Bloodstock 2022: Sean M’s Eye View (Part 1)

The Car Crew

This year’s Bloodstock felt like such a long time coming for me. I missed last year due to another commitment and before June I hadn’t been to a metal show since before lockdown. As soon as Mosh approved my request to join Team Moshville this year, I started getting excited for the festival. Fast forward to our annual Road to Bloodstock pre-festival interviews and the anticipation grew as I started discovering lots of cool new bands. Then last Thursday after the long pilgrimage down the M6 baking in the 4-wheeled oven, pitching my home for the weekend and entering the back entrance of the Serpent’s Lair, I felt like I had finally arrived.

What followed was an unforgettable weekend of neck-wrecking and throat-shredding as well as meeting loads of awesome people and making new friends.

Thursday

Upon arriving in the Serpent’s Lair, I made my way to the press tent to meet the rest of my colleagues before venturing beyond the wall to the arena for my first taste of the metal to come. Power metal parody band Nanowar of Steel were bringing the camp silliness in their brightly coloured tutus, leotards and cheap wigs  on the Sophie Lancaster stage by the time I found myself there, and not two minutes after my arrival they had the tent filled with a chorus of “Careless Whisper” followed by a giggle as they joked “Varg won Master Chef with his Burzum salmon recipe, he puts the salmon on a rock and burns the church next to it!”. Not the first thing I expected to hear this weekend but it was definitely an entertaining beginning to Bloodstock.

Nekrogoblikon (c) Sean Larkin

The crazy train continued with follow-up Nekrogoblikon. The Sophie Lancaster tent was packed with dancing loons for the cheesy bouncy bits of songs like the cheery “Magic Spider”. The performance was slightly underwhelming with regards to the goblin acting as more of a prop used to incite circle pits and occasionally dance. However that didn’t stop the set from being fun, as the crowd got more into it throughout the show with plenty of nodding heads and clap-alongs culminating in the first crowd surfer I’d seen of the weekend. An early sign of the insane moshing yet to come!

Closing the Sophie Lancaster stage was melodic death metal legends Dark Tranquillity. The band brought a mixed setlist from throughout their career, delivering an energetic performance of bangers like “Identical to None”, “Monochromatic Stains” and “Lost to Apathy”. The guitars from where I was standing were a little low in the mix, the riffs initially buried beneath the rest of the band. However the sound gradually balanced throughout the set as charismatic frontman Mikael Stanne worked the crowd, inciting “hey! Hey!” chants and clap-alongs. The first night ended with the anthemic “Misery’s Crown”, the final screams and raised horns signaling the end of a great show.

Though many in the campsites continued to party late into the night, I headed back to my tent after a couple of cans with Mosh and I’s car-share buddies in Valhalla. My metal weekend was only just beginning, with an early-ish start and lots of interviews lying ahead.

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Friday

Awaking drenched, the heatwave showed no sign of letting up for the weekend. A slightly sleepy start was jump-started with a brew of Behemoth’s I Loved You at Your Darkest coffee courtesy of the coffee stand in the VIP became a pre-press tent ritual for the weekend. After meeting the Moshville crew and getting prepared for the day’s interviews, it was time for a morning workout.

 

Hellfekted (c) Sean Larkin

Friday’s first band opening the New Blood stage was upcoming blackened thrashers Hellfekted. If the caffeine didn’t hit, Hellfekted certainly did with the best kind of wake-up call. The tent was packed, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen for the 10:30 slot at Bloodstock, and primed for the memed Morning Mosh as the band brought bangers from like “Fire at Will” and “Stigma”. The mosh was in full swing for the full set on both sides of the barrier  with a huge pit raging in the middle of the crowd as the band headbanged and slam-danced onstage. The band’s performance was on-point with infectious energy and good vibes – their chemistry onstage apparent as they posture together during guitar harmonies and nail their respective solos, bass included. After several moshing maniacs sailed over the barrier in the last number, the Morning Mosh was a success. Though Bloodstock doesn’t often book the same bands from one festival to the following one or two, Hellfekted opening the Friday with the Morning Mosh should become tradition.

 

The next band I wanted to see over on the Ronnie James Dio stage was Swedish heavyweights Sorcerer. The crowd was more chill despite the heat, nodding along to doomy stomp of “Abandoned By the Gods” and “Sirens”. The frontman’s powerful pipes soared over the epic riffs, reminiscent of the 70’s hard rock/early metal greats made heavier. The vocal skill was matched in the shredding solos and storming riffs, through “Lamenting the Innocent” to the end on their namesake tune “The Sorcerer”, the band overall killing their set.

After some time in the press tent, it was time to head to The Sophie Lancaster stage to check out the highly anticipated secret band. By the time I got to the tent there was no hope in Hell of getting inside, with the crowd spilling out as far as the fairground rides and stalls nearby. As soon as the roars erupted from the tent I knew the rumours turned out to be true and it was indeed the mighty Machine Head! I could only stand outside and listen for a few songs, before running back to the press tent for another interview, however I got to hear one of my favourites, “Imperium”, and naturally had a headbang and shoutalong while I could.

Exodus (c) Katie Frost

I managed to catch a wee bit of Discharge back at the Sophie Lancaster stage where I was surprised to see a modest crowd. However it mattered not as the band blasted through their d-beat ragers getting plenty of punks bopping and heads nodding throughout the tent. From what I saw the band put on a good show, making for a nice warm-up for the thrashing I came for that was about to consume my afternoon.

Now here’s where Bloodstock did the thrashers a bit dirty clashing Bay Area buds Exodus and Heathen in the middle of the afternoon. The former started first taking to the Ronnie James Dio stage and straight from the first note of “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)”, the crowd went wild. There is of course only one way to behave when the purveyors of “Good Friendly Violent Fun” blast through the speakers. Last time I saw Exodus, guitar hero Gary Holt’s shoes were being filled by Heathen’s Kragen Lum, so this time it was awesome to see the band with their main six-stringer back in the fold. The band gave us the refresher class we’re happy to take in “ A Lesson in Violence” as the huge pit continues to rage. The band’s performance is on point, with ever-effervescent frontman Steve “Zetro” Souza owning the stage and keeping the frenzied thrashers going. The insane energy both onstage and on the ground continued through “Blood In Blood Out”, “The Years of Death and Dying” and “Deathamphetamine” however I left Exodus there. The set was shaping up to be killer and I’m sure I missed a few of my favourites, however this was my first time seeing Heathen so I wanted to make sure I caught their full set.

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The wait to catch Heathen was worth it. The crowd was modest due to most of the moshers being at the main stage however it mattered not. The band worked the stage, each member covering ground and headbanging through tunes like “The Blight” and “Goblin’s Blade”. Frontman David White worked the crowd throughout the set encouraging shout-alongs in between hitting his soaring vocal lines, especially in the big melodic “Sun in My Hand”. The band’s performance is on point – every complex rhythm, melodic line and shredding solo killed. Ending the set on a duo of old-skool classics in “Death By Hanging” and “Hypnotized”, my neck was thoroughly wrecked and my throat was shredded. The only disappointment was that the set wasn’t longer.

Heathen (c) Sean Larkin

The icing on the thrash metal cake came next on the Ronnie James Dio stage in Testament. Likewise with their Bay Area brothers before them, the pit was raging from the first note of opener “Children of the Next Level” to the end of the set. Guitar duo Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick flexed their showmanship muscles through bangers like “Practice What You Preach”, “Night of the Witch” and “The Formation of Damnation”, standing atop the risers at the front of the stage posturing with their axes throughout melodies, harmonies, solos – the lot. The party vibe and good times were felt by all in the field as frontman Chuck Billy worked up the crowd. There was a lot of love for legendary drummer Dave Lombardo as Billy announced that he’s back in the band, chants of his name ringing in the air after. It made the performance of “D.N.R”, representing his past with the band, feel a bit more special.

Upon reflection, Billy’s vocal performance wasn’t his best with the crowd carrying moments throughout the set. However in the thick of the mosh, it didn’t matter. The second half of the set mostly consisted of classics from the first two albums. From “First Strike is Deadly” to the end, there were constant crowd surfers. I had yet to jump into the pit at Bloodstock but now was the time. When that awesome main riff from “Over the Wall” sounded, the metal command was issued – boost up, sail forward, scream those words and over the wall (well, barrier) I went. It was a much-needed release and so much fun. Every Testament show I’ve seen was a good time and Bloodstock 2022 was no different.

Testament (c) Sean Larkin

Ending the Friday was main stage headliners Behemoth. I’m not very familiar with them, however they put on a good show. The band had a grandeur about them, statuesque in performance as pyro blazed with each chugging riff. Legions had gathered for the black mass roaring in adulation as frontman Nergal barks sermons of “The Deathless Sun” and “Bartzabel”. The set ended in a storm of confetti as the stomp of “O Father O Satan O Sun!” filled the air. The performance was less of a moshfest and more of a reverential affair, making for an epic conclusion.

I only conducted a few interviews on Friday, however my schedule for Saturday and Sunday was a lot busier. With more work ahead I took a stroll back to my tent, stopping for a nosy in the Serpent’s Lair tent as I passed by. Despite press camping being a bit of a trek away from everything, one of my favourite things about Bloodstock is the walk back through the lit woodland path that connects the campervan parking to the path through VIP camping to the back of the Serpent’s Lair. It always makes for a nice relaxing wind down before sleeping. Likewise with my morning ritual, I developed a night time ritual of sitting back with my tent open, a final can in hand and after a catch-up with my partner, just enjoying the view of the hanging lights illuminating the pathways and listening to my Bloodstock 2022 playlist in preparation for the next day. It was in those moments that after all the time of not keeping up with Moshville and the metal scene, I realised just how happy I was simply being back at Bloodstock and doing what I love doing. 

Header image by Sean Larkin Photography

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