A holiday camp may not seem like a natural venue for a festival, but Hammerfest's stages at Pontins are large enough to house the masters of Metal. I've no idea how long the transformation from 1950s holiday camp to Metal festival takes and so I'm happy to accept it as magic. And staying in a chalet rather than a tent, with the benefits of heating, shower, fridge, phone charger and TV is all just icing on the cake. My only disappointment was that the ball pit was closed for the weekend.
People started arriving on Thursday, fragrant and loaded with everything needed for a rocking good weekend. A small selection of bands are laid on for those keen to enter the party spirit and the fourth Hammerfest gets underway.
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Fresh ears and only a few injuries on Friday make proceedings a joy to behold. From early morning onwards, quality Metal pours out of every chalet, pleasing lively fans that are up for anything. By the time Chimera hit the stage the main auditorium was packed with bodies willing to nod their approval to this hard rocking professional outfit. The first third of the crowd were gripped while the rest were no doubt waiting for something less joyful.
Paradise Lost were less joyful and should have been the tonic people were looking for but for the first couple of songs the band seemed at sea. They kept the opening of their set Metal, kicking off with a driving and uptempo feel that left the band in disarray. Frontman Nick looked as if he was finding it an effort to muster anything more than misery.
And so by the third track he had transformed the performance. For a moment I almost convinced myself Nick had managed a smile. The simple clean riffing, moody vocals and melodic lead were enough to bring the audience on board for what shaped up to be a solid gig from Paradise Lost. The classics inspired the crowd and had them ready for the real old guard.
Anthrax took to the stage like they were still in their youth. It was fantastic to see the original line-up performing at their best. The enclosed arena was perfect for the Anthrax sound, helping those stomping riffs deliver a kick to your chest. To cap it all off, Joey was emitting a voice so powerful I don't remember a time when he's sounded better.
Despite a few technical issues everything came across perfectly. Rob Caggianois, an unsung guitar hero whose solos cut through, lending many songs to the authentic Anthrax sound. All the classics were rolled out, 'Antisocial' being a crowd pleaser and 'Caught In A Mosh' inspiring an unstoppable stage wide circle pit.
Halfway through 'Indians' the music stopped. Scott Ian took the mic and began a stirring tirade: "If we don't think you're having as much fun as you should be, we don't play...", and with a few more words of encouragement he launched the crowd into a frenzy.
Joey was on great form. When he announced: "Prestatyn, Wales, we don't know where the fuck we are", it summed up the band's joy in getting on the road and playing to packed venues around the world.
For Friday, Prestatyn became the Bay Area. The lights and sound kicked out a tight show that had a mixed crowd gripped. After thirty years Anthrax are still winning new fans and after their last song, everyone was 'Metal Thrashing Mad'.
There was no time to catch my breath. I had a choice to make - Evile or Evil Scarecrow? Realistically there was no choice and Evil Scarecrow won hands down. Unlike other comedy acts the Scarecrow crew don't troll out the same formulaic routine. Sure, Brother Pain will take a wander for his epic solo, and there will be numbered cards for the four note solo, but every show is a unique gem in itself.
Like any successful parody band, the key to their success is that underneath the humour lies quality music. The attention to detail only begins with the music and I love the way they work out set movements to synchronise with the riffs. The Robototron dance is always a joy and there was a surprise Can-Can like circle pit. The fans, which everyone is after seeing the band, embrace the madness as much as the band. A universal truth that follows Scarecrow gig is this: everyone will talk and laugh about the about their experience and promise to see the band again.
After only managing to keep my eyes open for a short while through Lawnmower Deth's show, I stumbled back to my chalet and after five hours kip, I was ready to see what delights Saturday would have to offer. OK, after several coffees, herbal remedies and threatening myself with violence if I didn't get moving, I was ready and started off by checking out the bands playing the smallest stage in The Queen Vic pub.
The people that looked messy yesterday look exhausted and filthy by now. More injuries were evident and every band starts to sound like everyone other. But there is beer on hard to help and from the mire bands emerge to try and breathe life into this motley crue.
It's always going to be difficult for them to stand out, especially as most people here are trying to remember what it was they got up to last night, rather than have their brain readied for the onslaught of the newer bands. Red Mist Destruction from South Yorkshire were the first I saw try, with their brand of lumberjack thrash punk going down well and drawing a warm reception; Dripback made a mammoth effort and received rapturous applause and Avenger were trying their best at Iron-chugging-Maiden. By then the crowd were a little more alive and it's time to make the move inside as the other stage began to kick into life.
Hell were given the honour of kicking proceedings off today on the main stage and really showed the smaller bands why they were given this honour, with an electrifying stage show that can only be described as an utterly perfect jaw dropping extravaganza of lights and choreographed guitar slinging.
The group moved around with absolute conviction and belief in every note they played. And every note is played with unwavering precision and left the audience with absolutely in no doubt that the future for Hell is burning bright.
Amon Amarth are an institution and up next, and for those that don't know or don't think they like melodic Death Metal, they are the tonic to render anyone convinced. Johan Hegg is a giant amongst men, threatening the Gods with the power of his voice he stood tall as the sound lighting flashed across the stage. The room filled as the Guardians Of Asgard played a mortal pleasing mighty set.
But tonight, the headliners really did run away with the show. Skindred's singer, Benji Webbe, has clearly invested his time in writing some new patter as he leads the audience through tried and tested Skindred classics, passing through cheeky musical digressions from rock history. As always, there was plenty of crowd interaction, with the Newport Helicopter sending even the new fans crazy.
For anyone who doesn't know what this is, it's quite simple: remove your t-shirt, hold it in the air and on Benji's call swing it round in the air. The band milked the encore at their home country headline slot for all it was worth, even insisting on stamping call for more. Even though they weren't the last band to play, it felt like the end to us, so the MetalTalk team made a beeline for the vodka and Jaeger on offer.
The most notable thing you spot on the Sunday morning is the incredibly high number of people that seem to have sustained minor injuries over the course of the festivities. And it's clear they're not just collected from the mosh pit, as there were plenty of non-music related happenings going on too.
Take this guy for example. God knows how he didn't lose a limb, or worse, in his attempt to jump off the top of his chalet's roof.
And of course with injuries comes inappropriate graffiti which may make things tricky for people as they return to normality on Monday morning with some no doubt wondering how to remove a 12" penis drawn on their newly acquired cast.
For me, Hell and Evil Scarecrow really were that good, easily taking the title of best bands of the weekend. Anthrax and Skindred were worthy headliners, and Amon Amarth were another band who stood out. But there is something unique about festivals that take place at Pontins in Prestatyn, and you're left wondering what the hell just happened and why all of your water bottles now contain vodka.
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