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XMAS ROCKA NWoBHM FESTIVAL @ O2 Academy, Sheffield, 2-3 Dec 2017
By Wojtek Gabriel, posted 4 Jun 2018
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Hard Rock Hell Xmas Rocka NWoBHM Sheffield 2017
Is there still demand for festivals where the majority of the bands on the bill haven't done much for the last 30 years and where most of them were considered underground even back in the '80s? Well, the first edition of HRH NWoBHM festival proved that the interest is still there and the team behind this event decided to bring it back in 2017 and put together another strong line-up for fans to enjoy during this early-December weekend. The hordes of old-school British metal addicts invaded Sheffield for the second time in a row, to witness live performances by still-going-strong cult acts but also by some forgotten bands, hard to catch anywhere else. (WG)
Hailing from the warmest corner of the UK, namely the city of Southampton the young metallers from Toledo Steel had the privilege to kick-off the event. With band members born later than the actual NWoBHM scene, they follow in the footsteps of the British metal gods, so they fit in perfectly with their Priest-on-high music. The firstfloor small venue was still half empty, but the guys delivered their speed metal with sheer youthful enthusiasm, making it pretty hard for the next bands to keep the same levels of energy. Characterised by Rich Rutter's high-pitched vibratos and insane soloing courtesy of Tom Potter the band played a short but intense set with fast tunes like "City Lights", "Speed Killer" and "Black Widow" being some of the show's highlights. Fans also got a taste of the upcoming debut album, in the shape of the mid-tempo number "When the Night Draws In", so the band left them with something to look forward to. Hard to imagine a better opening of the festival. (PG)
Similarly to many other underground old-school British bands, Kent based Blackmayne put out one album in the mid-'80s and then disbanded, which is a shame considering their self-titled work was a quality release. Haunted by technical problems with one of the guitars (with the bass player commenting that his guitar has just one cable and the guitarist has 46 pedals and then asking the crowd for an applause for the poor guy for breaking stuff) they played a selection of classic tunes such as "Blackmayne", "Law of Love" and "Hot Blooded Woman", throwing in the mix some newer material (that would be the closing track "Chosen Few", the set's highlight in this writer's opinion). On top of that the title number from the upcoming release "Spat from Hell", which started slowly and then gained tempo as the song progressed, gave a hint that the album will be a nice treat for all NWoBHM enthusiasts. (WG)
The Welshmen from Traitors Gate parted ways with their original singer a few months ago, but they've already managed to put out an EP with their current frontman Sy Davies, which they promoted tonight by playing tracks such as "Deceiver" and one-guitar driven "Retribution". Conveying the overall impression of being on the heavier side than most of their colleagues, bordering on thrash on more than a few occasions, the band sounded more up-to-date (but not modern by any means), even when performing their early material, which they had to incorporate into the setlist, obviously. Songs from their debut release, namely "The Devil Rides Again" and "Devil Takes the High Road", both counting as high points of their show went down particularly well with the crowd, but the general response of the fans could have been a bit more enthusiastic to be honest. (WG)
Salem resurrected their career a few years back and have been putting out albums regularly since, and are currently working on a new release, out in February. With the majority of the '80s line-up still in the ranks the guys seemed to have a lot of fun on stage, playing their metal the proper Priest-stroke-Maiden-twin-guitar-way. As fans had nothing else to do really, with the shows on the main stage yet to begin, Salem could enjoy performing to a wellpacked room, taking the full advantage of this situation. They received well deserved applause for their "old" stuff ("The Other Side of Hell", "Rock Fever") but rather than focusing on the past like many other acts, the majority of their setlist was compiled of newer tunes, particularly stuff from the 2013 debut full length release "Forgotten Dreams". Very enjoyable show by the Hull metallers. (WG)
While most of the more obscure NWoBHM bands managed to release at least a single back in the day, the Cheshire metallers from Troyen had only one 4-song demo tape out in 1981 and then disappeared for years. But they're still around and they had the honour to open the main stage at this year's fest. The venue was half-empty when they kicked-off, most fans seemingly were still banging their heads on the first floor where Salem was playing, but the Troyen guys didn't seem to mind and they used their stage time wisely, performing a few tunes from their latest EP ("Stormchild", "Flight of Fantasy") which they mixed with the classic '80s material. So it happened that fans could've heard the entire aforementioned demo with the highlights in the shape of "Dreams Never Lie" and "Crazy Lady" and all in all the show was a solid appetiser, but the tastiest dishes were yet to come. (WG)
Holy hell, were Holocaust loud! I understand that they were headlining the small stage, but the sound guy should have kept in mind that most of the crowd were half-deaf old farts, ha-ha! Anyway, the venue was packed to the limits at that point and the Scottish veterans made the most of it, presenting their classics with their usual raw energy. John Mortimer (vocals and guitar) had a very good rapport with the crowd who were singing the lyrics of such NWoBHM classics as "Death or Glory" or "The Nightcomers" back at him. The hymn "Heavy Metal Mania", that has been covered by dozens of younger and older metal bands was the definite highlight of the show, as usual, and Holocaust proved that you can still have the edge, 40 years into your musical career. (WG)
Are Avenger still heavy metal or already thrash? Well, if the show is good enough no one cares about labels I suppose. The rejuvenated Newcastle-based team (only two "classic line-ups" members are left in the band) were full of energy and didn't disappoint both song-selection and performance-wise. As "Blood Sports" and "Killer Elite", the two albums this band put out in the mid-'80s have a cult status with NWoBHM enthusiasts around the world, it didn't come as a surprise that the band had built their set around those two releases. The frontman Swifty, sporting his Raven "Rock Until You Drop" T-shirt spent a considerable amount of time in the photo pit, screaming into the faces of the enthusiastic fans and the guitar duo of Liam Thompson and Sean Jefferies worked their asses off and proved to be a well-working machine. The band kicked off with "Race Against Time" (from their latest work) and then some of the other highlights would have been the classics such as "Run for Your Life", "Under the Hammer" and the closing dynamite of a song "Enforcer". Avenger's gig turned out to be one the most memorable shows of the festival and the band set the bar very high for the headliners. (WG)
Avenger NWoBHM live Sheffield 2017
What's better than witnessing the forefathers of British metal live on stage, still in good shape and kicking ass? Witnessing them two nights in a row! Having caught them the previous night in Edinburgh I still looked forward to seeing their festival show. The setlist was a bit shorter, obviously, and the stage was much bigger, but other than that Diamond Head were in their element, again. Big event shows are usually of the best-of type and that was the case here too, with only a couple of new tunes making it to the set (like the fast "Bones"), but that's what fans expect from bands at festivals. So, the guys simply had to perform the usual crowd-pleasers such as "Borrowed Time", "In the Heat of the Night", "It's Electric" and "Helpless", finishing the set off the same way as always, with their most well-known, anthemic tune "Am I Evil?". The Danish shouter Rasmus Andersen, who did such a great job on the band's latest album had no trouble convincing those in attendance that he was the right man in the right place and the old tracks sounded pretty good in his interpretations, while Brian kept smiling at the sea of headbanging maniacs unleashing his catchy riffs with his usual precision. All in all, DH's show was sure as hell one of the personal favourites for many of the attendees. (PG)
Diamond Head NWoBHM live Sheffield 2017
Raven are a rare specimen. I dare you to find any young musicians who are more energetic on stage than the Gallagher brothers, the craziest of the metal duos to ever walk the face of earth. The "athletic rock" inventors didn't show up tonight in their usual lineup, as their drummer Joe Hasselvander had to sit-out a few gigs due to health issues, but the stand-in guy Mike Heller from Fear Factory did an outstanding job. The band kicked the set off with "Destroy All Monsters", an up-tempo tune from their latest release and soon after, during "Hell Patrol" John's headset started breaking up and the poor singer was stuck to the regular microphone for most of the set. But he made up for it during Mark's insane guitar solos, jumping about like a teenager and his razor-sharp falsettos sounded as good as always, so, everything Raven stands for was still in place. The setlist was a festival one with a proper number of classics being aired, including "All For One", "Rock Until You Drop", "Break The Chain" and "On and On", performed with audible crowd participation, where John thanked the promoters for having the band at this great event. The energetic "Crash Bang Wallop" was last on the list and what can I say, Raven never disappoint musically or visually and they did not disappoint tonight either. (WG)
Raven NWoBHM live Sheffield 2017
We got to the venue quite late, but right on time to catch Tysondog performing at the not-yet-packed small upstairs room. The Newcastle-based team have always played a bit faster and sounded a bit heavier than their contemporaries, so their live show may have been one of the most energetic ones at this festival. The guys opened their show with an '80s tune "The Inquisitor" and based the setlist on the early material with highlights in the shape of "Hammerhead" or "Dog Soldiers", and even reaching for "Dead Meat", a B-side from their debut single. Having re-united a few years ago they've put one album out and so the fans could hear "Into the Void" and "Shadow of The Beast", two of the best songs from that release. All in all, their set was a very good substitute for a morning coffee. (WG)
Lionheart have always been associated with NWoBHM, but their music doesn't have much in common with that movement, being on the softer and lighter side, with more AOR than traditional metal elements in their music. But with the top-class guitar duo of Dennis Stratton (no introduction needed) and Steve Mann from MSG and fronted by the strong sounding Lee Small (who used to be a part of the rock supergroup Phenomena) the band made a very good impression on those in attendance. They mixed their older tunes such as "Hot Tonight" or "Prisoner" with the more recent material, with "Angels with Dirty Faces" being one of the highlights of their show. They threw in the cauldron a Chris de Burgh cover tune, which worked out quite nice in their interpretation and closed out the set with the self-titled tune "Lionheart". It wasn't the heaviest or most energetic performance, but definitely one of the most professional ones and totally enjoyable. (PG)
Spartan Warrior were next, on the small stage. The Wilkinson brothers Dave and Neil (vocals and guitar, respectively) who are the only two guys left from the original '80s squad, refreshed the band's line-up a few years back and are currently working on a new studio album, out in February. But tonight, they focused on the early material, with half of the set being tunes from the debut LP "Steel n' Chains". It seemed that the crowd didn't mind it (why would they) and the classic material with highlights such as "Stormer", "Cold Hearted" and the title track from the aforementioned album wend down with them very well. As for the upcoming release, the band decided to give us a little taster and played as much as three brand new tunes, with the opener "In Memoriam" being quite convincing. Spartan Warrior may lack a little bit of variety in the song-writing department, but their nice guitar harmonies and traditional riffs were exactly what the festival attendees were looking for. (WG)
We caught some heavier bands and some lighter bands during the festival, but Glory Road, formed by the drummer Mick Underwood must have been the "least aggressive" of them all. Not that it was a disadvantage. Most of the stuff they picked for the setlist tonight were the Gillan band tunes, which was weird as Mick has beaten the skins for many other well-known old-school rockers such as Ritchie Blackmore or Graham Bonnet, but still, "Mr. Universe", "Vengeance" and other numbers from Deep Purple singer's solo albums sounded very satisfying in Glory Road frontman Luka Ravase's interpretations. The band turned out to be a team of seasoned pros, who rocked the venue with nice guitar and keyboard work and their bluesy stuff went down really well with the fans. (PG)
It was time for the headliner of the small stage to show their qualities and the Londoners from Desolation Angels did just that. Fronted by ex-Elixir Paul Taylor, with a new album out a few months before the festival, weirdly enough they played to a half-empty venue. It seemed that many fans were recharging before the big bands hit the main stage, but it didn't discourage DA at all. A grim reaper appeared on stage and stood there quietly for a while, but was followed shortly by the guys jumping on stage and kicking off the last gig at the upstairs club with "Doomsday", the opening track from the new album. Only the two original axemen Keith Sharp and Robin Brancher are still there spreading the metallic joy, but the refreshed line-up did a good overall job playing classics such as "Valhalla", "Evil Possessor" or "Fury" and those who stayed to watch them were not disappointed for sure. (WG)
When it comes to stage presence Rogue Male were the clear winners, no contest. The band's frontman Jim Lyttle, sporting his weird costume and posing with his Telecaster-type axe made a devilish impression and the music itself didn't fall short of expectations. Rogue Male aren't your typical Maiden/Saxon NWoBHM band, incorporating a bit of punk and rock 'n' roll into their stuff and sounding much closer to Motörhead than to any other classic British act. Bringing a little bit of variety to the festival the Northern Irish group focused on their mid-'80s material with tunes such as "Dressed Incognito" or "Take No Shit" making you wonder what would have happened hadn't they broken up back then. It was a very enjoyable show, a bit different stylistically (which was definitely an advantage) and a great prelude to the gigs by the two final acts. (WG)
Rogue Male NWoBHM live Sheffield 2017
Before we get to the actual Grim Reaper show review, let's give kudos to Steve for not giving up! I mean, to get back on stage having had part of his leg amputated just a few months earlier means only one thing - Mr Grimmett is metal! Actually, the band was playing the festival for the second time in a row, having been voted by the fans to return, and they did not disappoint. The guys opened with a fast tune called "Wings of Angels", from their latest release and then unleashed all the classics the NWoBHM fans have loved for 30+ years, such as "Rock You to Hell", "Lust for Freedom" or "Fear no Evil". Still promoting the 2016 release "Walking in the Shadows" Steve sang two other new tunes, the title track and "Reach Out", throwing into the mix a neck hair raising version of Dio's "Don't Talk to Strangers". Yes, he was struggling a little bit (physically, not vocally) so he had to spend the bigger part of the show in a wheelchair, but the magic these guys create in the live setting was still there. The set was closed in a rather obvious way, with a fan-fave "See You in Hell", where Steve's son joined the band on the guitar. Nice to see that love for metal has been passed onto the next generation, and as for the show, Grim Reaper's performance was definitely one of the top ones at this year's fest. (PG)
Grim Reaper NWoBHM live Sheffield 2017
I don't think there's a better way for Satan to get the crowd going than opening the show with two classic tunes "Trial by Fire" and "Blades of Steel" and yes, it worked out perfectly. From the kickoff it looked like the band was on fire so those two tunes went down a storm, but as these guys released two highly acclaimed albums in the last few years, the rest of the setlist was built around them, with songs such "The Devil's Infantry", "Twenty Twenty Five" or "Testimony" proving that Satan have not lost even a bit of their song-writing skills. Similarly to Grip Reaper's Steve, Brian invited "his little boy" (as he introduced his son Alan) to sing a classic Satan tune "Break Free" and I'm sure most of the crowd were amazed with this young dude's skills. As for Brian, well, he seems to sing better and better with age, still hitting all the high notes with his trademark falsetto and with support from the original axe duo of Steve Ramsey and Russ Tippins, he had the fans in the palm of his hand. But everything good has to end and after the more recent tune "Fall of Persephone" the band said goodbye. They returned on stage to the usual "we want more" chants and performed another recent number "Time to Die" to close the festival definitely with the debut 7" B-side tune "Kiss of Death". What can I say, Satan's show was nothing less than a perfect finale of this great event. (WG)
Satan NWoBHM live Sheffield 2017
There are only so many old-school British metal bands still kicking about and it looks like the HRH NWoBHM organisers ran out of ideas, as there will not be the 3rd edition of the festival in 2018. Which is a shame, as clearly, there's still demand for this kind of music and many of the old school metal enthusiasts would love to attend another event like that, as opposed to catching bands here and there at tiny local clubs. Same as last year, the second edition of HRH NWoBHM did not disappoint in any way and we could spend another weekend in a perfect way - celebrating the music we love with a bunch of like-minded people. So, let's be thankful that the guys behind Hard Rock Hell put efforts into making those two great festivals happen. (WG)
Text by Pati Gabriel and Wojtek Gabriel
Photos by Wojtek Gabriel

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Tags: Avenger, Blackmayne, Desolation Angels, Diamond Head, Glory Road, Grim Reaper, Holocaust, Lionheart, Raven, Rogue Male, Satan, Spartan Warrior, Toledo Steel, Traitors Gate, Troyen, Tysondog, metal festival, HRH, NWoBHM
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© 2007-2018 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved. Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations or corporations without the prior written permission.
© 2007-2018 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved.
Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations
or corporations without the prior written permission.