Bloodstock Open Air 2023 Review18th August 2023 0 By Dan Peeke
Bloodstock Open Air has rolled around yet again. Thankfully, this time we aren’t awaiting a
sweltering weekend of 35-degree heat; just a couple of mini monsoons will do. We are, however,
awaiting a weekend of fantastic music that ranges from young metal bands in their infancy to
Our weekend got off to a less-than-ideal start, though, thanks to the beauty of London traffic,
combined with a rather elderly Nissan Micra. In short, we arrived four hours later than planned
and missed about 80% of Friday’s lineup… This means fantastic bands like Gatecreeper and
Gaerea was lost, and all we had to wet the whistle on our first night was the droll pop-death of
In Flames, and a relatively underwhelming headline set from Killswitch Engage. In fairness to Killswitch, did inevitably comment on the necessity of playing their cover of ‘Holy Diver’ whilst on the Ronnie James Dio stage, and it did set the scene nicely for a weekend of metal.
The Sophie Lancaster stage, however, was on hand to provide some early evening quality, with
the atmospheric post-metal of Bossk really ups the heaviness, even if their atmospheric
build-ups did lead to a few shouts of “get on with it” from a crowd that only really wanted to hear
constant, bludgeoning riffs. Weirdly, they don’t tell doom metal legends Candlemass to get on
with it during their thunderously slow jaunts.
Ironically, one thing we did manages to see on our first day of Bloodstock 2023, was the 2024
announcement. Despite some, in my opinion, shockingly bad choices of headliners, the rest of
the lineup immediately looks to trump this year. Blues rock legends Clutch juxtaposed the
forward-thinking avant-garde metal of Igorrr, while the brutality of Septicflesh and Rotting Christ
loom over the remarkably unexpecting booking of the Irish punk band Flogging Molly. If we can
fill that third headline slot with a true legend, then Bloodstock 2024 is looking exceptional.
Anyway, fresh (hungover) and raring to go (hungover), we marched into Saturday and were
immediately met by a huge crowd at the Sophie stage.
Tortured Demon, a young thrashcore band, had become Bloodstock legends when they managed to form a wall of death on the minuscule Jägermeister tent back in 2021. They achieved a similar feat here, but on a much
grander scale, and much earlier in the day. The giant crowd dissipated, and unfortunately mostly
missed The Grey, a haunting post-metal three-piece, as well as Tribe Of Ghosts. The latter was
so close to being excellent, with crushingly heavy walls of sound and fierce guttural vocals, but
were annoyingly undermined the entire way through their set by a lead vocalist that simply
would not stop wailing slightly out of tune clean vocals above everything else.
Our first mini-monsoon of the day came just before Employed To Serve, who seemed a little
nervous and slightly out of place on the RJD stage. The second came just after Skin Failure
(the best name of the festival) set the Sophie tent alight with their manic heaviness. Luckily,
Bloodstock can always find a way to juxtapose, as we wandered past the Jäger tent shortly
after, only to see a metal cover of the Macarena (with a full dance routine) in progress.
One of the more controversial moments of the weekend came when the crowd was herded out
of the New Blood stage to allow for a £150-per-ticket acoustic Megadeth show. Is providing a
platform for an old, rich band to make even more money really good use of the New Blood
stage? It feels quite contradictory to its purpose of shining a light on up-and-coming metal
bands. Either way, the whole thing was weird and I’m almost certain everyone in there could
hear Abbath’s main stage set simultaneously anyway.
Speaking of Abbath – what a great guy. That man is just having so much fun in his outrageously
flamboyant costume. No one cares that he only plays one Immortal song because he’s grinning
and sticking his tongue out and playing his heart out the entire time he’s on stage. It’s quite the
contrast to a different black metal legend, Tom G. Warrior, who brings his current band,
Triptykon, is out to play a set of classics by his old band, Celtic Frost. The whole thing is pretty
lackluster, and the band’s attitude is sort of summed up by the first thing he says: “Hello
One of the most ridiculous bands of the weekend, Gutalax, manage to bring in a substantial
crowd for their “disco music from Czech Republic” which is actually ultra-heavy goregrind,
propelled by a uniquely outrageous vocal style. The band knows they aren’t to be taken seriously,
though, and dance around the stage as if they’re playing Chic covers. This is what Bloodstock is
Just as the inevitable fatigue kicked in, Saturday’s musical offerings became a lot more
questionable. On the New Blood stage, Soothsayer, who drowns out their rather average music with
an amount of vocal reverb only a mother could love, and then Nakkerknaekker, who would’ve
sounded brilliant, is drowned out by a deafening snare drum. The less said about the
unbearably annoying din of Trollfest the better.
Meshuggah, however, showed everyone in attendance who’s boss almost immediately. Despite
being one of the most technically complex bands in history, they’ve managed to devise a light
show that is linked directly to their persistent polyrhythms. It feels more like seeing classical
music or theatre than metal at times, but it’s an absolute spectacle. The band doesn’t exactly
interact with the audience, but it works to bring a menacing undertone to the whole thing, and
when the sheer brutality of tracks like ‘Future Breed Machine’ and ‘Born In Dissonance’ kicks in,
it simply doesn’t matter.
Friday and Saturday feel almost like a warm-up in comparison to Sunday’s offering. From
around 4 pm onwards, there’s no time to breathe between overlapping sets from Decapitated,
Church Of The Cosmic Skull, Sepultura, Embodiment, KK Downing, Zeal & Ardor and
But in order to retain energy for all that, we set up shop at the back of an under-filled Sophie
tent. Stengah attract a tiny crowd, but bring energy and heaviness with their forward-thinking
sound. Layers of djent inspiration collide with an atmospheric post-metal ideology, while
virtuosic performances from every member mean things never get stale. Tuskar are almost
opposites, with just two members using builds and heaviness instead of virtuosity to get their
point across. It takes a while to kick in, but when it does, it’s thick, sludgy, and aggressive.
Over on the main stage, Tribulation are dressed like a fierce black metal band, but the Swedish
Grammy winners sound more like Motorhead. It isn’t a bad thing, really, but their rock n roll riffs
seem a bit underwhelming at times. Decapitated, however, bring the brutality of death metal at
its most pure. Their more recent offerings may be a little more polished, but it’s a real treat when
they bring out tracks from Winds Of Creation and Nihility, which were recorded when the band’s
sole remaining original member Vogg was just sixteen.
Back on the Sophie stage, Church of the Cosmic Skull delivers a sassy blues rock energy, with
their all-in-white stage persona perfectly matching their pristine, catchy melodies. It’s hard to find
a bigger juxtaposition than Embodiment, who follow them with a searing set of technical death
metal. Their lack of bassists proved not to be detrimental, though their vocalist’s lack of
self-confidence did undermine their presence a little, despite their music and his vocals being up
there with the strongest of the weekend.
Something that ended up becoming a personal highlight of the weekend for me was the
replacement of Helloween with KK’s Priest. Who wouldn’t want an extremely overrated
(borderline embarrassing!?) band to be replaced by a legend who was about to play Judas
Priest covers? KK Downing has teamed up with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens to put together a band that
allows him to perform Priest songs live once again, alongside some new compositions (which
are surprisingly good). Thankfully, Tim hasn’t insisted on only playing Priest songs from his
short-lived time in the band, and he gleefully mimics Rob Halford excellently for a barrage of
tracks from Painkiller, as well as the inimitable ‘Breaking The Law’, which inspires one of the
biggest singalongs of the weekend.
Annoyingly, another late change to Sunday’s running order was the presence of an early
evening ‘headline’ set from Zeal & Ardor. Despite performing a full-length, full-production set,
the band’s placement between KK Downing and Megadeth meant we were only able to catch a
few minutes. Those few minutes, however, shined a light on Manuel Gagneux’s incredible blend
of ‘black metal and slave songs’, which has attracted an unprecedented audience both at
Bloodstock and on streaming services.
After three days, it was finally time for one of the most legendary bands ever to grace the
Bloodstock stage to return. Now, I don’t want to say Megadeth were ‘phoning it in’, but
everything about their set stank of a band that knew that the size of their audience (and their
paycheck) would be exactly the same no matter what they did. Dave Mustaine looked like he
barely knew where he was, the rest of the band seemed similarly nonplussed by their headline
set, and rather than the mind-bending theatrics of Meshuggah (and, in fairness, Killswitch to an
extent), they’ve opted to save money with cheap looking screens instead of real pyrotechnics.
And yet, the audience loves it, and you can see why. Once the usual mid-set fodder is over, they
kick into one of the most impressive back-to-backs in metal: ‘A Tout Le Monde,’ ‘Tornado Of
Souls’, ‘Symphony Of Destruction’, ‘Peace Sells’ and, of course, ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment
Due’. He might not give off the same energy as he would’ve back in the 80s, but Mustaine can
still play these complex thrash anthems with extreme dexterity. They play off of the strength of
these tracks, but my God are these tracks strong.
Bloodstock 2023’s lineup might have been a little unbalanced in favor of Sunday, but it was
yet another fantastic year for heavy music. It’s looking like 2024 is going to be even better.
Secure your 2024 tickets at the 2024 ticket store.
About the author
I like classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and Hendrix, Metal like Metallica and Slipknot, into more extreme stuff like Cannibal Corpse and Anaal Nathrakh. Other than rock, I love Bob Marley, blues legends like BB King, Rock n Roll like Chuck Berry, Jazz, Country and Bluegrass. I also like a bit of Elton John and Eminem every now and then (Sorry!). But overall my favourite bands are System of a Down, Five Finger Death Punch, Rush, Children of Bodom, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Anaal Nathrakh.