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Live Report: HRH Metal II (Birmingham)

No wonder Birmingham was chosen to give home for this metal meeting as this city is the home of metal after all. Considering that it had been only a few weeks when Black Sabbath gave their final show to end it all, this meeting was here to represent where metal scene is nowadays, or at least a small segment of it. The gathering lasted for two days with three stages in the O2 Academy.

Saturday

Impressive and busy line-up characterised both days and despite the early 1pm start quite a lot of us turned up to check out the bands. The party-opener was the Best of Brum stage, where Burden of Noose kicked off the day with their combination on grind/sludge/doom. I have seen them as an opening band a few times before and always enjoyed it. Next up was a ferociously groovy death metal band, Bloodyard. A very young band with a female vocalist, of whom I hope I’ll hear more and have the chance to see again. I also managed to get a copy of their EP in the ladies toilet as copies of it were left on the sink. The reason is simple, there wasn’t a dedicated merch stand. Probably the strangest merch stand I’ve seen so far. Internal Conflict from Leicester was up next and it was only 3pm. Passionate, powerful, angry, energetic and a very promising hardcore band, who don’t take themselves too seriously. I just love when a band has this certain ’in your face’ attitude. Make sure you give their album The Rising Tide a spin.

Meanwhile Bearfist opened the mainstage. They only debuted live two years ago but to me they sounded like a band who already found their voice and path. Bearfist brings not much new to the table but what they do they already do it very well. They are worth banging your head to. Quick change in tune as Red Rum sails in and kicks off with their folk, booze and battle inspired metal. Now, despite their popularity and not being a fan of pirate-metal I unfortunately couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to. The members themselves were visually eye-catching with one seated guitarist, a vocalist wearing a frilly, black, sleeveless silk shirt with cargo shorts and the three guitarists sharing more strings among themselves than a string orchestra. Savage Messiah was a really nice surprise to me as I didn’t know them before. Heavy metal with a hint of thrash, beautifully executed.

On the upstairs stage the opening set was of Winter Storm. The five piece dark melodic metal band hails from the West Midlands and opened the stage with some beautiful melodies and some kick-ass bass riffs. I wasn’t planning to stay to see RSJ but ended up watching them and what a good decision it was! Brilliant live band and when John Loughlin from Raging Speedhorn jumped in to sing a duet with vocalist Dan Cook that was definitely a highlight of their set.

ragingspeedhorn3 - HRH Metal Birmingham by Vivien Varga

Back on the Best of Brum stage Vicious Nature took the stage. Vicious Nature is a well known local band with a lot of loyal fans who were there to support them and knowing the words to all of their songs created a really good atmosphere. Anti-Clone would be my other most favourite band from the local line-up on Saturday. One simply cannot avoid making comparisons to a certain big band wearing masks but thankfully that went away pretty quickly as Anti-Clone did have something extra to add to this genre and managed to pull off a very intense set. Left For Red was my last band on this stage. Their set was heavy and melodic enough not get bored to quickly. Vocalist LC towering on the stage was showing some promising vocal skills but it seemed that he couldn’t find his feet sometimes during the set. The crowd, however, was enjoying the set and at the end of the day is all that matters.

Back on main stage some big names started to play. Senser formed in the late 1980s in South London and despite the peak of their career was the early 1990s they are still here and carry on making badass and politically charged tracks. All time hits like ’States of Mind’, ’Switch’, ’Age of Panic’ and ’Eject’ were part of the set. Powerful songs but unfortunately the performance was a bit static. On the other hand, Raging Speedhorn was everything but static. Not that I was expcting anything else, really. Unfortunately Frank Regan (vocalist) couldn’t be part of this experience but thankfully Dan Cook from RS joined in to share vocal duties with John Loughlin and did an excellent job. Raging Speedhorn is everything you want from a band, fun and their set just splits your head in half and make you go apeshit. Evile brought something else to the table. I mean, to the stage. Evile is a precisely working thrash machine, which was clearly appreciated by the crowd.

Headliner Skindred are one of the most entertaining and fun bands to watch. After Star Wars’ ’Imperial March’ as their intro vocalist and entertainment extraordinaire Benji Webbe took his platform and wrapped himself in the Union Jack. With ’Under Attack’ Skindred unleashed their music which didn’t give a chance anyone to sit still. Benji controls the crowd as if everyone was attached to his hands. ’Rat Race’, ’Doom Riff’ and ’Ninja’ threw everyone into the deep and when you thought you’d catch your breath then Benji made the crowd jump as one. He also made a statement on what he thinks about pop music nowadays as Justin Bieber’s ’Sorry’ was being played – “turn that shit off!” Skindred is an amazing live band with a charismatic frontman who makes sure everyone gets involved because Skindred is about the celebration of our lives, love and unity. However sentimental it sounds this is what music is about.

skindred1 - HRH Metal Birmingham by Vivien Varga

I believe the first day of HRH Metal in Birmingham was an absolute success and the organisers managed to deliver quality acts from well-known and up and coming names of the metal scene. After this brilliant first day I was looking forward to attending the second one.

Sunday

However hardcore this metal crowd is they were seemingly lacking enthusiasm at the start. Main stage opener Pythia from London slowly eased us back to life with high fantasy lyrics, operatic vocals and a fusion of symphonic and gothic elements with power metal. After Pythia took the edge off with taking us to their wonderland, Primitai was up next and hit us with their powerful heavy metal. Now that we were already up and running and had our first (or maybe more) pint we were ready to face Winterfylleth. They are one of the very few black metal bands who don’t really care about their looks and let their music do the talking. There is always a preconception about how black metal bands should look on stage. These guys look more like the guys next door but when it comes to music, they mean business. Looks can add a lot to a performance but if you are a fan of Winterfylleth you are the kind of fan who comes to see them strictly for their music. On the other hand, who sees them for the very first time might get bored.

Meanwhile, on the Best of Brum stage Obzidian slaughtered us with a very nice set of brutal riffs. Thrash metal is something I always appreciate even if it doesn’t add anything new to the genre. This is exactly what Eradikator did next. Very enjoyable thrash but failed to be memorable to me. Pelugion delivered one of the best sets today on this stage. These guys from Coventry managed to blend Black Sabbath with Kyuss and it works beautifully.

On the upstairs stage Fury from Manchester blasted some classic heavy metal riffs and the crows was banging their heads in great appreciation to it. Next up was Reign of Fury from the Midlands. It is a bit difficult to put them under one label but I’d describe them as a modern and sometimes melodic take on thrash and heavy metal. An interesting combination, well worth checking out if you have the chance. Unfortunately Stoneghost pulled out and Hecate Enthroned was moved forward about which the crowd wasn’t informed in time. Due to this some had to miss most of their set and some of us completely missed their set. It is a shame as I would have wanted to see them performing with Sarah Jezebel Deva, who you might know from working with Cradle of Filth.

Hell from Derbyshire is a band seriously worth watching as they are not only experts on their music but on dramatic delivery, too. There was however some technical problems with vocalist David Bower’s microphone but it didn’t take too much away from the brilliant performance if you ask me. Hell’s performance was truly an experience and metal musical theatre at its best. Synchronised guitar play, brilliant stage props with the crown of thorns, the Beelzebub costume and moments such as frontman whipping himself on stage for his sins or jumping in the pit and exorcising evil spririts from a few of us in the front. ’On Earth As It Is In Hell’ delivered a brilliant close to their set.

hell3 - HRH Metal Birmingham by Vivien Varga

Lawnmower Deth. What kind of band is that by the way? Well, the kind of band who brings scary clowns to the stage who give away big colourful balloons. A kind of band who asks people to hug each other and love each other (and they did!). A kind of band who asks the upstairs crowd wave to the ones standing downstairs. A kind of band where the singer can’t read the setlist and blames the guitarist for it. A kind of band you simply can’t get bored of.

Best of Brum stage closing act was The Heretic Order. The London based band was heavily armed with occult imaginary as well as evil riffs. Their debut album All Hail The Order had great reviews and watching them playing live was reassuring that the future of metal is in safe hands.

the heretic order - HRH Metal Birmingham by Vivien Varga

As far as tonight’s headliner Sodom was concerned there is not much new I can say about them. These German thrash veterans were blasting out tracks like ’The Saw is the Law’, ’Outbreak of Evil’, ’M16’ as there was no tomorrow. ’Iron Fist’ from Motörhead was also played commemorating the rock legend Lemmy. ’Blood Lions’, ’In Retribution’ and ’Sacred Warpath’ from their latest piece Decision Day were also part of the set. My personal highlights were definitely hearing ’Agent Orange’ and ’City of God’ plus the cover of ’Surfin’ Bird’ which never ceases to make me chuckle. Sodom will always reliably deliver quality thrash with German efficiency and this is exactly what we want from them.

HRH Metal was an off season festival highlight where we had great variety of bands, a very good representation of the local metal scene at a venue where every stage was easily accessible and comfortable to move around. I can bravely say that HRH Metal was an unquestionable success. I am for one looking forward to next year’s gathering of good entertainment and amazing bands. Tickets are already on sale and hopefully some names will be dropped soon.

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All live photography by Vivien Varga.

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