The Heavy Music Awards, now in its sixth year, took place at the Kentish Town Forum venue in London on Sunday evening. The event inadvertently concluded a long weekend of Platinum Jubilee celebrations across the UK. Kerrang! Radio presenter and the evening’s host, Alex Baker, had a dig at one particular royal family member who purports to not be able to sweat. Wargasm’s Milkie Way, presenting the award for Best UK Breakthrough Artist, was more direct: ‘Fuck the queen!’ she shouted with delight.
Upstairs at the venue, the good, the bad, and the actually-very-good-looking of heavy culture were massed together. Heriot, up for Best UK Breakthrough Artist, told me it was ‘amazing’ and ‘unreal’ to be nominated. Garrulous rapper Kid Bookie (who collaborated with Corey Taylor and Sid Wilson on his ‘Cheaper Than Therapy’ debut album last year) had been to the awards before, but he said this year was the first where ‘people gave a fuck’. I overheard Jamie Lenman enthusing about wrestling with awards organiser Dave Bradley, who is also the director of International Live Events at WWE. Meanwhile a stream of bands made their way across the red carpet, bathed in red lighting which gave it the feel of the red room from Twin Peaks.
Down on the floor, over two thousand ballot winners got the party started with a frantic 25-minute set from the fast-rising Static Dress. Singer Olli Appleyard came onstage wearing a black bucket hat, perhaps a visual nod to former Oasis singer Liam Gallagher, who had performed two nights at the legendary Knebworth Park over the weekend. Appleyard heralded the crowd, saying that the night was about ‘everyone down here – all the fans and everything they give.’
The word on everyone’s lips giving and receiving awards was ‘community’. As much as it was a night to celebrate that community, it was a moment to reflect on how heavy music has been changed by the pandemic and how it is changing in itself. Winning the Innovation Award (which was only announced on the night) for their fan-centred Sleeps Society initiative – a response to the world being turned upside by COVID – While She Sleeps guitarist Mat Welsh dedicated it to ‘everyone who took this risk with us’ and sought to change the music industry.
Similarly, while accepting the Best Podcast award alongside co-presenter Yasmine Summan for On Wednesdays We Wear Black, Sophie K reflected on the magazine editor who told her a decade ago, ‘You can’t put a black face on the cover of something because people won’t buy it.’ Their award represents how the commentary and commentators in heavy music culture have become more diverse and inclusive.
Heavy Music Awards founder Andy Pritchard spoke to the spirit of diversity and growing semblance of community that has become core to annual ceremony. "I think the HMAs has evolved since it began in 2017 into a true reflection of the scene it represents - it's a safe and hugely eclectic space, and it never stands still. We're keen to keep letting the event be shaped by what is popular right now, to not stand in its way and to hopefully keep growing so more fans around the world can discover these amazing finalists and winners, and are inspired to become the artists and creatives of the future.
Pritchard added his clear intentions to capitalize on the momentum of the HMAs, further develop the banner and keep the integrity of the event as it's driving pulse. "We'll push as hard as we can to keep it growing while making sure it always remains artist-led. Without giving too much away we have got some very ambitious plans for the Heavy Music Awards 2023!"
That is also reflected in the artists. In their chunky, breakdown-infused pop-punk live set, Meet Me @ The Altar singer Edith Victoria proudly acknowledged her all-female band. During Holding Absence’s euphoric halftime live performance, a crowd-surfer handed singer Lucas Woodland an LGBTQ rainbow stick flag, at what is the beginning of Pride Month. These were markers of the changing society in which heavy music plays a vital part to so many of its fans.
When KennyHoopla picked up his award for Best International Breakthrough Artist he spoke about his immersion in heavy music since childhood and joked that he only wanted to thank himself for the award, before acknowledging the 'OGs' of the scene. The award was presented by NoFace from Goth Girlfriends, a collective producing NFTs to ensure ‘Gothic World Domination’ – representing on the night how the possibilities of Web3 are also shaking up the wider culture.
But some qualities of the heavy music community remain eternal. Picking up The H Award (for ‘an exceptional positive contribution to the heavy music scene’), Heavy Metal Truants representative Alexander Milas compared its fundraising to ‘when someone falls down in the mosh pit and you help them back up.’ Since 2020, the annual cycle to Download Festival has expanded to include many hundreds of virtual participants clocking up the miles on their home turf. HMT’s charities include Nordoff Robbins, music-therapy specialists who are also the charity partner of the Heavy Music Awards.
That attitude to picking each other up also applies to how musicians work through the hardship behind the creative process. UK Breakthrough Artist winner Cassyette spoke of the pride to have ‘done it all independently’. Accepting the Best Production award for his work on Bullet For My Valentine’s self-titled album, Carl Bown said that ‘making a record is not an easy road’ – that it takes thousands of hours ‘turning silence into the ideas that you guys love.’
Once that work is produced it also needs to be given a visual identity too. Artist Mathieu Nozières won the Best Album Artwork award for his stunning cover for Trivium’s ‘In the Court of the Dragon’. The epic painting of a battle within a Roman amphitheatre became a star itself last year, appearing at the Bloodstock Festival and an album release exhibition in Birmingham. Visual artists in a slightly different sense, Electric Callboy were popular winners of Best Video with their promo for “Pump It”, stating that it is their sincere objective that their videos ‘make people laugh.’
Losing live music over the pandemic was no laughing matter. Invoking Joni Mitchell, Alex Baker reminded us all that ‘you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone’, before a suitably ‘refreshed’ Vukovi alongside Kid Bookie presented the award for Best Live Artist to Enter Shikari. Drummer Rob Rolfe accepted the award alongside bassist Chris Batten, telling the crowd he was celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary – proving that even Enter Shikari, trendsetters of the Myspace era, have been around for over twenty years thrilling live audiences.
Not far behind them in years served is Bring Me The Horizon, who picked up the award for Best Single for “DiE4u”, which singer Oli Sykes accepted in a pre-recorded video. Several of the night’s nominees performed with BMTH at their own festival in Malta the previous weekend.
Also fresh off their own headlining arena tour of the UK were Architects, who ended their coronation victory lap of the country with two awards on the night, for Best UK Artist and Best Album – the latter recognising ‘For Those That Wish to Exist’. Their success is the product of a long road to the top, especially after the tragic loss of founding guitarist Tom Searle in 2016. Singer Sam Carter heralded ‘the fact we’re still around, still making music and everyone is so supportive of us.’
It fell to the winners of Best International Artist, Beartooth, to finish off the night with an excoriating 40-minute set. They had their claws out, playing with an aggression that far surpassed the common awards night performance. When Caleb Shomo wasn’t admonishing the audience to have a good time, he praised them: ‘none of this happens without you.’
During the final colossal instrumental, “The Last Riff”, Shomo ventured into the crowd with a guitar strapped to him. One over-enthusiastic mosher pinned Shomo against the mixing desk before he freed himself and played the song out in the crush of the melee. He crowd-surfed to the front, re-took the stage and roared at the audience. Those moments showed everything that makes heavy music so vital: the visceral threat, the bear-hug of the pit, and, yes, that sense of community so important to performers, nominees, winners and attendees alike.
See the complete list of winners from the 2022 Heavy Music Awards below
Architects - For Those That Wish To Exist
Epitaph Records • Produced by Dan Searle, Co-Produced by Josh Middleton
Category presented by Amazon Music
Best UK Artist
Category presented by Allianz Musical Insurance
Best International Artist
Red Bull Records
Category presented by Arising Empire
Best Live Artist
Category presented by Marshall
Best UK Breakthrough Band
Category presented by O2 Forum Kentish Town
Best International Breakthrough Band
Category presented by Goth Girlfriends
Bring Me The Horizon - DiE4u
RCA Records • Produced by Bloodpop & Evil Twin
Category presented by SharpTone Records
Bullet For My Valentine - Bullet For My Valentine
Spinefarm Records • Produced by Carl Bown
Category presented by AfterLive Music
On Wednesdays We Wear Black
Presented by Sophie K & Yasmine Summan
Category presented by Amazon Music
Electric Callboy - Pump It
Century Media • Directed by Pascal Schillo & Oliver Schillo
Category presented by Lightwave Productions
Best Album Artwork
Trivium - In The Court Of The Dragon
Roadrunner Records • Artwork by Mathieu Nozières
Heavy Metal Truants
Awarded for exceptional positive contribution to the heavy music scene
Category presented by Ticketmaster UK
While She Sleeps - Sleeps Society
Awarded for innovative application of new ideas for the greater good of the heavy music scene