Hammerfest IV Overview
Hammerfest IV, Hammer of Thor. It doesn't really leave much to the imagination does it? Hammerfest nails its colours to the mast (of a Viking long ship obviously) and does exactly what it says on the tin, and why not!
Held over three days at Pontins holiday camp in Prestatyn as the sister festival to Hard Rock Hell, Hammerfest has really come into its own over the last four years and even without the draw of Anthrax as Friday headliners it would probably have been a sell out. The reasons for this are numerous but the bottom line is that this is an exceedingly well run festival that features a great line up over three stages that are only a stones throw from each other and you'd be hard pushed to find a friendlier and more enthusiastic crowd anywhere! Yes it works within the confines of the harder end of the metal genre but there is still a surprising amount of variety between the bands.
We land on site just after midday on Friday and it's already going off on stage three (situated within the Old Vic pub) where Northern Ireland outfit Trucker Diablo are going down well to a good size crowd with their hard edged biker rock but it's Arthemis, the first band on stage two that really set the tone for the weekend. Classic metal with all the trimmings? Big hair, big solos and big posturing are the order of the day and they are the first of many such bands over the next couple of days. Despite a good performance there aren't really any great tunes and it's all a little generic. Back in the pub One More Victim suffer from a terrible guitar sound, which coupled with heavy growled vocals makes much of their set come over like a wall of noise. It's a shame as there are some promising and more inventive parts in there but today you just can't pick them out. A couple of years ago Heavens Basement turned in a pretty exciting performance here in the pub at Hard Rock Hell so I'm interested to see how they've developed and how they come over on the bigger stage two. I don't know what it is about them, they seemingly have all the elements in place but something just doesn't quite work. They are musically tight and relatively new frontman Aaron constantly works the crowd (if anything he over does it) but they always seem a hairs breadth away from the really killer riff or whatever It is that makes you come away from a set thinking "wow". Each to their own though, someone later tells me that they were easily their band of the day.
First up on the main stage are Diamond Plate who put in a really confident performance considering they are not old enough to drink back in their home town of Chicago. Their big, heavy thrash riffs go down well and they pretty much smile all the way through, clearly loving the experience of playing on the main stage. They do their thing well without ever blowing me away but this set along with touring with Anthrax gives them plenty to smile about. The first sight of FuryUK on the second stage makes me do a double take as they are doing exactly the same fist pumping and "hey, hey, hey" shout that Diamond Plate were doing just moments earlier! It's hard to fault the performance and they put on an entertaining show but again the killer hook is lacking and it's starting to get frustrating because they aren't far away but they just need that extra something to take them up a level. Asmovel bring something a little different to the party with a more 80s dirty rock and roll sound. Let's see, who do we know that personifies that sound? Oh yeah, that would be Motorhead and that's exactly who Asmovel sound like, which is no bad thing but towards the end they get dangerously close to actually becoming Motorhead with Shoot Ya Down, such is the similarity! They break the day up nicely though and go down well and they also take the prize for being the first band to make a "hi-de-hi" comment.
UK hardcore exponents RSJ deliver a pretty blistering set on the second stage. It's loud, exceedingly intense and very energetic! Watching their set is kind of like being pinned down and smacked in the face with a spade repeatedly ...but in a good way! Theirs is not music for the faint of heart, it's hard and very heavy and without the impact of the live performance I might find it hard going but when combined with the in your face antics of the singer it really works. I don't remember any of their songs, which perhaps tells another story but the impact and performance are not easily forgotten.
Recent line up changes saw many heralding the end of Chimera but on tonight's evidence these reports are seriously premature. Chimera are seriously loud tonight, loud and brutal and displaying the kind of class that sets them apart from many of the other bands on the bill today. They have that stage presence that makes them engaging even if you don't like the music but even then the intensity and power that they put over makes the whole package pretty damn impressive. Can headliners Anthrax match that? The answer to that question is quickly apparent as they are just fantastic tonight. The sound is great and the whole band really go for it throughout the set. If there was any doubt as to why Anthrax are cited as an influence by later bands it is clear once they play Deathrider from their first album (1983). It sounds as massive tonight as it did back in the day and considering it's nearly 30 years old it easily stands up alongside anything any other band produces this weekend. The set is littered with classics from the opener of Earth On Hell through Indians and Deathrider to the mass shout-a-long of I Am The Law. Anthrax bring it home tonight and show the younger bands on the bill just exactly what it takes to have a career that spans four decades. That would be a great end to the day except at Hammerfest the tunes don't stop with the headliners! Stage two plays host to one of the bands of the weekend in the shape of self styled metal parody band Evil Scarecrow. They may well be overtly silly and over the top but there is some seriously good musicianship going on up there and the only two songs I find myself remembering from the whole day are Blacken the Everything and the brilliant Robototron. The large crowd love it and when they finish with a death metal version of The Final Countdown the whole crowd sings along. Well worth checking out should you get the chance!
Lawnmower Deth round off the evening in their own unique way! Thrash metal with a huge dollop of humour and as always they are highly entertaining as they rattle through such classics as Satan's Trampoline and Icky Ficky. These days they clearly just do it for fun and it's almost as if the music takes a back seat to the between song banter. As a result it's not the best I've seen them in terms of the overall performance and after Evil Scarecrow it's a little flat but at 2am in the morning it will do just nicely thanks!
One real bonus of having a festival somewhere like Pontins is that when you wake up the next day with the obligatory raging hangover, you can head down to the canteen and for five quid you can eat as much greasy breakfast as you wish. Best fiver I spent all weekend! So suitably set up for the day we head out to brave Cerebral Bore's set of extreme death metal on the second stage. There are two very notable things about this band; the first being that the drumming sounds like a woodpecker demolishing a tree and the second being vocalist Simone "Som" Pluijmers incredible voice! Incredible in the sense that if you weren't looking at her then you wouldn't know it was a woman singing and just where she gets her distinctive guttural growl from is beyond me. They get a good pit going and a great reaction but anyone still trying to shake off a hangover will have been pummelled into submission by this performance.
Taking the short walk through to the pub we find Redmist Destruction delivering a hard hitting performance of relentless driven metal. Unfortunately the mix is not great for them but they go down well with the enthusiastic crowd nonetheless. Kingston Upon Hull's Sworn Amongst impress with a good set back on the second stage. They get a fair few heads nodding with some big riffs and impressive lead guitar work. Amongst so many bands of a similar ilk you need something extra to stand out and Sworn Amongst have it with some catchy tunes. Good stuff. I'm starting to feel a bit like a yo-yo as we head back to the pub yet again for Dripback. They get a big crowd and do their thing well enough with growling vocals and pummelling riffs but there is nothing original here.
Avenger prove a welcome change of style, bringing a more classic rock/metal sound to proceedings. As you would expect from a band formed in 1982 it's old school in sound but it still packs a punch. Singer Roddy B displays a decent vocal range as he hits the high notes and the only down side really is that you just can't hear the guitar solos in the mix. It's a shame but it doesn't detract too much from what has been a good set, despite some mistakes for which Roddy B apologises. They are followed on stage two by Senser, who get a really good crowd in and prove yet again that they are far more than a nostalgia act going through the motions. The new material is as strong as anything that has gone before and with really good beefy sound behind Nick Michaelson's guitar they pull off a really strong set. There's no Kerstin or her regular stand in iMMa today so it's left to Heitham to take vocal duties alone and he does a fine job, displaying a real passion in his delivery. The set is short but all killer, Channel Zero is fantastic, as is 2,3 Clear and the traditional ending of Eject predictably gets all heads bobbing. We've said a lot of positive things about Senser over the last couple of years but it's almost impossible not to! Everytime we see them they bring it home and today is no exception so not surprisingly this is one of the sets of the weekend.
A quick walkabout affords us the chance to take in a couple of songs from Elimination and Virus. Elimination seemingly have the thrash metal genre well covered and sound like I expected, there is nothing to fault but equally nothing really jumping out at me either. Virus on the other hand are devastatingly loud and there is a real intensity to their performance. Singer/guitarist Coke Finlay clearly relishes the chance to play on this stage and whilst the crowd is small it's very appreciative. We're heading into the home straight now and who better to take us there than Amon Amarth? Theirs is a set of excellent Viking infused metal in front of a big crowd on the main stage. Vocalist Johan Hegg never stops working the stage and cajoling the crowd into singing along. He does take the time to point out "don't worry if you don't know the words, this is death metal, nobody can tell"! The rest of the band are fantastic musicians and as a unit they present a really compelling and entertaining show which gets the crowd well warmed up for headliners Skindred.
Skindred pack out the main arena and from start to finish they absolutely rip it up tonight. I've seen them numerous times over the years but this has to be the best by some margin, they are simply phenomenal! The sound is spot on, the crowd is ready to get whipped into a frenzy and there really isn't a better frontman for that job than Skindred's Benji Webbe. Initially resplendent in an all white suit and top hat he has the whole room in his hand from the off. He gets the crowd singing along, competing against each other and engaging in the infamous Newport helicopter! In the past I've seen him overdo this to the point where it detracts from the impact of the music but tonight he gets it just right and his injection of humour ensures that the mood in the pit is all smiles.
The set list spans the whole back catalogue and features a mix of old and new songs, all delivered with high energy by a band who seem to be buzzing off the whole experience. Pressure, Roots Rock Riot, the excellent Doom Riff from last album Union Black, the tunes just keep coming and the performance is ridiculously tight. I confess I wasn't sure they would handle the headline slot considering Anthrax had it on Friday and after hearing some punters musing on just who exactly are Skindred? I needn't have worried, they totally pulled it off and then some. Superb.
After Skindred there's time to squeeze in one more band before we call time on our Hammerfest experience and that band turns out to be Holosade. Crap name I know but I am pleasantly surprised at how good they are. Clean vocals work well with crisp riffs, which combined with really good sound and a solid performance all makes for a good showing. It's still in the thrash vein but just a bit slower than most of the bands this weekend and that really works for them. The reaction from the crowd is fairly reserved, which in itself is unusual by the standards of the weekend and that's a shame as Holosade deserved better.
And that's that! Knackered and deaf we head off back to our chalet on what one member of Skindred dubbed the "heavy metal council estate"! In summary Hammerfest IV was a pretty triumphant event, the whole event had a really relaxed vibe about it, the stages were within easy walking distance (no more than a minute really!), the on-site food and beer was reasonably priced and I didn't see a hint of any aggro. If you want an indication of how much the punters enjoyed it just compare the moaning and bitching that you get on the Download forum after the event to the almost unanimous positive comments on Hammerfest's community sites. With limited places Hammerfest is usually a sell out so do yourself a favour and get in early for next year, you won't be disappointed.
Hammerfest IV Overview