|HRH Metal – Birmingham, O2 Academy – 12 February 2017|
|Written by Rich Hobson|
|Tuesday, 21 February 2017 17:30|
Illness or no, the first day of HRH Metal proved to be a massively enjoyable event, highly successful across the board if the horde of happy metalheads filing out of the Academy on Saturday night is anything to go by. That leaves some very big shoes for the Sunday to fill, as the amassed throng of bands contend with hungover patrons, a heavier line-up and slight delays in set-times. Having spent all of Saturday at the Main Stage, it feels about high-time to get to exploring the smaller rooms of the Academy to see what they can offer to the HRH Metal experience. We arrive at the venue just in time to see Main Stage opener Pythia take to the stage. Too early in the day for operatic heavy metal (and adverse to my own tastes), we slink away to the third room of the venue to see the “Best of Brum”.
It is pleasing to see the local scene getting some dedicated exposure to the metal scene on the “The Best of Brum” stage. Many of the acts appearing have toured the country extensively, but are also stalwarts of local metal showcases like those put on by Hil’s Ovation. Eradikator are such a band, having previously appeared at the 2016 “Hil’s Ovation Metal Crusade” event. Much like Savage Messiah the day before, Eradikator take their sound from metal’s heyday.
The most obvious comparison (and one I used at the Metal Crusade) is to early Metallica, a muscular thrashing assault with riffs that can demolish walls. Upon second exposure though, new flavours begin to rear their head. Most notably, elements of Judas Priest at their heaviest shine through, showing that Eradikator are a band not only versed in the ways of thrash metal, but also in the local traditions of classic heavy metal. Playing to a heaving room, the band are clearly one of the day’s fan favourites and with good reason. Their sound speaks of the genre’s most sweeping and epic moments. Rather than sounding like a band finding their feet, Eradikator come out the gates fully formed and ready to bang heads.
Next up are Coventry’s Pelugion, a band rooted in the stoner and doom metal scene. A big shift in pace from the speedy metal assault of Eradikator, Pelugian are met with a warm reception nonetheless. Taking cues from the likes of Orange Goblin before them, Pelugion’s sound is a mixture of groove-laden stoner rock riffing and trudging doom metal riffs. The combination is a tried-and-true recipe for success and the band deploy it well.
With twenty minutes to go before the second stage opens after Pelugion finish, we head back into the main room to catch part of the Primitai set. If bands like Eradikator and Savage Messiah drink from the well of metal’s glory days, Primitai drink, bathe and live in it. Heavy metal in the grand tradition, the band plays big and bombastic. Guitars shriek and howl as solos fly thick and fast, whilst fist-pumping choruses call for greater participation.
Once again slipping away, we head up to the Academy 2 to catch that stage’s opening act, Fury. If every other small band on today’s list is doing their best to prove why they deserve to be there, Fury are the band most genuinely stoked to play. It’s impossible to not fall for a band absolutely loving every minute they have on-stage and Fury most definitely do. Each members beams and gurns his very best Joey Belladonna impression as the band blast through a set packed with songs culled from (where else?) the classical metal canon.
At any one point Fury can sound like Iron Maiden, Annihilator, Sabbat or Blitzkrieg, whilst still maintaining a modern metal edge that clearly separates them from the bands of old. Their sound is something culled from a love of the metal genre and the boys take to it with maximum gusto. Thanking the hardcore fans who make up much of the front row (including a man who has attended several of their last few shows) the band cement themselves as a band genuinely in love with what they do and the people who support them in doing it.
Sticking around in the second room, next up are Reign of Fury. Whilst Metallica or Slayer provide the sonic similarity to many of the new-guard of thrashers in the scene, Reign of Fury in the live arena resemble a hybrid of Megadeth and Metallica. The ubiquitous guitar solos of the former punctuate the set as the band blast through their own brand on new age vintage thrash metal, whilst big choruses and an authoritative live presence lends the band an air of Metallica’s clout. Longer than your average “thrash in three minutes or less” fare, the band are clear in their aspirations to be one of the UK metal scene’s most ambitious metal bands.
Headed back down to the main stage, we decide to check out Hell, who have recently been announced for this year’s Bloodstock Festival. One of the beauties of doing the festival circuit (as opposed to just going to see bands you follow) is the element of discovery inherent to the festival experience. Hell make for one heck of a discovery.
Literally from the opening notes of their set, the band drip pure theatricality, their sound culled from the moral-panic years where so much as a whiff of devilry could see your records burned en masse. Frontman David Bower makes full use of his theatrical background, his intonation and on-stage persona dropping somewhere between King Diamond, the Crypt Keeper and an end-of-days preacher. Accompanied by epic metallic leanings and striking visuals – Bower wears proto corpse paint and a crown of thorns and at one points collapses into self-flagellation at the climax of one song – Hell brush away the two-day music and drinking haze by playing up metal’s most brilliantly ridiculous elements.
“Brilliantly ridiculous” is also the perfect epithet for the next band on the main-stage, Nottingham’s Lawnmower Deth. The previous evening, Skindred built anticipation for their entrance by playing a ‘greatest hits’ compilation of some of the best rock, punk and metal songs ever put to record. In doing so, they said “we fit in with these bands, we are on their level”. Lawnmower Deth take a very different approach – “It’s time to start the music/It’s time to sing the songs...” Yep, Lawnmower Deth come on to the Muppets theme – and it only gets more mental from there.
Premier UK metal punk muppets, there’s something impossibly addictive about watching a live Lawnmower Deth show. Musically, the band bare more in resemblance to the short, sharp shocks of hardcore punk, but their pounding riffs paint them as a classic-style thrash band with a wicked sense of humour. There’s clearly something in the waters over in the East Midlands, Lawnmower Deth joining the ranks of Hell and Evil Scarecrow (and there’s a bill that needs to be, if ever there was one) as premier musical theatricality. But, where Hell are prime late-night horror theatre, Lawnmower Deth are a boozy panto at Christmas - fuelled on participation, fun and totally bizarre to watch.
Our initial plan is to watch half of the Lawnmower set, then head over to see the headlining set from the brilliantly demonic The Heretic Order, but once you start a Lawnmower Deth show, you can’t leave. Blasting through a series of the band’s biggest fan favourites (given a duck-pun makeover) including ‘Fat’, ‘Did You Spill My Pint?’ and ‘Urban Surfer 125’, the band can’t go wrong as they ham up the stage with some of the best entertainment in the business. Highlights include a splat-tastic stage prop brought on during sheep dip (dyeing one of the on-stage performers a fetching shade of claret) and an Academy-wide conga line that shows metalheads can do much more than just headbang or mosh.
To close off the inaugural HRH Metal event, we are offered a headline set by premier Teutonic thrash metal maniacs Sodom. While the ‘Big Four’ tag is often bandied around when discussing the thrash scene, it is important to remember that metal is a global phenomena. Crucial to this is the pre-eminence of acts like Sodom, who helped to build the genre to what it is today. The venue opens up as the band kick off with ‘In Retribution’, the opening song from their 2016 effort 'Decision Day'.
Flying at a hundred miles a minute, Sodom are thrash at its most furious, vocalist Tom Angelripper spitting lyrics out with venomous intent in a rasped snarl that makes the black metal scene sound like Ween. The thrash metal staples are all dropped straight on the audience like an Acme tonne, blazing guitar work crashing against a destructive wall of noise. Snarled, violent lyrics complete the image, but just when you figure you’ve got the band pegged they go and spoil it all by pulling out a howling cover of ‘Surfin Bird’ that sounds like Ministry and Butthole Surfers colliding headlong.
A band from the vanguard of thrash’s first assault on the musical world, Sodom are well-versed in how to whip a crowd up into a frenzy. There are no acoustical interludes where the band explore their more commercial sides; Sodom are a metal band through-and-through, cast-iron in their approach to tearing the audience a new one. ‘Agent Orange’, ‘M-16’ and ‘The Saw Is Law’ hold every bit as much significance as ‘Caught in a Mosh’, ‘Angel of Death’ or ‘Holy Wars...’, given an extra nasty level of depth borne from being outsiders away from the more commercial Bay Area/US scene.
British metal might make up a strong proportion of the HRH Metal event, but Sodom are a reminder that the scene outside of the UK is every bit as vibrant and exciting as that within our borders. With an incessant two-day assault drawn from the diverse corners of the metal canon, HRH Metal is an event that proves that not only does the scene have a future, but a past that still sounds vital and alive 30, 40, 50 years on from its first howling notes.
HRH Metal returns to the O2 Academy on 17/18 February 2018. Tickets are already selling fast.
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