Helfast 13 Festival
Altus, Rabid Bitch of the North, Warcrux, Triggerman, Stormzone
@Limelight 2, Belfast
June 1st 2013
Reviewed by Melanie Brehaut
Photographed by Paul Verner
Aint cooperation a beautiful thing? It is, according to Mark Ashby; one of the organisers of today’s event. “This is what happens when the local scene works together”, he declared. ‘This’ is the inaugural Helfast ’13 (see what they did there?); an all day music festival staged in Belfast’s Limelight, hosted by Blink Management (Steve Simms), in association Paradise City and the Distortion Project (James Loveday).
Five different local bands were showcased, and there was even a merch stall (Heimdall Records) providing the relevant goodies!
Making their live debut was Altus who, despite only forming in October 2012, already have an EP due for release (June 20th in the Voodoo Bar).
“Welcome to Helfast!”enthused frontman David Brady, before the band almost drowned him out with their deep, demonic bass and crunchy riffs.
Brady’s vocals seemed at times a bit tentative…understandable given that this was their first gig, but the band as a whole displayed admirable ballsiness and talent.
Their sound was akin to Sabbath on steroids – proggy, bluesy, crushing riff-y metal; think Orange Goblin or Mastodon – performed as a loving homage and NEVER a piss-take. This was primal, visceral music that you FEEL.
The band grew in confidence visibly as their set progressed, which was a joy to behold; Brady in particular was clearly overcoming his nerves and his voice was growing stronger. By penultimate song ‘Nail in the Coffin’, the band was on fire; with its suitably doom-y intro and its swinging bluesy sound, the song had a touch of Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ to it, and was the highlight of the set.
Beaming with pride (and no doubt a bit of relief), the band left the stage to noisily appreciative applause and a promising future.
The rather startlingly named Rabid Bitch of the North were a last minute addition to the bill, replacing Nasa Assassin (whose drummer had suffered a heart attack). The trio play, according to their bio, “music [that] is fast, furious and heavy”.
That’s only part of the story though; bassist and vocalist Joe has one of the most unique voices this reviewer has ever encountered.
Imagine a band that looks like a young ZZ Top, sound a bit like Maiden, but vocally sound like a seriously fucked-off Rob Halford trying to aurally batter you senseless.
It’s unusual, it’s surprising…and it’s utterly mesmerising. ’Rabid’ indeed!
The music itself has a touch of the aforementioned Iron Maiden with shades of power metal and prog rock (with quite prolonged instrumental breaks for example). It’s a heady, fascinating mix.
The unequivocally bonkers highlight of their quite bonkers set was the fabulously titled ‘Help, I’m Trapped in 1999’, a full on thrashtastic/speed metal-fest that had the crowd laughing and headbanging simultaneously. Ending their set in a flourish of dueling guitars and thrashy drums, the band undoubtedly converted many of the crowd to their quirky and highly original sound.
Up next were Warcrux; who despite their tender years (all are in their early twenties), have been going strong for over four years now.
Though their bio claims a heavy influence of ‘Eighties thrash and sleaze’, their sound tonight speaks more of ‘epic prog metal’ than sunny California rock.
That said, there is definite Guns N Roses influence (opening track ‘A Triumph of Fools’ sounds strikingly reminiscent of ‘Civil War’); they seem to be a rather intriguing combination of GnR’s proggy ‘Use Your Illusion’-style noodling and the more modern take on thrash displayed by the likes of Avenged Sevenfold.
Vocalist James Boyd is in possession of a booming, powerful voice that is quite at odds with his mild-mannered appearance (he rather resembles Ozzy offspring Jack Osbourne actually!)
The band choose to end their short set with epic thirteen minute long prog number ‘Lark Descends’; although a powerful song, it is a slight miscalculation as it is a bit too slow and self-indulgent after a reasonably lively set.
The dramatic light show and Led Zep influence lift the song slightly but one can’t help feeling that a stronger number (such as the belting, thrashtastic ‘Pray For Ares’) would have ended the set with more of a bang.
Derry’s Triggerman take to the stage next, in front of what is by now quite an impressive crowd.
The band have been wowing audiences since their formation in 2002, and are currently touring in support of their third album, ‘Hail to the River Gods’. As soon as they start playing it is immediately obvious that they are something special: their sound is groovy, funky, heavy and so, so good!
As meaty and rifftastic as Pantera but WAY more fun, and as down and dirty as the likes of Hellyeah but WAY more ballsy, Triggerman bring the rock and the delirious crowd lap it up.
With song titles such as ‘Hail to the River Gods’, ‘Valhalla’ and ‘Sons of Solomon’, the lyrics veer from party to political to planetary, all sung in frontman Bap’s signature staccato, almost rapped style.
The groove is seriously good, and the riffs are catchy as hell – the crowd don’t know whether to dance or headbang, and often end up doing a shambling mix of both (think stripper music for metalheads!)
This is amply demonstrated in what could be the band’s mantra, ‘The Riff Holds Sway’. The lads are clearly delighted with the crowd’s response, with Bap repeatedly thanking everyone and engaging in a bit of banter with various people.
The entire hour-long set is flawless, and it’s a cert that Triggerman have garnered many new fans today.
Thus we arrive at today’s headliners! Local heroes Stormzone have been around in various guises for a number of years, and released their first album in 2007.
They have supported many big names since, such as White Lion, Saxon, and, most memorably, Sebastian Bach ( who controversially kicked them off his 2012 tour midway after allegedly treating them abominably throughout, earning himself a very bad name with Stormzone fans in the process)
Preparing to launch their fourth album ‘Three Kings’ in the Diamond Rock club on July 27th, the band return to the Limelight as conquering heroes to perform an epic ninety minute set.
Gliding onstage to the sound of thunder, with vocalist John ‘Harb’ Harbinson’ making a particularly grand entrance, the band immediately set the tone with crowd favourite ‘Where We Belong’, which clearly showcases their NWOBHM influences: this is metal, Maiden/Saxon/Priest style…it is pure, classic and of the ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ school of thought. The band are clearly having a ball, and while their stage act is VERY polished and slick (and occasionally descends into cliché), the devotion from the crowd and the obvious enjoyment of the band means it avoids sliding into Steel Panther-type farce.
Frontman Harb is in very fine voice tonight, his epic, soaring, Bruce Dickinson style vocals standing out even against the pomp and power of the band (even if he does look rather disconcertingly like fellow Maiden-er Steve Harris!).
The band play a crowd-pleasing mix of old and new, from rare tracks such as ‘The Final Journey’ and new material such as ‘The Night of the Storm’, which fit comfortably into the set. Everything is received with cheers of clamouring adoration, whether it’s a lighters-aloft ballad (‘Wasted Lives’) or balls-out rock ‘n’ roll (‘Death Denied’)
They save the best for last with their final number, the heroic, eight minute saga of ‘His Legend Carries On’, surely the highlight of their set. To sum up, Stormzone have returned from battle as reigning heroes, triumphant and better than ever – and the home crowd was clearly delighted to share in their glory.
And so ends the first instalment of Helfast.
The event ran smoothly, with no hiccups for the fans: no dramas, no fights, no problems to report at all!
The sound was crystal clear and a credit to the sound guys, the bands were varied enough to keep it interesting and were all brilliantly talented, the venue was spotless and well staffed. In short, a highly successful first outing. Here’s to Helfast ’14!