HRH (Hard Rock Hell) once again invaded Birmingham, the very home of metal, for a two day metal festival at the O2 Academy, in an weekend packed with talent. Despite not knowing who the majority of the bands were, I took at shot at it, being as it was just down the road from me. Why not, eh?

Sadly, there was bad news upon reaching the venue, the outcome being one of the worst things that could have possibly happened – Lord of The Lost had to pull out from their slot. Frontman Chris Harms had fallen ill the previous evening, with the band even having to cut their show in London short. Here’s hoping he has a speedy recovery! They were one of the main reasons that I’d decided to attend, so it was an interesting start to say the least. Fortunately, the rest of the day would still pan out pretty well (for the most part.)

Frozen In Shadows absolutely slayed! They powered through their performance with an energy and enthusiasm that had the entire room hooked.

The day kicked-off with Nailed to Obscurity at the main stage. In terms of metal bands, it was all pretty standard affair, and a safe way to begin the proceedings. It’s not that there was anything bad about them, they were quite entertaining – it just felt a tiny bit generic, giving me a sense of deja-vu that I’d heard this take many times over. They still helped to generate an atmosphere, getting the ball rolling somewhat, yet nothing really stood out about them either. On the other hand, in Academy 3, the smallest room of the venue, Frozen In Shadows absolutely slayed! They powered through their performance with an energy and enthusiasm that had the entire room hooked. It was surprising how many revellers were able to cram into such a small space, let alone able to move to the music, but it was easy to see why there were droves of them, considering the prowess on display. Honestly, these guys deserved a much higher billing than they had, especially if the reception was anything to go by! Back at the main stage (which is where I pretty much remained for the rest of the day) were Dogflesh. There was something rough and old-school about their music, although considering they debuted in the 80s, that’s unsurprising. There was an aggressive punk edge to it too, that made the impact much more punchy. Meanwhile, Blitzkreig came across as a bit cheesy at first (I even heard an audience member call them ‘discount Journey’), but I quickly warmed to them, and they put on a great performance. It was a good mix of classic metal, and catchy hooks that propelled their sonic qualities forward. This was another group originating from the 80’s, in fact celebrating their 40th anniversary as a band this year. Needless to say this experience very much shone through, proving that they still have plenty of steam left.

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Frozen in Shadows nailed it!

So next would’ve been Lord of The Lost’s slot, but due to the unfortunate issues mentioned earlier, it needed filling. It was decided that Lullaby For a Unicorn, who had performed earlier that day on the smaller stage, would get an extra slot here. They were a terrible substitute. Sonically, there were moments of slight catchiness, yet was nothing groundbreaking. It was uninspired for the most part – ‘lullaby’ being very apt for their namesake, as I was practically falling asleep. I get the impression that they were supposed to be a jokey band, although I mustn’t have been in on the joke, because I wasn’t amused. The addition of female dancers fell flat too and just felt outright sleazy. Don’t get me wrong, they were definitely attractive ladies, but if a band is going to add such an element to their live shows, they should at least make sure it compliments their identity and that it’s actually choreographed. This attempt to add sex appeal felt incredibly out of place, as if a desperate attempt to try and make them seem interesting.

Seriously, you can’t even make this shit up! The lyrics were silly, there was a shed-load of tomfoolery, and everyone clearly had a ton of fun – Evil Scarecrow

Fortunately Evil Scarecrow were up next to show them how comedy acts should be done, and they saved the day! I’d heard of their zany antics in live settings before, but wasn’t prepared for this. From the get-go, their sound was immaculate, the band putting on a stellar set as their bulky, gritty tones filled the venue. This also resulted in what I’d consider is one of the most brutal crowds I have ever been in (and quite unusual for one of their shows, from what I heard.) Being right at the front, the moshpit swarmed directly behind, causing a good chunk of the audience to get violently thrown around. Luckily this was no detriment to Evil Scarecrow’s showing, so it just proves how good they were, although I do wish I’d been able to focus on them more. In the moments when it wasn’t so manic there was audience interaction galore. The crowd performed silly dance moves when songs required it, and at the band’s request there was a ‘sexy dance competition’, as well as everyone spinning on the spot flailing their arms around whilst making farting noises at one point. The bonkers shenanigans on-stage matched – with dancing robots, an invasion by a spooky ghost (literally someone with a sheet over them) stalking the band, amongst so much more wackiness. This all culminated with “Crabulon”, a song about an evil mechanised crab, complete with an actual Crabulon taking to the stage. This madness came into full fruition as everyone in the audience made pincer motions with their hands whilst shuffling from side-to-side like actual crabs. Seriously, you can’t even make this shit up! The lyrics were silly, there was a shed-load of tomfoolery, and everyone clearly had a ton of fun, including the band themselves. They completely stole the spotlight, being my definite highlight of the day. It was one hell of a first Evil Scarecrow gig, and it sure won’t be my last!

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Evil Scarecrow saved the day!

Despite having all the hallmarks of a headlining act, they were not the last, with two more still to come. The first of these, all the way from Germany, were Equilibrium. Having an almost 20 year history, their music seems to have gone through a massive paradigm shift over the years. Starting off with a more folk inspired sound, they have opted for more electronic elements in recent material. This contrast in styles was certainly noticeable, although it gave their set a neat diversity, making things feel excitingly unpredictable, without losing it’s epic nature throughout. Frontman Robert “Robse” Dahn brought quite possibly the most savage vocal delivery out of any of the other acts, sounding monstrous. The heaviness reached a brutal intensity at times, being something to truly behold, accompanied by a mesmerising light show. I’d say the best moments were when they played their more symphonic material, the traditional folk style working fluidly alongside the hulking soundscape, also being reminiscent of their country’s culture. They showed brilliant showmanship in a set packed with guests, including Lord of The Lost guitarist, Pi. The atmosphere was electrifying from start to finish! For the grand finale, we were treated to Rhapsody of Fire.

This contrast in styles was certainly noticeable, although it gave their set a neat diversity, making things feel excitingly unpredictable, without losing it’s epic nature throughout. – Equilibrium

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely didn’t expect what we got, in the best way possible. It was a thunderous showing, as the band effortlessly and zealously powered through their material. It was all extremely theatrical, laden with a heavy emphasis on symphonic backing elements within a power metal core. This had an incredibly powerful impact, the force captivating the entirety of the room. If I’m honest, it was quite cheesy, yet this was very much a good thing, as it served to enhance the spectacle. The resulting outcome was gloriously grandiose. It was incredibly uplifting too, making for an explosive end to the first day.

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Equilibrium, putting on an excellent show

Regrettably, this would be my only day at Metal Meltdown, as the next day I found myself stricken with illness and unable to attend. Despite missing half the festival, the bands that I enjoyed on the first day were all worth the asking price alone, and honestly make the whole thing feel like a massive bargain! All in all, it was a day incredibly well spent, filled with discovery and plenty of memorable moments. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out and see what they have to offer next year, and so should you.

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Rhapsody of Fire delivering an explosive finish to the day