Sun, Satan and secret sets: The highlights from Bloodstock 2022

K! slaps on the sunscreen and straps on the camel-pack to dive into the most sizzling metal gathering of the summer… Bloodstock Open Air!

Sun, Satan and secret sets: The highlights from Bloodstock 2022
Sam Law, Nick Ruskell
Steve Dempsey, Matt Negus, Katja Ogrin
Header photo:
Katja Ogrin

Bloodstock is hotter than Hell this year, and we’re not just talking about the Earth-baking 30-degree-plus temperatures that desiccate Catton Hall all last weekend. When punters aren’t battling for a patch of shade, scraping out that nasty mosh-dust that seems to get between teeth like tiling-grout, or dodging the multiple freak mini-tornadoes that rip through the campsite (sending one unsecured tent swirling into a tree), they’re treated to a smorgasbord of acts representing the very best of heavy music’s past, present and future.

The festival’s excellent RAM gallery is still there, serving as a gorgeous reminder that this was once a small-scale affair focused on celebrating the genre’s denim-and-leather-clad origins, but never has Bloodstock felt more vital in securing metal’s vibrant, horizon-pushing drive for the years to come.

With packed timetables and icy beers in hand, we pulled on our battle-jackets – and, frankly, not much else – to marinate in the sweaty chaos...

FridayInhuman Nature, S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage

“I need you to rock so hard that Satan rises up from hell and moshes with you!” screeches Inhuman Nature vocalist Chris Barling as the London thrash bastards slam the pedal to the metal with Satan’s Claw. “Now bang your fucking heads!” Although Bloodstock’s Thursday shenanigans were more substantial than usual this year, with resurgent Bournemouth bad boys Thuum and Gothenburg legends Dark Tranquillity alongside the sillier likes of Los Angeles’ Nekrogoblikon, it’s only with IN's arrival on Friday morning that we hit full power. Songs like Master Of Souls and Taste Of Steel are manna from Heaven (or Hell), and a riotous cover of Judas Priest’s Breaking The Law is just icing on the cake. (SL)

Photo: Katja Ogrin

Machine Head, S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage

One of the great joys of the road to Bloodstock 2022 had been the guessing-game of which “internationally-renowned” act would be filling the secret-band slot on Friday afternoon. Amon Amarth? Me And That Man? Corey motherfuckin’ Taylor? If the cat wasn’t out of the bag when original Machine Head drummer Chris Kontos told fans they’d see them at the festival during a live-streamed 28th anniversary run-through of Burn My Eyes, it was when the Bay Area heroes’ shirts appeared on the merch stand early and a massive ‘MACHINE FUCKIN’ HEAD’ curtain was draped across S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage almost an hour before said special guests were due to be revealed. Regardless, even in heat that makes simply walking a mission, the place turns into a warzone as soon as they step on.

Given this is effectively an album-launch gig, there’s an obvious focus on fresh material, with BECØME THE FIRESTØRM and CHØKE ØN THE ASHES ØF YØUR HATE from upcoming tenth record ØF KINGDØM AND CRØWN getting live debuts. Still, the old favourites hit hardest during this first full show since lockdown. Imperium. Ten Ton Hammer. Aesthetics Of Hate. There's even an unexpected cover of Roadrunner United classic The Dagger. The only downside is that by the time they drop curtain with an enormous Halo, the furnace-like atmosphere has left us damn near spent. The fatigue is worth it, though. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

GWAR, Ronnie James Dio Stage

Brilliantly, even with the mighty Machine Head just finishing, the mighty GWAR refuse to be upstaged. It's hard to fathom how the Virginia legends are able to summon such endless energy despite being coated in latex (and fuck knows what else) in this kind of truly oppressive heat, but they admirably deliver the full show. Songs like Sick Of You, Mother Fucking Liar and Bring Back The Bomb are enough to haul Bloodstock back on its feet in and of themselves, but it’s the blood-spurting absurdist theatre – featuring ‘Rootin’ Tootin’ Vladimir Putin’ and even a randy, alternate version of Queen Elizabeth II – that are the reason for turning up. By the time those standing too close are soaking up the red stuff for a cover of AC/DC's If You Want Blood (You've Got It), every splattered face is smiling. (SL)

Photo: Katja Ogrin

Testament, Ronnie James Dio Stage

You know what you’re getting with Testament: big riffs, breakneck tempos, no nonsense. Taking the stage after their Bay Area thrash compatriots Exodus, there is a sense of business as usual as the Berkeley bashers rip through bangers old and new like Rise Up, The New Order and Children Of The Next Level with the same high-octane power they have for nearly four decades. But as they continue to escalate the circle-pit violence with the more and more brilliant likes of D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate), Into The Pit and Alone In The Dark, you begin to wonder whether they shouldn’t actually be headlining a gathering like this. They’ve certainly got the stamina to match their pedigree. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Behemoth, Ronnie James Dio Stage

Behemoth have yo-yoed in and out of the headline slot at Bloodstock over the years. A decade ago, in the wake of frontman Nergal’s recovery from leukaemia and game-changing tenth album The Satanist, they first stepped up. In 2016, they were playing (impressive) second-fiddle to the great Emperor. In 2022, they make it unequivocally clear that they are The Main Event.

From a snake-wreathed, flame-belching stage-set and swirling black confetti to the honed-big stage experience that comes with touring the world's arenas with Slipknot, they’ve got it nailed like a crucifix. And that’s before they dig into earthquaking anthems Bartzabel and Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel, or Nergal emerging before storming new track Off To War brandishing blue and yellow flares. Between the frontman's Instagram larking and frequent cameos in the news cycle, it has almost become easy to take Behemoth for granted in recent times. But this was a timely reminder of what the Gdańsk lads are really capable of: black metal in its grandest and most impressive form. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Sleep Token, S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage

On one hand, the ethereal mystery of Sleep Token is perfectly suited to the under-cover S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage as the hour swirls towards midnight on Friday. On the other, Bloodstock’s crowd has been well and truly rinsed of energy by the time they get there. It’s credit, then, to unknowable frontman Vessel and his shadowy acolytes that they still do justice to the blackened alt. pop of Atlantic, Levitate and Higher. Last year’s This Place Will Become Your Tomb album hinted that main stages could soon be calling, and after their showing here it’s hard to fathom that Sleep Token won’t command an open-air sundown showcase when they return to Catton Hall. (SL)

Photo: Matt Negus

SaturdayLorna Shore, Ronnie James Dio Stage

It feels like the parched grass on Bloodstock’s main stage might burst into flame by the time Lorna Shore step up on Saturday afternoon. As the New Jersey deathcore crew open with To The Hellfire, they certainly pack the spark. Although there’s little doubting the quality of rising anthems like Of The Abyss, Sun//Eater and Cursed To Die, it does feel like there is still work to be done in fully translating their visceral power in the live arena to a massive crowd like today’s (and it is fucking massive). As unhinged closer Into The Earth throttles us into submission, though, there’s no denying that they still more than live up to the hype. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Pupil Slicer, S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage

Speak to almost anyone at Bloodstock before Pupil Slicer’s set, and they’ll nod that they know the skin-crawling name. Most, however, are yet to fully get to grips with their mind-mangling music. Vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies seems to be on a mission to rewrite that wrong over their short, serrated showing. Few acts this weekend would even dare attempt the blend of dread-soaked atmosphere and obliterating chaos that powers songs like Martyrs, Mirrors Are More Fun Than Television and Wounds Upon My Skin. Fewer still can do it with as much Technicolor sass, or as insistently as when Kate downs their guitar to scream into the front rows. In doing so, Pupil Slicer guarantee they’ll soon be pummelling into everyone’s subconscious with far more than just an eye-watering name. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Jinjer, Ronnie James Dio Stage

Ukrainian heroes Jinjer were one of the hottest bands in European metal long before the current Russian invasion of their homeland, but their dramatic backdrop, featuring their logo in yellow and blue, lends their set on Saturday afternoon additional significance and defiance. The chaotic mercilessness of songs like Teacher, Teacher! and On The Top is magnified by the choking late-afternoon heat, but in vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk, they have a rare talent with the salve to balance her severity. Inevitably, righteous rage wins out in the end, as Pisces and the painfully poignant Home Back see the Donetsk crew roar off with a stirring prog-metal warcry. (SL)

Photo: Katja Ogrin

Bury Tomorrow, Ronnie James Dio Stage

When Bury Tomorrow returned to the stage at last September’s Slam Dunk Leeds, it felt like they had something to prove. Having parted ways with guitarist and clean vocalist Jason Cameron over lockdown, the Southampton collective’s expensive production and puff-chested bravado bore the hallmarks of young men uncertain what the future held. In comparison, their appearance at Bloodstock has the air of a band who know they’re killing it. The high-sheen metalcore of thumpers like Black Flame and Cannibal might feel a little out of place as the run-in to black metal legends Dimmu Borgir and Mercyful Fate, but it’s to their booming credit that they more than hold their own. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Mercyful Fate, Ronnie James Dio Stage

Despite hitting the road for the first time in 23 years, Mercyful Fate have been at pains to stress that this current run is not a reunion, but rather the Danish icons picking up right where they left off. In one sense that doesn’t quite do justice to the sheer sense of occasion this evening, with a massive neon inverted cross and ram’s-head pentagram the focal points for a high-theatre showcase that dwarves frontman King Diamond’s solo headliner back in 2013.

In another, though, there are none of the rusty trappings of the nostalgia act here, with the interplay between King and guitarist Hank Shermann still razor-sharp after all this time, while occult classics like Curse Of The Pharaohs and Doomed By The Living Dead remain utterly timeless. Word has it that new music is on the horizon. On tonight’s evidence, young pretenders like Ghost should consider themselves warned that the old masters are back for their throne. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Malevolence, S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage

When Hatebreed were forced to pull their Saturday S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage headline show, Malevolence posted a brilliant video of them ‘taking the call’ from Jamey Jasta, asking them to fill in. They look like heirs apparent to the beatdown throne tonight. In many ways, this late-night showing is a well-oiled repeat of the shit-kicking carnage that anyone who caught them at Download or Outbreak will already have witnessed, with established bangers and fresh cuts from third album Malicious Intent mashed to pit-busting perfection. It feels significant, though, that Bloodstock’s staunchly ‘metal’ patrons so enthusiastically throw themselves into the fray for the hardcore-inflected likes of Self Supremacy and The Other Side – and a vindication, perhaps, of Malev’s long-time insistence that they are simply a different kind of metal band.

A cameo from Lorna Shore’s Will Ramos on Karma further reaffirms that next-gen attitude. Oh, and as well as all that, the Sheffield supremos can also lay claim to the festival’s finest merch: a T-shirt branded ‘Delicious Intent’ with their sound displayed as a broken-down burger. Perfect for biting into with broken teeth. (SL)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

SundayVended, Ronnie James Dio Stage

There’s something to be said for Vended’s unapologetic willingness to learn from the best. The Des Moines young guns (featuring the sons of Shawn Crahan and Corey Taylor) find themselves playing under the glare of the midday sun, and respond with a rabid performance that – sonically, at least – awakens fond memories for those who were around to catch Slipknot the first time out. In everything from claw-hammer riffs and psyche-straining atmospherics to the vocal and percussive patterns of Griffin Taylor and Simon Crahan, songs like Ded To Me and Burn My Misery feel like they could be lost cuts from the Iowa era – awesomely losing little from that impossibly lofty comparison. And though there is just a little too much polish in their not-quite-masked visual presentation and Griffin’s arena-ready chat between songs, there is an authentic rage at the heart of Asylum and Antibody that leaves the field-filling crowd intrigued to see how these kids will use the tools they’ve inherited to tell their own bloody-minded story. (SL)

Photo: Katja Ogrin

Heriot, S.O.P.H.I.E. Stage

Brutally loud and devastatingly heavy from the outset, Heriot are even more savage than the sun outside the tent this afternoon. Having seemingly spent the past year never more than about three feet away from a stage, the Birmingham quartet's grinding metal din has become a perfectly-drilled attack capable of delivering a knockout from a standing start. With their ultra-heavy blasts of grindcore, frantic, stabbing Code Orange-ish chugs and Debbie Gough's hands-on-fire guitar shredding, they are a masterclass in razor-sharp metal. When the post-metal bits arrive, it's only a temporary respite, a gap in the mayhem before delivering another sonic rugby tackle, stomping across the stage in a melee of barely-controlled energy. Whoever takes them out on tour next is going to have to work very hard to keep up. (NR)

Photo: Katja Ogrin

Killing Joke, Ronnie James Dio Stage

"We are at the beginning of World War Three!" grins Jaz Coleman as his opening gambit tonight before Killing Joke have played a note of music. Later on, he'll raise his eyebrows and warn that come winter "the shop shelves will be empty", and buzzkill everyone excited by the announcements of next year's line-up that, "This time next year we'll all be radioactive waste."


There are some in attendance who find Killing Joke's addition to the bill jarring. But Jaz Coleman was wearing make-up onstage long before Dark Funeral or Behemoth (and to much more genuinely unsettling effect), while stories of the band's occult activities would make Dimmu Borgir's hair curl. And anyway, in the wings stage right, Randy Blythe spends the whole set taking photos and enthusiastically bobbing his head to Pandemonium, a prescient Wardance, an aggressive rendition of The Wait and the frankly transcendent The Death And Resurrection Show. The endearing lack of slickness as they tune between songs is the negative of the mania within the manic I Am The Virus and bullish Loose Cannon, with Jaz looking like his eyes might pop out of his head at any moment.

"Take drugs! Take drugs!" he mantras at one point. God knows what Killing Joke's wild ceremony must look like to anyone who's on one, but even without playing Love Like Blood, Killing Joke still perform like they're last band to play at the end of the world. (NR)

Photo: Steve Dempsey

Lamb Of God, Ronnie James Dio Stage

It’s hard to breathe for those who dare to go anywhere near the front of Lamb Of God’s Sunday night headline set. So unstoppable is the circle-pit that the thick fug of grimy dust whipped into the air hangs there for the full hour-and-a-half that the Virginian NWOAM legends are onstage. Not that it deters anyone from going completely apeshit, of course.

Even with revered guitarist Willie Adler absent (Vio-lence’s Phil Demmel ably standing-in), they draw the biggest audience of the weekend, and duly knock them on their asses with a set that takes in everything from the rampant Ruin and Vigil to more bludgeoning latter-day cuts like 512 and Resurrection Man. The stone-cold viciousness of Walk With Me In Hell, Now You’ve Got Something To Die For and Omerta remains the bar for truly heavy large-scale festival sets like this. And, although they miss an open goal by failing to throw in Blacken The Cursed Sun at the end of an utterly scorched weekend, Randy Blythe's dedication of a climactic Redneck to the late Sophie and Sylvia Lancaster is apt proof of the heart and humanity beneath the heaviness that this great gathering is really all about. (SL)

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