Live Review: Bloodstock Festival 2023 – Saturday

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

Saturday brings with it slate grey skies and the prospect of rain, so it’s a change of footwear and an easily accessible cagoule and off we go.

The turn in the weather does not seem to have affected the early crowd who have gathered for Seething Akira‘s energetic main stage performance. Straight outta Portsmouth, SA drop a performance filled with Nu, Electronics and Dance against a rockin’ foundation; in all honesty it shouldn’t work at this hour of the day but, instead, it imbues the early attendees with a good time vibe.

The second Bloodstock appearance from Urne this side of the pandemic sees them grace the main stage, feeling surprisingly full for around the middle of the day. Promoting their slightly darker sophomore album 'A Feast on Sorrow', which dropped the previous day, their proggy grooves, sludgy undertones and strong melodies really seem to hit the right notes for their crowd today. It's very apparent to see why they've earned support slots with the likes of Gojira since being here last.

Angus is a real wizard on guitar - look no further than the frantic Desolate Heart, which virtually has steam coming from his fretboard in the intro - but Urne are undoubtedly a solid unit, with all three doing an excellent job individually and as a group to provide what seems to be a very well-talked about set after they've played.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

The most left field addition to Bloodstock's main stage are Swedish party rockers Royal Republic, who seem to relish with pure glee the fact that they stick out like a sore thumb on this lineup. For the crowd, it's a perfect opportunity to really shake off Friday's hangovers once and for all, and  have some fun to some disco-tinged rock bangers. Possibly the first main stage band in Bloodstock's history to include keytars as well as a cover of Metallica's 'Battery', the dancing and fists in the air in response is completely deserved, and they earn a huge roar when they announce that they're soon to record their next album. Ending with a raucous 'Baby', they'll surely be the surprise of the weekend for many an uninitiated fan. The fact that they're completely different is what makes it so memorable

Balancing band duties with running an increasingly successful record label cannot be easy, but here’s Justine and Sammy showing it can be done and, what’s more, be done to perfection. Employed to Serve make their Bloodstock debut this afternoon and sees the band in no mood to mess around. Mixing material from Eternal Forward Motion and the sublime Conquering means we get the best contemporary representation of EtS’ sound and approach. Universal Chokehold tries to lull us into a false sense of security with its gentle opening, before giving way to Jusine’s banshee wail and the soaring guitars of Sammy and David. The off-kilter rhythms of Sun Up to Sun Down have an industrial feel to them; We Don’t Need You is full of Hardcore malice and World Ender has the kind of rhythmic dissonance the headliners would be proud of. Folk of all ages are going over the barrier, keeping Security well occupied and the huge screens show Justine, whirling like a dervish and smiling as broadly as the stage itself.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

NOLA legends Crowbar make their third appearance at Catton Park, with main man – and equally legendary – Kurt Windstein also having been part of Jasta’s 2018 set. The sky is turning a more ominous shade of grey and the closeness of the air feels perfect fodder for the dirty, oozing riffs the band produce. Latest record, Zero and Below gets a couple of showings in the form of Bleeding From Every Hole and the militaristic march of Chemical Godz. The rest of the show is a walkthrough Crowbar fan favourites: The Cemetery Angels, a stomping Planets Collide and the sludge-fest that is To Build a Mountain. No Crowbar show would be complete without a visit to the self-titled and we get the opening one-two of Negative Pollution and High Rate Extinction as well as All I Had (I Gave). As you would expect, they had a killer low end and massive, load-bearing guitars. (Check out Matt’s interview with Kurt to hear more).

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Switching gears somewhat and caught in a heavy downpour is Oldham County, Kentucky’s Heavy Metalcore upstarts, Knocked Loose. This is the first time I’ve seen the band without Terror being close by so I was intrigued how they would go down on the stage of Bloodstock. The short answer is: very well. It’s obvious from the beginning with newbie, Deep in the Willow, the band clearly mean business as they wheel out beat down after beat down, pummelling Catton Park into a state of bemusement. Their breakthrough album, A Deeper Shade of Blue is represented by (comparatively) more measured compositions Mistakes Like Fractures and By the Grave, though they still rage on Denied by Fate and Trapped in the Grasp of a Memory.

Older material from Laugh Tracks and Pop Culture shows how far the band have developed over a short period, but their final breakdown on Counting Worms must be considered one of their most vicious of all. It would have been too much to expect the whole of A Tear in the Fabric of Life to be played, but we did get Where Light Divides the Holler and God Knows; so can’t complain too much.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Replacing Devil Driver, former Immortal frontman Abbath makes his solo Bloodstock debut in support of last year’s Dread Reaver album. And to his credit, the big man didn’t fall back on Immortal classics to bolster his set, playing only The Rise of Darkness from his former band’s back catalogue, as well as Battalions from the 2006 I album Between Two Worlds. Instead, we get a much tighter performance from Abbath than the last time I saw him, his unmistakable voice and consummate showmanship effectively make him the Gene Simmons of Extreme Metal. Over-doing the smoke machine at times plays into the excess of the show, which opens with My War from the debut, returning there for Ashes of the Damned, Endless and Winterbane, embracing the icy Black Metal for which he is so renown. Acid Haze, Dream Cull and the title track are lifted from the new record but, ultimately, it’s Abbath personality that proves his set victorious.

It was disappointing when Anthrax pulled out but to be replaced by Triptykon performing Celtic Frost was sheer inspiration. To hear Tom G singing songs from the first two Frost records was a thing of beauty. Our Sam is the real Frost fanatic here and you can check out his in-depth piece on the show and on Celtic Frost themselves here. Suffice to say, from my point of view, it was amazing.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

I’ve been to every Bloodstock show, including all the indoor events, and can say the prospect of seeing Meshuggah headlining the festival has had been smiling since it was announced. In comparison it’s only the announcements of Emperor, Rob Zombie and Parkway Drive as bill-toppers at Catton Park that has tickled my fancy in quite the same way.

Now I’m not going to be churlish enough to think everyone will be of the same opinion; after all, the Swedes’ densely complex polyrhythms might not be to all tastes and those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the music could find themselves overwhelmed by what they are listening to.

It’s still the Immutable tour so the darkened stage is fired into life by the opening drumbeats of Broken Cog, possibly the band’s most accessible track. The polyrhythmic neck-snapping begins proper on Light the Shortening Fuse and Rational Gaze, where complex sonic architecture and excoriating lights threaten sensory overload. There is little movement from any of the members of the band, it’s as though they are plugged into the Matrix and extensions of the Machine itself. This was never going to be the party atmosphere of Killswitch’s headliner last night, but that’s okay. The front of the stage is as animated as at any time during the weekend, the dissonant rhythms and dystopian presentation triggering that part of the cerebellum into action.

It's only after Ligature Marks that Jens addresses the crowd, recreating Immutable’s cover art in silhouette. Held over from the shows last spring is the Catch-33 triptych of Mind’s Mirror, In Death –

Is Life and the epic In Death – Is Death, having the same hypnotising effect as it did in the Manchester Academy. There’s no let-up in the encores of Demiurge and Future Breed Machine, cosmically heavy riffs batter and bamboozle in equal measure until only a husk remain.

Meshuggah’s only other time on this stage was as Opeth’s special guests in 2010 and their return has been long overdue. Was it worth the wait? Oh, I’d say it was!

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

The S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage had a packed programme beginning with Gloucestershire’s Ambruis who are tearing it a new one with their combination of grooving spiced with some progressive power metal. Tortured Demon are a bunch of young lads who go Old School with their Thrashing Death metal assault. Bruising riffs have seen the band opening for Evile and Xentrix and on the strength of this, there’s a big future in store for this Oldham crew.

The Grey play epic instrumental cosmically inclined Post Metal, underscored by soaring soundscapes and some heavy riffs. More Post-Metal, this time with an Industrial tinge, comes from Brighton’s Tribe of Ghosts, whose set opens with the sound of an approaching kaiju, accompanied by an Eighties soundtrack. Their dystopian world view is inspired by the likes of Atwood, Ellison, Orwell and Bradbury, blending disparate voices with epic doom stomps and blistering rhythms.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Taking Swedish Death Metal and Hardcore and squeezing them together gives Casket Feeder the kind of nihilistic sound in which they can revel. Skin Failure is the amalgamation of previous members of Black Peaks, Kalnoah and Memory of Elephants, all opting to follow a progressive thrash direction. They play with fire and fury and attract quite a following. Dakesis certainly feel like one of the bands the Bloodstock brand was built on and their progressive metal assault certainly finds favour among the tent’s more traditional horn-drinkers.

It's fair to say there is a big interest in the faecal-obsessed grinders, Gutalax and the attendance meant it was standing room only outside the S.O.P.H.I.E. stage. Dressed in crime-scene paper overalls, the Czech band take the stage to the Ghostbusters theme and drop into some brutal, slamming, poo-centric tracks. Vocalist Maty mixes grunts and squeals as the band run through an hour of bodily fluid and bodily solid based ditties, in the vein of Stump, Cumgum and Cock & Ball Torture.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Norwegian Octet, TrollfesT take something of a different approach to their performance, embracing the out and out party atmosphere of the festival stage. With twenty-years’ experience and shows at big metal shows across the continent, this eight-piece were primed and ready for their Bloodstock debut. Judging by the response received when Amon Amarth and Korpiklaani were announced for next year, there’s still a huge appetite for the folkier side of things from a large number of the Catton Park faithful. Although not really my bag, I do appreciate the level of fandom generated by such bands and, in particular, the pure party vibes emitted by the band throughout their show. There’s even a cover of Britney’s Toxic, so you know the lads aren’t taking themselves as serious as some on the bill are.

For some, Meshuggah’s intensity needed to be countered with something very much the opposite. Fellow Swedes, Brothers of Metal met that need with their cos-played folk metal. In the same area as TrollfesT, BoM gave the assembled horde exactly what they wanted, with songs like Defenders of Valhalla, The Mead Song and Fire, Blood and Steel. The real ale brethren ate it up, but I headed off to my rest, buds in, and the sound of Dancers to a Discordant and Bleed filling my ears.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Over on the New Blood stage Burnley Metal 2 The Masses winners The Dead XIII are amongst the strongest bands on the smaller stages for the Saturday. They bring a wonderful energy to the tent with their hard-hitting tunes and strong melodic undercurrents. Musically, they're very tight, and the drummer in particular puts on a powerhouse performance behind the muscular riffs. With their stage make up and catchy choruses, they really look and sound the part, leaving the stage after what feels like a too-short time surely with a good number of new fans in tow.

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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