Hell Live at Bloodstock Open Air 2011

I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was looking forward to any one day at a festival as much as I was looking forward to Bloodstock Open Air 2011’s Sunday. Morbid Angel, Exodus, Evil Scarecrow, all bands I was just dying to see. But before all those there was the big one, playing at a time that was both unfair and frankly unnatural, the one and only Hell.

Given the rave reviews the band have received since their “slightly belated” debut album Human Remains came out it was surprising to many that they were appearing this low down on the bill, but judging by the massive crowd they drew (and remember this was 11 in the morning on a Sunday) the band’s reputation had preceded it. Now whatever the politics of their place on the line up it had one big advantage for me, namely that as I got there an hour before I managed to secure myself a spot on the barrier, where I was joined by fellow Hellites (hello to the Kings Lynn gang) keen to get close to the action.

The hour and a bit we had to wait passed quickly, firstly watching Motorhead’s road crew getting ready for the headline set, then watching Hell setting up their gear. Must be good for a comparatively new band to see an uninterrupted row of their own t-shirts down the front šŸ™‚

As the clock ticked down to the bands 11am start time the buzz going through the crowd was building, and as the Overture intro tape rolled the atmosphere was electric…..

Let Battle Commence…..

Drummer Tim Bowyer showed almost Neal Peart levels of emotion as he took his place behind the kit, totally focused on the job in hand, and as the rest of the band stormed onto the stage the place erupted.

Not for the first time this weekend the sound out front wasn’t brilliant, and speaking to bassist Tony Speakman after the gig it wasn’t much better on stage, but that’s often the case at festivals. Even with that it was immediately obvious that compared to the band’s amazing comeback show at the MFN club this was going to be something special, something extra. Since that night in Nottingham they have played festival dates all over Europe and that gigging has clearly paid off.

Looking round, more and more casual observers were being drawn in to see what all the fuss was about, and as far as I could see the audience continued to swell throughout the set. In fact it was a while before any of the bands who followed Hell on the Ronnie James Dio stage managed to draw this size of crowd.

So what is it that makes this band quite so special live ? Well there’s no doubt they have some brilliantly written “proper” Heavy Metal songs but their ace in the deck is undoubtedly frontman David Bower.

Hell are one of those bands that it pays you to get as close to as possible. David’s extensive acting background means he knows how to work a crowd, but for all his expansive gestures and the playing to the gallery it’s up close where you can see the (frankly wild and occasionally slightly unsettling) look in his eyes that you realise just how well he plays this part.

It’s amazing to think that he only initially got involved with Hell to do a voice-over for the album, and it’s impossible to imagine anyone more perfectly suited to the band’s theatrical image as he tirelessly covers the entire stage (and even coming down off it at one point to get even closer to the crowd). The voice, the look, everything just works….

It must be difficult for the band to decide which tracks from Human Remains to leave out to fit into their allotted running time, but it was impossible to fault today’s selection. It was nice to hear the spoken intro to The Oppressors which featured on the original 1980s demo too….

The set finished, all too soon, with Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us which saw Andy Sneap in full guitar god flow while on the other side of the stage Kev Bower alternated between the keyboards that are so integral to the Hell sound and throwing all the requisite rock guitarist shapes. If he looked slightly nervous at the MFN club, here he looked every inch the part.

To be honest I kind of thought that Hell had the potential to put in the performance of the weekend, and for many of those who caught the show that’s exactly what happened. If the band continue to improve at this rate they are going to be headlining here one day….

Hell have had an amazing reception since returning to the metal scene, bearing in mind that (apart from Andy Sneap, obviously) only Tony Speakman was still involved in the music industry when the rumblings about the reunion started. Building on the success of Human Remains, and carrying that momentum through the summer festival season, Hell are nicely poised to take over the world.