The sun was shining on North Wales on Saturday, as Aussie pirates, corpse-painted Scandinavians and giant futuristic crabs descended on Hafan y Môr. HRH Mag’s Richard Holmes witnessed the mayhem…


Sons Of Anarchy

Last day of a three-day metal festival? 1pm in the afternoon? You’re going to need some rollicking rock and roll. And Hammerfest got just that, courtesy of York quintet The Bastard Sons. They may have had a few tipples at Friday’s afterparty, but they didn’t let it show, putting huge grins on faces with their ballsy, metallized stomp and the (kind of) funky ‘hit tune’ Release The Hounds. “We’re like the Justin Bieber of mediocre metal,” exclaimed jovial vocalist JJ. Don’t do yourselves a disservice lads…

The Blackening

A slew of black metal acts hit Arena 2 on Saturday, initially battling to create the necessary menacing atmosphere due to the (otherwise welcome) bright sunshine beaming through the roof. The spectral tales of Darlington’s Old Corpse Road, for instance, are best served up in a dark basement bar and sadly they struggled to build up a crowd – although the North Easterners’ set showed why they’re earning a reputation as a more refined live force nowadays.

Dutchmen Cirith Gorgor faired better, their hateful, intricately structured BM akin to Marduk’s raging torrent, but it took Norway’s Kampfar to truly ignite this part of Hammerfest. “Out first time in Wales and first time in a holiday camp,” revealed frontman Dolk, who set about turning Hafan y Môr into Helvete, whipping up an inferno of barbed riffery and charred folk melodies. Swarm Norvegicus, especially, dripped with malevolence, proving that you don’t have to employ blastbeats to make your point. And that’s something that Swedes Ereb Altor also know only too well, their dramatic Bathory-inspired set climaxing with a stunning version of Twilight Of The Gods, a tribute to black metal progenitor Quorthon.

Welcome To The House Of Fun…

…or rather a packed Arena 1, where pirate hats, inflatable hammers and tankards brimming with rum were de rigueur come late Saturday.

Evil Scarecrow brought the garish costumes and props straight from the set of 1970s Dr Who – including a particularly evil mutant crustacean. They also brought their zany sense of humour, and had a great time turning the entire crowd (plus a security guard) into automotons, as Robotron blasted from the speakers.

Alestorm, meanwhile, ditched the pirate garb and instead looked for all the world like an early 90s skate thrash band. With a kilt and even a fetching black bra thrown into the mix, obviously.

Are they a one trick pony? Perhaps. But the Perth-based power/folk metallers have worked tirelessly to turn themselves into a bona fide headliner, pulling in more and more devotees with every festival appearance. And you can’t argue with rousing rock shanties such as Nancy The Tavern Wench, especially when it’s sung with such heart by a room full of fans, holding their pint glasses aloft.

Yet it was a bunch of Aussie brigands who really stole the show: Lagerstein sailed all the way from Brisbane to get to North Wales (we’re betting a fair amount of grog was consumed en route) and were greeted with the kind of reaction they could have only dreamed about.

Commanded by the imposing figure of Captain Gregaaarrr, the swashbuckling Queenslanders looked like the biker gang from Mad Max if they’d turned to high seas buccaneering to make their dough. They also threatened to blow the roof of Hafan y Môr’s centrepiece leisure complex with the likes of Jungle Juice and Pirate Music Piracy. Will they return? You wouldn’t bet against it…

A Fitting Finale

Hammerfest has long been a place where we’re been reminded of the immensely powerful, intense music that the UK can produce – even if it still lurks in the underground.

For punks and metallers of a certain vintage, the sight of Hellbastard annihilating Arena 2 was pure joy. With their Ripper Crust demo back in 1986, frontman Malcolm ‘Scruff’ Lewty and his fellow Geordies defined a genre, so it was fitting that Massacre, from that legendary recording, got a particularly vicious airing, along with the likes of Pylons and Shame On Us. A caustic mix of UK hardcore and Slayerised riffs, belted out at 11.30 at night? Yes please.

Cancer, too, have their roots in the 80s, and having reformed in 2013, the Telford trio are gathering a head of steam. We’re yet to see new material yet, but as their Saturday appearance at Hammerfest showed, the death metal veterans are tight, slick and hungry – and their reward was a decent showing from a crowd who should have been completely worn out by 11pm.

Burning Casket, Hung, Drawn and Quartered, Into The Acid… a quarter of a century has done nothing to dilute the immense groove of their early work, and those songs were made all the more potent via a crushing performance from Messrs Walker, Stokes and Buchanan.

Armagh’s pagan metal troubadours Waylander had the honour of closing the show: a tough task, given it was past midnight, but the warpaint-daubed sextet did themselves proud with a relentless set of Celtic-flavoured extreme metal.

Until next year, then…