It’s Saturday at HRH United and I must admit with Dan Reed Network and Quiet Riot appearing at HRH AOR tonight I could be tempted to split my metal loyalty. Or could I? Of course not, it’s day three of HRH Hammerfest and I’m here for the duration.
As brutal as they are funny (and they are very funny) the mighy Oaf are Dom Lawson, who strums and shouts, and James Rayment who hits things. With absurdly beautiful song titles such as ‘Wanking With A Fistful Of Shit’, ‘Giant Ballbag’ and ‘I’m Retarded’, if you’ve not heard them before – there will be those wishing to avoid them, and YOU – the majority I expect – who will be Googling them right now. “How many of you have been unlucky enough to see us before?” asks Dom. “It doesn’t get any better than this” he assures us, before ‘Yes Sir, I Can Tina Turner’ a song about being drunk and thinking you can dance. Undertaking some serious promotion for the upcoming third album, Dom suggests “It’ll probably sell similar numbers to the previous two .. fuck all!” before crowd favourite ‘Fuck Off Seagull’ sees inflatable seagulls held aloft in the crowd. “Sing along you cunts!” they’re encouraged, and a thing of idiocy occurs. Oaf are Brighton’s premier exponents of deeply peculiar and obnoxious hardcore pronk and worth attention. As Dom explains: “I’m a professional writer, that’s why this is high quality shit!” and to be far – he’s not wrong.
Formed in 2007 as Snakebite, Stoneghost are destined for big things according to reviews I’ve read regarding their 2015 album release ‘New Age of Old Ways’. As soon as the band let loose with the frantic pace of ‘The Sound Remains’ and the infectious riff of ‘Raynardine’ there’s a welcome ferocious assault on the senses which immediately ties in with those press opinions. With Jason Smith’s full on vitriolic vocal attack and the heavy riffage and superb guitar grooves from Andrew Matthews, Stoneghost have created an awesome blend of hardcore, metal and adrenaline fuelled rock. During ‘Faceless Ghost’ I could be listening to Lamb Of God, but then with ‘Devils Motion’ and ‘Third Degree’ come variations like Crowbar and Down. The sound and live performance is upheld by the solid and expeditious drumming of Chris Finnis and the hefty bass lines of Jamie Nash, and through set finisher ‘Laplace’s Demon’ – from Snakebite’s debut album ‘Created From Nothing’ – there’s a slower paced, doomier number. It’s an intense and rich tapestry Stoneghost have to offer, and this weekend these boys are definitely the unexpected stand out band for me.
From the off ‘Heathen Rapture’ and ‘Between Two Worlds’ prove that Savage Messiah are purveyors of modern day thrash metal at its finest. Lead vocalist and guitarist Dave Silver has a powerful vocal – albeit very clean – which carries a good range of melody, highlighted in ‘Hellblazer’ from the 2014 album ‘The Fateful Dark’. From the same release is ‘Zero Hour’ which has plenty of fists pumping and heads banging, acknowledging this fast and aggressive output is exactly what Hammerfest wants. “I don’t give a shit about rugby” says Dave before launching into ‘Cross of Babylon’, a track sure to kick anybody in the teeth should they still be sat in the bar watching the Six Nations. Savage Messiah are technically superb, the guitar work of Silver and Sam S Junior, is tight and precise with some divine solos. Combined with the pummeling drums of Andrea Gorio and Mira Slama‘s bass, they stand clear above any similar competition. Sounding similar to Exodus and Testament in places but stamping their up-to-date originality, a brilliant cover of Motörhead’s ‘Killers’ and the superb multi-paced ‘Minority of One’ brings an impressive set to an end.
A huge crowd turns out to see seven-piece Norwegian folk metal band Trollfest. This is a genre I’m not familiar with or likely to ever have much care for, but if it’s a party band you’re looking for – this is where it’s at. Included in the weird, lab coated line-up is an accordion player, a saxophonist, a couple of odd guitarists and Trollmannen – the frontman who smacks merry hell out of a snare drum. It’s nothing short of chaos, a full throttle dance-athon, and considering most of Trollfest’s lyrics are written in the fictional Trollspråk, which is a mixture of Norwegian and German, it’s kind of hard to know what’s going on at the best of times. However, what is clear is that this is drinking music, so Trollmannen quite rightly takes the mick out of his small, low strength rider beer. Tracks include ‘Kaptein Kaos’, ‘Brumlebassen’ and ‘Solskinnsmedisin’ but it really is all just Trollspråk to me. There’s a cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ which is no less weird than anything else but the crowd love it and the accompanying mad dancing. Trollfest are a strange experience but ultimately an original experience. What else can I tell you, apart from the masses here lap it up.
I can feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck as the intro to ‘Black 13’ fires-up, and by the time the house is banging along to ‘Blood In, Blood Out’ my heart is doing exactly that. “Wales, are you ready for some violence?” asks Steve Souza, with the obvious almighty response. It’s a supreme encounter as the band give it their all and the pit goes mad for track after track of ferocious thrashing authority. Off the influential 1985 debut masterpiece ‘Bonded By Blood’ comes ‘And Then There Were None’ before ‘Deranged’ sends waves of that audible violence across the room. I’ve seen variations of Exodus, since the first time in 1985, so when Souza asks if we can believe it’s been 30 years since ‘Bonded By Blood’ was released, it’s an engrossing thought to share. A true Exodus track, “one about body parts” is ‘Body Harvest’ before we go old school with ‘Piranha’ and ‘A Lesson In Violence’ which Souza dedicates to Lemmy. This current lineup – without Gary Holt on Slayer duty – take it to the end with insane power and energy, finishing the job off with ‘Toxic Waltz’ and ‘Strike of the Beast’. Exodus prove to be first class, band of the weekend, bar none.
Following a headline show from Exodus takes a special kind of band, and Lawnmower Deth are exactly that. These nutters go back to the late 80’s when they figured that putting the fun into thrash was the way to fame and fortune. We were right behind them back then, and since their 2008 revival we remain devoted to the cause. Pete Lee (aka Qualcast “Koffee Perkulator” Mutilator) enters with a deal: “We’ll play if everybody leaves with a smile on their face”, but there was no doubting that. In between the banter about Evil Scarecrow perhaps one day being as good as them and “white wine” [Phil Anselmo] references there’s the lunacy of ‘Drink To Be Sick’, ‘Icky Ficky’, ‘Watch Out Grandma Here Comes A Lawnmower’ and ‘Did You Spill My Pint?’ to name a few. Pete has the crowd gently roll from one side to the other to get one over on Dani Filth’s failed request for stage divers: “That’s how you do it son!” he proudly claims victory. The set includes a conga, massive balloons and horns held aloft for ‘Satans Trampoline,’ before the infamous ‘Kids in America’ cover and ‘Fuck Right Off’. “You’ve been awesome fun” says Pete. And we say – all hail the Lawnmower Liberation Front!
And so ends another superb Hard Rock Hell event. This was my first HRH United where HRH AOR and Hammerfest have been combined. It’s safe to say it’s been a great success and the two festivals and audiences have worked far better together than I may have first envisaged. If it’s the same combo next year and I’m lucky enough to cover it again – I just hope there might be some main arena action for the harder, faster, Hammerfest lineup.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston // Rock Music Photographer