Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2019 - Day 1

When I look back at my journey with heavy metal, from my discovery of the genre during my high school days where I listened almost exclusively to Disturbed, Slipknot and Killswitch Engage, to the plethora of amazing acts existing outside the mainstream I stumble upon every day, I consider the point where I truly became invested in the music to the point where it became a lifestyle was during my very first festival; Bloodstock Open Air 2015. This was a defining moment for me because, as a naturally introverted person, I had attended only one gig five years prior, and rarely discussed my taste in music with anybody due to the lack of metalheads in my area. That was until I bit the bullet and decided to attend Derbyhsire’s premiere metal event, on a whim, about 6 days before it started. I realized quickly that, as an independent and community-driven festival Bloodstock strives to maintain a compact, family-like atmosphere where both staff and attendees alike are warm and friendly while accepting the difficult challenge of booking acts that appeal to all tastes. Wacken Open Air, from what I have gathered, may have variety and a consistently great line up, but it sacrifices a personal and welcoming touch to achieve that. In recent years, its smaller British counterpart has dared to do that and much more.
Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2019 poster
Since 2015, Bloodstock has grown incapacity, and this year’s event had its fair share of controversies. The most high-profile being the inevitable booking of their first metalcore headliner, Parkway Drive, at the expense of many enraged ‘true metal’ fans, as well as numerous band drop-outs beyond the organizer’s control, including the likes of Skeletonwitch, Code Orange and Dimmu Borgir (who they cancelled a day before their show). However, none of this mattered, as the festival was the triumphant tribute to heavy music and drunken madness it has always been.
 
To get some minor gripes out of the way before I get to the meat of the review, I would like to make a few suggestions to improve the festival for everybody. Firstly, having straw spread on the paths to the arena between the campsites is a must. Download Festival is renowned for being one of the wettest rock festivals in the UK, and so they put straw down for ease of access to the facilities quite regularly. In recent years, Bloodstock Open Air has also been quite wet, so an easier walkway for the masses of people heading to the arena every day would be much appreciated.
 
Secondly, on a personal note, if the media wristbands could be readily available on-site alongside the crew and artist passes, that would be massively appreciated by me and my colleagues, as for whatever reason, we had to wait longer to get in.
 
Now that’s out the way, on to the festival!
 
Day 1 (Thursday and Friday):
 
If you ever plan on buying a ticket for the full four-day event, you will find Bloodstock puts a handful of bands both underground and renowned on the Thursday evening before the headliners kick off the weekend. If you ask me, this is an absolute no-brainer for any festival. Due to the exhaustive nature of dragging yourself and five crates of beer to the campsite, it’s nice to be able to relax on the first night with your brethren and see a band or two on the Sophie Lancaster stage if they fit your fancy.
 
In the long tradition of the festival’s Thursday “party bands”, this year’s attendees were treated to the barking mad boys in Footprints In The Custard, a Manchester-based act who is about as weird and entertaining as their name implies. Despite being heavily requested, I can’t say that I’m familiar with any of their releases. But having experienced the live show, can comment that they usually turn up in tutus and never fail to impress. At Bloodstock, they played to one of the wildest crowds of the weekend. Charismatic frontman, Russell Gregory, claimed that I have an awful taste in music for liking what they do, but I am entirely willing to accept that.
 
As the first night of Bloodstock came and the moon shone above the darkness of the Sophie tent, Greece’s own Rotting Christ graced the stage and delivered a blasphemous mass of blast beats and creepy chants to a hyped-up crowd of night owls. While Thursday night is typically spared for more upbeat metal bands at Bloodstock as shown by previous headliners Arkona, Battle Beast, and Phil Campbell’s All-Star Band, this long-running black metal act proved that they have fine-tuned the dark atmospherics of their show to perfection. Having previously performed at Bloodstock Open Air 2016 on the main stage in the afternoon, I was unsure how well they would be received as a headliner with a longer set given the general obscurity of their melodic black metal sound, but there has not been a more perfect fit yet, and I would urge Bloodstock in the future to book more extreme metal headliners based on this set alone.
 
Rotting Christ setlist:
Hallowed be Thy Name
Fire, God and Fear
Apage Satana
The Forest of N’Gai
Elthe Kyrie
Kata ton Demona Eautou
Non Serviam
King of a Stellar War
The Sign of Evil Existence
Grandis Spiritus Diavolos
 
If you asked me before attending the festival, I would say that the Friday of Bloodstock 2019 was the most packed day due to the sheer number of great bands performing, which included none other than bay-area metal legends Death Angel, the first of a thrash double bill with Metal Church, who made full use of a short 40 minute set to unleash a multitude of classics, as well as two singles from their latest album “Humanicide”. While their set was similarly short to the one they performed on last December’s MTV Headbanger’s Ball tour opening for Exodus, their performance proved that they are truly capable of being a headlining band. It, therefore, remains one of thrash metal’s greatest tragedies that they never received the popularity of either the “big four” or Testament, but with consistent new releases, it is clear they will make it big at some point soon.
 
Death Angel setlist:
Thrown to the Wolves
Voracious Souls
The Moth
The Dream Calls For Blood
The Ultra-Violence
The Pack
Humanicide
 
Making a rare UK appearance, Metal Church immediately followed suit with a fiery set of fresh material from their latest album “Damned If You Do”, among other sparsely heard classics from their earlier years. While it is apparent watching any of the band’s new music videos that their appearance has radically altered, the quality of the Church’s performance is as youthful, vibrant and heavy as ever. With little to no stage backdrop beyond the band’s iconic logo, the classic no-frills band commanded their audience through pure riffs and song writing. Mike Howe’s swagger filled vocals, in particular, was a highlight of an all-around solid morning of sunshine and speedy thrash metal.
 
Metal Church setlist:
Damned If You Do
Needle and Suture
Badlands
Start the Fire
Beyond the Black
By the Numbers
Fake Healer
 
The next band I saw was American groove-gods Soulfly, fronted by the legendary Max Cavalera. Having heard a few negative opinions about his performance with his rather unremarkable side project Cavalera Conspiracy at Download Festival a few years prior, it was apparent to me at Bloodstock that he had shaped his performance up, as both the sound and Cavalera’s playing alike was pretty good for a festival show. The one truly impressive element of the show worthy of pointing out, however, was Zyon Cavalera’s manic energy on drums. Though Soulfly has never really stuck to the original members, it might be a good idea for Max to maintain good relationships with this one. Given how good their latest album “Ritual” was too, it meant that the band wasn’t needing to rely on former glories to make an entertaining show, and for that, I would say they were a pleasant surprise.
 
Soulfly setlist:
Intro/The Summoning
Prophecy
Babylon
Ritual
Dead Behind the Eyes
Berimbau – Tribe
Jumpdafuckup/Eye for an Eye
 
By absolute coincidence I assume, the succeeding band on the main stage was Children Of Bodom, another act with a frontman that has performed some bad shows in his lifetime apparently due to a fondness for alcohol. While there was nothing particularly great about their actual performance, and a severe lack of “Needled 24/7” being on the setlist, Bodom’s set did solidify the idea that Alexi Laiho and co. have not entirely lost their live spark yet, in the same way, that the album they are currently touring in support of “Hexed”, shows that the band are likewise on an upward trajectory in the songwriting department too. Lead single “Under Grass and Clover” is one of their best songs I would argue, and the highlight of this overall solid performance.
 
Children Of Bodom setlist:
Are You Dead Yet?
Under Grass and Clover
In Your Face
Platitudes and Barren Words
Angels Don't Kill
This Road
Hate Me!
Downfall
Hate Crew Deathroll
 
An inevitable downside of seeing bands at festivals is that it is impossible to see absolutely everyone, so I, unfortunately, had to miss Tesseract to get some much-needed sustenance in the form of “Dirty Fries”, courtesy of the great Texas Smoker food stall. Finishing that, I returned to the main stage to realize that the organizers of Bloodstock weren’t lying when they promised more ammo to the main stage’s pyrotechnic arsenal, as Powerwolf’s special guest performance was the most explosive of the whole day, both literally and sonically. Frontman Karsten “Attila Dorn” Brill and keyboardist Falk Maria Schlegel worked wonders together hyping the crowd up with their dual-stage banter in between songs; oozing energy, partnership and a genuine passion for what they do. All of which are quintessential elements to the genre they perform in. Power metal anthems came in droves as their hour-long set featured the likes of classics like “Army of the Night” and “We Drink Your Blood” as well as the best songs from their latest album “The Sacrament of Sin”. While power metal has its loud-mouthed naysayers, it seemed most of the festival had turned up to see Powerwolf play, and from thereon I heard not a single soul bash them. Easily a future headliner of the European festival scene.
 
Powerwolf setlist:
Fire and Forgive
Army of the Night
Incense and Iron
Amen and Attack
Demons are a Girl’s Best Friend
Armata Strigoi
Blessed and Possessed
Resurrection by Erection
Werewolves of Armenia
We Drink Your Blood
 
As the second sunset on Bloodstock festival, it was time for power metal maestros Sabaton to finally grace the main stage, delivering an exuberant and dramatic live show based on their latest opus “The Great War”, a concept album about WW1. Though I briefly caught the tail end of their set during my first Bloodstock back in 2015, there was something specifically epic about seeing a tank surrounded by sandbags on stage under crisp moonlight, rather than in the day. All while watching Joakim Broden sing mournfully about the loss of British troops.
 
While a live Sabaton show will only really be appreciated by fans of the band’s specific subject matter and symphonic power metal style, for a long-time fan this was a show worthy of an arena, which makes sense considering the band will be touring Europe doing just that in the winter. Furthermore, the setlist was a strikingly perfect balance of old and new, featuring songs from pretty much every album in their career. While I ultimately preferred Powerwolf’s set, Sabaton should be proud of how far they have ascended from their early morning slot at this very same festival ten years ago.
 
Sabaton setlist:
Ghost Division
Great War
Resist and Bite
Fields of Verdun
Winged Hussars
82nd All the Way
The Price of a Mile
Bismarck
The Red Baron
The Lion from the North
Carolus Rex
Night Witches
The Lost Battalion
Shiroyama
The Last Stand
 
Encore:
Primo Victoria
Swedish Pagans
To Hell and Back
 
For the restless types who demand even more music after the headline act is finished, Bloodstock has since 2016 featured a band headlining the Sophie stage each night that doesn’t clash with the main headliner. On this particular evening, it was Grand Magus rounding off a day that largely featured European melodic metal acts. While I find their newest album “Wolf God” to be a bit of a bore compared to the band’s more thickly atmospheric and doomy material, the sound and performance of their live show were in equal parts impressive and worth staying up for.
 
Grand Magus setlist:
I, the Jury
Sword of the Ocean
Dawn of Fire
Untamed
Steel Versus Steel
Ravens Guide Our Way
Kingslayer
Valhalla Rising
Iron Will
Like the Oar Strikes the Water
Triumph and Power
Hammer of the North

PS: Words by Michael Miller and photos by Ross Goatman (Satyr Media) - Soulfly photos by Amplified Gig Photography and Down The Barrel Photography.