Hammerfest VII Friday Review

FRIDAY the 13th – superstitious folks may shudder at the date but the Bonga Wonga Beach Club at the Hafan y Mor holiday camp was shuddering with mighty metal as Day Two of Hammerfest VII got underway.

Openers The King Is Blind got proceedings underway. Loads of menace from the band, but at times it was subsumed by derivative sections. The death/black metal field has been well ploughed and The King Is Blind got caught in a few furrows.

They obviously have the chops and a ready fanbase, but on this evidence they need to stretch themselves further to advance.

On the other hand Winterfylleth bring a black metal assault that is refined, poised and with a sense of menace. Of course, they have a back catalogue to build their set around and touring experience aplenty.

There are hints of folk in some tracks that made up a relentless racket. Christopher and Dan have an almost telepathic link in their riffing. It takes the drums of Simon and Nick’s bass to stop the whole thing being subsumed in the telling of the dark tales.

Simon might have been laying down complex patterns throughout the set, and mighty sets of blast beats, but amidst the chaos he looked relaxed and comfortable.

 The only questionable part of the show is that most of the band tends to look like accountants on dress down Friday. Perhaps it is intentional to avoid distracting from the music and the band’s recent claim to have saved British Black Metal…

After the black metal British assault the Italian pagan metal act Elvenking brought their folk flavoured pagan metal to the stage.

With their new album ‘Pagan Manifesto’ gathering momentum for the band they had a clear attraction for the audience. Down the front 20-somethings were yelling along and banging heads as Damna’s vocals revealed the Elvenking pledges to a pagan future in the Judeo/Christian/Muslim world.

He is a charismatic frontman, but the band is a combination of excellent musicians who gel together to provide a full-on folk assault. Aydan and Rafael twin up with guitar lines that are more than complemented by Leithien on violin (a flying V violin no less).

What is clear is that Elvenking are worthy of their Hammerfest slot, and soon will be higher up the bill on future festivals.

After the exuberance of the Elvenking performance it was a difficult task for Darkane to follow that set. But with a show merging contemporary groove, thrash and death metal they more than rose to the task.

While their set has been pretty similar in the current touring cycle the bombastic ‘The Sinister Supremacy’ captures the crow’s attention right away.

Chris and Klas are an elemental force when they lock in together on guitars, but Lawrence is the heart and soul of the act live. He takes those down the front by the scruff of the neck and shakes them until heads be a banging!

True – it is all pretty unsophisticated stuff, but when it is delivered as well as this, intricacies can be lost to a crowd notable for its shit-eating grins.

‘Mechanically Divine’ was a stand-out track in their set; but the audience was notably growing in anticipation of NWOHM darlings Angel Witch.

They may be a throw-back, but for the gathered acolytes from opener ‘Gorgon’ through to the eponymous closer it was clear that in an era that sees NWOBHM as a history lesson Angel Witch still captivate and incinerate.

Despite the relatively static nature of the three-piece they have a stage presence many a band would envy.

After the triplet of ‘Dr Phibes’, ‘Angel of Death’ and ‘Baphomet’ there was the obligatory singalong to ‘Angel Witch’, which even had the cynics and the sedentary joining in.

After that Xentrix brought us back to the halcyon days of thash…and no bad thing.

From the outset the thrash inspirations were captured, like their track ‘No Compromise’, as if a thing of beauty.

But occasionally their roots were too obvious, with vocal intonation rising at the end of each line á la Hetfield.

Having said that Xentrix don’t break new ground; but when they play tracks of the stature of ‘Reason for Destruction’ and ‘Balance of Power’ in your armoury then it makes no difference to the audience’s (positive) reaction.

Billed as Day Two headliners, Kamelot have a ready made audience on hand to welcome their particular – and peculiar – version of power metal.

With a new album about to hit the racks there was a teasing quality element to parts of the set: a knowing grin between each track.

While Youngblood represents the heart and soul of the band, Karavik is very much the face and voice of Kamelot, roving the stage with an intensity many a band could learn from.

Set highlights included ‘Ghost Opera’ and ‘Karma’, with an honourable mention for ‘A Song for Jolee’.

The interplay of Youngblood’s guitar and Palotai’s keyboards live ramps up the flavour of the set, much more than on any recorded offering. This was power metal with folk flourishes at times to make sure the ‘horns’ were thrust aloft at every opportunity.

At that time in Welsh night (10 past midnight) it would seem that the energy of the crowd would have waned. But no-one told Hirax that.

The old school LA thrashers emerged on to the stage with a barrage of riffs and a torrent musical fun. Katon burst on to the Hammerfest stage as if we were time shifted to the late 80s.

As Lance laid into his guitar with more down strokes than a one-armed swimmer, Steve (bass) and Mike (drums) pounded out artillery rhythms and speed-breaks that would have had an Olympic 100m sprinter exhausted.

But the audience sure as hell weren’t exhausted as ‘Hellions Rising’ ripped across the venue. They may have played ‘Hostile Territory’ but it was a welcoming crowd for Hirax.

Those unfamiliar with the Californian band’s oeuvre greeted each track with a widening smile and a gulp of another pint in astonishment at how good this was as a closer to Hammerfest Day Two.

Review by Jonathan Traynor

Photography by Jamie Sweetlove

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