Live Review: Bloodstock Festival 2023 – Sunday

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

The skies are offering a less changeable situation as the first of Sunday’s sell-out crowd starts to filter into Bloodstock’s final day. One wonders how many of those ticket holders were crushed when Helloween’s withdrawal was announce mere days before the show? There’s enough Helloween and Helloween-adjacent merchandise on backs to suggest their absence will be heavily felt.

Still, Sunday’s line up is stellar and kicks off with County Kildare’s Dead Label, a band who have been plying their trade for more than a decade and are no strangers to the fields of Catton Park. I’d been watching this band on and off since they opened for Fear Factory back in 2015, but never really gave them the credit they deserve. Today, in front of a steadily expanding crowd, the Irish quartet serve up a Sunday roast of hard-hitting and technically brutal modern metal. Savage riffs and a bouncing bass create a pit before the sun has crested the yard-arm, grooving with the best of them and seemingly following a Gojira model. There’s been no new full-length since Throne of Bones in 2016, but a slew of single from 2019 onwards; so, let’s hope album number three is arriving soon.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Although Bloodstock is sometimes accused of playing it safe and booking similar bands, they surely can’t be ignored for their early Sunday commitment to exploring new facets of heavy music. 2021 saw Seidrblot open the show and this year has Uuhai, who promise a Mongolian approach to rock music, including throat-singing and traditional Mongolian instrumentation and sound. The soundcheck suggests we’re getting The Lords of Salem as the unfamiliar tones of Mongolian traditional instruments lock into the vast PA system. In the end, Uuhai’s performance is the kind of hard-edged show you’d expect from a main stage act at a major festival, though their traditional elements compliment their sound, rather than dominate it.

Californians All Hail the Yeti return to Catton Park after their successful 2019 appearance. As a recording entity, the band have been pretty quiet since their last visit, having only the Within the Hollow Earth EP to show for the intervening years. We get to hear Headless Valley from that platter, as well as prime cuts from the band’s three full-length records. Connor Garrity’s layered vocals and Dave Vanderlinde’s chunky riffs keep things moving at a pace and make the band’s return welcome one.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Continuing Bloodstock 2023’s Swedish theme, Occult Rockers Tribulation add their esoteric voice to the proceedings with a blend of Heavy Metal, Psychedelia and the Gothic, all funnelled through a Hard Rock sensibility. The band are corpse-painted and dabble with a few Black Metal vocals, but their dalliance is more in keeping with 2015 The Children of the Night album’s black n’ roll aesthetic than anything truly demonic. We get a couple from that record and a couple more than last album, Where the Gloom Becomes Sound in the form of Leviathans and In Remembrance and an unnerving interlude of the ghostly Laura Palmer’s Theme from Twin Peaks.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Here for a third time are the Polish Technical Death Metal Machine that is Decapitated. Thankfully free of the vile accusations made against them in the months after their last Bloodstock show, the band - who’ve had more than their fair share of tragedy and heartache – have been able to get back to making some of the most glorious noise imaginable. On the heals of last November’s triumphal Damnation show and their tour with Despised Icon, Decapitated take Bloodstock 2023 but the scruff of the neck and show how class is permanent.

As an album, Cancer Culture is brimming with rage and that translates to the live renditions of Just a Cigarette, Last Supper and Iconoclast, which never lose their raging Death ire. Security is kept busy throughout, particularly on Earth Scar and Never. Rafal states that Bloodstock never disappoints and I dare to say the feeling in mutual. We’re taken back to the early days for Spheres of Madness, Day 69 and to the debut for Nine Steps. It’s a performance full of blistering speed and massive beatdowns and the very thing that we expect from Decapitated.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

There’s something of a change of pace when Ugly Kid Joe take the stage and even the sun looks like it wants to catch the band. And UKJ have been around long enough to know what a festival crowd needs: good time vibes and a party atmosphere. They also know how to play to their strengths and, although America’s Least Wanted has passed its thirtieth birthday, it is still one of the enduring monuments to the early Nineties for those of us who’re old enough to have been through it. Goddamn Devil, Neighbor and Panhandlin’ Prince are greeted like old friends, the cover of Harry Chaplin’s Cat’s in the Cradle brings a tear to the eye for all those lost in the intervening years, and Everything About You is still the exuberant singalong it was for us in the clubs back in 1992. Only one from last year’s respectable Rad Wings of Destiny record, in the shape of opener, That Ain’t Livin’ and Anders takes time out of his warm-up routine to add his chops to Ace of Spades. Ugly Kid Joe certainly put a smile on the faces of Bloodstock 2023. Now, where’s that VHS copy of Wayne’s World?

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit my love of, and preference for, Green-era Septultura; nothing at all wrong with the band up to Roots, I just prefer the direction they took from Against onwards. Brand me as a heretic if you must, but also know I prefer Exodus with Rob Dukes at the mic. Anyhoo, I cannot recall a Sepultura show this frantic, whether that be the hundreds of people pouring over the barriers or the band seemingly having the times of their lives, this was one of the finest shows I’ve seen any iteration of this band play. Opening with Isolation as one of five visits to 2020’s Quadra album, they intersperse new material seamlessly with the established classics: Territory follows and finds Catton Park in as fine a voice as Donington Park was last June. The indigenous influences credited to Max can be heard through many of the post-Cavalera records, none more so perhaps than on Guardians of Earth, with its acoustic opening and choral bridges. The G.O.A.T. is honoured with Ali and Agony of Defeat sees security pushed to full capacity.

The old classics still get the body tingling and Propaganda and Dead Embryonic Cells shows groove mental existed before Pantera honed it. “You don’t need to know the words, just stomp with the groove.” explains Derrick in the introduction to Ratamahatta. And Arise, Refuse/ Resist and the established climax of Roots Bloody Roots see Sepultura home in what must have been a) closing in on the record number of people over the barrier; and b) one of the finest performances this stage has ever seen. In my unbiased opinion, of course.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

It was meant to be a glorious return to Bloodstock, fifteen years in the making, for Helloween and all the pumpkin-heads who’d waited patiently since that evening in 2008. But, alas, the Metal Gods had other plans for the Sunday special guest slot and struck vocalist Micheal Kiske down with laryngitis mere days before the show. Step up a certain Mr Downing, with the Ripper in tow, and the High Lords of Metal are assuaged as K.K.’s Priest take the stage.

2021’s Sermons of the Sinner album is as close to a Judas Priest record as your likely to get outside the confines of the mother-band, but if anyone has the right to the legacy of the British Institution, it’s K.K. Downing. Beginning with Hellfire Thunderbolt it’s clear the partnership between K.K. and Ripper is still as productive as it was in the years they worked together in Priest. Brothers of the Road and the title track are warmly received, as are new compositions One More Shot at Glory and Reap the Whirlwind which, you’ll be unsurprised to hear are rampaging Metal anthems, straining at the slips to be committed to vinyl.

But, let’s not be churlish here, we know what we want and that’s the Judas Priest classics. We get The Ripper, Beyond the Realms of Death and a closing Victim of Changes; we also get the Fleetwood Mac cover of The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown) as well as a couple of deep(er) cuts from Painkiller. But, what I was hoping for was a visit to either (or both) Jugulator and Demolition and we got Burn in Hell from Ripper’s debut Priest outing. The Gods of Metal are sated, and a Cabin in the Woods style ending is averted. For now.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Mustaine and co. grace the main stage for the final time this weekend to treat the crowd to some Megadeth as a closer for the weekend. Their set is pretty classics-heavy - only We'll Be Back is heard from The Sick, The Dying... And The Dead! - but they know what their rowdy, drunk fans want at this time of the weekend. Kiko plays the iconic Tornado solo note for note, and A Tout le Monde sees a strong vocal performance from Mustaine, sounding on form and more self assured than the last time he was here. Dirk has always been a monster behind the drum kit and tonight is no different, with a breakneck-speed rendition of Mechanix during the first encore whizzing by in a flash. Moreover, behind the individual acrobatics on their respective instruments, Megadeth sound tight, cohesive and powerful. What else, then, but Holy Wars would round off a Megadeth set, received by rabid mosh pits, an ocean of metal horns raised upwards and the entirety of the grounds singing along? With Slayer having hung up their boots and a few of their peers hinting at the same, take in every last opportunity you get to see Megadeth. If they're as scintillating as here, you won't regret a second of it.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

One could be mean and say the gathering for Phoenix Lake is due to the heavens opening and folks seeking shelter but that wouldn’t account for why the tent remained full as the skies cleared. The Nottingham four-piece are another example of Bloodstock keeping true to its ethos of bringing through those bread-and-butter bands who encapsulate the origins of the festival. Deathcore meets Post Hardcore in Overthorne’s bass heavy grooving and massive beat downs. Crunching guitars and choppy riffing gives a sound perhaps too heavy for so early on a Sunday. A truly glorious racket.

If you call yourself Stengah then you’re going to have to show you’re the real deal. Luckily for this French outfit that’s exactly on their radar as they bludgeon the S.O.P.H.I.E. stage with complex technicality and epic compositions. Among their Djenty polyrhythms and progressive atmospherics the band even manage to make a dedication to Sophie herself. Five-string bass and eight string guitars; Meshuggah would be proud.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

There’s a whiff of the leaf about the music of Tuskar. Their Sabbath-style riffs and smoky vibes, coupled with a laidback, glacial pacing is very much having the desired effect of getting heads a banging. Also whets the appetite for when the band perform Matriarch in its entirety at the Night of Salvation in November. Cobra the Impaler are announced with the epithet being the band you’d be kicking yourself to have missed, and their brand of progressive metalcore is certainly refreshing in its presentation. Drummer Dirk Verbeuren is challenging Nick Barker for the number of high-profile drum stools he’s occupied, including Megadeth, At the Gates and Devin Townsend’s. The Belgians are unexpectedly heavy and widescreen at the same time, with their fiery riffs and fierce bass unpicking a myriad musical ideas and emotionally resonant themes.

I did worry slightly how InVisions would fare after the wrecking ball that was Decapitated had enthralled on the Ronnie James Dio Stage. But, to their credit, the York four-piece displayed a similar, but different level of aggression. Bodies fly over the top and, between dragging folk from the top of the crowd, some of the security staff are having a little bop to themselves; they must think this is Glastonbury. Young and old are pouring over the top, including one hardly young soul who appears to still have puberty to ‘look forward‘ to.

I'm lucky enough to catch the end of Church of the Cosmic Skull. Seeing them for the first time has me inducted into their bizarre yet compelling religious organisation, with heartfelt appreciation directed towards them by a very merry crowd, dancing euphorically with huge, joyous singalongs. Their melodies are so rich and timeless that you can join in, even if you don't know the song. Everybody's Going to Die sees a sea of lighters and hands in the air, while Cold Sweat is simply electrifying. Dressed all in white, with several instruments and backing vocalists, they look and sound the part. I don't remember going to church ever being as fun as this.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Competing against Sepultura on the main stage doesn't deter Bristol's Embodiment. With truly evil, blackened melodies and fantastic synchronised twin-lead shredding, they put on a masterclass in death metal. With twisted, filthy grooves that see the snare drum reverberate powerfully and a frightening vocal performance, they more than earn their high slot on the Sophie stage, with a warm crowd response that sees a young crowdsurfer visibly having the time of their life. Uncompromisingly heavy and water-tight, they manage to attract a healthy number of passers by as the set goes on, finishing their set triumphantly. It won't be the last time we see them at Catton Park.

Original Saturday S.O.P.H.I.E. headliners Zeal & Ardor find themselves moved to the Sunday special guest slot due to – well, logistics, I suppose – and sandwiched between K.K.’s Priest and Megadeth. Manuel Gagneux and his avant-garde Swiss troupe spent time touring with yesterday’s headliner and showing themselves to the able to stand toe to toe with the unconventional and eccentric. Pulling influence from such disparate elements as folk, blues, Gospel and jazz as well as electronic and drum & bass, and standing it on a foundation of Black Metal blast beats and lo-fi aesthetics make Zeal & Ardor one of the scene’s more experimental choices. Strange Fruit and last year’s self-titled make up the majority of the set, mixing more conventional tunes like Erase and Trust No One with the experimental vibes of the Elbow-like Feed the Machine and the Country-vibes of Church Burns. If you didn’t manage to catch them this evening because you were securing a spot for Dave, then you’re well advised to keep an eye out for them playing locally to you; only, expect the unexpected.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Which just leaves New York legends, Biohazard to bring the curtain down on Bloodstock 2023. As the final notes of Holy War… The Punishment Due fade, it’s a hot foot over to the tent for what promises to be a rambunctious end to the weekend. It’s been nine years since Biohazard graced the main stage at a rain-hammered event in 2014, a performance the saw Scott Roberts taking over Evan’s bass duties. But the OG crew are back and kick into Urban Discipline. Any hope of a sedate ending to Bloodstock was gone immediately as pummelling crossover after pummelling crossover classic was wheeled out. Down for Life, Tales From the Hardside and Wrong Side of the Tracks were fierce and combative and they’ve pretty much made the cover of Bad Religion’s We’re Only Gonna Die their own by now.

But for the usual stage invasion during Punishment this is a normal Biohazard show, full of massive tunes, controlled aggression and positive messages. As the final notes of Hold My Own bleed into the outro tape of No Sleep ‘til Brooklyn, I’m left to reflect on Bloodstock 2023 and who my highlights have been: King 810’s theatrics was amazing; Meshuggah’s inhuman devotion to melting minds was breath-taking and Sepultura and Decapitated ruled the RJD on Sunday. Special mention to Triptykon for the nostalgia and Steet Soldier for taking the top New Blood honour.

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

However, I’m going to throw a spanner into Street Soldier’s works and suggest they were pushed close in that respect by winners of the Polish Metal to the Masses, bHP. With only a couple of years’ experience under their youthful belt, bHP have been messing up venues all over their native land and brought their mayhem to Catton Park for a final hurrah on Sunday evening. There doesn’t appear to be anything off limits for this crew, centring their sound in Nu metal but incorporating plenty of groove and aggression too. It was like it was 1999 all over again and, in Asia, they have a firecracker up front. Thanks to Filip for giving me a copy of the debut record, loving it and loved the show.

East Anglian thrashers Elimination make their second Bloodstock appearance early on the Sunday morning, and for anyone who can brave the outside of their tent at this time on day four, it's a real treat! They treat us to a serious thrash-terclass, particularly with numbers from 2021's Echoes of the Abyss and last year's single Icon of Despair. Surprising still is the fact that they're debuting a completely new lineup this week, with longtime axeman David taking over vocal duties for the first time today. His snarl suits the band well, and they already appear comfortable in their new era. The drumming and lead guitar lines are particularly well executed, and an airing of the 10+ minute Infernal as a set closer earns a deserved roar from the Elimination faithful in the audience.

With messages of unity and strength bonding the band to today's attendees, Birmingham Metal 2 The Masses winners Nameless earn a massive audience reaction in a completely rammed-out New Blood tent. Songs such as Circus of Freaks see the crowd go wild, with a chaotic, wide open pit that even the band themselves appear completely amazed at. It's totally deserved though - their hardcore-tinged nu metal grooves are perfect for festivals, with enough of a unique edge to prevent the band sounding like a throwback. Frontman Jordan is on fine form as a vocalist as well as an entertainer, leaving the crowd clinging onto every word and note. Having seen Nameless a couple of times in Birmingham, with a taste for their music already, the final song of the set - which I hadn't heard before - is a complete suckerpunch to the jaw in heaviness, indicating a future for the lads as bright as it is blistering.

Tasked with being the final band of the weekend on the Jägermeister stage, Iron Altar do a mighty fine job of shaking it to its foundations one last time with their filthy sludge/death metal fusion. They take the crown of being the loudest band I’ve heard all festival on this stage as they crank out tracks from debut album 'Pillars of Blood'. However, it’s the newer tracks 'Megalith' and 'Mortality' from forthcoming second album 'Promethean' (released on Trepanation Records on 29th September) that really bludgeon the crowd and bring the curtain down on the Jager stage for another year!

Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

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]

I have the white line fever and endless boredom of the M6 as well as miles to go before I sleep, and the general aches and pains of age and covering three multi-day festivals in as many weekends is starting to take their toll. But, there’s always next year to look forward to and the early announcements already promise us another great show.

Photo credits: Tim Finch Photography

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