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HRH METAL: O2 Academy Birmingham 17th & 18th Feburary 2018. Day one

Welcome to Birmingham, the birthplace of heavy metal! And what better location to run a three day metal festival.

Now in its second year the canny HRH crew thought, how about we let the fans decide what bands they want to see and enjoy, so an online voting system was set up on the HRH page and after an overwelming response. HRH METAL was born, three days and three performance stages of non stop metal in different genres: thrash, death, speed even folk, it’s all there and more, to headbang, pogo, or frankly just go mental to. And every band chosen by the fans.

First off I should mention I am not a great fan of death metal as being an old school headbanger I prefer to understand my lyrics and I’m afraid as hard as I try there is very little to understand in death And before I get crucified by the hordes of fans I do respect and appreciate the skill of what they do for their genre and after speaking to more than a few death singers over the weekend I have found out many are accomplished classical singers and now I know there are two styles: melodic, and extreme. The latter is the one I can’t get my head around. But I guess that’s the nature of the beast as not only are the lyrics unintelligible but most of the bands logos are like tv interference or magic eye pictures. (I’m joking)

Anyway for the purpose of this review I shall be judging the extreme death bands on stage prescence, crowd reaction and musical ability for the above reason.

Day 1: Saturday

For the start of the festival the first three bands were to seen in stage 2 poignantly called the best of Brum room: all to be local Midlands bands. Starting with Ashen Crown, formed in 2016 and winning Midlands battle of the bands in 2017, they draw their influences from many sub genres such as Pantera, Gojira, Lamb of God, and even Slayer, and for a first band the room was packed so these guys obviously had a big following. They entertained the crowd with a strong mixture of material which to me was more extreme death than anything but having played the new blood stage at Bloodstock last year you could tell they were pleased be here in Birmingham for their local fans and kept them happy.

The second band was Wrath Of the Gods, formed in late 2016 and quicky putting out an ep Witching Hour in July 2017 which was championed by Hard Rock Hell radio resulting in this, their first ever live appearance. This Birmingham four piece must have been very nervous but they showed none of it, paying homage to old school metalbands sounding maidenish at times and doing a very crowd pleasing cover of Children of the Damned. They crammed their forty minute set full of songs of fantasy and just good old fashioned metal. These guys are going places and later in the year are to play the Breaking Bands festival which I will also be reviewing. I look forward to seeing them again.

The problem with having three stages is that there are quite a few clashes so you have to pick and choose. I chose to see the first band to play the main stage today Collibus, a Manchester five piece formed in 2004: they play hard and heavy prog metal with attitude fronted by the sexy Gemma Fox with vocals to match showcasing many of the songs off their new album Trusting The Illusion and their 2014 album False Awakening which quickly sent them to places such as Download, Wacken, Sonisphere, and Bloodstock open air. They have a big fan base: one being none other than Brian May himself and apparently are the only metal band to have played a set in the House of Commons. They set the main stage alight and set a big bench mark to follow. I was lucky enough to have a chat with Gemma in the evening up in the balcony and said I would say hi to her in this review. Hope you’ve recovered now bless your heart you were exausted and unfortunately couldn’t stay to the end band. I was the dude in the leather hat. Hope to catch you on the road in the future.

Next on main stage were the subtly named Ballsdeep who describe themselves as aggressive not progressive, or the bastad sons of Pantera, I say think of a Black Sabbath groove with a black metal vocal. Their singer Rich (Bez) Beresford has an amazing vocal range and I really enjoyed the unique sound and feel of these guys .

And being black metal I understood the lyrics YAAAY.

Main stage the next band were someone I had been really looking forward to seeing. Formed in 2011 east end boys Monument play heavy metal just like the bands from thirty years gone by, heavy bass, melodic dual guitars, solid thunderous drum beats and awesome falsetto wails from ex White Wizzard vocalist Peter Ellis I was not disappointed and neither were the huge crowd.

A quick walk up the long stairs to the smaller stage in stage one to catch a little bit of the set of Cypher 16, not ever heard of these guys before despite being from London and formed way back in 2007. Having investigated more about them they have to be admired, not getting any recognition from their homeland they started putting out videos and soon got a big following from America and to their big surprise India, so instead of sitting around waiting for something to happen they quit the UK music industry and have made a name for themselves further afield. I walked in as their set started and soon realised why the big interest in the US, as they have a very Blink 182/Sum 47 vibe. The crowd that were there were enjoying what they did but they didn’t grab me too much and I was going back to the main stage to see someone pretty special next.

The pretty special band were Haerken, and the biggest crowd so far so I decided to watch from the balcony. Formed in 2012, this Birmingham melodic death metal ensemble just have to be seen live, with names like Laird Logan of Clan Gunn (The Scot) complete with kilt, on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Friar Tuck lookalike Vizegraf John Von Alexander on five string bass, vocals, sackbut, and whistle,.and Reverend Benjamin on drums, along with a harpist and woodwind players you just know you are in for something different. With songs of paganism and folklore complete with flag waver bag piper and a host of different people, they deliver what can be only described as pure theatre: an amazing performance from all involved, and when the laird sang a black metal version of Iron Maiden’s Ryme of the Ancient Mariner for the full fourteen minutes complete with sound effects the crowd went ballistic: the first mosh pit of the day and just blew myself and everyone away.

Decided to stay up in the balcony as the mosh pits had started and myself having to use a walking stick it was the best option: I wasn’t going to see the death bands so for me it was a bonus. I didn’t think that Haerken’s performace could be beaten but I was wrong: the band to follow them were The Dreadcrew of Oddwood. They had come all the way from California and were determined to give a good show. Their name tells you they sing a lot of songs associated with a pirate theme, now the creators of pirate metal were headlining tonight so there were a lot of people dressed as pirates and you can imagine it was pretty crowded as fans were wondering if they could compete. I can tell you now they did more than that. These guys play Folk and heavy metal along with traditional celtic music and and only play traditional acoustic instruments including accordian, bazouki, mandolin, and stand up bass. They sing in a comic fashion jumping hopping skipping and really enjoy themselves on stage and the minute they started they had the crowd loving every thing they did, another bigger mosh pit had the crowd jigging and dancing and laughing. Formed in 2008, to date they have four self-released albums: Reign the Helm 2009, Rocktopus (love the title) 2010, Heavy Mahogony 2012 and Lawful Evil 2016. Currently touring with tonight’s headliners ALESTORM, on their pirate fest tour. After seeing their fantastic set and performance I would say Alestorm, you may have invented pirate metal but the Dreadcrew are chasing your heels and are big competition, the best crowd reaction of the night so far.

The penultimute band of the night were Evil Scarecrow: originally from Lincoln but now based in Nottingham, formed in 2002 and I can’t believe they are still unsigned with a number of albums to their name it just goes to show that you that you don’t need some big name to sign you up to make a reputation for yourself. They are a comedy black thrash metal band and if you have never seen them live I won’t ruin it for you here. Just to say I never stopped laughing throughout their mad antics but despite being great comics they are all brilliant musicians in their own right. This was definitely one of the bands of the night and if you ever get a chance to see them you MUST, you will not be disappointed.

Finally the headliners Alestorm formed in 2004 originally as Battleheart, by lead singer Christoper Bowes and Gavin Harper they were first going to be just a power metal band but the huge success of a song Heavy Metal Pirates convinced them to adopt a pirate theme. They were eventually signed by Napalm Records and changed the name to Alestorm. Harper left in 2008 and after after a number of changes in band members they are now currently: Chris Bowes lead vocals, Keytar; Garreth Murdock bass; Peter Alcorn drums; Elliot Vernon keys, vocals, and Mat’e Bodor guitar. They experiment with all kinds of genres from thrash folk to death and black metal. The crowd was ready, the pirates, along with the bananas in pyjamas (yes you heard me right) the stage was ready complete with their legendary huge rubber duck (don’t ask) and then Bowes complete with kilt sandals and baseball cap and the rest of the band hit the stage. Mostof the songs were there The Battle of Cartagena ,the Sunken Norwegian and more, and as Bowes said that this was going to be a long set there are a lot of old songs going to be played and slow songs and if you don’t like them then F*ck you in his own jovial way. The mosh pit was as always with these guys mental, crowd surfing and overall pirate mayhem started and when the encore of Drink with the legendary chorus of “WE ARE HERE TO DRINK YOUR BEER” echoed throughout the venue it kept the poor staff on their toes. I am a big fan of Alestorm but tonight they didn’t blow me away, missing was Walk The Plank, one of my favourites and after seeing the Dreadwood guys and being spoiled by so many great bands and performances the whole day I’m afraid to say this was a bit of an anti climax.

I should mention by being in the balcony I missed other stages but while I was watching Haerken my partner and pro photographer Lady Gigger (the lady in the red top hat for anyone who saw her) told me to give a mention to one band she caught The Face Of Ruin in the best of Brum stage, their original lead vocalist Alex was in Germany so they replaced him at very short notice with not one but two leads Anthony Knight and Allen Dunbar of Gehtika one of whom was reading the lyrics from a songsheet (made an interesting photograph) they went down well so that’s all that mattered.

Day one over , ready for day two tomorrow.

Review by Dave Martin , & all photos by Carol Henson, aka Lady Gigger.


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Photos by Carol Henson

Review by Dave Martin