|Hammerfest IX – Pwllheli, Hafan-Y-Mor Holiday Camp - 24 March 2017|
|Written by Rich Hobson|
|Saturday, 15 April 2017 04:00|
With the first day of Hammerfest still ringing in the ears following sets from Venom Inc. and Armored Saint, it seems only fair to kick off day two of Hammefest IX with an up-and-coming modern metal band.
The Raven Age’s debut album might have dropped in the UK just a week before their appearance, but this isn’t the band’s first exposure to a big crowd. Having supported every metal great from Iron Maiden to (most recently) Anthrax, as well as playing festivals like Download, The Raven Age have steadily built their stage-chops to an impressive level in a short space of time. Easily the loudest band of the weekend, The Raven Age sound enormous as they blast right into a setlist pulled together from both their debut and the eponymous 2014 EP. A more streamlined version of the modern metal sound plays counterpart to the previous day’s 80’s heavy metal throwbacks, yet the band play with no less zeal than their predecessors. Playing alongside iconic metal bands has clearly given The Raven Age plenty of tutelage in how to win over audiences and put on a great show, single ‘Salem’s Fate’ shining out as a stand-out tune in The Raven Age set.
Next up, it’s time to soak up some good ol’ fashioned stoner rock rays courtesy of Pist, headliners of the HRH Stoner programme for the day. Hailing from the north of England with a decidedly US Southern rock vibe, Pist are filled with headbangin’, hard-drinkin’ goodness packaged into a sweet 45 minute set. Toking deep from the same well of inspiration that has brought about bands from Maylene And The Sons of Disaster to Down and Black Stone Cherry, Pist hit the mark well in showcasing the undeniable Americana influence on the stoner genre.
Heading back into the main arena, it’s time to indulge in a Hammerfest tradition - checking out a burst of primo (oft-cheesy) battle metal. The 2017 edition of the festival features the talents of Skyclad, a folk-tinged blast of heavy metal with nearly three decades of history. Though not as folk-prominent as the likes of Korpiklaani or Turisas (who featured at the previous year’s festival), Skyclad still exist in the same headspace as the heavy metal greats of old. Rampaging riffs, powerful vocals and a touch of Tolkein imagery gives the band a classical feel, reminding the audience that metal’s most bombastic elements didn’t die with the advent of plaid and angst.
Part of a fantasy-inspired heavy metal trifecta, Skyclad set the scene with typical bombast and gleeful abandon, met with raised horns and roars of approval from the amassed crowd. Metal is dead? Pull the other one.
Retiring to see about interviews and grab something to eat before tonight’s big boys, Über Rock misses the heavy metal talents of Grand Magus in the main arena. We take some solace though that we’re back in and grab a great spot for Sweden’s premier heavy metal heavyweights, Hammerfall. Skyclad might have set the tone for what to expect of a heavy metal band, but Hammerfall are the big daddies of the modern heavy metal scene. Each song comes off as a heavy metal anthem, roar-alongs erupting for ‘Blood Bound’, ‘Last Man Standing’ and ‘Let the Hammer Fall’. It doesn’t matter if it’s a golden oldie or a new tune, the crowd reception is huge as the band blast through their short-but-sweet set.
The change in pace from heavy metal fantasy to primo grindcore nastiness is staggering and an indication of the sheer diversity of the metal genre. Napalm Death have barely made it onto the stage though before an incident forces the venue to shut temporarily as medical assistance is sought for an injured fan. Undeterred, vocalist Barney Greenway explains the situation to the crowd with a simple reminder - metal is a community and we need to look after our own.
Always a band with a message, Napalm Death bring punk ideology to the metal world, Greenway acting as the metal world’s counterpart to Jello Biafra, leading the crowd through anti-consumerist tune ‘Apex Predator - Easy Meat’ and a series of punk covers including ‘Face Down in the Dirt’ (originally by Offenders), ‘Hate, Fear and Power’ (originally by Hirax) and their iconic iteration of ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’. Visceral, harsh and filled with utter contempt for injustice, Napalm Death are every inch the icons as they power through a setlist culled from across their entire career.
The atmosphere now electrically charged, it’s left to teutonic thrashers Destruction to bring things to a screaming close. Opening with ‘Under Attack’, the band come out with a furious energy borne of a couple of decades toiling away in the genre’s nastiest landscapes. Roaring away well into the wee hours, the band show no signs of fatigue as they pull out some of the best thrash tracks on the planet. ‘Nailed to the Cross’, ‘Mad Butcher’ and ‘The Butcher Strikes Back’ all flex the whiplash-inducing power you could want, physical evidence that 80s thrash metal is much more than just a four horse town. As if to bridge the generatinal gap between the bands, Destruction draft in ex-Evile guitarist Ol Drake for a thundering encore, closing out the second night of Hammerfest with a thunderous clatter that could only come from pure, unyielding thrash metal.
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © Simon Dunkerley/SD Photography/Hammerfest
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