What a weekend! Hammerfest was an excellent experience with great bands, great people and a great time had by all.
It all started at 10.00am on Thursday morning at Bow Road tube station and six hours of Mark Taylor's extremely bad jokes, two missed turns on the M25 and a very lucky entry into Wales - we avoided the passport checks as we think they have Thursday's off - later, we were very much ready to rock.
Pontins at Prestatyn was the venue and this is where 'Holiday On The Buses' was filmed back in black and white days and the place has not changed one bit since. What is changing though is the face of Heavy Metal in the UK and it's most certainly fair to say that the UK festivals are now rivalling the European ones for quality and Hammerfest/Hard Rock Hell is leading the way of the indoor events.
The first stage was not open on Thursday night but Five Finger Death Punch had already arrived, despite their gig not being until the Friday night. A quick chat with the band's tour manager and we are convinced that we are in for a treat.
He was already organising the setting up of the stage and we bumped into him several times over the weekend. Or perhaps he had been cloned several times as he was always working, and I mean ALWAYS. When we got up in the (late) morning and looked out of the window, he was there - working. When we left the venue late at night, he was working. He was still working on the Saturday morning, long after the band had finished their set. What a warrior!
Devildriver were already on the camp as well, having flown in overnight from the States. They would fly back on Saturday morning, the night after they played. We met up with Dez in the Stage Two bar and despite having a slight cough which cleared up well in time for the performance, he was in great form and was suffering from no jet-lag whatsoever.
Apologies in advance to all the bands who don't get mentioned in this review. It's impossible to see every act on the bill on a multi-stage festival and hopefully you'll be mentioned a little further down the line as more Hammerfest reviews will be appearing on MetalTalk.net this week.
Sheffield based Crimes Of Passion were the second act of the festival on Stage Three after Fury Of Waters had opened. The original billing had to be shuffled as CoP got stuck in traffic but what a great start to the night it was. CoP's brand of melodic power metal really got the crowd going and they are surely deserving of a bigger stage. Hopefully they'll be on one next time round. Soaring guitar solos, strong songs and massive hooklines are the CoP trademarks and they are have a portfolio of killer songs. Catch them if you can.
Glass Artery hail from Hertfordshire and following Crimes Of Passion was no easy task but they pulled it off with ease. They are obviously highly talented and their trashy style of dual guitar riffage won over the now busy venue.
Special mention must go to guitarist Chris Tidey who looked like the archetypal six string hero and made very complex high speed hooks and passages look very simple. Remember the name. You'll be hearing more about him and Glass Artery.
Collapse are a London based thrash metal combo who were clearly very into what they were doing as they opened up the second stage. And two numbers in, so were the crowd. Collapse's music has a unique brutality and a toughness that could give David Haye a hard time over twelve rounds.
But then came the highlight of the whole night...
Beholder were a cover band playing pubs not so long ago until frontman Simon Hall decided his men had the talent to make it under their own steam. And the man mountain that is Mr Hall was proved absolutely right because they've burst, kicking and screaming, onto the big stage and are making a massive impression on all who are fortunate enough to see them and tonight was no exception.
Simon was Gary Dallaway's replacement in Handsome Beasts some years ago but Beholder is surely where he will make a huge name for himself as this band have the songs, the stagecraft, the presence and rapport with the audience to really go on and alter the face of UK Metal.
Arthemis are an excellent band hailing from Italy and under normal circumstances would have won over a fair few new fans but nobody could have followed Beholder tonight.
It is only to be hoped that Arthemis get another shot at this stage because they are a truly great power metal outfit with massive ability and unique talent and possibly the best in their field. They deserved a better slot.
Gentlemen's Pistols did however win over a fair few new fans as they pumped out some clever guitar grooves and some brilliantly original songs. The Pistols are from Leeds but their music reminds you more of Highway 66 than dark Satanic mills. Possibly the best thing to come out of Leeds since the M1.
Thursday night was brought to a close by Krusher's Metal Box and the former Noisy Mother's and Raw Power host had the dance floor full for the whole of his ninety minute set.
DJ's are often overlooked but it's a lot more than just flinging a disc on the turntable. It's a matter of blending the tracks and choosing the right song for the moment and well done to Hammerfest for hiring the best in the business.
Pontins Prestatyn partied until the sun came up and then went and did it all again on Friday and what an excellent bill we had lined up for that day.
Solstikk opened up the main stage but unfortunately the outstanding looks of vocalist Vykki Turner were not enough to avert major disaster. The band's bass player was held up in bad traffic on the M6 and didn't make the gig in time so the band took the very brave decision to take the stage minus the four stringer, a decision which proved to be the wrong one as they flopped miserably after completely failing to deliver.
But bigger bands have had bad, bad gigs before on their way up and we hope they recover quickly from this and come back stronger. And we have to say that they did sound good at soundcheck, so they can do it.
Another female fronted outfit, Dutch symphonic metallers Epica put things right with a spellbinding performance, the highlight being frontlady Simone Simons' performance.
Now here is a female singer who can command a large stage and keep the whole audience enthralled for a complete set. The songs are expertly crafted and the band, founded by guitarist and vocalist Mark Jansen when he left After Forever have a big, big future. But unfortunately no UK tour dates. Hopefully some will appear on their schedule soon.
A very short ten minute turnaround on the main stage was scheduled and next up was the mighty Devildriver and as expected, they delivered in a huge way with a set that resembled a breezeblock hitting a fifty ton truck.
It was hands in the air all the way to the back of the hall for Dez's set and this band is now a finely honed piece of fighting machinery that are right up there with the best of them and are set for even greater things over these coming months.
An unusually long (for Devildriver) intro tape gave way to California's finest firing on all cylinders and captivating an eager audience with a sound that didn't just blow away any cobwebs - it literally fried them alive. Long live Devildriver and bring on the new album, due out late this year.
Unfortunately, due to managerial duties, we only caught two imcomplete tracks of Conquest Of Steel but it was enough to make us want to go out and get their complete back catalogue. Here is a true Metal band of epic proportions, forged from the steel of Thor's mighty sword and flying on the wings of valkyries, destined only for Valhallah. But not before they have conquered Metaldom with their classy style of Manowar-esque songs. Hail Conquest Of Steel. The whole of Metal salutes you.
Abgott were definitely the most intense band of the weekend, despite suffering from sound problems that were not of their own making. Also, the much anticipated Five Finger Death Punch hit the main stage at the same time as Abgott and the crown opted for the American hot-shots en-masse.
But despite this, Abgott delivered their unique style of deathly Black Metal and if those who saw it were not affected at all, they must have been dead from the neck up. This is Nosferatu meets Slayer and this is a band who will be hard to ignore as they progress through the ranks. The mighty Krusher introduced the band and they never let up once, even though the guy on the sound desk clearly didn't get Black Metal at all.
Five Finger Death Punch didn't disappoint the legions who were there specifically for them and the circle pit that frontman Zoltan Bathory created was impressive, but not - as he stated - as big as Devildriver's.
It's plain to see why FFDP are so highly acclaimed and have received so many plaudits recently. They've got the songs and they've got the front to deliver them. I always maintain that bands should not attempt cover versions unless they can better the original and FFDP did that with 'Bad Company'. It's just a shame they clashed with Abgott, to the latter's detriment.
Krusher was dj'ing the main stage between bands tonight and the anticipation was building for the irrepressible Napalm Death who, as always, delivered a brutal set. It was a little disappointing to note the lack of tracks clocking in at less than one minute though and lack of tracks from the seminal debut album 'Scum'. But overall it was a satisying preformance from the band who spawned a whole genre.
Friday night's partying metamorphososed into a Saturday morning/early afternoon hangover that was expertly exorcised by the magnificent White Wizzard, a traditional style band steeped in the NWOBHM but hailing from California. A roaring trade was done in White Wizzard CD sales after the band's performance - which says everything really - and the band were being talked about long after the end of their set.
Attica Rage opened up the main stage and had a fair sized crowd eating out of their hands. Attica's music is purely riff driven and (almost) title track 'Attica Rising' was a perfect example of this. The Scottish rockers absolutely went down a storm and proved themselves to be the perfect opening act for the main stage.
Orange Goblin followed Attica and they came out spitting and screaming, manic frontman Ben Ward's men delivering a bruising set of the finest British stoner rock you could possibly find anywhere.
Iced Earth, making a rare visit to the UK, delivered an absolutely blinding set which was not spoiled by certain intricacies of Matt Barlow's voice being lost due him being too low in the mix. Packed full of classics delivered with a stunning intensity by a band firing on all cylinders, Iced Earth showed just why they have been at the very top of their profession for a long time now.
The band paid homage to the many eras of their careers with a 'Best Of' package that left the masses enthralled. The highlights are too many to mention but standouts included 'Burning Times', 'Watching Over Me', 'Dracula', 'Melancholy', 'Ten Thousand Strong' and the spellbinding 'The Coming Curse'. Who could possibly follow that..?
Taking to the stage at 1.00am and with just a one hour set, they took over Hammerfest and delivered the most amazing performances that this site has seen for a long, long time. The band blazed through their sixty minutes and played the very best tracks from their back catalogue, drawing on 'Ghost Division' '40:1' and 'Cliffs Of Gallipoli' from last album 'The Art Of War', interspersed with 'Nuclear Attack, 'Attero Dominatus', 'Back In Control', 'Panzer Battalion' and the magnificent 'Primo Victoria'.
Every song was completely captivating and frontman Joakim Broden was genuinely appreciative of the exceptionally warm reception the band received from the crowd. They deserved it for this show as it was a performance that will stay in the memory for a long time to come.
Saturday night's partying was restrained as it would soon be time to hit the road but sleep was disturbed by the madman that is Ben Ward shouting 'IRON MAIDEN - IRON MAIDEN - IRON MAIDEN' at the top of his extremely powerful voice at long after 4.00am. Far more entertaining than 'Holiday On The Buses' though...
More reviews and photos appearing on this site throughout the week...