The metal hordes once again returned to the Welsh seaside resort of Prestatyn for what was the 4th installment of the popular HAMMERFEST party. Yet another sell out, the festival has become really popular as a small scale event where you can see lots of great metal bands, yet still enjoy the intimacy you get at headline club gigs.
Of Friday’s early bands, the highlight was the excellent FURY UK, who always impress with their formula of basic metal with some quite extraordinary guitar work from frontman Chris Appleton.
A rammed crowd filled the main stage area to bear witness to what was a crushing set from groove metal maestros CHIMAIRA. They pulsated through a 50 minute set which flew by which included the likes of ‘Power Trip’, ‘Destroy And Dominate’ and ‘Severed’. A blistering rendition of ‘Resurrection’ wrapped up a superb performance from the Ohio metal outfit.
PARADISE LOST‘s set was packed with great songs, but suffered from poor sound. Also, Nick Holmes‘ live vocals were typically average, although his dry wit always goes down well with those of a similar sense of humour. Fans will have enjoyed a sneak preview of the forthcoming new album ‘Tragic Idol’ with a rendition of new song ‘Honesty in Death’. This sounded very typical of recent PARADISE LOST material, with the band finally settling on a sound. The classic ‘Embers Fire’ brought a close to a good set, which many of the fans will take in again in a few weeks time when the band head off on a comprehensive tour of the UK.
For headliners ANTHRAX the sound was once again perfect, which makes you wonder what went wrong for PARADISE LOST? ANTHRAX‘s set was a lesson in professionalism. The music was loud, fast, heavy, but as tight as a duck’s behind. Joey Belladonna still has that great air raid siren voice, which makes songs like ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’ and ‘Death Rider’ heavy metal classics. All of the new material sounded good live, particularly set opener ‘Earth on Hell’ which sent the Prestatyn crowd into a true thrash frenzy.
The highlight of the set was the war dance section of ‘Indians’. For this, the biggest moshpit of the weekend broke out. All in all, this was a terrific headline set from ANTHRAX and one of the best I’ve witnessed at Prestatyn over the years.
With EVIL SCARECROW, one always walks away from their gigs with a huge smile following their on stage antics, banter and material, so it isn’t a surprise to say tonight was no different. Tracks like ‘Vampyre Trousers’, the usual cover of the Thundercats theme song, ‘Morbid Witch’ and the marching style of ‘War And Seek’, went down an absolute storm with the crowd.
It was then brought to our attention that the crowd were in the presence of a celebrity. Slagbot made an appearance for one of EVIL SCARECROW‘s best numbers in the form of ‘Robototron’ with the entire crowd knowing exactly what was required of them, forming their own perfect robot square in perfect harmony.
Given the unenviable task of following ANTHRAX and closing proceedings on the main stage for the night were England’s own thrash answer to the Bay Area scene. EVILE delivered a top notch performance, which showcased why they are held in such high esteem on these shores, leading the way for young and upcoming thrash bands in the UK.
Opening the proceedings for the Saturday on the second stage were progressive metallers CHEMICALS OF DEMOCRACY who got the early risers warmed up before Chester based metal outfit SEVERENTH impressed with a decent performance with the likes of ‘The Question’, ‘Reveal’ and ‘The Age of Paranoia’ particularly impressing live.
A sizeable crowd had gathered to bear witness to one of the most brutal sets of the weekend. Death metallers CEREBRAL BORE delivered an all out barrage of attack on the auditory senses which also contained some excellent technical skill too. I was also keen to see if vocalist Simone Pluijmers could transfer those guttural vocals and screams from record to the live arena. Needless to say, it was as great a performance as you would expect from a death metal vocalist, and is probably one of the best, if not the best, performance by a female vocalist I have seen in this genre of metal. ‘Entombed In Butchered Bodies’ and ‘Mangled Post Burial’ encapsulated what these guys (and gal) are all about. CEREBRAL BORE are definitely worth catching in the future if you are into your death metal!
Continuing the early impressive performances on the second stage was another UK thrash act. SWORN AMONGST may not have risen to the heights of EVILE yet, but with in your face material like ‘The Storm’, ‘Darkness’ and ‘Exploited’, and more superb performances like what was on show today, they will certainly elevate up the thrash ladder.
NWOBHM outfit AVENGER were up next, and whilst they produced a decent performance, I couldn’t help feeling they were lacking that killer instinct which encapsulates an audience. Also, you can tell that frontman Roddy B is in an IRON MAIDEN tribute band simply by his similar idiosyncrasies to that of BRUCE DICKINSON. He also has a similar vocal style but didn’t have the power and variation of the master himself.
Opening up the main stage were the recently reformed HELL, who played an entertaining and humourous set that reminded me of a bizarre amalgamation of VENOM and DEMON. Next up were German metal veterans WIZARD, who managed to overcome technical problems at the start of their performance, to deliver an enjoyable set, with more metal cliché’s than Joey DeMaio could shake a stick at.
Keeping the ‘trad’ metal theme going, DREAM EVIL delivered a much more polished and professional set. The crunching ‘Book of Heavy Metal’ was another highlight of the weekend. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Daniel Varghamne gave a very impressive performance with some of the best guitar solos of the weekend.
Entertaining the second stage was London based technical death metal outfit MORTAD, who showcased a short but very good set of material from their debut album ‘The Myth of Purity’. I don’t think I have ever seen a death metal singer literally jump up and down so much during a performance as much as frontwoman Somi Arian, who did struggle to get more out of the crowd than a bit of mild headbanging. Tracks like ‘The Myth of Purity’, ‘Mirage’, ‘Feels Like Suffocation’ and ‘That Which Is Humane’ really stood out and showed their excellent technical, melodic and thrash sides, and definitely made me stand up and take notice, and I will be looking forward to watching again sometime in the future.
Ever since breaking through to the mainstream here in the UK about five years ago, Viking death metal outfit AMON AMARTH have gone from strength to strength, and picked up a hell of a lot fans along the way. With amazing album after amazing album, even from their early days, and solid performance after solid performance, it’s not hard to see why they have taken off in the UK. They have a knack of writing extremely catchy metal numbers with great riffs and some scintillating solos too that you can’t help but throw the horns to. A packed out arena lapped up every last moment of memorable set made up mainly from the last four albums. Latest album, ‘Surtur Rising’, got a prominent showing with outstanding renditions of ‘War of The Gods’, ‘Live Without Regrets’, ‘Destroyer of The Universe’ and ‘For Victory or Death’ all sounding impeccable.
Other set regulars in recent years included ‘Cry of The Blackbirds’, ‘Death In Fire’ and the fist-pumping ‘The Pursuit of Vikings’. No matter what set the mighty AMON AMARTH manage to put together, you can always guarantee it will be an epic one given the amount of quality material in their catalogue now, but I always like to hear a couple of oldies, but the surprise inclusion of the slower, more melodic ‘Under The Northern Star’ made up for this. An encore of ‘Twilight of The Thunder God’ and ‘Guardians of Asgaard’ gave the crowd one last chance to bang their heads to what was one of the highlights of the weekend.
Having never really been able to get into the music of SKINDRED, this was always going to be a hard sell to me. You can’t deny that their on stage presence is superb thanks to their hyper-energetic performance levels, and they easily managed to get the rammed crowd really going with near enough the whole crowd bouncing in unity. This was a really great sight to see, but in terms of music, an intro cover of METALLICA‘s ‘Sad But True’ was just about as good as it got for me.
For those who had taken to the sanctuary of the second stage, which wasn’t many, for SKINDRED‘s headline set, 80′s thrashers VIRUS were shredding through an enjoyable set of speedy riffs and aggressive vocals, and while the atmosphere was lacking slightly in the crowd, tracks like ‘Testify To Me’, ‘Decline’ and ‘Parasitic Invasion’ got the heads banging.
If you hadn’t got enough thrash metal in your system over the weekend, those who stayed for the last band to close the festival were treated to a superb set from CRIMINAL. Originating from Chile, but now living in Britain, they have that South American thrash style so well associated and laid down by SEPULTURA, but slightly evolved. There was plenty of material to get your teeth into, with the likes of ‘Incubus’, ‘The Ghost We Summoned’, ‘Stillborn’ and ‘State of Siege’ all being pummelled out in a set that didn’t hold back and made sure the crowd went back to their chalets happy.
With that last note, another instalment of Hammerfest was over for another year, and as the crowd dispersed, you reflected on what was another great weekend filled with fun, friends, booze and, of course, all different types of metal. Hammerfest is always one of the calendar highlights and one everybody looks forward to, and now the long arduous wait now starts until next March. Until then, as usual, Hi De Hi campers!
Best Bands: ANTHRAX, CHIMAIRA, EVIL SCARECROW, EVILE, CEREBRAL BORE, AMON AMARTH, CRIMINAL
Review By Adam Fredericks & James Allman
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