Words: Paul Castles [PCAS] + Ross Baker [RB]
Pics: Rich Thompson

Day One
Anyone seeking out any thrash merchants this year don’t have to wait long thanks to the presence of veteran axe assaulters Onslaught on the RJD Stage. Like a prize-fighter seeking to finish off a flagging opponent, Onslaught inflict a fast-moving flurry of sonic punches that no matter which way you dodge or swerve connect with power to either your forehead or solar plexus. The line-up may have taken on a new shape but the sound remains firmly entrenched in 80s thrash. The Bristol six-piece Mortishead don’t often have the space to give free physical reign to their expressive politic-rattling symphonies so they were clearly intent on covering every inch of the large Sophie Lancaster Stage. As ever kitted out in the trusty black shirts, the notable exception is hirsute frontman Luke The Bastard who puts himself in the running for the ‘best turned out’ award when taking to the stage in his customary bank manager clobber. While the outfits are understated the music isn’t and Mortishead do their job of awakening the early visitors to the Sophie Stage. [PCAS]
Memoriam are crushing. Mowing down the sleepy lunchtime audience like a Sherman tank, their vicious riffs are equalled only by the charm and wit of Karl Willetts who looks like he’s having the time of his life despite the wet weather. ‘War Rages On’ and ‘Flatline’ are prime cuts of British death metal delivered with military precision. Hamish Glencross is responsible for many epic sorrowful riffs during his 16-year membership of My Dying Bride and Vallenfyre, yet the more trad doom of this new trio fails to meet the heights he has previously achieved. Death metal all-stars, Bloodbath, put in a mean shift on the main stage. Nick Holmes seems more at home as frontman and the crushing riffs envelope all in their path. ‘Cancer Of The Soul’ sees a bevy of crowd surfers drawn in by its sadistic rhythms and twin lead work. Underdark should be considered one of the UK’s most promising underground acts right now. The Nottingham based quintet have honed their craft through playing every basement in the land and whilst there may be an element of nerves, their performance is utterly bewitching. Alternating between caustic blasts of icy black metal and sullen post-rock ambience, this is a most impressive performance. [RB] The Birmingham Metal 2 The Masses winners Trivax open up to a big crowd on the New Blood but as their abrasive black metal anthems start to reach out to the Lemmy Bar more are drawn in to check out their asphalt assault to the senses. This year’s BOA is notable for the number of New Blood acts now elevated to the Sophie Stage. It will be no surprise to see Trivax make the step up before too long. Originally set to play the Sophie Stage, Lovebites are the beneficiaries of Suicidial Tendencies’ travel delays which see the Americans sidelined to the Sophie Stage, with the Japanese all female five-piece taking their place on the RJD Stage. While comparisons with the ubiquitous Baby Metal are initially inevitable, Lovebites display sufficient steely rhythms to suggest that they are more than a novelty act, even though the outlandish prom party frocks suggests otherwise. [PCAS]
The sun hangs low in the sky as Ihsahn leads Emperor through what could be their last performance on British soil. Ihsahn acknowledges there may be little surprises tonight with the lion’s share of the set being culled from 1997’s Anthems To The Welkin at Dusk yet the flawless musicianship, coupled with the utter conviction with which it is performed, is truly masterful. [RB]
Scottish metalcore crushers Bleed From Within power through a scorching set on the Sophie Stage. Frontman Scott Kennedy scarcely pauses for breath suggesting he’s started the day with a few Irn-Bru’s! His energetic endeavours are matched by the pit who respond by kicking up a proper dust storm in the centre of the tent. The presence of Judas Priest prompts the same disparity of opinions generated by the likes of Twisted Sister in recent years. But while some may question the merit of these senior citizens, the overwhelming majority are determined to fall at the feet of Priest, whose speedy riff work is only matched by the fast-changing outfits of 66-year-old frontman Rob Halford. Having opened with new single ‘Firepower’, [ Halford guides us through five decades of Priest with the four-track encore featuring such crowd-pleasers as ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘No Surrender’ given even greater poignancy by the moving appearance of guitarist Glenn Tipton, now in the grip of Parkinson’s Disease. [PCAS]
Queen of Metal, Doro Pesch, is on a roll right now. To have produced a double album 35 years into her career is a remarkable feat but so is the youthful zeal and unwavering enthusiasm which permeates her performance. New single ‘All For Metal’ flies high on a soaring chorus and is received as rapturously as the classic hits. An endearing character and standard bearer for female empowerment, Doro leads Friday to a close in truly exhilarating fashion. [RB]

Main pic: Emperor
Small pics left – right: Bloodbath, Trivax, Lovebites, Judas Priest

Day Two
After Forgotten Remain’s lacklustre metalcore, Limb are a welcome shot in the arm. Rob Hoey moves around the stage bellowing like a wounded animal and the hypnotic grooves are a welcome change of pace from Power Trip’s blistering thrash on the main stage. [RB] Anyone seeking a relatively sedate Saturday starter is advised to give the New Blood Stage a wide berth. Milton Keynes M2TM winners Ashborn are meatier than a butcher’s dog and their bite is every bit as vicious. With testosterone almost being delivered by the barrow this is furious bicep flexing death metal delivered in easy to digest bite-size chunks. [PCAS] Greek leviathan, Septicflesh, are watertight. Glorious orchestral elements blending with text book death metal mastery. Singer and bassist Spiros Antoniou’s shoulder injury may still be bothering him but it doesn’t stop ‘Portrait Of A Headless Man’ slaying the audience. Cuts from latest opus Codec Omega are delivered with a majesty which suggests that a path to the top of the extreme metal food chain may be within their grasp. [RB]
In recent years Bloodstock has welcomed a stream of emerging newcomers from across the Irish Sea so there are no shortage of punters looking to tune into Oracle. The Belfast M2TM winners have the New Blood arena quickly onside as they release a wave of infectious throbbing grooves. Former New Blood performers Conjurer have been on an upward trajectory over the past couple of years. The Sophie tent resembles Asda on Black Friday as punters scramble over each to get a glimpse of the young Midlanders. Conjurer have the crowd under their spell right from that start with the contours of their blackened sludge drawing them into a transcendental state. When Venom Inc. singer Demolition Man declares “Bloodstock, you like me are sons of Satan”, no one questions his sentiments and the northern veterans give a masterclass in old school axe wizardry, with such tracks as ‘Black Metal’, “the song that created a whole genre,” as Demo Man reminds us. While the blasphemous cuts can rip the eyebrows from your face, the trio also reveal they do have a soul with guitarist Mantas speaking inspirationally of his recent blue lights ambulance ride from which he did well to walk away from, let alone play the headline stage at Bloodstock only a couple of months later. [PCAS]
A Forest Of Star’s Victorian black metal is an immersive and compelling experience. Sorrowful violin and tender piano sections temper the scalding guitars and Mister Curse’s theatrical screech perfectly. Stirringly epic black metal soundscapes and a commanding stage presence whet the appetite for the imminent arrival of new platter Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes. [RB]
The inflatables stall holders know they’re in for a good day when they see Alestorm on the bill. The yo-ho-ho Gaelic revelry is an absolute Bloodstock knees up under the blazing Catton Park sun as the Scots stagger through such lusty favorites as ‘Nancy The Tavern Wench’ in front of a frolicking sea of inflatable swans, ducks and assorted pirate paraphernalia. The heaviest downpour of the weekend coincides with the arrival of Cannibal Corpse, not that this makes an iota of difference to the fevered throng in front of the stage, ready to go toe to toe with the Corpsegrinder. But as George says to the crowd when inviting yet another headbanging windmill challenge, “you’ll try to keep up with me, but you will not win.” The Tampa DM kings are as sickeningly solid as ever with a monster double-fisted finale of ‘Stripped, Raped And Strangled’ and ‘Hammer Smashed Face’.
Their departure triggers a heavy legged stampede for the shelter offered by the Sophie tent. However, those seeking refuge under canvas enjoy much more than respite from the elements. Exhorder are halfway through their set and the New Orleans vets are in consummate form, on the likes of ‘Into The Void’ laying down riffs heavy enough to give an elephant a piggy back. [PCAS]
Tonight saw Gojira ascend to the top of the mountain. After six albums culminating in 2016’s triumphant Magma, the Frenchmen have broadened their horizons whilst retaining a core identity. The sorrowful yet crushing ‘Stranded’ sees the crowd singing along to its powerful chorus and an abundance of inflatables fly around the audience for ‘Flying Whales’ but this is an act in no need of gimmicks, connecting with their audience through pure, raw emotion. The hypnotic ‘Gift Of Guilt’ and ‘Vacuity’ leave no doubt that the Bayonne act have evolved from underground heroes to mainstream metal kingpins.

Main pic: Gojira
Small pics left – right: SepticFlesh, Conjurer, Venom Inc., Cannibal Corpse, Exhorder

Day Three
In between the constant cavalcade of thrash, death and black metal, Bloodstock traditionally like to serve up some less hostile fare, and Amaranthe’s slightly saccharine melodic pop metal gives early visitors to the RJD Stage something to clap along to, although the synchronised leaping up and down does at times feel just a bit too staged. [PCAS] Featuring Brujeria vocalist Henry ‘El Sangrón’ Sanchez, Latin extremists Sangre’s melodic death metal is disappointingly one dimensional. Predictable breakdowns and the lifeless clean vocals on ‘Blossom’ make for an inauspicious UK debut. [RB]
One of the festival’s highlights follows a few hours later on the main stage when Jasta is joined by a succession of guests in what proves one of the most rewarding and inspirational sets of the weekend. At various times the Hatebreed frontman is joined by Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares, Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein and ex-Killswitch frontman Howard Jones, more latterly of Light The Torch. Highlights include Jasta and Dino pairing up on the FF classic ‘Replica’ and all four brothers uniting for a monstrous rendition of Hatebreed favourite ‘Last Breath’ dedicated to recently passed legends such as Lemmy, Peter Steel, Vinnie Paul and others. There’s plenty of punters seemingly content to give up their whole Sunday to the Sophie Stage and who can blame them. The ever growing appeal of metal music is reflected by an invigorating performance from Nepal warriors Underside which is enhanced by the presence of two dancers in full costume and even more significantly Mohini Dey, a bass prodigy dipping her toe into the metal whirlpool for the first time to stunning effect. [PCAS]
Over on the New Blood stage, Barbarian Hermit draw an enthusiastic and vocal crowd. Delivering groovy slabs of bouncy stoner doom, thick molasses riffs and Ed Campbell’s coarse vocals make for a potent mix and whet the appetite for their forthcoming Solitude And Savagery opus. [RB] The Eastern energy is maintained by Demonic Resurrection, back at Catton Park following their first visit in 2012. Fresh from a recent UK tour, the Mumbai machine quickly clicks into gear with tracks from new album Dashavatar while The Demonstealer’s amusing between track quips also help challenge a few stereotypes. [PCAS] Quite how Devildriver are placed so high up the bill is a mystery. Sure ‘I Could Care Less’ manages to whip up a few circle pits but their generic groove metal chugging remains uninspiring. Furthermore, their cringeworthy cover of pop act Awolnation’s ‘Sail’ harks back to the embarrassing days of the early noughties when every nu metal chancer was covering a pop track to garner attention. It’s strange that singer Dez Fafara would choose to do this given that Devildriver was his way of escaping the confines of nu metal in the first place. [RB] Bloodstock isn’t exactly bursting with duos but one two-piece to leave an indelible imprint this year are Mantar. Playing across the stage from each other rather than facing out into the audience, the ferocious Teutonic twosome rip through heavily layered sludge rhythms as though each is their last, with the energy levels palpable throughout the Sophie tent as they deliver numbers from new album The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze. [PCAS] Conquering heroes At The Gates arrive to a thunderous ovation. Tomas Lindberg possesses a voice that could strip paint at a hundred paces but nothing can wipe the huge grin from his face as the Swedes launch into a punishing set derived largely from recent masterpiece To Drink From The Night Itself. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson is a human metronome, faultless in precision and dexterity whilst Jonas Stålhammar and Martin Larsson trade wicked leads. A truly incendiary performance. [RB] Pallbearer have elevated spine-tingling doom to a whole new plateau of misery in recent years and the Sophie tent is predictably packed for their appearance. It doesn’t take long for their familiar Arkansas angst to seep through the tent with the spiralling prog textures balanced with masterful precision alongside the chunkier doom sections, the whole thing gloriously melding on the likes of the outstanding ‘Foreigner’. The task of bringing down the curtain on the RJD Stage this year falls to Nightwish. This is as near to marshmallow metal as you’ll get and while the Finns’ global appeal speaks for itself it is all just a bit too safe when compared to most of what we’ve witnessed over the past three days. Significantly Floor Jansen, the band’s third female vocalist, seems lost at times and the symphonic swoops offer little warmth once the sun has gone down. [PCAS] What could be more fitting an end to Bloodstock than the apocalyptic black metal of Sweden’s Watain? Erik Danielsson prowls the stage amongst an inferno of pitchforks flaming torch in hand, commanding every eye towards the stage. The undeviating approach of tracks like the pulverising ‘Nuclear Alchemy’ make for an unsettling and captivating finale to a formidable weekend of heavy music. [RB]

Main pic: Nightwish
Small pics left – right: Amaranthe, Underside, DevilDriver, At The Gates, Pallbearer


Announcements for the 2019 installment of Bloodstock have been coming in thick and fast. View the lineup so far at this location.

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