When the line-up was announced for this year’s 9th chapter of the Hard Rock Hell journey there were the usual naysayers but to be fair it’s the same for every festival…
However one thing that topped everything was the show of solidarity when the devastating news of the Paris attacks at the Eagles of Death Metal gig came through and a minute’s silence was observed on all the stages for those taken in such a cruel way. Well done to Jonni Davis, Festival organiser, for making this happen and to all the rockers who united as one.
So Hard Rock Hell, 2 1/2 days of great music at the Haven site in Pwlheli and it’s a good job that all the stages are indoor as it seems that Hurricane Barney might be gatecrashing the gig, indeed it did get rather wet over the weekend but we didn’t let that mar the feeling round the stages. Even the outdoor bar between the stages got a fair hammering by the thirsty rockers if not by Barney.
With everybody suitably oiled after the mandatory post arrival beer session it’s time to head down to the stages for tonight’s session and looking at the line-up it seems to be an Off Yer Rocka showcase with everyone apart from Zakk Wylde being on their label.
Opening sets can be hard but The Screaming Eagles absolutely nailed theirs as the Belfast lads fuelled by buckfast and Belfast grit pulled out all the stops and reeled out song after song from their debut self-titled album and the successful follow-up ‘Stand Up To Be Counted’.
They play no nonsense rock and roll and are often likened to AC/DC which is not a bad thing, Chris Fry’s vocals ride high above Adrian’s gutsy riffy guitar work and with standout tracks like ‘Screaming Eagles’ and ‘Breaking All The Rules’.
A nod to the blues with ‘Bow Down To The Blues’ slows down the set a bit whilst their single ‘Rock And Roll Soul’ brings the set to a glorious end. They have definitely made loads of new fans this weekend.
The reformed Trucker Diablo, who after a year or so break have come back at full speed with a new album ‘Rise Above The Noise’ and hammer out a set that included a number of the tracks which have a slightly more focussed rock style and kept the crowd suitably rocked up.
Scottish rockers Attica Rage, long time members of the OYR label, brought a tight and powerful set of old school British rock to the stage. Jonny Parr belts out the thundering vocals and chief shredder Stevie Bell hammers of the riffs and searing leads licks as they blast through a set that included songs across their albums and one of my favourites ‘Killer
Headliners Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society exploded onto the stage and played one of the sets of the weekend. Never the shy retiring type Zakk takes his usual place centre stage and makes use of his raised platform as he rips out solo after solo in a set that kicked off with ‘The Beginning At Last’ from his first album ‘Sonic Boom’.
As the hours moved on, and the drink flowed, the ferocious Massive Wagons picked up the weary bodies left from the Zakk Wylde set and pumped them full or Rock and Roll as Barry Mills and the band worked their riffs.
They are hard hitting, heavy rocking, and give 110% in set that not only holds the crowd but whips them up for a final blast of head banging. Barry swings the mic stand around as he delivers his raw vocals and hard riffing from Adam and Carl fills the air with screaming guitars, ‘Black Witch’ shows all this off and as does the semi-radio friendly ‘Red Dress’. Look out for their latest album due out next year.
With both stages in action today it meant choices had to be made and unfortunately due to the timings most of my time was spent over on stage 1 with only a few trips to see the stage 2 bands.
Stage 2 with its HRH Riffage theme kicked off with a band that are currently taking the scene by storm, Bigfoot. Antony Ellis definitely comes from the Jack Black school of frontmen as he puts on an in-your-face show with a great vocal sound to back it up. Add to this guitarist Sam Millar who throws all the moves and you get a full on assault of great rock music.
Next up was a band I was really looking forward to, Dukes of Bordello, a tight three-piece with a nice twist of a double bass which Sion Bailey has all over the stage as he hammers out the thumping bass line. I would definitely recommend getting a copy of their EP ‘Skullduggery’.
Stage 1 today was Southern Rock and kicked off with a great set from the latest Off Yer Rocka signings Thirteen Stars, Even though they are Cumbrian based they have the style and drawl of the southern rock they play.
Following them was a last minute addition to the line-up Tax The Heat, who we have seen on many occasions amd who are really starting to hit the big stages and get noticed. They have a really good bluesy rock sound and Alex Veale adds great vocals. Plenty of guitars and thumping bass shown off well on ‘Fed To The Lions’.
Next, two great bands we had seen a few days before HRH and looking forward to seeing them again. Crobot – 70’s psychedelic rock with a distinctive heavier sound, waves of wah wah and hammering bass lines – hit you one after another as Brandon teases and writhes around his mic stand.
Known for his energetic stage show he usually ends up on the rigging or speaker stacks but thankfully he didn’t have chance today although they did manage the Crobot tower. Standout tracks like ‘The Legend Of The Spaceborn Killer’ and ‘Chupacabra’ show of their style very well and the whole sound is awesome.
Scorpion Child have a stage presence that suggests they’ve been around for a lot longer than they have, frontman ‘Aryn’ uses every inch of the stage and his body as he delivers the vocals in what I can only describe as one of the best rock voices I have heard in a long time, clean and rough where needed.
‘Kings Highway’, a slow burner that has deep bass lines running through it and ‘Polygon of Eyes’ again sees the deeps riffs come through as the thick driving beat leads into searing guitar licks.
Superb set and overall I do think these were two of the best bands all weekend. In fact I was surprised that Toseland was put on between them as unfortunately they did not hit the spot for me.
Founders of German melodic speed metal Helloween are now celebrating their 30th anniversary. With two original members, Michael Weikath and Markus Grosskopf, and fronted by vocalist Andi Deri they give a full on show.
Headliners, the mighty UFO have had a busy year following the release of ‘A Conspiracy of Stars’ in February. Phil Mogg and Vinnie Moore revel in sharing the front of stage as they work the crowd through a set that can only be termed as the ‘classic UFO’.
‘We Belong To The Night’, ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ were only topped by ‘Rock Bottom’ and ‘Doctor Doctor’ to end a great set and great night of music on stage 1.
For the last time today we headed over to stage 2 for the awesome Black State Highway whom we have seen many times now. They have a great bluesy rock sound topped by Liva Steinberga’s amazingly powerful rock/bluesy voice.
They soon have the crowd up as they hit them with ‘Aint Got No’ and the slow burner ‘Broken’ which has a great guitar intro, the whole band are tight and with a compelling groove. Ending the set and our night with the hard rockin ‘Trouble’ yet again they have showed how good they are and gained yet more fans.
Saturday and its Stage 1 Northern Hell and Stage 2 NWOBHM, Doom and Metal so plenty to choose from for everyone. Looking over the bands there are some obvious not to miss ones, Saxon and Black Spiders to name a couple but also some that will definitely split the crowd. On stage 2 Rock Goddess and Glam rockers Faster Pussycat both gave good performances but didn’t quite hit the spot.
Like last year More2012 opened up stage 2 and blasted the hangovers away with a tight set from these veterans of NWOBHM, Chris Tsangarides whipped up some great riffs on his signature guitar whilst Mike Freeland was in great form on vocals. Classic ‘More’ tracks ‘Warhead’ and ‘We Are The Band’ are timeless and still sound as good today as they did way back in 1981.
Again stage 1 took my focus for today but I managed to catch some of the early bands on stage 2 and was particularly impressed by some classic metal from Chariot and a great set from Sky Valley Mistress.
Pig Iron have made the switch from stage 2 last year and open the main stage this year with a hard hitting rock sound with plenty of harmonica to lift their sound. Described as ‘biker rock’ you can imagine the chicken wire up in front of the stage to stop the bottle’s and glasses from the fighting crowds.
On stage 1, King Of The North are a band I have been looking forward to for a while now and when I heard they were touring Europe I was hoping to finally catch them live.
Hailing from Australia, Andrew Higgs and Danny Leo take the two-piece style and fill the stage with sound and it makes you wonder where the hell it all comes from. Danny Leo – who only 2 weeks earlier had his appendix out - batters his drum kit into submission while Andrew makes 1 guitar sound like 2 with thick fuzzy riffs and searing highs.
‘It’s Been Too Long’ is simply a great song and really shows then at their best and ‘More Than You’ll Ever Know’ sees them slowing things down a bit but still awesomely powerful. One of my best of the weekend and also a lot of others judging by the amazing crowd reaction at the end of the set.
‘FU Black Spiders’ was being chanted even before the Black Spiders took to the stage and I truly believe that it’s only a matter of time before they get a worth headline set at HRH.
True the band are all a bid mad but aren’t we all and they certainly put on a high energy show with maximum riffage and lyrics laced with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Unfortunately I only caught a few songs of Colour Of Noise which is a pity as I’ve been following vocalist Matt Mitchell for a while now and really liked his work with FuryOn. He really is a standout vocalist now with this new band I’m looking forward to seeing them again.
Over on stage 2 Lawless had a hard slot to fill as they were on at the same time as Saxon but they managed to hold a great crowd. Stoke-based they tend towards the melodic/AOR side of rock, with the likes of Neil and Paul from Demon in their line-up they certainly have the right calibre of musicians.
Now with a second guitarist alongside Howie they have that thicker twin guitar mix that works so well. Most of the set came from last year’s album Rise including the awesome ‘Heavy Metal Heaven’ to end the set. Tabbie powers out some thundering bass lines as he keeps up with the relentless solos from Howie. Such a pity I only caught a few songs again.
There are not many times that they need to stop access to stage 1 but tonight it’s at full capacity for the most anticipated set of the weekend. Saxon are another of those bands that are not letting age get in the way of making music and as they approach their 40th year of playing they don’t show any signs of tiring.
Young and old (er) fans alike line the barrier as Biff and crew run us through a set of good, old-fashioned British heavy metal. ‘Motorcycle Man’ and ‘747’ sees the crowd singing along as Doug Scarratt and Paul Quinn pump out riff and riff, Biff never one to take it easy is nearly wind-milling as much as bassist Nibbs Carter. The crowd are loving the set and with an encore that included the anthemic ‘Denim And Leather’ it definitely lived up to expectations.
Over on stage 2 and we end the weekend with a damn fine band that I have seen a few times over the last few months; Chase The Ace mix raw passion and huge riffs with a hair metal glam side to put on a really great show.
Originally from Israel they are now London-based and are destined to make it if not by their great music but then the amount of effort they put in. Frontman and guitarist Roi Vito Peleg spends time on the barrier with the willing crowd before getting them all to sing back the title track from their upcoming album ‘Hell Yeah’, what a way to end a superb weekend.
Yet another great event, with some really outstanding sets, and a few disappointments as you might expect.
Roll on the 10th Anniversary next year, HRH X, which is already pretty much sold out and not even a single band has being announced.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk was streamed on Sunday 20 December., imbued with a festive flavour to raise the spirits
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UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 20 December 2020 and includes Pete’s best of the year selections
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