Every year, on the second weekend of August, a swarm of people in black band shirts and battle jackets descend upon the grounds of a stately home in Derbyshire. They pitch their colourful tents and trudge from the campsites (named after Viking words) to the arena with cans of beer and cider in hand, ready for a day of moshing to some of the planet’s greatest metal acts.
Welcome to Bloodstock Open Air, one of the UK’s most outrageous yet communal independent music festivals. Since starting life as an indoor-all dayer in 2001, it has expanded into a four-day event that now brings 20,000 punters to Catton Park every year. It’s large enough to feel like a significant part of the festival calendar, but small enough to feel like it has a culture of its own – and, handily, you won’t kill your feet if you need to run and grab something from your tent. Although metalheads are often perceived from the outside as serious, po-faced people, the environment at Bloodstock is anything but. You’ll lose count of the number of times you’ll crack a smile at the festival-goers you’ll see in fancy dress, and late at night, when the bands are done, you might find people being pushed around in bins in a fan-made tradition known as bin jousting. (It’s as ridiculous as it sounds).
The fans might not be serious, but they’re certainly serious about riffs. As ever, this year’s Bloodstock had a bottomless supply of those. Killswitch Engage topped the bill on the Friday night of the festival and marked their first ever major festival headline slot with a show that was as fiery in name as by nature, smashing through hit after hit surrounded by mighty flame-stacks. Meanwhile, Meshuggah delighted fans with their brain-breaking polyrhythms on the Saturday before Megadeth brought it home the following evening with a crowd-pleasing, laser-focused set that lured a colossal crowd down to the main stage.
While Bloodstock have certainly had something to boast about with those headliners, there was plenty to get excited about looking further down the bill. Despite Bloodstock’s traditional affinity for straight-up metal, hardcore made itself a home at Catton Park, perhaps unsurprisingly given the genre’s current flush of health. Knocked Loose bridged the gap between the genres and created bedlam while doing it, despite the lashings of rain, on Saturday afternoon, while on Friday, Leeds up-and-comers Pest Control brought their thrashy take on the genre and firmly announced themselves as ones to watch.
Indeed, many of Bloodstock’s other standout sets came from some of modern metal’s most exciting heavyweights. Employed To Serve got the mosh-pits swirling with their fist-raising metal ragers, while Zeal & Ardor became a festival highlight with a gloriously murky display as the sky darkened on Sunday, playing their gospel-infused black metal to a fervent crowd picking up on their every refrain. There was something for everybody at Bloodstock Open Air – next year can’t come round quickly enough.