The disparity between the upper echelons and the grassroots of UK metal has never been more apparent than today. While thousands upon thousands of metalheads have poured into North London to catch Judas Priest, Megadeth and Testament tear up Wembley at the Priest Feast, a scant few hundred have made there way to Islington for the inaugural Hellfire Festival.
An early performance by Thrash Hits-tips, The Defiled, kick-starts the festival into motion. The London five-piece continues to go from strength to strength, and their main stage performance consolidated what little warm reaction there was to be harvested in the half-full venue.
Forgoing the ridiculous theatrics of The More I See (someone needs to tell their frontman, Peter Ellis, to just calm the fuck down), for a dose of The Rotted over on the second stage proves to be the smartest move of the day. Their brutish take on death-grind is followed by one of the performances of the weekend, that of Bristol crew, Trigger The Bloodshed. Their jackhammer blasts of death metal all but knock Hellfire off its feet, swinging in with all the force of an out-of-control wrecking ball.
Alestorm shouldn’t work. Pirate Metal is a silly concept. Frontman Christopher Bowes has a bloody keytar for fuck’s sake. It’s stupid, gimmicky, and histrionic. And they’re Scottish. But by Blackbeard’s beard, it just….does. It’s impossible to remain po-faced when the man next to you in the crowd is waving around a plastic cutlass and dancing a jig (there’s no other way to describe it) to the OTT sing-a-long that is ‘Wenches & Mead’.
While it’s left to Greek power metallers, Firewind, to official draw the day to a conclusion with their bombastic brand of solo-chasing and hard riffery, it’s the British gang shutting up shop on the smaller stage that gets our attention. If there’s a better British pigsquealer than Annotations Of An Autopsy frontman, Steve Regan, then we’ve yet to hear him, and his band’s gutteral noise war is a solid reminder that the British underground can more than hold its own against the rest of the world.
Hellfire Festival @ London Islington Academy photo gallery by Dan Kelly