|Hammerfest IX – Pwllheli, Hafan-Y-Mor Holiday Camp - 23 March 2017|
|Written by Rich Hobson|
|Saturday, 15 April 2017 03:30|
Now in its ninth iteration, the HRH-run Hammerfest has seen many a change over the past near-decade. Expanding the HRH brand from a well-received metal festival at a holiday camp in Wales to a prominent position as one of the UK’s leading boutique festival providers, the Hammerfest experience has included everything from the finest up-and-coming metal bands to fresh AOR bookings (which now have their own event). Split back into its pure metal-heavy form, the festival is now spread across two stages of metallic bedlam, pulling together acts from the diverse corners of metal canon. Pushed back to the end of March, the weather conditions for the drive to Hafan-Y-Mor are greatly improved on previous years, but still see the Über Rock contingent sadly not make it until later in the evening. Still, what better way is there to kick off a premier winter festival than with one of the genre’s greatest progenitor bands?
Founded by two-thirds of the iconic classic Venom line-up, Mantas and Abaddon’s Venom Inc. are a throwback to the early days of extreme metal blasting through a setlist comprised of their old band’s biggest hits. Having recently signed to Nuclear Blast and with plans to release an album later this year, catching Venom Inc. at this stage guarantees that audiences still hear a set almost entirely composed of Venom classics.
Over 35 years since the release of the historic debut ‘Welcome to Hell’, the songs of Venom still ooze pure muscular metal heaviness. Given a spit-polish over the past three decades, the songs easily contend in heavy stakes with the likes of Slayer or the myriad other thrash bands influenced by Venom originally. Metal anthems ‘Live Like an Angel (Die Like A Devil)’, ‘Welcome to Hell’ and ‘Poison’ all crash with a brutal energy, eliciting big cheers in a way that only an anthem can.
Vocalist ‘The Demolition Man’ is an imposing figure onstage, oozing gravitas as he bellows his way through jawbreaking metal thumpers ‘Bloodlust’ and ‘Buried Alive’. The band’s dark imagery and horror movie aesthetics stand in stark contrast to the typically brilliant banter between songs (metal icons or no, Geordies certainly know how to get a rise - and a good few laughs - from a crowd) which create a strong communal atmosphere in the venue.
Keeping the proto-thrash vibes alive, it seems like no time at all passes between Venom Inc. departing the stage and LA heavy-metal veterans Armored Saint bursting onto it. When your band has weathered nearly four decades with more or less the same line-up, you know that some level of tight camaraderie is sure to have developed. Sure enough, Armoured Saint sound like a well-oiled metal machine, muscular riffs acting as the perfect foundation to bolster John Bush’s iconic vocal.
Opening with the title track from the band’s most recent effort, Armored Saint sound huge as they take up headline duties for the first night of Hammerfest. With a little shy of an hour and a half to impress, the band are consummate showmen as they blast through material from across their career. It’s hard to not want to pump your fists when you hear the likes of ‘Exercise in Debauchery’ or ‘Chemical Euphoria’ and the band play it up to full effect as they prove themselves every bit as powerful as their 80s contemporaries.
Bringing the first day of the festival to a close with a dual-assault from the genre’s heyday, Hammerfest shows itself as a festival which is as equally devoted to remembering the good old days as it is to up-and-coming acts just carving a niche for themselves.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © Simon Dunkerley/SD Photography/Hammerfest
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