LIVE: Bloodstock Open Air 2019 – Saturday

By Gem Rogers

Saturday, in festival land, is ‘the big one’. The day that sees weekend crowds nicely warmed up, but not quite so hungover they can no longer function (hi, Sunday), and day ticket crowds appear in droves; not unconnected, it’s also usually where you’ll find some of the most broadly appealing, big ticket names, and this Bloodstock Saturday is no different.

It’s a day that’s also hampered by some fairly temperamental weather that results in delays and stages closures, the expert handling of which truly demonstrates the quality of this festival and its team. It inevitably leads to a little frustration, but that’s swiftly tempered by some of the most outstanding sets Bloodstock has witnessed so far – controversial headliners and all…

Words: Gem Rogers / Photos: Matt Higgs

At first glance, Cancer Bats are a bit of an oddity this weekend – a hardcore band at a metal festival is definitely unexpected. They’re also a band not used to playing so early in the day, as vocalist Liam Cormier highlights (“did any of you even sleep last night? Because it is early…”), but they are one hell of a wake up call. Pulling out half an hour of raging, heavy hitting tracks, they are the definition of fury and fire, generating plenty of energy in the crowd despite the howling winds and rain. Finishing up with a gigantic singalong rendition of ‘War Pigs’ to keep the metalheads happy, any doubts about their place on this stage can be swiped away – if you love heavy music of any genre, a Cancer Bats show is the place to be.

Glaswegians Lotus Eater were a late addition to the Bloodstock bill after a few last minute dropouts, and what a welcome addition they are. The Sophie tent isn’t the busiest for this set, yet when they beckon everyone forward, it works immediately – whether the crowd are motivated by enthusiasm or mild fear of these ferocious Scots isn’t entirely clear, but they’re definitely worthy of the movement. Best at their weirdest and most technical and with some delectably meaty breakdowns, Lotus Eater aren’t here for hugs and rainbows. They want you to get fucked up, and they’re going to do everything they can to make it happen; it’s brutal in the best way, and Lotus Eater is sure to be a name we hear more of in future.

Over on the main stage, things are getting weird this afternoon. Really, really weird. Once witnessed, Evil Scarecrow are a band that can never be forgotten, with their near annual appearance at Bloodstock earning them the title of house band – and despite grumblings about the regularity of their bookings, it looks like the entire festival has turned out for this absolutely absurd set. The ever increasing wind has taken its toll on their planned stage show – pyro is very much out of the window – and there’s a few sound issues with absent vocals and, well, absent everything at times, but with crowdpleasers like ‘Hurricanado’, ‘Robototron’, and ‘Crabulon’ getting thousands of people participating in ridiculous spins and scuttles, alongside a guest appearance from the spectacular twelve year old Alfie, it barely matters that any kind of musical quality has vanished. It’s utterly fucking ridiculous both on paper and in person, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Ready? Crabulon, crabulon, crabulon…

Australian metalcore mob Thy Art Is Murder bring the rage back to the main stage after the daftness of Evil Scarecrow – though vocalist CJ McMahon still brings plenty of humour into the set, along with criticisms of our “fucking shit weather”. He’s not wrong, to be fair. Despite their incandescent music, the set does lack a little energy and excitement after Evil Scarecrow, and interest tails off a little, but it’s a mercilessly loud set delivered with precision – and when McMahon demands “500 crowdsurfers”, the final tally can’t be too far off it. It’s not the most memorable set of the day, but Thy Art Is Murder have proved their worth nonetheless.

Another last minute addition to the bill, The Wildhearts seemed to have been well received by the masses upon their announcement, but the crowd assembled at the main stage is one of the smallest of the weekend. Granted, this is probably the least ‘metal’ act the main stage has seen across the three days, with their brand being more radio-friendly classic rock – but when it’s a band with such a legendary status as this lot, it’s surprising all the same. The seeming lack of interest in the set – aside from a very enthusiastic front few rows – doesn’t help what turns out to be a proficient and superb quality, yet ultimately underwhelming set for this time of the day. Given a bit of sunshine instead of these howling winds, perhaps things might have gone down a little better – as it is, we can’t blame most of the crowd for having wandered elsewhere.

For a time, it looks as though The Wildhearts may have, by default, gained the title of Saturday night headliners. The weather is no joke – the screens by the main stage have been lowered all day due to the gales, and soon after The Wildhearts’ set, Bloodstock are forced to shut down the main stage entirely. A few reshuffles and a lot of hard work from the festival team later, we’re ecstatic that the festival is able to continue, with Anthrax taking to the stage around an hour late. It is, of course, well worth the wait; the legendary thrash metallers are kings of the stage and the set feels absolutely jubilant (not just because we’re thrilled the main stage’s day isn’t over yet after all). It’s a positive riff-fest from a band who are still on form after nearly 40 years when so many others have faded away – and it seems somehow fitting that this set from old masters should lead into one of metal’s newest headliners.

There can be no doubt about the fact that the announcement of Parkway Drive back in February prompted some fairly heated discussion online. Too young, too trendy, too metalcore; it seemed there were many who not only deemed the Australians unworthy, but they were determined to make it known, too. When it comes to this headline set, then, what of those words of discontent? Well, if indeed any were still floating around by the end of this showstopping, jaw dropping hour and a half, they can only have been used to stoke more of the flames that drenched Bloodstock’s main stage.

Entering through the crowd surrounded by flames and hooded figures, opening track ‘Wishing Wells’ showed not only Parkway Drive’s flare for dramatics, but their stunning musicianship, too. Winston McCall’s ominous vocals cut cleanly through the night air before the track erupts with a furious roar, and the crowd are all too eager to join in – the chaos is immediate and sublime, and every last person with a view of the main stage is lapping up the fury and excitement.

Every moment of this set is as memorable as the one before it, with infectious madness sweeping through the field to the rage of tracks like ‘Vice Grip’, ‘The Void’, and ‘Dedicated’, not to mention the riff-singalongs for ‘Wild Eyes’. When time to breathe finally comes, it’s in the form of the stunning string quartet accompanied ‘Writings On The Wall’ and ‘Shadow Boxing’, no less captivating for their less riotous nature.

If any energy remained in the crowd by the time the flames are fully ignited for the encore, it is surely gone by the end of the double hit of ‘Crushed’ and ‘Bottom Feeder’ – bodies pour over the barrier, and the instruction to “snap your neck to this” taken probably rather too literally. Neck braces for Sunday, anyone?

The flames and the spectacle Parkway Drive bring are stupendous, but what’s clear is that they are only props for a band who could already dominate the largest of stages and crowds with their music alone. We have been witness to something special this evening, and this will by no means be the last time we see this band headlining a festival stage. Parkway Drive are coming for the world, and they will take it.