Royal Hunt
May 25th 2003
The Gods Festival, Penningtons, Bradford, UK

By Andy Read


If you ve never come across it before, The Gods is probably Europe's leading Melodic Hard Rock/AOR Festival. Organised by the British-based Now and Then label, it is now in its tenth year, having previously played host to the likes of Harem Scarem, Honeymoon Suite, Hardline, Two Fires, Ted Poley, Kip Winger, Ten and Tyketto.

Now held at a place called Penningtons in Bradford, the venue is more commonly used as a nightclub. It has a big stage, good sound and lights, a big standing area but with plenty of bars and sitting areas to mingle. There's also a bean bag area to slouch in when it all gets too much (and the toilets even have a pond with goldfish and a fountain!)

Initially, a strictly AOR/Hard Rock event, the past few years have seen a few heavier acts added to the bill. Jorn Lande (ARK/Millennium/Masterplan) blew the roof off two years ago.

This year's line-up featured 16 bands from seven different countries. The Saturday was a slightly more laidback affair, featuring Ex-Thin Lizzy Darren Wharton's band Dare, the AOR of Raine, Urban Tale and Lost Weekend and UK rockers Pride. American rock legend Stan Bush however was far and away the pick of the bunch.

Worthy of a mention too were Swedish progressive AOR rockers Grand Illusion who reminded me in many places of Yes and Styx . I grabbed a copy of their current album View From The Top which has so far proved to be a good choice.

However, it was the Sunday that had a far heavier appeal and in particular, the long-awaited debut UK performance by Royal Hunt. Why it has taken ten years for one of the world's top ProgMetallers to get to the birthplace of metal is beyond me.

Before them the picks of the day were US hardrockers Talon who in a short 40-minute set of Dokken/Y&T type tunes probably did enough to justify the Surprise of the Weekend Award.

Evidence Onefrom Germany , was only ever meant to be a studio band but such has been the interest in their debut album that they have decided to go for the Full Monty. They look a bit like Pantera but play melodic heavy metal with a few trash and progressive leanings and would be worth a further look.

Other highlights were the ever-underrated Danny Vaughn (ex-Tyketto) who did a superb acoustic set but then was joined by a full band for full-on versions of the classic Tyketto tunes Forever Young and Strength in Numbers. The place was smokin . Talisman

Even better were the headliners Talisman who played pretty much a Best of.. set with a few numbers off their new Cats and Dogs album. Vocalist Jeff Scot Soto is an amazing live performer, easily winning Frontman of the Festival Award for the second year running.

However it was Royal Hunt that was the main attraction for me and as their set approached it was obvious from the sudden increase in Stratovarius, Angra and Vanden Plas t-shirts, that a lot of other people had come mainly for their show.

I had to travel to Paris to see them last year, although the main attraction was that they were due to be supporting VandenPlas. However the Germans had to pull out at the last minute following the death of Andy Kuntz's father and Royal Hunt ended up headlining. It may have been the disappointment and sadness of missing the headliners but although enjoyable, Andersen and co were a bit hit and miss then.

Royal Hunt Tonight - it may have been that I was well up for a bit of quality metal - but it was almost like a different band. Clocking in at just 75 minutes it was a pretty intensive session. However the 11 tracks offered were a fair attempt at putting together a best of.. collection for a virgin audience. There was a track from each of the first three albums, two each from Fear and Paradox and five from their last album released in 2001.

Opening up with The Mission was a smart move. With its strong melodic hook it's a song often stated by fans as an all-time favourite. From the same album we had Surrender and Clean Sweep which kept up the momentum beautifully, before the band took us right back to the beginning with Wasted Time from Land of Broken Hearts

Since the departure of DC Cooper four years ago, the line-up of vocalist John West and keyboard supremo Andre Andersen, plus guitar wizard Jacob Kjaer and Steen Mogensen on bass and has been solid. Tonight there was a welcome return by Alan Sorenson behind the drum kit although it remains unclear as to whether it is a permanent return.

The one thing that really stood out for me this time was how good a singer West really is. No high-pitched wailer (although he can certainly hit the notes when he wants to!) his voiced has developed with a heavy dose of soul and R'n'B. It brings a soft edge to his voice that is even more noticeable in a live setting and with Andersen s distinctive keys, it gives the band a very distinctive sound.

Another thing is that on stage Royal Hunt look good. Everyone has plenty of movement, shape shifting and interaction with the crowd using the stage to the full. A good band to watch.

Royal Hunt There's plenty of top notch progressive twists and turns but it never dominates the songs or becomes overtly self-indulgent. There was a brief solo spot from Kjaer, reminding me again what an often over-looked guitarist he is. I was standing at the front but on the side of the stage for part of show. At one point he strode out and ran though a blistering solo his fingers speeding up and down the fretboard literally inches from my face. Worth the admission price alone!

The set also included one track from the forthcoming Eyewitness opus. Now, normally when a band plays a track that no-one has ever heard before, the levels of crowd movement and noise dip noticeably a good time to get a drink or go to the toilet. Not tonight. Edge of the World is one of at least four tracks on the new album that rate as some of the best songs the band has ever written. Played live, it was even heavier, more intense and sublimely melodic than on the album. If anything, it got one of the biggest cheers of the set.

The set closed with Cold City Nights - a song that nicely summed up the band's performance. Full of movement onstage, some blistering power and technical musicianship but all very accessible thanks to the fact that all their songs are based around the melody.

I m coming to the conclusion that it may have taken a couple of albums and tours for the current line-up to really click together. But on the evidence of this performance and also the new album (reviewed elsewhere) I think Royal Hunt may be about to achieve its crowning glory. There will be a full European tour in the Autumn if you get the chance go see them. Let's just hope we don't have to wait another decade for them to play again in the UK.

Setlist:

The Mission
Surrender
Clean Sweep
Wasted Time
Lies
River of Pain
Last Goodbye
Dreamline
Days of No Trust
Message to God Flight

Cold City Nights

All photos by Andy Read for DPRP © 2003.

 

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