This weekend, Wales played home to the heavily anticipated ninth cycle of Hard Rock Hell Festival, delivering yet another extraordinary event filled with die-hard fans, a copious level of booze, and over fifty bands from across the globe ready and willing to perform to thousands of rockers, all confined to a quaint Holiday park along the coastline of Pwllheli.
Each year, both Festival veterans and encouraged newcomers prepare themselves for this incredible “must see” event, which provides a definitively unique festival experience to all its visitors. Passes and accommodation options sell out every year, faster than I’ve known any other event to reach it’s capacity, with many passes going to those who are already devotees to the Festival and can’t get enough of what HRH has to offer.
For me, there’s no better event in the year than Hard Rock Hell – we may all brace ourselves for the Great British cold and grayness to fall, dread the entrance of winter, and become content with staying indoors at this time of year, but HRH is not your average festival. From it’s fully equipped apartments and caravans, close-proximity venue options, to the on-site pubs and restaurants, all brought together by the awesome atmosphere of the place, you really can’t go wrong.
We made our way down to Wales on Thursday morning; car packed to the nines with what suddenly appeared to be more alcohol than food, this year’s line-up timetable, and a budget in mind for how much I’d allow myself to spend on merchandise this year. Upon arrival, it doesn’t take long for the event to start as it means to go on, with numerous activities in place, alongside the bars, pub and restaurant all kicking in to full swing once you’re past check-in!
I can’t deny it, the weather was awful for most of the weekend – as a result of the backlash from the storms up in Scotland we were faced with some pretty awful weather, enough to make anyone want to stay indoors and eat pizza all night, but we endured the walk to the indoor arenas, and each time we arrived it was more than worth the slight inconvenience of a bit of wind and rain!
Highlights of Hard Rock Hell IX
Tasked with opening Hard Rock Hell on Thursday evening, Screaming Eagles did not disappoint, and provided the perfect ‘warm-up’ for the rest of the night. The Northern Ireland rock quartet provided an incredible classic Rock ‘n’ Roll performance (including the special addition of an on-stage fire-dancer), with their enthusiasm definitely rubbing off on the crowd. Based on the amount of ‘Screaming Eagles’ T-shirts I saw through the day, you’d think this was a band set to headline, but I can certainly see now why they have such a strong following.
With an incredible collaboration of raging vocals, lively guitar solos, intense rhythmic drums and energetic floor-trembling bass-lines, there’s no denying Screaming Eagles were a crowd-pleaser. Playing sing-a-long hits including ‘Rock N Roll Soul’, and covers from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, even those unfamiliar with the band left impressed.
Following on from their recent tour with Michael Monroe and Hardcore Superstar, Chase The Ace were the rising stars of the festival for me. Providing 1980’s inspired Hard Rock and Glam Metal, these guys managed to display a real passion for what they were doing and the bands they love, and entertain the crowd on all three occasions they performed across the weekend.
Hailing from Israel, Chase The Ace are now based in London, and spend most of their time touring and getting their sound out in advance of their new album, due out next month. Each member of the band played in such a way that produced a sound specifically distinguishable to them, even on the cover tracks they played. Coupled with the controlled and dexterous vocals of Roi (vocals/guitar), the band has a terrific skill of producing a unique sound with a great hook.
Chase The Ace were given the task of closing the festival, with a set scheduled after Saxon. It was amazing to see how many people crossed over to see this act, even after a full day of non-stop music.
This is a band that screams Classic Rock through-and-through.
What I loved about this band is how the bass player seemed to take stance as the lead on many of the songs, with a heavy vibrating bass-line that changed the tone of the song, and gave it a really cool groove. All I kept thinking while watching the performance was “this is like Arthur Brown meets true Rock ‘n’ Roll” (in a good way)… I loved their overall interaction and playing style, raunchy singing techniques from frontman Addy, and their laid back approach, including throwing out CDs and T-shirts into the crowd… free stuff always sells.
This is a band I’ve been dying to see since I first heard them, but timing has never fallen in my favour – even on this tour they set a Manchester date that fell over the Hard Rock Hell weekend! They didn’t disappoint, and laid on a terrific set from their latest album, opening with their signature song “The Legend of the Spaceborn Killer”, and including a few new songs to test out on the crowd. As expected, they laid on an eccentric stage performance from start to finish, which didn’t seem to faze Brandon (Lead) one bit, while he threw himself around the stage like he had been possessed.
Meanwhile, Jake (bass) moved around the stage in a way that reflected Robert Trujillo’s infamous ‘crab walk’, holding his bass high, and laying down flawless groove-styled bass-lines to work alongside the well-arranged guitar riffs from Bishop (guitar), giving each song an awesome heavy funk sound.
A festival favourite, and a guaranteed slot on the line-up each year, Massive Wagons brought the first night to a close with their high-octane Rock ‘n’ Roll, fitting perfectly with the boozed up Rock-fueled audience, straight after Black Label Society’s set. The band played an awesome non-stop mix of old and new tracks (featuring on their next album due out next year), showing the party doesn’t stop after the final act!
To top it all off, Baz (vocals) and Adam (guitar) still managed to stage an intimate acoustic set a few hours later for VIP and Royalty pass holders, without looking and acting like they’d just rolled out of bed, which definitely deserves extra brownie points!
Former motorcycle racer, James Toseland, has impressed many by embarking on a solo career in Hard Rock quintet, ‘Toseland’. Other than a few of their early releases from the album ‘Renegade’, I hadn’t heard much from this band, so didn’t have much of an idea towards what I should expect, but I was pleasantly surprised. The band holds a terrific character diversity on-stage, which builds up an incredible and powerful sound, working with the vocals incredibly well. In a way, they reminded me of Steelheart, through their strong balance between dominant vocals and powerful instrumental harmony.
These guys were one of the most intense acts of the weekend, providing such a diverse mix of genres in their songs, combining Metalcore and Heavy Rock ‘n’ Roll to form a fast-action adrenalised sound that was so cool to listen to live.
One of the loudest bands of the weekend, this duo blew the roof off the second stage on the last day of Hard Rock Hell. It’s amazing how much of an aggressive, raw sound these guys manage to achieve through the use of a drum set and acoustic guitar. Through expanding the boundaries of their instruments and just playing around with their sound, these guys came across like two guys messing around in their garage, but producing something awesome at the same time.
Unfortunately, after securing a perfect viewing spot for these guys, the sound really let them down, which was a huge disappointment. We stuck it out for a couple of songs, and then moved to a position where the vocals would be able to reach us, at which point the performance came across so much better. These guys have toured with Crobot previously, and it shows in their on-stage presence, which is quite similar, but still entertaining to watch.
The whole set was made by the mesmerising Robert Plant like sound of Aryn (vocals), working alongside the hypnotic guitar riffs laid down by stern-faced guitarist, Chris. There aren’t many modern bands that manage to produce a truly psychedelic sound in my eyes, but Scorpion Child really seem to have the right connection to do so.
With a headline slot on the Saturday night, Saxon was one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend by many. We arrived at the stage early in preparation, but still not early enough to get ahead of many people who were set up for the rest of the night at the front, ready to watch one of the leading bands from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
The band opened with their latest song, and it was at this point I released just how many die-hard fans had turned out for this show. The audience was alive for the whole performance, joining in with every song and eager for more, even after the encore. Saxon was one of the highlights solely based on the atmosphere that filled the main stage that night, and their ability to perform to such a high standard after nearly 40 years on the road.
A long-standing debate with many festivals always revolves around the line-up, and for Hard Rock Hell it’s no different. It’s not possible to keep everyone happy, expectations can’t always be met, but I believe Hard Rock Hell try their absolute best to accommodate all those who join each year, and take on board all criticisms and advice along the way. This year for me, the festival benefited from its breaking bands and smaller acts more than the more established, recognisable acts on the bill, but that’s simply what worked for me. I know for a fact there were a multitude of deep-rooted ‘from the beginning’ fans, with greater indulgence for the bands they’ve been following for decades. No matter what festival you go to, it’s difficult to provide people with an outstanding line-up that suits them flawlessly, but it is possible to provide a line-up that meets most peoples taste in one way or another.
Hard Rock Hell is one of these festivals, and succeeds in providing diversity and a great mix of bands each year. Next year is the tenth anniversary of the festival, and expected to bring a game changing line-up to mark the occasion, with much of the accommodation for next year’s event already being snatched up. Hard Rock Hell X is going to be another great year of surprises and brilliant music, so make sure you grab your passes while you still can!
Words by Jamie Joe Reader-Johnson
Photos by Jennifer Crew