original@Hard Rock Hell United, Pwllheli, North Wales, March 14 2015

It was something of a coup for Hammerfest’s organisers that they landed Hirax’s first ever UK show. The LA thrashers have been playing, on and off, for more than 30 years, going toe to toe with the likes of Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies in their formative years and re-igniting in the late 90s around charismatic vocalist Katon W. De Pena. 

And thankfully, the quartet didn’t as much as live up to expectations as nuke them out of the water. So what if the stage lights malfunctioned mid-set? That didn’t stop the veteran outfit. As De Pena declared, “even Satan can’t” – and you wouldn’t bet against Hirax giving Old Nick a good whupping’ if he tried to get in their way.

The years have certainly done nothing to diminish De Pena’s manic energy, which grew ever stronger as he fed off the crowd – at one point he even launched into the throng to be held aloft, clutching his mic and still singing. And with a combination of searing riffs, turn-on-a-sixpence time changes and raging anthems like Destroy and El Diablo, his band drained every last drop of sweat from fans old and new. Even at 1am. Even after a full-on day at Hammerfest. Hard Rock Hell? More like Thrash Metal Heaven.

Aspiring six stringers could do worse than studying Lance Harrison’s sensational axework, which breathed new life into oldies like 1985’s Bombs of Death, but what made this performance so memorable was De Pena’s knack of making everyone feel special… as if Hirax were playing just for them. And he didn’t make any secret of how much he appreciated their support either, seeming genuinely humbled by the whole experience.

For hardened metallers who know their history, this was a true ‘I was there’ moment, a highlight of the year, never mind this festival. Forget Metallica, forget Megadeth: if you want to experience a real thrash show, go to see Hirax.

Richard Holmes