Live Review: Bloodstock Festival 2023 – Friday

Live Review: Bloodstock Festival 2023 - Friday
Words: Dan Barnes / Matt Noble / Julian Pepper
Photos: Tim Finch

Bloodstock Open Air kicks off proper under glorious skies as Farnborough institution Witchsorrow bring their own brand of Doom to the Ronnie James Dio stage.

Boasting a dark sonic power and a particularly heavy drum sound, Witchsorrow are on good form, with the bandmates interacting with one another and clearly enjoying the moment. A thumping rendition of 'To The Gallows' is a real set highlight, seeing the first pits of the day break out. 'Let's get pissed and watch Candlemass!', enthuses Nick to a loud roar from the crowd. He's an entertaining and charismatic frontman, working his bleary-eyed audience to get them chanting, cheering and back in the game for a day of heavy music.

Following the “none more black” Witchsorrow on the Ronnie James Dio stage are Lancaster quartet Wytch Hazel, who take to the stage resplendent in white tunics, leggings and crosses (the right way up!) With a sound that takes influence from the dual guitar harmony approach of the likes of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden and at times reminding me of Ghost, Wytch Hazel have a classic hard rock sound that both intrigues and entertains the metal hordes at Bloodstock.

With a set dominated by songs from previous 2 albums 'III: Pentecost' and 'IV: Sacrament', the likes of opener 'The Fire’s Control' and 'Archangel' evidence their classic rock sound to great effect, with lead singer Colin Hendra’s vocals always hitting the spot.

Finishing the set with one of their most rocking numbers in 'Strong Heart' is a master stroke and given the crowd reaction, it seems to win over many who may have initially been on the fence with Wytch Hazel.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

The Lancasterians found themselves encircled by Dark Forces by having Poland’s Blacked Death Berserkers, Hate following them onto the stage. The sun blazed as Adam Buszko, the only surviving member of the original 1990 formation, led his horde through a veritable speed-trip through the band’s past fifteen years. Opening with Sovereign Sanctity the corpse-painted quartet oozed diabolic tunes aplenty; guitarist Domin windmilled his way through the set as bass player, Tiemes maintained a fixed and oppressive stare throughout. Perhaps not as evil as Gorgoroth or Dark Funeral, who have also trodden these boards, but a Cacodemon nonetheless.

Logistics and their associated problems mean there’s a switch around in the running order with Gatecreeper dropping one place down the bill. It is clearly of no concern as the Phoenix natives have come to stomp all over Bloodstock with the glee of a school bully on a nerd’s science project. The Death Metal five-piece have been getting plenty of positive press, even before the release of the critically acclaimed Deserted album in 2019, and the set is even split between it and its 2016 predecessor Sonoran Depravation. With excoriating intensity and tempos that switch from the blistering to the glacial, Gatecreeper somehow balance the grinding with the sludgy. Barbaric Pleasures, From the Ashes and Puncture Wounds sit easily with Creeping Flesh, Flame Thrower and Patriarchal Grip and as well as a handful of more up to date ones from An Unexpected Reality.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

It’s taken a while and even needed a switch with Gatecreeper, but Sacred Reich finally make it to Catton Park. Such is the anticipation around the site that those of a certain age were getting jittery when it was announced there’d been a change of plan for the day’s running order. As Phil Rind – always one of the most smiley men in the Thrash scene – mentioned, the presence of two Arizona bands ensured the sun would shine. Using Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town as the intro is inspired but opening the set with The American Way is pure genius. Every Old School Thrasher in the field was instantly taken back to their youth; the pit was filled with quinquagenarians [people in their fifties] who were reliving their glory years to Death Squad, Independence and Surf Nicaragua and beggar the consequences in the morning.

Just before the unfortunate events of the early part of the decade, Sacred Reich put out the Awakening record and this was well-represented through Divide & Conquer, Manifest Reality, Salvation and the title track. Phil’s old mucker, Wiley Arnett, carves out those classic riffs, while Joey Radiwill, looking younger than most of the fans’ kids, is showing his chops as he learns his craft.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Fit For an Autopsy continue Bloodstock’s dalliance with Deathcore and, were it not for external events, Whitechapel would have been present today as well. As it is, the Jersey crew focus on the last four records, when the technical elements became more pronounced on 2015’s Absolute Hope Absolute Hell onwards. Both Iron Moon and Black Mammoth from 2017’s The Grand Collapse have something of a sludgy flavour to their sound, while the title track of the earlier album is pure Deathcore with its blitzkrieg drumming and screeching guitars. Lead singer, Joe Badolato has been around since 2015 and his voice is one that damn-near strips the paint off everything in range. Last year’s Oh What the Future Holds is well represented and shows Fit For an Autopsy haven’t done evolving yet.

I don’t want to come over as some sort of xenophobe, but Germany isn’t the first place that springs to mind when I think of Metalcore bands. Power Metal: absolutely! Eighties electronic pop music: naturally! But Metalcore: not so much. So, with nearly thirty-years under their belts, it’s scant wonder that Heaven Shall Burn is making its debut festival appearance on British soil. They are the first RJD Stage band to have a production and light up the show with flames and a lighting rig. With nine albums worth of material to plunder, the Germans spread the love between Numbing the Pain, The Weapon They Fear and Voice of the Voiceless from 2004’s Antigone and My Heart and the Ocean, Protector and Übermacht taken from their latest release Of Truth & Sacrifice; there’s even time for their version of Edge of Sanity’s Black Tears. OG guitarist Maik Weichert and Alexander Dietz’s tones are crisp, clean and razor sharp, building on a strong progressive foundation.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

It's been sixteen years since In Flames last played Bloodstock and that night in 2007 they headlined the final night of the third Open Air show. Many good things have been said about latest record, Foregone and the Swedes must have faith in it as they serve up a set from across their career, slotting a couple of newer numbers into the show as if they’ve been there forever. The Great Deceiver rattles along with the power and melodic precision of the best of their catalogue, while State of Slow Decay has the kind of polyrhythms favoured by another Swedish band who’ll be making an appearance later in the weekend. Curious that Meet Your Maker didn’t get played, but we did get an unexpected visit to Lunar Strain for Behind Space, an album none of the incumbent members featured on back in 1994. Clayman’s Only for the Weak, Reroute to Remain’s Cloud Connected saw the band looking to their past; as well as more modern tunes like I Am Above from the band’s 2019 record.

Contributing from the crowd in an ad hoc sort of way was a bugler, clad in seventeenth century attire, who was spotted by Anders and invited up on stage to add an unrehearsed and improvised horn-section to the show. Not sure it’s a direction In Flames will be following in the future, but it certainly made someone’s weekend. Stomping Melodic Death Metal classics packed out the set, with tracks like Leeches, The Mirror’s Truth and Alias greeted like old friends. The set ended with Come Clarity’s Take This Life, with cranking guitars and howling vocals underscoring this as one of In Flames most anthemic offerings. Hopefully it won’t be another sixteen years before they return again.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Even back in the day, Killswitch Engage were one of the leading lights in the Metalcore genre and, with the release of 2004’s Howard Jones-fronted The End of the Heartache album, they manage not only to shift a significant number of units, but also garner critical acclaim. After the second self-titled album in 2009, Howard would depart and be replaced by original vocalist Jesse Leech, who fronts the band to this day (check out Cat’s Bloodstock interview with the man himself).

The band bring a real sense of fun to close out the first full day, reminding the crowd how many bangers they've got in their arsenal, how many choruses everyone there still knows by heart. It does feel refreshing for Bloodstock to bring in a new headliner, and the completely packed out audience would agree. Jesse does a stellar job putting his own take on Howard Jones' classic songs, and Adam's stage banter with the attendees has us all in stitches.

Opening with My Curse is a hell of a statement from the band, bringing their first ever show with pyro up to 100 from the first note. Classics like Rose of Sharyn and The Arms of Sorrow are received very well, but even songs from Jesse's second era, such as In Due Time or The Crownless King in particular, prove that they haven't lost touch. My Last Serenade has a nice touch from the two guitarists, subtly trading off squeals and licks, before the grounds virtually erupt for their cover of Holy Diver, not a single person staying silent or still.

As Bloodstock widens its net of bands and genres that could play here, who could argue against it when they're as fun as this? Killswitch know what the crowd want and deliver something truly memorable.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

The S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage opened with Bloodyard pummelling their Old School brand of Floridian Death Metal to the early morning crowd. Punishing riffs and paint-stripping vocals, along with dirty Obituary tones gets the blood pumping for the beginning of the weekend. The Blackened Punk rage of Wolfbastard is manifest in filthy vocals and festering riffs, and the tent laps up songs like Drink Fucking Beer and Graveyard Slag, all delivered with a punishing disregard for public safety.

Modern metal exponents, Black Coast mix a few Urban rhythms, a bit of Nu-ness and lots of humongous breakdowns to a busy tent who are not disappointed by the performance. Progressive sonic explorers, The Enigma Division take things down a notch and go for a more cerebral assault.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Upon asking someone what Zetra sounded like I received a reply of “imagine Type O Negative jamming with the Pet Shop Boys”, which most definitely had me intrigued! The set had just started when I entered the Sophie tent to be confronted by 2 corpse-painted and be-cloaked figures on the drum riser, one on guitar and the other on synths. Soundwise there’s a lot going on, with noticeable goth and shoegaze elements accompanied by layers of synth and the odd doomy riff for good measure.

Zetra have a totally unique sound and presence, which does seem to confound some in the crowd. However, for the loyal fans at the front and the likes of me seeing them for the first time, their set is an enthralling experience that flashes by way too quick. As I will most definitely be doing, I suggest that you catch them in a venue near you soon!

Getting ready to head out on tour with Obituary, Leeds’ Pest Control take the stage and, truth be told, the whole tent by the scruff of the neck and don’t let go until their time is up. There’s no throwing in the towel partway through with this lot as their technical grind, screaming guitars emit crunching riffs and obscene breakdowns pummel and paste all into a concussive oblivion. Vocalist Leah barks and screeches her lyrics like a woman possessed and calls for a circle pit in the best tradition of Candace from Walls of Jericho. Fury brings the past to Bloodstock with some good old fashioned Hard Rock and Heavy Metal and gives us all a chance to depressurise a little after Pest Control and Fit For an Autopsy. Their stripped back approach is the perfect mid-afternoon tonic amid the blistering blasts heard elsewhere on the site.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Portugal’s Gaerea might have only been active for seven years but they have been no slouches when it comes to product, releasing an EP and three full-lengths up to 2022. Following in the vein of Sleep Token last year, Gaerea is a masked entity, who produce raw-throated, excoriating Black Metal. Their blasts intermingle with gothic moments, infused with ancient choral vocals and epic levels of blasphemy. When the band address their reaction to the reason the stage they are standing on is so-called, it is a truly grounding moment for all in attendance which, to be fair, is a large amount of people.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Bossk take the special guest slot and it’s a position well-earned by the Ashford quintet. No strangers to Bloodstock, the band mesmerised this stage back in 2017 and the intervening years has seen them honing their craft into the UK’s best Post Metal band. The combination of complex passages and sludgy interjections make for a unsettling but hugely enjoyable experience. Veterans of Damnations and ArcTanGents, Bossk know exactly what is expected of them in front of a festival crowd and they deliver every time. No change tonight.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Following the withdrawal of Whitechapel some time ago, Swedish legends Candlemass were invited along for their first Bloodstock appearance since 2009. Let’s be honest here, if you Doom, you Candlemass, it’s that simple; as vital to the scene as Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Pentagram, every self-respecting Doomster will have Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, Nightfall, Ancient Dreams and Tales of Creation in their collection.

It's probably the seemingly continual revolving door of personnel that has impeded Candlemass’ progression to the status they should rightly hold, but kudos to Leif Edling for keeping it all together as much as humanly possible.

The band know what the crowd want after Killswitch Engage’s Metalcore masterclass and go about giving them a fan’s wet dream of a set, culled from the first three albums. Mirror, Mirror opens the show, visiting A Sorcerer’s Pledge, Under the Oak, Bewitched and The Well of Souls during the too-short show.

Only Sweet Evil Sun, the title track of the most recent album, is played from after 1988, sitting between Samarithan and Crystal Ball, showing how Candlemass can still conjure epic tales of melancholy and madness. So, after a long first day, it leaves just Solitude to close and, as we trudge away, we question why the band aren’t headlining main stages at event such as this?

Ipswich Metal 2 The Masses winners Arms to Oblivion put on a hell of a show over on the New Blood Stage, with a slightly old school, 90s-style take on aggression going over well with their audience. Their commanding frontman shows his appreciation for being there as honestly as he could with a joyful grin plastered on his face for virtually the whole set. The riffs and grooves go hard and the busy tent feed a great energy back to the band. Amongst the heaviness there are certainly moments of melody, which definitely helps them to stand out and leave a lasting impression. With a dedication to the recent passing of Zac from Beyond Extinction and heartfelt thanks to those that have helped them make the coveted slot today, there's a real feel-good sense of community throughout.

Another highlight of the New Blood Stage are the excellent Headpress, victors in the Stoke Metal 2 The Masses competition from last year. Amid an intimidating stage presence and crushing hardcore grooves, they really get the crowd going with their no-nonsense sound. The band were due to play last year if not for a cancellation at the eleventh hour, but today's set and massive crowd response makes it very much worth the wait. The vocals are on top form and there's a few killer riffs in particular that stand out and get the energy pulsing.

Topping the New Blood Stage is York’s wrecking crew, Street Soldier. Coming straight off the back of the new EP, Original Murda Materiel, the four-piece Hardcore mob take to dismantling the room from the get-go. Big pits open up and the band put a foot on the New Blood’s throat with savage riffs and destructive beatdowns. Urban vocals intermingle with slamming Death grunts, musical passages based in hip-hop blend together with some of the most brutal Death Metal you’ll hear all weekend; all infused with irresistible grooves and two-step rhythms. The battle cries of “Yorkshire, Yorkshire…” fill the tent, unnerving but not unexpected when you’re from the other-side of the hill; but we did win at Bosworth Field, so I’ll just leave that there! Nonce Killer is received with great applause and an even bigger pit, leading one to believe this show is probably the best one the New Blood had ever scene; eclipsing even Ward XVI’s show in 2017.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

On the Jäger stage, Friday is arguably the strongest day, seeing an excellent performance from Telford duo This Summit Fever to kick things off. They deservedly gain a strong crowd in the tent, slightly larger this year, who feed back a warm energy to the fuzzy numbers from this year's 'Distraction Rituals'. The band clearly revel in the moment - and who could blame them?

Deathfiend, the latest project from Johnny Doom, also puts on a hell of a show. The riffs are ugly and old-school, and feel very much appropriate on a bill with a Celtic Frost set. The songs mostly take on dark, sludgy grooves, but there are moments of real breakneck-speed aggression that slap the listener right in the face.

Newcastle's Dunes are nothing short of fantastic on Bloodstock's smallest stage. Their desert rock garners a huge reaction from their crowd, and it's nice to have something different and lighter to mix up the weekend with. With huge riffs, great vocal melodies, and powerful rhythms, they'll surely be much higher up next time. Rather than reinventing the wheel, they remind us about why 90s stoner was so good in the first place.

Check out our other Bloodstock coverage!

Thursday Review [HERE]
Friday Review [HERE]
Saturday Review [HERE]
Sunday Review [HERE]

Triptykon does Celtic Frost - Special Feature [HERE]

Thursday Photo Gallery [HERE]
Friday Photo Gallery [HERE]
Saturday Photo Gallery [HERE]
Sunday Photo Gallery [HERE]

Band Interviews [HERE]

Photo credits: Tim Finch Photography

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