RHF 2022 (III): Sulphur Demons at Midnight

Text: André, Pics & videos: Aidan

On the last day of the Rock Hard Festival, there were three highlights on the bill for me: Sulphur Aeon, Night Demon and Midnight. A good portion of underground, I’m always up for that! Even though my legs were still quite heavy after the exhausting Saturday, I was already in top form again with the first blackened death metal sounds of the day: The irresistible Sulphur Aeon are, in my opinion, one of the five major German underground bands that our scene currently has to offer – I always mention them in the same breath as Chapel of Disease, Thronehammer, Wheel and Atlantean Kodex. Whoever brings this package together on a festival line-up certainly deserves a small monument…

Before the gig, I predicted to Aidan that he would definitely enjoy the Cthulhu incantation of the quintet from North Rhine-Westphalia. Not to let any suspense arise here: I was to be proved right! But how could it be otherwise? Sulphur Aeon are a force live, as I had first noticed at their release show on the occasion of their last album The Scythe of Cosmic Chaos at Club Volta in Cologne (at that time, the aforementioned Chapel of Disease also presented their new album – what a legendary evening!) The almost one-hour set once again showcased the band’s qualities: The songs are characterised by a breathtaking depth and almost mind-expanding, dark sublimity, which I also hear in a similar form in Thronehammer. At this point I could complain again about the fact that a top act is already sent on stage at noon – but I’ll spare myself that at this point in order not to repeat myself… All in all, Sulphur Aeon were able to convince me completely, even if I’m sure that the majority of the festival visitors couldn’t do much with this challenging music, which doesn’t open up at the first listen, especially not between 1 and 2 pm. I am already looking forward to the next club show…

After a first food intake on the festival grounds and a short drop-in by Artillery, we went on with Night Demon. I’ve seen Jarvis, Armand and Dusty many times before and shed a lot of sweat in small venues (well, not as much as Jarvis…). I hadn’t seen the guys open air yet – sure, Night Demon’s classic, catchy metal works everywhere, but I have even more fun in a packed club. But this is just my personal feeling. On a matter-of-fact note, the power trio from the USA played a flawless gig, full of energy as always, which thrilled many people in front of the stage enormously. I have to confess that I can’t yet relate to the new songs, which are now bundled on the compilation Year of the Demon, as much as I can to the older material – a big exception is the awesome Thin Lizzy cover “The Sun Goes Down“, which warmed the hearts of many in the audience. There’s no question that Night Demon deserve headlining positions in the future – even if this outfit is, obviously, not innovative in any way. But that’s not what Jarvis and his comrades-in-arms are all about: the essence of traditional metal is in the foreground here, enriched with plenty of rock’n’roll spirit – Night Demon play an excerpt from Motörhead’s anthem “Overkill“ every now and then, not without reason. In short: It was nice to see them in action again after an unusually long break due to the pandemic. There is probably no band in our scene that harmonises so fantastically and gives so much gas every night – and not just on a two-week tour, but for what feels like half the year.

Athenar, the mastermind behind Midnight, has a close friendship with Night Demon – and in terms of spirit, the two bands are quite similar, despite all the stylistic differences. The dirty black/speed metal that Midnight conjure up on stage exudes a tremendous energy that no one who can even remotely relate to heavier electric guitar music can escape. Even Professor Aidan was enthusiastic – and in this case I didn’t expect that at all beforehand, so I was all the more pleased that Athenar had won a new fan. So it doesn’t always have to be expansively epic… The gig was perfect without any ifs and buts, you can’t play such songs, which pay homage to old Venom, better than that. Sure, the boundaries are narrow in this genre, but it’s not least about attitude – meaning rebellion, ecstasy and the fat finger to everything streamlined. However, it must be emphasised that Athenar’s combo consists of excellent musicians who by no means rumble through their repertoire. Here the organisers did everything right with the slot before co-headliner Michael Monroe – the future belongs to Midnight!

Conclusion: When I reflect back on Rock Hard Festival 2022, I have to say that the trip to Gelsenkirchen was worth it – all the bands I was looking forward to in advance managed to excite me. Thanks to the old school setlist, Blind Guardian are just ahead in the final standings. The lowlights were more on the sidelines: The drink prices are a real rip-off – and the cattle transport from the venue to the main station is an embarrassment. Maybe the city should send two or three buses in a row at the end of a festival day… But you can overlook that if the essentials, the music, fit. I haven’t decided yet whether I will take part in the Rock Hard Festival again in 2023, because I make that very dependent on the line-up. But, to be honest, so far there have always been enough bands in the Amphitheater that match my taste…

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