Review: Hard Rock Hell 9 – Day 1, Thursday

Thursday night is just the warm-up for most weekend festivals, isn’t it? Well, so goes the perceived wisdom, but when Hard Rock Hell 9 (a.k.a. House of Horrors) looked at this cliché, they decided that was not going to happen on their 2015 watch. Rather than pander to tradition, they booked one of the bands with the biggest, devoted cult fanbase… Black Label Society. It was a five-band line-up packed with energy and verve and that wasn’t just BLS.

Openers, Screaming Eagles set the bar high for the night, coming on stage and performing as if they were headliners. Chris Fry, a mad fury of vocal gymnastics, tearing through new songs such as the titular ‘Screaming Eagles’ with its dedication to the US 101st Airborne. Throwing in brief Zep and AC/DC could have been seen as crowd pleasers, but the crowd’s reaction to the likes of ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Soul’, ‘Down The River’, and ‘Save Me’ earning equally enthusiastic response to the Northern Ireland troupe… and that’s not even to mention the fire breathing.

Fellow Northern Ireland crew Trucker Diablo ripped through their set with the same verve, as if challenged by Scr’eagles to deliver. As with their countrymen, they approached their set with vim and vigour as Simon Pickett and Tom Harte traded off each others’ playing to energise the crowd. ‘Murder Ballad’ had new and old fans alike swaying to its slower structure (yes, there were even old school lighters in the air), but Trucker are made for that fine line between hard rock and metal, and they balance it well. ‘Drive’ saw a mass sing-a-long at the front, and ‘We Stand Strong’ was a defiant roar for the family of rock and metal. ‘Juggernaut’ roared, but ‘Drink Beer, Destroy’ was what many of the audience were waiting for. This time they changed it up a bit…seguing into Metallica’s ‘Seek And Destroy’, only this time it was ‘Drink, Beer, Destroy’.

After the openers, Attica Rage were faced with a tough assignment, but the Scottish rockers approached their set with passion and panache, heavy segments matched with melody and fluid guitar playing. With opener ‘Killer Carousel’ getting the set off to a ‘killer’ start it was a pel mel party of riffs. Covering Motörhead’s ‘Killed By Death’ (dedicated to Phil Taylor who had died that day), and The Osmonds ‘Crazy Horses’ which had the crowd roaring along. Ending with ‘Back To The Old School’ marked the time when the crowd were primed for the main attraction.

Sure enough, the main arena was packed, as sirens heralded Zakk Wylde and his ‘brothers’ on to the Hard Rock Hell stage. Let’s be blunt, the beast of a man that is Zakk Wylde is a ‘marmite’ musician. Some love him with an adulation that is almost scary. Some find it all a little too self-congratulatory. Zakk seems to care not one single iota what doubters and haters think. He gets on stage and lays it down. Guitar wankery and mighty tunes combined in a melting pot of fury. The 13-song set (plus the obligatory guitar solo) was measured in its metal and menace.

Let’s not beat about the bush, you either love the monster or you hate him, but judging by the number of BLS T-shirts, back patches, etc there was a lot of love for the man. While the sound was a little ropey at times, Zakk and his cohorts battled through, energised by the response, to produce a volume that shook the venue and the surrounding Welsh countryside. ‘Funeral Bell’, ‘Suicide Messiah’, and ‘My Dying Time’ were greeted with enthusiasm and many singing every word. The guitar solo may have been a bit overlong, but Zakk cares not a whit. It’s his show. Get on board, or get out. Pinch harmonics were peppered throughout the songs, but BLS is more than a wall of metal. ‘Angel Of Mercy’ saw Brother Dario on piano, and Zakk sat down behind the keys for an emotionally charged ‘In This River’. The trio of closers, ‘The Blessed Hellride’, ‘Concrete Jungle’, and ‘Stillborn’, were greeted with close to ecstasy by the majority of the crowd, as Zakk concluded with his usual chest beating and prayer. To a certain extent a lot of the males envied this beast of a man…

Faced with following on from BLS would have wilted many a band’s pecker, but Massive Wagons are made of sterner stuff. From the off they roared into their set as if they were headlining, rather than wrapping up after BLS. Sure, a fair portion of the crowd drifted off for beer, but the likes of ‘Black Witch’ and ‘One For Me’ drew more back in. An inspired cover of Rainbow’s ‘Kill The King’, was only matched by the closing cover of Status Quo’s ‘Down Down’.

Thursday night – a way to gently open the festival? No, this was a full-blooded, full-on assault of rock and metal. Scr’eagles, Trucker, Attica, BLS, and the Wagons, ripped a hole in the universe of mediocrity that passes for music in 2015.

Check out our interviews from Hard Rock Hell 9

Read Hard Rock Hell 9 day 2 review here, followed by Hard Rock Hell 9 day 3 here.

Review: Jonathan Traynor

Images: Rob Nankivell

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