Live Reviews

Heavy Music Awards – OVO Arena, Wembley: Review

The annual Heavy Music Awards machine rolls into Wembley with a truckload of awards to give away, we see who got the hardware and who is heavy in 2023!

The Heavy Music Awards (HMA) was started in 2017 specifically to shed some light on the heaviest music around, regardless of genre, which much of the mainstream had completely ignored. Since then it has grown to be a full evening of live performances from some pretty big artists, mixed in with an awards ceremony and the presentation of some very heavy awards!

Tonight the arena is split down the middle, with the rear part of the standing area arranged with tables, kind of like a gothic wedding setup. No glasses mind, just paper cups. This area is for the bands and media types to generally network and catch up, it is bustling with people.

The front of the arena sees the standing punters section which is reasonably well attended, and of course all of the seating around the arena itself. I’d say it is probably half full but that isn’t a bad turnout for an event like this, especially given that this is also the first time the awards have come to Wembley. Most of the crowd look like they’re young enough for me to be their grandad and this is reflected in the choice of artists competing for the awards several of which have grown up from social media savvy PR. Not a criticism, just an observation.

There are massive screens arranged in a trio on the stage and a myriad of lights beaming out into the crowd. Slightly after the advertised start time of 7pm, Kerrang! Radio’s Alex Baker takes to the stage to compere the evening. He sets the scene nicely with some thoughts around HMA and shares some anecdotes, the most noteworthy being that the Spice Girls, 1998 at Wembley was the loudest gig he’s been to!

Soon enough he’s introducing the first of the live performers this evening – Vukovi from Scotland. Coming on to an alarm call that goes on forever raises expectations and they explode onto the stage with Hades. They are joined on the stage by Scene Queen for Lasso and finish the short set with I Exist. The sound is heavy with the drums especially sounding strong and punchy, although there are clearly some technical issues towards the end of the song.

Then Alex Baker is back to introduce the first set of awards. The large screen in the middle of the stage runs through the nominees, with a cheesy Hollywood voiceover booming over the arena, best UK breakthrough artist: goes to As December Falls. The band make their way to the stage and seem very happy with their achievement.

Next award is best international artist: presented by Sophie Lloyd and the winners are Halestorm. We’ll hear more from both Halestorm and Sophie Lloyd later in the evening when they perform live. The last award for this section of the evening is for the best video and this goes to Motionless In White for Werewolf. Personally I’d prefer a live video any day of the week but clearly I’m in a minority here!

Soon enough we’re onto the next live performance from Loathe from Liverpool. Technical difficulties delay the start, then no guitar. Eventually everything gets sorted and the sound improves enough for Loathe to turn in a pretty heavy performance. Suited and booted vocalist, Kadeem France, complains about the heat! Set closer I Let It In And It Took Everything… is one of the heaviest bits of music we’re likely to hear this evening with a bass sound that defines the meaning of heavy!

Alex returns to the stage for the next set of awards, starting with best album artwork which goes to Malevolence for Malicious Intent, created by the iconic Eliran Kantor. The best festival which goes to Download, shame none of the smaller festivals were included in the nominees, I’m sure they would have benefitted more than Download which is already gargantuan sized! the last award for this section is for best breakthrough album, presented by McFly, this goes to Charlotte Sands for Love And Other Lies.

Alex jokes about how stoned he is as he introduces the next live performance by Boston Manor from Blackpool. Not quite as heavy as Loathe but a little more accessible. They are joined on the stage with some dancers, it is good to see that they are not relying heavily on playback and the music really is being played live.

The next award is for best production and this goes to Vukovi for their 2022 opus Nula. Janine Shilstone accepts the award and the combination of a broad Scottish accent and, no doubt, just a little alcohol means that this reviewer has a lot of trouble understanding her! Best UK live artist goes to Skindred. Well deserved as their live performances really are uplifting and inclusive, good to see. The Pioneer award (in honour of trailblazing innovation in heavy music and outstanding contribution in delivering rock into the mainstream) goes to Biffy Clyro who accept it graceously via the big screen.

Then we have best international breakthrough artist which goes to Scene Queen and the “H” award went to the Teddy Rocks festival. Founder Tom Newton explains the story behind the festival to a spellbound crowd and then it is time for Underoath from Tampa, Florida to crank out a couple of songs. It’s good to see a ton of energy coming from the stage and that the technical difficulties now seem to have all been sorted out.

Three more awards – the Icon award goes to Daniel P Carter of BBC Radio 1 Rock Show DJ fame, best breakthrough live artist: goes to Static Dress (a band I’ve not come across before but will investigate!) and best UK artist goes to Sleep Token. Alex returns to the stage to introduce what, for many, will be the highlight of the evening, a short acoustic set by Joe Hottinger & Lzzy Hale. They knock out a very impressive version of Terrible Things and then Lzzy takes to the keyboard for a version of Raise Your Horns which allows her to fully extend her voice, truly powerful vocals. For this track they are joined by Sophie Lloyd for a delicate guitar solo. So, yes, head and shoulders above anything else we’ve heard this evening in my opinion but whether you could label this as heavy, not so sure.

The evening is capped off with the last 3 awards of the evening – best album: The Death Of Peace Of Mind by Bad Omens, best single: Enter Shikari for The Void Stares Back (which also features Wargasm) and last but not least best international live artist which goes to Electric Callboy much to the excitement of the crowd. With that the evening is done apart from a short 3 song set from Creeper. Joined by a troupe of dancers on the stage they rapidly knocked out a short 3 song set which, I have to admit, left me cold.

Learnt a few things from this evening: heavy comes in many shapes and sizes and one man’s (or woman’s) heavy is anothers pop, social media has enabled artists to really take control of their music and, in many ways, this almost invalidates the role of major labels, underground music is alive and well and finally there is a fair chunk of music that has passed this old fossil by! Need to get my ear back to the ground!

All photography courtesy of HMA.

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