the senses. Witch tamed the thicker stringed axe with a sublime, decadent and natural aura about her, pounding on the fret board with precision and brutality while Necroskull tamed the vocals and more delicate strings with obvious ease. The set was short and sweet but the likes of ‘The Devil’s Throne’ and ‘To The Gallows’ allowed the band the time to really deliver the wake up call the gathered ensemble so richly needed.

Next up on the main stage were another UK offering, this time in the form of Wytch Hazel and their unique brand of heavy rock-tinged heavy metal. Appearing clad in their infamous all white outfits they wasted no time in launching into their set and subliminally propelling the attending congregation to soak up the sermons with obvious audible delight. Visiting Catton Hall on the back of their recently released sacrifice ‘IV: Sacrament’, the set was constructed around this and its ‘Predecessor III: Pentecost’ with their namesake ‘Wytch Hazel’ thrown in for good measure. The band held service in the only way they know best, generating a melodic and rocking soundtrack to which their devoted flock received it and showed their appreciation in the only way they knew how, by moving the pit in time to the harmonious hymns they were being supplied. Another short but sweet success story for the day.

Next a trip into the abyss by way of some Polish black arts courtesy of the sublime Hate. Once the backdrop was heralded above the stage, the anticipation was palpable from the now significantly swelled crowd and as soon as the band came into sight the eruption from before them was insane. Opening with ‘Sovereign Sanctity’ and then morphing into ‘Threnody’ it was an all-out assault on the senses, battering and brutal with no respite for you to catch your breath. The set was caustic from the start of the set to the closing bars of ‘Omega’, vicious and mauling in equal measures, the vocals from Adam The First Sinner were spat out with spite and venomous toxic malevolence while the strings and skins were attacked with a ferocity that lends itself well to the blackened Death Metal we were being carved open to. Forty minutes of absolute ferocity personified. Dziękuje

With some reported travel problems in the Sacred Reich camp, Gatecreeper switched sets with them so that they were still able to grace us with their presence, and their unrelenting thrash metal, but first up we were to be beaten with some potent Death Metal courtesy of the Arizona bruisers. As Mason et al entered the fray there were no gradual introductions or time to acclimatise, we were thrown straight into out and out brutal Death Metal. Mason prowled the stage like a rabid Doberman, Garza and Wagner injected the melody courtesy of their Fretboards and the muscle was delivered by way of Mears and Matt on the bass and drums respectively. The set crunched and pounded its way through its forty-five-minute life with calculated violent tendencies and devastating callousness until it came to an end with an accuracy led and destruction filled ‘Flamethrower’ which marked the exact point in time Gatecreeper can confidently say they have made a whole new bunch of friends for life in this field on a mid-August friday afternoon.

Thrash of the highest order was the demand from the baying crowd of impressive proportions, and Thrash is what they certainly got courtesy of the Arizona Thrashers, Sacred Reich. From the moment they lit the fuse with the classic ‘The American Way’ the speed and ferocity didn’t relent at all. The set was constructed of a healthy dose of 2019’s ‘Awakening’ and then peppered with classics by way of the emotive ‘Who’s To Blame’ and the pit inspiring masterpiece ‘Surf Nicaragua’ which saw a huge pit erupt and showed its appreciation by causing devastation reminiscent of a cyclone carving its way across an unsuspecting village. The vocals from Rind were exquisite, and how he managed to deliver such powerful and on point vocals while taming his bass was quite beyond belief, while Dave McClain is also worthy of mention, if not for his pedigree then for the sheer ferocity and pummelling he served upon his kit, he could almost be seen as a magician the way he navigated the skins with all four of his limbs and the sheer speed he generated was mesmerising.   Bloodstock had just been witness to a true lesson in pure unadulterated Thrash Metal, take a bow gentleman, your job here was well and truly done.   

Next on the agenda, brutal American Deathcore, it was time to doth your hats and welcome Fit For An Autopsy. Seemingly every soul with a festival ticket had decided to be in attendance for this lesson in unrestrained calculated violence and glorious aggression. The strings were intricate and entwined with the drums to create a ten-ton hammer with which every set of eardrums were smashed right from the opener ‘A Higher Level Of Hate’ right up to set closer ‘Far From Heaven’, while the vocals were delivered with cruel intentions with which you had no other option than to succumb to their piercing hostile and bellicose attack. The set drew you in and sparked a need to submit and be mesmerised by the sheer savagery and mercilessness of the whole decadent affair, a spectacle which left your soul feeling beaten and broken with nowhere to hide. Absolutely fantastic.

As the day was drawing towards the business end of the proceedings we were met with a stage full of enough lights to undoubtedly drain the National Grid somewhat, ready for the spectacle that was Heaven Shall Burn. As the bulbs ignited simultaneously and the band entered the fray all hell broke loose. Marcus Bischoff was a vision, dressed in a flame red shirt he prowled around the stage barking out his vocals with pure devastation rooted firmly in his vocal intentions. The set traversed a good cross section of the band’s history, deploying the likes of ‘Protector’, ‘Godiva’ and ‘The Weapon They Fear’. Throughout the whole set, pyros sparked into life and surely singed the eyebrows of the occupants of the first few rows of the crowd while the polished anthems departing from the speaker stacks were powerful and precise, audibly gleaming with cultured and callously elegant tracks on which the raucous hordes could feast. The Germanic Melodic Death Metal stalwarts had well and truly fulfilled their contract today and perfectly delivered a lesson in complex antagonistic metal to the masses.

My first trip of the day over to the Sophie Stage was for one of my highlights of the day, and maybe the whole weekend, and that was for the brutal Black Metal machine of Gaerea. The hooded figures created a haunting visual and added a more sinister edge to the already caustic and malevolent brand of metal thy dispense. Tonight was no different, from the moment they graced us with their presence they delivered harmonious venomous and vitriolic Black Metal of the highest order. The guitars were haunting, made only more chilling by being displayed in the confines of the tent, and the drums echoed through your soul as if a possessed demonic figure was trying to take up residence in your very being. The energy portrayed from the mysterious souls was exhilarating and this only added to the ferocity of the outcome flowing from the speakers. A wonder for the eyes and ears and one which will undoubtedly live with all who witnessed it for a very long time to come.

Swedish legends, Uber Gods of the Melodic Death Metal scene and pioneers of The Gothenburg Sound, In Flames, were in town and appeared to be in no mood to be messing around. Andres Friden led the assault from the front, deploying his vocal duties with precision and a maturity to his voice which was hypnotic and alluring in equal measures. The set was showered with classics and anthems as well as newer and fresher additions to the in flames family alike. ‘Only For The Weak’ was immense while ‘Take This Life’ was barbarous and charismatic. The double assault from the axes of Gelotte and Broderick was intense and sorcerous, the latter seeming to be more ingrained in the In Flames alliance than his years would actually suggest, both working in perfect harmony to cultivate and liberate with delicate ease. As the set closed with ‘Take This Life’, I was left pondering as to whether the next time we see these giants of the scene at Bloodstock they will have taken that final step and actually be sitting in the glorious headlining slot? Based on that performance, maybe, just maybe.

As the sun was setting on the festival site, the crowd was overflowing in every corner of the field in order for them to be able to catch a glimpse of the Friday night headliner, Killswitch Engage, and from the moment the Metalcore mob hit us with their opening track they didn’t yield one iota. They were a freight train of smooth and sophisticated Extreme Music, delivering a lesson in why they are undeniably a worthy headliner, and the packed-out crowd was testament to just how good these trans-Atlantic advocates really are in the live setting. Leach commandeered the crowd and took them on a journey while his bandmates provided the substance and solid foundations on which the set could project itself into the atmosphere. ‘Reckoning’, ‘Unleashed’ and ‘A Bid Farewell’ were all gleaming jewels in the Killswitch crown while ‘This Is Absolution’, and ‘The End Of Heartache’ were true anthems which saw the Bloodstock faithful in absolute fine voice.

Killswitch Engage had indeed turned out to be the perfect headliner for day one of Bloodstock and if that day was anything to go by, I couldn’t bloody wait for day two and three. Bring it on   

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