(review by MWJ)

Believing in the old adage that you shouldn’t look gift whores in the mouth I still wouldn’t really have been inclined to touch this event with someone else’s bargepole. By very definition, I would associate hard rock with middle aged, middle tempo, middling-ness and apart from an early inclination to Queen this is a genre that exists beyond my radar. Was that a Golden Earring track?

That said, there may have been 5 genre stretching outfits (as opposed to spandex stretching) out of the 40 or so bands I would have checked out given the fact that with the luck of the non-Irish (maybe he’s got some French in him) El had won free tickets yet again. Still wouldn’t want to fork out £20 for the chalet for the weekend as we did for Hammerfest here, but then alternative free accommodation is made available, there’s the promise/lie of free drinks too, Dirty Anal Kelly’s back from Rome (2), so go on twist my arm, for the Friday anyway.

Allegedly this was close to selling out again but we suspect marketing ploys as it doesn’t seem as busy as April when we get into the main halls about 5pm. Maybe there would be more on the Saturday, but it is still a decent congregation. I wouldn’t say it was dominated by the elderly (like I’m some spring KFC!) but it was interesting to hear it was 18+ as opposed to Hammerfest 16+ so the adults can get some peace and, errr… not quiet. We have missed the stuff on the Young Blood stage in the pub venue that started at lunch time, was surprised to see 9xDead on the list there; they weren’t even young when Skinflick played with them about 8 years ago.

So first checked out was Die Apokalyptishien Reiter, real Germans in case you hadn’t guessed. For some reason I was expecting something different and possibly better than their very Euro traditional power metal, including keyboard gimp, but not to worry. Korplikanni, from Finland I believe, delivered some frenetic folk, using some traditional instruments but heavy-ing it up with the conventional band and growled vocals. There’s a surprisingly big market for this stuff you know. Excellent ‘tache action from the bass player too. Delain give us a taste of gothic metal, edging towards more interest musically with their atmospheric structures but have to admit attention drawn by gorgeous and powerful throat of the female vocalist. Or was that Kelly I was thinking of?

We may well have had interludes through to the main stage during these for the likes of Logan (“He’s run off again”) and Gun or even Ratt but to be honest can’t remember much at all. True, alcohol was heavily involved but as I’ll prove with later recollections the sad fact is that their efforts, tunes, presence just didn’t register. Not going to disrespect them on those grounds as obviously a lot of people did like them but there was no grand revelation of “Here’s something I’ve missed”.

Had a degree more impact on the consciousness with Terrorvision. Hadn’t seen them before but their first EP lurks in my collection somewhere, don’t think we’re going to get “Blackbird” somehow. Since then though they’ve obviously had their boom and bust under the wheels of the industry and it’s the pop tinged rock that dominates the feel of what I hear. Front man Tony remains very charismatic and of course everyone can sing along to “Tequila”. I hear rumours after that this may have a final gig, indifferent really.

The one bonus about the expected and encountered lack of interest in the bands is that at least there’s good craic amongst the people there. Friends old and new, locals and travellers, the atmosphere is good and certainly makes time fly by. We even take a break in the VIP seats for a bit, just cos we can There are no great attitudes, well maybe there’s a few glammers putting on the show, but all in all it is good humoured and I guess people are bonded under the overarching theme of the festival. Even spot a couple of Vikings.

All is made worthwhile to me with a chance to see Monster Magnet, for the first time since they’ve been knocking about from 1989. I only have a couple of their albums but their heavy stoner groove with a spacey overwash I liked a lot. Another big factor was the excellent lyrics from front man Dave Wyndorf, wondering why I’d believed him to have a reputation as some super cool rock god when in fact he resembles a kind of fat Jack Black geek. Possibly his documented slippery slide down the slope of drugs until recently has influenced this. It matters not though because their delivery of massive tunes like “Powertripping” and “Space Lord (Motherf*cker)” is spot on, on the big stage with an excellent light show it’s a proper captivating performance, especially when you are off your tits (and on to someone else’s). Not just from the main man though, as the entire band have the opportunity to shine and it’s great. With my limited back catalogue knowledge I mention just the one extra track that I’d like to here and my grin is ear to ear when “Tractor” (as in “Driving the tractor on the drug farm”) is one of the encores. Excellent.

We’re after the witching hour now, and the crowd decreases somewhat. Stay to watch Sonata Arctica who may well have been at Hellfest recently. While their technical power metal is vaguely interesting if unremarkable it is perhaps only in the sense of their being no other options. Wanting to extend my daytrip as far as possible I take my pint (alone, as the lightweights have all been blown away) to watch the last band on the second stage taking us through to 2.30am only to find paramedics attending some fat bloke seemingly passed out on stage. This is dramatic entertainment of sorts for a bit but then we are all evicted and that’s that. Turns out the singer slipped and bumped his head, rock n roll.

So I made my escape the next day but definitely felt the withdrawal symptoms of not continuing the sesh on the Saturday in spite of it all. There was the likes of Wasp and Queensryche, even the New York Dolls (terrible, apparently) but also some genuine interest for me with the inclusion of the new wave thrash touring package of Toxic Holocaust, Skeleton Witch and Goatwhore, plus UK old schoolers Onslaught. Still, I don’t get out of bed for less than 10p and a free ticket so that will determine whether I attend this again. The line up for the next Hammerfest here in March, Suicidal Tendencies, Napalm Death etc., is good enough to consider buying a ticket but I’m at the other end of the country, the inconsiderate conts.