Words and photos by Thomas Woroniak
It’s hard to believe that three years have passed since the last time I ventured across the pond to pay a visit to my media friends in the UK. However, with a global pandemic and travel restrictions taking the wind out of my sails, it goes without saying that my trip to Bloodstock 2022 was a much-needed blessing. It’s always a blast to meet up with all the photographers and writers I haven’t seen in quite a stretch. This year proved to be one of the hottest weekends in the three years I’ve attended Bloodstock Open Air, with temperatures in the mid-90s throughout most of the weekend.
Despite the numerous horror stories in the news this summer of travel woes ranging from delayed and canceled flights to lost luggage, my trip was relatively painless. I landed at London Heathrow Airport, picked up my rental car, and headed to Burton-on-Trent to check into my hotel room for the extended weekend ahead. A few pints and a meal later, I was ready to hit the sack and get rested for the long days in the sun.
I got a late start on Thursday, the unofficial opening day of Bloodstock, and unfortunately missed BASEMENT TORTURE KILLINGS on the Sophie Lancaster stage, which was a bummer because from what I’ve seen and heard they were an interesting act to witness. Next up, sludge metal riff lords out of Bournemouth, THUUM, took command of the stage with an energetic performance packed with plenty of chunky grooves. Bristol’s blues-punk outfit MOTHER VULTURE turned the energy up to eleven and got the crowd moving with the infectious groove of tracks like “Honey” and the catchy hook of “Rabbit Hole.”
The next two bands added a bit of levity to the billing and reminded us that good music can be fun and not take itself so seriously. First up were Italian comedic parody act NANOWAR OF STEEL, donning some absurd costumes, and playing a fantastic and often hilarious set which included my favorite, “The Call of Cthulhu.” The Italians were quickly followed by Los Angeles melodic death metal troupe NEKROGOBLIKON and their “hype-goblin,” John Goblikon, who helped work the Bloodstock crowd into a frenzy on tracks like “Dressed as Goblins” and “No One Survives.” This US-based band is always a favorite of mine to witness live!
Closing out Thursday evening’s performances on the Sophie Lancaster stage were Swedish melodic death champions, DARK TRANQUILITY, playing to a packed and overflowing audience in the Sophie tent. Frontman Mikael Stanne commanded the eager and excited crowd as he led the band through some of their most cherished songs, including “Terminus (Where Death Is Most Alive),” “Monochromatic Stains,” and “Atoma.” Closing out the set were arguably two of the band’s best tracks, “Lost to Apathy,” followed by “Misery’s Crown,” from their eighth studio album, Fiction.
Already heating up at 10:45 AM, Friday was the first full day of the festival and kicked off with UK’s metal outfit RED METHOD, offering crushing grooves, alluring melodic hooks, and a sense of theatricality that created a powerful start to the day’s performances on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. Although their set was relatively short, frontman Jeremey Gomez and crew delivered a brutal set in the scorching heat, with Gomez getting up close and personal with the audience as he made his way off the stage and to the front of the barricades to hype the crowd. After a brief intermission for stage prep, UK’s metalcore favorites HEART OF A COWARD took the stage to the roar of a delighted crowd. Launching into “Drown In Ruin,” vocalist Kaan Tasan prowls the stage and rallies the crowd to get the pit going. The band keeps the energy high throughout the set, with plenty of crowd sing-along moments. The entire crowd was banging their head and kicking up clouds of dust during songs like “Shade” from their 2012 album Hope and Hindrance. I look forward to the yet-to-be-released fifth studio album from the Milton Keyne metallers.
Hailing from New Delhi, BLOODYWOOD finally performed at Bloodstock after waiting two years due to the pandemic and travel restrictions. The crowd was stacked in front of the main stage and greeted them with cheers as the ensemble kicked off their set with “Gaddaar,” which started with some traditional percussion but quickly lit into a fusion of heavy chugging guitar riffs and seething, politically driven rap cadence from vocalists Jayant Bhadula and Raoul Kerr. The group’s performance was well received by the enthusiastic audience and was one of the highlights of my weekend, and we hope they return to the festival again soon.
This year at Bloodstock there were rumors of a secret set from an unannounced act, and the predictions on who the mystery band would be swept across the spectrum of possibilities – from Corey Taylor to Amon Amarth. It was finally revealed to be none other than Oakland, California’s metal juggernaut MACHINE HEAD who would be performing at the Sophie Lancaster stage. The tent was packed to capacity and beyond as the crowd scrambled to find a spot inside the tent. The band debuted a couple of tracks from their tenth studio album, Of Kingdom and Crown, which was released on August 26, 2022 – after their Bloodstock performance. Starting off with “Become the Firestorm,” the circle pits started immediately and before long it was chaotic in the best of ways. Another new one to be debuted came later in the set, this time it was “Choke on the Ashes of Your Hate,” followed by the closing number, “Halo.”
“This is a love song. You can dance to it if you want” – The infamous line that DOYLE frontman Alex “Wolfman” Story uses to introduce nearly every song. The American horror punk band, named after ex-Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, launched into “Abominator,” followed by “Beast Like Me,” during which, singer Alex Story wore a leather mask in the scorching summer sun. Between each song, he would release what seemed like a waterfall of sweat from beneath his chin as he aired out the mask. Doyle pummeled his guitar through tracks like “Cemeterysexxx,” “Kiss Me As We Die,” and “DreamingDeadGirls,” as the rest of the band contributed to the aural assault on the Bloodstock audience, wrapping the set up with the aptly titled, “Hope Hell Is Warm.” Assaulting the main stage next were the beloved barbaric interplanetary warriors we know as GWAR. The performance was filled with all the gore, violence, and political satire we’ve come to expect from a GWAR show, with a setlist that included several fan favorites like “Sick of You,” “Womb With a View,” “Bring Back the Bomb,” and “Fuck This Place.”
If you could take the debatable “Big Four” list of top thrash metal bands and expand it a bit, the next two veteran acts from the Bay Area of California absolutely deserve to be included. First up were EXODUS, starting off with “The Beatings Will Continue (Until Morale Improves)” from their most recent effort, Persona Non Grata. Released last year (2021), it is the band’s eleventh studio album. The circle pit was churning throughout the set and no EXODUS show would be complete without the raucous classic banger, “The Toxic Waltz.” The band also dug deep into their discography all the way back to the 1985 debut album, Bonded by Blood, with tracks like “A Lesson in Violence,” “Piranha,” “Strike of the Beast,” and, of course, the classic titular track, “Bonded by Blood.” After a brief stage setup change, Berkeley legends TESTAMENT hit the main stage with full force with the opening number, “Rise Up.” Chuck Billy and crew are in top form, with legendary metal drummer Dave Lombardo setting the collective pulse on high, and dual riff lords Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson shredding the ears off of the fans’ heads. As a long-time fan, I was pleased to hear classic thrash tracks like “Practice What You Preach” and “Into the Pit” finding their way into the setlist.
Over at the Sophie Lancaster stage, one of my favorite bands to photograph on stage were about to start. Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, AVATAR opened their set with a minimalist setup featuring all five members at the front center of the stage to perform “Colossus,” from their latest release, 2020’s Hunter Gatherer. The intimate setup offered a stark contrast to the enormity of this banger of a song. Afterward, the band members spread out to their respective places on the larger stage. The Johannes Eckerström and company went on to perform an amazing set, and the enthusiastic crowd participated by singing along to nearly every song, including “Bloody Angel,” “For the Swarm,” “Smells Like a Freakshow,” and the closing number “Hail the Apocalypse.” AVATAR’s energetic performance and unique sense of theatricality are reason enough to go check them out live when you have the chance!
Poland’s diabolical quartet, BEHEMOTH, took control of and conquered the main stage, closing out Friday night with an abundance of pyrotechnics and theatrical props that truly set the mood of their live performance. The band has risen to an epic status over the course of their past three albums, crafting a style that transcends genre labels in the realm of extreme metal. The Satanist was released in 2014 and received critical acclaim, followed by 2018’s I Loved You at Your Darkest, raising the bar even further. BEHEMOTH have just delivered a masterstroke with the release of their twelfth studio album, Opvs Contra Natvram, and the Bloodstock crowd was treated to three new tracks, “The Deathless Sun,” “Off to War!” and “Ov My Herculean Exile.” The rest of the extended setlist consisted mainly of tried-and-true crowd favorites such as, “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer,” “Wolves ov Siberia,” the catchy hook of “Bartzabel,” and “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.”
Saturday started out with a bang as Danish death metal brutes BAEST kicked things off on the Ronnie James Dio main stage with the epic “Genesis,” followed by “Ecclesia.” Vocalist Simon Olsen’s menacing deep growls and the band’s furious performance resonated under the harsh midday sun. Next up were Finnish thrashers LOST SOCIETY, a band I saw for the first time at Download Festival in 2019. It was nice to catch these guys again, as their stage performance is always a high-energy endeavor.
One of my favorite new discoveries at Bloodstock this year were “Death Western” pioneers, SPIRITWORLD. The Las Vegas quintet offer a fusion of thrash, death metal, and hardcore punk, creating a sound and aesthetic that is “full of dust, dirt and blood” as described by Century Media Vice President of A&R, Mike Gitter. SPIRITWORLD opened their set with latest track “Moonlit Torture,” a song that converted me into an instant fan. The remainder of the set consisted mainly of tracks from their killer full-length effort, Pagan Rhythms, which I highly recommend you check out.
A bit of American deathcore from New Jersey five-piece LORNA SHORE came next, and despite some delays in getting the soundcheck and technical issues sorted, they delivered a crushing set to the rabid Bloodstock crowd. Soon after LORNA SHORE wrapped up their set, Reading, Berkshire favorites SYLOSIS took the main stage. Frontman Josh Middleton and his guitar-playing endeavors have been a long-time favorite of mine, and 2015’s Dormant Heart remains a top album on my playlist.
Current world affairs continue to highlight the strife and turmoil that the people of Ukraine have had to endure. So, there is no question why JINJER proved to be one of the most powerful and emotionally charged sets of the day, if not the weekend. The band is met with a deafening roar from the crowd, as fans display their support with a multitude of blue beach balls, blue and yellow flags, and chanting “F*ck Putin!” Opening with “Teacher, Teacher!”, vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk has arguably one of the best metal vocal attacks in the industry, seamlessly shifting from ferocious growls to sweet melodic clean vocals. Bassist Eugene Abdukhanov, guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov, and drummer Vladislav Ulasevich, provide a technical mastery to the songwriting while keeping it all filled with plenty of groove to bang your head. I was pleased to hear one of my favorite tracks, “Pisces,” was included in the all-too-short setlist!
Symphonic black metal veterans DIMMU BORGIR conquered the main stage as the sun began to set, delivering an epic performance that started off with the eponymous “Dimmu Borgir,” from their 2010 release, Abrahadabra. It’s been five years since I spoke with frontman Shaggrath, where we discussed the release of the DVD package, Forces of the Northern Light. One of my personal favorites from the DVD was the live orchestral version of “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse.” I was extremely pleased that the song made its way onto the Bloodstock setlist.
This will mark the second time I’ve seen MERCYFUL FATE perform live this year, the first being at Hellfest 2022 in June (I’m actually gearing up for number three in Dallas, Texas, in October 2022). And while I’ve seen King Diamond perform several times over the years, I’ve been a long-time fan of MERCYFUL FATE and was excited to see them again. King Diamond’s falsetto vocal technique may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those of us that are fans, the evening’s performance was epic. There is always a high level of theatricality to any of King’s productions and Saturday’s performance did not disappoint. Opening number “The Oath” took fans back to 1984’s Don’t Break the Oath, followed by “Corpse Without a Soul,” which was part of a compilation album of rare demo tracks, Return of the Vampire. Fans were treated next to a brand-new song, “The Jackal of Salzburg.” The remainder of the set consisted mainly of songs from the first to albums, the 1983 debut album Melissa, and the previously mentioned Don’t Break the Oath. Set highlights included “Black Funeral,” “Melissa,” “Evil,” and show encore, “Satan’s Fall.”
The last day of Bloodstock 2022 proved to be another banger of a lineup on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. Newcomers out of Iowa, VENDED, fronted by Griffin Taylor, destroyed the stage with their brutal, albeit short, set. “Can I get some fucking peace and quiet?” Taylor’s vocals ring out as the band dives into the furious new single, “Ded To Me.” I must admit that I was an instant convert and look forward to seeing what lies ahead for this troupe.
The San Francisco Bay Area thrash scene was well-represented at Bloodstock 2022, with Exodus and Testament on Friday, and veteran headbangers VIO-LENCE taking the main stage on Sunday afternoon. A band that did not achieve the same level of success as some of their counterparts, VIO-LENCE deserve equal recognition for their contribution and inspiration to the west coast scene. Sunday’s performance proved that they are in top form once again, and I look forward to potential new material to be released in 2023. VENOM INC – Tony Dolan and Jeffrey Dunn, better known to the legions as “Demolition Man” and “Mantas” – delivered a head stomping performance on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. Joining the duo was Brujeria drummer Nick Barker (formerly Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir). Together the trio played a very special set for the Bloodstock crowd – the entire iconic and genre-defining Black Metal album from start to finish.
A bit of deathgrind to get the heart racing? Why Yes! You can see the anticipation on frontman Travis Ryan’s face as San Diego-based CATTLE DECAPITATION launch into “The Genocide” from their most recent studio album, Death Atlas. Blast beats-a-plenty, CATTLE DECAPITATION’s songwriting often treads wildly through a shifting landscape of technical proficiency, blood-curdling screams, and tales of the modern horrors of a technocratic society. The set consisted mainly of tracks from the above-mentioned seventh studio album, Death Atlas. Highlights included, “Bring Back the Plague,” “Time’s Cruel Curtain,” and the title track, “Death Atlas” to close out the set.
Pure American metal out of Richmond, Virginia, LAMB OF GOD decimated the main stage with a battery of pyro as the band headlined at Bloodstock on Sunday night. It was full speed ahead right from the start as the band launched into “Memento Mori,” quickly followed by “Ruin.” The group turned up the heat on “Walk With Me in Hell,” as frontman Randy Blythe commanded the flames to rise and engulf the stage. For me, my personal favorites in the set were tracks from 2004’s Ashes of the Wake, and Blythe and crew delivered an abundance with crowd favorite songs like “Now You’ve Got Something to Die For,” “Omerta,” “Hourglass,” and as part of the encore, “Laid to Rest.”
Bloodstock Open Air 2023
Looking ahead at next year’s event, which is set to take place on 10th-13th August 2023 at Catton Park, Derbyshire, some of the incredible bands have already been announced.
From the official press release:
“Metalcore pioneers KILLSWITCH ENGAGE are set to headline the Ronnie James Dio main stage on Friday, their first-ever appearance at the festival. Meanwhile, thrash legends MEGADETH will close out proceedings in spectacular style on Sunday night. Other confirmed main stage bands include DEVILDRIVER, FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY, KNOCKED LOOSE, DECAPITATED, and GATECREEPER. Over on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, ZEAL & ARDOR will headline one day (TBD), and expect to also see sets from KING 810 and UNTO OTHERS. Stay tuned for more 2023 surprises soon.”
For more info, click to www.bloodstock.uk.com.