Review by Lydia Fitzer with Photography by Rob Hadley

Once upon a time, there was a young writer who found herself presented with the opportunity to review a music festival. But ah! This wasn’t just any festival. This was HRH Metal 2018, and a more magical experience the writer couldn’t possibly have imagined. Sadly the spell only lasted for one weekend, and she had to leave the enchanted world before the O2 Academy turned back into a pumpkin. Or something like that.

Many moons she waited for the festival to return. At last, her patience is about to be rewarded. Take her hand and walk with her into the mystical depths of the metalhead Heaven which is Hard Rock Hell. (It’s me, by the way. The writer is me. ‘Sup.)

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Saturday

Like last year, the festival starts at 1pm but truly kicks off at 3pm with the arrival of the first act to the Main Stage. In the beginning there is darkness and the sound of a beating heart. There is a distant dementor-like scream, then redness and power crash down. This is Birmingham band Eradikator, bringing raw thrash intensity.

They take the opportunity to showcase what I can only assume are new songs (or old but unrecorded), opening with ‘Poisoned to Sorrow’ and ‘Nightmare Dawning’. They give barrels of energy to their performance, and clearly know how to work a crowd. They’re fronted by Patrick Cox (bass, lead vocals) with an evil gremlin type vocal. Think human meets Golem. He’s a pleasure to listen to, although it could be good to hear him experiment more with his vocal style.

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Not content with just working the crowd, they seem determined to capture the crowd entirely. As they open ‘Mesmerised’ from their 2015 album ‘Edge of Humanity’, the force intensifies. They play at a thousand miles an hour, and the drums (Jon MacNevin) pound against my ribcage. Liam Priest (guitar, backing vocals) plays so fast at times that his hands become a blur. They close their set with ‘Hourglass’. Andy MacNevin (guitar, backing vocals) plays transcendentally, eyes closed, head lifted to the gods of metal. What a welcome to the main stage!

Meanwhile on Stage 3 at 3pm, Prognosis are in full throttle. Aaron Youd glistens with sweat on the drums, and Danny Daemon’s (bass, vocals) forehead gleams with effort as he growls. They give memorable melodies and exuberant guitar – a proper crowdpleaser. The room is packed with enthusiastic fans, and there’s way more positive atmosphere in here than the main stage. I always say that you should never avoid the small stages at festivals, and the same is true here. The bands are often surrounded by fans, more relaxed, more informal and playful. Larger stages have their own set of charms, but good things still come in small packages.

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It’s 4pm at the Main Stage, and the award for most improved band in a year goes to… Ballsdeep! They held a spot on the main stage last year. I watched them, and wrote a grand total of four lines on them. They certainly weren’t bad – they were objectively quite good, and delivered the aggression they promised. They just didn’t set my pulse racing as much as they could have. This year, though, I smile from the beginning to the end. The crowd loves them too.

They open with ‘Way Misguided’ from their shiny new 2019 album ‘…and on the Eighth Day’, bringing their signature raw power and some seriously unclean vocals. It’s hard to put a finger on what specifically has changed about them because everything seems to have improved. Their sound is tighter, the vocals are stronger, their chemistry is clearer… Everything is just better. Heck, even their stage lighting seems more impressive. I’m excited to see more of this upwards trajectory. If they carry on this way there’s no telling what their future might hold.

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They open ‘Spit’ (another from their newest album) with a feral howl from Rich Beresford (vocals). Beresford has a rich growling voice which doesn’t falter once through the set. He performs with his whole body, moving across the stage as if he owns it. Will Harris (bass) plays tall and proud, while Paul Priestley (guitar) paws the ground like a lion about to strike. Each band member has his own kind of animal ferocity, coming together to create a sound that I can only describe as ‘freaky panther’.

Stage 2 opens at 5pm with Atorc, a “Battle-Hardened” folk metal band from Bury St. Edmunds. (I’m noticing a running theme of folk metal bands fitting about a hundred members onto tiny stages.) They come bearing great theatre; face paint, tusk flasks, corsets, fur, and so on. There are even some fans with faces painted in tribute. What an atmosphere!

Helbard (vocals) greets the crowd. “How you doing? Are you ready for some pure f*cking metal?” Always, my friend. They put on as lively a show as they can given their lack of space, and have an enthusiastic sound. Helbard has a nice classic metal voice from what I can tell. The sound setup is possibly not the greatest, as I feel like I’m losing some force from the vocals and violin.

Over on the Main Stage at 5.10pm, we meet the magnificent Shade Empire. They’ve come from Finland to play symphonic metal and blow our tiny minds. Apparently this is their first time in the UK – one fan I spoke to has been waiting nine years to see them. They open with a fitting choice; ‘Lecter (Welcome)’, the first track of their 2017 album ‘Poetry Of The Ill-Minded’.

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Vocalist Henry Hämäläinen is fabulous. He’s wearing almost as many chains and studs as I am. (What can I say? Gotta bring it for a HRH family reunion.) Hämäläinen has an incredible daemonic voice with a range that he controls with apparent effortlessness. He can go from hellbeast right through to wicked sprite in less than a second.

Shade Empire’s sound is vast. The symphonic layers combined with the rich metal give an overwhelming sensation – it’s the sound of the earth moving. I can’t help but feel that the musical concept comes across more clearly in recordings, but there’s still no denying the vibrations they create.

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It’s now 6.10pm at Stage 2, and Coventry band Pelugion are creating some really luxurious melodies. They play decadently, showcasing the quality of each note. Andy Sweeney gives a mellow, smooth clean vocal, styled perfectly to suit the instrumental. They fill the space beautifully. They’re a pleasure to watch – a true tall glass of lemonade.

At 6.30pm, Warlord UK explode onto the Main Stage with ‘Maximum Carnage’, the opening track from their first album of the same name (1996). They’re serving old-school death metal, characterised by growling, bass thrumming through the floorboards, and drums going off like artillery. Their sound dominates your eardrums – they did not come to take prisoners. Finally, at 7.10pm precisely, Warlord UK give us the first proper mosh pit of the main stage (and probably the whole day). It’s all downhill from here, kids!

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Back to Stage 2 we go, because at 7.20pm Winter Storm are whipping up some dark melodic metal. It’s an exciting time for this band – after six years they’ve finally finished recording their third album. Keep your eyes peeled – it should be released within the next few months. They treat the crowd to a rendition of a brand new song (demo available on Soundcloud); ‘Astral World’. I reckon six years was probably worth the wait, as this is triumphant. Their sound is lush with classical elements and fairy-like moments of magic (especially from John Bradley on backing vocals and keyboard). They’re fronted by Hannah Fieldhouse (guitar, vocals) who gives a soft, almost operatic alto voice. They go on to showcase a recorded but as yet totally unreleased song, ‘Everdark’. It’s really quite lovely. It opens with gentleness and innocence, then creeps up into a massive hammer of noise. I await their new album with impatience.

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It’s 7.50pm on the Main Stage, and I’m gonna need you to fasten your seatbelt. Are you ready for possibly the most rave review I’ve ever written? Gird your loins and prepare for the ultimate Gushing Fangirl Experience. It’s time for Lost Society.

(Disclaimer: This will be my first taste of Lost Society. All I really know is that they’re Finnish thrash metal. I’m not a pre-existing fan. I didn’t go into this expecting something so incredible. Alright, let’s begin.)

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Vocalist and guitarist Samy Elbanna vaults onto stage, full scream ahead, and commands the crowd to “tear this f*cking place down!” There is an instant mosh pit, bigger than ever before. Within a second of Elbanna being on stage, this has become a whole new festival. The atmosphere is instantly on a totally different level. This is real charisma!

They open with ‘Prophecy’. I think it might be a really new one, as it’s not featured on any of their released records. Elbanna has an unbelievable high pitched scream vocal, and by far the best headbang of the festival. The whole band are totally electrifying, and instantly my favourite performance of the day so far.

The band cut off halfway through a song – “No, no, no! Birmingham, what the f*ck was that?” Elbanna demands that we headbang properly, and now the real sh*t is about to go down. They burst back into noise, and they’re bringing it so hard that I expect them to smash their guitars any minute. The crowd is going insane, and I’m getting my first pure metal high of the day. I’m absolutely soaring.

They get the loudest, rowdiest applause, and the most ferocious mosh pit. Some fine bruises will be born this evening (and some lovelorn hearts. More than half of the women in the crowd are falling in love with Lost Society as we speak. Trust me, I know. We had a meeting).

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Lost Society crash into ‘Hollow Eyes’ from their 2016 album ‘Braindead’, and all this talent is just too much. I’m struggling to describe their sound. Rapid, sharp, thrashing and writhing, but executed with absolute precision and lightning energy. This is the HRH we were dreaming of. This is what we came for. I swear to Metal Jesus, I’m somewhere between peeing my pants and actually crying. I genuinely feel emotional. (I really love metal, ok? Don’t judge.) Elbanna and guitarist Arttu Lesonen headbang in sync for the cameras. They know how magical they are! Like creatures from another world. This festival is truly blessed.

This is followed by the 2016 ‘Californian Easy Listening’ version of their 2014 track ‘Terror Hungry’. This is one of my favourites, and hearing it live is a spiritual experience. Don’t go listening to Lost Society expecting harps and cherubs, though. This is communion with a very different being. Bassist Mirko Lehtinen twirls across the stage with exuberance, looking exactly how I feel. ‘Terror Hungry’ is made of pure joy. The guitar melody alone is a masterpiece that makes me want to skip away into the sunset.

They play ‘Kill (Those Who Oppose Me)’ from their 2013 album ‘Fast Loud Death’ next, featuring the best shrieking freaking guitar of all time. Elbanna cuts loose from his guitar and whizzes with pleasure – this guy has boundless energy. After this they treat us to a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Guerrilla Radio’. Elbanna cries, “Are you ready to jump? Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!” The whole room kicks off from the ground – the crowd will obey his every command. The song is charged with a million volts.

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The crowd sings along to the guitar melody for the next one; “Wo-oh-oh-oh, wo-oh-oh-oh!” It’s ‘I Am the Antidote’ from ‘Braindead’, and this riff will stay in your head till the end of time. I feel like crying again. It’s so beautiful! Look at that fingerwork from Elbanna and Lesonen! I mean, I know you can’t see it but just imagine the most flawless thing in the world.

Elbanna, Lesonen and Lehtinen abruptly leave the stage, but the show is far from over. We’re treated to a magnificent drum solo from Ossi Paananen – they really are spoiling us! Red and blue lights flicker as Paananen builds the music to the point of seizure. It’s historically excellent.

The rest of the band return (presumably after diving into a tank of ice cubes) and promise to come back to the UK. I guarantee that I will hold them to this promise. They bring us a brand new song, ‘No Absolution’. It begins with rollicking guitar and a huge, almost tribal thud of drums before descending into lawless chaos. 11/10, highly recommend.

The time has come for Lost Society’s final song of the night. What could it be? It is, of course, “TIME TO RIOT!” The audience screams with Elbanna as ‘Riot’ begins. He jumps like a spring, and the room is flying. The sound grows into a solid wall – it clatters into the sky – I feel as though I’m hallucinating. Elbanna’s final scream echoes. He’s drenched in sweat. The crowd keep screaming.

I don’t think I’ll be listening to Lost Society again. HA! Just kidding. I’m never listening to anything but Lost Society ever again.

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I have a few minutes to recover from Lost Society (hahaha I’ll never recover) before Raging Speedhorn hit the Main Stage at 9.10pm. They open with, “Birmingham! It’s Saturday night! Are you f*cking ready?!” We were born ready. They open with the colossal roar of ‘Bring out Your Dead’, the most popular song from their more recent album ‘Lost Ritual’ (2017).

Raging Speedhorn have a massive hardcore sound, and I am feeling it. Their two vocalists, Frank Reagan and John Loughlin, have a fantastic dynamic. Their voices are perfectly matched, and hard as stones. The crowd is bigger than ever. The venue is totally full and at maximum ferocity. Everyone is jumping, moshing, throwing drinks or all three. “I wanna see some f*cking circle pit with some f*cking mosh pit inside it.” Yes sir!

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In the meantime, Red Rum are wrapping up Stage 2 for the night in style. Proof positive of the eternal popularity of pirate metal, the room is totally packed. (“It’s not a phase, Mum!” she yells as she dons her fifth tricorn hat of the evening.) Red Rum are just a ton of fun to listen to. They’re heavy but with enough piratey elements to keep it light. They’re not quite “Yo-ho-ho”, but somewhere fairly close. The crowd punches the air as they witness the most metal keyboard in the world. Also, everyone is drunk, obviously. This is pirate metal after all – inebriation is compulsory.

They play a mix of old and new, ranging from ‘Red Rum’ (one of the first songs they ever wrote) all the way to ‘To War’, which is brand new and as yet unreleased. They give real quality piracy and a hell of a show.

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You know what this stage needs? A f*ckton of balloons. It’s 10.40pm, and just about time for the Main Stage to reach maximum chaos level. It’s time for TrollfesT.

The room darkens and Carl Orff’s ‘O Fortuna’ plays briefly (you know, the one from X Factor). This is followed by something considerably more… troll-like. The trolls prance onto stage in full regalia. Think huge hardcore men wearing princess dresses, UV tiaras, drag-esque makeup and light-up shoes. Trollmannen (vocalist and Troll King) enters wearing a furry cape and an unfeasibly large crown made entirely of balloons. I mean, of course he does. What else would one wear to such a special occasion? Also, Drekka Dag has a light-up alto saxophone. My life is complete.

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They open with ‘Fjøsnissens Fjaseri’, the first song of their 2019 album ‘Norwegian Fairytales’. All of the songs from this album are based on Norwegian folklore. As far as I can tell, ‘Fjøsnissens Fjaseri’ is to do with a troll who will either care for your barn animals or set fire to them, depending on how you treat him. Don’t take my word for it, though. My Norwegian isn’t exactly dyktig.

All I know for sure is that TrollfesT give a wondrous spectacle. They’re described as folk metal, but they’d be better described as a fusion between heavy metal and childlike naughtiness. Mr. Seidel (guitar), Dr. Leif Kjønnsfleis (guitar), and Lodd Bolt (bass) skip merrily in circles, terrorising the photographers and being everything that I wish humans could be. Drekka Dag is playing the sax as if it’s a whistle. Trollmannen has drums even though Trollbank has drums, because… drums? During ‘Fräulein Helluva’ (which happens to be “about the woman who lives at the centre of the Earth”), Fjernkontrollet (accordion) becomes a crab. I’m not sure why, but he doesn’t need a reason. He literally runs sideways across the stage doing crab claws. TrollfesT is made entirely of mischievousness and fever dreams.

This is because TrollfesT are on the side of chaos, as Trollmannen explains. “I want you people to run around that pillar there, and I want you people to run around that pillar there. I want you people to jump up and down, and I want you people to sit down and have a conversation. And I want that guy to just stare at me and give me nothing! […] Can you give me chaos, Birmingham? […] Then here’s ‘Kaptein Kaos’!”

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They follow the incredibly random ‘Kaptein Kaos’ with ‘De tre Bukkene Berusa’, another from the ‘Norwegian Fairytales’ album. According to Trollmannen, this “is a song about not feeding alcohol to your pets… or livestock.” This one is short but sweet, and leads on to ‘Solskinnsmedisin’ from the ‘Kaptein Kaos’ album (2014). It turns out that life on land began when trolls went back in time, partied on a beach and threw up in the sea. This caused the sea creatures to want to leave the sea and live on land instead, and the rest is history. Who knew?

During ‘Solskinnsmedisin’, Lodd Bolt goes into the crowd and becomes the leader of “the world’s biggest conga line in Birmingham history!” He leads the conga line around the entire venue while still playing bass. The whole room is full of conga – even the balconies. This is what I call going to the cabana party!

The final song of the night is ‘Helvetes Hunden Garm’, a glorious blast from the past of TrollfesT’s first album ‘Willkommen Folk Tell Drekka Fest!!’ (2005). I gather that it’s about the dog which guards Hel’s gate. It sounds like it should be sinister, and Trollmannen’s vocals are demonic. However, like all TrollfesT songs, it gives unadulterated glee. Trollmannen gets the whole crowd chanting, “Woof woof woof! Woof woof woof!” The room headbangs and bounces off the walls. Naughty Lodd Bolt is trying to crowdsurf to the toilet, to the infinite despair of the O2 staff who keep trying to catch him (crowdsurfing actually isn’t allowed at this venue! He is a troll though, so disobedience is to be expected). The trolls troll their way around the stage, trolling in every sense of the word. They end with a great “Woo-hoo-hoo!” I’ll be bouncing all the way home.’

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Sunday

Take some ibuprofen for your hangover and get ready to rock – there’s no rest for the wicked at HRH Metal. Once again, the day starts at 1pm but the crowd really starts to wake up for the Main Stage kickoff at 3pm. The first band to the main stage are Dirty Shirt. They’re a crossover folkcore band from Romania (Transylvania specifically), and they are totally f*cking awesome.

The first sound is a mesh of clips from TV shows, starting silly then getting more serious. All eight members of the band explode into sound for their brand new single ‘Put It On’, and it is fabulous! What an opening. Every band member bounces across the stage. Their energy completely revitalises the crowd. Already people are grinning and moving. It may be a Sunday afternoon, but suddenly it feels like Saturday night.

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Their sound is playful. They have a headbanging force combined with folksy cheeky elements, and it makes me bounce like a jack in the box. Dan “Rini” Craciun gives piercing, high pitched vocals while Robert Rusz brings a deeper vocal growl. Together they create a gorgeous dynamic and a really addictive sound. The cutie that is Cosmin Nechita plays the violin both traditionally and as if it’s a tiny guitar, and brings me infinite pleasure. Nechita gives a beautiful pure sound with great skill and rapidity. Trust me, I used to play the violin and was absolutely terrible. I can appreciate a master at work by comparison. (No, seriously. I played violin for years, and I’m convinced that by the end I sounded more like a strangled cat than when I started.)

Every member of Dirty Shirt has piles of infectious energy, and I really can’t stop smiling. This is the greatest opening to the main stage! What a treat. Why save the best till last, after all? Honestly though, I do think it’s a tragedy that they’re not playing when it’s busier. I’d give my left arm to see them in the evening with a big crowd. The atmosphere right now is phenomenal, and I can only imagine how good it would be if they were headlining. I adore them. Plus their new album ‘Letchology’ is being released on 8th March. Listen to it, love it, incentivise them to tour in your area. You’re welcome in advance.

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By the time they reach their fifth song, ‘Ciocarlia’ from their 2015 album ‘Dirtylicious’, I’m completely lost in the moment. I’m jumping, I’m headbanging, I don’t want to write, I only want to dance. Dirty Shirt fill the stage, pound across the room and dive under my skin. They fly from ‘Ciocarlia’ straight into ‘Moneyocracy’ from the same album, which alternates between jigging and thrashing. At the end of ‘Moneyocracy’, Cracium points into the crowd and wails dementedly, then breaks down into a monstrous cackle which gives me tingles.

They change the pace for the seventh song. “The next one is a sad song”, Rusz tells us. “It’s called ‘Poor Heart’”. So it is, when translated to English. The Romanian name is ‘Saraca inima me’, and you’ll find it as you peruse their 2013 album ‘Freak Show’. It begins slowly and softly. Rusz and Cracium sing long and low, and the drums begin to thud. The sound gradually builds, becoming a passionate feast for the senses. It’s the kind of thing you’d secretly sing in dramatic fashion in front of the mirror.

For the next one they power up into full freak mode with ‘Bad Apples’, their best known song and the truest antidote to sadness. This is a party, after all! They deserve the world’s biggest mosh pit. They deserve the best crowds and the best stage and the best of everything. ‘Bad Apples’ makes me want to split my skull open through sheer enthusiasm. It’s heavy, screaming, but somehow light and happy. They finish on ‘Latcho Drom’, which is glorious and you should listen to it when ‘Letchology’ is released. (Did I mention that it’s coming out in March? You should buy it.) I think it’s over for a moment, but suddenly they kick the power up to full monster freakout. They end transcendentally. Dirty Shirt are like a fizzy fruity cocktail after a long day at the office.

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Next up on the Main Stage at 4.30pm are Fury, here to bring universe-spanning fantasycore to your earholes, and I’m so excited! Last year they had a spot on Stage 2, and I commented in my review that they “are a quality act, and could probably have carried a spot on the main stage”. While I know that my review probably wasn’t high up in the list of reasons for their main stage spot this year, I can’t help feeling a bit smug. Look at me, being right about things. Heh heh.

They enter the stage with confidence, and dive straight into their best-known song ‘Lost In Space’. Ahh, there it is; that immaculately smooth and mellow old-school vocal from Julian Jenkins. I remember it well. It’s actually even better this year, as Jenkins has had a few singing lessons. I’m fully on board with this. If you are a vocalist and you take it seriously, get singing lessons. (Assuming you’re fortunate enough to afford them, of course.) I cannot stress this enough. Almost all successful vocalists get singing lessons. Just because you’re already good doesn’t mean you can’t improve. Your teacher might not have as wide a vocal range as you or be as successful, but that doesn’t mean that their feedback won’t make you better. Ok, tangent over. Back to the show.

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Fury have wonderful chemistry on stage, and they’ve really thought about how they come across visually as well as aurally. Their style of performance is classic yet playful – spinning, headbanging, hair flipping, tongue out… The perfect amount of showboating. I really can’t stress how great their chemistry as a band is. This is even more remarkable considering that lead guitarist Jake Elwell has only been with Fury for just over a month. Honestly, they’ve meshed so perfectly that I would never have guessed they haven’t been playing together for years. Elwell is such a pleasure to watch – he beams his way through the entire show. (He’s actually quite annoyed at himself for smiling so much. Apparently he’s supposed to be pulling a fearsome metal face, but he just can’t stop grinning as he’s having such a good time.)

Also, I need to take a moment to praise the utmost professionalism of Elwell and the whole of Fury for how they deal with technical difficulty. Elwell’s guitar comes unplugged at one point (the only awkward moment in an otherwise flawless show). They play through it without stopping and without panicking. They don’t let the quality of their performance falter even slightly, and the issue is resolved as smoothly as you like.

The pièce de résistance is their next to last song ‘A Tale Of Silver’ from the album ‘Lost In Space’ (2016). Why is this performance so special, I hear you ask? It’s because ‘A Tale Of Silver’ is fifteen minutes of epic pirate melodrama enacted live on stage. It comes complete with costumes, swords, and a crew of comely wenches. Jenkins acts out the part of Captain while continuing to sing, and the music trembles through the body. He leads his crew on a treasure hunt, they share the booty with the audience, they battle rivals and are taken as prisoners, they appear defeated… But of course, their fortune rises again! This is pronounced by a fingerpicked solo from Elwell which is the stuff of dreams. The whole thing is unexpected and unbelievable. They finish on a high with ‘Drunken Sailor’. Lawd, I hope to see them on the main stage again.

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We witness a menagerie of bands over the next few hours. Left for Red open Stage 2 at 5pm with catchy hooks and simple potent melodies. They show a good deal of promise. Witch Tripper hit the main stage at 6pm and make for wonderful viewing. They open with reverberating power, like a drill into the Earth. These are quality noises to shred your eardrums, featuring a “fit unicorn”. Richie Barlow (vocals, guitar) works incredibly hard, glittering with sweat within the first couple of songs. He has a really strong classic metal voice, complemented perfectly by his use of the Metal Three Tees (Topless, Tats, Triceps. In case you were wondering.)

Witch Tripper are followed on the Main Stage by thrash band Acid Reign (who are down a guitarist. Paul Chanter is away with a kidney infection). They burn up the stage with maximum craziness. Howard Smith (vocals) runs around like a maniac – even onto the balconies at one point. Pete Dee (bass) skips and twirls in circles. The whole band punches and kicks the air, vault across the stage and chase one another. They do so much that you barely have time to notice that Smith’s vocals aren’t the greatest in the world. Still, they make up for that with pure humour, and the pounding drums have me bouncing to the ceiling. Also, big shout-out to Smith for asking the crowd to give the photographers a round of applause. They really deserve it! I’m working with Indie Images Photography today, and he’s struggling through a freshly broken finger. That’s commitment for ya.

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At 7.30pm Def Con One take to Stage 2, with a very small but extremely enthusiastic crowd. Danny Hagar gives a highly potent unclean vocal, and performs like some kind of ogre or insane cannibal. He thrashes as he headbangs, hunches and stomps across the stage. It makes for intense viewing. He even spits on the stage at one point (urgh). Hagar’s vocal is really enjoyable and varied – he moves from growl to scream to clean and back again.

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I head back to the Main Stage at 8.30pm for Devilment, and my first thought is that this is gonna bring all the goths to the yard. Or at least it will if they ever start playing. They really are late, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a band start late at HRH. Everything else has ran perfectly on time – so perfectly that it’s almost spooky. I’m beginning to think that HRH is run by wizards. I don’t know why Devilment are so late – nobody offers a reason. It might not be their fault at all, but it still feels like a bad omen.

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Finally, almost 25 minutes late, the lights go down. Ominous music plays. Dani Filth (vocals) walks onto stage to screams from the crowd. His outfit is incredibly extra. He’s wearing a decorated top hat, giant boots, a long coat, and lots of dangly mystery items. They give a large, complex sound with operatic and creepy symphonic layers, partly provided by Anabelle Iratni. Iratni gives the occasional operatic backing vocal which I’d love to hear more of, and some really hardcore performance on the keyboard. She thrashes and tosses her multi-coloured hair as if this is the last time. Filth himself has a thrilling lead vocal comprising of deep growls and high pitched screams of terror. At times he sounds like a girl being murdered. At the end of the set they leave the stage abruptly. They don’t announce that this will be the last song, they don’t do anything special for it, and they don’t even say “thank you” or “goodbye”. It’s weird and anticlimactic, leaving the fans confused. On the other hand, one fan I spoke to said that he’s seen Devilment five times and that this was their tightest set yet. Devilment giveth and Devilment taketh away.

While all this is going on, at 9pm King Creature completes the lineup of Stage 3 for the day. They have a classic rock tenor vocal from Dave Kellaway (vocals, bass), a rousing sound, and buckets of crowd participation. Celebration rings through every note – this is feelgood metal at its finest.

At 10pm, the poor sods of blackened death metal band Blood Oath wrap up Stage 2. I say “poor sods” because they’re playing at the same time as the main stage headline band, so the crowd is much tinier than what they deserve. It’s a real shame because they’ve clearly made an effort. Look at that paint and those raggedy clothes! They look like a clan that’s halfway through surviving the apocalypse. They are fronted by Mark Johnson’s sharp unclean vocal, and carried by simple but strong melodies. The teensy crowd give them massive applause, and they deserve it.

Also at 10pm, Polish death metal band Decapitated are due on the Main Stage, although they arrive 15 minutes late. That might be because of Devilment’s previous tardiness, but I’m not sure. All hands raise into the air as the band enter the stage and give the heaviest intro of history. It’s time for ‘One-Eyed Nation’ (from ‘Anticult’, 2017).

Rafał Piotrowski (vocals) has dreadlocks down to his knees. As he headbangs they writhe around him like snakes. He has an extremely deep, gravelly growl which reverberates across the venue. Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka’s guitar screams into space. The sound is an unfathomable juddering machine. I’m feeling the death in this metal – I think I might have a heart attack. The mosh pit has truly awakened.. This is anarchy at its finest.

Decapitated don’t go in for much of a visual, but they don’t have to. They mostly stand and headbang stoically. The music gets the crowd wild all on its own. Bassist Hubert Wiecek’s head rotates on its axis as he headbangs – at times he looks as though his neck might snap. Kieltyka gives shrieking solos, his fingers moving at light speed.

Michal Lysejko gives a constant, impossibly fast drum beat. Kieltyka and Wiecek give a constant, impossibly fast guitar shred. Piotrowski gives an almost constant, impossibly consistent roar. It’s a simple recipe, but perfectly executed. Decapitated make an immaculately risen metal soufflé. (Don’t ask me why I chose such a strange metaphor, because I don’t know. This festival is driving me mad.)

They play a whole range of songs from different points in their history, from ‘Day 69’ (2006) to ‘Blood Mantra’ (2014), which comes about halfway through the set. The music is bowel-churning, and the mosh pit bubbles like a cauldron. The bodies inside it are tender and about to break, but they fight on. They are galvanised and trapped by the music. Decapitated play all the way to ‘Earth Scar’, the most popular song from their newest 2017 album ‘Anticult’. ‘Earth Scar’ also happens to be my personal favourite. It’s full of spiky riffs that pierce your skin and infect your blood. The room pulses and punches the air as the instrumental grinds down slowly, then accelerates into a mechanical squeal. The notes ring on infinitely.

Decapitated grant us one more song; ‘Amen’, the final track of ‘Anticult’. The notes are leisurely but thrumming with rage. The moshpit is a tornado crumpling into itself. Wiecek smiles with evil humour. Piotrowski’s dreadlocks squirm, and Kieltyka throws his head back with pride. The crowd bawls, never taking a moment for breath.

Decapitated brought the deathliest, highest quality death metal that money can’t buy, and more crowdsurfers than you can shake a drumstick at (26, to be precise). We leave HRH Metal 2019 on a high. It’s been a good ‘un. Aside from the obvious TrollfesT and Decapitated, the best points of the festival were Lost Society, Dirty Shirt and Fury. I look forward to listening to them until my brain actually melts.

My last sight is of a man kicking his way through plastic cups strewn across the floor like a child skipping through autumn leaves.

See the complete photoset from HRH Metal 2019 here.

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