HRH NWOBHM II: The Xmas Rocka – Sheffield, O2 Academy – 2 December 2017 Print E-mail
Written by DJ Astrocreep   
Saturday, 16 December 2017 04:00

So, a final festival of the year - HRH's Christmas Rocka, the NWOBHM version. It's another good line up, with Diamond Head, Praying Mantis, Grim Reaper and Satan being just four of those playing, so once more it's time to get the early coach across Woodhead Pass and into the city of steel for some good old school metal.

 

First up, we have Toledo Steel on the second stage. There is a decent crowd already, which is encouraging to see, and they welcome the band to the stage in an appreciable way. The crowd grows fairly steadily, despite those wandering about downstairs amongst the stalls, food and smoking area and those that brave the early afternoon start are rewarded by a quite tight performance from the Southampton trio. Whilst being a newer band, the sound is fairly true to the greats of the era and they do enough to show they are worth their slot.

 

Next on, still on stage two, are Blackmayne. They describe themselves as a mixture of metal and punk, having formed way back in 1985, and this does come across during their set, without striking into the crossover or thrash sounds that a lot of bands so inclined seem to do. It's busy yet again and the crowd appreciate what is presented to them, with a fair amount of headbanging going on from the first couple of tracks onwards. They capture enough interest that they even get offered a chance to play stage one later in the evening!

 

HRH NWOBHM Traitors Gate

 

Traitor's Gate take to stage two now, with what is now a very busy room awaiting their arrival. The Welsh cult metallers from Pontypool are a friendly bunch, having been chatting with them prior to their set, and are eager to take to the stage, having just this year reformed after an almost 30-year hiatus. They mix some power metal into the usual NWOBHM sound to tweak it slightly, setting them slightly apart from the two previous bands, doing themselves justice with another tight set. Being aware of their cult status, I made sure to check out more of their set than I had initially considered, to find my own head starting to bang and my hands to take their usual air guitar places - a sure indication of a band doing things right, for myself and the rest of the audience.

 

Salem take to stage two now, and I make sure to get there in time for the start, given stage one was getting ready to open halfway through the set. As with a lot of the bands across the weekend, they formed in 1979 before taking a hiatus and reforming in 2009. The second arena is still very busy for Salem, probably due to their inclusion amongst the likes of Iron Maiden and Saxon as bands from the NWOBHM era that are either doing as well as, or even surpassing how they were 'back in the day'. Their twin guitars is very reminiscent of Maiden themselves, perhaps not exactly what you expect from a band from Hull! Their set goes down well with the crowd and they earn every bit of the adoration they receive.

 

HRH NWOBHM Salem

 

It's time now for the main stage to open and it is Troyen that are welcomed first on to it. It's rather quiet at the start of the set, as some have obviously gone for food/elsewhere for a short break, others are still upstairs in the second arena, given Salem are only halfway through their own performance and yet more are still to arrive. It's a pity, as they give a performance worthy of a much bigger crowd. It's a good nod to their professionalism that they play as they do without reference to this and a strong showing makes for a good start to proceedings on stage 1.

 

Popping back into the media room, and it's quite busy, as HRH supremo Jonni is giving the Dark Circle some news, as he announces next year's HRH Vikings, along with a choice of two ales that he is considering to be the official HRH Vikings ale, to be served in some of their events from the next year. The brewer has brought plenty of samples, with the two shortlisted by Jonni being distributed to the throng. Their responses give him food for thought, as the feedback is a mix between the two. Some more work to help him decide will be forthcoming, methinks.

 

HRH NWOBHM Avenger

 

A check of timings and I decide to go back through to stage one and watch the start of Avenger. With the dispersal of the Dark Circle, stage one is starting to pick up some more now, as more people are now making their way in, providing a much more respectable crowd. The Geordie five-piece also go down well, with the prerequisite headbanging being quite widespread from those who are taking it in. There are elements of thrash at times, which is a good precursor for the later Diamond Head and Raven.

 

Onwards now, back to stage two for its headliner, Holocaust. It is again busy in the smaller arena, perhaps a mark of the later time slots attracting more people in general. Again, a shame considering the quality of bands that had been on through the day. Holocaust has been covered by the likes of Metallica, so are clearly influential in the scene and quickly make the stage their own. A soft twang punctuates the applause between songs from John Mortimer on vocals/guitar to interact with those present, acknowledging their support and helping the band use that symbiotic relationship with the crowd, where they feed off each other’s energy to drive themselves on to better and better. This is evident in the waves of flying hair, as the audience headbang their way into whiplash right the way through the set.

 

HRH NWOBHM Holocaust

 

A return to stage one now and there is an announcement that due to fog at the airport, two members of Praying Mantis have been unable to make it to the venue in time, so they are no longer able to play. In their place, Blackmayne are following up their earlier set with a second performance now, moving down to the main arena. They do themselves justice once again, with a further expanding crowd enjoying their music and showing the appreciation that their efforts deserve. There is a lot of the same set played, as, without much prior notice, they could not really be expected to be ready to perform even more tracks adequately. This does not, however, seem to dampen the audience's spirit, whether they were there for the earlier set or not, as there is a loud reception after each track. When they reach the end of their set, there are even shouts for an encore, which the band, smiling, come back to the stage and provide. A real scene setter for the carnage that's about to hit the arena...

 

...as Diamond Head are next on to the stage. There is an expectancy for the obvious track, but the audience clearly knows their stuff with DH, as Brian Tatler et al enthral them with their thrashier riffed end of NWOBHM. ‘Borrowed Time’ is early on in the set, getting some of the crowd singing along, before a few other favourites in the shape of ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ and ‘Helpless’ ring out around the arena, interspersed with other great tracks. Finally, though, it's time for ‘Am I Evil?’ and a loud cry erupts from the audience as they quickly realise what's beginning. The crowd sings loudly along, a mosh pit erupts and it's clear that a lot of people have been waiting for just this. Diamond Head, as always, are an extremely tight, well-rehearsed band who show their years of experience in their set choices and running order, and ‘Am I Evil?’ is the definite highlight of the day.

 

HRH NWOBHM Diamond Head

 

This now only leaves time for Raven to close up stage one, and it's sad to see that a number of the audience are departing the venue for other bars, clubs or hotel rooms. A decent amount of people remain, however, and are in for a treat, as they take to the stage with ‘Destroy All Monsters’. As they work their way through the 13-song set, those that stayed are thoroughly enjoying the spectacle, as there is more hair flying around when headbanging than when Cousin It gets a particularly short, rapid haircut. ‘Hung, Drawn & Quartered’ appears a little into the set, before the likes of ‘Hard Ride’ and ‘On And On’ ring out from the thrash crossover godfathers. A well worked medley of ‘The Chain’, ‘It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ and ‘Symptom of the Universe’ brings loud shouts of appreciation again from the crowd, before a final two tracks of ‘Don't Need Your Money’ and ‘Crash Bang Wallop’ bring a close to an excellent first day of the festival.

 

PHOTO CREDIT:  All photographs © Simon Dunkerley.

 

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