It’s a testament to just how much fun the UK’s premier, and perhaps only, seaside-based punk ‘n’ roll duo Oaf  are that they have pretty much become a perennial fixture here at Hammerfest. With Hammer’s very own Dom Lawson bothering the bass and the extremely dapper James Rayment surprisingly deft behind the kit, they lower the tone with the tracks the likes of Disgusted By Your Genitalia and Tiny When Erect – and everyone here rightly loves them for it.
Icelandic mob Skálmöld  make for a hugely exciting watch as they go about whipping up a storm with their particular brand of Viking metal – the six-piece taking turns on vocal duties to fire out their native language tales of old gods and battle-torn shores in a bold and ballsy, high-octane fashion that quite rightly sees drinking horns held aloft as the packed out crowd go suitably bonkers. Frankly what’s on offer here makes many others in the genre look positively pedestrian in comparison, but it’s not just the infectious enthusiasm with which everything is delivered that makes it such a joy to watch – much of what makes it all so compelling are the songs themselves – a triple guitar attack that’s draws from a melting pot of traditional folk metal, chugging death grooves and seemingly everything in between grabs your attention until the band leave the stage to euphoric applause.
Many a band would find it a tall order to follow up such a performance, but Norwegian old guard Einherjer  don’t seem in the slightest bit fazed as they firmly stamp their mark in fine style with their blend of folk and black metal. Granted they’re not the most energetic of bands on stage, but that’s not really what it’s about here and you can’t help but be impressed by the way the Frode Glesnes led trio go about their business.
Einherjer. Photo: Will Ireland.
The jury seems to be taking its time over whether or not Devilment  are a project that Dani Filth should pursue indefinitely, but the band’s live incarnation are a revelation. Aside from the novelty of seeing Dani in such humble, mid-bill surroundings, what really comes across today is how charged and punishing these songs really are, with the likes of Girl From Mystery Island and Mother Kali sounding far more intense and aggressive in the flesh than they did on the (still excellent) The Great And Secret Show album. Mr Filth is on top form throughout, of course, hectoring and harrying the audience with the haughty charm of a proper rockstar while delivering a succession of eyeball-bursting screams that contrast brilliantly with the gruff, snarling delivery necessitated by these gritty, groove-driven hymns to hellish mischief.
Speaking of mischief, Raging Speedhorn  still give the impression that they could cheerfully burn the venue down and piss on its smouldering remains. Obliterating all memory of their somewhat limp demise first time round with a set that breathes fire, spits teeth and leaves bloodstains on the ceiling, the Corby destroyers feel like the perfect antidote to polite 21st century conformity in the metal scene. Above all else, this band exudes edginess and chaotic fury, as they scorch our faces and violate our ears with Knives And Faces, Superscud, The Gush and Fuck The Voodooman, as Frank and John prowl the stage, barking threats and looking for trouble. One new song, Halfway To Hell, suggests that this reunion has more to commend it than demented nostalgia and the grotesque, prolonged outro to the closing High Whore is simply the heaviest and nastiest moment of the entire weekend. It’s great to have them back, but let’s hope their obnoxious charisma rubs off on a few younger bands over the coming months.
Raging Speedhorn. Photo: Will Ireland.
It has become so routine to praise Orange Goblin  for being a staggeringly entertaining live band that it barely needs repeating here, and yet the Londoners’ mastery of occasions like this and the thunderous efficacy of their tunes still take the breath away. Just as the Hammerfest crowd seems to be flagging a little, the rambunctious rumble of Some You Win, Some You Lose and the (Motör)heads-down fury of The Devil’s Whip spray us all with giant globs of hot adrenalin and super-strength lager; heavy metal refined to perfection and executed with joyous confidence and verve. Thanks to 20 years of diehard commitment to the cause, this band are a well-oiled machine, with a collective chemistry that makes every riff and roar connect directly with the metal faithful, and you only have to observe the sea of grinning faces and raised pints in the room tonight to see exactly how strong the bond between the OG boys and their admirers has become. In truth, they have never sounded better and it remains a mystery why they are not much, much bigger at this point. Meanwhile, Ben Ward remains one of our world’s greatest frontmen, his exhortations to party like madmen being received like commands from the lips of Odin himself, and by the time Orange Goblin let rip with a towering Red Tide Rising, Hammerfest has once again been turned into a pure and irresistible celebration of heavy metal itself.
On paper, the absence of founder, songwriter and talismanic bass shaman Leif Edling should have robbed Candlemass  of a little magic, but the power of the riff should never be underestimated and tonight, against the odds, the Swedes are nothing short of magical. It certainly helps that frontman Mats Levén is the most animated and vital singer the legendary doom crew have ever had, and as an added bonus the sound in the venue is immaculate and crushing, but in the end – and hasn’t it always been this way? – it’s the songs that seal the deal. From more recent material like Prophet and Black Dwarf through to a final, devastating Solitude, this is a majestic display from a band that consistently honour their own legendary status by simply being a brilliant, life-affirming force for heavy metal good. Hammerfest is lucky to witness them on this form.
Bringing the night to a rampaging close, Hell  unleash their theatrical bombast to life, deftly straddling old and new school ways of thinking while exuberantly summoning Beelzebub from the depths with twinkly-eyed aplomb. Gesticulating wildly and acting out each line like some ferocious, undead thespian, David Bower is a wonderfully melodramatic focal point as always, delivering his tales of demonic subterfuge with the skill of a weather-beaten veteran… which, of course, he is, and yet Hell never look or sound like a band from a bygone era: instead, they reinforce the notion that traditional metal is a timeless and endlessly fertile phenomenon that, for all its ludicrous indulgences, exerts immense emotional power. From the subversive rush of The Age Of Nefarious to a gleaming, none-more-epic On Earth As It Is In Hell, the Derbyshire devils have Hammerfest in the palms of their scaly hands, and while it’s difficult to imagine Hell’s music crossing over to audiences raised on metalcore or djent, there is a sense that this shadowy brotherhood of steel has only just begun to unleash its gloriously over-the-top power.