Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
We’re leaving together
But still it’s farewell
And maybe we’ll come back
To Earth, who can tell?
The Final Countdown – Europe
If two days of utter and unashamed revelry isn’t sufficient for the Steelhouse massive then the UK’s highest festival has a third day of complete equal on offer for Sunday.
A touch heavier than the previous two in quarters but still a great variance from youthful battle-ready exuberance to the learned craft of masterful chieftains.
For the final time of this weekend, we steady ourselves in readiness to descend the metaphorical rabbit hole to explore the playlist. From the angst-ridden metal of openers Ashen Reach to the polished melodies of Scandinavian kings Europe via the pagan-fuelled mania of Green Lung and the downright stoner devilment of Orange Goblin there’s enough here to slake the most demanding of metalliferous appetites.
It’s a day that’s dawned with an increased radiance, the tops of the moors have returned into view and all things meteorological are most encouraging. The miserable forecast be damned! There are more than traces of blue overhead; however, there’s a metallurgical tempest about to break free of its shackles.
Merseysiders Ashen Reach have been ripping up the rock n’ roll manual since their inception and they take to the mountain with a fury unleashed. Ripping into ‘Fighting For Your Love’ the most sizeable of early-door crowds are unified with the quintet. Out front Duracell-bunny (other battery brands are available) vocalist Kyle Stanley is a blur of frenetic motion. Flying through the air with mic raised or punching his heart with immense passion this emotive individual is on an immediate connect.
Raising a vividly-hued prosthetic leg – one instantly recognisable as belonging to my mate Muttley – Kyle salutes the crowd. “Now we’re gonna create an earthquake!” as he introduces highly reverberating ‘Heir To The Throne.’ Steelhouse bounces and surely registers on the Richter scale! A mosh pit opens up with a blur of bodies in a human Brownian motion. All very good-natured and the band love it!
“We fucking love you Steelhouse!” enthuses Kyle “Gonna dig the vibe.” Every last ounce of fervour is poured into the prowling grandeur of ‘Prey;’ a lump in the throat moment but not as big as the one to come in a few minutes. The tribal beats of ‘Epiphany’ seem to take a Celtic resonance, most appropriate here up above the Welsh valleys.
The title-track of AR’s 2020 debut album ‘Homecoming’ strikes a chord deep within my soul. “I’m coming home to where I belong” has me thinking upon personal challenges that lie ahead and draw a tear or three.
For a few moments I’m alone with just the band for company; lost in contemplation of exciting times ahead. The enraptured crowd seem to be lost in their own bubbles too; powerful stuff this rock n’ roll! Ashen Reach have taken on the Sunday hangover slot and turned it upon its head, future headliners in the making.
Planet Rock DJ Ian Danter, with my favourite introduction of the weekend, ushers Derby quintet These Wicked Rivers onstage “Welcome to the Steelhouse front-room. Gonna leave the big light on all day!” Referencing those wonderfully quirky standard lamps that have made a most welcome return following their enforced absence at June’s Love Rocks festival down in southern Dorset.
These slick southern groove merchants have been harvesting a deserved upswell in support through the course of the last year or two; it’s great to see and completely on merit. Labelled TWR, eight years in the distillation, this is a mighty fine mellifluous moonshine from ‘that there holler.’ Two cracking EPs laid a solid foundation in advance of 2020s long-player ‘Eden’ that saw the Rivers escalate up through the musical gears.
Trademark set-opener ‘Shine On’ that sears the earth to the point of desiccation; such is the temperature that this southern rock furnace operates at. Rich Wilson’s expansive keys coil, cobra-like, about Arran Day’s combustive six-stringing.
Affable front-man gravelly snarls “Bring the thunder, bring the rain” somewhat portentously, as the Hafod-y-Dafal climate will shortly oblige, in ‘Force Of Nature’ before the blues-drenched ‘Evergreen’ delights.
The meteorological sooth-saying powers of TWR are not lost on one and all (un ac oll) as a short but remarkably accurate shower strikes a blow during ‘Testify.’ Ever pondered upon what a deltalands Zeppelin would wind up sounding like? Ponder no further good friend.
Like the preceding track so the transcendent tonnage of ‘Don’t Pray For Me’ is lifted from the Rivers’ second EP ‘II’ ending a glorious, but oh to short, half hour set with total ataraxia. Pen these guys in as firmly on the ascent.
Very much in the fledgling stage of their career Midlanders King Herd take on the onerous challenge of clearing the marker set by the opening two bands. This is something they’re becoming accustomed to quite rapidly; their first ever live performance was in the middle order of the middle day of March’s Winter’s End festival. Proving their worth then this quartet set above doing so again this afternoon with no outward signs of nerves.
A low-end plangency rolls about the surrounding hillsides and spills wave-like into the valleys beneath. Planet Rock have a keen interest, for good reason, in this outfit and the playlisted singles the shadowed spawn of ‘Halo’ and the heavyweight ‘Medicine’ – their only releases to date – spark brightly.
There’s angst laced throughout their set and, tightly gripping his mic, frontman David Taylor serves up an affectional muscular presence that compliments his bandmates’ forceful outputs.
The articulate backdrop has me intrigued from the very off. Seven pagan-esque figures dance about in a co-joined circular affair with a horned goat-like overlord regulating affairs. Planet Rock DJ Darren Reddick introduces the proprietors of this backdrop as “possibly the most interesting band here” and following 50 minutes of eclectic prog-metal with fringes that bear hallmarks of stoner, doom right through to the odd slice of heretical folk I can only agree in his assessment!
London-based Green Lung have landed in the bright Welsh sunshine with the Cimmerian metallic overtones of ‘The Ritual Tree’ following an instrumental intro that is entitled ‘The Harrowing.’ Fear not for there is not an 18-inch trilithon in sight; this quartet is serious about its art. They fearlessly meld folk and metal with a raging fist as “Stones and stars align.”
2022 will, in my opinion, go down in the annals as a Steelhouse that dared to defy the standard and set its very own high bar of quality allied with a very broad altar at which to conduct metal worship. Green Lung stray far from the median with their glorious underworld groove that shadows the environs of ‘The Ritual Tree’ and the swirling multi-layered riffage of ‘You Bear The Mark.’ A veritable prog-beast.
‘Call Of The Coven’ is dedicated by frontman Tom Templar to “a really powerful witch. Happy birthday!” It’s as if someone has tampered with Ozzy’s DNA and reprogrammed it in prog mode and planted the master in place of Fish afront Marillion. Ensorcellment afoot.
My attention assured I have promised myself, by mid-set, that this is a band that requires complete listening to in a darkened room with a large tumbler of single malt. It’s the folky quirks of Jethro Tull enwrapped about the masterly psychedelic prog of Pink Floyd laid atop an earthquake proof foundation of Sabbath that has me, and a large percentage of the crowd, by the sphericals.
As if he possesses telepathic skills Templar states, “We don’t normally get to play this song in the sun as introduces the haunting ‘Graveyard Sun.’ Steelhouse have well and truly pulled out a humungous rabbit out of their hat here! A crowd well and truly captivated.
One that readily chants “Hail Satan” before being asked to ‘Let The Devil In.’ Compelling in the extreme, their albums ‘Woodland Rites’ (2019) and ‘Black Harvest’ (2021) are going to be checked out without a shadow of doubt. So having run amok the Wisht Hounds have returned to their lair amongst the craggy moss-covered granite outcrops that litter Wistman’s Wood high up on Dartmoor. ‘Old Crockern,’ the moors’ guardian spirit, can now rest easy with his pack returned.
With a rampaging neo-classical intro, melding elements of their signature track ‘Am I Evil’ with an undercurrent of Holst’s ‘Mars,’ that thunders from the Steelhouse PA NWOBHM stalwarts Diamond Head stride proudly into the Hafod-y-Dafal furnace.
A molten crucible that has been stoked to volcanic temperatures from the opening 50% of the day. With the metal forecast to continue to flow in a highly viscous manner for the remaining four bands of the weekend. A lava flow of mighty riffs and towering rhythms beckons.
Roaring into opener ‘Play It Loud’ Diamond Head are in the faces of the gathered ensemble from the minute they hit their first riffs through to the final notes of an enthralling 50 minutes. ‘Messenger’ crushes bones underfoot as the very receptive audience bounce along. The legend (a word oft overused but most applicable herein) that is Brian Tatler raises his plectrum aloft in salute of the crowd.
After bringing ‘Lightning To The Nations’ – the title track of the album that started the ball rolling back in 1980 – Engaging frontman Rasmus Born Anderson holds aloft a familiar leg. Commenting “[He] gave it to me at Hammersmith. This represents what we are about in the Metal Nation. If anyone falls, we pick them up!” before adding “I’ll get this back to you Muttley!”
‘Sweet and Innocent’ – also from the debut album – is the pure epitome of the era of NWOBHM. The frantic ‘Set My Soul On Fire’ exceeds its promise and ignites a raging inferno. The ‘Coffin Train’ rolls into town with to deliver ‘Belly Of The Beast’ to the awaiting ravenous horde.
Rasmus primes his colleagues “Brian let’s electrify these people!” ‘It’s Electric’ sets the stage – with Rasmus singing “Gonna be a rock n’ roll star, playing at the Steelhouse show” – for the set-stopping finale that is the highly revered ‘Am I Evil.’ A perfect bookend to match their intro.
The tables turned with the metalliferous demon rooted about Holst’s Bringer of War. Horns are obligingly raised, and clenched fists punch the late afternoon skies. Raiding the DH arsenal, it’s the only track that can possibly finish the set. Legacy time indeed, Steelhouse is a blur as heads bang and air guitars are thrashed to within a millimetre of their very existence.
The fury continues with no letting up of pace, Steelhouse doesn’t do things by halves or, indeed, fractions of any category. Twenty-seven years into a heavyweight career Orange Goblin – the 21st Century’s answer to Motorhead – go from strength to strength.
Out front, in great shape, vocalist Ben Ward leads with the tenacity and power of a Viking chieftain to lead his OG co-founders guitarist Joe Hoare and drummer Chris Turner into battle. Following the departure of original bassist Martyn Millard, the ranks have been redrawn with the appointment of Blind River singer Harry Armstrong taking on the low-end duties.
Having last seen Orange Goblin in the darkened environs of last winter’s HRH it’s a bit of a culture shock being stood here in the sun-kissed wide-open spaces of the mountain. But fear not this merry band of doomsters demonstrate, more than adequately, that they are equally adept whatever the time of day they unleash their brand of stoner metal in an hour-long set that sets salivation levels to maximum.
Hitting the tracks to their chosen intro of AC/DC’s ‘It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll)’ the Goblin is far from a diminutive beast, quite the polar opposite. Ben enthuses “It’s a beautiful day, let’s rock n’ roll!” as they hurtle into the predatory arachnid metal of ‘Scorpionica.’ Zigzagging through time the compelling quartet come forward nearly two decades to the Sabbath-esque tomes of ‘Sons Of Salem’ before delving further into the back catalogue for 1997s hard galloping ‘Sarumen’s Wish.’ It’s intensely brooding with a subtle progressive hint that deviates towards Maiden. The physc-doomer ‘Made Of Rats’ follows in foundation quaking fashion.
Taking Motorhead and ratcheting up the dial into the territory beyond the fabled 11 the aptly entitled bludgeoner ‘The Filthy & The Few’ champions the underground; Lemmy would surely approve. Mr. Kilmister is never too far away, and ‘Renegade’ is dedicated to his memory in rumbustious comportment.
A chaotic tempestuousness is vented as the ‘Devil’s Whip’ is raised. Marauding uncontrollably the denizens of the obsidian-hearted substrata work the crowd into a frenzy, eliciting a loud roar. The ‘Fog’ envelops all in an enveloping, clinging meteorological metal assault that would have been right at home 24 hours previous! Nonetheless the crowd’s loud appreciation has Ben smiling broadly.
Solid rock has been transformed into dust, pulverised into a finer-grained existence by the sheer steelhammer piledriving of The Goblin. The dead are awakened by set-closer ‘Red Tide Rising’ as the blazing sun picks its way slowly towards the westward horizon casting warming hues upon the surrounding moorland hilltops.
The anchor that moors Steelhouse to the mountain begins to shift. The bell tolls as AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ (the festival’s intro band of choice seemingly) blares out of the speakers to herald the birthing of the good ship Schenker. The penultimate act of the final day comes alongside to a droning keyboard redolent of the Quo of old intro, to despatch a cargo of fine musicianship and arena-filling anthems.
To the complete adoration of the Steelhouse faithful German guitar legend Michael Schenker explodes on to the stage punching out the highly appropriately entitled instrumental ‘Into The Arena.’ Irishman Robin McAuley bursts from side stage to take the lead on ‘Cry For The Nations.’
With regular vocalist Ronnie Romero unavailable for the European leg of the tour McAuley seemed the perfect fit. There’s a chemistry between these two which dates back to the latter part of the 80s when they recorded three albums together under the McAuley Schenker Group banner; both smile broadly throughout the fifteen-track set. Schenker and his flying V are synonymous with one another; without one there isn’t the other.
The bulk of the set sees Schenker et al raid the UFO catalogue from his stint with Phil Mogg with instantly recognisable classics such as ‘Doctor, Doctor’ and ‘Lights Out’ peppering the first half of the set interwoven with the full-blooded ‘Looking For Love’ and smooth-as-silk ‘Sail The Darkness.’
McAuley sagely observes “Some songs need no introduction” as they roll into MSG classic ‘Armed And Ready.’ Like Saxon and Bonnet, 24 hours previously, I’m suddenly taken back to my formative years. First listening to the initial track from MSG’s live opus ‘One Night At Budokan.’
With the sun dipping below the horizon so Schenker winds things right up with six utter stonking UFO tracks to finish up with. A para-glider circles above for a while as an extended ‘Rock Bottom’ heads up this crescendo. A stampeding ‘Let It Roll’ rolls on from ‘Shoot Shoot.’
Schenker takes to the mic to reflect “It’s 50 years since I took a plane from Germany to England to meet UFO and start writing!” It’s been quite the milestone celebration, but Schenker and his crew are far from finished with singalong anthem ‘Too Hot To Handle’ and the unforgettable ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ ramping it right up and setting the stage for the final band of this year’s Steelhouse.
With dusk whispering its call and spreading its tendrils across the land so the stage is set for our Sunday headliner Europe. Just a thin waxing crescent of the moon sits in starlit skies as a rumble of thunder promulgates the entry of the invading Swedish clans. The band prepare to take to a darkened stage, but the technical gremlins throw the dice tumbling for one last time with an abrupt halt to the intro.
Co-founding vocalist Joey Tempest isn’t phased in the slightest and whilst the stage crew sort out the issues, he picks up his microphone and heads out on the runway. This could easily be Joey down the local as he chats to the crowd. “Steelhouse, house of steel you ok?” he enquires. “How about that Michael Schenker? Goosebumps on that solo!”
Going down on bended knee Joey spots a youngster on the barrier and asks of their favourite song to which the reply is “The Final Countdown!” Nodding Joey smiles “That’s a good one!” The consummate frontman for sure. The moment of the weekend for me.
The intro tape rolls once more, and the final set of the weekend commences with the polished Scandinavian tones of ‘Walk The Earth’ – the title track of their most recent release – ensuring hands are raised. Classically, and unashamedly, late 80s glam rocker ‘Rock The Night’ is lifted from ‘The Final Countdown.’
A track that is widely credited with giving Europe their first breakthrough catapulting them into arena tours and topping charts across the world. A searing John Norum solo seals the deal; Steelhouse are firmly on board. This is the first of five numbers lifted from this phenomenally successful long-player with that and the albums – ‘Out Of This World’ and ‘Wings Of Tomorrow’ – released either side of it drawn upon heavily too.
Power ballad ‘Carrie’ has us all singing along like it’s 1986 once more; the only difference is that the lighters of yore have been replaced by mobile phone flashlights. Similar atmospheric effect though.
Lights twinkling in the inky sky a jet heads eastwards as ‘Firebox’ is warmly received before rolling into ‘Last Look At Eden’ with its touches of Dio applied here and there.
Backing tapes or keyed segments are skilfully employed between tracks to further polish a gleaming performance. Portentous shadowy rocker ‘War Of Kings’ features a screaming solo from John as the set wings its way to the inevitable finale. In a sense the final countdown has begun; ‘Ready Or Not’ is firmly nailed into the Steelhouse fabric before ‘Superstitious’ rolls into a rendition of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ to the delight of the packed arena. Joey approvingly notes “B E A utiful!” as the crowd roars.
Tumbling drums signals the incoming ‘Cherokee;’ we all know the words of this 80s anthem, and we all know what is to come. The final song from the final band of the final day of the festival. It could only be, couldn’t it? ‘The Final Countdown’ reverberates about Steelhouse.
It’s en masse party time as the roof is lifted and walls are brought down. Kazoos echo about the valleys in an odd twist that simultaneously pays reverence whilst ensuring that things are too serious in the arena. With loud cheers ringing in the night sky so the traditional fireworks signal the end of Steelhouse 2022 edition.
It’s been a belter – 23 bands across 3 days with a band of volunteers ensuring a fantastic festival. Here’s to 2023! Many thanks to Max and Mikey for hosting Metal Planet Music; we’re proud to have been able to cover this fine event.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM