Grindcore, thrash, doom, sludge – and good old fashioned, anthemic heavy metal. It was all happening at Hammerfest IX’s second day, as HRH Mag’s Richard Holmes found out.
Riff It Up
Black Sabbath may have brought their illustrious career to an end, but in North Wales, the spirit of Osbourne, Iommi, Ward and Butler was there for all to see. The second stage especially was a cornucopia of low end riffery, rumbling grooves and mighty beards.
Wigan’s Boss Keloid grabbed Hammerfest by the throat and exhaled great lungfulls of planet-levelling, downtuned riffs into it: riding on the back of 2016’s Herb Your Enthusiasm, the quartet proved why they are rapidly rising up the doom ladder. Slabdragger too used the opportunity to lay down a marker, pulling everyone into their own gravitational field and then pulverising them with songs like Dawncrusher Rising.
In contrast, Pist – though entertaining – lacked the vision and imagination that could have put them on the same level as their fellow sludgers.
21st century metal isn’t exactly awash with anthems, so it’s a good job that Grand Magus are around to write the kind of fist pumping, pulse quickening ditties that were so prevalent back in the 80s.
Frontman JB Christoffersson is class personified, from his stunning vocal delivery to the warmth he displays towards his fans. And together with his cohorts, the flying-V wielding singer delivered the goods in North Wales.
The Swedes’ Hammerfest set simply bulged with molten metal singalongs, from 2008’s Like The Oar Strikes The Water to Sword Songs’ pounding Freya’s Choice. Yet even those majestic songs were eclipsed by set closer Hammer Of The North, which saw a jubilant audience roar along to the song in unison… even after JB had wrung the last notes from his guitar. It was the kind of spine tingling moment that events like Hammerfest seem to create, and will live long in the memory for those fortunate enough to witness it.
And although they lacked the visceral power of Grand Magus, Sweden’s Hammerfall also flew the flag for classic heavy metal, with a defiant Hammer High a particular highlight. Rather appropriate, don’t you think?
“We’re one afro missing,” noted Barney Greenway, as he pointed to the rather odd spectacle of a Napalm Death sans Shane Embury at Hammerfest. The multi-tasking bassist is currently battering his four strings for Brujeria in Central America, but in ex-Nasum man Jesper Liveröd, his band had a worthy stand-in.
Greenway, typically, was a livewire, a burst of positive vibes and manic, unbridled energy. And while a worrying injury to a crowd member temporarily derailed Napalm Death’s set, grindcore’s elder statesmen quickly got back on track, giving the Hammerfest crowd a punishing workout with songs like Scum and From Enslavement To Obliteration. A slew of covers, including anti-fascist diatribe Nazi Punks Fuck Off, Hirax’s Hate, Fear and Power, and The Offenders’ Face Down In The Dirt, was also a real treat, especially for the more mature members of the audience.
Granted, John Cooke’s guitar could have had more bite, but with the loveable Greenway in such great form, the quartet were unstoppable.
Hammerfest loves thrash. Kreator, Overkill, Hirax, Exodus, Evile, SSS and many more thrashmongers have graced its stages over he years.
And while it was a shame that Chile’s Criminal had to pull out of the festival, Pwllheli was still able to savour a slew of acts who know a chugging riff and a hi-top sneaker when they see one. Take Solitary for instance. The Preston quartet may have lost much of the stage 2 crowd to Napalm Death, but, determined to make up for a stop start career, they tore through new tracks like Architects of Shame like their lives depended on it. Warlord UK brought a brutal, deathlier vibe to Stage 2, while Virus, fronted by a bandana clad Coke McFinlay, unleashed a vicious crossover assault on Hammerfest, partying like it was 1986 all over again.
Over on the main stage, German legends Destruction should have been one of the draws of the weekend. Yet a combination of a late start (due to Napalm Death’s splintered set), a tired crowd and a tepid guitar sound conspired against them – despite the best efforts of man mountain Schmier, who brandished his bass as if it was a Neolithic weapon.
Thankfully, the teutonic thrash veterans persisted, sparking the crowd into life with Nailed To The Cross and going for the jugular with a tremendous finale of Thrash Till Death and Bestial Invasion – aided by former Evile axeman Ol Drake. “One of the UK’s best guitarists,” exclaimed a smiling Schmier as he acknowledged Destruction’s surprise guest star. We wouldn’t argue with that.
*Exclusive Images By HRH Festivals Photographer Simon Dunkerley