Knotfest contributor and resident in shred Daniel DeKay details his first hand account of one of North America’s best independent heavy culture festivals.
Story by Daniel DeKay | All Images by Maurice Nunez
The call for an open air metalhead mecca on American soil was answered this year with Hell’s Heroes V in Houston. A dream bill for fans of traditional and old school heavy metal, the festival takes place every year at White Oak Music Hall with this year’s edition growing large enough to warrant moving the main stage from indoors to the massive 5,000 cap outdoor space for the first time in the festival’s history.
Headlined by OG death n’ thrash heavyweights Possessed and Tom G. Warrior’s Triptykon performing an early Celtic Frost set, Hell’s Heroes was a non-stop 3 day inferno of bands, vendors, patch vests, BBQ, and all night parties that makes it feel a lot more like a Euro destination fest than it does a Texan heavy metal throwdown.
Other highlights of the 3-day bill were classic bands like Razor, Vio-Lence, Exciter, Satan, Liege Lord, & Ross The Boss doing a Manowar set – but what really sets this festival apart is the carefully curated selection of newer bands dominating the underground in their respective genres: hardcore thrashers Fugitive, power metal kings Visigoth, NYC’s hard rocking powerhouse Tower, metallic goth crew Unto Others, Canada’s quickly rising Riot City, Sweden’s occult prog rockers Hällas and California’s heavy metal power trio Night Demon…to name just a few. This is a lineup that truly spans generations and has a lot of something for anyone into ‘heavy’.
The atmosphere of the fest is like nothing of it’s kind in North America – and that all begins right at the top with the team behind Hell’s Heroes. Founded by Christian Larson and operated by the in-house team at White Oak Music Hall, the festival brilliantly executed to ensure the best experience both as a fan and as an artist.
Larson himself is no stranger to booking and playing shows having been doing both for the greater chunk of 20 years and it shows in the way he very intentionally books, plans, and lays out his festival. He even snuck two of his own bands from completely opposite sides of the genre spectrum onto the fest: traditional metal shredders Night Cobra and melodic black metal outfit Necrofier. The diversity in those two projects alone offers some insight into how the booking on this fest is so strong and successfully covers so much musical ground with such continuity.
All the bands brought their A-Game to Hell’s Heroes and it showed. From as early as 1PM until 11PM each night there were large, enthusiastic crowds headbanging, moshing, and crowdsurfing to their favorite acts. Both Trevor Church from Haunt and Zach Slaughter from Skull Fist jumped into the audience during their performances and were carried around like kings by their loyal followers. The reciprocation from both the performers and audience was electric from open until close each day. I’m lucky enough to have been to a lot of festivals and can confidently say that shit like this NEVER happens, on this scale, at US metal fests. Truly a unique, community-driven event where it feels like you can’t walk 5 feet without making a new friend or catching up with an old one.
Though it may not be a camping festival, it sure has the vibe of one with what felt like a majority of the attendees all staying in the same very close by hotel. After the official festival afterparties wrap at 2AM you could count on meeting up with hundreds of like minded metalheads at the hotel pool for Judas Priest and Angel Witch sing-alongs until the sun came up each day. By 7am the scenery was just discarded leather garments, band shirts, stray boots, and empty lone star cans all over the astroturf by the pool. Sure signs of a damn good night.
This was my third time attending Hell’s Heroes (and third time playing too!) and it’s been so cool to watch it develop and grow into what is surely one of the best underground festivals in North America and certainly number one for traditional and old school heavy metal.
You get out what you put in and it’s obvious that there’s so much love and care put into creating this festival every year and the end result is the most badass heavy metal party of the year.
HELL’S HEROES ETERNAL!
See the complete, three-day gallery of images below.