Published on July 5th, 2017 | by Gareth Allen0
Hammerfest is one of the highlights of the metal calendar. Situated against the backdrop of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, and near the North Wales town of Pwllheli, it has become a yearly pilgrimage for the metal community.
It’s also an incredibly well run festival by the folks at HRH, who understand metal and its diverse genres. Which means you get to hear thrash, doom, death, power, and black metal….and yes Pirate metal! It has a very communal feel, and a really warm engaging atmosphere, that adds something special to the festival. Each of the two stages attracts sizeable crowds throughout each of the festival days, which is testament to the quality of music HRH have put together for this year’s Hammerfest.
So to the first evening, and Bloodshot Dawn take to the main stage
…and on bass with the band is Sonic Bandwagon’s very own contributor Keiran Allen, and of course this reviewers amazing son. So with that disclosure made, onto the set itself.
Bloodshot Dawn get a fantastic response from the audience, with the mosh pit getting into full swing very early on in their set. At the beginning of ‘Godless’ the band signal for a circle pit, and the audience don’t disappoint. A monster of a death metal riff gives way to intense blast beats, as Josh’s death growl propels the song forward, and the pit gets ferocious. The technical death metal dynamics on show across the band are completely breathtaking, and the band’s ensemble playing hits an incredible intensity. Matched only by the mayhem going on in the pit at the front of the stage.
As the set progresses, the combination of full on death metal, melody and progressive metal elements, shows a band with a mission to take their music forward in new exciting and creative directions. With the very impressive audience reaction they get tonight at Hammerfest, they will have plenty of fans that want to take that journey with them.
Armored Saint who are headlining the main stage, seem to just burn up energy, with the audience challenged to keep up with them! They put on a storming set.
‘Mess’ from the 2015 album ‘Win Hands Down’, is a real set highlight. Vocalist John Bush describes it from the stage as a “song about taking care of the planet…we only have one place we live on, so take care of it!”. It has an old school metal feel, and swings with a great scything riff, and a strikingly heartfelt vocal.
John Bush doesn’t hold back, leading the band from the front, singing on the crush barrier, and head banging with the audience. The melodic phrases keep ringing out, alongside soulful vocals, hard riffs and soaring guitar solos.
Still on stage after 1am in the morning, John says they will play one or two more numbers, and demands of the audience “can you give me more energy …its only the first day…you can’t be tired!”. Many in the audience would have been very tired with a long day travelling to get here, but hey this is metal….and the only possible response can be…..bring it on!
Desert Storm opened up the second stage on the Friday. This stage is in a great space with a really open clean sound. What a great band they are too.
They build their songs in a way, which while clearly from the metal world, allows for some incredibly intense heavy rock dynamics, not unlike the great Led Zeppelin.
Rhythmically they have quite an infectious choppy style, that unleashes at one point the drums and bass laying down a funk style rhythm. Add in the cool atmospheric guitar overlays, and this is music that immediately grabs your attention! And in Matt Ryan they have a really excellent vocalist.
Helhorse are first on the main stage, and they let us know exactly what is intended: “It’s time to wake up boys and girls!”. Followed by a scream from hell, which seems to be generated by the keyboard, of all instruments.
Grunge and sludge metal mix with punk attitude, and the drums and bass thump you hard in the chest. The twin vocal attack also lends the music a real creativeness.
This is a song about love “the most important thing in the world”, and we hear a striking tenderness in the vocals. This band have so much going for them, with amazing energy, a great heavy abrasive sound, mixed with surprising and very melodic harmony vocals. A great set!
Skyclad later on the main stage, judge the atmosphere exactly right, “Enjoy the weekend, it’s your weekend!’’.
‘The Declaration of Indifference’ is a rollicking rocker, with Georgina Biddle’s jaunty fiddle overlay. ‘Thinking Allowed’ takes the folk tinged metal a little further, with the guitar and fiddle playing the melody together. In a wonderful moment on the next song, Georgina goes into the photo pit at the front of the stage with her fiddle, and leads the melody.
Political, drinking and “jigging” songs make for a joyous set, that combines folk and metal, and even has metal heads jigging and clapping their hands in time.
The Ever Living on the second stage are just excellent, with a deeply atmospheric sound that takes in elements of doom and black metal. They are able to push a song to a crashing crescendo, with Chris’s strikingly passionate vocals heading the charge. They also captivate with some danceable rhythms, and deservedly develop a strong connection with the appreciative audience.
HammerFall triumphed on the main stage, contending admirably with the disaster of their instruments and stage clothes, all ending up being marooned in Amsterdam! In fact there were lots of smiles on stage, as the band quite simply went for it!
‘Last Man Standing’ with its slower paced vocals really flies. It has a striking poignancy in the lyrics, of a person on a journey away from self reliance at all costs, together of course with a great anthem of a chorus.
Vocalist Joacim Cans acknowledges from the stage….”there are lots of women here because they love heavy metal”. It feels an important thing to say, as women are so much a part of the metal community, whether in bands or the audience, or leading roles in record labels and PR, sound and recording technicians, or running metal magazines. When sexism permeates metal, we are all diminished by it.
‘Let the Hammer Fall’ is delivered at a completely high octane level. Joacim announces “For the last time let the fucking hammer…” and the audience shout back with one voice ”…fall!!”. The monster central riff has a great rolling groove to it, that it is impossible not to feel, and to want to dance to. Joacim leads the audience in some heavy metal community singing, before leading the band back into the main riff. At one point simply saying to the audience “friends” and pointing to them, for the audience to sing back the chorus to the band unaccompanied. Just fabulous!
The set ends with guitarist Oscar Dronjak’s stirring ‘Hammer High’. For some of the background to this great song, and how it accidentally ended up as the set closer at Hammerfest, read our post-set interview with Oscar. With its plea to stand true to yourself and who you are, the song carries everyone along to a joyous high. There is some great guitar soloing from Oscar and fellow guitarist Pontus Norgren, before the band conclude singing the chorus unaccompanied with the audience, with fists raised in the air. A spine tingling moment.
Napalm Death hit the main stage and immediately go for it, with their unique blend of grindcore and death metal. After just one number Barney, Napalm’s irreplaceable vocalist, notices something has happened in the audience and halts the show. Someone is hurt and Napalm Death leave the stage and the Festival organisers ask everyone to leave, to allow the person to be brought out safely. Thankfully we hear later all is okay with the person who fell. Its a mark of the metal community that the focus was solely on helping the hurt metal brother.
Napalm Death return later to the stage, however at that point your reviewer was interviewing Oscar from HammerFall.
Destruction headlining the main stage, are legends of the thrash scene, and create the most momentous of sounds. The drums and bass thunder, and the guitar squalls intensely. It’s completely irresistible! Bassist and vocalist Schmier is a charismatic and towering figure on stage, as he moves between the three stage microphones. They of course get a fantastic and sustained reception from the audience.
‘Mad Butcher’ from their very first EP is a headlong charge into hell, and encapsulates how good Destruction are. The driving frenetic rhythms are overlaid with magnificent guitar squeals and dynamic shifts that up the speed of the playing even further. Hearing it is like being carried along by a musical whirlwind!
Part way during the set the stage is bathed in red, and orchestral music plays…a much needed respite, until a blood curdling laugh jolts everything back.
The set concludes with the guitarist Ol Drake joining the band for ‘Thrash Till Death’ and ‘Bestial Invasion’. The roof pretty much comes off as the band really start to fly and play their hearts out. Destruction are a band to treasure, and if you have any chance to see them live, grab it with both hands.
Collibus start proceedings off on the main stage, on the final day of the Festival. Vocalist Gemma Fox waves away the dry ice engulfing the stage and smiles. On ‘Dead Inside’ Gemma’s voice literally soars, as she sings “This is my revenge” with utter conviction. The song literally dances along, and has a great spiraling guitar solo.
This five piece melodic progressive metal band put on one of the standout sets of the festival. The set closer is ‘The False Awakening’, the title track off their debut album. It adds in lots of technical metal flourishes to a great song, and Gemma’s voice articulates an exciting blend of passion and melody.
From the stage Gemma shares that the band are recording a new album, and that she is about to record the vocals. On this form, it is an album to really look forward too!
Fury on the main stage are lots of fun, and never let up for a second during their set. ‘When the Hammer Falls’ is a real standout with its dynamic riffing and very heavy bass and drums interplay. Some nice touches too with the dual guitar sections. Mischievously they announce from the stage “Wales loves dragons…..well this is the Dragon’s Song”. At which a massive cheer goes up.
Power Quest who follow them, are also another band rising to the occasion in the face of adversity, having had two of the band leave on the eve of Hammerfest. The two new temporary members of the band had to learn the material in only 48 hours, and do a fantastic job.
Power Quest play power metal with drive and limitless energy. ‘Temple of Fire’, one of their classic numbers, is driven along at break neck speed with classic old school metal vocals from Ashley Edison, who has a great high pitched scream, in the manner of the great Ian Gillan of Deep Purple.
On the second stage the evil intensity of Cirith Gorgor is something to behold. The blast beats and guitars are pushed to maximum volume and intensity, reigning down on the audience, with Satanael’s screamed vocals pushing through the maelstrom.
The shifts of musical dynamic, from subtle, slow and atmospheric, to frenetic and floor shaking, show the magnificent range this band has. This is black metal in the raw! Satanael’s screamed vocals seem to speak to utter despair…perhaps a metaphor for how the world feels sometimes, and why metal resonates with so many people.
Unbelievably some fans with brightly coloured swimming rings weave a dance through the head banging metal heads ….only at Hammerfest!
What can one say about Evil Scarecrow….they were triumphant and completely taken to the hearts of Hammerfest. Heavy metal with the most fun you could ever hope to have!
Early on ‘Robototron’ sees everyone in the audience doing the choreographed robot moves except one security guy…. who is eventually persuaded. As Dr. Rabid Hell, guitarist and vocalist, tells the audience “I know it sounds stupid but if you don’t do it, you are going to be the ones that will look weird to be fair”
‘Dance of the Cyclops’ sees Hammerfest unbelievably being converted to “metal ballroom dancing”!
And of course there is ‘Crabulon’, their signature number which the band debuted at Hammerfest 5 years ago. This involves the audience scuttling from side to side and showing their crab claws in the air! The sight of metal heads, with massed crab claws held in the air, chanting Crabulon, including this reviewer, is ahem…amazing!!
Evil Scarecrow finish their set to roof raising applause, and Dr. Rabid Hell puts his fist to his heart. A wonderful band and a monstrously enjoyable set.
Alestorm are without doubt the true spirit of ‘pirate metal’, and respond to an enthusiastic audience, many dressed in incredible pirate costumes, with a rip roaring beginning to their set. Your reviewer though had to leave early, to catch the incomparable Finsterforst.
Finsterforst commence their set with atmospheric waves of sound flowing from the stage. They stand with their backs to the crowd with fists clenched. An acoustic guitar and accordion is heard before the band come in with a massively powerful sound, punctuated with blast beats. The keyboard flourishes add a real depth and eerie atmosphere to the sound.
The songs feel to have a very folklore core, mixed with a dynamic metal sound, and the bands self description of “Black Forest Metal” seems very apt. The songs have great melodies, and Oliver Berlin’s vocals are particularly strong, both in growled and clean form, seeming to soar over the audience. Strangely but wonderfully during the set, metal heads start doing a sequence dance to the music.
Cancer close out the main stage with their mix of death and thrash metal, accompanied by intense head banging and pits. ‘Into the Acid’ really shows off their unique combination of death and thrash metal to best effect, with some nice solo guitar sections. As the set continues past midnight, the band and audience do exceptionally well to keep the energy going, at the end of this amazing 3 day festival.
Hammerfest 2017 was quite simply an awesome showcase for some excellent metal music, in great surroundings!