January 18, 2023

All Photos: Paul Whimpenny

On the back of two outstanding studio albums, Hex A.D.’s name is beginning to become known outside of their native Norway. That growing reputation led to this, their first engagement in the UK, in Maryland, London. Personally, I thought the only Maryland was in the United States Of America but it is also the name of a tiny district of London, half a mile east of Stratford. Despite the swanky new high-rise developments in nearby Stratford, Maryland has some old East End charm about it – by which I mean the buildings look run down, the shops shabby, and the food outlets emit the smell of greasy food. Even the entrance to the new Elizabeth Line station has a temporary look about it, and next door there’s what I thought was an extinct species: a cab office. It’s as if Maryland isn’t even on the Uber maps! But Maryland does have one claim to fame on a musical map at least: The Cart & Horses public house. It’s not because of the beer, although I can testify it is rather good, but because of its link to the career of Iron Maiden. The legendary British group played there regularly in their first year of existence. To this day, the Cart & Horses proudly call themselves ‘The Birthplace of Iron Maiden’, and they still host gigs, continuing that proud musical tradition.

The Cart & Horses is surprisingly small, just one medium-sized room and one small bar with the concert venue in a similarly sized space down in the basement. It was suitably dark but looked clean and tidy (you don’t say that often about small venues). For the visit of Hex A.D. there was a triple bill and first up were 4FoxSake – yes, I groaned at that name too – a four-piece British unit fronted by Marios Patsalosavis on guitar and vocals. 4FoxSake played raucous heavy rock with a bit of a punk attitude. Some songs veered towards straight-forward garage rock but there were one or two with more interesting Zeppelin style riffs. Patsalosavis looked very comfortable and confident on stage, coming across as something of a mix between Freddie Mercury showmanship and Phil Lynott pouting. The music itself was enjoyable if not outstanding, but I was left thinking that Patsalosavis could have a big career ahead of him, with or without 4FoxSake. 

So, who looks like the guitar hero here?

After the young British lads, the evening moved on to a more seasoned Norwegian unit by the name of Ghost Avenue. The group have been around for a couple of decades now, releasing a number of albums along the way. Ghost Avenue entertained us with sleazy heavy rock, right out of the ‘80s songbook. Think Judas Priest in that period and you wouldn’t be far off. Singer Kim Ihsak Sandvik (born in South Korea but raised in Bergen) was appropriately outfitted in leather too! While Ghost Avenue didn’t score many points for originality, they have a battery of songs full of excellent riffs and infectious chorus lines with the appropriately titled Best Of The Best being the standout. You couldn’t help but enjoy them. Visually curious were the two guitarists: André Berger, stage right, looked the rock star with a flying V guitar; chubby Øystein Wiik, stage left, wore nondescript clothes, a woolly hat, and looked like he’d just done a shift on a Norwegian fishing vessel! But belying the visuals, it was Wiik who delivered the majority of the excellent solos.    

Hex A.D. took the stage after a brief interlude and without any fuss launched into Deadly Nightshade from the Astro Tongue In The Electric Garden album. Got The Devil By The Tail was next, an impressive number from their last studio album. The crunching riffs in such a small space meant that the sound was full and impressively loud, and that was despite Hex A.D only performing as a trio. The absent member was Mags Johansen on keyboards. Guitarist and band leader Rick Hagen was apologetic about his absence (without really explaining it) and said that the set had to be adjusted as a result. Personally, this was a big disappointment because on the last two studio albums, Hex A.D. had edged away from full-on doom and had moved towards a more mainstream heavy blues rock sound with tinges of prog. I was hoping to hear more of this more sophisticated prog-leaning sound but it was not to be. Instead, the focus was either on the pure guitar-based doom tracks – for example, Netherworld, and even back to A Spitting Image from their debut album, or heavier versions of more recent tracks such as Astro Tongue or Hawks & Doves which were performed well in the circumstances but lacked the subtlety of the studio versions.

Despite the limitations of the trio, the band still played an impressive set with Rick’s brother Matt on drums and Are Gogstad on bass providing the platform for Rick to impress with the trademark Hex A.D. riffs and some thrilling guitar work. In the end, it was a fine performance, even if I suspect it was closer to how the band sounded two years ago rather than how they’d really like to sound today. A new Hex A.D. album is apparently in the works so let’s hope that means there may be an opportunity to revisit these shores and continue to build the sort of substantial following that the band surely deserve.

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night out with three good bands and four great guitarists in a compact but perfectly adequate venue. There seem to be gigs on most weekends, so for those readers in London it’s well worth checking out.

Hex A.D. getting down to business