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Friday 3rd - Saturday 4th December 2010
Pontin's Holiday Park in Prestatyn, Wales
Helloween onstage at Hard Rock Hell IV, 4th December 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Joe Winn - www.metal-discovery.com
Reviews by Mark Holmes & Elena Francis; Photography by Joe Winn
Reviews by Mark Holmes & Elena Francis; Photography by Joe Winn
It may be early in the afternoon but Pretty Boy Floyd are in the mood to party, with vocalist Steve Summers clutching a bottle of vodka. Opening with the title track from their debut ‘Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz’, the tone of the show is set and they want everyone to have a fantastic time. Guitars are buzzing and the vocals are sleazy; just what the doctor ordered to shake out any of those hangovers. For those who did overlook Pretty Boy Floyd, a cover of Motley Crue’s ‘Toast of the Town’ is tossed out and with Summers clearly drawing influence from the Crue’s own Vince Neil, aside from the added heaviness and rawness on the guitar, the song is very similar to the original. Summers moves around plenty on stage and interacts with the audience numerous times, pouring vodka down the throats of those in the front row. He seems to counteract guitarist Kristy Majors who hides behind his long, black hair looking somewhat austere. The majority of the set is plucked straight from the first album and it is a challenge to resist the urge to dance along to the weekend-worshipping ‘Rock and Roll Outlaws’ and ‘48 Hours’. The mandatory ballads are there for the softies: ‘I Wanna Be With You’ and ‘Wild Angels’, which alongside such party-obsessed raw tracks dislocate the mood somewhat. After the L.A. locals most known song ‘Rock and Roll (Is Gonna Set the Night On Fire)’, an unexpected cover of Beastie Boy’s ‘Fight For Your Right to Party’ is tossed out. All in good fun - funny to see so many people singing along. A great way to kick start a bill of eighties hard rock. (EF)
Enuff Z’nuff are a familiar face in the UK, now on their third stint here within the year. The sixties-obsessed rockers originating from Chicago look in good spirits when they open the set with ‘Saturday’. Singer Donnie Vie emphatically enjoys himself with interesting ultra-chilled dances between his acquired taste of rough yet melodic vocals. Often considered a glam metal take on The Beatles, Enuff Z’nuff pack their set with typical fan favourites, most notably from the second album ‘Strength’, often cited as the quartet’s best effort with such titles aired this afternoon as the pop-tinged ‘Baby Loves You’, the no-frills hard rocker ‘Heaven or Hell’ and the necessary ballad ‘Time to Let You Go’, the latter number seeing only Vie and bassist Chip Z’nuff onstage while drummer Randi Scot and L.A. Guns founder Tracii Guns dance across the stage. ‘The Love Train’ from the ‘Animals with Human Intelligence’ release provides a great opportunity to dance, while ‘Right By Your Side’ allows for a more tender moment. Showing their influences, a cover of The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ receives airplay, a recurring song on the band’s setlists, which seems unnecessary given the number of albums Enuff Z’nuff hold to their name, particularly since their latest effort ‘Dissonance’ is neglected entirely tonight. These Americans have saved the best until last though: two songs from the 1989 self-titled debut. ‘Fly High Michelle’ is a touching performance with voices singing along while closing song ‘New Thing’ encourages fans to sing along whole-heartedly to the ethereal guitar leads. The ovation is strong and Enuff Z’nuff are all smiles, thankful for performing and generally responsible for holding the venue to a good time, especially this early on in the day. (EF)
Continuing the late-‘80s hard rock thread this afternoon, L.A. Guns are one of the more ballsy bands of their time. However, due to various disagreements and bitchiness, there are currently two versions of L.A. Guns in circulation: one led by vocalist Phil Lewis and drummer Steve Riley and the other housing guitarist Tracii Guns. The Tracii Guns version is the one that has made it to Hard Rock Hell. With singer Jizzy Pearl from hard rock band Love/Hate, the group begin the show with the bright ‘Electric Gypsy’ from the outstanding debut self-titled release. Pearl’s vocals are not as tough as Lewis’ and the songs lose the idiosyncratic and careless attitude instilled in their recorded counterparts. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to let Pearl ruin the excellence of ‘Bitch is Back’, ‘Never Enough’, ‘The Ballad of Jayne’ and ‘One More Reason’, fans’ voices raised, singing along word-for-word. Avoiding the age old trick of relying on material exclusively from their first two albums, later songs from their career are featured in the set such as ‘Decide’ and ‘Dreamtime’. Musically, the songs are well-executed with plenty of chunky sleazy riffs and a formidable bass line. The set is spiced with a couple of Love/Hate songs too, pleasing the fans of Pearl: ‘Spinning Wheel’ and ‘Black Out in the Red Room’, both of which receive surprisingly strong reactions. The best was certainly reserved for last with the violent ‘No Mercy’ and the sleaze-overdose that is ‘Sex Action’, the closer probably L.A. Guns’ most well-known track. The set feels like it has vanished too quickly and the reaction the band receive is tremendous and they have deserved it without doubt, even if the vocalist is not Phil Lewis. (EF)
Paul Di’Anno, who will perhaps be forever best known for the man who sung on Iron Maiden’s first two albums, ‘Iron Maiden and ‘Killers’, acknowledges this fact today with a set predominantly comprised of tunes from said releases. Thus we have ‘Wrathchild’, ‘Prowler’, ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, ‘Strange World’, ‘Remember Tomorrow’, ‘Charlotte the Harlot’, ‘Killers’, ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Iron Maiden’. Each song is greeted with probably the loudest cheers heard in Pontin’s during the entire weekend and, fortunately, Di’Anno still has one amazing voice so, together with his band of skilled musicians, does each of the tracks justice. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to Buster Bloodvessel these days, he comes across as a larger than life character with his between song banter. Di’Anno frequently refers to how “cold” it is in the venue with references aplenty to the size of his own bollocks, despite the temperature within the Pontin’s complex actually being a little on the hot side, particularly crammed to capacity as it is with sweaty bodies during his set. He also feels the need to dispel misconceptions of bad blood between himself and former Maiden band mates (despite some of these ‘misconceptions’ rooted in his own rantings in the past) by informing the audience before ‘Strange World’ that – “This song was written by my old mate Steve Harris and, regardless of what people say, we are still fucking mates”. Seemingly a victim of Helloween’s reshuffled set time, Di’Anno declares prior to final song ‘Iron Maiden’ that he has four songs to go but has just been informed by one of the stage crew he only has four minutes left. So it’s something of an abrupt end to his set but no-one present looks even vaguely disappointed as he exits the stage to rapturous applause and deafening cheers. (MH)
Originally scheduled to appear at 1am, festival organisers sensibly moved Helloween’s stage time to 8:30pm, presumably at the request of the band seeing as they’d be playing a headline show in London the following night. Just before the German power metal pioneers take to the stage, the main hall is once more, as with Paul Di’anno, crammed full of eager festival punters with an overspill of people in the adjacent bar area who only manage to watch their set from the wings. Opening with new album track ‘Are You Metal?’, which is kind of rhetorical in the context within which they’re performing today, ‘Eagle Fly Free’ swiftly follows and this marks the first of six tracks aired from the two original late-80s ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys’ albums. A band who know how to satisfy a festival audience, key ‘Keeper…’ songs also performed are ‘March of Time’, ‘I’m Alive’, ‘I Want Out’, ‘Future World’ and encore number ‘Dr Stein’, as well as ‘Walls of Jericho’ track ‘Ride the Sky’. That only leaves room in the set for two other songs – ‘Where the Sinners Go’ and ‘A Handful of Pain’, so one has to question the inclusion of a lengthy drum solo midway, as well as a guitar solo and the extended audience participation versions of ‘I Want Out’ and ‘Future World’. While the latter sing-alongs undoubtedly add to the festival’s jovial atmosphere, and the drum/guitar solos showcase the musicians’ individual talents, they also devour set time that could’ve been filled with three or four more songs, as I’m sure many present would have liked to hear more Deris-era material. Personally, I revel in the band’s late 80s output so it matters not to me but surely festival sets should be geared up for trying to please everyone. Still, mild grumbles aside, Helloween’s performance is simply awesome tonight and the fervent audience reaction they receive is well earned. (MH)
Saxon are always an excellent live act, truly understanding that a concert is more than watching musicians standing around and playing their instruments, and deservedly headlining the final night of Hard Rock Hell. Although they have been going full steam ahead since the late seventies, Saxon do not let their age deter them from providing a less than stellar show for their dedicated fanbase. ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ is an outstanding choice of song to kick start their set with heads banging and fists pumping in the air. The vibrancy of the guitars in the opener shows why Saxon are one of the UK’s most proud exports. Frontman Biff Byford never stands still, running around the stage, jumping up and down in front of his microphone stand consistently, demanding all eyes watch him try and exert all his infinite energy. His vocals are unaffected by his energetic stage presence and sound as refined as they do on record. The setlist is full of a variety of favourites including ‘Dallas 1pm’, ‘Motorcycle Man’, ‘And the Bands Played On’ and ‘Strong Arm of the Law’. Newer songs including ‘Demon Sweeny Todd’ and ‘To Hell and Back Again’, although not as well-known as the aforementioned classics, are absorbed intensely and it feels like the quintet cannot put a foot wrong. The atmosphere in the audience is fantastic with a growing camaraderie between those singing along to the band. The instantly recognisable opening riff of ‘Princess of the Night’ ensures that people spontaneously combust with joy before singing with Byford’s soaring vocals. Saxon leave the stage at its end and the audience are literally screaming for more. Cue the band returning on stage for a much requested encore. ‘Battalions of Steel’ ignites the three-song encore before leading into a painstakingly elongated variation of the straight-forward ‘Wheels of Steel’, providing even those who do not know the lyrics to get involved. The closer is the band’s own tribute to rock ‘Denim and Leather’, with the perfect headbanging rhythm. The party atmosphere compliments the beer-stained hordes who all have smiles wrapped around their faces by the end of the set. Saxon are proud to see out yet another wholly successful set and it is sad to see them leave but all good things must indeed come to an end. Top marks. (EF)
Due to a change in the running order, the start of Stratovarius’ set locks horns with Helloween’s, which is not the most beneficial thing to these Finnish power metal icons on the second stage. Nonetheless, when Helloween’s set concludes, the audience watching Stratovarius dramatically thickens. With an abundance of headbanging in the congregation, the Finns set to work on soaring melodies, Nordic Winter atmospherics and power metal falsettos that they are known for fashioning. The setlist largely circles around their most popular numbers and their upbeat music suits the beer-tinged festival atmosphere superlatively as they cycle through the energetic ‘Eagleheart’, ‘The Kiss of Judas’ and the technically advanced ‘Speed of Light’, putting plenty of youthful contemporary power metal acts to shame. Singer Timo Kotipelto is very enthusiastic about getting the Welsh gaggle to rabidly consume the meaty melodies the group are serving up, and with a great display of musical creativity, technical prowess, agreeable attitudes and a professional stage presence, Stratovarius are clearly very accustomed at entertaining an audience. Keyboardist Jens Johanssen is a marvel on the keys and heads turn instantly in awe whenever his solos pop up. Similarly, new-ish guitarist Matias Kupiainen is putting considerable amount of effort into comfortably nailing the impressive guitar solos. Kotipelto’s vocals are insanely fresh and apparently untouched and unaffected by age, with no discrepancies between his live bellowing and those on record. ‘Hunting High and Low’ is the song that has all the fans crooning together while ‘Black Diamond’ is packed with so much instrumental technical experience that the existence of a singer in Stratovarius is briefly suspended. Choosing to close the set after ‘Black Diamond’, the Finns look proud of what they have accomplished here tonight. (EF)
Marseille are somewhat of a novelty in that their line up consists of a certain British celebrity. Their guitarist is Neil Buchanan, famous for his hosting of children’s art show ‘Art Attack’. It is a departure watching him on stage rocking out with his rocker hair cut and a shiny waistcoat. Unable to ignore his past endeavours, Buchanan takes charge of most of the banter while the singer Nigel Roberts stands around idly. Buchanan thanks the audience for putting up for him while he did “shitty kids drawings,” and it is quite a sight to behold a children’s television host swear. Musically, Marseille are a seventies New Wave of British Heavy Metal band with plenty of hard rock sounds and, while they are not particularly ground-breaking, the music survives well in the live environment and probably notably heavier than it would sound on record. Not only do they play cuts from their albums from the seventies and eighties but they treat the audience to selections from newest effort ‘Unfinished Business’. The audience are certainly happy to audibly support Marseille despite the early time of day but, whether it is because they actually enjoy the music or because of the novelty of seeing Buchanan, it is unclear. Nonetheless, the band put on a strong show and can rock out; a far cry from a bunch of nostalgic old men. (EF)
I gather that Attica Rage are managed by the main Hard Rock Hell organiser which I guess explicates their presence on the festival's main stage on this second day. Definitely a case of "it's not what you know, but who you know" at work here. At least that's what I thought. It transpires the "what you know" part of that old adage and how Attica Rage execute it is actually rather good, and the unsigned Scottish metal crew prove themselves worthy of the main stage slot with which they have been blessed. Courtesy of the band's said management arrangement, today is actually their second performance at Hard Rock Hell this year, having already played a set of covers on Thursday's pre-festival night for VIP attendees. However, it's all about their own material as they open main stage proceedings late afternoon on this final day, and a respectable sized crowd are present to witness just what they have to offer - predominantly songs infused with thrash tinged guitar riffs, levelled off with the perfect amount of groove and melody. A moment of unintentional comedy and pure Spinal Tap humour arrives at the set's climax when bassist Big C decides to smash his instrument on the stage floor, but he seems to do this with such force that he nearly tumbles from the stage - a funny sight considering his bulky stature and, from my vantage point, it appears his bass fails to break up in any noticeable way! Unfortunate comedy aside though, Attica Rage are fairly impressive today. (MH)