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(Live Review) HELL'S HEROES 2024 - Day 2 (Queensryche, Solitude Aeturnus and more)


The Beard & Little Johnny

Welcome to Day #2 of the metal mecca of the south, Christian Larson’s incomparable Hells Heroes. We have arrived here at the grounds of White Oak Music Hall in Houston for day/night two of the festival. The rain has departed, and it is a beautiful 70-degree day, so we decided to walk the two miles to the venue. That is, the Beard decided and Little Johnny glumly went along while complaining that “he” gets enough steps in the Pits and doesn’t just sit at fests like I do. I mentioned that he is also a lot younger. He acknowledged that, while at the same time muttering “and clearly less stubborn too ya bearded goat.,” which seemed uncalled for.


After arriving and wandering through the quagmire of mud in front of the merchandise section so that we could pick up our free VIP t-shirts and posters, the Beard has now made it back to my VIP section while the lad has gone up near the stage. With fourteen bands on the bill, it will be another long and busy day of metal. A shout out to the trio of Beard fans from yesterday who gave me a dozen metal patches. Apparently the Beard will now require a third battle vest. Very freaking cool and thank you for being a Beard & Little Johnny fan. Also, a shout out to my friend from Germany and my new friend Dave from Indiana. At these types of events, the Beard always learns a ton of metal knowledge from superfans and I love it. Metal crowds are the best.



First up on the main stage today is California's black metal band Nite. Ironically, I must note Nite are playing first during the day. I mentioned that to Johnny, and he just stared at me shook his head and walked away. Well, I thought it was funny.

Nite had good spooky entrance music (or at least it would have been good in the rain yesterday, but was less effective in the bright Texas sunshine.) Vocally, Nite was indeed black metal, but not unduly harsh. Likewise, the music was less chainsaw and more melodic, while still being black. I think they would have been more effective on the inside stage, but hey, somebody had to start the day out right? Openers, so I will grade them a 75/100.



Second up and first on stage two were Intranced from Los Angeles. A traditional heavy metal band.

Clean vocals, traditional driving beat ... almost NWOBHM in nature. A little Spanish influenced, but probably a great bar band even in LA where that bar is raised and a reasonable opener for stage two. Beard calls it 73/100.

Johnny had it slightly higher because of the guitar player's energy and the bass player's hat.



Third up today was Wisconsin act Morbid Saint who are touring behind their Swallowed by Hell release (2024). This band killed it at the Blades of Steel fest (in Madison) last year, (getting a lot of hometown love at that event.) Today we shall see how the Texas metal crowd receives their death/thrash act.   


Johnny has been looking for the mosh pit Nun. She was last spotted in Madison last year. Well, I’ll be damned, we have sighted the mosh pit Nun. Go ahead and say hello Johnny, after all she is just Sister Christian. (If Sister Christian ditched the boys in Night Ranger and dug death/thrash instead that is.)

Morbid Saint are not “my” type of metal, but I must admit they are good at the style. Vocals are oddly clean for a band billing themselves as death. The thrash part dominates on their new stuff, and that is the part I can get into. Johnny has a pit going and I think he may already be shirtless.

Actually, this was not a bad set. Big pits with ample crowd surfing. Houston brought their love to Morbid Saint, and I will respect the crowd and grade them a solid 84/100 while feeling like I enjoyed that.

Little Johnny had no luck with the mosh pit Nun. I know her friend little dude. I will put in a good word for you.



Fourth up was an atmospheric black metal act called Nubivagant.

Johnny asked me what the %^&* that word meant, and I had to admit I had no idea. As it turns out, that was probably because it stopped being used around 1840. Apparently in the 1600’s it used to mean wandering in the clouds. I explained that to the lad and he replied, “Wandering in the clouds? So, they must have had good weed back in the 1600’s too huh Beard?”

Moving on, Nubivagant was a one man show. Parts were slow and gloomy, but others were fast and screechy. It was black metal all right, but coming right after Morbid Saint's much better set, this one didn’t land for me. I can only give Nubivagant a 71/100.

Even Little Johnny surmised, “If I can’t pronounce it, and I don’t know what it means, I ain’t gonna grade it.”



Fifth up today was California power metal act Omen. Existing for 40 years, Omen has not done a full-length release since 2016, so this will definitely be a throwback set.

Omen, upon my first live listening, is a metal band in search of an identity. They are part power, part trad, part NWOBHM. The singer has touches of the west coast, but also a little southern. The guitar is a little thrash and a little traditional. They are like a lot of puzzle pieces without a definitive picture when you try and put them together. I actually found myself more interested in trying to figure them out than in listening to the set itself.

I am going to grade it 81/100 because I think there’s talent there and maybe I am just not seeing the whole picture.



Sixth up were west coast Doom Band Stygian Crown.

Female lead singer with an okay voice. She was a fit for a doom act. The rest of the band looked like they were a cast extras from The Fellowship of the Ring. I will say they had a good crowd draw, although it is also starting to get full overall across the whole venue. Another hour or two and I am going to just be holding my main stage spot.

In the meantime, Stygian Crown draws an 82/100 for their Conan comic book come to life act and set.



Seventh up tonight was the mystery band that was filling in when Agent Steel dropped out. Rumor had it that it would be a James Rivera fronted act.

Yep, when they brought the coffin on stage, out he popped so it is another set from Helstar, including some of their new “in the works” stuff. Whatever, Rivera is a good singer, and he has a solid band plus they actually covered one song from Agent Steel. So, for me it is an 82/100 set.

At this point, I had determined that I am not fighting the crowd trying to drift back and forth. I am comfortable, so it will be main stage bands the rest of the way. My apologies to the four acts I will be missing.



Either way, next up is Texas prog band Watch Tower.

For a forty-year-old band, lead singer Jason McMaster still has a lot of wails left to his voice. The music, however, is quirky with a lot of proggy material mixed with some speed. (Which sounds like I am describing an episode of ‘Better Call Saul’). Although this was initially kind of interesting, I felt like the quirky might wear thin within their allotted 45-minutes. Johnny was not exactly sure how to mosh to this stuff, so instead he went looking for the guy wearing the Pink Wizard outfit he saw yesterday.


After one particularly “busy” song McMaster said “okay, let’s see if we can shove MORE notes into a five-minute song.” Okay, that WAS funny. The prog influence however did wear a bit thin by sets end, (My German buddy called them snapchat music because you forget it as soon as it’s over), but these guys were at least engaging and as enjoyable as anything so far today, given that frankly day two was NOT living up to the hype thus far.

My third 84/100 of the day for Watch Tower.




Coming up ninth today was Texas power metal band Eternal Champion.

This was a big pickup in quality. This band is a tight “unit,” and they worked in synch with one another. Timing was better and their overall skill was a bump up from everyone else today. Power metal, but not full of too much pretension ... just heavy and on the mark.

At this point slotting helped them as no one has truly killed it today so far. Eternal Champion received a day leading 86/100.



Tenth up today were doom stalwarts from Texas, Solitude Aeturnus.

This is the heavy clean doom sound that I wanted last evening from Candlemass. Solitude Aeturnus has a talented and highly recognized singer in Robert Lowe (who also served some time as singer in Candlemass once upon a time), and he has a deep wail of sorrow to his tone that works with the doom world. This is completely opposite his regular voice which is pure southern.


Three guitar players, instead of just two, enhance the sound nicely and each song is very full. Adding female backing on a couple of songs with that red haired beauty in the beautiful black dress just enhanced the overall ambiance of the doomy haunting sorrowful, yet heavy, music. This was a good set folks and not only was the highest so far in the day, but they were also tied for highest so far in the festival with a 92/100.



Eleventh on the stage was tonight’s headliner, the mighty Queensryche.

Even without world famous vocalist Geoff Tate, Queensryche has continued onward and remains a headline act. Tonight, they promised a set heavy in songs from both their EP and their first full length album The Warning. These two albums are where the Beard came to know about Queensryche, (although truth be told, I did trade my copy of The Warning for Motorhead’s Another Perfect Day and I stand by my decision.) (Ed: Sounds like a steal to me!) Still, I look forward to taking the trip forty years back in time and hearing these classics live on a festival sized stage.



After three songs, I am already having a bad feeling. Queensryche the band. Very cool. Queensryche the voice though. Ripper Owens was a great singer, but he was not Rob Halford. Yes…it’s THAT feeling. Todd Latorre can wail, but it is not Geoff Tate. Although they came out and did the EP in its entirety, it was not until "Lady Wore Black" that I liked a song. At the lower range Latorre was much closer to Tates’ voice and the band musicianship was undeniable. The crowd for that song was what you want from a festival. Loud and clear as they sang happily along.


Okay, The Beard can admit when he has jumped the gun too early with an opinion and now must eat some crow, because that was a fucking stellar version of "The Warning"!! Dead on Geoff Tate. I am going to shut up now about Latorre not sounding as good.

Two songs later and he just did it again with a dead-on "Sanctuary". My sincere apologies to Mr. Latorre and Queensryche as he is in fact DEFINITELY the guy who should be up there singing. "Take Hold of the Flame" was 96% perfect and that is one of the hardest ... AND he did it running around the stage while singing those notes. One scream actually blew off Johnny's cap and longtime fans and followers know NOTHING separates Johnny from his trademark lid. Mr. Latorre, you won me over.


Their encore of "Empire" was solid, but a step down from the heights. "Eyes of a Stranger" was really good though, and was a fitting finale. The Beard declares Queensryche a fest leading 95/100.


That does it for night two of Hell's Heroes, twenty-two bands done and one full day to go.

Remember to tune in to The Mighty Decibel every Wednesday and Thursday starting in April for Beard & Little Johnny reviews. Check TikTok thebeard0728 or #thebeardandlittlejohnny for all your concert videos, and friend and follow Mark McQueen on Facebook for all the non-metal reviews. Until next time, this is the Beard and Little Johnny saying...


 Stay Heavy and Horns Up!!


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