Early on today we learn that due to delays on the motorway Acid Reign will not be appearing as planned. As a massive fan back in the day I was really looking forward to seeing these guys, so to say that I’m “gutted” is an understatement.
Recently voted as runners-up in the ‘Best New Band’ category of the annual Planet Rock Awards, I was quite surprised to find Stone Broken on the Hammerfest line-up. Kicking off with the impressive latest single ‘Not Your Enemy’ there’s no doubt the Walsall quartet have some ballsy material on their debut album ‘All In Time’, but as the set progresses with the arena rock and catchy choruses of tracks such as ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘Stay all Night’, I suspect this gig was planned as a challenge for the band rather than a treat for true Hammerfest fans. Vocalist and guitarist Rich Moss says “it’s an absolute honour to be playing this stage” and in all fairness I have to agree with him. Not that I’ve got anything against what Stone Broken are doing – I just don’t think Hammerfest is the right place for it. But as they rock through a set of decent radio friendly tunes, I’m sure they will pick up some new fans here today and good luck to them.
The HRH United second stage is used throughout the weekend under different guises. During the first half of this afternoon it becomes HRH Doom, so I take a wander across for young Blackpool four-piece Phantom Sea and .. Wow! Ok, so these lads could do with some work on their visual presentation, but the audio output is well beyond their years. If you take a seriously heavy blend of death, groove, sludge, doom and self-proclaimed influences such as Sabbath, Gojira, Strapping Young Lad and Mastodon – you’ll be riding the wave of Phantom Sea. There are some massive riffs with Mark Millard packing a brutal lyrical punch and Matt Mcloughlin interspersing technical proficiency through the likes of ‘Thunderhead’, ‘Prepare For More’ and from the forthcoming album ‘Vulture Down’ the stomping ‘Swap Thing’. As bassist Kyle Worrall and drummer Matt Longshaw pump out the hefty rhythms to the end of a superb set with ‘Absolution’ – one of six fine tracks on the band’s debut EP ‘The Witching Hour’ – it’s plain to see that if lead the right way and given appropriate opportunities, Phantom Sea are one to keep an eye on.
Def Con One
I first saw Def Con One – featuring former Venom drummer Antton Lant (brother of “Cronos”) – at Bloodstock in 2011, and they are a band who I knew would bring a welcome ferocious groove to Hammerfest. Davey Meikle leads the assault on the decent sized throng, opening up with the newbie ‘Bombshell’ and pouncing around as fans show familiarity to back catalogue tracks ’10 Bullets’ and ‘In Death’. A Pantera-esque, hardcore intensity and rage pours down on any unsuspecting soul as guitarist Johnny Hunter and bassist Steve Miller give it their full aggression, while another new track ‘Last Goodbye’ highlights Davey’s diverse vocals and the rhythmic tightness and quality of the band. ‘Brute Force and Ignorance’ leads Davey into showing his appreciation for the Hammerfest support – “I’m feeling the love man” he says, before ‘No More Hate’. The top drawer brutality of ‘Warface’ and ‘Soul Possessed’ bring Def Con One proceedings to an end, but not before a cover of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ drives everybody home to their punk roots. The Geordie boys crushed and conquered at Hammerfest, just like I knew they would.
Formed in 2007, I’d never even heard of Fleshgod Apocalypse before the Hammerfest announcement. But that is the beauty of HRH festivals – the chance to sample something new in amongst the names of old, and today it’s the Italian masters of gothic, undead presence who grab my attention. Not only do Fleshgod Apocalypse have the style which may not be typically related to the technical death metal genre, but they come with a female operatic backing vocalist, an upright piano and orchestral string accompaniments – all of which simply engross and drag you through the experience. Currently promoting their fifth full-length studio album ‘King’, the variety of material performed is complex – ‘March Royale’, ‘In aeternum’ and ‘The Fool’ just three examples of the spectacular sonic range which guitarist/vocalist Tommaso Riccardi and his cohorts run us through. Early on there are some technical issues for lead guitar wizard Cristiano Trionfera, but nothing distracts from the amazing chemistry Fleshgod Apocalypse possess – enabling them to deliver a combined sound of classical beauty, the heaviest of doom and breakneck death metal.
A rammed venue with plenty of punters wearing red and black face paint confirms that in the hearts and minds of many attending Hammerfest this year Turisas are the band to see. I’m never going to be a fan of folk metal, or indeed any band known for violin solos over guitar solos, but I can’t deny the Finns are great at what they do. Frontman Mathias ‘Warlord’ Nygård has the place jumping with sing-alongs to ‘The March of the Varangian Guard’ through to obvious fan favourite ‘Battle Metal’. Amid the marching to war song themes there is a huge sense of fun about Turisas and Nygård clearly enjoys a laugh, talking about buying beer from the on-site Spar shop and proudly stating “we are veterans of UK holiday parks, we’ve played all the mini-golfs!” The energy on-stage is electric and the audience participation hits fever-pitch, especially during a version of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’, probably one of the most inspired covers by any band, ever. In short, the fist-pumping, catchy melodies and undisputed attitude of Turisas is incredibly popular this weekend, and even for a non-fan such as myself, I see the attraction and tip my hat to them.
Cradle of Filth
There’s not a band here who split opinion more than Cradle of Filth, general consensus makes them Marmite of the weekend. I’m only here to review the live experience, and from the opening mayhem when the diminutive figure of Dani Filth screams into ‘Heaven Torn Asunder’ – I’m totally hooked by the theatrical spectacular. “Greetings North Wales” says Dani, before explaining his inability to pronounce Pwllheli and suggestion that “we all shag sheep!” The awesome and beautifully slower-paced ‘Nymphetamine’ is a set highlight, which leads into ‘Her Ghost In The Fog’ a track from the highly rated ‘Midian’ album. This may not be a typical venue for such a headline show but even from within the confines of a family holiday park Dani’s venomous delivery during tracks like the harshly titled ‘Gilded Cunt’ is totally uncompromising, as are the performances of his characteristic cronies. The musical intensity along with the visuals, the smoke, the make-up and a couple of angle grinder girls – Cradle of Filth top the night for me. I know some will disagree and say Turisas should have headlined, but no, Cradle of Filth, all the way, bang on Hammerfest.
It’s late in the day, but there’s still time to take in what the HRH United second stage has to offer. As the clock strikes midnight, after five hours of HRH Sleaze billing, there comes HRH Thrash with influential, old-school legends Anilihated. Originally a punk/metal crossover outfit these guys played a major part in the creation and early development of the British thrash scene over thirty years ago. ‘Death To The Deviant’ and ‘Anti Social Engineering’ kick us off, with Si Cobb leading the way throughout a feast of essential thrash riffage. Most of the material comes from the three albums released since the 2010 comeback, but still evoke the original spirit of the genre. There’s a blast from the past with ‘Chase The Dragon’ from the 1988 album ‘Created In Hate’ which works seamlessly with latter material by the underground thrashers, such as ‘Seas of Red’, ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ and set finale – the thumping ‘We Are Legion’. I’m really pleased to be part of a good turn-out and to see fists thumping and heads banging. For me it’s pure end-of-day pleasure to see Anilihated, even if I do think they should have been appearing on the main stage a few hours ago.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston