Hard Rock Hell Metal is a legendary annual event bringing together both new and world-famous bands for a weekend of metal. A total of 41 bands played three rooms over two days at O2 Academy in Birmingham on 17 and 18 February so myself and fellow Moshville Times photographer Topher divided them up between the two of us so that we could make sure that we got to see every single band. Bearing in mind the sheer volume of bands we had to cover, this is more of an overview than an in-depth review, but read on to discover what I thought of the 21 bands I had the pleasure of photographing over the weekend! Saturday’s acts first, Sundays in the following article.
Opening the main room on Saturday were Collibus from Manchester who owned the stage from the very second they stepped onto it. I instantly liked this band and their performance was incredibly engaging – strong raspy female vocals together with face-melting guitar solos and synchronized windmilling! They played a banging set which included a sneaky preview of a track from their latest album which is out next week.
Next I made my way to Room 3 to catch XIII who had travelled all the way from Hull. Sadly the lighting in this, the smallest of the three rooms at O2 Academy Birmingham was pretty dire, which made it difficult to get photos of the band that I felt truly represented their riff-tastic performance, so you might have to use your imagination a little. Suffice to say they were brilliant and full of beans.
An hour later I returned to Room 3 for Sodomized Cadaver from the Welsh Valleys who succeeded in their hope that their band name was one of the most outrageous / disgusting one in existence. Their brutal, attitude-laden death metal was a force to be reckoned with and went down well with the crowd.
Next for me on the main stage were Monument from my hometown of London. These guys were great and were another band I instantly liked. Vocalist Peter Ellis (ex-White Wizzard) owned the stage and reminded me ever so slightly of Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham character from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with his dark black hair and embellished jacket. The line-up was completed by a selection of handsome long-haired musicians who looked every bit the part of a classic British heavy metal band who cite their influences as including Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, and Led Zeppelin, amongst others.
Next I made my way to Room 2 to see another London band Cypher 16. These guys first came to my attention when I saw their video for “Open The Dark Door” which was filmed at my favourite building in London, The Natural History Museum, and I was looking forward to seeing them live. They didn’t disappoint and played a great set. The lighting in this room was arguably worse than in Room 3, but I did my best to capture their high-energy performance, particularly the bassist who seemed to have a penchant for sticking his tongue out and swinging his bass around with wild abandon.
Five bands down, six to go and I was already having a lovely time. Up next for me were Bournemouth melodic metalers Metaprism in Room 3. These guys put on a great show, especially considering that it was a bit of a squeeze to fit all six of them onto quite a small stage. I enjoyed the mix of male and female vocals and every member of the band put 100% into their performance.
The Dread Crew of Oddwood were next up on the main stage. The American pirate metal / folk band (describing their sound as “heavy mahogany” rather than heavy metal) are currently on tour with tonight’s festival headliners Alestorm and I had heard good things about their music and live show from our editor who was at the Glasgow show last week. They certainly didn’t disappoint and as well as their catchy tunes I enjoyed photographing some different instruments, including an accordion, a double-bass and a mandolin!
Back to Room 2 for some heavy / sludge metal courtesy of Desert Storm from Oxford. I had it on good authority that these guys were brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed their sound, especially the powerful throaty vocals. Another band I would definitely be keen to check out again.
Time for some power / thrash metal next with Elimination in Room 3. These guys were gutsy, engaging and their energetic set was great fun to watch, although again sadly I wasn’t able to capture their performance as well as I would have liked due to the lighting.
My penultimate band of the day were Fury from Worcester. Room 2 was packed and the band were one of my favourites of the day. My notes say “great song about dragons” but I remember enjoying their entire set of fantastical fantasy-core. They were loads of fun to watch and looked liked they were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Tonight’s main-stage headliners Scottish pirate metal legends Alestorm happen to be one of my favourite bands, so to say I was excited for their set (and to finally tick them off my photography bucket-list) would be a huge understatement. Throughout the day I had spotted many Alestorm band t-shirts as well as a selection of people dressed as pirates and wenches, so I was clearly in good company.
Their giant inflatable rubber ducky sat proudly in the centre of the stage as the band opened with “Keelhauled”, and the crowd went crazy. I bloody love this band and they put on a fantastic show, playing some of their best-loved tracks including “Alestorm” and “Mexico” from their most recent album No Grave But The Sea, as well as well as some older tracks such as “Nancy The Tavern Wench”, “Shipwrecked” and “Drink”. Everyone was in very high spirits and the whole room sang along to songs about pirates and all their misdeeds.
After photographing the first three songs of their set I headed up to the balcony to watch the rest of the show and ended up watching the crowd almost as much as the band. I saw a guy dressed as a wizard who held his pink unicorn hobby-horse (hobby-unicorn?) aloft for their entire set, inflatable swords and parrots being waved around, and two guys dressed as Bananas in Pajamas who frontman Chris insisted be in the middle of the circle pit at one point.
Personal highlights of their set for me were seeing the band play “F*cked With An Anchor” live (which was everything I hoped it would be and more) as well as their cover of “Hangover”. It was a very, very long day but as I walked down the road to my hotel I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – a thoroughly enjoyable day of metal, and there was still another day of it to come!
Photos by Katie Frost Photography