Saturday dawned bright and sunny and off I went for the second day. Special mention as well at this point to the sponsors of the acoustic stage all weekend, Metal Nation Radio. Not cos they were really nice guys who worked damn hard all weekend to broadcast live from the event but cos they showed me where the free biscuits were in the press room as well!
Fortified by those same biscuits I headed to the main stage to catch the first band of the day, Twisted Illusion. Well I would watch them when these children stopped playing on the stage – wait – what? These children are the band? Twisted Illusion are young. VERY young. They started with a beautifully harmonised 3-part hello and then BANG straight into the music, the first song was hard and heavy, the second was almost a power ballad. Technically they were spot-on, even sticking to the theme of the weekend and throwing in a few time changes mid-song. Musically they reminded me of early Priest, solid riffs with a melodic vocal over the top. The ubiquitous Chris Appleton joined them on stage to romp through a cover version of “Heaven And Hell”, which, despite being a Dio-era Sabbath song gave singer Matt the chance to show us some very good Ozzy-esque facial expressions. The crowd was a bit sparse as it was early but they still went down well. I predict a bright future for these boys.
They were followed by Lock Up Laura, a melodic metal band from Lincoln. I liked them, no standout songs that I can recall but yet more time-changes and they reminded me in places of a slightly heavier Pearl Jam.
The acoustic stage then opened for business with another bunch of youngsters, Black Diamond from Liverpool. It turns out that today we only had 2 of the usual 4 members on stage (so should they have been Black Triangle?) With just a single snare drum played with brushes alongside a guitarist/singer they played some nice laid-back music with skill and aplomb. Apparently when they are all there they are a lot harder and faster but today I would have liked the stage to be outside and to have been watching them with a picnic and a glass of Pimms.
Back on the main stage and we had The Raven Age. Apparently this band contains the son of Steve Harris, iconic Iron Maiden bass player. I have no idea which one he was but my money was on the one with his foot up on the monitor for a good proportion of the set…… If pushed I would probably describe them as more modern than a lot of the other bands playing this weekend, possibly even alt rock. They made good use of backing tapes and even started with a bit of a drum solo, several of the songs were bordering on epic length and those time changes were creeping in pretty much everywhere. I enjoyed them, they were sharp and even a bit anthemic.
After another short set on the acoustic stage from Black Diamond which included a wonderful singalong version of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted – Dead or Alive” we had Nick Hellefort. Uh-oh. I have a theory about band who wear black sweatbands, they are pretty much guaranteed to want to be Metallica, badly. Unfortunately several of them play like Metallica, but badly. Not all however I’m pleased to say. So this band came on and the first thing I noticed was Serious Band is Serious. No smiley crowd-pleasing faces here. “We are ze germans” announced the singer. Actually he was technically wrong, they were only one of several German bands on the bill this weekend. They played very traditional metal in the Priest/Maiden vein, even making sure there was plenty of vibrato in those vocals. They finished with a rousing version of SAHB’s “Faith Healer” which was all widdly guitars and sparkly vocals, the crowd had warmed to them by now and I think they even smiled by the time they left the stage!
Next up was the surprise of the weekend, Captain Horizon. I had seen them before and didn’t like them much but today they totally blew me away. They are a 4-piece band from Birmingham who describe themselves as alternative. They were funky with a hard edge, think early RHCP crossed with RATM and you would be in the right ballpark. Singer Whitty took just 2 songs before he was down in the crowd, enticing singalongs and at one point doing what I can only describe as “dolphining” on the floor, damn my slowness in pointing the camera! The songs continued thick and fast and changed pace and style fluidly and flawlessly, at times they had tones of Big Country in there and even U2. They were fast and bouncy and slow and jangly and calm and shouty and fun and serious all at the same time. Highly recommended!
Over on the acoustic stage it was now time for something completely different. 3 people, 2 violins, an acoustic guitar and a single bass drum made up Steel Threads. They were folky and relaxing and harmonising and really enjoyable. Despite a broken guitar string they played on regardless, with some Irish-style jamming thrown into the mix. In the second set one of the violins was replaced by a bass and the broken string was repaired, and they continued in the same vein. In fact I’ve got the word, they grooved. Steel Threads were groovy!
I was starting to flag a bit by now, but wanted to see the next main stage band, The Amorettes. They are a 3-piece all-girl band from Scotland and they were fantastic. They have often been compared to Motorhead, Girlschool, Rock Goddess, you get the idea, and this is very much a compliment to them. Their songs are hard and heavy yet at the same time hummable, and they play and sing them well. The harmony vocals are spot on. They played their latest single and title track of the most recent album, Fire At Will, which is a classic 4/4 riffed slice of party rock. Lots of feedback about them from my friends, along the lines of “couldn’t believe these 3 girls made so much good noise!” Believe it, they most certainly do.
I didn’t think I was going to like the next main stage band, Garage Days. They were German, they had pointy guitars (which always seem to be played LOUD) and although they were quite pretty they also looked kind of…. grubby. Like if you touched them you would want to wash your hands after. But hey ho, I’m a professional right? So off I went, notebook in hand, and you know what? They were marvellous. They played fast and loud but there were still melodies in there. The vocals were low and growly but every now and again a pitch-perfect high note sneaked in there too. They did the now obligatory time change, they threw in an instrumental, they had a fist-pumping anthem or two and they even had a song called “Piece of Shit”. They all have tattoos with the band slogan, which is “100% Nasty Crew”. Nasty but nice!
By now I was starting to get really tired and, despite the biscuits, think I needed some timeout for food. But first I wanted to see 13 Stars on the acoustic stage. They play down-home southern style music anyway so stripped down to just 2 guitars, a drum box and vocals it worked really well. I wanted to put spurs on and shout yeehaw! Hoss (you just knew he was going to be called that didn’t you?) managed to get a banjo-like tone out of his guitar in places and there was a standout song “Tired Of Waitin” that I really liked. Another welcome chance to breathe after the onslaught of metal on the main stage – and relax!
Fireforce then took to the main stage, another German band who played straightforward in-yer-face metal. I only caught a bit of their set as I just had to take some time out by now, but a chap I was talking to over chips later told me that he thought they were great and they put him very much in mind of Accept or even Sabaton.
Following them were Italian female-fronted power rock band Secret Rule. They were OK, but nothing they did reached out and grabbed me and I felt that Angela’s vocals were a little lacking in terms of power. The crowd was a little sparse by now (I think everyone else had gone out for chips too!) but they went down well enough and there was lots of enthusiastic applause.
Captain Horizon then came back but on the acoustic stage this time. Although they were acoustic they still somehow managed to rock and Whitty still managed to invade the crowd for most of the two sets. Nice to see that their mainstage set wasn’t a fluke and they really are that good! Band of the day for me I think.
A big pompy intro tape heralded the appearance of Die No More on the main stage, to huge cheers from the crowd. This Cumbrian band were playing to what amounted to a home crowd, and they went down an absolute storm. The songs are fast and furious, but they also have hooks, big big riffs and an excellent bass player Martin who looks way too glam to fit in with the rest of the band. They have been called “the UK’s answer to Metalica” and while you can see the resemblance, particularly in Marc’s vocals, I think it’s a little unfair to label them as there is far more to this band than being just yet another bunch of Metallica wannabes, even if they do wear the black sweatbands. Superb set, and strong contenders (and eventual runners-up) for my band of the day choice.
They were followed by Avenger, another straight-ahead classic metal band. They have been around for a long time, and were hugely popular with the crowd with several people saying that they had been waiting a long time to catch them live. They were a NWOBHM band back when it still was new, and their style hasn’t changed much over the years. This is a Good Thing. They riffed and they solo’d and they were great. Didn’t get my vote for band of the day but they did get some of my friends’!
Something different again now happened on the acoustic stage. Suddenly that end of the hall was packed, I couldn’t get near it! Wizz and Luke Appleton had arrived, a genial Belgian and Chris’s brother who also happens to be the bass player for US metal band Iced Earth. Two blokes from wildly different backgrounds, two guitars, two voices and somehow it just worked. Perfectly executed guitar duelling, beautiful harmonies, a cover of “The Last In Line” as a tribute to the late great RJD, an Iced Earth song “Watching Over Me” and a zeppelinish original song made for a fine interlude of good music played really well.
Finally it was time for Blaze Bayley, who I’m sure needs no introduction from me. Backed tonight by Chris Appleton (again!) and his current band Absolva Blaze hit the stage with his phone going, videoing the crowd who were going absolutely mental and taking selfies. Despite a somewhat odd motivational speech in which Blaze beseeched us to believe in ourselves he explained that the bulk of the set would be from his solo album “Silicon Messiah”. This was actually released 15 years ago but had had no backing from the record company at the time and Blaze now felt it was time to show it off as the damn good album that it was. His voice still has power and the band played solidly behind him. Unfortunately I had to leave before the end of the set as I was dependent on someone else for a lift home but from what I saw Blaze was doing what he does best, entertaining an eager crowd and giving them his all.