Billed as the Warriors Of The Road World Tour, the band had already performed 27 shows of their 35th anniversary tour on mainland Europe before the U.K leg kicked off at the O2 Academy in Bristol.
First up were a new gothic metal band from Germany, Beyond The Black. Yet to release their debut album, the band, fronted by 19-year-old singer Jennifer Haben, only played their first ever show at the Wacken Open Air festival in July of this year. From my position at the front of the hall and stage left, the sound was a bit muddy, and obviously none of their material was familiar – however, they sound interesting and Jennifer has a lovely clear singing voice. One for the future potentially.
Next on the bill were Hell. Originally formed way back in 1982, Hell had a unsuccessful and tragic start to life. Their record label went bankrupt just as they were about to start recording their debut album in 1986, and vocalist Dave Halliday committed suicide the following year. The band ceased to exist at that point.
During their five years of touring, a young Andy Sneap was a regular at their gigs, and was in fact taught to play guitar by Halliday. Sneap went on to be a founding member of Sabbat before moving into production work. He has since produced and/or mixed numerous successful heavy metal albums by bands including Saxon, Amon Amarth, Cradle Of Filth, Megadeth, Onslaught, Arch Enemy and Opeth, as well as Sabbat and Hell themselves.
In 2008 the surviving original members of Hell – Kev Bower (guitars), Tony Speakman (bass) and Tim Bowler (drums) reunited with a view to re-recording the tracks they had worked on in the 80s. Andy Sneap was brought in to work on them and ended up joining the band as second guitarist, along with new vocalist David Bower (brother of Kev). It is this line-up that has recorded and released the two Hell albums “Human Remains” and “Curse & Chapter”, both of which are superb examples of occult metal.
Dressed in matching Victorian style dress coats and wearing corpse paint, Hell are visually striking, and David Bower draws on his acting background to give a very theatrical performance, wearing a barbed wire crown and reaching out to the audience from his position perched on the stage monitors like some kind of cross between a demonic preacher and a gargoyle. Very good vocals too, blending seamlessly with the excellent and technical playing of his bandmates. A very impressive act indeed!
On to the main act… the mighty Saxon. Only the third time I’d had the pleasure of seeing them perform live, but what a band. Still led by the powerhouse that is vocalist Biff Byford, and completed by guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler, this is a band with a rich heritage and superb musical legacy.
The advertisements for this tour promised all the hits from the holy trinity of “Wheels Of Steel”, “Strong Arm Of The Law” and “Denim And Leather”, and – with the odd exception of “Never Surrender” (which reached number 18 back in 1981, I believe) – they certainly delivered all those hits and much more besides.
Kicking off with a frenetic “Motorcycle Man” before powering through the title track of 2013’s “Sacrifice” album, this was a setlist with no flab and no filler. No extended instrumental passages, no drum or guitar solo spots – just nearly two hours of solid heavy metal. Biff’s vocals and stage presence were as powerful as ever, and the musicianship of the rest of the band faultless. I had the pleasure of being at Paul Quinn’s side of the stage and so was able to observe not only his skill and ability with his guitar, but also his obvious enjoyment and pleasure – something that you don’t always see with touring musicians.
Highlights for me were the classic “Strong Arm Of The Law”, “And The Bands Played On”, the positively thunderous “Heavy Metal Thunder” and, of course, “Wheels Of Steel”. But, in all honestly, not a duff moment during the whole set. A superb performance from a truly legendary English heavy metal band.
The setlist was as follows (apologies if I’ve made any mistakes or ommissions!):
1. Motorcycle Man / 2. Sacrifice / 3. Power And The Glory / 4. Solid Ball Of Rock / 5. Lionheart / 6. Strong Arm Of The Law / 7. I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) / 8. And The Bands Played On / 9. Forever Free / 10. Frozen Rainbow / 11. Heavy Metal Thunder / 12. Suzie Hold On / 13. Demon Sweeney Todd / 14. The Eagle Has Landed / 15. To Hell And Back Again / 16. 747 (Strangers In The Night) / 17. Crusader / 18. Princess Of The Night / 19. Wheels Of Steel / 20. Dallas 1 PM / 21. Denim And Leather
1, 12, 16 and 19 originally from “Wheels Of Steel” (1980) / 2 originally from “Sacrifice” (2013) / 3 and 14 originally from “Power & The Glory” (1983) / 4 originally from “Solid Ball Of Rock” (1990) / 5 originally from “Lionheart” (2004) / 6, 11, 15 and 20 originally from “Strong Arm Of The Law” (1980) / 7 originally from “The Inner Sanctum” (2007) / 8, 18 and 21 originally from “Denim And Leather” (1981) / 9 originally from “Forever Free” (1992) / 13 originally from “Into The Labyrinth” (2009) / 10 originally from “Saxon” (1979) / 17 originally from “Crusader” (1984)