American metal festivals are rising and many are trying to bring the experience to the North American audience in the best way they can. Typically, you have promoters putting together bands from all over the place, trying to coordinate schedules and agendas to have their selected bands play at their fest; in other instances, you have a label looking at their extensive roster and thinking “how come I don’t do a festival with my bands?.” That’s what probably happened in the minds of Hells Headbangers Records when they decided to organize Hells Headbash, and we were there for part of their second installment.
The festival takes place in Cleveland, OH, hometown of Hells Headbangers Records and boasts bands from the label’s roster on the bill, which is consisted by high quality bands like Midnight, Deceased, Profanatica among many others. A three-days celebration during Labor Day weekend makes the timing extremely convenient for those willing to travel across the country to enjoy some quality acts and that was one of their best selling points, based on the account of many of the attendees I talked to. Metalheads from Oregon, Texas, California, Florida, Canada and even Germany were present, showing the magnitude and expectation the festival had created since its announcement.
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the first day of the fest as my day job was not willing to let me go a day before a long weekend but many praised the performances of Cianide, described as one of the heaviest bands on the first day and arguably of the entire festival by many that got to witness them. Performing most of their 1997 Death, Doom and Destruction with a second live guitarist made things memorable and adding a Death Strike cover to their set list was final blow to destroy the mind of the audience. Midnight was at the helm of the bill that day and their set was nothing but amazing with songs like “Black Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Satanic Royalty,” and even Motorhead’s “No Class” with Professor Black of High Spirits, ending the first day at the highest note possible. Pictures of the first day below courtesy of Photophobic Reflections/Spirit of Metal.
I arrived to Cleveland early in the morning, making sure to catch as many bands as I possibly can and the first one were local death metal Embalmer. Some say, the first impressions are the most important and my mind set was welcoming but skeptical as I didn’t know what to expect but Embalmer was the prime starter for a long day we had ahead of us. Death metal to revitalize a seemingly exhausted crowd is what my doctor recommends and those early-birds who got there to see the first act had their batteries recharged by the quartet.
Black metal was next to take over the speakers with a powerful wave of acts like Hellvetron and The Haunting Presence delivering a hypnotic and eerie set that lingered for hours after they stepped off the stage. The mood was switched over to the stomping and much appreciated thrash, offered by the trio Evil Army, who were accepted with open arms and crushing pit. The thrash spirit remained present for the following bands but it flourished with Virginia maniacs Deceased assaulting the venue in the most savage way possible. Definitely one of the top bands performing the second day and one of the most fun bands to shoot as they never stopped the madness. Left and right, the entire Agora Theater was going crazy over the never-ending brutality spewing off the trembling speakers.
The moment most were waiting was lurking around and the words were repeated constantly at every corner I passed by; Satanic Warmaster was the co-headliner of the day and were ready to finally debut on American soil. As a long-time fan of the Finnish project, I had really high expectations of their performance and boy, they met and surpassed them. As a respectable Finnish black metal band, the sound was clean and brilliantly executed by the live musicians and the only one topping that was singer and mastermind of the band Werwolf who proved to be a dedicated and energetic frontman. When I previously said “most” about the anticipation for Satanic Warmaster was because there was another side creating anxiety among the attendees and that was legendary Profanatica. The New York trio took over the stage at the end of the night, to a tired but loyal fan base ready for their set and it was a pragmatic show. While many enjoyed their show to the fullest, others were not too keen about it with persistent remarks about their sound or overall stage presence. As a classic act with no-fucks-given attitude, this comes as no surprise and while it may have caused some discussions among the fans, it surely will be remembered for years to come.
The final day was not kind to my tired body and could not put itself together to arrive as early as the first day to catch the opening bands and the plan was to catch, at least, Nocturnal Blood’s set at 4pm but once I arrived at 4:05pm, I realized the set was done due to scheduling issues and had to add one more band to “missed” list. Gladly, the disappointment was quickly vanished by one of my main draws to the festival, Ævangelist. An unexpected performance that completely blew me and many others away, with an intensity and surreal atmosphere crafted by the unconventional members who stirred a dormant audience within their first song. Another pragmatic band among the bill, some were in awe by their unorthodox presence, while others in uncertainty of what was going on in front of their eyes. For me, Ævangelist was a one-of-a-kind band who adorned a predictable festival with a light of theatrical creativity sorely missed in a narrow and intransigent environment.
The rituals were on order and bands like Demonic Christ and Nyogthaeblisz brought the ominous and sinister rites on stage complimented by the unforgiving sounds of black metal. At this point, everyone was drunk, tired but still energetic to put out everything they could, from fans to bands and Deathhammer was definitely one of those. Despite their technical and drunken difficulties, the Norwegians managed to give a quite entertaining show and the cataclysmic mosh pit started by their set proved that everything can and will sound better with enough booze in your system.
Closing the evening is not an easy task, let alone closing an entire fest but Hells Headbash knows the deal and put their heaviest hitters of them all at the end. Black Witchery is one of those bands you need to witness at least once in your life, as no one can play that form of Black/Death metal as Impurath and company. The signature anger and wrath on their performance was the proper preamble to the inevitable end. That end had to be big and potent and considering the enormous stage presence Archgoat has, I believe that’s precisely what we got. During my time at the photopit, I could never take away my eyes and ears from the Finns, like a juggernaut ready to destroy everything on its path, Archgoat was, undoubtedly, a mighty act and the best one to give closure to an equally incredible festival.
The main thing about a festival is, of course, the bands playing but something notable about Hells Headbash was the immense production quality it had: Fantastic stage production, with their custom projections per band, per song; Clean and well-modulated sound for most of the bands, which overall is not that easy to achieve; Even with the slight scheduling issues ensuing the last day, it was a smooth flow and organization for the performing bands. Cleveland has a new gem that hopefully will keep shining stronger as the years go by and should be proud of what is, in my opinion, one of the best festivals we now have in the United Stated. Next year, make sure to head over Ohio and we may cross paths as I, for sure, will go back without a doubt.