Killswitch Engage's stunning Bloodstock headline set was a moment two decades in the making

Killswitch Engage made the most of their first outdoor UK festival headline set with buckets of bangers, a beefed up stage show and some brilliantly daft stage banter

Jesse Leach live on stage
(Image: © Elsie Roymans/Getty Images)

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"Corn beef balls! Corn beef box! Corn beef balls! Corn beef box!" Bloodstock Open Air has seen all manner of things take place on its main stage over the past twenty years, but a chant dedicated solely to people's sweaty genitals might just be a first. That'll be Adam Dutkiewicz for you, though; the ever-hilarious Killswitch Engage guitarist is on top form, and so is the rest of his band. Tonight, incredibly, marks Killswitch's first ever outdoor UK festival headline set, and they are clearly relishing every second of it.

"This festival isn't just about the music," remarks frontman Jesse Leach earlier in the set. "This is a way of life." Killswitch, responsible for the metalcore boom of the 2000s, might be somewhat removed from the kinds of artists that headlined Bloodstock during its earliest years, but to question their place atop the UK's most metal fest would be plainly absurd. They're lifers; as much a part of metal's evolution over the past few decades as Pantera, Korn and Machine Head, and an opportunity to finally headline an event like this is long, long overdue on these shores.

Fortunately, Massachusetts' finest are more than up to the occasion; following a rousing opening missive of My Curse that instantly draws the biggest singalongs of the weekend so far, they put on a scintillating two-hour show that only gets better and better as it goes on. It's a set bolstered by bursts of pyro - a rarity for a Killswitch show and a welcome addition that adds to the 'Big Game' feel - but, really, it's the energy and enthusiasm of the band themselves that make tonight such a triumph. Over the eleven years since he returned to the fold, Leach has perfected his dynamic with Dutkiewicz, the guitarist's unflappable daftness complementing the singer's passion and sincerity rather than undermining it. 

Joel Stroetzel (rhythm guitar), Mike D'Antonio (bass) and Justin Foley (drums), meanwhile, remain as tight and propulsive a unit as ever, rattling through anthems like The Arms Of Sorrow, In Due Time and Rose Of Sharyn with ease. A longer set also allows for some welcome returns and deeper cuts: Fixation On The Darkness sounds savagely heavy, while The Element Of One remains an underrated, emotionally-charged gem. 

The band's decision to leave the majority of their most famous hits until the final quarter of the set could be seen as a slight misstep given that festival crowds tend to feature more casual onlookers, but it means that the last half-hour or so is particularly epic. A Bid Farewell, This Is Absolution, The End Of Heartache and My Last Serenade all drop one after the other; fist-pulls, air-punches and arm-in-arm beltalongs rise exponentially throughout an increasingly delighted crowd. 

The only way to kick things up one final notch? Killswitch's classic cover of Dio's Holy Diver, of course, particularly well suited to Bloodstock's status, as Leach and Dutkiewicz both happily point out. Given how important they are to their generation of heavy metal, it seems ludicrous that it took this long for Killswitch Engage to headline a proper, three-day festival over here. Luckily, it was more than worth the wait.

Killswitch Engage Bloodstock Open Air 2023 setlist

1. My Curse
2. Rise Inside
3. This Fire
4. Reckoning
5. The Arms Of Sorrow
6. In Due Time
7. Beyond The Flames
8. The Signal Fire
9. Unleashed
10. Hate By Design
11. The Crownless King
12. Rose Of Sharyn
13. Reject Yourself
14. Fixation On The Darkness
15. Strength Of The Mind
16. The Element Of One
17. A Bid Farewell
18. This Is Absolution
19. The End Of Heartache
20. My Last Serenade
21. Holy Diver

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.