A sold out O2 Academy in Birmingham played host to the inaugural metal edition of the HRH
Festival. Taking place over two days and across three stages, there were plenty of bands for the
4,000 people in attendance to discover and enjoy. The two main headliners for the event were
Alestorm and Grave Digger and they were supported by a further 40 bands from across the metal
On both days the Best of Brom third stage was the first place to see some action and so it was
Ashen Crown who had the honour of being the first band to open the festival. Their heavy sound
and powerful performance really kicked things off in the right way and set the tone for the rest of the
weekend. They were followed on stage three by Wrath of the Gods who were unbelievably playing
their first ever live show! With a definite NWOBHM vibe, they included a passionate cover of Iron
Maiden’s “Children of the Damned” in their set and are certainly one to watch going forward.
By now it was time for the first band of the day to appear on the main stage and Collibus delivered
a great set to a good crowd. The energy and vocal power of singer Gemma Fox was a particular
highlight. Back over on stage three, black metal band Masters Call rewarded a good crowd with a
suitably dark performance. Following Collibus on the main stage were Ballsdeep, who played a
very fast-paced and aggressive set to a now very well populated main arena.
As the evening approached all three stages were now active, as Gravil opened up Room 2 to a
strong crowd enjoying their brand of hold no punches metal. Performing almost simultaneously to
their set, over on the main stage were Monument, who were playing their first UK show in over two
years. Led by energetic frontman Peter Ellis, the band more than made up for lost time with a set
full of melodic choruses and dual guitar harmonies and they even managed to include an
instrumental track during their time on stage. Following the conclusion of Monuments set, over at
the third stage, The Face of Ruin were putting on a good show despite missing their regular vocalist
and in fact had two singers filling in the role together, which seemed to work really well.
Next up on the main stage were Haerken, who led by imposing frontman Laird Logan brought their
brand of Viking themed death metal to the O2 Academy. Included within their set was a great cover
of the Iron Maiden epic “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and it fitted in really well with their
overall sound. As Haerken were finishing, Warcrab managed to fit all six of their members onto the
compact second stage to deliver a very heavy show to a packed room. Meanwhile, on stage three
another band with dual vocalists, this time male and female, were helping Metaprism to keep an
equally packed room entertained.
Probably the most unique sounding band of the day was The Dead Crew of Oddwood, who in their
own words play a style called ‘heavy mahogany’. With a pirate and heavy folk element to their
sound, they may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the festival audience certainly enjoyed their show.
Following them on the main stage was the even more memorable Evil Scarecrow, who as previous
attendees to their shows will know, always deliver a full-on performance. Throughout their set, they
were joined on stage by the likes of robots, aliens, astronauts, Link from Zelda, Chun-Li from
Streetfighter and a crab! Props aside though the band also deliver a heavy sounding show and by
now the main arena was pretty much at capacity and in full flow.
Helping to fill the gap between Evil Scarecrow and Alestorm, Fury put in a great show up on the
second stage and they too had a big crowd to support them. As they finished it felt like the whole
audience then descended back towards the main stage ready for headliners Alestorm. Their pirate
metal themed sound and lyrics perfectly lend themselves towards a party atmosphere and the catchy
melodies mean that even non-fans can quickly get into them. Playing for over 90 minutes Alestorm
included tracks from all five of their current albums, including the most recent release No Grave
But The Sea and brought day one of the festival to a close in style.
Day two once again started at the third stage with Devils Playground having the role of getting things
underway again. They were quickly followed by Incinery who were playing their first HRH show
and a good crowd was there to enjoy their thrash influenced set. It wasn’t long before the action on
the main stage started again with Fire Red Empress being the first on the bill. Playing in support of
their debut album Black Morphine, the crunching riffs and vocals of Jennifer Diehl certainly give
the band a well-crafted sound.
Back at stage three, The Mighty Wraith played to probably the biggest crowd has seen so far at the third
stage, with people even watching and listening from the corridor outside! With a style influenced by
the classic British 8o’s metal sound, they included a cover of “The Number of the Beast”, which the
audience sang along with. Kaine then took to the main stage to deliver a really well received set to
their biggest crowd size to date. With a sound refined over several years and drawing on influences
such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, they were a great early highlight of day two.
Keeping up the variety of styles on show, Power Quest were next to take to the main stage with a
style very much in the power/melodic metal genre. With a good stage presence and responsive
crowd, they delivered a fun set as the early evening set it. Performing almost simultaneously to
them on the second stage were local band Torous. They have recently announced that the band will
enter an indefinite hiatus and so this show at HRH was their last for the foreseeable future. A good
crowd came to support them and it was a very strong conclusion to what will hopefully only be a
temporary pause in their career.
Italian power/folk metal band Elvenking were next on the main stage. With nine albums behind
them they had plenty of material to chose from and their catchy songs and engaging stage presence
ensured a strong reaction from the crowd. Throughout the late afternoon and evening, the third
stage continued to offer a variety of bands and styles from the death metal of Trivax to the more
traditional metal style of Nightmare World and the no-nonsense hard rock/metal of Sister Shotgun.
Following Torous on stage two were UK prog/power metal band Dakesis. They were probably the
most distinctive sounding of all the bands of day two and the vocal power of Gemma Lawler really
stood out throughout their set. The penultimate band on the main stage were British death metal
supergroup Memoriam. Consisting of ex-members from both Bolt Thrower and Benediction, the
band delivered the crunching heavy riffs and powerful vocals you would expect and did not relent
from the start to finish of their 75-minute set.
Bringing a close to the festival were Grave Digger on the main stage and Footprints in the Custard
on the second stage. With both bands starting at the same time and offering completely different
styles there was a nice element of choice. Footprints in the Custard delivered a typical tongue in
cheek performance with their punk metal style and witty lyrics offering a change of direction to
many of the other bands on the bill. In contrast, German metal legends Grave Digger brought their
no-nonsense sound to the main stage, with a 90-minute show that covered songs from across their
whole career. Opening with “Healed By Metal” from their most recent album of the same name, the
band played a diverse set that leaned particularly towards tracks from Tunes of War and Excalibur
and they were a fitting way to bring the curtain down on what had been a great weekend.
Overall HRH Metal was a great success, with a good selection of new and established bands across
a variety of different metal sub-genres. With a complete sell out in its first year, it’s safe to say the
festival has already gone a long way to establishing itself in the metal calendar and the anticipation
is already building for 2018’s edition.
Photography by Steph Bodkin