Hard 'n' Heavy Fest 8: Return of the Rock - Abertillery, The Doll's House - 19th/20th June Print E-mail
Written by Gaz E (with Elaine Niblett)   
Friday, 26 June 2015 03:00

Remarkably in its eighth year, the Hard 'n' Heavy Fest, brainchild of grizzled old spud Vinnie Buckingham, is living, breathing, fist-pumping, horn-throwing, head-banging proof that little acorns and pipe dreams can grow into mighty oaks and lose themselves in denim 'n' leather-smeared wet dreams.

 

Surely, when planning the debut HnH eight years ago, this goat-like man-thing could never have imagined that, in 2015, he would be heading up a much-loved ensemble like Two Bucks Rock Productions, have their name on a radio show, and have legions of wanton rock and metal fans hanging on every misspelt word of his oft-unintelligible social media posts. Now, of course, the pressure is on - the metal nation expects - so, happily, the eighth instalment of Hard 'n' Heavy hit almost every one of its marks at a canter.

 

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With the expected glut of band cancellations that usually accompanies an event such as this down to a minimum, thankfully, the band that pulled the festival-opening short straw, Black Emerald, actually benefitted from the disappearance of Freeway Mad from the Friday night bill. Going on a little later, thereby ensuring less of a Ghost Town feel to the ungodly stage time of the opening slot, the Reading three-piece smashed through an extended set that was more than heavy enough to shake the foundations of The Doll's House - now a bona fide contender for best venue of this size in the country - yet relaxed enough to have a little fun with what lay before them. These guys, with their progressive-tinged metal, are certainly ones to watch.

 

Peaking too soon was my only real concern as the one band that I was really looking forward to seeing over HnH's two days, Honeycomb Love, found themselves second on the bill of the opening night. The Leeds-based outfit truly are Manna from rock 'n' roll heaven for all Uber Rockers, a six-legged gutter-dirty beast that spits out killer tracks at will. There's the punch of The Wildhearts, the 'Licensed To Ill' cheeky suss of the Beastie Boys, and the spirit of '77 coursing through at least some of their collective veins. Had I seen the band of the weekend already at this early stage?

 

The buzz around the venue as darkness descended wasn't just down to the temperatures stage front. Making their live debut were Scarsun, the new band from former Fell On Black Days guitarist Matt Hall and Deathbullet/Black Tamanous drummer David Church, now only recognisable due to his Uber Rock shirt endorsement deal after turning himself into a curious mash-up of Fagin and the Wolfman. With a female vocalist, Jessica Irving, the dynamics have certainly shifted, but this was a quite glorious noise that bodes well for the future. Technically exquisite yet swathed in metallic melody, the excitement reserved for this new quintet is deserved.

 

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Peacemaker, DIE appear to have as much luck keeping guitarists as I have trying to balance a broom on my nose. The one that the band always manages to keep within its ranks is former Funeral For A Friend six-stringer, Darran Smith. For someone used to treading the boards of cavernous venues, Smith must be doing this purely for the love of it because his latest outfit have limited hope of ever making it out of venues the size of The Doll's House. Their material is solid, sometimes unspectacular, yet the delivery is always spirited and frontman Phil Lye always garners a healthy return when seeking out bouts of audience participation.

 

There was a bloke with Friday night headliners Ded Orse who I, at first, thought must have been their van driver or hanger-on: turns out he was the singer. I found this out when he took to the stage, opened his mouth, and unleashed this tooth-rattling cacophony that was part Clutch's Neil Fallon, part haunted foghorn. This band is awesome, its sound a monstrous chimera of stoner rock and blues metal, dirty post-grunge epicness dripping from its every pore. "Up the Orse!" went the chant from crowd members already sure of aching necks come Saturday morning, yet not giving the proverbial fuck nonetheless. Could the Friday night have ended in any harder a fashion? Not a chance.

 

With the time it takes me to ease myself into my silver spandex and crimp my mullet as I get older, I knew I wasn't going to make it to the early stages of Hard 'n' Heavy's second day. I needed a Number Two, and Elaine Niblett was on hand to wipe away any fears of missing out on reviewing all the bands...

 

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Starting off Saturday's all day music festivities were the fantastic Beneath The Divine. These guys are great friends of Two Bucks and Uber Rock and are ever helpful when needed for a gig. Opener 'Phoenix Rising' is always well received, even if there were few in at that point of the day! However, everyone enjoyed it and at least they had some practice with a bit of audience participation! The band also gave first outings to tracks from their soon-to-be-released EP - 'Broken Man' was one, proving that this will be well worth the wait. (EN)

 

Next on the bill was the young Gloucester band, Live Rounds, with Rosie Roo belting out their setlist with a fine set of vocals. They also provided us with a new song and we were treated to 'One Left In The Chamber' before they finished off with 'Build Me Up Buttercup', a much better rendition than the original! Hats off to these guys who have done many gigs for Two Bucks, this their second of three gigs in 24 hours... BAD Nathan!! (EN) 

 

Fury blessed us with their stage performance next, also having another gig to go off to afterwards. There is little to be said about these, apart from fantastic and more, more, more!! They just blow everyone away with not only their music but their stage shenanigans too, such vocal and visual professionals. Jake treated us to a bit of a solo spot, showing his rather great guitar skills. There were few that didn't join in with most of the setlist - just awesome. (EN)

 

We Come From Ashes were up next; venturing from The Forest of Dean and Gloucester, these lads just ooze metal! From opening gigs they are now worthy of headlining shows themselves and just go from strength to strength. Josh has gained so much strength in his vocals and together they are just a solid crew. I think we all need to keep an eye on these guys in the coming future! (EN)

 

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Freshly talcum powdered into my distinct strides, and with my hair looking like it belonged in a Whitesnake video from the late Eighties, I took my place at the bar (Diet Tizer with an umbrella in it please, handsome barman!) to watch the band that caused me to take such care in my appearance - you can't just turn up looking like you're wearing a shitty wig when those bleak Doomchild mofos are in town. Tim Evans might look like he's about to swing his bass guitar around his neck, Cinderella's Eric Brittingham-style, at any moment but, in reality, he is on a never ending quest to find that one note that will cause every audience member to evacuate their bowel there and then. The shift to one guitar is hardly noticeable, with axe-slinger Kev Stait laying out slabs of solemn riffmongery as big as his gusset. This band is sweaty proof that you can practice once a year and still be awesome...

 

I was not familiar with the musical wares of Bitter Divide before they took to The Doll's House stage - more fool me as this Andover fist of a band threw out a hard-hitting set that bruised with its polished delivery. Equal parts pulsing metal and stadium-ready rock, this band benefits greatly from the vocals of frontman Mojo and the singer had the bar staff pressed against the glass-filled shelves as he bellowed through the band's fine set.

 

Stepping in at the eleventh hour to replace the missing Left For Red, Mordrake turned in a great set that will have no doubt assured the Bristol-based outfit a wealth of new admirers. The band's dark, melodic metal was fronted by the intense Jamie Drake and, even though they had their former bass player filling in, the performance was a frenetic fusion of technical prowess and potent proto-gloom, the resulting sonics the conduit to a welcome musical victory.

 

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There was so much love for Exeter-based metallers Codex Alimentarius in the building that they could have taken to the stage wearing the hides of the audience members' immediate family and still be afforded a mighty reception. With three guitars, the band threatens to be the technical metal version of Leatherwolf but, even though the clinical precision of the delivery sometimes leaves my punk rock heart cold, it's difficult not to be impressed by the confidence and professionalism on display. By the time they get to their final song, 'Baptised', there are members of the crowd willing to partake in such a ceremony, but using the band members' urine rather than holy water.

 

Bless that aforementioned black heart of mine, for it was to swell almost immediately in conjunction with the appearance of Among The Dead. These guys had just the one guitar but were louder than every other band of the weekend combined, their upscaling of vintage thrash the heady mix of metal and punk needed to bring the sounds out of the music schools and back into the garage. Gavin Robinson remains the kind of frontman that everyone wants in their band, his ability to speak in tongues, punch guns, and keep shit-eating grins on the faces of punters a Hell-given gift. With his former Fell On Black Days bandmate, Shaun Hodson, now bringing (that's "bringing") up the rear, there is no stopping this formidable outfit.

 

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Old goat Vinnie, bless him, likes to keep everyone happy, so a Special Guest Headliners slot was created to follow headliners proper, ATD; the spot filled by Cambion. Now, these devilish Devonians include a couple of members of Codex Alimentarius in their band line-up but, even though they are a self-described mix of technical and progressive metal, their sound is that little bit rawer, making them much easier on these auditory canals. It would take something that little bit above and beyond convention to give Hard 'n' Heavy 8 the send off it thoroughly deserved, and Cambion pretty much provided it.

 

Where can the Hard 'n' Heavy Fest go from here? Put it this way, if it stays exactly the same I'll still be there every year, warning my ears that they are going to need a day or two to recover, and warning my voice that it'll be lost for at least forty-eight hours after being shouted over the musings of molten metal muthas.

 

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[Photos by Ashlea Matthews: https://www.facebook.com/AshleaBeaPhotography]

 

[Scarsun photo by Rhian Thomas: https://www.facebook.com/InWonderlandPhotographyUk]