LIVE: Bloodstock Open Air 2019 – Friday

By Gem Rogers

Taking over a few fields in the Midlands every year, Bloodstock is assuredly the metalhead’s metal festival. Bringing the heaviest of heavy music, including many bands you’d be very unlikely to find at any other UK weekend festivals, it’s a family-run and incredibly well organised affair, with it’s ‘medium size’ status giving it a laid back and personal feel – and (very importantly), no bar queues. Ever.

The 2019 edition does not see us blessed with the kindest of weather; belting rain all night leads us into the first day, though only small patches of ground suffer even under hundreds of clomping boots in the arena. With only a few more downpours forecast and even a little sun coming out to play during the day,  we’re content to ready our devil horns and waterproofs to head to the arena for a stellar and varied day one line-up.

Photos: Matt Higgs / Words: Gem Rogers

Part of the legendary Bay Area thrash scene, Death Angel may not be one of the Big Four, but they have well earned the respect of the metal community and are still delivering hefty punches with their new material, including latest album ‘Humanicide’. Their music and performance doesn’t hold the darkness and aggression of bands like Slayer, but what they lack is more than made up for in the groove that sneaks in, particularly in newer tracks – it lends itself well to the sunshine that’s now beating down on Catton Hall and the plentiful circle pits that have sprung up, making a great start for a full on weekend of metal.

Over in the New Blood tent, Newcastle’s Metal 2 The Masses winners Tomorrow Is Lost have drawn in a healthy crowd for their set of lively hard rock, though sadly the sound doesn’t do them any favours – it’s a muddy mess, with only front woman Cass King’s strong vocals cutting through the cacophony. Fortunately, it does improve towards the end, and the poor sound is made up for by plenty of on stage energy; they may not be producing any groundbreaking music, but Tomorrow Is Lost are easy to enjoy and quickly earn the appreciation of the gathered crowd.

Another Metal 2 The Masses winner, this time hailing from Oxford, The Hope Burden bring a very different vibe into the tent this afternoon. Their brooding post-metal is enrobed in darkness and atmosphere, with roaring vocals that cut through the shoegazey melodies; the screams at times almost border on white noise, like the aural representation of pain. It’s a shame that the side of the tent is open towards the main stage, as the ongoing Metal Church set can be heard clearly over some of the quieter moments, but for fans of this oppressive and cinematic style, there’s plenty on offer here – and it’s apt that the end of their set has pulled in the most torrential rain of the weekend outside. Looks like the weather gods approve of this darkness, too.

The rain has, thankfully, taken a break by the time Finnish legends Children Of Bodom take to the stage, though there’s still a fair amount of wind about. It’s a stiff enough breeze that it doesn’t help – though is certainly not the only cause of – some fairly frustrating sound issues throughout the set, being much too quiet and doing little justice to this highly technical, fast-as-fuck metal. The band themselves mean business, though, kicking things off with ‘Are You Dead Yet?’ before barrelling through a strong set that doesn’t lean too heavily on any of the albums in their back catalogue – though older tracks like ‘Angels Don’t Kill’ get some of the strongest receptions, songs from latest album ‘Hexed’ provide some of the standout moments. Though Children Of Bodom may not always be the most exciting band on record, they are formidable live performers, and despite the poor sound this is still evident; the overcast skies suit this epic, sweeping, and occasionally sinister set, and Bodom are still a force to be reckoned with.

Amongst all the thrash, power, heavy, and death metal dominating the main stage this weekend, progressive tech metallers Tesseract stand out a bit – and when their hour long set starts, they stand out even more. This is far and away the best sounding set of the day, if not the weekend, and it’s staggering from the instant they break into the first three parts of ‘Concealing Fate’ from 2011’s ‘One’ album. Tracks from latest album ‘Sonder’ have a truly soaring, stadium-filling feel, and sound spectacular on this huge stage, with ‘King’ and ‘Juno’ particular highlights; this set is technically flawless and breathtaking throughout, and there can be no doubt that Tesseract deserve their place here.

If there’s any band capable of setting the scene and the right mood ahead of tonight’s eagerly anticipated main stage headliners, Powerwolf must be it. From the outset, this set is intensely captivating and, yes, just a little bit silly – it doesn’t matter that it’s starting to get a bit chilly, because the German power metal mob have brought enough pyro with them to heat a small city during opener ‘Fire And Forgive’. The stage is decked out in the ruins of a cathedral and the band are one of the most visually exciting, with corpse paint and props accompanying their mystical power metal to great effect. Is it revolutionary, exciting music? Not in the slightest. It is, however, fantastically enjoyable – in the cheesiest way possible – from start to finish, and the large crowd assembled at the main stage are having a blast as the band play up to the crowd. If Powerwolf were today’s headliners, we could likely all retire to our tents happy – but as it is, things are only going to get bigger and better this Friday night…

It’s been four years since Sabaton last played Bloodstock, grabbing a sub-headliner slot under Trivium back in 2015, and ten years since they first appeared here “at midday, to people with hangovers.” That there’s an hour gap between Powerwolf and the beginning of the Swedes’ headline set makes it clear they’re going to deliver the epic and spectacular show we’ve all been waiting for – and sure enough, it’s not long before a tank makes its way to the stage amongst mountains of sandbag battlements. There’s a reason Sabaton have drawn a phenomenally huge crowd to the main stage, and for an hour and a half we are guided through centuries of war via power metal – who could ever have thought that history could be this damn entertaining? Sabaton have gone hard on their theme and, however unlikely it might seem that in-depth tales of battles could ever become popular, their stage presence and mastery of performance has comfortably made them one of the greatest modern metal bands out there. A few catchy-as-hell choruses along the way help, too. Tonight’s show is accompanied not only by the usual pyro, but also by an impressive backdrop of graphics blended with live visuals, all adding up to form the perfect headline show – and yes, the tank goes off too. It’s proficient metal with a colossal side helping of cheese, and there’s nothing anyone can do but have an utterly brilliant time – Sabaton are here to stay, and we bloody love it.