Hard Rock Hell AOR/PROG Festival 2013 Review

By Danielle Partis

There were no words the day I first set eyes on this year's HRH AOR/PROG line up. It was a sunny afternoon (probably wasn't), and my good friend and colleague Shane showed me the line up with a grin of excitement like no other. From that moment, there was no way that I could NOT be at this festival. We saw, we purchased, we waited. Inevitably, within about three minutes - give or take 6 months - we were en-route to HRH AOR festival.

After figuring out how to navigate the steel structured rabbit hole that is Magna, an astounding choice of venue despite the location and the layout - we finally stumbled upon our first band of the festival - Daylight Robbery. Despite only catching the last few songs of this band's set, I can safely say they didn't really capture me. The front man had an epic stage presence and an astonishing set of lungs, and the band appeared to be extremely tight and well rehearsed - however by the end of their set, Daylight Robbery were living right up to their name. C'mon guys, even Dick Turpin wore a mask.

After slogging down a pint or two, I caught up with my Hammer friend Dom, who dragged me across the venue to check out a band I've heard tons about in my particular Twittersphere, but never actually listened to. TesseracT, were my next victims of critique. Now the last time someone told me to check out a progressive band, I spent 6 months whinging about it before actually doing it and falling in love with them (Dream Theater). TesseracT, effortlessly replicated that reaction. Wonderous lashings of prog, with a tasty element of groove that is both vicious and encapsulating. I found myself rooted in the same spot for the duration of their set, eyes attached to the stage like a facehugger to a marine, probably drooling in awe a bit, though that wasn't pointed out to me at the time. A definite recommendation, I'll be keeping an eye out for them!

Romeo's Daughter were up next, a favourite of mine and a majorly underrated asset to the AOR genre. I think Leigh Matty wins the award for sleekest haircut in music history, though that has absolutely nothing to do with her astonishing vocals. Romeo's Daughter never cease to impress; playing a eclectic collection of both old classics, fan favourites and newer, ambiguous material, which included my absolute favourite 'Attracted to the Animal'. How they were never bigger I will never know.  This is the first time that I've seen them on a moderately massive stage, which is where their collossal, anthemic tunes SHOULD be. The one thing I adore about this lot is their modesty - Matty is always mega thankful for the support Romeo's receive, and her appreciation radiates, through her hair apparently.

Back through to the depths of Satan's freezer (Prog room) to catch the second half of It Bites' set. I caught these fellas opening for FM earlier this month, and I don't recall finding them that great. Must have been my fault, considering this time round they were pretty damn fine! They have such an infectious, optimistic sound that could make even the most cynical of bastards feel just that little bit better. That, and their hit 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley'  is catchier than the infuriatingly tactless female that runs upstairs in a horror film. I had the chorus rooted in my head for days afterwards.

Up next were a band, that do not need any introduction. The mighty FM bounded out on to the main AOR stage, and everyone within a 400 yard radius gravitated towards them. No band had a bigger crowd today! When Steve 'The Voice' Overland opens his mouth, it's like gazing in to the face of the sun. Not in a painful way - in a 'what is this beautiful, relentless, INHUMANE force, and where can I get one?'  Or at least that's how I feel about the situation every single time I see FM.
They're all such a pleasant, humble set of individuals, and that really is reflected in their performance. Especially bassist Merv! You'll be damned if you ever catch him when he's not smiling or winking. I could waffle all day about how amazing this band are, but there's a lot to get through. Please, do go and see them for yourselves, they may be the un-certified 8th wonder of the world.

Steve 'The Voice' Overland. Making everything effortless since 1986.

We were one of the few caught heading back up to the second AOR stage towards the end of the evening, to catch Mia Klose. I've been following Mia for just over a year, and have always been impressed with what she has to offer. A complete throwback to the bombshells of the 80s, Mia and her crew create a sexy, nostalgic, yet cutting edge portrayal of 80s sleaze; though it definitely works more efficiently as a live show. There's always an element of personality that can't be captured on record, and Mia has lashings of that for such a tiny lady! I thoroughly enjoyed her set, which was rounded off fantastically with an tantalising cover of the Guns 'N' Roses classic, 'You Could Be Mine'. I'm sure a few members of the crowd left the second AOR room with their undergarments considerably wetter than when they arrived.

Mia Klose, the tiniest bombshell you'll ever see!

I awoke considerably more alert this morning, and after a massive breakfast, we headed back over to Magna for the second day of HRH AOR/PROG. It was pleasant to not have to queue outside for almost an hour this time! The first band I encountered was Nubian Rose. That lot kicked my day off with velocity, delivering ballsy, infectious Swedish AOR wonderment. I always enjoy seeing females within the genre, and damn, Sofia Akerlund can really wail! Her vocals are reminiscent of Lee Aaron's 'Metal Queen' album. I didn't catch a lot of their set, but enough of it for them to be slotted in to the 'Buy album' part of my brain. Unfortunately, Nubian Rose didn't have an astounding crowd, though to be honest, I hadn't heard them before now, so I'm guessing a fair few other's hadn't either. That, and a lot of folks were still nursing tender heads after Saturday's party!

Up next, were a band that I'd heard great things about, but had never got round to listening to. H.E.A.T, exploded on the stage with the velocity of a tank, unleashing lashings of pure, unfiltered AOR in to everyone's ear holes. The energy of the five of them was insane! I want to know what vocalist Erik swallowed before he emerged; the stamina in that man was incomprehensible. Just watching him made my limbs tired! There wasn't an inch of that stage unoccupied as H.E.A.T bounded and wailed incessantly, leaving the huge crowd they'd attained tantalised and in awe. Whatever followed H.E.A.T, had to be DAMN good. If FM weren't playing, they would have definitely been my favourite band of the festival.

Back up to the second AOR stage - which was considerably colder than it was yesterday - to see Barnsley boys Serpentine. I caught a snippet of this lot opening for Romeo's Daughter last year, and I was downright silenced by them. They emit this, sparkly, anthemic sound so synonymous AOR; particularly close to the likes of Elevener, a favourite of mine. Matt's voice is a glitter bomb in the ears, beautifully sonorous yet perfectly pitched, carried by Chris' swooping riffs and solos. Some technical faults arose during the set, however Serpentine just shrug and continue with the stance of a band that don't take themselves too seriously, and have no need to. What sets Serpentine apart from other acts of their calibre is their ability to connect with an audience, yet still produce an enormous sound. They played a blinding set and I'll be seeing them again very soon!

Chris and Matt of Serpentine. Mmmm. 

After popping in to the main AOR room and deciding that Kip Winger's blase, one-man acoustic get up wasn't really for me, I proceeded on the Prog room, where I stumbled across an unknown entity known as The Von Hertzen Brothers. Holy shit, is my only way to describe what I witnessed during that hour. I'd never heard of them prior to HRH, but I, amongst many wasn't going to forget them in a hurry. Ever heard of genre boundaries? They haven't. The set kicked off as well-sculpted, encapsulating prog metal, then rapidly evolved in to ska, before fading back in to some form of infectious hardcore wonderment, then returning to prog as if nothing had happened. The band took their crowd and made them their bitches from start to finish - if you weren't a fan of a style they were playing - tough! The VH Bros are without a doubt, masters of their craft and I urge every single one of you to go right out and listen to them. Now.

The last band of merit I can comment on before I slipped in to a alcoholic haze with H.E.A.T and others, was legendary Skid Row. I was feeling fairly ambivalent towards this set; I grew up with Sebastian era SR, and was excited to see tracks I've known and loved for years live, however, I was dubious of Jonny Solinger and how he would deliver. There will always be the 'He's not Seb' argument. That's absolutely right, he's not, and no amount of money will make it so! Fans can either bitch and whinge about that fact, or embrace the band's new, excited vocal force and continue to enjoy the music of Skid Row performed to an impeccable standard. I couldn't fault their show in any way, and it was nostalgic as hell to watch and incredibly enjoyable! Sure, it's never going to be the Skid Row anyone wants, but that's life, innit?

All in all, Hard Rock Hell AOR/Prog has been an incredible experience! All the bands I saw performed amazingly and the affinity shared by everyone throughout the venue and the weekend was beyond awesome. Definitely one of the best festivals I've had the pleasure to attend. Bring on AOR II!

H.E.A.T's Erik Gronwall. Breakin' silences... and that.