In order to drag a couple of thousand people out onto the streets of Birmingham on the most typical of wet, windy and downright miserable mid-February weekends – you better be packing some pretty hefty hardware.
Along with a sizeable section of the Second City’s metalhead Chapter, Hit The Lights found the lure of HRH’s latest offering too much to resist. ‘HRH Metal’ heaved into view at Brum’s O2 Academy to continue – appropriately for Valentine’s weekend – the regions love affair with the music genre that changed the world.
All the way from bear country – or Chelmsford as we call it – Bearfist stamp a big ol’ paw mark on the gig with some suitably thunderous ursine-like riffage and growling. They are quickly followed by Red Rum who have nothing to do with horse racing and everything to do with stirring up unbridled fervour with their sanity challenged pirate metal. Both main arena openers hit home with a big bulls-eye and set HRH Metal on an unstoppable path to chaotic nirvana.
If you have ever been into word association games then Savage Messiah will always go hand in hand with progress, because that is exactly what is evident every time this band have crossed our horizon. Ten years has seen this London outfit go from strength to strength, and here today, at HRH Metal, all those honed skills are on full display. Confidence and high level musicianship, led by founder Dave Silver, combine to deliver a set of thrash superiority. The band give live debuts to new numbers ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ and ‘Lay Down Your Arms’ alongside classics such as ‘All Seeing I’ and with that Savage Messiah receive deserved adulation and devil horns aplenty, as they put down the first “beat that” marker of the day.
Senser offers less of a spectacle with a static stage show that does little to ignite initial enthusiasm. Relying largely on the visual offerings which vocalists Kirsten Haigh and Heitam Al-Sayed put forward, Haigh’s efforts amount to nothing more than walking on the spot in ever decreasing circles whilst staring intently at the floor. The larger slice of the burden falls upon Al-Sayed, which to be fair, for the most part, he pulls off. It’s a show of energy and enthusiasm from the diminutive front man which does enough to offset the stoic display from his band mates. Luckily, Senser have a raft of badass songs to float around on, and benchmarks ‘States of Mind’, ‘Switch’ and ‘Age of Panic’ are lapped up, so that a set of both negatives and positives just about breaks even in the end.
So where do you go from there? The best thing to do would be to set off a big metal incendiary device under the whole gig and watch it all go banana – apeshit – crazy, right? Who could possibly be loopy enough to light that fuse? Step forward Raging Speedhorn, the metal equivalent of “wind milling in” during a street fight. Pit agitator supreme John Loughlin orders construction of the first, and constant, pit circle and only when he is happy do Speedhorn splat heads in with ‘Hate Song’. The carnage that follows is predictable, but never any less breathtaking. Stand in vocalist Dan Cook does a stupidly good job in the absence of beloved Raging Speedhorn front man Frank Regan (FRANK! FRANK! FRANK! FRANK!), climbing into the pit at every opportunity to consort with the rabid pack. Guitarist Jim Palmer is also inspired to get interactive with the faithful while Jamie Thompson swings his guitar about and clambers around the stage like a coked up marmoset monkey. Dave Thompson offers some questionable backing vocals during ‘Chronic Youth’ which highlight his worth as a bassist and Gordon Morrison is clearly taking something deep and personal out on his kit. If Saturday night’s alright for fighting then Raging Speedhorn should definitely be the soundtrack. Devastatingly brilliant!
Once the dust has settled and cold compresses are applied to contused and dented areas of the pit dweller’s bodies, Steel City giants Evile stride out to make their own mark on proceedings. There’s a stark difference between the scatter bomb approach of Raging Speedhorn and Evile. Evile bring us precision bombing. They offer us clean kills and technical brilliance that is designed to cut you to pieces where you stand. It’s pure, razor sharp Sheffield steel. The stage moves are more choreographed for sure but when you’re crunching out thrash metal aces like ‘Infected Nation’ and ‘Skull’, Evile want to make certain everybody gets a good look at all the ingredients that make up this magnificent metal concoction. Schoolboy chums Matt Drake and Ben Carter are the reinforced concrete foundation, Drake’s voice is solid and clear. Piers Donno-Fuller’s fretwork is finger blurring and faultless as Joel Graham’s bass is dead weight heavy. It all comes together beautifully. Evile are themselves no stranger to adversity and ‘Metamorphosis’ is offered up as a tribute to their fallen brother Mike Alexander. The increased purpose in its performance is very obvious and present to us all. The pit is a sea of flailing hair, pumping fists and raised voices throughout as Evile shower them with a thrash feast as good any Bay Area outfit ever did. Fittingly this outstanding display is brought to an end with a pulverising version of ‘Thrasher’. Evile brought their full power and glory tonight and their efforts are recognised with deserved adoration.
Being the sociable lot they are the HRH metal heads in attendance have inevitably sent the venue’s bar sales through the roof – and it shows. It is therefore another HRH masterstroke to employ the services of Newport crossover specialists Skindred to exploit the vertigo inducing high spirits of the inexhaustible Saturday night gathering. Trooping on to the imposing Star Wars ‘Imperial March’, a ring master dressed in black, vocalist Benji Webbe mounts his platform. Wrapping himself in the Union Jack flag – possibly his own take on the unity music can bring – and with the brilliant opener ‘Under Attack’, he demands the attention and obedience of every person present. It is proffered without dissent. Why wouldn’t it be? Everyone knows they are about to be swept away on Skindred’s metal fun bus and they’re totally up for that. As they bound through “bounce-o-matic” numbers ‘Ratt Race’, ‘Ninja’ and ‘Sound the Siren’ it actually does seem as if the entire crowd is attached to Benji’s hands, as he conducts them into one collective boinging mass. It’s a remarkable show of crowd control. Benji is truly a master of puppets in the most positive sense. Nobody is allowed to sit; if they do they are pointed out and playfully berated by the front man. Fellow “dreds” Mickey Demus, Dan Pugsley and Arya Goggin (Skindred have the best collection of surnames) back up their main man to the hilt with tight riffs and cool assurance. Benji takes a well-deserved sideswipe at everything that is wrong with music (Justin Bieber – turn that shit off!) and plays one side of the room off against the other simply to up the tempo beyond all comprehension. Skindred standard ‘Warning’ and the soon to be legendary “Newport Helicopter” bring the most fun party of parties to a close. It’s all very uplifting and even life affirming stuff, because according to Benji it’s a “celebration of our lives”, and what’s not to like about that?
Review: Noel Fischer
Photography: Steve Johnston // Rock Music Photographer / Savage Messiah Photos: Pete Key