Bloodstock festival 2018: The big review

Nightwish
(Image: © Jake Owens)

Bloodstock festival is done for another year. Our ears are still ringing, our liver aches, and the thought of going back to work fills us with dread, but it was definitely worth it! The Catton Hall weekender was headlined by Judas Priest, Gojira and Nightwish, supported across all three days by the baddest, boldest and, well, best metal bands from across the world.

Here is everything you need to know about Bloodstock 2018, including reviews, photographs and setlist from the UK's premier metal festival.

Watain

Watain

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Watain’s own legions are so visibly committed to the cause that you might have wondered how they’d fare amongst an audience as broad as this. But it’s testimony to the potent power of unyielding belief that the moment the tridents onstage are lit, they also ignite a wellspring of fervent anticipation that becomes a tinderbox the moment they launch into Stellavore. It feels as if all of Bloodstock has led up to this – a full-on rupturing of the senses and a rapt, rampant ceremony to the darkest of forces that reaches a emotive, epic pitch with Waters Of Ain. Watain are proof that charisma comes from a true calling, and tonight they’re a consummate experience that brands itself into Bloodstock history.

Nightwish

Nightwish at Bloodstock

(Image: © Jake Owens)

A festival that straddles the serious and the gleefully silly was always going to welcome Nightwish as headliners with open arms and raised fists. Divisive they may be, but even the most cheese-intolerant would admit that this is a spectacle whose ambition is a singular experience in itself. Amidst spectacular back projections that make the whole stage looks like its floating through fantastical, utopian lands (the wolf moon is a bit much, though) their bombast of power, folk and symphonic metal still never overrides Floor’s immaculate vocal range, the whole becoming a paean for mother earth whose saccharine nature nevertheless becomes a rush. And let’s face it, every metalhead loves a jig.

Nightwish

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Setlist

1. End Of All Hope
2. Wish I Had an Angel
3. 10th Man Down
4. Come Cover Me
5. Gethsemane
6. Élan
7. Sacrament Of Wilderness
8. Amaranth
9. I Want My Tears Back
10. Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean
11. Nemo
12. Slaying The Dreamer
13. The Greatest Show On Earth (Chapters II and III)
14. Ghost Love Score

Read the full, in-depth review of Nightwish at Bloodstock.

At The Gates

At The Gates

(Image: © Jake Owens)

As this year’s Bloodstock starts to wind down, it’s up to Swedish heavyweights At The Gates to prepare Catton Hall for the surefire symphonic destruction of tonight’s headliners Nightwish. It might not be the most logical pairing, but as one of the grandaddies of melodic death metal, Tomas Lindberg and his merry men are perceived as legends here – and rightly so. It’s been a many years since we saw ATG at Bloodstock, having last performed here in 2011 following their reformation the year previous, and they have been truly missed. There is complete, unabashed adoration beaming out of the crowd for the Swedes, and as Tompa barks his trademark “Go!” the pits open up for the melodeath anthem Slaughter Of The Soul. Throwing in some newies from latest album To Drink From The Night Itself, At The Gates embrace their sub-headlining hour, declaring their love for England and the special connection they share, all the while trying to break every neck in Derbyshire. Don’t leave it so long next time, guys.

At The Gates

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Devildriver

Devildriver

(Image: © Jake Owens)

The wind isn’t the only thing violently swirling around the field here a Bloodstock as Devildriver take to the stage. Almost immediately, and with beautiful inevitability, a whole bunch of circle pits open up as Dez Farara’s groove metal machine click into gear. It’s not the best sound we’ve heard on stage all weekend, a muddy mix and the aforementioned windy conditions mean that they don’t have the usual power that we have come to expect from Devildriver,. but the sheer enthusiasm of Dez is way too infectious to be beaten by such problems. And by the time we get to a skull-shattering Clouds Over California it feels like a victory lap.

Mantar

Mantar

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Things are getting dark at Bloodstock, and we’re not talking about the weather, it’s the blackened sludge of German doom-mongers Mantar. Neglecting to face the half-full tent, drummer Erinç Sakarya and vocalist/guitarist Hanno Klänhardt face off against other, drowning in smoke and bathed in blue light with more strobes than we’ve seen all day. Hanno tells us there are a few technical issues because they are a “very unprofessional band” but also “who cares because we’re good looking.” The punishing, ear-ruining percussion and glass-gargling vocals intertwine to create a horrific soundscape of full-volume bleakness, it’s powerful, emotional, and the perfect accompaniment to the looming rainclouds threatening to open over the final hours of Bloodstock. 

Demonic Resurrection

If there’s one band that could lay claim to having drawn the most attention to metal outside the American/European bubble in the 21st century, it’s surely Demonic Resurrection. The Mumbai-based extreme metallers have blazed a trail for heavy music in their homeland – which makes it all the sadder that they seem to be winding down for what will be, at the very least, a prolonged break following this year’s spate of shows. Still, if this is to be their last UK show for the foreseeable, they go out in fine style, drawing a big and appreciative crowd in the Sophie Lancaster tent as they smash through a career-spanning set. Sahil 'Demonstealer' Makhija remains one of metal’s funniest frontmen, popping dry quips about Demonic Resurrection’s status (“We’re gonna play a song – none of you give a shit”), colonialism (“You conquered India, so you can conquer a British circle pit”) and crowd participation (“That is the first time anyone has ever tried to crowd surf at one of our shows”). It makes for a great atmosphere and a great (potential and hopefully temporary) bow-out for a band that deserve recognition for what they’ve done for our music on a global scale. 

Mr. Big

“This has got to be the least metal song that has ever been played at this festival,” announces Mr. Big frontman Eric Martin to preface their 1993 acoustic pop hit Wild World. He’s not wrong either, it seems as though Mr. Big have been booked to give everyone a quick breather and a bit of light relief between the riff sandwiches of Jasta and Devildriver, and to prove that metal fans aren’t the angry, narrow-minded stereotype that we are often painted as. Of course, we already knew that, but the LA supergroup certainly stretch the theory to its absolute breaking point. It’s not all sweetness and light, there are some sleazy rockers in the set, and in Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan they have two of the most capable players in the world of rock. The field of waving hands during To Be With You is the most telling indicator that Mr. Big belong here at Bloodstock, but let’s not push it too much further eh guys? 

Underside

It’s not the best of starts for Underside, starting their set over 15 minutes late due to what seems like an abundance of technical issues. The sound is shonky to begin with levels all over the shop, but gradually it slots into place – luckily there are some creepy masked dancers prancing around the stage to distract those in gathered in the Sophie tent. It’s not the best attended set of the weekend, probably owed to the late start time and the fact everyone is still far too knackered and hungover to bother leaving the campsite just yet, but those down front give it their all, revving the circle pits and cheering on the Nepalese noisemakers who flew 16 hours to be here today. A frantic Welcome To The Underside drags more people into the tent, as does the anthemic Living A Lie, but it’s bassist Mohini Dey who is the star of the show, shredding like an absolute demon throughout. It might not be the busiest show the weekend or the best sounding, but for a band with little-to-no status over here it is a victory for the South Asia metalcore crew, standing proud onstage on the other side of the world, no doubt already planning their return.

Alien Weaponry

Alien Weaponry at Bloodstock

(Image: © Jake Owens)

It should be a surprise that a bunch of teenagers have pulled one of the biggest Sophie tent crowds of the weekend, but when you consider Alien Weaponry sound like Roots-era Sepultura with a dash of early Machine Head it all makes sense. Channelling their Maori heritage, the New Zealand three-piece power through 30 minutes of slack-bassed grooves and chainsaw riffs, including crowd favourite Holding My Breath and Kai Tangata. It’s unfathomable how three guys who are this young (vocalist Lewis de Jong is just 16 years old) can sound so accomplished and like they’ve been playing stages this size for years, when in reality this is their first ever UK show. Bloodstock should be commended for their commitment to promoting global metal, with bands from Nepal and India also playing the Sophie Lancaster stage today – those worried about the future of metal and think it’s grown stale should look perhaps further than their back garden. Alien Weaponry leave Bloodstock screaming for more, chanting for one more song, but the calls go unheeded. For a band still very much in their infancy, big things are surely right around the corner for three guys with the  world at their feet.

Evergrey

Evergrey

(Image: © Jake Owens)

“I think we played one of the first ever Bloodstocks when it was indoors,” announces Evergrey frontman Tom S Englund, “We’re as old as Santa Claus.” That may be so, but, despite the Swedes' debut album The Dark Discovery turning 20 this year, their bombastic prog-metal is still as fresh as a newborn baby. There’s an epic grandiosity that they manage to translate onto a saturated and muddy bunch of hungover Sunday morning metalheads, and when those juddering guitar riffs kick in alongside the soaring melodies it’s the perfect wake up call. “We’ve never played this early so we didn’t know if anyone would be here,” Tom smiles. “I really admire you guys.” Same here mate, same here.

Gojira

Gojira

(Image: © Jake Owens)

It’s been a long time coming for Gojira’s big moment at Bloodstock. There's an argument to be had that the Duplantier brothers and co. were ready to headline here as far back as their weekend stealing set back in 2013, so there's a massive sense of anticipation as the rain subsides and the Frenchmen walk out onstage and plough straight into the irresistible grooving grind of Only Pain. If you were new to metal and had no previous knowledge of the genre you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a band who have spent the majority of their career in this position, such is the ease in which they take to headliner status. Most of it is due to the stuff that you already know, you’ll be well aware of just how suffocatingly tight a live band they are, how much newer songs like Stranded and The Cell are tailor-made for grander venues like this, and how every riff feels like an iron bar to the stomach. What you may not have expected is the show that Gojira now put on. Flames, smoke bombs, fireworks and confetti cannons are pretty much omnipresent throughout and, although they won’t do much for improving the notoriously eco-friendly bands' carbon footprint, it leaves Gojira in a position where you can’t ever imagine them being forced to step down from the top of the bill ever again. Nailed it... but did you ever expect anything less?

Gojira at Bloodstock

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Setlist

1. Only Pain
2. The Heaviest Matter In The Universe
3. Love
4. Stranded
5. Flying Whales
6. The Cell
7. Backbone
8. Terra Inc.
9. Silvera
10. L'Enfant Sauvage
11. The Shooting Star
12. Toxic Garbage Island
13. The Gift Of Guilt
14. Vacuity

Read the full, in-depth review of Gojira at Bloodstock.

Cannibal Corpse

Cannibal Corpse

(Image: © Jake Owens)

How do you counteract the absurdity of Alestorm in the sunshine? Cannibal Corpse in the pissing rain. The grey heavens have opened, apparently upset at the seminal death metaller’s brand of horror-loving brutality, ruining the original plan of everyone at Bloodstock wearing Hawaiian shirts. Despite the wind and rain putting a dampener (ho ho!) on the afternoon, it doesn’t stop Corpsegrinder and co. from unleashing seven shades of hell onto Derbyshire in the form of Evisceration Plague and I Cum Blood, and the crowd responding in kind with vicious pits and crowdsurfers making the most of the wet weather. Closing on the savage death metal anthem Hammer Smashed Face, it’s a solid performance considering the circumstances of thousands of annoyed, soggy metalheads, and a delightfully violent warmup for the mighty Gojira.

Alestorm

Alestorm

(Image: © Jake Owens)

In many ways, Alestorm are the ultimate Bloodstock band. Building their entire career about basically having a laugh and getting drunk, that’s the weekend mantra of everyone in attendance. Somehow managing to attract a larger crowd than Judas Priest last night, the front rows are full of pirates and umpteen inflatables, and it’s ridiculous. Opening on Keelhauled, over ten thousand metalheads are singing ‘Yo ho ho!’ in unison without an air of cynicism or pretence, because despite the pirate-themed origins, this is party music and the masses gathered aren’t too cool to dance around with an inflatable dolphin on their head. Frontman Christopher Bowes is his usual potty-mouthed self, urging Bloodstock to “finger your ugly girlfriends” during Nancy The Tavern Wench, which results in a ‘rowing pit’ of over 2000 people. Yes, it was popularised by Amon Amarth, but Alestorm have adopted it as their own, and the crowd don’t stop there, surfing on dinghies and throwing down in a wall of death for Captain Morgan’s Revenge (despite Christopher asking for the world’s biggest orgy). It’s not high-brow nor as testing as tonight’s headliners, but this is a celebration of dirty language and getting pissed. Climaxing with Drink and Fucked With An Anchor, both will be sung late into the night throughout the campsites. Alestorm will no doubt end up headlining Bloodstock within the next three years, and we can only imagine the size of the duck they’ll bring with them. 

Voyager

Whilst the majority of the festival are watching Alestorm’s mash up of Mrs Brown’s Boys and power metal, a smaller crowd are gathered for something altogether more serious and challenging in the shape of Aussie tech-metallers Voyager. The band themselves seem delighted to be here regardless of the gaps in the tent, and they put on a confident showing – throwing in Darude’s Sandstorm into their set at a festival with a reputation like Bloodstock’s shows some serious balls. But it isn’t just enthusiasm and larking about, there are some serious riffs and a wealth of beautiful melodies coalescing here. Having toured with acts like Deftones in their homeland we see a group who are seriously honed as a live act and with a set of songs that are a noticeable step up from the usual tech-metal crowd. Very promising, very impressive.

Combichrist

Combichrist

(Image: © Jake Owens)

On a main stage line-up dominated by pure metal, Combichrist stand out like a very sore, but very cyber-goth thumb. And that’s no bad thing. Their Rammstein-on-a-budget stageshow is ideal festival fare, and they certainly have enough catchy, pumping industrial throbs, complete with plenty of gratuitous language, to get the mid-afternoon revellers bobbing their heads and raising their beers in the air. But 45 minutes of their slightly one-paced tunes does mean that you find yourself checking your watch towards the end of their set – in fact most of the entertainment comes from watching the band’s dual drummers toss sticks across the stage at each other over another nondescript stomper. A decent enough way to pass the time, but Combichrist won’t be stealing anyone’s Bloodstock 2018.

Combichrist

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Conjurer

Conjurer

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Those looking for some crushing, expansive heaviness ahead of tonight's Gojira are here in abundance, gathered in the Sophie Lancaster tent to witness one of the most important names in the New Breed Of British Heavy Metal. With debut album Mire being touted as the best debut of the year, it's an onslaught of riffs from the abyss, punishing the Bloodstock crowd with Choke, Retch and Behold The Swine. Hollow proves to be just as bleakly emotional in an open setting as it does in a dirty pub, and slowly but surely the pits begin to open down front, swelling as more bodies throw themselves at the mercy of Conjurer's monolithic heaviness. There's no breathing space, just a constant barrage of destruction, as dual vocalists Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose scream their lungs into oblivion, and bassist Jan Krause skulks around like he wants to murder someone. Conjurer are blatantly destined for greater things, and with nailed-on festival performances like this, those opportunities are no doubt coming sooner rather than later.

Conjurer

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Setlist

1. Choke
2. Hollow
3. Retch
4. Behold The Swine
5. A Chasm Forged In Dread And Disarray
6. Hadal
7. Scorn

Power Trip

Power Trip

(Image: © Jake Owens)

It’s criminal that Power Trip are on this early, but ohhhh boy do they make the most of it. A healthy crowd has gathered in the main stage sun to watch one of the best young bands on the planet right now show that thrash isn’t an old man’s game. Circle pits are the order of the day, with frontman Riley whipping up a flesh-coloured storm for Suffer No Fool, as just runs and jumps around the stage in his Obituary and Slayer gear. You will find no ballads here and the rampaging Soul Sacrifice keeps that Texan engine running before the ludicrously fun Executioner’s Tax, resulting in Riley clearing the barrier and surfing his way around the front row. It’s a vivid display of destruction from a band who could have played much higher up the bill, with the crowd chanting their name barely halfway through the 40-minute set. Headbangers and pitters rejoice for the likes of Crucifixation and Nightmare Logic, but it’s the wall of death for the lethal Manifest Decimation that cements this as one of the best sets of the festival so far. You will surely be seeing these guys again soon, hopefully at a later slot in the tent for maximum carnage.

Power Trip

(Image: © Steve Dempsey, Down The Barrel Photography)

Doro

Doro

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Still a standard bearer for a generation of metal artists who use the word ‘Metal’ in their songtitles, Doro takes the unenviable task of following Priest and makes it feel like the passing of a baton. Breathlessly enthusiastic between songs, her finely ground voice becomes a potent, unifying force throughout as she leads a rapt crowd through a host of unashamed, all-together anthems. Burning The Witches, All We Are and Raise Your Fist In The Air become banners unfurled, aided by her band of evergreen veterans whose driving grooves and irrepressible leads are the heartbeat of heavy metal’s indomitable spirit.

Judas Priest

Judas Priest

(Image: © Jake Owens)

"Hello Bloodstock", shrieks Rob Halford. "The Priest is back!" If there's a more natural headliner for this festival than this band, then they're certaibly not playing this year. With Halford initially dressed as what looks like the tin man from Alice In Wonderland after a trip to Paris Fashion Week and the rest of the band going gangbusters, it's a feast of high camp and heavy metal. The remarkable Richie Faulkner still appears to be breathing new life into the band, leading the charge through a set of stone cold classics, from Sinner to The Ripper, Saints In Hell to You've Got Another Thing Comin'. Halford's in fine fettle, and while his voice might be a little ragged around the edges, those screams can still shatter glass. The bike comes out for Hellbent For Leather – riding crop held high – and he remains the only man in rock who can wield a gleaming purple lightsabre without looking utterly daft. There's even time for Glenn Tipton to join the party as the evening draws to a climax. Catton Park might not quite be home, but every inch of this felt like a homecoming.

Judas Priest

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Setlist

1. Firepower
2. Grinder
3. Sinner
4. The Ripper
5. Lightning Strike
6. Bloodstone
7. Saints In Hell
8. Turbo Lover
9. Tyrant
10. Night Comes Down
11. Freewheel Burning
12. Rising From Ruins
13. You've Got Another Thing Comin'
14. Hell Bent For Leather
15. Painkiller

Encore

16. Metal Gods
17. Breaking The Law
18. No Surrender
19. Living After Midnight

Read the full, in-depth review of Judas Priest at Bloodstock.

Emperor

Emperor

(Image: © Jake Owens)

It goes to show just how far Bloodstock has come as an event when you consider that previous headliners Emperor are happy to relegate themselves to sub-headliner status. In fact, frontman Ihsahn makes more than a few gushing mentions to the fact that they are here alongside the ‘Metal gods’ Judas Priest. If there is one problem with this situation, it’s that the black metal legends' icy masterpieces are far more suited to a cold, pitch black environment rather than the warm afternoon sky that greets them today. A lack of movement or stage show (Emperor are particularly visually sparse for a black metal band) could hamper many of their peers, but such is the strength of Emperor’s material – mixed with a perfectly clean, razor-sharp sound – that they are the perfect extreme aperitif before tonight's main event.

Crowdsurfer at Bloodstock

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Suicidal Tendencies

Suicidal Tendencies

(Image: © Jake Owens)

After a cancelled flight and problems at customs, Suicidal Tendencies have finally made it to Bloodstock and packed out the Sophie Lancaster tent with possibly the most people that have ever been inside, with more pouring out into the arena, all here to pledge their allegiance. And it's well deserved because the skate-thrash crossover pioneers are on blinding form, firing on every available cylinder and punting all expectations into the stratosphere. It's impossible to take your eyes of frontman Mike Muir, darting around the stage like a maniac, goading the already hyper crowd into raptures, as countless crowdsurfers sail over the barrier. Extra security seem to be put on to account for the increased bodycount, and as Suicidal rocket through Bring Me Down, Freedumb and Clap Like Ozzy, this morphs from yet another festival show into a celebration of all things ST. Inviting fans onstage to join in the action (and little kid Josh helping Dave Lombardo on the drums) is just the tip of the community iceberg Mike is curating here, giving various empowered, motivational speeches about believing in yourself and never giving up. Subliminal and Possessed To Skate are still bona fide ragers, but it's Cyco Vision where the floor opens and erupts into a blur of bodies and in every direction. This is a triumph in every conceivable way, and a depiction of heavy music's uniting spirit. 

Crowdsurfer at Bloodstock

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Ingested

There is a more than healthy crowd in the Sophie Lancaster tent for Mancunians Ingested. If you thought that the majority of them were there to get a good spot for the incoming Suicidal Tendencies, then the fist pumping and circle pits that accompany the majority of their set would be evidence enough that they have pulled an impressively sizeable crowd on their own merit. You can see why too, because although the sound doesn’t quite capture their slam-heavy death metal groove to its fullest, there is enough meat in their pounding riffs and a shit tonne of personality onstage to keep Ingested standing out from the crowd. A step up to the main stage on their next visit to Bloodstock is definitely not beyond them.  

Lovebites

Lovebites

(Image: © Jake Owens)

Due to transport problems, Suicidal Tendencies have been delayed, and in a complete stroke of luck, the Japanese power metallers Lovebites have been promoted to the main stage. And they don't look out of place one bit. Originally due to play the Sophie Lancaster stage later in the evening, the all-female five-piece revel at the chance to show their skills to a much larger audience, not showing a single shred of fear. Thousands have gathered to catch the winners of Best New Band at this year's Metal Hammer Golden Gods, blasting out a half-hour of technical wizardry, mind-boggling vocals and a voice that could level buildings. Seriously, Asami must have been channeling the power of Rob Halford from backstage, with her soaring wails hitting a target higher than Everest. Bucking the trend of bands only wearing black, the girls are dressed all in white, but there's no gimmick here and it's definitely not the cheesiest thing playing Bloodstock this weekend. It's unbelievable that this is only their third ever UK show, and a dramatic Above The Black Sea seals the deal in converting any naysayers, as the band win over most stubborn black metal fans. As Asami says at the end, "We are Lovebites and we play heaby metal!" and it's hard to argue with that. 

Lovebites setlist

Bloodbath

Almost as soon as Wednesday 13 leaves the stage, that big blazing ball in the sky decides to rear its head. Covered in blood, corpsepaint and presumably flour, the Swedish death metallers Bloodbath bring the heavy to Catton Park. From Breeding Death to Cancer Of The Soul, this is a headbanger's paradise, revelling in widdly solos and seismic percussion. Nick Holmes holds court, in his sunglasses and inverted crucifix necklace, like a preacher of the dark, causing thousands of horns to be thrust into the air – both the hand gesture and Viking drinking vessel. While some of Bloodbath's subtle death metal nuances are lost in the open air, demonic closer Eaten receives a hero's welcome, as crowdsurfers fling themselves over the barrier, and the air becomes one audible guttural growl. 

Wednesday 13

Wednesday 13

(Image: © Jake Owens)

It's a grey, grisly afternoon with no sun in sight, and the perfect setting for some schlocky horror. Entering through a Redrum door (straight out of The Shining) and swinging an axe, Wednesday 13 bursts onstage in full gothic regalia and makeup, diving headfirst into What The Night Brings. Wednesday has brought a box of tricks with him for the Bloodstock faithful, and while only playing a 45 minute set, the horror-punks surround themselves in fire and spooky dancers, and throw in the odd costume change for good measure. It's more of a B-movie production than Hollywood, but that's part of the charm – despite the horror overtones and gothic aesthetic, this is more trick or treat than The Exorcist. The air fills with thick red smoke for Gimmie Gimmie Bloodshed, getting the adrenaline pumping, but unfortunately the momentum dips for newie Condolences. The final one-two of I Walked With A Zombie and I Love To Say Fuck (complete with offensive umbrella) bring it right back around, delighting old-school fans of the horror master and those who just love a good swear. Not a bad start to the day!

Words by: Luke Morton, Jonathan Selzer, Stephen Hill and Merlin Alderslade