Spread the metal:


Review by Hal Sinden

Photography by Ashlinn Nash

Despite its reputation for a tricky commute and arguably eyesore appearance (don’t confuse familiarity with satisfaction, fellow Londoners), the O2 Arena is a fantastic venue space for the Golden Gods and ample notice that metal is still as healthy as it ever was, showing no signs of bowing to austerity measures.

What would we do without this yearly event? 

Well, for a start we’d probably have healthier livers and better hearing in our later years, however many would also be deprived of their chance to postpone their Download hangovers or simply be given a reason to wash off this year’s festival mud and watch some of the scene’s glitterati forget about their day jobs for an evening.  Metal Hammer Magazine’s annual schmoozefest is upon us, and with it a dazzling array of leather, lip gloss & limp fringes.

Ever sensitive to the demands of the many, tonight’s hosts have provided a bevy of huge flatscreen TVs on which an otherwise distracted & concerned audience could watch the England vs. France football game that conveniently concludes before the show kicks into action, and what a relief when it does, with hosts Chris Jericho (thankfully not clad in spandex & pantomimic anger) and rising metal stand-up star Andrew O’Neill (regrettably not clad in a dress, as sometimes fits his will) doing their level best to insight riot between speeches & drinks refills.


And so the winners of the ‘Best Underground Band’ award Watain take to the stage. 


Actually, that’s not strictly accurate – their intro track starts…  and goes on…  and on…  and, oh look, the bar.

Overwhelmingly long ambient intro tracks can test even the most enthusiastic of fans, but leaving an entire audience to stare at an empty, meagrely smoky stage for over 20 minutes smacks of the ridiculous and unfortunately provides a chance to scrutinise the stage props, of which Watain are certainly keen, and that with every minute that passes further reveal themselves as an easily mockable plastic pastiche of fairground ghost train paraphernalia. 

An increasingly & understandably impatient crowd attempt to edge things on with clap crescendos and soon you’re led to ponder – is this the best way to open what should promise to be a high octane evening? 

Amongst numerous heckles of "get on with it!", it’s apparent that the predominant mood set is annoyance rather than filmic dread, until finally an organ intro plays and the band file on, led by singer Erik Danielsson bearing a lit torch with which he ignites several of the props to an admittedly great visual effect.  At last.

As a band, these Swedes are undeniably tight – a rare and welcome trait in acts more concerned with presentation than precision.  Gone are the rotting animal hides and cadavers, leaving behind greater chances for the right senses to enjoy the music (smell has so rarely been something I’ve enjoyed having as a consideration at gigs). 

Now on display is a quite trashy / punkish approach for faster passages that could even suit dark funeral’s earlier work and a heavy chunk that supports the slower sections, providing a fitting distraction from Danielsson’s rather camp fanning of the stage flames that bring to mind more of a pyromaniac John Inman than the dark lord himself.

With this being their second year as nominees for the ‘Best New Band’ award, winners The Defiled are visibly & deservedly beaming over their victory.  What remains to be seen is what will now qualify as being a ‘New Band’ for next year’s nominees and whether esteemed & seasoned professionals Tesseract will get a look-in within a more fitting category.


‘Breakthrough Artist’ award winners Ghost mysteriously provide the solution to visual elements so missing from Watain’s set, and do so without much beyond their initially rather dramatic looking costumes & theatrical makeup. 


It’s in witnessing their performance first hand that even the most cynical of snobs would surely be hard pushed not to appreciate and perhaps even enjoy their blend of Hammer Horror-esque protestations with choice swathes of hard rock & melody (clearly a popular approach to take with comedy mega-hobbit Bill Bailey who filmed parts of their set on his smartphone).

For what may seem on paper to be rather contrived, singer Papa Emeritus’ honest and superbly communicated gestures & posturing serve excellently to back up the song’s messages rather than dominate the show itself. 


Ambient tracks between songs pave the way to concisely chosen clean riffs and rhythms that nod towards a classic era without overly extolling it. 


Excellent vocal delivery (in some respects far more exciting than when recorded) and expertly practised guitar playing easily smooth over any lack of incendiary drumming. 

At the close of their set, show host Andrew O’Neill presents Ghost with their well earned award, and following a moment of genuine graciousness to the audience, Emeritus leaves us with what is perhaps the best (and seemingly most sober) acceptance speech of the night: “If it wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t be here today”.


Grammis Award nominated Swedish heavy metallers Sabaton arrive to perform a set of deftly executed music, loudly and unadventurously presenting what is essentially a tried & tested genre format with new & daring matching trousers.

Watching Sabaton is not entirely dissimilar to waiting for the last train at a station late at night and observing a passing freight vehicle – it exists, it’s well put together & structurally sound, whilst nobody travelling on it will be getting off to join you on the platform neither also will anyone be boarding it as a new passenger, and ultimately you become aware of its not inconsiderable size whilst you await the arrival of something more relevant to your needs.

As the evening draws on and the VIP bars steadily drain themselves dry of complimentary Hobgoblin Ale, Kraken Rum & Jägermeister Regret, the awards sections between live acts become increasingly more confused. 

In some cases resorting to rather staged drama and cod-buffoonery, all participants seem nevertheless grateful to represent their own ‘Spirit of Metal’ (despite Bill Bailey winning said award). 


Serving up a tight, pounding mini-set of age-perfected & well rehearsed angst, the Biohazard institution rolls onstage and delivers with the kind of precision one might expect from an act so well seasoned.  Playing tunes easily recognised & adored by those who worship at the altar of Punishment, proudly willing to put any reservations about lineup changes aside and enjoy a brief moment of scene-hardened aggression. 

For those not signed up to the Brooklyn hardcore crossover club, their muscular delivery and eerie ability to gloss over appalling rapping provides a welcome alternative to the football pundits & their post match autopsies that would surely otherwise be dominating the flatscreen feeds at the bar.

Occasional breaths of fresh & rather sobering air punctuate the events in the form of a quite touching salute to the now devolved Roadrunner Records UK branch, striking a chord with ‘tired & emotional’ (ie. utterly gazeboed) metal comeback titans Machine Head (let’s forget about the shellshuits & rapping, shall we?). 


Many however return to form and stick to the brief that tonight is one of the few awards ceremonies where visibly appearing drunk & irrational is more a show of support for the event’s cause than anything even approach social faux pas, evidenced all too gloriously by members of Mastodon, winners of the ‘Best Album’ award.


Bursting onto the stage with more apparent vigour than frankly any of the other performers that night, ‘Metal As Fuck’ award winners Anthrax hurl a set of blistering golden oldies as if they were written on the way to the venue.

Joey Belladonna’s voice is exemplary and for a 51 year old, he can do more at his age than can be heard by many of those young enough to be his son.  Exhibiting an air of experienced perfection and (most importantly) enthusiasm, every member of the band gives it their all, showing a heartfelt want to make sure the audience enjoy themselves first & foremost. 

Launching into tunes with no hesitation, leaving little-to-no time between tracks for unnecessary whiffling, we witness classics such as ‘I Am The Law’ tearing its way through the speakers with consummate precision.

Charlie Benante’s command of kick drumming destroys all other performances of the night, quite why he doesn’t have the recognition & sanctimonious reverence of Portnoy, Ulrich (!) or Vinnie Paul is bizarre.  Honourably accurate-to-record leads glide through a crystal clear mix whilst bassist Frank Bello proves yet again that he really is the perfect complement to any onstage singer, circling in a frenzied wardance throughout.


With tunes eagerly devoted to Black Sabbath & Dio, the stage simply seems brighter & more alive and is reminiscent of a similar performance around 6 years ago at the Golden Gods (then held in Camden) when this reviewer was blissfully woken up by Anthrax after having fallen asleep during a truly insipid & typical set from Nightwish.

The crowd’s reaction is clear & undeniable, showing that the excellence of these East Coast legends is found in NOT showing ALL other bands “how it’s done” but instead providing what may very well be the definitive example of how the better parts of heavy metal were done over 20 years ago, and why it stands the test of time to retain its headliner status.  A fine close to a wonderful evening courtesy of Metal Hammer.

Full Winners line-up & Photos:

Best new band : The Defiled

Breakthrough artist : Ghost

Best underground: Watain

Best uk band : Saxon

Best international: Lamb of God

Best event: Iron Maiden

Live band : Rammstein

Dimebag shredder award: Devin Townsend

Metal as fuck: Anthrax

Drummer of the year: Vinne Paul

Riff lord: Robb Flynn

Album: The Hunter Mastodon

Icon award : Bill Bailey

The Golden God: Joey De Maio [Manowar]

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