Review by Emily Castles
Those yellow road signs never looked so surreal and so good. The first glimpse of the Sophie Lancaster tent through the tops of the trees. The first distant scream of someone on the stomach-churning fairground ride. The first grumbling of a distortion pedal, echoing across the car park. The first knowing glance shared with a stranger, and fellow metal comrade. Riffs are running through our veins, hearts swelling with relief and pure, ecstatic joy. We made it. We are back. We are here. This is Bloodstock.
Metalheads have waited two full years for this and on top of that, Bloodstock is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. It’s not been plain sailing, to say the least. On top of the two-year wait, the organisers have been plagued with dropouts and cancellations with bands struggling to travel in from abroad. Ukraine’s Jinjer were in, then out, then in, then out again. Consequently, this year’s line-up has a strong British focus – so it’s a good job we’ve got a fair few good-uns.
Up early on the Sophie Lancaster stage are Cardiff-based blackened metallers, Agrona. Frontwoman Adara transports us back to the 1990s goth era with a Manson-esque face paint and middle-parted raven tresses. Her relentless growl draws in those starved of black metal theatrics, circling her skull-embossed mic stand like the high priestess of a wiccan coven. Agrona are proper old school black metal, conjuring up images of desolate Norway and burning churches, with impressively devilish vocals.
Over on the main Ronnie James Dio stage, thrash veterans Acid Reign get the crowd going in the early afternoon sun. With only Howard ‘H’ Smith left out of the original line-up, following their reunion in 2015, the Yorkshiremen are still fighting on. Supporting a blue t-shirt with ‘NHS’ wrapped in a love heart, Smith still puts on a high energy show for the old school thrashers who’ve abandoned the Barcalounger for a bit of nostalgia.
Repping Wales yet again is Venom Prison, taking to the main stage shortly after. The ever-alluring Larissa Stupar has adopted a new look over the pandemic, proving almost unrecognisable from the band’s last Bloodstock appearance in 2017. The long silver locks are now short and dark, and the sleeveless band shirt’s been exchanged for a simple, all-black ensemble. Despite the toned-down appearance, the vocals remain as ferocious as ever. Releasing their latest album Primeval during the height of the pandemic last year – it is a joy to listen live to the melodeth, punkish hardcore sounds of the band’s new material.
Metal 2 the Masses’ Manchester winners, Beyond Salvation, cook up a real storm with one of the first Hobgoblin New Blood Stage circle pits of the day. The northern tech thrashers are certain crowd pleasers.
Meanwhile, back at the Ronnie James Dio Stage, Bloodstock-regulars Skindred are doing their thing, frills and all. Playing all the classics including ‘Pressure’ and ‘Nobody’, complete with a flame suit, GB flag and wide-range of sunglasses supported by the ever fashion-conscious Benji Webb, Skindred put on a fun, energised show which surely thrills the many children walking across Catton Park modelling his trademark spiked goggles. And luckily, most people remembered to bring a spare bit of clothing to twirl for the Newport Helicopter!
As the wolfish moon rises above the peaks of the Sophie Lancaster tent, Conan take us into the evening with their deliciously downtuned Liverpudlian doom. Conan have grown hugely in popularity over the past few years, particularly following the 2018 release of the momentous Existential Void Guardian. The base is so low, you feel it vibrate through your bones and rattle the neurones in your brain. There are few words spoken in this transportive set. In the evening gloom, it’s as though we’ve been transported back in time. A medieval display of devilish worship, ending with the gut-stabbing ‘Paincantation’. There is no hope, and no joy. But there is Conan.
Closing the Ronnie James Dio this evening is Devin Townsend. There is confetti, a choir and an elephant. And no, that’s not the start of a bad joke. Is this the closing act of a circus show or a metal festival? It’s never been harder to tell. Still, with the recent release of the album Empath, the crowds come in their worshipping hordes.
Ending the night over in the Sophie Lancaster tent is everyone’s favourite Brummies, Napalm Death. Infiltrated with Barney’s impassioned human rights campaigning, Napalm are as strong and committed as ever. With their latest album, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism released during lockdown last year, there were several live debuts this evening including ‘Backlash Just Because’ and ‘Contagion’. The Sophie Lancaster tent is truly alive tonight, with fans young and old. Napalm’s particularly punishing brand of politicised grindcore is timeless.