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Monday, April 2, 2012

Festival Review: Hammerfest IV - The Hammer Of Thor

Hammerfest Four: The Hammer Of Thor. As you can imagine with a title like that it’s got to be the work of men who’ve worn far too many animal furs and supped too much mead for their own good. It comes as no surprise then, to learn that the event is the work of the UK’s “metal-as-fuck” print (and online) magazine Metal Hammer and the organizational team behind the Hard Rock Hell festival. What they’ve invented and honed over the years is an event that is more than just a music festival. With the luxury of a roof over your head, minimal security constraints, multiple bars and ample recovery periods free from having your ears obliterated (should you so need them), strangers, of all ages, come to be united by their love of heavy music (and, inevitably, heavy drinking).

Within minutes of arriving, I hear brain-mangling tuneage blasting from the cracked doors of every visible chalet, I witness Captain America wrestling Spiderman to the ground and I’m soon being followed by a ten-foot Satan, a built dude dressed like the front-cover of ’s The Hunter and a rather attractive young woman on stilts, seemingly being eaten by an alien. It’s hard not to be moved by such scenes of complete metal immersion.

It’s not long before I’m banging my head along with the rest of my brethren as (3.5/5) let loose a volley of earth-shattering bottom-end groove from the depths of the on-site pub, the Queen Victoria (otherwise known as the third stage). The beer flows as an array of beards, of varying lengths, bob up and down with their owners and horns are thrown to the sky. Moving on to (4/5), I quickly find myself reeling around the main stage pit as vocalist Mark Hunter peers down at his people, belching forth tracks from the band’s stunning new album The Age Of Hell. As the “Year Of The Snake” digs down to its earth-shaking dropped breakdown, the crowd slo-mo crunch together and time folds in on itself. It’s the peak of their show but, as it comes mid-set, it leads to the band coasting from here onwards.

(3/5) follow up by ducking from goth-rock melodics into brooding doom and back again whilst, on the second stage, late additions (3/5) dish up lashings of make-up and hairspray to go with their mile-wide stances and classic rawk. It’s not my cup of tea but the choons have got balls and, out front, there’s a sprinkling of gurning faces, so they must be doing something right. Headlining tonight, (4/5) are clearly here to bring tha noize (sorry) and frontman Joey Belladonna works the gathered masses like a pro. A blazing “Indians” is the moment when the seated-VIPs can no longer resist and arise to begin rocking out with those who have been throwing shapes and hurling bodies for the duration.

With the excellent (4.5/5) whipping up a storm of comedy and metal, those who survived the headliners begin to filter through and the lunatic quarter of Hammerfest begin to show their faces. Grown men in foil-covered cardboard boxes wade into the pit prompting plenty of laughs and pointing fingers as cries of “what the fuck is that?” hail from vocalist “Dr. Rabid Hell” (yes, really). One minute the band are lashing us with “Blacken The Everything”, a classy, post-apocalyptic powerhouse of a track, the next they are unleashing “Robototron” which reduces us to tears and has us dancing in squares. Even (3.5/5) can’t top that, so I slip into the shadows to seek out the refuge of my chalet and my mattress.

As the sun rises on scenes of carnage, I find myself transfixed by men, still drunk from the night before, headbutting each other, one leaping from great height onto a stack of mattresses, and a few hardy souls swapping it all for a brisk walk along the nearby wind-blasted beach to scrawl rude pictures and words into the sand.

Back with the music and the blundering wake-up call comes fittingly from a duo called (3/5). Their first note is a foghorn in my cochlea. It threatens to empty the pub in one foul swoop, but it’s not long before “He Who Strums & Shouts” is settling into a devilishly heavy groove. (4.5/5) pick that vibe up and churn it into a barrage of driven, technical metal. Yet it is the fragmented vocal exhortations of vocalist Jhon Isaac that really fire this band into life. They initiate all manner of contortions to Isaac’s body and face, they inspire wild hopping from foot to foot and prompt bassist Simon Edwards to lead the crowd into taking part in the shenanigans. By the storming “One Day”, we are bellowing the word “spatula” back at the band, giving ourselves whiplash and grinning from ear to ear.

Over on stage two, (3.5/5) keep the party going with plenty of gruff screams à la Angela Gossow from the back-arching vocalist Somi Arian, whilst the main stage is padding its way through the uninspiring power metal of Germany’s (2.5/5) and the sleep-inducing, crown-of-thorns agonizing of Hell (2/5). That is until the devoted hit the battering ram that is (3/5). Losing something in translation from the smaller stage, tonight they only really connect with the anthemic “Guardians Of Asgard” whilst the majority of tracks tend to lose their identity amidst an impenetrable wall of echoing guitar.

Wonderfully, (5/5) correct the balance as Benji Webbe orchestrates a packed house to swing their shirts above their heads, turn themselves into jack-in-the-boxes and dance until they drop. Ragga metal becomes a true force tonight, not just something to cleanse the palette, and, inevitably, it’s the bucking grooves of debut album Babylon that litter their set. From “Selector” and “Set It Off” to “Nobody” and “Pressure”, the build to the encore is one pile-driving monster to the next. By the time they sign off with the gargantuan “Stand For Something”, cosying up to ’s “Breathe”, and the bullet-to-the-brain that is “Warning”, the crowd have melted into puddles and the world is on its head.

What a finale then to the most wild of weekends. The music may have finished us off but it was the sense of fun that will have us writing next year’s event in our diaries. The knowledge that those attending will be freely opening their chalet doors and inviting us inside to discuss their love of music is the key. There can be no doubting here, that the organizers have succeeded in marrying the word “metal” to the word “community”.

Also online (with more photos) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/show-reviews/hammerfest-iv-prestatyn-uk

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