Hammerfest is like the fuckbuddy of festivals.
There are far more attractive festivals out there, that deliver awesome levels of satisfaction, but they are exotic and far away, harsher on the pocket with their seductive ways, require you to get in uncomfortable positions, and leave you feeling thoroughly drained after days of abuse.
Hence when Spring comes and the Mad March primitive urges to rock out with your cock out start to rise, the attention swings back to the local good time on our doorstep, always willing to give us handy relief with minimum effort/expense. May be a bit more playing hard to get this year, holding back the favours of the usual multitude of free tickets, and hardly putting on her finery with a collection of bands that were either the same outfit worn a couple of years back or just not much of a band brand anyway.
Plus, bizarrely, being up front of entertaining the simultaneous presence of “other” people with it being combined with the Hard Rock Hell AOR/Sleaze event, not sure really wanted to be in the same room as them! But I cared not once I’d smashed my way through the back door entrance of someone having cheap tickets through knowing a caravan owner on site, the date was on.
My friends from the Bay chauffeured us down and it was a fine Friday morning to start on the ale for the journey. We were quite gobsmacked at the posh caravan we were staying in but it was handy walking distance to the venues so we had plenty of time to continue our warm up before heading in for our first band of the afternoon, on the second (Papa John’s) stage, Spider Kitten. The name was a bit abstract but then again maybe deliberately avoiding some of the clichés that could be utilised for their monstrously distorted sludgy doom. An excellent entrance and wade through the primeval swamp of noise as exercise for the long day ahead. There was an attempted division of the stages to “themes”, and Doom was the name of the game here for now, although sludge would have been as appropriate.
The AOR malarkey had taken over the previous main stage at the adjacent “The Cove” and for now the Hammerfest element was off down at the Mash and Barrel /”Bonga Wonga” pub further down the site. We took ourselves off to this now, initially concerned how this was going to be squeezed into the venue but then discovering a huge venue out the back of it, with a sound that was arguably better and more consistent than had been experienced at the other venue in preceding years. The pull here was to see another excellent performance of sharp and atmospheric death metal from The King is Blind (above), who’d impressed me at Bloodstock last summer. Already a decent turnout for them and bathed in bloody fog it was a really punchy performance, progressive and maintaining a hook throughout their structures.
Return for more doom but The Bendal Interlude (above) had more aspects than that simple definition. Been years since I recalled seeing them in their native Liverpool but their sludgy grooves with added electronic vibes and samples made for a good ear-catching show.
The last of the doom before that stage transformed to sleaze (presumably with the application of glitter and spandex) was from Diesel King, again really heavy grooves that got the bangers banging, with a powerful, roaring frontman.
Back at the Mash we caught the end of classic British metallers Angelwitch, minus Bill Steer now sadly, but still very entertaining finishing with their sing-along eponymous song.
Staying down these parts for my first taste of the recently returned version of some old UK thrash staples in the from of Preston’s Xentrix. Probably Wrexham Memorial Hall was the last time I had seen them but they are back with a vengeance now, crisp, technical delivery with catchy pace. Airing new material now they are definitely on the wave of new interest in this scene. We had a breather into the mane (sic) venue to sample the atmosphere/have a laugh, to the tune of Dare. While that tame rawk washed over us it was interesting to note how relatively quiet the place seemed, it could be considered that Hammerfest could have continued up here and vice versa but given previous experiences with the sound maybe leave it as it is.
Sleaze was currently in the form of Hardcore Superstar, busy for them, not for me. Venturing alone back to the Mash I prematurely arrived before the end of Kamelot, one of the nominal headliners for this evening. As expected however, the little of the accessible prog rock I encountered here seemed as suited to the AOR stage as here, I remained indifferent.
Of more interest though still with a questionable standing of their high position was Californian thrashers Hirax (above), with their first ever trip to the UK in their 30 year history (though they probably have been split off and on for 20 of those years). Despite their origins at the start of the scene their profile was always a bit second division back in the day, so what a pleasure to have all that preconceptions blown away with one of the highlights of the weekend. An absolutely storming set of definitive heavy thrash, edging into classic metal through the vocal stylings of charismatic and enthusiastic frontman Katon, the sound was spot on for the delivery too. Great fun was had, and universal acclaim returned too.
After a little interlude with some birds on the boating lake we ended up at the only party in town with Stop Stop (below) on the Sleaze stage. We knew this would be good for giggles but weren’t expecting to by crying with laughter as the singer/bassist continued playing whilst roaming over behind the counter of pizza counter in the corner. A hilarious finish to a quality day.
A lovely spring morning to wake up to, let’s celebrate with a beer, eh? Then while feeling motivated we get to the Stoner (ex-Doom) stage for Phase Reverse, who we didn’t know but turned out to be from Greece and exponents of some excellent driving grooves that got you nodding and tapping.
Down to the Mash for the ever present and always entertaining Oaf. The two piece playing abstract punk with a heavy NoMeansNo vibe to it given the lead bass, Dom and the drummer are strikingly good musicians in their own way. But the true joy is in the hilarious and effortless banter punctuated by their stupid songs, arrive, stay and leave with broad smiles.
Stayed at the southern pole among venues for the northernmost band Skamold (above), hailing and sailing from Iceland. Now among the Viking metal I have mixed tastes, as I am not known for getting jig-gy to folk dances but when this is mixed up with some thunderously heavy riffing and more atmospheric post-metal epics, with shared vocal power from all the band, there was lot to surprisingly enjoy.
Hang the Bastard at the Stoner certainly rumbled with a dark vibe, even if they break out into the faster distorted hardcore sections less often than they used too. Still an intense and cathartic show.
An early evening set is pretty much what Raging Speedhorn (below) had at Damnation Festival last November, but that return to the fray for the band was pretty satisfying. Here, they seem initially a bit unsure of what they have let themselves in for in the backwoods, but the raucous pit inspired by their relentlessly filthy sludge soon settles them into their un-comfort zone. I personally take great pleasure in the howling fury and the great dual vocal interplay, some traditionalists may miss the odd guitar solo.
More universal appeal undoubtedly with Orange Goblin (above) next, intent to pummel us with classic stoner metal riffing, and no doubting the results either. Really powerful, bouncing, shaking riffs with behemoth frontman Ben orchestrating the party like a (only) slightly more compos mentis Ozzy, great sing along chorus hooks too.
A trip back to see how the Stoner stage is evolving into the Thrash stage and Norwegian band Sahg providing an appropriate bridge. A project involving King from black metal titans Gorgoroth, but evidently an outlet for other creative directions as it’s a quite complex mix of stoner grooves with more prog orientated metal, with occasional thrashy riffing interludes. Pleasant enough if not overly striking for me.
Catch a little of The Heretic Order, not just waiting for the unveiling of the lady dancers, honest. The effort into their presentation adds to their atmospheric thrash but I’m not sure either are that outstanding for all the effort.
Climax of the evening down here is some much more effective theatrics from Hell (main pic), elaborating on a core of hard hitting classic metal. I’d seen them in passing before and not been that fussed but in the right frame of mind now they are really enjoyable. Yes, the squealing edge to the vocals can be an acquired taste but the heavy riffing around the core of the esteemed Andy Sneap’s guitar drives things along. And the stage show, with synchronized banging, religious props, and the tongue in cheek seriousness of the ceremony all add up to great entertainment.
Last but by no means least we get to see Scouse crossover thrashers SSS (below) back at Papa John’s. Pleased to see they have actually found their way here instead of going to the wrong venue and ending up playing bingo as in a previous year they are focussed on serious delivery of some sharp songs. Always political in their content there’s almost a touch of modern day Napalm Death in their sound and fury now, but the direct speed attack is a pleasure in itself and keeps the energy up til the end of the night.
All in all, I went with no great expectations and found myself having a thoroughly lovely time anyway. A convenient and comfortable set up, good live environments that bands can flourish in, and a multitude of party people from all over to share the experience with. I would still never pay full price for these increasingly watered down line-ups but if there are other ways and means to get my rocks off, I am too weak a man to resist its charms! Roll on next year.