By Mark Gromen
In the middle of recording a new album in Berlin (tentative title, Heaven Bled, with legendary KREATOR, SODOM, HELLOWEEN producer Harris Johns), Peter Hobbs decided to step out of the studio, to obviously make a little money, and try out a few of the upcoming tracks. I actually stumbled on the band's '88 debut when a local music store was clearing out their import CDs. Still something of an expensive format for overseas purchases at that time, scored a handful of discs at just $2 each, which included the likes of early Sodom, STEELER and a then unknown Steamhammer labelmate, the aforementioned wild mustache, raw, thrashing Aussies! Imagine my surprise to discover HOBBS would kick off the tour in Oberhausen, the night before IRON MAIDEN's final Deutsche summer concert and I'd already booked a hotel for several nights. No brainer, right?
A walk through the winding streets, not too far from the train station, finds the Helvete Club, fittingly, under the gaze of a massive stone church. Like many Teutonic rock bars, it's a regular weekend watering hole for metalheads, with the occasional live performance. However, the neighborhood is not the Germany of strudel, bratwurst and beer halls, but rather an ethnic, working class enclave, more likely to see a hijab, pizza or doner kebap shops and internet/telephone call houses to communicate back to the home country. No matter, both HOBBS and I are far away from our birthplaces as well.
Older but whiter (or is it wider?), like much of the crowd in the smokey basement of Helvete, we graybeards might be showing our age, 25 years since the debut, but definitely not slowing down. Fans sported t-shirts from the heavier side of the aisle, HELLHAMMER, ASPHYX, VENOM, with plenty of studs, even more bullet belts and the odd 80s leather jacket, with padded colored sleeves: red, ala JUDAS PRIEST, or gold, like RUNNING WILD. Rather than pay for drinks individually, you're handed a card, which is tallied throughout the night and then squared up when you leave.
Around 11:30, Hobbs and his three cohorts stroll onstage, plug in and “Go,” blasting into 'Lucifer's Domain'. The elevated stage was well lit, with theatrical fog adding to the tobacco induced mist. Peter handles guitar and vocals, his black polished fingernails whizzing up and down the fretboard as he stood behind the mic stand, complete with upside down cross. Punctuated by rapidly flashing lights, 'Jack The Ripper', another oldie, set the mood, crowd singing along, thrusting fists skyward. Sticking with their eponymous release, a more subdued 'House Of Death' offered a brief change of pace, then 'Satan's Crusade', backed with 'Brotherhood', but the remainder of the vaunted debut was left for later in the set ('The Journey', 'Crucifixion' and during the encore, 'Marie Antoinette').
Not much interaction with the crowd, beyond song introductions, but then again, this was the first night of the tour. Heads down, pedal to the metal delivery, 'Son Of God' and 'Suicide' were emphasized in red lights. Apart from 'Depopulation' and 'Final Feast', both reserved for encore, the 90s era Inheritance CD was all but forgotten, in favor of the classics and the soon to be issued material. Speaking of which, the proposed title track, 'Heaven Bled' fits nicely with the vintage material, maybe a little heavier (although hearing it for the first time live might skew perception), the final song before the encore. Really nowhere to hide (the bands enter from the front of the stage, dressing rooms in the adjoining bar), it's right into the encore. Might not be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but damn are they realiable and fun loving! Can't wait to hear the album.
More photos from Oberhausen can be seen here