Upstairs at the O2 Academy 3 Sheffield where beer flows at a mere £4 a pint and access is via a ramrod-steep staircase that is more treacherous than a razor-lined phosphate conveyor-belt that drops into a tank of irate killer-whales [more of that later] — we had the pleasure, this weekend, of watching fifteen aspiring and hungry rock ‘n’ metal bands from around the United Kingdom slug-it-out over two exciting days for a chance to become National Winners of the legendary HRH Highway to Hell Finals.
It is worth mentioning that these finalists had already gone through a grueling process of competition and must be commended for their efforts getting this far into the final stages.
But now they had to be judged by the most capable and [frankly] vituperative public of all — the fearsome members of the ‘Dark Circle.’ These discriminating critics don’t just listen to rock and metal — they live it too. They cry nickel-plated tears and they shit-out titanium-plated ferrules from their hard-tails… in other words, the Dark Circle judges are not an easy audience.
The first challengers on stage, opening the race on Saturday night were Basingstoke’s BLACK BULLETS [@TheBlackBulletsUK] whose recent ‘Ridin Shotgun‘ video has to possess the best first-person-perspective fight scenes seen on film. Each band must spend just twenty minutes on stage trying to impress the formidable judges. They must also perform one cover song in their own style. The Black Bullets set the bar high with a thrilling set.
Up next was the melodic heavy rock outfit from Glasgow MASON HILL @masonhillofficial. The lads will be playing the Winter Storm festival in Troon, Scotland this November. @winterstormcoming. This outfit played a very capable show…
Bringing some aggression, spit and passion to proceedings were the delectable riff-monsters BETH BLADE AND THE BEAUTIFUL DISASTERS @BBATBDofficial from Wales whose licks and vocal biff reminded us of Halestorm.
Other top contenders from the first day included the Welsh classic rockers PILGRIM @pilgrimband1 and Dublin’s bright ‘n’ shiny rock ‘n’ roll Cinderellas STONE TRIGGER @StoneTrigger.
Saturday night brought thrills and spills a-plenty including several wounded soldiers some of which had to be stretchered from the battlefield. At least one serious incident involved a plummet down the previously mentioned staircase and a ‘bench-test’ of the natural phenomenon known as gravity … This gymnastic display was performed by the ‘stunt’ guitarist for Bristol rockers KIKAMORA @Kikamoraband. The accident resulted in a cracked skull.
Of course most of the pain and suffering was caused by the deliberate ingestion of too much alcohol. “For those of you who told me that you started your drinking four hours before the stage opened …” Said Jonni Davis, the CEO of Hard Rock Hell “I have one word for you … LIGHTWEIGHTS. We started drinking fourteen hours before the f**ing stage opened!”
The second day of the tournament started Sunday afternoon and was kicked off by Swansea’s FOREVER VENDETTA @forevervendettabanduk.
We loved Oxford’s HELLS GAZELLES @HELLSGAZELLE [main image] who release their exciting EP later this month. They played 1980s rock that reminded us of something glam (perhaps The Darkness) in combination with something hard (perhaps Judas Priest.)
We also enjoyed THE BOURBON HOUNDS @thebourbonhoundsuk from Manchester who, in the spirit of unity, said they ‘represented’ Yorkshire. This band were stunningly visual!
The bands at 2016 Highway to Hell were good, as one member of the public told us, “All the performances were solid, I’d be happy to pay full ticket prices to see any of them …”
Others pointed out that the contenders were less “exceptional” this year: As one DC member told us, “Although the standard was generally good — but there were actually very few acts who literally blew our balls off. In fact, only two bands yesterday [Saturday] and one today [Sunday] gave us what we needed… Orgasms and shiver-bumps…”
Results: The National Winners of 2016 were Mason Hill with Hell’s Gazelles coming in second and Stone Trigger getting a bronze.
Congratulations to all the bands who battled it out for this year’s Highway to Hell title. And thanks to the organizers too… For putting on this super-contest and staging such an exciting and enjoyable weekend.