Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2021
Catton Park, Derbyshire
11th – 15th August 2021
Review by Jack Merry
Photography by Rebecca Bush
After a tumultuous year and a half because of the global pandemic, Bloodstock Open Air finally returns to the hallowed grounds of Catton Park in Derbyshire, much to the delight of several thousand metalheads; either returning after attending for many years or making it their first Bloodstock Festival (like myself). What makes it extra special this year is that Bloodstock is celebrating 20 years since the first festival, headlined by this year’s main stage hard rock stalwarts Saxon!
While the festival didn’t go completely to plan, with a few Covid casualties causing last-minute drop-outs, rearranging, and additions, it’s clear Bloodstock Open Air 2021 was an undeniable success any way you look at it. Crowds in their thousands gathered to celebrate the return of live music on a large scale, much beer was drunk, and friends and strangers alike hugged, danced, and moshed their way through the many bands over the weekend.
With five days of heavy metal music across four stages this year’s edition is the biggest Bloodstock ever, so let’s get stuck in, shall we?
Wednesday 11th August 2021
I awoke really early on Wednesday morning, ridiculously excited for my first taste of live music. I gathered my things and headed to Dartford station to catch the train to London Victoria, then I caught the coach from Victoria all the way to Catton Park for my first ever Bloodstock Festival. With a coach full of tired yet excitable metalheads, we descended on the festival site in a little over three hours travel time, and once we arrived we joined the mammoth queues to get in.
Once in, the phone signal was dire, as is normally the case at festivals, so it took me a while to find my friends in Midgard. After walking around for a little while, I found one of my friends in the queue for Fat Frank’s Camping Shop and we exchanged hugs; something we haven’t been able to do for eighteen months. After cracking open a couple of cans once I was settled in and my tent was up, my friend took me on a quick tour of the site as I’d never been before and showed me the different food stalls and various activities on-site, including ax-throwing, a games centre, and mini-fun fair. Something that was immediately apparent was the friendly vibe that everybody gave off, and it helped kickstart my festival the right way.
First up on the Sophie Lancaster Stage, a progressive death metal band from Dorset by ANAKIM (3/5) brings their strong performance and Lovecraftian themes to kick off Bloodstock with a bang. While not a packed tent, as large crowds of people were still arriving and setting up camp (I myself managed to catch the start of their set with about forty minutes or so to spare after the long queues to get in), but the support that was there was really solid.
While not for me, the band’s latest album The Elysian Void is well worth a listen. As the first band to play at Bloodstock Open Air 2021, Anakim are incredibly ecstatic and hungry, performing with fire in their bellies and a lot to prove. With the weight of the world on their shoulders and immense pressure, they deliver an impressive set of their unique spin on Lovecraftian death metal to a delighted crowd. A quick wave of euphoria washes over me as the bass is pounding in my chest. Live music is back, and it’s incredibly exciting!
WARD XVI (3.5/5) was up next, pushing Alice Cooper-style theatrics through a symphonic metal filter to deliver a solid performance that the crowd seemed to really enjoy. Their set dressing was really quite something to behold, with an upright bed as the centerpiece, and the rest of the stage adorned like an asylum. Each member of the band represents a character within the asylum, and the audience are simply other inmates, gathered to watch the insanity.
Psychoberrie (vocals), Doktor Von Stottenstein (guitars, vocals), Wolfy Huntsman (bass, vocals), Bam Bam Bedlam (drums), Martt Attack (keyboards) give everything they have as they have to wittle down their entire concept to a thirty-minute show, and they largely succeed. A little more variety in the music would have put them up a notch, but there’s only so much they can do in the short time frame they had.
RAISED BY OWLS (3/5) musically were not for me, but seemed to have a large following showing their support and delivered a set high on entertainment value. With the exception of vocalist Sam Fowler in his shiny spandex trousers and an 80’s style Chris Witty t-shirt, Raised By Owls were dressed in just t-shirts and jean shorts, for the most part, allowing their stage show, banter, and props to do the talking.
Mr. Blobby made an appearance wielding a giant dildo, and there was an enthusiastic circle pit to commemorate Barry Chuckle while the ChuckleVision theme played over the speaker system. Great fun all around, and the crowd was lapping up every second! With humourous song titles such as ‘The Cult of David Dickinson,’ ‘Ainsley Harriott Advises You to Give Your Meat a Good Ol’ Rub,’ and ‘Noel’s Haunted House Party,’ Raised By Owls waste no time in delivering a blistering set, with each song barely hitting the two-minute mark. The music may not be for me, but an energetic performance dripping in humour definitely wins some points.
BEHOLDER (4/5) were much more my scene, delivering thick slabs of sludgy stoner metal akin to bands such as Crowbar and Down. I found out that vocalist Simon Hall runs the Metal 2 The Masses battle of the bands competition; a competition to get unsigned bands to play at Bloodstock each year, which is really cool and deserves a lot of respect. Having released three full-length albums over their career; the most recent of which, 2016’s Relfections, had been relatively well-received by fans and critics alike.
The music hits like a freight train after being hit around the head with a brick, and it’s all the better for it. While not always fast as the band settle into a mid-tempo groove, it is heavy. Incredibly heavy. Doom metal fans will absolutely love their music. Not so much to be said about attire here, but they let the music shake the audience to their very core. The vocalist gave a great performance and the band was very tight, but sadly this was to be their last show. Beholder is no more.
Closing out the Sophie Stage, headliners ONSLAUGHT (4.5/5) delivered a relentless ten-song thrash set that included ‘Strike Fast Strike Hard,’ ’66fucking6,’ and ‘The Sound of Violence.’ The excitement and atmosphere within the Sophie tent on the first night was ready to erupt as set closer ‘Religiousuicide’ steamrolled full throttle towards its climax, and the band was having a fantastic time being back playing; interacting with the legions of metal fans gathered to see them.
A cacophony of explosive solos, razor-sharp riffs, pummeling drums, and piercing vocals rang out as the first day of live music for many in a year and a half came to a close. It felt like anything was possible after their set. A delighted crowd starts to filter out from the Sophie Lancaster tent after having their faces melted by Onlaught’s relentless brand of thrash metal.