Hammerfest 4 Review Part 1 – Friday
by Nicholas Holmes
Photos by Tess Donohoe (www.tessdonohoe.com/)
Hammerfest, organised by Metal Hammer magazine with the team behind Hard Rock Hell, celebrated St Patrick's Day weekend in thoroughly drunken style, with several thousand heavy metal fans making the bi-annual pilgrimage to the Pontins holiday complex at Prestatyn on the North Wales coast.
The line-up this year featured some true legends in the form of Big Four US thrashers Anthrax and Yorkshire's doom-driven Paradise Lost, plus Swedish death metallers Amon Amarth and eclectic, eccentric Welsh wonders Skindred – not to mention a huge bill of bands that may have been overlooked by others or new ones looking to make their mark.
The weekend includes fancy dress themes, band autograph sessions and a bustling market area where you can get tattooed, stock up on CDs, shirts and patches. Then there is the amusement arcade, open until 3am where hardcore party animals can win a giant-sized cuddly Winnie The Pooh to take to bed. Or not.
The event is all about the live music, and the bill covers numerous genres and tastes across three stages. There really is something that will appeal to everyone. Here are some of the highlights...
Highly appropriate to have an Irish band on the bill for Paddy's Day weekend, and Waylander display their Celtic heritage proudly, complete with tin whistle! “A Hero's Lament” begins with an affecting traditional sound, giving way to death metal-style aggression. “Echoes of the Sea” demonstrates affinity with warrior culture, a battle metal chugger with Irish flourishes followed by a melancholy interlude. As expected, they salute their nation's patron and head off to get bladdered!
Americans Chimaira step up next and deliver an unsettling set of harsh, groove-driven metal. The sound is crisp and crunchy, perfect for the band as they pummel a wild crowd with tracks including “Born In Blood”, “Severed” and fist-pumping closer “Resurrection”. Vocalist Mark Hunter prompts the audience to form circle pits and the whole band show a swagger borne from plenty of touring. Superbly savage stuff.
The main arena is packed as the stage is bathed in blue light, and an ominous intro plays over the PA. This heralds the arrival of British doom metal pioneers Paradise Lost. Frontman Nick Holmes now sings more cleanly on some tracks, and it adds an eerily affecting edge to songs such as the atmospheric openers “The Rise of Denial” and “Pity The Sadness”. He blurts “Hi De Hi, campers!” then apologizes for using the same joke last time the band played here. The band sound tight after a recent festival tour of Australia. Adrian Erlandsson's drumming takes on a hypnotic disco-style beat for haunting “Erased” and crowd favourite “Say Just Words”, evoking the spirit of the Sisters of Mercy's infamous Dr Avalanche machine, but in a live flailing person. A sight and sound to behold. Holmes notes their age – the band hit their 25th anniversary in 2013 – introducing “As I Die” as written “in the 1930s when we were schoolboys”. Nick's growl of old returns and stays for new track “Honesty In Death”, which should have long-time fans rejoicing. A mesmerising “Forever Failure” and the reaction to closer “Embers Fire” demonstrates how much they are revered.
Achren had the unenviable task of playing mostly during main headliners Anthrax, but a good number of people made the interval trip to check them out and it was well worth it. The Scottish band style themselves as blood metal, a hybrid of death, thrash, speed and black metal. Phew! Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Scott Anderson is a one-man example of this potent mix, his delivery ranges from Cookie Monster-style roars to menacing rasps and snarls to high-pitched screams, often in one song. This is perfectly demonstrated on epic serial killer tale “Manuel's Mile”, featuring a brilliantly maniacal laugh. He toasts the audience with Buckfast and in the pungently foul and airless atmosphere informs the crowd, “This is about how you are all going to die!” Fast-paced thrasher “Pestilence” sums it up well. They show versatility with slower title track of their debut album, “The Forgotten King”, and prove worthy of a much larger audience. Hopefully next time.
There is feverish anticipation and huge cheers as the intro tape for US thrash legends Anthrax begins to roll. The band, now in their fourth decade, show the spirit and energy of excitable teenagers as they burst onto the stage. Frontman Joey Belladonna is beaming like a lunatic, and immediately lays to rest any doubts about his vocal abilities. From frenetic opener “Earth On Hell” it is clear his range is intact and as strong as the rest of the band are sonically. Playing classics such as “Caught In A Mosh”, “Indians” and “Among The Living”, their showmanship is equally superb. Joey plays with the crowd, toasting them and giving a fan his beer while Scott Ian pauses to insist that “everybody in the place go fucking crazy! You at the back! The cripples! Everybody!” They even go right to the start of their career, airing the heavily NWOBHM-influenced “Death Rider” from their debut album. The encore is truly insane, with wild crowdsurfing appropriately soundtracked by “Madhouse”, “Metal Thrashing Mad” and a crushing “I Am The Law”. Total proof that age really is just a number. Astonishing.
After the euphoria of the headliners, younger thrash act Evile play a bullish graveyard-shift set and draw a decent crowd. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matt Drake thanks them for their support “after a shit week". “Descent Into Madness”, which reminds of early Metallica with bursts of speed and a chugging mid-section, and closer “Infected Nation” show why the Yorkshiremen are becoming a highly respected act. Drake introduces the latter by suggesting everybody “make the most of your life”, and his band are doing a good job of that.
By 2am the hangovers are already starting for some but Nottinghamshire's finest, Lawnmower Deth, send everybody to bed with a stupidly big grin on their face. The room housing the second stage is fetid with stale beer, stale people and stale farts. You'd need to smoke a cigarette – or ten – for fresh air. On second thoughts, flames would probably be a bad idea. The set is as much stand-up comedy and drunken rambles as it is attempts at songs – some simply short bursts of ear-splitting noise accompanied by epilepsy-inducing strobe flashes, such as “Drink To Be Sick” and “Did You Spill My Pint?”. The five-second blast of “Nothingness” is introduced as “our Burzum song” - Lawnmower Deth's answer to nihilism? There are some sounds recognisable as vague tunes, most notably “Sumo Rabbit” - and a sort of rabbit appears on stage, or “Is it a squirrel?!” ponders vocalist Qualcast Mutilator. Whoever it is, it is apparently their birthday for which they get chased, hit and covered in beer while the audience roars with approval. If there are any surviving grey cells functioning, they are finished off with the notorious cover of Kim Wilde's “Kids In America” and a touching twelve-second farewell, which ends in the roar of “Fuck off!!!!!” The even sweatier, smellier and sozzled punters then stagger out into the night, some still crowing the “na na na” refrain of “Kids...” A brilliantly brainless end to day one.
For the review of Saturday at Hammerfest 4, click here.
Hard Rock Hell Ibiza Road Trip http://www.hrhroadtrip.com/
Hard Rock Hell 6 http://www.hardrockhell.com/
Hammerfest 5 http://www.hammerfest.co.uk/
Paradise Lost http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/