Now, this is how you start festival season, here in the UK!
I love Hammerfest, its one of those events that is just the right size to get that intimate feeling you want from a live show, but big enough that you know your at a festival. Its a funny thing though, as every year i have to explain to those less fortunate (IE those that dont listen/like metal… yeah, they exist!) why im making a short road trip for a weekend away at Pwllheli! Usually because A) BurningFistHQ is only an hour down the road, and B) most people don’t believe a high-quality metal event is held in North Wales…
More fool them!
For the uninitiated then, Hammerfest is now in its 6th year, it originally started back in 2009 and has seen the likes of Opeth, Paradise Lost, Saxon, Skindred, Katatonia, Napalm Death, Iced Earth, Devil Driver, Killing Joke, Sabaton, Entombed, Amon Amarth and Anthrax all play at the event… I’ll just let that sink in for a moment, while you contemplate all those top name bands, here, in glorious North Wales – And that’s just the tip of the metallic-iceberg!
So, to this years festivities then:
Thursday 13th March
The party starts on the Thursday for those lucky enough to get there nice an early, and serves as an excellent warm up for the next couple of days. SKAM do a fine job of opening the second stage with their warming blend of classic hard rock infused groove. On paper, Skam would possibly be better suited to Hammerfest’s sister-festival – Hard Rock Hell – but these lads clearly enjoy what they do, and quickly win round the gathering crowd.
Next up was FURY who ripped through a set of traditional heavy metal which would have ticked all the boxes for fans of ‘Priest and ‘Maiden. Fast, thrashy riffing, head-nodding beats, quick-as-you-like-solos and some sweet vocal delivery were the order of the day.
Its at this point that this writer begins to feel a little unsure what happened next! One of the great things about Hammerfest is the camaraderie between attendees, and even if this was your first visit to the festival, i can assure you, you’ll be leaving on the Sunday with more friends and comrades than you arrived with. So, it seemed like a good idea at the time to catch up with some old friends, and before i knew it, i’d lost about 3 hours and missed DEFY ALL REASON, ANIHILATED and DEATH VALLEY KNIGHTS – Sorry folks! (J)
BUT! I did manage to sort myself out and get to see SAVAGE MESSIAH play, and boy was i glad that i did. I’m not sure if this was the first real “pit” of the weekend or not (See previous paragraph!) but it was a great sight as the crowd were just lapping up the thrash goodness this London four-piece had to offer. What a stonking show these lads put on, and in hindsight, im not entirely sure why they didnt get the chance to play the main stage, as this was a no-holds-barred performance. It was like a furiously melodic punch in the face! Fantastic stuff. (J)
And last but not least, we have a novelty act to finish off the night. Now, depending on whether or not you just rolled your eyes or squeaked with excitement will determine what you make of the next band. Ladies and gentlemen, i present to you: Tragedy – The All Metal Bee-Gees and Beyond Cover Band! To be fair, it wasn’t as bad as i was expecting as I’d had enough to drink by this point and the whole thing was wonderfully absurd! I couldn’t help but smile and enjoy the performance, but it was the cover of “Grease Is The Word” that tipped me over the edge, and i had to leave… I f**kin’ HATE Grease! You can blame my sisters for that. (J)
Friday 14th March
SINOCENCE start the proceedings on the second stage at what seemed like the crack of dawn on Friday. It wasn’t of course, it was simply me feeling my age and a single night of partying that was doing a fine job of catching me up. Sinocence do a damn fine job though, and showcase a compelling blend of heavy groove metal that is balanced with some great vocal hooks. Over on the main stage we had up and coming UK thrashers SHRAPNEL who try their best, and while winning over a lot of the crowd, sound issues in the big room were seemingly throwing the band out of time on occasion. A shame, as they had some solid thrash chops and plenty of entertaining ideas but it all became a bit distracting. Bonus points are awarded for the cover of Slayer’s “War Ensemble” in which the band were joined by famed MetalHammer writer Dom Lawson. That was great fun. (J)
I was pumped when i saw DARKANE on the bill as I’d always enjoyed their albums and i was even more pumped once they’d ripped through their set. The Swedish 5 piece took no prisoners while they proceeded through their back catalog that combines solid grooves and metal riffs with both clean and gruff vocal attacks. The fact they played “Layers of Lies” was a personal highlight this weekend – belting! (J)
A whole lot more filth from DEAD EXISTENCE next, with some lumbering sludge and feral howls from the frontman, before the non-appearance of Black Moth means the second appearance of the day for THE BASTARD SONS. A good opportunity grabbed, and some pleasing southern drawled metal that goes well with the bourbon in smoothing the vibes. (M)
For the next few hours, i was firmly rooted to the main stage as it was time for some of the big guns to get rolled out. Blasting off with a volley of barrage fire was ENTHRONED, a band I’d never had the pleasure of seeing live before, but had always followed and enjoyed their career. It was a tough crowd though, as i could only assume the gathered were not so familiar as the response wasn’t exactly overwhelming, and the main stage sound gremlins reared its ugly head again. That said, they soldiered on, and cast an imposing visual and sonic shadow. Nothing short of brutal. (J) The Belgian black metallers have some old school credentials despite a much changed lineup to this incarnation, but I haven’t seen them before or even heard much. Which made the satisfaction of a sharp and atmospheric onslaught of relentless darkness all the more pleasing. Thunderously heavy but with musical skills to add some layers of texture to their sound, and a good stage presence, they were the pick of the day for me. (M)
Then it was the turn of one of the main reasons for me being here, as well as one of the most talked about performances of the weekend – GRAND MAGUS! If there was ever a band to rally the troops, this performance from the Swedish heavy metal trio was simply staggering. Never once putting a foot wrong and banging out classic metal anthem after anthem that had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hand and climaxing with a rousing version of “Hammer of the North” that had just about everyone in the packed out arena singing along to the chorus and melodic hook. 10/10 – a jaw dropping performance! (J)
A quick trip over to the second stage to check out SWORN AMONGST was next and when they eventually got around to actually playing some songs, they put on an entertaining modern metal performance. But it was rather bizarre to see the band giving away can after can of their sponsor’s energy drink at every opportunity – kinda cheapened the impact if you know what i mean? (J)
So cutting things a little short on the second stage, there was just enough time to grab a drink and bite to eat before watching the powerhouse that is SOILWORK. Soilwork seemed to have had an explosion in popularity over the last couple of years, all of which has been built around some solid releases (“Figure Number Five”, “Stabbing The Drama”, “The Living Infinite” etc) and having shaken off the Melodic Death Metal tag they continue to forge ahead, and they are no slouch live either! A very confident performance filled with energy and crowd participation, a great sound and colourful backdrop. An excellent addition to the bill and a perfect forerunner to tonight’s headline act…
OVERKILL!! Now, im not a fan of the band, i have to be honest, but their legacy is undeniable and im clearly in the minority judging by the number of Overkill tshirts packing out the main arena!
Talking to a few fans on the night would suggest that the likes of “Feel The Fire”, “Under The Influence” and “The Years of Decay” have had as much impact on their lives as other thrash classics such as “Kill ’em All” or “Number of the Beast” have had. For me, i just cant get past Bobbi “Blitz” Ellsworth’s vocals – they are just too high pitched for my ears. As for the music though, yeah! More than happy with that and the band were noting short of relentless – they never stopped moving and put on a cracking show. Without a doubt a major coup for the festival to have such an esteemed band headline day one! (J) Again, a first for me and a pleasure to experience the relentless aggressive riffing that is a trademark of their sound. But I was never overly into them back in the day due to Bobby’s vocals being a bit of an acquired taste and that hadn’t changed this time around, good but not great. (M)
Things didnt end there though, oh no! The music kept on coming in to the very early hours over on the second stage, and if you were in need of an energy boost (and assuming you were one of the few that didnt get any sugar-laden nectar from Sworn Amongst…) FEED THE RHINO would be exactly the band to deliver it. Playing ultra aggressive, death-tinged hardcore, it was like watching angry sharks being thrown bait – both on the stage and in the pit. Visually arresting and sonically destructive, Feed The Rhino were another welcome surprise – keep your eye on these lads. (J)
And so, last and most certainly not least, we were left in the very pleasant company of THE VINTAGE CARAVAN and what a perfect way to end the day. With an average age of about 12 (just kidding, it’d be way past their bed time…!) this three piece from Iceland were a joy. Playing a fine mix of energetic blues, with classic (and i do mean CLASSIC) rock and plenty of crazy, psychedelic guitar heroics, the performance was exactly that – a band performing to the crowd, and for such a young band to be that comfortable and confident on stage, it only cements the conviction in the music. Absolute bliss, and just a travesty they had to play at such an ungodly hour – sort it out next time Hammerfest. (J)
Part Two is available here: https://burningfist.co.uk/2014/04/02/hammerfest-2014-special-part-2/
REVIEW BY: Jason (J) & Mark (M)
All photos are copyright of CHRISTOPHER JAMES RYAN PHOTOGRAPHY and are used with very kind permission. Please check out more of Christopher’s work below: