Hammerfest is hard, it’s loud, and it’s brutal and yet again it threatens apocalyptic damage on the peaceful site in Pwllheli. Now in its 8th reign yet again it is being hosted under the HRH United umbrella along with HRH AOR, normally never the twain shall meet but they do share the common ground of stage 2 where we get Doom/Sleaze/Thrash/Stoner and Young Blood.
Looking through the line-up there is plenty to be looking forward to with some great headliners but as ever it’s the new bands to me that can be the most interesting, you can’t beat that feeling when you hear a band for the first time and just go “WOW!”
Despite the inevitable whining about the venue, the stages, and whatever else, we find its always the crowd that makes the weekend a success by getting out there for the bands and really supporting them en-masse. Sure the headliners will get a full stage but it was great to see so many other bands getting really great audiences from the openers at midday-ish to the last bands at 2am in the morning.
Thursday night is pre-festival party night and gives everyone the chance to settle in and start the weekend off with a bang and show openers Crashgate do just that, one of the Highway To Hell winners who after playing an awesome set have since announced a long term hiatus for the band. A shame, as they had some good music going on there.
The mix of awesome sound and the crowd reaction made Midlands-based Reign of Fury my band of the day; true hard/heavy metal with huge riffs and terrific twin guitars. Bison’s clear and powerful vocals cut through the sound which makes a refreshing change as so many times the vocals become lost in the mix.
Things don’t slow at all as they thrash through ‘Hypnotise The Masses’ and ‘Psycho Intentions’. Cries of ‘Born To Die” rang out before final track ‘World Detonation’ bought the set – and the crowd - to a final frenzy.
One of the hardest and heaviest bands I’ve heard for a long while are Druganaut who I first encountered a few years ago as they annihilated stage 2. Craig Relf delivers his churning vocals in between pulling poses like a strongman in a circus but they are certainly no circus clowns as they deliver a hard heavy stoner metal set.
You feel your internals being physically rearranged as the thumping bass drum and gut- wrenching fuzzed out bass lines rip through you. ‘Caradines Closet’ and ‘Equestrian Dreams’ gave you a chance to catch your breath in this hard hitting set.
Although more AOR than metal Stone Broken pulled off a really good set and in spite of some technical difficulties.
Hardcore groove metallers Def Con One delivered with a ferocity that reflected their ballistic name. Davey’s vocal delivery in ‘Warface’ is as vicious as it gets and backed by machine gun drumming and gut-wrenching bass lines. Only ‘Brute Force and Ignorance’ and ‘Soul Posessed’ offered temporary respite.
Battle Beast attracted a healthy-sized crowd – the only female fronted band this year at Hammerfest – but Noora Louhimo has what it takes to hold her own. ‘Enter The Metal World’ and ‘Out of Control’ ended this storming set from these Finnish Metallers. Italians Fleshgod Apocalypse conveyed a very stylish mix of metal and classic/operatic.
The welcome return of Finnish folk metallers Turisas was a highlight, inviting maximum crowd participation. Fiddle and ripping guitar solos mix freely to create a sound full of drama and with Mathias “Warlord” Nygård taking the helm the crowd lap it up.
I saw Dani Filth the previous year in Devilment when I was actually quite disappointed. Back fronting Cradle of Filth, and this time the show was a powerful set that saw Dani in fine form as he led the band through a number of tracks from the new album Hammer of Witches.
The powerful ‘Gilded C-nt’ rang out and finally ending with ‘Nymphetamine’, an awesome set only let down possible by the low height of the ceiling meaning the smoke jets didn’t get going fully. This was partly compensated by the lasses with the angle grinders showering the crowd with sparks. About time we had some real theatre this weekend.
Over on the Thrash stage Anihilated are true originals and really know how to do it right, big swathes of ripping guitars are called for as they keep a tired crowd fully enthralled and headbanging until the final song ‘We Are The One’.
Starting the event’s final day a posh guy in a tweed suit that hits the drums and a scruffy metal head that summons up the demons may be something of an anomaly. The OAF setlist may be even weirder, yet every year the crowd grows bigger and with it the expectations. ‘Yes Sir I Can Tina Turner’ and ‘Disgusted By Your Genitalia’ keep the already initiated amused.
Savage Messiah offer riffage aplenty and twin guitars as the one original member Dave Silver and Junior link up for that thick thrash sound.
I’m not sure what planet Trollfest came from but, boy, have they landed and the wackiness is spreading as more and more of the crowd appear with white lab coats on. With a set that starts with ‘Kaptein Kaos’ you know you’re in for a wild time. Folk Metal it may be, weird as hell it definitely is.
Leaving Planet Zog we came back down to earth with a hearty set of classic thrash from Evile. Their early Metallica influences are evident on the slower ‘Head Of The Demon’ but the set is mostly fast-paced, rounding off with the frenetic ‘Skull’ and ‘Thrasher’.
Headliners Exodus were fully justified. Thrash legends from the origin of the genre back in 1979 and like most bands have had a number of line up changes over the years. The current line up includes original drummer Tom Hunting and guitarist since 1971 Gary Holt, vocal duties taken up by the returning Steve Souza.
Currently touring the UK means they are battle-ready and it can be heard as they take us through a set that spans their career. Souza whips the crowd up and gets a decent pit going as they pummel the PA with ‘Body Harvest’ and ‘A Lesson in Violence’. Great lead and twin guitar work from Holt and Lee Altus. Huge applause and baying for an encore brings them back for the awesome ‘Bonded By Blood’ and ‘The Toxic Waltz’.
How could that set from Exodus be followed and for that matter who would want to follow it? The task was left to festival favourites Lawnmower Deth who I we last saw here a few years ago. Perhaps better described as the Thrash Metal Mac Lads they put fun and frolics into thrash music and end the night on a high and everyone leaves with a smile.
The Qemists‘ high energy mix of rock and drum/bass raises the pulses of the fans and BPM of the music one more time. Vocalists Bruno Balanta and Olly Simmons commanded the stage and they led the band and the crowd through an assault of the senses with a mix of pounding beats and stroboscopic lights.
The band signed off another awesome Hammerfest weekend and the healthy sales of tickets for next year’s event already reflect the loyalty and interest in this event even before bands are announced.
Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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09:00-12:00 AUTUMN’S CHILD Autumn’s Child (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 THE RAGGED SAINTS Sonic Playground Revisited (AOR Heaven)
14:00-16:00 AMBERLY CHALBERG Hi-Line (indie)
Power Plays w/c 20 January (Mon-Fri)
THUNDERSTICK Go Sleep With The Enemy (Roulette Records)
BUFFALO SUMMER Everybody’s Out For No.1 (Silver Lining Music)
ANCHOR LANE Dead Run (R7 Records)
MOLLY KARLOFF She Said (indie)
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THE KENDALL COLLECTION Staring Back At Me (indie)
VOODOO RAMBLE Midnight Train (indie)
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