Arriving, somewhat inevitably, late onsite on the opening Friday of the Rock Hard Festival in Gelsenkirchen, Germany we realise that we’ve only seconds to obtain beer and get in position for a squizz at German theatrical metallists Attic. I’ve not seen Mrs Strickmann move that fast in quite a while, and to her credit she didn’t spill a single drop of the precious amber fluid with which I’ve entrusted her.
I say ‘theatrical metallists’, when of course I mean ‘barely disguised Mercyful Fate tribute act’. Attic are enjoyable and all, and occasionally they run a neat line in NWoBHM-inspired metal, but the most part what you get sails pretty close to being a flagrant violation of the trades descriptions act. I probably won’t bother running next time.
Much more exciting in principal are rejuvenated NWoBHM legends Diamond Head. Using Gustav Holst’s Mars- Bringer of War as an intro tape builds up the tension nicely, and opening with oldie but goldie Play It Loud further sharpens the anticipation for what may lie ahead. Vocalist Rasmus Bom Anderson impressed on 2016’s self-titled comeback opus, and he certainly gives things a good go today, but he just doesn’t handle the older material as well as original vocalist Sean Harris. But then who could? Borrowed Time is musically on point, less so vocally, and it does become a problem after a while. Consequently new songs Bones and Set My Soul on Fire fare comparatively better on the day, although, as ever, closing the set with a thunderous Am I Evil – performed with fire and gusto, I have to say – see the band leaving the stage triumphantly and putting the first collective shit eating grin of the weekend on the lips of festival goers all round the site.
The gothic tones of Tiamat just don’t push my festival buttons, I’m afraid, and, usually – in recorded form at least – the same can be said about tonight’s headliners Sodom. But, a few beers in and with the festival spirit taking over the senses, they make full sense. The Conqueror is an early hit, Messrs Angelripper and Blackfire playing their respective metal institution roles to the hilt, but props are also due to Asphyx drummer Husky and second guitarist Yorck Segatz, who fulfil the roles accorded them with fire and skill.
Sodom often teeter on the brink of absolute ragged chaos, and at times tonight this is no different. But in front of what amounts to a home crowd they are pretty much unstoppable. Nuclear Winter is shambolic – but, if we’re being honest, rather the better for it – but Christ Passion is just plain brutal. Given added impact by the fact that the lighting rig is now having a real effect as the dusk gets darker, it’s the first real bona fide big hitter of the evening.
City of God isn’t far behind, featuring some raw but melodic lead work and glorious chugging rifferama. Next up is Blasphemer, a welcome trip back in time to the band’s early days. I was hoping they might follow this up with a run through of my all-time Sodom fave, Burst Command Til War, but it wasn’t to be.
The set is rounded out by, amongst others, storming versions of Agent Orange and a set closing synthesis of Ausgebombt and Bombenhagel which leave the bedenimed masses around me slavering for more, even after an hour and a half of ear pummelling. Some well-refreshed thrashers close to me even went as far to say as this being one of the best Sodom sets they’d ever witnessed, and they’d seen more than a few… Or was it they’d had more than a few? I can’t quite remember.
Still we head offsite happy and well-lubricated, sleepily looking forward to what day two might have to offer…