Armageddon Festival 2009 Review

21st November 2009 – Snooty Fox, Wakefield

Conquest of Steel, Stuka Squadron, Hamerex, Sanity Falls, Iron Void, Heat Ray, Narcotic Death

I’m not sure when I’d scrawled ‘Armageddon Festival’ across my calendar for this late November weekend, but by the time it actually came around I’d forgotten what it was, which was kind of cool, because it gave me the chance to get excited about this impromptu all-dayer all over again. Stuka Squadron and Conquest of Steel on the same bill is about the best night out I can think of, and I always enjoy going to the Snooty Fox (if not Wakefield itself, sorry Wakefield). Of course by the day I was pretty ill, hence no daredevil live photography for this event, for which I apologise.

There is also a big time-space continuum problem in Wakefield, which is that the local hotel has a checking in time of 3pm, which is when the first bands always take to the stage at the Snooty Fox, and as I prefer not to sleep rough in these environs, I’m afraid I only caught the tail-end of local death metallers NARCOTIC DEATH but I would urge you to check them out because they’ve clearly put a lot of hours into their doomy but driving sound, and Alex is a voice to be reckoned with.

Shortly after this I stopped failing entirely, grabbed a beer and settled in for HEAT-RAY. Hailing from Hull, these guys have a really charismatic stage presence, and rattled through a bunch of catchy yet bone-crunching heavy metal tracks that raised the temperature in the room by a good few notches and can’t have failed to win them some new fans. “The Night Witch” packed a lot of power, but the prize has to go to “The Last Ride”, which is both stonking (if that’s a word) and poignant at the same time. Guitarists Adam and Dave are easily skilled enough to pull off all of the tricks that their heroes made famous, meaning that Heat-Ray not only rumble and shred away with irresistible momentum, but are also possessed of some pretty mean leads. “Very Bad Things” made me laugh (you can see Heat-Ray yourselves to find out why), as did a break-neck cover of “Creeping Death”, Metallica being a touchstone for the band stylistically, during which vocalist Paul felt the need to make a trip to the bar. Hey… sometimes beer can’t wait. Cracking songs and a lot of charm – thumbs up from the Hierophant corner.

IRON VOID were next to take the stage – I’d been hearing good things about them for a while, and this performance only confirmed such rumours, with their sludgier, doomier take on proceedings hitting exactly the right spot. Their classy song-writing and their obvious passion for their chosen style were abundantly in evidence, and they’re one of those bands whom you enjoy live, but also make a mental note to yourself to check out in more detail later, not unlike, ironically considering their past line-up, The Lamp of Thoth. “Final Resting Place” is a chuggy, memorable highlight, but “Gates of Hell”, and “Demon Drive” are equally good, and “Own Worst Enemy” is plenty insistent enough to trigger some neck-snapping. If the crowd aren’t entirely sure of who St Vitus are for an excellent cover of “Living Backwards”, well… nevermind the crowd. Another cracking performance from a band that make the evening palpably heavier.

Who we are, what we’re doing, when the break is and what might be the meaning of life are momentarily obscured when a band doesn’t show up (let’s return the favour by not naming them) but eventually we’re all go again, and we’re watching SANITY FALLS, a progressive-alternative-stompingly-heavy four piece from Leeds. That’s about as good a description as I’m going to get, because this act were pretty refreshing – riotous, spiteful female vocals spark against quick, blunt, downtuned riff work and a hail of percussion. It’s not a ‘fashionable’ sound, which goes in its favour, and while I might not personally choose to sit down and listen to them on a regular day, Sanity Falls have a lot of live energy, and this is a great set to watch.  “We are the Dead” is my favourite track from a well-chosen showcase.

Next up are HAMEREX – guitarist Steve has been the driving force behind the organisation of this event, so it really is time that he got to enjoy himself and rip up a stage. This is the set to turn proceedings solidly back to heeeavvvyyy metttaaallll, Hamerex boasting a thunderous, thrashy sound that isn’t afraid to make full use of a fretboard. The band are tight and give the impression that they’ve been together for just about always, and we get to hear “Desert Skies”, “Gates of Hades” and “Waste Away” all sound particularly good. Onstage, there’s a flurry of headbanging and guitar heroism, and Chris is yet another engaging front-person for this evening, getting properly into the spirit and dragging the crowd along with him. In all, a lot to be pleased with in this comfortable, competent set.

I like watching other people’s faces as STUKA SQUADRON’s martial introduction sets in, and the blood-drinking ones burst out of their (metaphorical, for now) coffins and command the stage. There’s always something of a shock and awe effect, with the audience trapped like a particularly squishy vermin in the headlights, thinking ‘oh dear god, fight or flee?’ just before the awesome heavy metal riffing starts and they get irresistibly sucked (har har) in. The fact that I’ve seen them three times in the last few months says less about my fandom, although I do loves ‘em, and more about this band’s work ethic, and considering the Lord Pyre has swooped in all the way from the Netherlands to take part in tonight’s proceedings, that shows no sign of slacking. It’s an accomplished performance tonight – if James is nervous knowing that all his folks ‘back home’ are watching, it doesn’t show, and everyone looks excellent. The Fox’s sound system lets their galloping guitar work and catchy bass lines have full effect – ‘newie’ “Tales of the Ost” from the forthcoming release of the same name sounds superb, definitely as catchy as previous outings, whilst “We Drink Blood” and “Lovecraft” are played with skill. “One-Eyed God King” sounds even better than usual with this much volume, and, as usual, sticks in my head for days to come. The Stukas are short a guitarist at the moment which, actually lends them a bit of lean-and-meanness, but really they’re a bombastic kind of a band, and more is always better.

I’m just about finished by the time CONQUEST OF STEEL are sharpening their blades, but some gentle cajoling from the aforementioned webmaster and Mr Begley convinces me I won’t die immediately if I stay upright for another hour or so, and I’m damn glad, because Conquest of Steel just get more and more excellent. They’re pushed for time, the Snooty Fox’s very residential neighbours demanding an early-ish curfew, a problem which Dan suggests we remedy by all killing one neighbour each. Is he joking? Maybe. He’s got a big sword… I haven’t seen Conquest for a couple of years, since they played with Municipal Waste in Liverpool, and since then they’ve gained an album, “Storm Sword”. They manage to fit in an early track from its listing, which helps to bring the release to life for me on later listens driving home – I hope they will be touring it more extensively next year. The stand-out for me was “I Am Legend”because I love everything about that song – fantastic chorus from Dan, brilliant, racing riffs and a measure of ridiculousness that is utterly transcending by its sheer true metal spirit. “Taste the Metal” is another awesome track, and there’s no more suitable closer than “Only the Devil can Stop us Now”. There’s also a very poignant moment in this set with the band’s performance of “Holy Diver”, dedicated to Ronnie James Dio who is this stage known to be in hospital – hopefully he could hear Dan’s excellent and passionate vocal from all the way over there. Conquest of Steel are exponentially tighter than everyone else, and it’s a real treat to see them in a relatively small venue, for the price of a couple of beers. For once, we are very spoiled up here in Yorkshire.

Overall, this was a great event. It could have done with a higher attendance at times, but oh well – those who didn’t shift their arses down to Wakey for this one missed out. Congratulations and thank you to Steve and all of the staff at the Snooty Fox – long may it reign. Oh, and by the way, when we were walking back to the hotel, the working men’s club next door had a club singer belting out “You Are My Sunshine” (GODAWFULLY) at great volume, ten or fifteen minutes after Conquest had to pull the plug. Some definite double standards in the community which should be sorted out at swordpoint!!!

Hierophant Nox

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