Ahh, Hammerfest, there’s nothing quite like it. Always an early highlight in the annual festival calendar we’ve been looking forward to this one pretty much all winter. Maybe a holiday camp in North Wales in March doesn’t sound like Metal Valhalla but the Hard Rock Hell faithful make it their own.
For once we actually managed to arrive in good time for the kicking off of proceedings on the Thursday, which sees the action centred in main arena while everyone does an unwise amount of head banging and drinks an unwise amount of alcohol.
It was ever thus !!
The honour of kicking things off for Hammerfest’s 10th anniversary falls to Swedish pagans Grimner, and there’s nothing like a bit of folk metal to set the party mood. They certainly look the part, bedecked in Turisas leftover red and black faceprint. From left to right we have a Monk, a stable boy, a warrior, a butcher and, finally, a fluffy bassist, while the drummer appears to be in his nightshirt.
The band have arrived from Finland, where apparently they have proper snow and not the light stuff we get over here. It takes us about 10 seconds to decide that we really like Grimner. who “folk things up” with songs about evil faeries and suchlike.
You know that whole setting the bar high cliche, well we’re about to use it.
Grimner set the bar for the whole weekend.
Alas as we’re not familiar with Grimner we mostly had no idea what the songs were, you know the score, “This next song is called *raaawwwwrrrrr*” nope.. didn’t catch that. You could go to setlist FM to double check but you’d be at the mercy of the internet propensity to make shit up. “Tonight our hearts are filled with fire”,
This song is called.. oh bugger it we need subtitles.
One of the most notable things about Grimner was the butcher chap, who played that most metal of instruments, the whistle. I can imagine that conversation “can I join the Band ?” “What can you play?” “The Whistle!!”
“OK, you’re in”.
Well mostly on stage, certain members did spend a lot of time down on the barrier getting up close and personal with the fans down the barrier. Now the HF crowd is not usually one for early doors circle pits and wall of death type shenanigans but, well, FTR were so insistent that the crowd split down the middle that it would have been rude not to.
Feed The Rhino was followed by feed the CB gang, so the first trip of the weekend to the on-site Papa John’s pizza joint for a BBQ Chicken which was more the latter than the former.
Arguably the biggest and definitely the most extreme of the Thursday night delights, Anaal Nathrakh frankly just about broke us. A band worthy of the headline slot they failed to respect the advancing years of many of the Hammerfest faithful and had us pitting and bouncing about like young ‘uns. Always a band with a political angle, the threat of armageddon has never been higher, and Hold Your Children Close is their soundtrack for the end of days.
Oh, and thanks for the Jagermeister.
Frankly by the time Anaal Nathrakh had finished with us (ok, and the Guinness had kicked in) we were well and truly broken. The rest of the night was spent outside in the cool Welsh evening talking the usual critical mass of utter shite.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
In spite of the fact that, as usual, failed to take it easy on the Thursday evening TeamCb greeted the Friday in a surprisingly sprightly manner. We were even up at the second arena in time for events kicking off with Callus having the day’s “blow the cobwebs” away responsibility, which they managed with style.
It’s always great to see the Hammerfest faithful get out of their beds nice and early to catch the first bands..
.. that is the ones who made it as far as bed the night before.
We stuck around the second arena for the inimitable Sergeant Thunderhoof who dropped the frequency and raised the volume and provided the acoustic wallpaper for our traditional breakfast trip to the adjacent Starbucks to top up the caffeine levels and use the WiFi before the main arena opens for the day.
And wha better way to kick things off than with some freshly imported American shout-core? Well, ok, there are a few better ways to kick things off than with some imported American shout-core and Hammerfest has something for everyone. We did get the feeling that Fit For An Autopsy were going to be a bit of an odd fit in a Welsh holiday camp and so it turned out, withe the crowd being coaxed into a bit of action with the instruction “This song requires circle pits and things you would see at a slayer concert, if you’ve ever been to one”.
Yeah mate, when you were just a wee twinkle.
By the time we got to Salt Wounds there was still nothing pit-wise, but the crowd had warmed up a bit and were starting to get into the groove, even joining in with the Woo-ing as we went back in time to a “very old song, one of the first we wrote together as a band. The Jackal”, which was clearly one people had been waiting for and much banging of heads ensued down the barrier.
OK, so we must admin Fit For An Autopsy won us over, and by the time they signed off with “Thank you guys so fucking much. Let’s woo and drink some beers!!”
From American core to good old British steel next, and judging by the way the main arena had filled up Ballsdeep were the first band on many a fan’s Friday list and the self-styled “Heavy Metal Right Said Fred” didn’t disappoint, kicking the Hammerfestivities up a notch or two.
After the inevitable Thursday night overdoing it Fridays always need to start with a bang at Hammerfest, and so far that bang had probably been heard the other side of Offa’s Dyke. Something old, something new, something shouty and something Doom.
There are worse ways to start the day,
Ballsdeep were clearly having an, erm, ball too and we’d have happily had them stay on longer, but time was a-pressing. “I’d be here all day but other bands need a turn” we’re told, but very wisely “But I’m not going to tell Sepultura to fuck off”.
Aye, probably for the best. Same time next year lads ?
Next up on the main stage were CackBlabbath’s oldest band-friends Triaxis. Now they may be a bit “Trigger’s Broom”, with every part having been replaced at least once but there was no way we were going to miss this one. As we entered the photo pit we did notice that one of the guitarists looked a bit familiar, it was only the awesome Matt from Dakesis filling in for the now Powerquested Glynn. Of course where there’s one Dakesian you’ll always find the rest, and so it was with Gemma & Co. in various states of inebriation down at the barrier.
It’s sad to think that we’ll probably never hear tracks like Sker Point and Black Trinity live again, but in front of a packed main arena they were given a fitting send off. The band even threw in a crowd pleasing cover of Dio’s Don’t Talk To Strangers which got the place singing along.
If tis is really the end (and Bassist Becky Baldwin said it definitely was) then it was a fitting send off for Triaxis. They’ve come a long way since they played our first Twitrfrst a lifetime ago in Birmingham.
We made a quick visit to the second stage (not just because the bar queue was shorter there) and caught a bit of The Heretic Order who heralded the onset of the smoke machine / red light combo that we all know and love so much. We couldn’t stick around though, there was one of our unmissables on the main stage next…
We’ve waited a long time to see Acid Reign at Hammerfest and the band are glad to finally make it to Wales, it’s their favourite part of England apparently. “Who should have seen us in 2016? We fucked you right off!!”
Yeah H, well you made it this time so don’t be shit.
Which brings us to the question of the day.. what sort of festival goer throws clothes peg at the bands? OK, I know we’re in Wales but WTF ?? Maybe its advertising, as H put it “Throwing what you sell for a living”.
Since their long overdue resurrection Acid Reign have gone from strength to strength and although tonight they may not have quite reached the heights of their triumphant Bloodstock headline slot they still brought the party to Pwlhelli as the tempo of the day began to ratchet upwards.
Another legend was up next on the main stage, and although we’d been sadly neglecting the second stage there was no way we were going to miss this one. If there’s one man who epitomises the “always give it 100%” ethos it HAS to be Blaze Bayley. He’s in some of the form of his life at the moment, his recent albums have been corkers and, of course, he has some tracks from that wee band he was in to throw to the crowd like slabs of red meat to Lions.
Ably backed by the guys from Absolva (Come on, they must get a slot here in their own right soon, oh, they have, next year) Blaze brings all the power and the passion to Hammerfest with a career spanning setlist that went down an absolute storm. The Hammerfest faithful choose their heroes carefully, and Blaze repays the love chatting, drinking and signing all manner of stuff at the bar after the set.
While Blaze was meeting the fans, the stage was being set for one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend. I’m not sure their usual stage set includes a flight case in the middle of the stage, but the reason for that became clear when vocalist L. Ben Falgoust hobbled to the stage on crutches with his leg in plaster. Someone shouted out to ask him how it happened…
Only 30 ? Right.
Alas for Goatwhore things didn’t get off to the best of starts with the guitar amp unable to take the acoustic abuse and promptly giving up and breaking. There was one of those long, awkward pauses next while they tried to get that sorted and we did think maybe they should have brought H from Acid Reign back out to do some stand-up as the crowd (or certain arsehole elements of it) started to get restless and unnecessary.
Again we tried a quick visit to the second stage where Ohmms were dong their thing but we didn’t last long before we came back to the main arena because.. well.. Goatwhore are just fucking brilliant. Playing Bass like it’s a lead guitar and throwing proper crowd pleasing shapes that were alas lost in the smoke which even the band commented on, they reckon it’s like being in an alien movie.
Once again the phantom clothes peg thrower struck, getting the slightly bemused response “Throw marijuana or beer, not a fucking clothes clip” before we’re given one of those deep, philosophical questions, “Would you rather have your cock cut off or be fucked by Satan?”.
Erm, neither thanks.
After the raw power of Goatwhore the more intricate stylings of Obscura were robbed of some of their edge and a good number of punters headed for the bar to gt some additional refreshment ahead of the main event. We took the opportunity to head for some food, and the low point of the whole weekend ensued. People of the internet I implore you, if you find yourself at Hammerfest STAY AWAY FROM THE FISH AND CHIP SHOP. For something to be inedible to a drunk, starving festival goer takes some doing, but hats off, they managed it.
If someone had thrown the fish at the stage it would have knocked some poor bugger out.
But enough of that consumer advice.. it’s headliner time.
We love Sepultura, and no, we’re not in the “ooh, he doesn’t deserve to be there, bring back Max” camp. The band explode onto the stage, with Derrick Green totally dominating proceedings. Intense and brooding one moment, explosive the next he fronts a band on the top of their game.
The setlist is the usual mix of old and new, and the early double whammy of Kairos and Territory showcases a band that have lost none of their songwriting nous. Of course it helps that Andreas is still THE archetypical guitar god and even after nigh on three decades his riffs can still melt faces at 20 paces.
And, for us, that was it. Another great day in the Welsh gulag topped off by one of the best live bands on the planet. In the inevitable “band of the day” conversations we had on the way back to the chalet it was hard to look past the consummate headline performance and it would take something special to steal that crown…
But for us Goatwhore were that something special.