(review n pix by mwj)

After being borne from the deaf from born from death on the Thursday I set sail for the Thor’s Day and the annual free ticket frenzy that is Hammerfest. This years event has a Viking theme, subtitled “Hammer of Thor” (Thor, IV, see what they did there?) so what better preparations than a couple of bottles of Skullsplitter ale and a donation/booking to the RNLI for when I predicted floating of the coast of Valhalla/Rhyl in the early hours in a flaming dinghy.

The multitude of tickets available for this meant for a great gathering of friends, attendees old and new and after being a few years the proportion of people you know there grows and grows. Dismiss metal all you like, at times I do, but there is a genuine community. There really is a proper celebratory atmosphere, the rite of spring-ing into the festival season and on our doorsteps too so gift horses cannot be kicked up the arse. Again, the line-up is unremarkable compared to the forthcoming spoilt-rotten Euro events, I still don’t know whether I’d pay for it if I had too, but the fact that the saving is made and that money can be diverted to copious drinking makes for a rose-tinted beer goggle look at the whole thing.

Friday was the full sesh day for me given other commitments but arriving after two meant we had already missed Holyhead’s rock powerhouse Inferno. I thought their opening noon slot was a bit of disrespect from the pay to play orientated organisers for a band that was also at Bloodstock last year but John from Kobe who had done their sound reckoned they had still got a good crowd of the early risers/drinkers warmed up from the Thursday night pre-show there. Our first trip through the linked venues took us past other up and coming competition winners or sufficient ticket sellers on the third “pub”stage to the second main stage and Arthemis, power metal from Italy. It was gloriously generic with classic clichéd stirring lyrics but them announcing a cover of the greatest metal band ever… “Deep Purple” led to somewhat stunned reaction and a rather swift exit. More time to enjoy the mild weather outside before drifting back through to catch the end of Sci fi Mafia (pic below). A prior listen hadn’t really convinced with their poppy cyber-metal but as soon as we re-entered to semi naked ladies breathing fire over the crowd and a 12foot high illuminated robot strutting on stage we were properly entranced. A real spectacle and fair play to them for going over the top to such a level.

The main stage was now in action with Chicago’s Diamond Plate, currently on tour with main headliner of the day Anthrax, and while they occasionally got down to some fast thrashing there was a whole lot more of a cleaner rock/metal aspect that failed to excite me. No worries, next up was Waylander (pic above) who I’d caught here at the first festival here and been pleasantly surprised by the Nord’n Irish guys mix of folk and heaviness. Upped to the main stage it made their pummelling onslaughts of almost black metal heaviness all the more impressive but not everyone would appreciate the contrasting penny whistle over the top of their more epic sections. A band I hadn’t given much attention to previously, possibly mistakenly dismissing them among a glut of nu-metal from the US, Chimaira (pic below) didn’t take long to correct me as they got down to some serious business of darkly heavy repetitive riff work outs, with a real groove undercurrent and unforgiving vocals. They may have had a lot of recent lineup changes that may have practically ended their decade or so of existence but with fresh eyes and ears I enjoyed it and it certainly proved a big draw for a crowd too and was well applauded.

It was here previously that I had also given Paradise Lost (pic above) another chance after they had lost me in their drift off into stadium style rock (just before I drifted off into some bushes outside) and being in a similarly generous mood tonight I piled into the middle to enjoy the steady doomy metal pace and good sing along hooks. My oh so witty (to me) between song cries for the old school “rotting misery” of the previous time were now replaced with the new school “Vallenfyre” for the currently deathly side project, but that wish will come to fruition soon enough. A quick blast of the death thrash of Scots Achren at the second stage, who are definitely becoming a more confident and now time for Anthrax (main pic) to spread their disease and there was a definite buzz of anticipation. When I saw them a couple of years back at Hellfest with Dan Nelson’s brief spell as a vocalist it struck as a band pretty much on the rocks and going through the motions. Now with original vocalist Joey Belladonna back and in this position as headliners they seemed a lot more focussed and enjoying themselves in the face of a pretty rapturous reception. Still up for introducing some of their newer material as off their latest release “Worship Music” needless to say the old school of “Caught in a Mosh” (recently abused at the open mike night at The Alex in Pen 😉 ) had me airborne, and not for the last time. Proper pit action was kicking off, while at the same time they have great sing and shout along staples that lungs are threatening to burst. They are rightly placed as some definitive thrash and the set builds a great climax, including a killer encore of four or so old tracks, ending with them laying down the gospel of “I am the Law”. No arguments tonight, a force to be reckoned with again.

Weakened but chuffed by that mayhem it was then out into the cooling rain to refresh the sweat for a while before taking a rest in the seated areas at the sides of the second stage to have a recuperation and watch of Evil Scarecrow. They had been very entertaining at Bloodstock with their tongue in cheek thrashy and trashy metal, I don’t think they hit the heights of that performance and its’ mass “Robototron” but again it was well received and they seemed to enjoy it themselves. To give them an education in old school piss-take metal our night finishes with the return of the bozo metal granddads, Lawnmower Deth. With a mass band on stage it is a truly chaotic stop-start blast through their mental back catalogue of thrash/hardcore, with as much banter as actual songs. Especially as some of them are a few seconds long. Rolling out their classics like “Did you spill me pint?”, “Sumo Rabbit(squirrel?)” and “Satan’s Trampoline” it’s the perfect complement for this time of night, and has the biggest post 2am crowd I’ve seen at this event, they definitely tap into the stupid, careless, surreal humour of the occasion.

There’s a gradual dispersal to chalets, if you have them, or floors if you ask nicely and then I bail out via the train at dawn. Only to return on Saturday afternoon for my select dose that a couple of hours babysitter would allow. It was in with intensity with the hardcore/grind crossover of Dripback (pic above). They had also impressed at Bloodstock but up close and personal here on the “pub” stage they were an even more intimidating prospect. Channelled aggression into blasting beats and ferocious riffs, the two tone vocals almost reaches ENT levels of extremity but there’s also a swagger of US hardcore to it, and members previous experience in Labrat and Ted Maul has obviously stood them in good stead. There’s another album for the shopping list. The prime draw for this afternoon/early evening was a repeat visit to Senser, again with a lot of the local folks who I’d enjoyed a storming show up in Manchester with before Xmas. A long way from their festival playing early 90’s heyday but they also have evolved into a very sharpened tool at creating an excellent marriage of rap and rock that is far removed from the cliché that the connection between the two could be. They are without their customary female co-vocalist tonight but Heitham is such a confident frontman that he can more than cover the bases. There’s a blast of old classics like “No Comply” and “Age of panic” with some newer material but the set seems far too short for them to cover the whole quantity of the quality they have produced, the groove and the thrash and all the experimental additions included. The Slayer sampling cover of “Channel Zero” goes down a storm before they end with another hyper assault of “Eject”. Great stuff and hopefully they’ll have won more over to their resurgent status with this show. I certainly leave satisfied with this flying visit but would gladly have watched Amon Amarth, Skindred (again!) and Criminal to have had a similarly good night after that. Whereas I always seem tempted to dismiss this festival in relation to the bigger/more concentrated events elsewhere it is definitely growing on me constantly and I think without a doubt I will be making best efforts to return next year, whatever the line up