After a couple of years away from Catton Hall, 2019 saw me return to Bloodstock, my first since 2016 and second overall. As is tradition, we headed down from Glasgow (ish) on the Thursday with a slightly different crew compared to that year – this time, it was myself, Mosh, Sean and Aidan. With a lengthy drive behind us, Sean, Aidan and I pitched our tents and made our way into the main arena of Bloodstock via a different entrance than I was used to but once we’d arrived, one thing was obvious – nothing had changed and a crowd had already formed inside the Sophie tent for Footprints in the Custard, complete with inflatables.
Needless to say, they were fun but would have given Mosh’s auntie a massive stroke and that was before the mankini was unveiled. Ten Ton Slug swiftly took to the stage after. Sludgy with plenty of heaviness to them, it brings variance to the night and the weekend with its more up-tempo slant. Meanwhile, the black metal tones of Rotting Christ is rather bland following the two more in-your-face acts, it feels a bit flat and repetitive.
Morning comes and it’s time to set up in the press tent then figure out the plan of action for the day between myself, Mosh and Sean interviewing and watching bands. A wander down for the first of many visits to the New Blood stage reminds me of how great and compact the arena is with nothing more than a ten minute walk away (though shorter at this time of day with fewer people around!). The first band of the day is Death By Ki, combining thrash with grooves, it feels modern and one thing is clear, much like last time – there’s such a high standard coming through from the Metal 2 the Masses competitions that it’s quite easy to spend the entire weekend here and make a number of discoveries, knowing that metal is in safe hands.
Over on the Ronnie James Dio stage (the main stage for the weekend), Xentrix are plying their own thrash wares with hints of “War Pigs” during one song. It’s great to see with such a sub-genre how bands play with the boundaries of what it can be, highlighted by watching two thrashy bands back-to-back. Meanwhile, Blasphemer are providing a tight lesson on how to play death metal at the Sophie stage and as someone that’s not overly keen on it, even I enjoyed the more extreme side of the genre when it’s performed with such gusto.
Midnight Prophecy deliver more of a traditional heavy metal experience with hints of power metal and a brooding undercurrent to its proceedings back at the New Blood tent. Back out into the fresh air of the main stage to catch the Bay Area thrash of Death Angel, the name may be cliché by today’s standards but they prove why they belong in the same circles as Exodus, Testament, Overkill et al. And my positioning close to the New Blood stage whilst watching them proves helpful – I spot a couple of friends and drag them into the New Blood tent for what proves to be one of the highlights of the weekend and one of the few full sets I made a point of watching: Tomorrow is Lost. More on the rock side, in theory, they should be out of place but they’ve brought one their heaviest sets possible whilst retaining their own identity. And with it being a year since I last saw them, they’ve come on leaps and bounds and even with a personnel change since, they’re tighter than ever, teasing material for an upcoming album whilst closing with “We Are the Broken”. Seeing the crowd grow over the course of their set, it’s fair to say they smashed it.
Metal Church tip us back in the NWOBHM/power metal direction on the Ronnie James Dio stage and you can see how they helped influence the thrash movement. Full of energy belying their age and making the most of their time on stage, they’re definitely a band whose back catalogue I want to delve into at a later date and with their slant, they wouldn’t be out of place on a more rock-based bill either. Sulpher bring the tempo down with their brooding industrial vibes – made up from members of Marilyn Manson’s band and The Prodigy, despite the gaps between the two albums, both sets of songs sit pretty well together and their first Bloodstock appearance goes down well with the Sophie tent.
Powerwolf bring more than just a live band with them – they bring a show. And they use it without it becoming overbearing. Blending heavy and power metal together so it becomes one sound, it’s an entertaining band to listen to, full of up-tempo numbers you can nod your head to or presumably get in the pit for. And as a band who rarely visit the UK (other than London), they draw a well-deserved massive crowd for it.
Then, it’s the turn of Sabaton who are the first band to close the main stage for the weekend. There’s no denying they’ve earned their spot at the top of the bill, climbing their way up with every appearance and they’ve got the magnitude to pull it off. But after a few songs, it becomes rather wearisome, and that’s even when you factor in their fun take on the genre by dedicating their lyrics to battles across history and dressing in fatigues whilst looking like warriors from the future. Instead, it just wanders into full-on cheese territory and not even the good kind like 80s pop so it allows me to take a gander at various stalls, see if there’s any rare patches to pick up from the various traders dotted about for my denim before quickly realising I’d need a completely blank one to accommodate for all the great ones I spot so I refrain.
After that and some food, Sabaton play out their last few songs and from what I saw, the band enjoyed the chance to headline a massive UK metal festival and more importantly, the crowd seemed to have a blast. That said, day two beckoned and that was going to be an interesting one.