Hot on the heels of Hard Rock Hell, HammerFest is best described as its evil twin designed to sate your lust for all forms of heavy metal for the other half of the year. Hundreds of metal fans descend on Pontins holiday village, Prestatyn for a weekend of music, beer, and whatever else they think they can get away with. The first obstacle, however, is the lack of signposts. Fortunately, old hands from HRH know where they’re going, and we wander into the remarkably sedate holiday park and check in just as the bands start.

The lack of signposts, meaningful maps, or any sort of hint of what’s going on is a pain in the backside, so consider finding out before hand which bands are playing on which stage at any particular time, if you’re not into aimless wandering. We eventually twig that Stage Three is in the corner of the Queen Vic pub. This is probably the most inspired idea of the weekend. It’s the first stage to open on both days, and the first to shut down once the two bigger stages start up. It also has a bar within easy reach (obviously), and you can even sit in the sunshine outside and hear the likes of Thirteenth Sign and The Defiled burst out of the very crowded pub. It’s a great atmosphere, if a little small. But if you’re socialising, it’s the best place to meet up and hear the latest up-and-coming bands in an intimate setting.

Stage Two is the most varied, playing host on the Friday to the thrash and power metal bands such as Evile, and then everything from Grand Magus to battle metal trio TYR, Alestorm, and Waylander on the Saturday. You really cannot fault the thought put into the diversity of the line-up this weekend. Even retro doom metallers Cathedral were drafted in, for the connoisseur. It’s also the best arena to chill out in, as much as you can with the volume at 11 (it doesn’t bother you after the first few bands, although the more sensitive should seriously consider earplugs, as the noise is a constant barrage). The bar stretches the length of the room, and you can stand on the floor or relax at tables either side, if it’s not your thing. Don’t want to queue for the bar? Those lucky souls with VIP passes had special bars in which to avoid the common or garden drinkers and get served quicker. One of those passes allowed you access to the seating, the VIP bars, the quick routes out of the buildings… it’s worth spending the extra on, as it really makes the weekend. Simple things, eh?

Stage One has a good split between seating (for VIP punters) and standing, and only really fills beyond capacity for the headliners. You won’t get a better opportunity and atmosphere to watch bands like HammerFall and Paradise Lost in. Or company, as you’re guaranteed to get chatting to some very nice people. It’s not a festival for one ‘type’ of metal fan; young punks rub leather-jacketed-shoulders with older fans. The only rule is that there’s no under-16s. Which suits most people fine.

The staggered showtimes of the various stages are a blessing, because there’s a good chance you could see most of the bands you like without missing more than one or two songs from the beginning and ends of the sets. And for the fussy, there’s more choice of genre than you could shake a metal-studded-gloved fist at. Don’t like thrash metal? Doesn’t matter, there’ll be classic, power, doom, nu, battle, extreme… you get the idea. Guaranteed that none of the stages will be over-crowded, but it won’t empty either. The obvious exceptions were the crowds who crammed in to see Sepultura, Saxon, and Opeth, but it was far from the life-threatening brawl your mother would worry about.

Got some time on your hands between bands? They left the amusement arcade open, which added to the party atmosphere. There’s a smattering of stalls selling everything from jewellery to records to clothing and patches. And of course, the band merchandise stalls changed daily, so if you wanted to show your support for your hard rock heroes, better be quick. But it was far from being bombarded with distractions. As regards food; unless you bring your own, or fancy chips every night, your best bet may be to discover the local cafés in Prestatyn, it is, after all, a holiday park canteen. If you demand to be entertained all the time à la Glasto, there’s a fair bit of waiting you wouldn’t like.

If you can forgive every band from making the same (bad) Hi-De-Hi puns, there’s never a better chance to get up close and personal with your favourite band members, as they often stayed around as punters as well.

So, you have more metal than can possibly be legal, food, a party atmosphere, and actual sunshine! I’m sure the organisers couldn’t have planned it, but even the palest extreme metal fan found themselves basking in the glorious atmosphere and copious Jagermeister outside at one point. HammerFest 2009 may be a new festival, but on this performance it can only go from strength to strength. A hit with bands and fans alike. It may be showing the tell-tale signs of being a fledgling event, but the quality of the music and organisation was excellent. And the most striking thing? You weren’t treated like idiots. The security staff occasionally checked various passes, but they weren’t an overpowering presence. There were no humiliating requests for ID, no rough handling of crowds, and they were always polite (you’d be amazed at the difference this makes after so long on the gig circuit). And you know what the organisers got in return for this trust and respect for their customers? No trouble whatsoever. It was one of the most peaceful events I’d ever attended. Hooray for smashing the stereotypes! And hooray for none of that undignified tent business, chalets all the way!

I guess we’ll see you all at Hard Rock Hell III this winter…