LIVE: Hellfire II, Day 1, NEC 07/11/09
Funny place the NEC, especially late at night or at the weekend. It has the vibe of an abandoned shopping centre or late night airport. And it is deep within the bowels of this 21st century suburban nightmare that we finally come across Music Live, the musicians expo twinned with Hellfire this weekend, and Grand Theft Audio, our first band of the weekend.
After an eight year absence, I can’t imagine this was the comeback they had planned, but they’re certainly doing their best. Inexplicably dressed in a sailor suit, singer Jay does his best to fire up a curious lunchtime crowd, but sadly their slightly dated crossover rock doesn’t quite get there. Still, at least they got small children to dance to the sweary bits, which is always fun.
After a fair amount of confusion trying to find the main part of Hellfire festival, and an initial panic that it has been cancelled at late notice (seriously guys, a few signposts wouldn’t have gone amiss!) we catch melodic thrashers The More I See on the Big Cheese stage. Well I say stage, I mean conference suite, as it is held in a carpeted side-room more used to Powerpoints and flipcharts than an all-out aural assault from a collection of Satan’s finest.
Missing recently departed rhythm guitarist Gavin, The More I See are a slightly more stripped down affair today, but still packing a hell of a punch. Singer Peter remains an electric force onstage, stalking the boards and belting out his strong vocal over a solid backing and Gizz’s virtuoso guitar performance.
Back in the music live room, we catch the underground supergroup that is GMT. Comprising Robin Guy, John McCoy and Bernie Torme, this could easily have become a bit of a pompous wankfest like so many other similar projects, but luckily for us, all players remain sufficiently humble to remember the audience. Instead, we get three musicians at the top of their game having a good time onstage, a mood which infects the audience, playing a wide range, from roots rock n roll through hard rocking moments and some deep blues.
I have to admit, I rushed off to see Malefice because I thought they were someone else, but once there stayed for a bit. Fast and thunderously heavy (indeed, the bass on this stage has been turned up to bowel-churning levels all day), Malefice riff and roar through their modern metal set. They do lose points though for calling the fairly small crowd ‘pussies’ because of a fairly limp response – insulting the audience is never going to help now is it?
Opening the Metalhammer stage – implausibly, house in a small meeting room with no actual stage – with a furious metal blast so loud it made even me jump, Fury UK easily and confidently command their audience tonight. These lads have really come on as a live force over the last few years, their classic metal vibe infecting all in the room, with a large contingent from the Fury faithful in attendance. Shame they only had 20 minutes to play, for them equating to just three songs, but they pushed every minute and ended with a triumphant Death By Lightning, which prompted someone near me to actually mime ‘face-melting’ to his friend during Chris’s guitar solo.
Admission time again here, I really wasn’t expecting much from Blaze Bayley. I was distinctly unimpressed last time I came across him at a Clive Aid event, and I do still hold a grudge about the Maiden years with Blaze, but he turns out to be the best showman of the day so far. If not exactly forced to eat my words, I was at least obliged to have a good nibble, as the man’s stunningly operatic voice and undeniable stage-presence took hold of the crowd by the balls and gave it a damn good rocking. Announcing that this was the ‘first time in his illustrious career’ that he had played the NEC, I was amused to note that for young Luke from Fury UK, guesting on bass for Blaze, this was the second time he’d played the NEC today.
Easily one of the biggest draws of today, Canadian metal underdog heroes Anvil are certainly making the best of their newly-recovered fame. Playing gloriously unreformed solid 80’s metal as surely as if it was the first time round, Lips really holds and plays with the crowd, manically grinning the whole time. The classics from the movie (they did mention it – how could they not?) went down a storm, and the material from the new album is sounding huge in scale, with Rob Reiner’s double-kick bass drum being felt as much as heard out in the crowd. The infamous guitar-solo-on-a-vibrator was surprisingly more than just a novelty – its amazing the sounds you can get from the strings by just changing the toy’s speed! They ended on the ridiculously catchy Metal On Metal, the chorus of which stubbornly refused to leave our heads for the rest of the weekend.
Forsaking the main stage for a little while, I headed over to the smaller stages to catch mid-90s rebel sensations, Senser. Unknown to many perhaps, these guys nevertheless are headlining the Scuzz stage tonight. Combing rap-metal (when it still had an edge) with undeniable rave influences, the live arena is the best place to catch Senser, with a manic live performance constantly drawing your eyes between the frantic guitars and drums, the DJ and the two highly-animated vocalists. After all these years, the anger and the passion is undeniably still there, with their message as relevant today as ever. And it’s damn good to dance to as well.
After something as hard hitting as that, I have to admit Saxon were frankly a bit dull in comparison, and I struggled to shift my brain down the required few gears. Still, everyone’s had a few beers, everyone knows the songs, and no doubt a lot of the audience are here mainly for this, so the metal anthems blasting from the main stage are well received, and a fitting way as any to end the day.
Words – Dave Ashworth / Images – Trudi Knight