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Bloodstock Open Air 2019: The Ultimate Review

(Image credit: Katja Ogin)

We're live on-site at Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2019, Catton Park, Derbyshire, UK. This year Sabaton, Scorpions and Parkway Drive head up a stellar line-up that includes Anthrax, Soulfly, Children Of Bodom, Tesseract, Dee Snider and Cradle Of Filth and many, many more.

Team Hammer will be checking out as many of the bands as we can to bring you the ultimate running commentary – so stay tuned, bookmark this page and keep updated with the very latest reviews on all the bands!

Thursday

Bloodstock has long been home to the overlooked champions of metal’s more niche offshoots, offering high profile spots to acts in every subgenre from power and folk metal to the most kvlt offshoots of black metal. 

The 2019 iteration is no different, Greek luminaries Rotting Christ bringing the first day to a terrific close. It’s been a long time since Rotting Christ could be tagged solely within the black metal genre, having grown to incorporate a litany of subgenres and styles in the past number of years. 

Variously shades of black, gothic and even doom adjacent throughout the set, there is no denying that Rotting Christ bring a sense of ceremony which lends an almost ritualistic air to the set, perfectly accentuated by the metronomic rhythms that power each track. 

Apage Satana brings this tribalism to the fore, each snarl of the title barked direct into the parts of the brain that just enjoy a good roar. 

Rotting Christ

Rotting Christ

(Image credit: Steve Dempsey)

Friday

It’s more of a curious crowd rather than an excitable one early on at the Sophie Stage for Def Con One. 

But ears soon prick up as they unleashed some hugely impressive groovy riffs on those present. 

Vocalist Danny Hagar also has a seriously chilling roar, but his clean vocals let the side down a bit. Stick to the brutal stuff and they could be quite the proposition.

Over at the Dio stage, it feels trite to consider Death Angel part of the current classic thrash revival, especially considering the band's output since 2004’s The Art of Dying has been a masterclass on what classic thrash should be. 

Not beholden to the idea thrash need only be metal played very fast, Death Angel have a sense of groove so precise it feels akin to being put in the crosshairs of a sharpshooter with a minigun. 

It has been 15 years since the band returned as an active force and they remain as vital and visceral as ever. 

It seems somewhat apt that the skies darken above Catton halfway through Metal Church’s spirited mid-afternoon set. 

Bloodstock is made for bands like these, and the US veteran heavy metallers make the most of their half hour or so, frontman Mike Howe demanding arms are raised and fists are pumping at every opportunity. 

They’ve barely been offstage for a minute when the clouds burst open and Bloodstock is given an almighty drenching. Now that’s what you call timing. 

Death Angel

Death Angel

(Image credit: Katja Ogrin)

Soulfly have got some serious pedigree, and could pick a set that the old school metal fan laps up if they so wished. But it's actually more impressive that they decide to lean heavily on material from latest album Ritual and lose no one in the process. 

By the end of their time they do pull out the evergreen Tribe, with Max Cavalera inciting the first ever Bob Marley sing a long in BOA history half way through as he segues into Get Up, Stand Up, before closing with a brutal Eye For An Eye. 

It's a reminder that, although Max is rightly viewed as a legend, he and his band are still as potent a force as ever. 

Children of Bodom aren’t fucking about in opening on the seminal Are You Dead Yet?, providing the first bona fide singalong of the weekend. 

The sound desk isn’t entirely on their side though, the band sounding as though they are playing a couple fields over, weakening the impact some. 

Once the gremlins have been vanquished the band hoof it through the likes of Angels Don’t Kill and Hate Crew Deathroll demonstrating peerless epic technical mastery.

“We’ve got a bit longer than we usually get, so we’re gonna have some fun,” promises frontman Rich O’Donnell as Karybdis prepare to lay waste to the Sophie Stage. 

The London death metallers are now in their tenth year, and while Children Of Bodom playing just across the field means they don’t get the lion’s share of the crowd, their taught and precise death metal assault makes a fine impression on everyone in the tent. 

Hopefully one of the UK’s finest modern death metal bands can start climbing up bills like these. 

Children of Bodom

Children of Bodom

(Image credit: Steve Dempsey)

Tesseract find themselves oddly positioned on the bill today, sandwiched between a whole smorgasbord of Euro metal cheese; after Children Of Bodom and then directly before Powerwolf and Sabaton. And it’s fair to say the UK djent pioneers are faced with a fairly confused crowd when they first arrive. 

Luckily they’ve matured over the years into a truly excellent live band, and, with Daniel Tompkins growing ever more commanding a frontman and the bands music becoming more and more accessible with each release, they have enough to satisfy the main stage crowd without ever really completely winning them over. 

New songs from Sonder, such as the lucid bounce of Smile, get the biggest reaction. But the real high point on an emotional level is when the sky cracks into driving, sideways rain just before Tompkins thanks his wife and children for being here today before a brilliantly defiant Survival. They might be slightly out of their element, but Tesseract win on points.

Countless Skies take on melodic death metal sees them lean heavily on the genre's more power metal adjacent elements than its underground origins. 

At their very best the band let loose tracks which have an enormous sense of grandeur and epic bombast - particularly in the backing vocals of bassist Phil Romeo, who’s tenor vocal is about the loudest thing we’ve heard at the festival thus far. 

However, such genre-reliance also sees the band occasionally struggle to reinvent the same tropes from song to song as time wears on - almost as a microcosm of the wider melodic death metal scene itself. 

Tesseract

Tesseract

(Image credit: Katja Ogrin)

Imagine trying to explain to a non-metalhead that a bunch of Swedes running around in battle vests with a tank singing about war wouldn’t be the most ridiculous thing you’d see on the main stage of Bloodstock today? 

And yet here are Powerwolf: a posse of corpsepainted Germans bellowing power metal hymns about werewolves, drinking blood and boners in front of a medieval backdrop of stone walls and cathedral tops. 

There’s a touch of Spinal Tap about the whole thing before the band even get on stage as one of their walls blows over and nearly smashes to bits. Once the set kicks off, though, everything goes to plan. 

From the buoyant crowd participations to the jets of flame and smoke adding a touch of arena-level showmanship, to the band themselves clearly having a blast, it’s a rousing success and the perfect warm-up for Sabaton’s shenanigans later. 

This is as ludicrous and proudly daft as metal gets, and everyone at Catton is here for it.

Powerwolf

Powerwolf

(Image credit: Katja Ogrin)

Ten minutes before Raging Speedhorn are due onstage the Sophie tent is pretty much empty, or at least, empty of people. The sound of wailing feedback from the bands amps is intrusively loud though, filling the tent and setting the tone for the next hour. Even before they come on, Speedhorn are trying to piss you off.

When they do arrive the tent quickly fills with a crowd rushing over from the end of Powerwolf. And Raging Speedhorn go about playing one of the undoubted sets of the weekend. 

Nearly twenty years since their debut album was released and they still sound like the most horrible, nihilistic, snakebite and weed fuelled sludgy hardcore around. 

Vocalist Frank Regan swears, spits, sneers and screams around the stage, whilst his unnamed co-vocalist, replacing John Loughlin, jumps in the crowd, grunting at and eyeballing everyone. 

The riffs to the likes of Redweed, The Hate Song and Thumper are gloriously grotesque. Fuck The Voodooman remains a sonic baseball bat to the cranium. 

And, the now full, tent produces possibly the most aggressive circle pit in the Sophie stage’s history. Speedhorn leave to a hero reception, with their status as the nastiest gang in UK metal still intact.

Click here for our full review of headliners Sabaton.

Saturday

MORNING! There might be more productive wake-up calls than Krysthla smashing out their brand of ferocious, groove-heavy metal on the main stage, but we don’t want to hear about them right now. 

The Northampton crew are a staple of the UK underground, and do a fine job shaking everyone out of their late-morning hangovers. 

The bleary eyed, early worms that make it over to the Sophie Stage for 11am get quite the wake up call from The Parallax Method.

The instrumental three piece are hardly the easiest of ways to get yourself revved up for another days of festival madness. Dealing in long, complex, winding and technically impressive prog. 

It’s hardly the most visually or emotionally exciting thing that will take place at Bloodstock today, with the band standing stock still and delivering their music in as functional a way as possible, but, if you can shake the hangover from your head and really concentrate on the superb musicianship on display, 

it’s still a quite an aural feast to devour. Although they often sit somewhere between the tech-metal of a band like Animals As Leaders and the more traditional sound of Dream Theater, there is the occasional blast of pure heaviness that is tonally reminiscent of Opeth during their pre-full prog, late 00’s period.

A lot to take in. But ultimately worth it.

Cancer Bats

Cancer Bats

(Image credit: Steve Dempsey)

It's easy to take a band like Cancer Bats for granted - they've been turning up on festival bills and being typically brilliant for over a decade now - but today, in an environment that may be just a little out of their comfort zone, the Canadians put in another reminder of why they should be considered a national treasure for metal and hardcore. 

While Liam Cormier struggles to go full pelt with his vocals a couple of times - possibly due to the early hour, the man himself admitting he's two coffees down and still not fully awake - it's all high-energy, the band sound great and the setlist is an absolute ripper. 

R.A.T.S., Bricks And Mortar, Hail Destroyer...this is a band who have helped define the more riff-heavy end of hardcore in the 21st century, and today they're packing the songs to prove it. A double-whammy of killer covers in the form of Sabotage and a crowd-led War Pigs seals a brilliant half-hour of crushingly good fun.

Less than a day after Raging Speedhorn looked like they had the title sewn up, here come youthful quintet Lotus Eater to give them as run for their money for the award of lariest band of Bloodstock 2019.  

“We’re Lotus Eater, from the fucking streets of Glasgow, and we’re going to fucking fuck this fucking tent up. Fucking get involved. Fuck, fucking everyone!” Says vocalist Jamie McLees by way of polite introduction. Kiss your mother with that mouth mate? 

But, presumably terrified, within seconds everyone has moved up and a handful of kids are throwing hardcore shapes in the pit to their slimy amalgam of death core, tech-metal and just outright, unfiltered naked aggression. 

On record there is some pretty interesting ideas floating around in Lotus Eater’s music, but in the live environment the riffs, drums and electronic throbs are only there to obliterate your hearing. 

And with McLees stalking the stage like some kind of metalcore, football hooligan version of Liam Gallagher, it’s one of the most brilliantly intimidating sets of the weekend.

Evil Scarecrow

Evil Scarecrow

(Image credit: Mark Lloyd)

After a lengthy soundcheck (and it probably could have done with going on a little longer) Swallow The Sun finally emerge from the mist on Bloodstock's main stage.

These shadows just aren't meant to be forced into the light at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon – a windy outdoor slot isn’t exactly the prime situation in which to fully absorb Swallow The Sun’s sumptuous melodic doom.

But the Finns do their best in the circumstances, and give a strong and passionate performance, with the vocals picking up by the time they kick into Upon The Water

While it's great to see them on the Dio stage, they'd be  better fit for a higher slot on Sophie – that tent is just made for death-doom – and at first,  Mikko Kotamäki's lead vocals are constantly being swallowed by the wind. 

Further cuts from this year’s incredible When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light album are particular highlights, proving that one of the metal underground’s most emotive bands are continuing to only improve with age. 

By their final song, the sound picks up and the crowd are getting involved chanting, fists in the air – it's just over too soon. Shouts of "one more song" can be heard as they leave the stage, the crowd is clearly hungry for more. Next time, headliners on Sophie, yeah?

It's hard to begrudge Evil Scarecrow the gigantic crowd they pull to the Dio Stage - but we're going to just a little anyway as, let's be honest, they're absolutely naff. That said, you very much suspect they a) know it and b) don't give a flying fuck. 

The UK metallers have made the most of their position as the People's Band of Bloodstock, and the maddening array of fantastically daft props, gimmicks and fancy dress characters all go down a storm with a crowd who are evidently well-learned in the dance moves and chant-a-longs that have become a staple of this most unexpected of heavy metal success stories. Fair play to 'em, crab claws and all.

The Red Method

The Red Method

(Image credit: Steve Dempsey)

In the Sophie Tent, Red Method initially suffer from technical gremlins and a thin crowd, the latter due to Evil Scarecrow drawing such a huge following across the field, but they still prove a commanding visceral live force, neatly filling the gap that beloved London metallers The Defiled left behind them when they split up a couple of years back.

They are certainly one of the most visually striking and interesting bands to appear this weekend. The sextet look gloriously bizarre, a mix of red, black, face paint, masks, make up and chains.

A rumbling, groove-heavy, industrial-tinged circus of horrors, they look and sound the part, even if the cameos from dancing goth girls flopping about the stage feels just a little played out in 2019.

Like an amalgam of Slipknot, Korn (thanks to a guitarist who looks exactly like Brian ‘Head’ Welch), The Murderdolls, Behemoth and 90s Nine Inch Nails, you can’t help but nod along to the carnival of carnage up onstage in front of you. 

Toward the end of the set the unfamiliarity of the material and the fact that this is very much a band in its infancy, means that you do feel that a few of Red Method’s tricks are being oft repeated.

However, this is a strong showing for a band that obviously have limitless ambition and aren’t afraid to show it.

Before the arrival of Thy Art Is Murder the disconcerting sight of thousands of metal heads dancing and singing to The Vengaboys “evergreen classic” We Like To Party. 

Normal service is mercifully restored as the Aussie deathcore titans take to the stage and launch into a pair of songs from excellent latest album Human Target

The second, Make America Hate Again, hilariously dedicated to, in frontman CJ McMahon’s words, “that cunt Trump”. 

CJ seems fired up today, his vocals sounding expertly brutal and his between song patter, whether it’s inviting everyone here to fuck off England and our terrible weather and come to live with the band in Australia before a crushing Purest Strain Of Hate, or pulling his, very fetching, leopard print shirt open so the wind can blow though it “like Michael Jackson”. 

The wind has been a problem for the sound all day, and although it isn’t completely cleared up here, it improves enough for the closing Human Target to batter the eardrums whilst a huge circle pit bids them farewell. 

Before they go CJ promises to come back and “headline this motherfucker.” His tongue is firmly in his cheek as he does so, but when TAIM come back to Bloodstock you can expect them to be at least a few notches higher on the bill.

Thy Art Is Murder

Thy Art Is Murder

(Image credit: Katja Ogrin)

There’s a pitifully small crowd here for The Wildhearts. It doesn’t seem fair that a band as historically significant for British rock music as they are should be playing to so few. 

But then, if life was just, then Ginger and Co. wouldn’t be here at all, they’d be about to headline Wembley Stadium tonight for the umpteenth time. Hey ho.

It may be because they are viewed as a little too far from the usual metal template that Bloodstock is used to, but they’re heavier than a band like, say, Mr Big who appeared on this very stage last year. 

And, regardless of the reason, you’d be a self loathing, tone deaf goon to not be able to appreciate the genius in a run of perfectly crafted hard rock bangers like Everlone into Suckerpunch into Vanilla Radio that The Wildhearts casually toss out at the start of their set as if it ain’t no thing.

Luckily there are a few hundred die hard fans down the front who pump their fists and scream song to every word with the passion, energy and vigour of a football stadium celebrating a last minute FA Cup final winner. 

And although it’s the classic Earth Vs The Wildhearts material that unsurprisingly gets the biggest reaction (Caffeine Bomb still sounds like The Beatles getting molested by Minor Threat in the most wonderful way), new cuts from their latest album Renaissance Men still sounds huge. 

Particularly on Diagnosis, which could comfortably sit on an album as anthem heavy as Permission To Land.

They end of a mighty sing a long Of I Wanna Go Where The People go in suitably triumphant fashion. It might not have been the biggest crowd of the weekend. 

But for a hardy few, seeing CJ, Danny and Ginger up in a festival stage together again is just as special as having AC/DC, The Stooges or The Ramones putting in an appearance. The Wildhearts smashed it, where were you?

Treating Viking metal not as a folk-infused jamboree, but rather the kind of open-ended, far-sighted journey that puts the wind in Enslaved's sails Bergen's Helheim embark on a mesmeric, mostly mid-paced set whose solemn chants, rich undertow of bass and mantric riffs build up progressively, to the point where you might find yourself losing your bearings altogether. 

The old blackened fire still burns, though, stoked by a guest appearance from Taake frontman Hoest, while Baklengs Mot Inte becomes a charged clarion call and an act of pit-inciting deliverance.

The Wildhearts

The Wildhearts

(Image credit: Mark Lloyd)

Considering the furore that Bloodstock’s appointment of Parkway Drive caused online – and the perceived change in values away from traditional heavy metal and the underground scene – you’d think a band so open about championing heavy metal as 3 Headed Snake would pull a massive crowd. 

Needless to say, even with the temporary closure of main stage, the keyboard warrior elite are nowhere to be found. 

From the gothy intro tape to singer Johnny Ray's Geoff Tate-esque vocal stylings, 3 Headed Snake owe a lot to heavy metal's NWOBHM-induced 80s excesses. 

When exercising their more restrained tendencies the band offer up primo LA sleaze basslines and a sense of HM worship that’ll leave you moist eyed for the days where bands could offer up more riffs than self awareness. 

3 Headed Snake have an abundance of the former and total disregard for the latter, but in fairness to them such dogged determination just helps to make them endearing, particularly when guitarist Sin Quirin lets rip with the kind of guitar solos that have been dead since about ‘91. 

By the time the bands set comes to a howling close they have managed to pull an admirably sized crowd, especially when considering Bloodstock marks their first ever show as a band. 

Over at the New Blood stage, UK's answer to Watain, The Master's Call, are bringing plenty of brutal blackened death metal to an eager crowd, many of whom have most likely flocked into the tent while the Dio stage is off-limits. 

It might be disappointing for Cradle of Filth and their fans, but these lads are no doubt benefitting from the lack of black metal emitting from the main stage due to gale force winds. 

Unfortunately, Cradle have to be postponed until tomorrow, so the next band to storm the Dio stage is the mighty Anthrax – but have no fear, those of you who came to see Dani Filth and co today, you can get in with today's wristbands tomorrow, as a good will from the good people at BOA.

If someone asked you what metal was, you could just offer them Anthrax’s set and be satisfied on a job well done. Every single song is a titanium-plated classic, the whole set brimming with jubilance as the shout-alongs come thick and fast. 

Caught in a Mosh, Got The Time, Madhouse and I Am The Law back to back? You just can’t fuck with that, and that’s why Anthrax more than earn their spot in the Big Four

Click here for our full review of headliners Parkway Drive.

Following the pyro of Parkway, the Sophie stage gears up for some good old fashioned black metal, as Taake take the stage. Frontman Hoest is as enigmatic as ever as the band tear through the tracks that earned them a status amongst BM royalty. The perfect way to see out an action-packed Saturday night.

Sunday

It seems neither rain nor the sparse crowd All Hail The Yeti play to can stop them from putting on an impassioned performance, opening Sunday's main stage. 

The extreme low-end rumbling away in their take on metalcore is sure to rankle a few hangovers, but for the rest it’s a welcome chance to limber up for another day of glorious metal goodies. 

More Dio than Candlemass, Witch Tripper aren’t quite what the tin suggests. Instead of the same slow burning stoner/doom one might expect from acts with similar monikers, this band exist in the fertile grounds between 80s doom, thrash and heavy metal, giving a damn good go of it in the process. 

After a bill with more than a touch of metalcore yesterday, it’s quite ironic that we get one of that scenes most influential names appearing early on the main stage today.

Soilwork might not get the same level of press as In Flames or At The Gates', but their long career has read like a manuscript for many of the big boys of the contemporary metalcore scene. 

And today they show that, whether it’s newer, more Euro metal influenced material from this years Verkligheten, or any of the heavier, more straight ahead, classic melodeath bangers that they dish out, they’re a band with serious musical pedigree. 

And they could probably eat most of the overhyped US bands that play to many more people than them in one gulp. 

Vocalist Björn Strid sounds great, but he doesn’t offer as much of a focal point for the band visually these days. 

If there is one gripe it would be the lack of movement onstage. When he strides out onto The Scorpions walkway with his arms outstretched he looks quite the intimidating frontman. 

But it doesn’t happen enough. It means their set feels workmanlike, even though every song gets most fists in the field pumping and most heads banging. Strong musically, but unspectacular to watch.

All Hail The Yeti

All Hail The Yeti

(Image credit: Steve Dempsey)

The Sophie Lancaster tent offers perfect environs for the high-minded prog stylings of Wheel, especially considering the genre's touch and go relationship with festivals.

No sound issues plague the band on their UK festival debut though - every instrument rings with crystal clarity, the melodies on each song sounding enormous. 

Time may have seen Hypocrisy evolve more into melodic death metal territories, but you wouldn’t believe it for the opening numbers of their set.

Imperious, seismic and angrier than a bear with a sore arse, Hypocrisy's set is the kind of show that Bloodstock is made for; making even the most underground band feel like a world-beating behemoth.

There is a very, very healthy crowd inside the Sophie Stage, and also the unmistakable aroma of something herbal too, for northern sludge oddities Boss Keloid.

The Wigan quintet have big fuck off riffs all over the place, so those fans of Down or Clutch who have moseyed on over are immediately grinning from ear to ear. 

But there is more to Boss Keloid than stoner rock groove, there also some brilliantly expansive and progressive elements on display here. 

And they have some Eastern tinged mysticism and the psychedelic weirdness of Frank Zappa in there too, all wrapped up in a, somehow, instantly digestible package. 

The sound, as it has been on this stage all weekend, is crystal clear, meaning you can hear every brain frazzling John Squire-ism of guitarist Paul Swarbrick, each playful dub bass line that Liam Pendlebury-Green dances through and, most wonderfully, Alex Hurst’s unique John Garcia impersonating Mike Patton vocals. 

Like the very best bands, Boss Keloid look and sound like a hotch potch of proper weirdos and outsiders. And they’re fucking excellent for it.

Questionable politics aside, Dee Snider has more than earned his position as one of metal’s elder-statesmen. Roaring to life with a vitality and energy younger bands should take note of, Snider shows that his farewell headline performance at Bloodstock 2016 with Twisted Sister wasn’t the last triumphant roars we’ve heard from the iconic performer. 

(Image credit: Steve Dempsey)

Batushka played Download Festival earlier this summer to shall we say mixed results.

It doesn’t help of course that a band so big on theatrics would have to compete with the blaring drum n bass of Die Antwoord from downfield, nor the dodgems at Bloodstock for that matter.

But, once the songs finally kick into gear it becomes apparent why the band are so hotly tipped, and also how they are able to largely pack out the tent on the Sophie Lancaster stage.

Tantric, ritualistic black metal, it feels like Batushka hit their mark much more at Catton Hall, and while it feels like an odd precursor to Scorpions, there’s no denying the spectacle doesn’t make for fascinating viewing. 

It's been a full decade since Cradle of Filth's Bloodstock set was cut short by a dickhead with a gobstopper. 

Back in full force for 2019, the band take full advantage of the extended catwalk to put on a fiery performance which leans in the band's earlier material than latter efforts. 

Whether this works entirely in Cradle's favour is up for debate - while the crowd surely appreciate getting heavier cuts from the band's discography, there is a palpable sense that Cradle have never been a nostalgia band before, so now seems an odd time to start - particularly when newer songs like Blackest Magick in Practice feel so tailor-made for massive audiences. Nymphetamine and Her Ghost in the Fog still absolutely crush, mind. 

It makes absolutely no sense that Queensryche have never played Bloodstock in its 20 year history, particularly considering the fervent reaction they receive from the crowd. 

The histrionics are out in full blast as the band power through the likes of Operation: Mindcrime and Queen of the Reich to shrieks of joy, the band largely playing it safe by sticking to older cuts.