Spanning 2 ½ days, Hard Rock Hell III brought rockers of all ages flooding to the small seaside town of Prestatyn in North Wales. With chalet accommodation available to guests and all stages indoors sheltered from the miserable Welsh weather, many guests regarded HRH as “the posh person’s festival”. That is, if posh people wore denim and leather, and came to hear the finest line up of hard rock and metal on the face of the planet. HRH is now in its incredible third year, and has even spawned a cousin in the form of metal weekend HammerFest.

Boasting a monster line-up of rock giants from the 80’s and 90’s including headliners Queensryche, W.A.S.P. and Monster Magnet, there’s also room for Terrorvision, Girlschool and The Quireboys. As if that wasn’t enough they host upcoming stars such as Spit Like This and Scottish heroes Logan. Hard Rock Hell certainly looked good on paper! The ‘Vikings’ Ball’, a costumed affair that took place on the Thursday evening was a new feature for 2009 that attracted the weird and wonderful (including giant bananas..!) With entertainment provided by, among others, Attica Rage and Riot: Noise, this addition was very well received by the masked metal-heads and mingling band members alike. Not that the costumed madness ended that night - it is a festival, after all! Why the Hell not drink your bevvie from a flagon or horn? Who says we’re not environmentally friendly!

What we liked best about this festival was the limited size - there’s plenty of parking, plenty of bar space, and with the bands spread over three stages, we never felt suffocated. The atmosphere was electric and the crowd friendly; for us it was a welcome change from the enormous faceless summer festivals that at times can be overwhelming.

While the Vikings’ Ball was a VIP-only event, the real weekend begins at midday on the Friday with the Young Blood stage, tucked into the corner of the Queen Victoria pub. Showcasing the finest young hard rock talent on the scene today, we welcome the likes of Imicus and Voodoo Johnson to kick the weekend off in style.

For those of us who find midday a tad early in the morning the Porshammer/Total Rock stage rumbled into action around 4pm with a welcome return for Waylander and German oddballs Die Apokalyptischien Reiter. Stage 2 is a treasure trove of every kind of hard rock your blackened heart could desire, right through until 2:30am both nights, including Delain, Black Spiders, and Sons of Merrick. It’s not a large stage, but the intimate atmosphere is incredible, and there’s nowhere else in the world where you could see such great bands in such relative luxury. I mean, the place has seats!

Friday’s Hard Rock Heaven stage had something for everyone at various points in the day. Fancy checking out the hottest newcomers? Meet Logan. Happiest re-living the Nineties? Why not check out the reformed Gun and party animals Terrorvision. If you’re feeling heavier than hell, check out Ratt, Monster Magnet, or for night owls Sonata Arctica. Not for the faint-hearted, pick and choose your favourites across the three stages until the early hours safe in the knowledge that you’re within stumbling distance of a half-decent bed, without the leg-slicing hazard of stray tent pegs en route.

If you were still with us by midday on Saturday, you could drop back into the pub for the Old Skool/N.W.O.B.H.M. stage featuring the likes of Tyson Dog and Hammerhead. There was a bumper selection from 12 til 2:30am on the Metal Aid/Metal on Metal stage. Proving that there’s not one single ‘main’ stage at this event, the crowds packed in to hear the likes of Pig Iron, Witchfynde, and Angelwitch. This was another sold-out year and yet it never felt like there were too many people. The wonderful variety on stage is only equalled by the choices you have when booking. As well as your ordinary tickets there are VIP, Gold, and Silver passes available, along with rates for veterans and club members, all with special privileges such as access to seating in the main arenas and specially cordoned-off bar space.

Saturday co-headliners Queensryche were the firm favourites of the festival; unfortunately for Norwegian metal monsters Susperia who performed in parallel to the 80’s giants, the second stage was practically empty! The stages’ staggered starting times may be a blessing for those who are idly wandering through, but with so many good bands on simultaneously it was either miss one, or perfect the art of the quick changeover (Gun and Hysterica, we mean you). We were excited to see W.A.S.P. still on form; despite their performances being much tamer these days (the shock tactics, which included throwing raw meat into the audience, a thing of the past), Blackie and the boys still managed to play the crowd. Still not rocked out? The New York Dolls put in a chaotic but exuberant performance in the early hours, before giving way to young guns Lauren Harris and Spit Like This (not counting any number of chalet parties post 3am).

HRH always manages to attract top-rate acts, and there’s always new ones to discover, and at least one random act that surprises you by being on the list. How best to remember your time there? Well, you could take the not drinking route, but apparently that wasn’t popular. Instead take a look at the merchandising stalls selling everything from CDs to clothing. The only minor niggle would be that bands weren’t allowed to sell their own merchandise, which meant you had to be quick to find anything band-specific by rushing back to the main entrance. Earlier in the year, HammerFest came up with the inspired idea of mp3 wristbands with a song from nearly every band at the festival. It was a shame HRH didn’t follow suit. Perhaps it’s best to get you programme signed in the dedicated signing tent, or beg a photo with your favourite artists, who are generally wandering around post-show. Yes, it’s that informal.

For us, due to the warm welcome they received by their fans and their solid performance, Saracen left a big impression, but father and son metal fans John and Nathan Bloom from east London told us with vigour that stage 3 legend Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts was their band of the festival! Another of our choices for band of the festival has to go to Gun, who proved a huge draw to fans desperate to see Toby Jepson join the band, who were playing their first new music in 12 years. The best fan reaction of the festival would be a tie between W.A.S.P., and local heroes Tigertailz who packed out their respective arenas with ease. If you’ve ever felt the desire to hear the ‘Tailz and Girlschool duet on a Motorhead classic, how much cooler would it be to hear it in such an exclusive atmosphere? We thought so too.

Negative comments were few and far between but there were disappointed mutterings as The Glitterati failed to impress. Stage 3 penultimate band Hammerhead were more of a novelty act than a serious rock outfit, leaving bemused looks on the faces of their audience. When professional acts such as Hanging Doll and Voodoo Johnson had previously performed on that stage, it was difficult to take the aged band seriously. Likewise it was fortunate for Hysterica, good as they are, that they went on the day before Girlschool. Sometimes, experience over novelty can be a blessing.

Hard Rock Hell III was a huge success; it was a professional, established event that covered the whole spectrum of hard rock and most importantly, it was very, very LOUD! This should be a set date in every rocker’s calendar.
Roll on HammerFest 2010! We might even have recovered by then…