Hammerfest VII: Day One

All the action from the first day of Hammerfest

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It’s a chilly spring afternoon in North Wales, and what most people at Hammerfest seem to need – aside from a quick vomit – is something brutal and invigorating to kickstart their day.

With that in mind, The King Is Blind [8] are the perfect opening band; scabrous, muscular and underpinned by monstrous grooves, their sound exudes a freshness that, somewhat ironically, stems from their harnessing of that wonderful era in the mid ‘80s when death and black metal were essentially the same thing. With elements of Grief-like sludge, dark thrash from the Possessed school of malevolence and an exhilarating mid-paced momentum redolent of Satyricon at their imperious best, these surly Brits have struck upon a distinct and vital new approach to underground extremity. And although they offer little in the way of respite for the recuperating hordes, they win plenty of new friends today and set the tone brilliantly for Winterfylleth [7].

Unfortunately, a combination of technical problems and, it later transpires, a vanishing soundman, conspire to sabotage the UK black metal titans’ set, robbing the likes of A Careworn Heart and A Valley Thick With Oaks of their customary bite and windswept grandeur. The band look less than enthralled by their surroundings and between-song banter is practically non-existent, but even when thwarted by circumstance, Winterfylleth still rage and resound with bellicose power and a closing Defending The Realm still delivers flurries of spine-shivers.

Italy’s Elvenking [6] are by no means among folk metal’s biggest names, but their infectious enthusiasm and unerringly sprightly anthems are received with noisy approval by a crowd that traditionally and consistently loves this kind of perky bluster. Frontman Damnagoras is a blur of energy and bonhomie, which makes up a little for the thinness of his voice and the slightly repetitive nature of his band’s melodic gait but also explains why Elvenking have toiled for many years without ever threatening to catch up their more successful peers.

Similarly, Darkane [6] undoubtedly have their supporters here, and the Swedes’ epic melodeath assault is delivered with laudable vigour, but a few exhilarating moments like the fiery Insurrection Is Imminent aside, it’s hard to shake off a faint sense that these plucky also-rans are content to plod along in third gear, forever in the shadow of In Flames and Soilwork. Either way, they blow away our remaining cobwebs and look like they’re having fun. (DL)

Darkane. Photo: Will Ireland.

Despite Angel Witch [7] being destined to forever be the band left behind in the huge wake created by fellow NWOBHM heroes Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, there can be no doubting the influence that their self-titled release had on the scene, and arguably metal at large. It comes as no surprise then that so many have turned out to greet Kevin Heybourne and co. as they hit the stage and go about ripping through a razor-sharp display of ballsy classic metal riffs, dual guitar harmonies and fret-melting solo attacks. Newer tracks the likes of Dead Sea Scrolls are lapped up alongside all-time classics such as White Witch and Angel Of Death (no, not that one!), but of course it’s the eponymous Angel Witch that comes closest to ripping the roof off the place as it brings things to a rousing finale.

It’s pretty apt that it’s the theme to The Terminator that sees Xentrix [7] onto the Hammerfest stage tonight, because right from the off the Lancashire veterans are machine-like in their precision thrash assault. Undoubtedly on a roll since reforming a couple of years back, it’s scary at times just how tight they are as Chris Astley, who’s obviously having as much fun as the gathered mob, leads the way as they slam through no-nonsense classics such as Questions and Reasons For Destruction, while new track There Will Be Consequences sounds as good as anything they’ve released and certainly bodes well for new material to come. Had they broken out in another time or place, Xentrix would no doubt be mentioned in the same breath as the bigger names of the thrash world, and judging by tonight’s performance, with every right too. (JH)

Kamelot. Photo: Will Ireland.

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying the devoted following that all things power metal continues to have among metal fans – evident by the size of the crowd that has been drawn for Florida power heroes Kamelot [7] as they hit Wales tonight. Slick is the name of the game here as the Americans put on an impressive display of tight, glossy power metal pomp that despite feeling somewhat rehearsed, almost to the point of coming across a bit sterile at times, just can’t be knocked for the top class musicianship and rousing bravado on display. Swedish frontman Tommy Karevik in particular is impressively strong behind the mic so it’s a shame that any momentum gained during the set is stopped dead by the unneeded, and let’s face it, unwanted breaks for bass solos and the like, because if it wasn’t for that Kamelot would be hard to fault tonight.

It’s been some 30 or so years since a young Hirax [8] were laying waste in the early Bay Area thrash scene alongside the likes of Metallica and Slayer, but it’s tonight that finally marks a historic first-ever appearance on a British stage for the Californian speed metal stalwarts – and some opening showing on our shores it is. Frontman Katon W. De Pena is obviously stoked to see the packed room that have turned out to greet the band despite the late hour, and he is ear-to-ear smiles as he leads the attack – tracks like Hostile Territory going off like rockets and inciting the first pits that the stage has seen so far, while a blistering rendition of El Diablo Negro only goes to whip up the beer-soaked punters to the point where bodies are flying all over the place. Granted, it’s not the tightest set you’ll ever see, but it’s of little matter when it’s slammed out with this level of contagious enthusiasm, and by the time De Pena goes over the barrier during Bombs Of Death, it’s obvious that the band have loved every moment of their first UK show just as much as those that were lucky enough to see it. (JH)