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  HARD ROCK HELL – PART ONE
Hafan y Môr Holiday Park, Pwllheli
Thursday 12th – Saturday 15th November


Johnny Main. Photos by Carlan Braid and Sean Cameron

johnny main



hard rock hell

The three day music festival that is Hard Rock Hell was celebrating its ninth year, and was once again at its base outside the Welsh town of Pwllheli, at the Hafan y Môr Holiday Park.

With a range of bands split over the three days the festival really has a “something for everyone” feel about it, and the fact it's sold out every year is testament to not only the bands booked but also to the organisation of the event and the on site facilities.

The park, which has been home to Hard Rock Hell since 2011, has a range of different accommodation choices from static caravans, to two and three bedroom apartments, which saves anyone from having to spend the weekend in a tent – a bonus if the weather is inclement.

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Onsite facilities include two spacious indoor venues housing each of the stages which are surrounded by numerous bars, a restaurant, a couple of small supermarkets, a fish and chip shop, burger joint and pizza shop, so nothing is ever too far away and it suits the needs of the HRH audience well.

This year's event theme was 'House of Horrors', which had once again been sold out for several months prior to the actual event, and it kicked off in fine style on Thursday 12th November.

Having settled down in our caravan after the seven hour drive (which included getting lost, of course!), the MetalTalk team decided to take a wander down to see the action of the only stage that was open. As always with these type of events, there are stage clashes so it's not possible to see every band, but here's a run down of the bands that we did catch over the weekend.

Attica Rage
First up for us, were Scottish hard rockers Attica Rage who are old hands at this Hard Rock Hell lark, and put in an impressive display. The crowd they drew was sizeable and they filled the large stage with the noisy and impressive sound.

With a Black Label Society crowd to play to, the band were in their element running through the double opener of 'Killer Carousel' and '36 Insane' as well as older tracks like 'Through the Inner Eye' and 'Ashamed', the latter of which got a warm round of applause from the audience.

The inclusion of a couple of covers with 'Crazy Horses' by The Osmonds going down well but by far the biggest reception was for a trail blazing version of the Motorhead classic 'Killed By Death' as a tribute to long time Motorhead drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor, who had died the day before after a short illness.

Everyone knows Attica Rage have enough good original songs to fill their set with and these tracks are a bit of fun for both the band and the audience – hell, even some of the biggest bands in the world add cover versions into their set, eh?

It's been a while since I've seen the band live and it's clear from their performance that they've lost none of their drive and enthusiasm for what they're doing – and the fact that the audience just seemed to get bigger and bigger as their set progressed is a testament to how good this band are live. So, the same time and same place next year then, lads?

Attica Rage Set List:
Killer Carousel
36 Insane
Safer Inside
Contradictions
Long Ride Home
Killed By Death
Warhead Ltd
Through the Inner Eye
Ashamed
Crazy Horses
Back to the Old School

Attica Rage are:
Jonny Parr – Vocals/Guitars
Stephen Bell – Lead Guitars
Matthew Ward – Bass
Richie Rage – Drums

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Black Label Society
Next up for us was the star attraction of the evening – Zakk Wylde and his Black Label Society cohorts. Originally planned to be playing on the smaller of the two stages, the bands were instead moved across the road to the large stage and by the time the band were scheduled onstage, the venue was absolutely jam packed.

As the crowd waited patiently, the techs were doing final onstage checks to make sure everything was right before the band took to the stage. After twenty minutes of these checks, the audience began to get somewhat restless and with one final sweep of the stage, drummer, Jeff Fabb was spotted clambering onto his drum riser and the audience went quite literally crazy as the rest of the band finally appeared.

The band are very much a draw for somewhere like Hard Rock Hell, but to me their performance didn't do them any favours. I've seen them nearly a dozen times over the years and I've never heard such awful sound from them.

Throughout the band set is just seemed very muddy sound with overpowering drums and no vocals on the left hand side with guitarist Dario Lorina almost audible on the right hand side, but the middle, the sound could only be described as messy.

zakk wylde black label society
Black Label Society

Wylde himself played well enough but his overuse of ego ramps got a bit tiring after half a dozen or so songs and I'm sure there wasn't a photographer in the pit who didn't get a shot of him atop of a ramp with him pointing in the air.

Bass player John DeServio did a good job getting the audience moving during 'Heart of Darkness' and the song choice from the band was inspired, including 'Funeral Bell' and 'Godspeed Hell Bound'.

The biggest cheer of the evening was for the ubiquitous 'Concrete Jungle' which was left until late in the set and as the band left the stage it was clear they had been a great booking – it's just a shame that the band was let down by the sound.

Black Label Society Set List:
The Beginning... At Last
Funeral Bell
Bleed for Me
Heart of Darkness
Suicide Messiah
My Dying Time
Damn the Flood
Guitar Solo
Godspeed Hell Bound
Angel of Mercy
In This River
The Blessed Hellride
Concrete Jungle
Stillborn

Black Label Society are:
Zakk Wylde – Vocals/Lead/Rhythm Guitars
Dario Lorina – Rhythm Guitars
John DeServio – Bass Guitar
Jeff Fabb – Drums

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Massive Wagons
After the onslaught from Black Label Society, some of the audience took their chance to grab a breather outside while others took the opportunity to get a front row position for the final act of the evening, Massive Wagons.

The Wagons are a band that I've been watching live for over five years, and every gig they perform is filled with passion and energy. Having witnessed them on the smaller of the two stages at HRH last year and pretty much giving one of the best performances of the weekend, I was expecting nothing less this year on the bigger stage.

One of the hardest working bands at the festival – I managed to catch the band three times over the weekend with an acoustic set and an electric covers set – but for me, it was their Friday night main stage set that really cemented their position as one of the best young bands in the UK.

As the intro began (from the movie 'Back To The Future'), a deafening roar went up from the crowd – and the band hadn't even appeared on stage yet! By the time front man Barry Mills led the rest of the band onstage, they were literally flying the flag for Rock N' Roll.

Mills paced up and down the large stage encouraging the crowd to get involved during the opening couple of numbers, but he didn't really have to try as the crowd were happy to sing, dance and jump along.

Massive Wagons
Massive Wagons

It might have been a late set time, but tracks like 'Rising Tides' and the title track of their debut album 'Fight the System' went down a storm. Sure guitarist Adam Thistlethwaite's sound was lost in the mix for the first couple of songs but by the time the band settled into their set, the sound was exceptional – ever better than headliners BLS.

For me, one of the highlights of their set was 'Red Dress', which has got to one of the catchiest songs I've ever heard, and it's a song I never tire of hearing.

What was missing was their (always) excellent cover of the Deep Purple classic 'Highway Star', but this was substituted by an equally good cover of Rainbow's 'Kill The King' which really took the band's performance to another level.

When you add in their bombastic cover of Status Quo's 'Down Down' as their set closer then I'd have no hesitation in saying that this was one of the best performances I've seen from the band and could very well have been the best set from any band all weekend.

Massive Wagons Set List:
Welcome
Rising Tides
Black Witch
Ratio
One For Me
The Truth
Kill The King
Red Dress
Fight the System
Down Down

Massive Wagons are:
Barry Mills – Vocals
Adam Thistlethwaite – Guitar
Carl Cochrane – Guitar
Adam Bouskill – Bass Guitar
Alex Thistlethwaite – Drums

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Thirteen Stars
Carlisle based band Thirteen Stars were joint winners of this years Highway To Hell competition and part of their prize was a set at Hard Rock Hell. Having unfortunately missed Highway To Hell this year, the band were very much on my “To See” list and I have to say here that I wasn't disappointed one iota with their set.

From the start to the finish of their set, they had a good solid sound with no-one dominating it. Front man Matt “Hoss” Thompson is an amiable chap who really gelled with the crowd – and played some mean guitar into the bargain too.

A rendition of 'Remedy' by The Black Crowes early in their set was a nice touch and it turned out to be a heavier rendition of the number than the original. Drummer Andrew Bates really laid into the drum kit here while Thompson played a great guitar solo.

'Speed King' picked up the pace with guitarist Jax Sedgwick pacing the stage with a huge grin on his face showing, like a lot of the audience, how much he was enjoying the set.

'Beautifully Numb' was a more bluesy number with some great guitar work from Thompson and Sedgwick while bass player, Ryan Bell, also let his presence be felt as his sound pushed to the fore. Kudos to Thompson for the slide guitar solo, by the way – a truly great finish to a highlight of their set for me.

Thirteen stars
Thirteen Stars

Set closer 'Only A Soldier' was dedicated to all the UK armed forces, which gets a suitably large round of applause from the audience, and it was a solid if slow paced note to end on.

Not downbeat by any means but more of a measured end to a great set and you get the feeling that these guys are only on the beginning of their journey to rock n' roll greatness. Now, I'd like to see them live again soon, so when are they touring next?

Thirteen Stars Set List:
Tired Of Waiting
Remedy
Speed King
Daddy's Girl
Beautifully Numb
Circus Of Dreams
Breadline
If You're Gonna Break My Heart
Red Hot Fever
Right For Wrong
Only A Soldier

Thirteen Stars are:
Matt “Hoss” Thompson – Vocals/Guitar
Jax Sedgwick – Guitar/Backing Vocals
Ryan Bell – Bass Guitar/Backing Vocals
Andrew Bates – Drums

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Federal Charm
Federal Charm were actually subbed in at very short notice after another band pulled out and an expectant crowd gathered at the barrier prior to the band's first ever appearance at Hard Rock Hell.

Opening with the fast paced 'Gotta Give It Up', there was some funky guitar from guitarist Paul Bowe but the over-riding sound from the amps was that of bass player L.D. Morawski's guitar, which reverberated across the floor.

Sound was a big issue all for many bands over the weekend, really, and with the slower paced heavy groove of 'Pretty', it was the turn of front man Nick Bowden's guitar solo to be lost in the mix – it looked great though.

The band took the opportunity of throwing in a couple of new songs from their latest album, 'Hercules', which had the best reaction among the audience. The title track had Morawski looking like he'd finally settled into the groove and enjoying himself while Bowden's guitar punctuated the vocal lines well.

The track sounded good to me, if a little rushed at times, though, but maybe this would encourage me to seek out the album to see how the studio version sounds.

Another new one, 'Masterplan', on the other hand was a real highlight of their set for me. Drummer Danny Rigg made the best use of the drum kit while the twin guitar work from Bowden and Paul Bowe was so well executed.

The crowd certainly seemed to appreciate the band's inclusion in the bill and judging by the volume of applause as the band wrapped up their set, there were a lot of others like me who were glad they didn't knock back the opportunity to catch the band live.

Federal Charm Set List:
Gotta Give It Up
Pretty
Hercules
Guess What
Masterplan
The Stray
Reaction
Hill Billy
Tell Your Friends
Silhouette

Federal Charm are:
Nick Bowden – Vocals/Guitar
Paul Bowe – Guitar
L.D. Morawski – Bass Guitar
Danny Rigg – Drums

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Crobot
American hard rock band Crobot never seemed to appear on my radar despite my liking of bands like Clutch and The Sword, so it was on a friend's recommendation that I rocked up to Stage One to see what it was all about.

With an hour long set to fill, I was pleased to see that there was a good turn out for the band, despite them having just completed a UK wide tour with Scorpion Child and as I settled down my beer, the bands set began.

Front man Brandon Yeagley looks genuinely excited to be playing his first HRH, and mentions from the stage that he's expecting to party with some of the audience when the band's set is finished and judging by the boisterous reception, he wouldn't have to pay for many of his drinks.

With the band's debut album, 'Something Supernatural', barely a year old we were treated to a good helping from it. 'The Necromancer' is a great track which really gets the crowd going and it's helped by a guitar flourish from Chris Bishop at its conclusion.

Likewise, the slow and heavy tones of 'Serpent Shepherd' went down well as Yeagley gave an animated performance as Bishop played a show measured solo. All the while bass player Jake Figueroa furiously head banged his way through the number.

Overall, it's a tight and entertaining performance from the band and it only makes me wish that I'd caught them live on their recent tour, but I'll certainly be looking out for a return visit from them. In the meantime, I've always got the 'Something Supernatural' album to go back to.

Crobot Set List:
The Legend of the Spaceborne Killer
Skull of Geronimo
Cloud Spiller
Wizards
Welcome to Fat City
La Mano de Lucifer
Nowhere To Hide
The Necromancer
Serpent Shepherd
Chupacabra
Easy Money
Queen of the Light
Fly on the Wall

Crobot are:
Brandon Yeagley – Vocals/Harmonica
Chris Bishop – Guitar
Jake Figueroa – Bass Guitar
Paul Figueroa – Drums

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Scorpion Child
Crobot's current European touring partners Scorpion Child also got a chance to shine at this year's HRH, and it was really difficult to see one without the other and, I'm pleased to say, that it was another top notch choice of act from the organisers that kept me happily warm and dry beside the Stage One bar.

Early on in the set, it was clear that vocalist Aryn Jonathan Black knows how to work the crowd to full advantage and it's not long before he dives off stage and into the photographers pit to press the flesh with the faithful before jumping back into the stage in one swoop – no mean feat indeed.

Keyboard player Aaron John "AJ" Vincent (who recently joined the band's line up) took a pivotal role in their sound during 'Kings Highway' and 'Acid Roulette' which gives the band a unique sound set against the numerous guitar orientated bands on the bill.

Black is someone else who is genuinely glad to be playing at HRH and his enthusiasm is infectious as he occasionally gives his best Robert Plant impression with his phrasing and holding on to some of the longer notes, before drummer, Jon "The Charn" Rice, pounds out the simple beat of 'Liquor'.

The guitar solo from Christopher Jay Cowart practically comes out of nowhere, making this track a real highlight of the set for me.

scorpion child
Scorpion Child

As they come close to the end of their set with 'Polygon of Eyes', Black explains that we've probably not heard the track before, but this doesn't seem to be the case as many down the front are singing and clapping along while others further back punch the air – at the end of the day, though, isn't this what festivals like this are all about? Taking quality bands and showcasing them all over one weekend.

As the band finally took their leave, it's clear from the noise that the audience are making that Scorpion Child have made some new fans tonight (myself included) and is another band I look forward to hearing more from in the future.

Scorpion Child Set List:
She Sings I Kill
Reaper's
My Woman in Black
Kings Highway
Acid Roulette
Liquor
Survives
Blind Man's Shine
Polygon of Eyes
I Might Be a Man

Scorpion Child are:
Aryn Jonathan Black – Vocals
Christopher Jay Cowart – Guitar
Alec Caballero Padron – Bass Guitar
Aaron John "AJ" Vincent – Keyboards
Jon "The Charn" Rice – Drums

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Helloween
German Power Metal quintet Helloween need no introduction at all from me, and judging by the packed crowd in front of Stage One, there weren't many people at HRH who weren't aware of who they were.

I managed to bag a great view of the stage and as the lights went down to herald the start of their set a huge roar told you everything you needed to know. It's been over 17 years since I first saw the band live, and I, like many others, was expecting them to be a real highlight of the weekend – and I don't think anyone went away disappointed.

The band released their fifteenth studio album, 'My God Given Right', earlier this year and they play two tracks from it – the title track and 'Lost In America'.

The former has bass player, Markus Grosskopf, making great use of the stage as he covers every inch of it, while guitarist Sascha Gerstner suffers from some issues with his guitar and has words with his tech during the slower section and spends the rest of the song trying to sort out the situation.

Meanwhile the vocalist Andi Deris starts off the community sing along but the crowd aren't loud enough for his liking it seems. “I remember being here before and I have big nuts but it was so cold they were the size of walnuts" he jokes before the audience finally deliver the volume he's looking for after a few more attempts.

helloween
Helloween

'Lost In America', Deris tells us, is based on a true story of the band being literally lost in America, and there's some interplay between him and Gerstner, thankfully free of technical problems with Gerstner now able to focus all his energies into his performance.

Fist punching seems to be the order of the day in this uber popular number and rightly so - a catchy chorus which has the audience singing along once again.

'Waiting For The Thunder' kept the pace of their set up with drummer Daniel Löble and Grosskopf laying down a solid rhythm on which the song rested. Judging by the amount of fist punching this is another popular track and I have to say that it's not at all disagreeable.

There was some orchestrated guitar swinging from Grosskopf and guitarist Michael Weikath, oh and did I catch someone having a sneaky cigarette on stage midway through?

Of course Helloween have a rich heritage and a back catalogue jam packed with classic tracks – many of which were included as part of this set.

From the opening salvo of 'Eagles Fly Free' and 'Dr Stein' with synchronised guitar swinging from Weikath, Gerstner and Grosskopf leaving Deris to focus his attention on the crowd right through to a well planned medley of 'Halloween', 'Sole Survivor', 'I Can', 'Are You Metal?' and 'Keeper of the Seven Keys' towards the end of their main set, it was a bloody fantastic performance from start to finish.

Of course, no true Helloween show would be complete without 'Future World' and 'I Want Out' which are wisely held back for the encore. Unwisely, it was at this point that I decided to go to the bar and as the band filtered back onstage, the noise from the crowd was truly astounding.

This was a full on Metal performance from start to finish, and it was certainly a highlight of my weekend – there were no ballads and no bullshit – just a performance that could have (and should have) been a headlining performance.

Helloween Set List:
Eagle Fly Free
Dr. Stein
My God-Given Right
Steel Tormentor
Waiting for the Thunder
Straight Out of Hell
Drum Solo
Where the Rain Grows
Lost in America
Power
Halloween /Sole Survivor/I Can/Are You Metal?/Keeper of the Seven Keys
Future World
I Want Out

Helloween are:
Andi Deris – Vocals
Michael Weikath – Lead/Rhythm Guitar
Sascha Gerstner – Lead/Rhythm Guitar
Markus Grosskopf – Bass Guitar
Daniel Löble – Drums

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UFO
There were huge expectations for UFO after the set from Helloween and the audience waited patiently as time ticked on, finally bursting into loud applause as the bands intro music plays out and the band sauntered onstage.

Was the audience as large as it was for Helloween? I'd say no, and did the band give as good a performance as Helloween? Again, I'd have to say a firm no.

UFO are very good at what they do but unlike Helloween, they seemed to be going through the motions more than anything. Before each song, front man Phil Mogg seemed to psyche himself up for it but there didn't seem to be much passion in what he was doing.

I saw the band in April, and Mogg tripped over the title of their new album, 'Conspiracy Of Stars', and he did it at the same point during their HRH set. Was it just rehearsed “business” or a genuine issue remembering its title?

Mogg did lighten up before 'Lights Out' (no pun intended) as he quipped "All the photographers have gone so they'll miss all my best shapes says singer before jokingly grabbing his crotch, but it was an otherwise uninspiring performance from him.

As far as the rest of the band were concerned, they were firing on all cylinders, especially drummer Andy Parker who kept the solid beat at the back throughout and guitarist Vinnie Moore who really got the best reaction from the crowd every time he stepped up for a guitar solo, and rightly so as he was the shining star of the band throughout their set.

ufo
UFO

Along with a clutch of tracks from the new album like 'Run Boy Run' (to shouts of “more cowbell” from some wag in the audience) and 'Messiah of Love' there were a sizable chunk of classic tracks culminating in a double barrel finish with 'Rock Bottom' and 'Doctor Doctor'.

As sets go, it was entertaining and had Helloween not been on the bill right before them, this could have been a headlining performance, but on the night it was definitely the Germans who came away as worthy winners.

UFO Set List:
We Belong to the Night
Fight Night
Run Boy Run
Lights Out
Venus
Only You Can Rock Me
Burn Your House Down
Cherry
Love to Love
Messiah of Love
Rock Bottom
Doctor Doctor

UFO are:
Phil Mogg – Vocals
Vinnie Moore – Guitar
Paul Raymond – Guitar
Rob De Luca – Bass Guitar
Andy Parker – Drums

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All Pictures ©Carlan Braid at Main Stage Photography except UFO which is ©Sean Cameron 2015

Click here to read Part Two of MetalTalk's Hard Rock Hell review featuring Saxon, Faster Pussycat, Gun and many more...


28.11.2015












 


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