“Hear the sound of distant thunder, the time has come again”…..
So, this was it, the most anticipated gig for, well, as long as I can remember. Ever since I first heard the frankly incredible Human Remains a few months back it’s been pretty much all I have listened to. (in fact, according to LastFM I have listened to more Hell in the last 3 months than everything else combined). So it’s safe to say I’m a fan and when the band announced they were playing their first gig for 25 years in the MFN club in Nottingham there was no way in hell that I wasn’t going to be there.
I mean, it has been 25 years…
As soon as the band came on stage it was clear that this was the full theatrical show that they had first demonstrated in the On Earth As It Is In Hell video, the surviving members of the band joined by producer / guitarist / all round metal god Andy Sneap on guitar. As the Themes From A Deathsquad intro tape played the buzz in the room was like nothing I have felt recently and then, like a priest to his congregation, David Bower walked on stage resplendent in his barbed wire crown of thorns and blood red contact lenses. Oh, and one of those little boom mics
And, basically, at this point I lose all sense of objectivity….
David Bower is without a doubt one of the best front men I have ever seen. He is best known as an actor and this showed in his incredible on-stage persona. He just knows how to project himself, he plays the part to perfection and, as an added bonus, he can sing a bit too.
The set opened with Let Battle Commence which showed that Hell have obviously been working hard since getting back together, this just didn’t feel like a band playing their first gig in over 2 decades. On Earth As It Is In Hell followed and immediately ratcheted up the atmosphere by a notch.
It was cool to see the look on guitarist / keyboardist Kev Bower’s face, he looked genuinely taken aback by the response that the band were getting but from where I was standing it was well deserved.
Seriously, I expected good but I didn’t expect quite this good.
The main driving force behind the recent Hell reunion was long time fan Andy Sneap, tonight featuring some rather cool looking plague victim contact lenses as he displayed the guitar skills he was taught by Hell’s late frontman Dave Halliday.
The tolling of the cart-masters bell and cries of “bring out your dead” set the scene for Plague and Fyre, Dave Bower coming on-stage in a hooded sack cloth robe, just as Dave Halliday did 25 years ago. It was pure theater and up close in the tight confines of the venue it was a simply stunning moment.
People had come from as far away as Scandanavia to be here tonight, but the prize for the furthest has to go to the guy from Southern California who flew in for the gig. With America not exactly being the most popular country in the world at the moment it’s kind of a pity that he traveled all that way to get booed though, although the band had been supplying him with beer so that would have taken the edge off it
The Oppressors was up next before the partial nudity and auto-flagellation of Blasphemy And The Master, with Dave Bower stripped to the waist delivering his lines with a passion that comes from years of acting experience. It’s weird to note that he originally only visited the band to do some voice overs for the album but after trying out a few of the songs it was immediately clear to Andy Sneap that they had found the perfect person to fill some of the massive gap left in the band.
Kev Bower took center stage next for the spoken intro to The Devil’s Deadly Weapon. Now this is one of my favorite songs on the album and live it was just at another level. I hate to think how much time Hell have spent on their presentation but it’s certainly been well worth it, with everyone getting their moment in the spotlight.
The upbeat optimism of The Quest (a great track but with an oddly cheery straightforward theme) flew by at a neck-breaking pace and set things up nicely for another theatrical little interlude with the three witches bit that precedes MacBeth, delivered by the brothers Bower and bassist Tony Speakman.
The main body of the set ended with No Martyrs Cage, but of course there were going to be encores. Over the taped intro to Save Us From Those Who Would Save Us Dave Bower walked the stage, this time wearing a clerical outfit including dog collar and holding a huge bible, which he then held aloft before it exploded in a flash of pyro smoke.
If you look at the videos on YouTube from the 80s hell performances you will notice that there was a lot of choreography in the guitarist’s stage moves, and this is something that Hell have kept in their performance and, to be fair, it did look pretty cool.
Running through the album tracks in my head I couldn’t think what the second encore would be, but before that there was one of those real lump in the throat moments. I’ll pass you over to Dave Bower….
“We couldn’t go any further this evening without having a quick talk about something. Obviously this is our first show and it means a lot to us, thank you very, very much for being here. There is, however, as you know someone who should be here tonight who isn’t. But the purpose of tonight is not to be sad that he’s not here, the purpose of tonight is to celebrate the fact that he was. This, with your help, is for Dave“…
The final song of the evening was a fitting way to end, with a cover version of pre-Hell band Race Against Time’s Bedtime. This is a proper old fashioned headbanger of a track that I’ve only ever seen on dodgy quality YouTube videos and it was a excellent end to what had been an outstanding gig. The band even included the Singalonga-Hell bit from the surviving 1980s video with an initially muted audience response being met with “we didn’t come back after 30 years for that”
Hell have a big summer of festival appearances lined up and I can’t help wondering how they will go down on the bigger stage, but hopefully I’ll be able to find out sometime. It’s not clear what the future holds for the band either. I guess they have to fit in round the members commitments, particularly Andy Sneap who is a busy chap. Whatever happens I doubt I’ll ever get another chance to see this lineup playing in a little venue like the MFN club. If this is a one off, what a fucking one off it was.
Now can someone do something about the ringing in my ears please?…