Hell’s Heroes V : March 23 – 25, 2023 @ White Oak Music Hall in Houston, TX

There’s a phrase that states “Everything’s Bigger in Texas” and with Hell’s Heroes V now in the books, it seems to be valid.

What started out as a simple Houston based metal music festival in 2018 has now turned into a highly respectable event. This amazingly took just a few years to accomplish.

For 2019’s Hell’s Heroes II, the organizers brought in Canada’s speed metal legends Exciter along with Dallas’s Powertrip. Other notable acts included fellow Canadians Razor, Houston’s Helstar as well as Omen, Haunt and Hell Fire. 

Hell’s Heroes was plowing forward in the metal world then 2020 hit. This forced festivals and concerts around the world to shut down.

For 2021 Hell’s Heroes regrouped and the festival did not happen. Big things though were on the horizon for the following year.

Then 2022, Hell’s Heroes returned with a heavy vengeance by bringing in Swedish doom metal legends Candlemass. The Swedes were not the only impressive name on the festival roster. Dark Angel made an appearance, as did Whiplash, Satan, Haunt, Night Cobra and others. It was a two day event of great varying heavy metal.

As with the previous Hell’s Heroes festivals, it was held indoors at the White Oak Music Hall. It’s an ideal venue and location, just north of downtown Houston.

As the festival progressed with each passing year, the reputation of Hell’s Heroes was growing as a go to music event.

The Pre – Party

Thursday, March 23, 2023

With the announcement of 2023’s headliners for the two day event plus the pre party being on a Thursday, Hell’s Heroes took it up another notch. 

This year’s headliners put others on notice that Hell’s Heroes were swinging for the fences. The organizers and all involved knocked it out of the park by bringing in Swiss metal icons Triptykon. 

The band is fronted by Tom G. Warrior. For those who favor the heaviness of extreme metal know the name. Warrior’s resume goes all the way back to Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. The music put out by Warrior was highly influential and still considered iconic 40 years later.

Tiptykon’s inclusion on Hell’s Heroes V saw the band paying homage to Hellhammer and Celtic Frost on two separate nights.

For the Thursday night pre-party, Triptykon under the moniker of Triumph of Death presented a mind blowing collection of Hellhammer material. The sold out crowd was mesmerized and already amped up from the intense offering by Vio-lence who preceded Triumph of Death. 

Bassist for Triptykon Vanja Slajh during the band’s set under the name Triumph of Death playing Hellhammer material at the Hell’s Heroes V pre-party. Photo by Brian McLean

Vio-lence immediately took control and the high adrenaline rush the band injected into the crowd was non stop.

As the pre party progressed, each band Fugitive, Houston’s own Necrofier and Spectral Wound slaughtered the stage.

The surprise of the night was Spectral Wound. The band delivered a blistering performance of Canadian black metal. 

These bands were just for the downstairs stage area of the White Oak Music Hall.

There was a completely different batch of metal upstairs. 

Labyrinth started Hell’s Heroes V with the first offering of the festival. The Houston based band went full throttle with their style of Texas thrash metal. A circle pit quickly formed.

Even though their songs were high octane, there was a somber tone in the air. The denim battle jacket from original member Angel Yong was hanging on the stage right microphone stand. Yong passed away in late February. This display of Yong’s jacket was to honor his memory and contributions to Labyrinth. 

Angel Yong’s denim battle jacket hanging on the stage right microphone stand during Labryinth’s set. Photo by Brian McLean

Set changes for bands whether upstairs, downstairs or outside would run while a band was occupying another stage elsewhere. This smooth running schedule over the three days allowed for non-stop live music.

Day 1

Friday, March 24, 2023

Joining Triptykon as headliners were Possessed, the San Francisco Bay Area death and thrash metal veterans. 

The band released the classic Seven Churches (1983) and Beyond the Gates (1985) and more recently 2019’s Revelations of Oblivion. With these albums, Possessed was worthy as a co-headliner for Hell’s Heroes V.

Fans were gathering early in anticipation of vocalist Jeff Becerra and company. Loyalists were front and center, anchored on the metal barricade in an anticipation of an extreme experience of metal. 

Possessed took the stage at night allowing to be bathed in a flood of blood red light with hints of blue, purple and green at times. A large black banner with red print of the logo hung behind the drum kit flowed in the light breeze.

Possessed capped off Day 1 following a solid lineup of music throughout the day and into the night. 

Razor, Liege Lord, Ross the Boss Exciter, Visigoth and Midnight Dice rounded out Day 1 on the outdoor stage.

Fans watching Liege Lord’s set late in the day at Hell’s Heroes V. Photo by Brian McLean

Exciter is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of their classic debut Heavy Metal Maniac. Not unexpected though,  that’s what happened while the band was on stage. Fans turned into heavy metal maniac mode while crowd surfing their way up to the barricade. An impressive and healthy sized circle pit on the lawn even formed. 

As for the inside stage, seven bands from varying locations graced the stage. Hallas closed out the night with the following in preceding order Danava, Spell, Gatekeeper, Morgul Blade, Century and Maiestas.

Prior to hitting the stage, Spell was burning incense taped to the stage monitors. Photo by Brian McLean

Day 2

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Saturday night saw Triptykon return but to the outdoor stage. This time, the band dove into the early catalog of Celtic Frost and played an exclusive set. Triptykon pulled material from Morbid Tales (1984) and To Mega Therion (1985). For Warrior though, it wasn’t about just playing classic Celtic Frost songs, it was something more.

The To Mega Theron album cover served as the backdrop for Triptykon’s exclusive Celtic Frost set. Photo by Brian McLean

Warrior wants to keep the memory of his former Celtic Frost band mate and bassist Martin Eric Ain alive. He wants fans to keep Ain in their hearts and minds. Ain passed away in October 2017 of a heart attack.

The song list of Celtic Frost selections couldn’t have been better. Fans were treated to pure classic Celtic Frost. 

Tom G. Warrior looks out over the crowd during Triptykon’s set at the Hell’s Heroes V. Photo by Brian McLean

With the opener “Into the Crypts of Rays,” the gathering of festival goers knew the song grouping was the ultimate. The Celtic Frost faithful heard titles such as “Procreation (of the Wicked),” “The Usurper,” “Circle of Tyrants” and many others. In total, Triptykon delivered 17 songs from the first two albums. There could not have been anything better Celtic Frost wise.

For some of the younger generation of metal fans, this may have been a bucket list item. The night of Triptykon was that special.

Canada’s returning Hell’s Heroes alumni Razor turned out a solid performance, holding their own. The great white north speed metallers needed to deliver a powerful packed night and they did. It was needed as they prepped the crowd for Triptykon.

The outside stage was treated to the UK’s Satan and Pagan Altar, Skull Fist, Unto Others and Riot City.

Saturday’s inside festivities featured seven bands, several that delivered. Inside headliners Night Demon recently released their latest album, Outsider. Once on stage, the trio backlit with green light was a non stop heavy metal experience.

Haunt, fronted by Trevor Willian Church, plowed through their style of traditional heavy metal. Despite sound related technical difficulties before taking the stage, these issues didn’t deter the band. During this downtime, the crowd would chant, “Trevor, Trevor, Trevor” and the appreciation of the frontman was evident.

Haunt frontman Trevor William Church. Photo by Brian McLean

Even Exciter guitarist Daniel Dekay entered the photo pit capturing video of Haunt’s blistering performance. The video has since been posted to Dekay’s social media.

Houston’s own and Hell’s Heroes alumni Night Cobra primed the crowd at the midpoint of the inside stage schedule. Vocalist Christian Larson commanded the stage and audience with his scepter-like microphone attachment and his thigh length black coat. 

The blue, purple and red stage lights only enhanced the aura Night Cobra was projecting from the stage. 

The remaining portion of  Saturday’s indoor lineup saw Christian Mistress, Tower, Freeways and Natur turning out respectable appearances.

Overall, the Hell’s Heroes scheduling and logistics ran smoothly over the course of three days. There were minor technical difficulties late on Day 2 but everything was handled professionally.

Several vendor booths were located off to the right of the stage. Goods and music related items such as rings, belts, patches, pins, vinyl, shirts and other things were available for purchase. A food truck that specialized in BBQ was also located in the vendor area.

People from all over converged on Houston for the three days. Fans came from as far as Europe, the UK, Canada, Mexico and South America. Then add places like Boston, Dallas, Houston, Laredo, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Toronto and New Jersey.

There’s a reason fans are flocking to Houston for the Hell’s Heroes festival in the warm Spring climate of Texas. Some people consider it to be the best European style festival in the United States. With the quality of bands coming in the US or across the Atlantic, it’s hard to argue the opinion.

A Hell’s Heroes attendee takes a nap late Saturday afternoon. Photo by Brian McLean

Whether a first timer or Hell’s Heroes veteran, one wonders what Hell’s Heroes VI will look like and who will take the stage. 

In the meantime, for those that were in attendance, relish in the memories from Houston Hell’s Heroes V.