In a parallel dimension, Hell Is For Heroes live in the space occupied in this realm by the likes of Biffy Clyro. Breaking into the limelight at a similar time, they were deemed to be the ones to break big with their 2003 debut The Neon Handshake. However, for reasons unknown, it didn’t quite happen – despite strong sales and a media frenzy, they inexplicably found themselves dropped by their label and instead they seemed destined to fade away into fond memory when they announced a semi-permanent hiatus in 2008. Returning for a handful of shows in support of their friends, Hundred Reasons, four years later, they have largely remained dormant until this year.
There is a surprise tonight though. The post-hardcore titans performing a single UK show before their high-on-the-bill Download Festival appearance should have been a slam dunk, but there is instead an elephant in the room. Or, more accurately, there is an elephant-sized hole in the room where an audience should be – it appears that there is an issue of the fanbase already being in situ at Donington Park, as Concorde 2 is barely a third full. Regardless of this, the London band take it in their stride and give the attendees the night of their lives – stripped of all the hanger-ons, and guest list bar-dwellers, the crowd is instead fervent and passionate to a person.
Opening the night, Sick Joy make light of the sparsity of crowd – front man Mykl Barton quips that, “I thought we’d be able to introduce ourselves individually at one point”. Shrugging off any disappointment, they fill the room with a crackle of their hook-laden grunge and rip the stage up – this is a band that seem to both loosen themselves up and tighten their sound on every new performance. Following them, Liverpool’s Alpha Male Tea Party, for whom muscular and powerful don’t seem big enough words to describe their brooding, fully-instrumental math rock sound. The beauty and power of their sound wash over the room, with an exquisite execution of tracks such as ‘Have You Ever Seen Milk’ and a sublime ‘Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?’
Finally, it is time for Hell Is For Heroes. Bathed in darkness, they stand statue still on stage before bursting into life. It is immediately and irrevocably clear that time has taken nothing away from them. Frontman Justin Schlosberg is like a ball of fizzing energy from first beat to last, with a performance that is impossible to rip the eyes away from. Leaping off drumkits, cart-wheeling (literally) across the stage, up on the amps at one point, tucked down on his haunches in the next. Alongside him, the triple threat of William McGonagle, Tom O’Donoghue (guitars) and James Findlay (bass) send a constant barrage of pulverising sound across the room, with Joe Birch’s drums slamming every beat home. It is a thrilling rebirth.
‘Few Against Many’ is stunning, a flexing of muscles that heralds in a procession of Neon Handshake-era anthems. By far their biggest album, (Kerrang! readers once placed it in the top 60 rock albums ever made), it sounds as fresh and, well, heroic as it ever did. The riffs are gargantuan, and with the crowd playing their part to the full, it is as if time has been rolled back to those halcyon days. Uniquely under these circumstances, there is far more than mere nostalgia at play. This band sound as good and fresh as they ever did, possibly even better.
Like a forgotten hero re-emerging in the final act, bloodied and battered, Hell Is For Heroes may yet finally take what should have been theirs by right in the first place. If this was just a warm-up, then Download fans will have been in for a treat. When they hit top speed, it may be a case that nothing can derail them this time.