(review by MWJ)

24-25/4/09

I was in Ysbyty Gwynedd A+E on Sunday night trying to subtly explain how I got my broken rib without sounding like too much of a suicidal maniac, the registrar turned round and said “Is this a mosh pit injury?” I was impressed with her technical knowledge, they obviously have become familiar with the steady semi-death toll, but this was my first break ever and in 20+ years of “working down t’ pit”.

All those years ago I wouldn’t have necessarily believed we’d have seen Brazilians like Sepultura jetting in to sunny Rio de Prestatyn holiday camps but if they could make it maybe I should venture along too. For us locals it’s a place of notoriety as opposed to attraction but there have been a wave of these all inclusive home festivals springing up, like All Tomorrows Parties in the South, and the previous dance and hard rock events here. Guess if you can get a strong enough theme the group of people who are interested will gather for it. The organisers based in Ibiza obviously think so anyway.

That said this wasn’t initially attractive to me despite the proximity, all a bit too ordinary/clichéd or fashion metal and still for a fair chunk of money. But the exchange of Bullet for my Valentine for the aforementioned Sepultura and Paradise Lost plus the gift horse of free tickets and a time on my hands meant that I was swung to swing into practice for our imminent return to Hellfest. In fact the number of free tickets sloshing about in the latter days before the gig meant that a lot of locals did get the chance to consider it and certainly enjoy it for what it was without worrying if it was value for money

I was there with the advance guard of metal warriors on Friday afternoon but we merely laid down a bridgehead of tactical drinking in the chalet while the van returned to collect reserve forces, the TA as we like to call them (Teaching Assistants), and other seasoned campaigners made slow progress on their epic yomp through the pubs between Rhyl and here. Obviously the luxury of 4 walls and a roof, even if it was in what resembled a prefab council estate by the sea, seemed unsurpassed luxury to we who sleep in the trenches/ditches but I couldn’t contemplate coming here on hoilday. Anyway, once suitably charged we charged across the fields of the fallen and into the darkness of the venues, two main stages.

he first band seen was one at the top of the heap of extreme British metal bands, at least in terms of the hype applied to them, Trigger the Bloodshed. They were even granted sets on both days to ram that advantage home, but with a different front man and an added bassist since I’d seen them before there didn’t really feel much continuity or much of an impression from this time around. There’s much debate about the durability of quality UK bands but you must all question keeping the name going at all costs.

Another case in point was Londoner’s The Rotted up next. They had standing as an underground leader in the death scene as Gorerotted but made the decision that maybe they’d been banging their heads against a broken glass ceiling for long enough and consciously morphed into a more straight-up aggressive metal band. I saw parallels with Entombed’s shift to the death’n’roll of their “Wolverine Blues” album, but whereas I couldn’t accept that at the time I took The Rotted on face value and it was definitely enjoyable, there was groove and distortion applied with energy.

This festival had a big proportion of home grown and up and coming talent, leading to some criticism but then also justification as this was a (relatively) budget event compared to some. Only a proportion may have appealed to me checking in advance but there was always scope to find something new and be won over by live performance.

That said at this stage the wine was catching up fast and a bit of Mutant’s thrash didn’t really have much of an impact or keep the concentration. I made a more determined effort with Paradise Lost, as though being rather under whelmed by their performance at Hellfest last year; their status surely merited some attention. And sure enough this time was a whole different experience where you could actually appreciate their melancholy pounding melodies, great light show complementing it and a crowd atmosphere topping things off. I was proper reeling though now, and while cries for their death metal origins of “Rotting Misery” went unheeded it was a pleasure to hear the dark majesty of “Gothic”.

So, a breath of recuperative Prestatyn air outside was surely the tonic I needed but while resting flat out in a bush outside the entrance security pounced on me to inform me that I wasn’t allowed to die in full view of the CCTV cameras there and they would escort me off towards the chalet to do it instead. They were OK really, and in 15 minutes or so I felt recovered enough to return to the fray

Sweden’s Opeth were one of the big names on the bill but as my knowledge of them had been very patchy since we supported them with Hecate Enthroned in London once. Have I not mentioned that before? Again, they have gained respect through their progressive approach to metal but unfortunately for me this has moved them further from my tastes, and the bit I watched upon re-entry (from orbit) sounded more rocky than metal, like latter day Anathema

Instead this gave me the opportunity to go and check out South Wales’ Lethargy, and, conversely, while I had felt that listening to their recorded material on Mr Walton’s show it was some kind of stadium rock type thing I was actually more won over by their live performance. Crafted songs, polished yes, but all the members contributing to get some emotion into the delivery and really couldn’t be faulted at what they did and the lesser numbers in at this stage.

By now on my 5th wind I kept expecting things to wind up but staggering between stages kept finding other bands popping up. Annotations of an Autopsy were back to drag things to the depths of guttural extremity once more, which was nice. Unfortunately the singer had regressed into his harder than though bullshit again so I was happy to view this from afar. May have seen a bit of Power Quest but the name probably said it all, then encountered Crud on his last legs (occasionally) with Sweet Savage, another old school UK metal band who were an unexpected add on as they were currently touring with Saxon. Despite being escorted out of there by the bouncers I believe there was still chance to catch Finland’s Kiuas finished things off pleasingly and properly at 3am with some driving metal. Or maybe I was already dreaming.

Fortunately I was able to find some repose (find being the operative word) for the night, and then revitalised (sort of) with gourmet cheese on toast in the morning. We didn’t exactly come out of the blocks running though, as there was much craic to be had there meeting up with folks old and new, to the extent that we were too busy chatting, staving off the sobering up and enjoying the… shock horror…sun.

When we eventually trekked back over for recommended Hexagram, up from Portsmouth. For a three piece they had a fantastically heavy sound, interesting guitar melodies and were a good (late) start to the day. We then made a determined effort and discovered the third venue, within a pub of sorts but attached to the other venues through some confusing technological device called a door. This could have easily been any pub around the country with its non-stage and everyone standing in front of the band. Trigger the Bloodshed were back again and came across much better this time around in the closer environment. The running order for these Rising (Records, the label for most of them) and buzz (a cheesy term IMO) bands were all jumbled up though so didn’t have much idea who was on most of the time. Reading the order on a piece of paper on the door was easy enough, remembering it more than 30 seconds later was not.

Back to the main halls for some piratical action from Scots Alestorm. Now this tongue in cheek spin off from celtic style metal could wear thin as a joke rapidly if it wasn’t for the fact that they had created some great sing (or growl) along shanties, perfectly pitched for the scurvy drunks reeling in front of them. They had just sailed back from the Spanish Main/US and thence to Europe as part of a touring package with their brethren from Eire Waylander and as we took a break from boozing to have some food these were another good surprise, with their swirling penny whistle atmospherics cut with sharply contrasting thundering tribal heaviness.

Skindred next, a band whose South Walian origins were no better expressed than through front man Benji’s broad valley’s accent. And jesus, what a front man, what a show. Right from the off their ragga tinged bouncing metal is infectious through the crowd, backed again with a fantastic light show. He has everyone in the palm of his hand, exhorting us in their breakdowns, with sing-alongs and hilarious banter about what his mum might say about people (not complementary!). He is disarming and incendiary with ease at either and the reception is deservedly ecstatic.

Though I’d been impressed with what I’d heard previouisly of Greek’s Mencea perhaps they suffered in contrast to the previous band as with not much of a crowd their show was not very inspiring and they were somewhat static.

Anyway, back for the main draw of Sepultura. First time I’d seen with this line up which has originals (-ish) Andreas and Paulo on guitar and bass respectively, a drummer and new (well, maybe about 10 years ago) vocalist Derrick. I could compare them to great early shows, or even to last years Cavalera Conspiracy outing with the other half of the band. They set off with presumably new material from their current “A-lex” album (based upon the A Clockwork Orange story) but while solid enough didn’t really pick up any hooks or even clarity from. Soon enough though we’re heading back into history with “Dead Embryonic Cells”, Derrick adding some extra percussion but it being noticeable that with no rhythm guitar now the sound does drop out a bit when Andreas goes for lead or some of the more industrial-ish riffs that used to be characteristic in the harmonies he worked with Max Cavelera. I wasn’t being picky when “Troops of Doom” exploded, rather I was being picked up and thrown violently over the security barrier, top fun. I certainly didn’t hear the crack over the volume of the music and returned to the maelstrom. Lots more old school was rolled out and much enjoyed and ultimately I couldn’t solve the puzzle of how the boys from Brazil could ever resolve their tangential careers.

Proper old school next with Saxon, who I’ve never had the opportunity or inclination to see before. Despite being associated with the NWOBHM along with Motorhead, they were the all for me whereas the Denim and Leather approach was not so much of appeal to me. That said, they were consummate professionals and vocalist Biff is an imposing presence on stage. They certainly pleased the majority gathered there rolling through lots of their classics and seemed suitably happy with the warm applause they received too.

Finally and aptly in the witching hours, Cathedral. Only caught a snatch of them at Damnation but enjoyed the full set here, happily carried away with their retro grooviness, driven along with huge bass. Even better when they dropped down into massive doom of “Templar’s Arise”( or some other track on one of their repeated themes), vocalist Lee is definitely a captivating presence, easy to draw the Ozzy of new generation comparisons. Ending again by hanging himself during “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)” this time I was happy to leave on that note (well, incapable of carrying on really) though once again the bands and the partying were carrying on unabated.

The next day, again with the sun, I headed off early and spent the day in the studio whinging (not about “More bass” for a change) until finally conceding that “It only hurts when I breathe”, as well as being a good Cop Shoot Cop track, was probably a good reason to visit casualty

All in all great fun, made by some quality bands and great friends. On reflection I still would not necessarily be won over by the price versus the quality of the bands but then I said that about this year’s Hellfest too, my arms are too easily twisted. Just have to hope to get my BBC reporters accreditation for next time…

(click for loadsa pics)