HRH Metal 11th/12th February 2017 – Birmingham O2 Academy

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Another chapter of the HRH chronicle unfolds; this time spreading its metallic wings over the spiritual home of heavy metal… Birmingham. The HRH crew laid waste to the city for the weekend, and partied like it was nineteen eighty something…

Opening the set to a stacked house on day one, South Londoners SENSER fired up the alt-rap infused metal superbly; and although they’ve been back together for a couple of years now, it seemed to many as if they had never been away. An hour crammed full of classics from the ground-breaking Stacked Up debut album – Switch, Age Of Panic, Eject, and No Comply sound as fresh now as they did back in 1994. With a fantastic live sound and mix, anyone experiencing these guys for the first time must have been well and truly caught up in the party.

Elsewhere in the venue, a room dubbed Best of Brum and it was Ballsdeep that pummelled us with insane riffs and total metal carnage. Obviously favourites amongst the locals and already building a name for themselves, the Anselmo inspired visceral rasp of their frontman ensured the band took no prisoners.

Then to Def-Con-One in the bowels of the Academy 2. Heavy as hell drumming and precision riffing gave the Northern lads a fantastic sound which was met with evident joy by the responsive crowd.   For my tastes, the addition of a slightly heavier toned/deeper sounding vocalist would have strengthened their aural assault even more.

Now back to the main stage where UK thrash machine Evile were up next, entering to a packed house. Combining tunes from the thrash-tastic debut Enter the Grave through to latest offering Skull, the Huddersfield lads came here to bang some heads and wreck some necks. Although many were saddened by departure of original guitarist Ol Drake, ‘new’ axe man Piers Donno-Fuller fills the slot perfectly and helps contain the frantic impact the band deliver. A tight set, great sound, and not letting up the pace, these guys played hard and righteously deserve their place in the premier league of UK thrash metal. Closing the set with the aptly titled Thrasher the floor opened up into one large circle pit leaving the question as to whether tonight’s headliners would be able to follow that.

With a showman like Benji Webb at the helm, Skindred can fit on any bill, anywhere, and they were never more at home than here. Arriving on stage limping as if wounded, the Welsh frontman catapulted the rammed to capacity venue into cyber party mode. Mixing elements of serious rock connotations amongst between-song banter show the strengths this guy carries. Everybody knows Skindred and tonight it was their party. Commanding the crowd, letting them eat from right out of his hand, and propelled by a band delivering energy and charisma, this was the Saturday night many people wish for each weekend. Ragga Metal rocked Birmingham tonight, and there were a lot of happy punters leaving with huge smiles. The HRH team had once again successfully completed stage one of the mission.

HRH is more than just a gig-fest, there’s a social aspect to the weekend and a range of merch stalls to peruse; and with the opening of day two the mood was a little quieter at first as this really came to the fore as people took the opportunity to catch up with the kind of familiar faces you somehow only meet at occasions like this.

Back with the music, Primital warmed the main stage punters with their mix of classic metal, turning heads as they drew a selection of songs from their back catalogue of releases. Winterfylleth created quite a buzz with their set.  Not only because of the excruciating black metal resonance they created but by remaining rooted to the spot throughout the entire performance, sounding as primitive as any of their Norwegian contemporaries and forcibly grabbing the attention of fans of that genre. The crowd lapped it up.

Tonight though it was Hell who completely stole the show. The band\’s entire performance is based on solid musicianship and superbly delivered vocals courtesy of David Bower whose stage presentation could see him Oscar nominated. This is a SHOW. Drawing creatively from both Human Remains and Curse And Chapter and centring around the awe inspiring stage show of props and interesting characters Hell once again left no stone unturned with a truly satisfying performance. Ravenously lapping up their output the crowd would have had them play all night.

Lawnmower Deth however, dealt a totally different hand. What they lacked in musical technicality and songs, they made up for in buffoonery. Clowning around, fucking things up, and mostly out of time (especially noted during the songs from the classic Metal Duck split LP) the main arena loved them. Spoofs and jokes padded amongst a loosely executed set won them new fans, whereas back in the 80’s they were amongst one of the freshest bands on the UK circuit, so it is nice to see people wanting to be a part of that era.

For the diehard metallers though, this weekend was all about Sodom. German Teutonic Thrash Metal – and it went over big time. Circle pits, crowd surfing, and plenty of head banging this was how it used to be. Ripping out cult favourites Sodomy and Lust, Nuclear Winter, Bombenhagel, Ausgebombt, and many more it was a set to please old schoolers and new fans both. Blasting through their 1987 cover of Iron Fist (not as a passing trend or fad like many other wanna-be rockers, but because they have always been lifers and true to the cause) and giving it a truly abrasive edge proved another golden tune from the back catalogue, greatly appreciated by the rabid horde. Although the stage seemed bare, with absolutely no gimmicks or back drops, Sodom came here to thrash, and that is exactly what they did. Tom Angelripper and crew took no nonsense as they pulverised the manic Birmingham crowd. What a way to close HRH Metal, here’s to the next edition, but until then it’s Hammerfest and HRH United in March. Cheers!  Mark Freebase.

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