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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A View From North Wales: HRH United - Hammerfest 2017 (Review By Rich)

HRH United (Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli)

Spring has arrived in the UK and with it has arrived the first festival on the calendar - HRH United or as it is better known Hammerfest. Taking place in the Haven Hafan-Y-Mor holiday park outside of Pwllheli in North Wales, it is a weekend of heavy drinking and heavy music but with the luxury of on site accommodation so everyone can get some sleep and have a good shower if they so desire which for me as a man in his thirties is absolute bliss.

Day 1: Thursday

After a gruelling but absolutely stunning five hour drive from Cardiff through the middle of our beautiful country I arrived early evening and checked into a lovely sizeable apartment. After a quick bite to eat, a few hefty glasses of rum and coke and a spot of socialising with some friends and familiar faces it was time to walk to the arena and check out some music. Bands were only playing on the main stage in The Cove venue this evening. First band of the evening for me were Bloodshot Dawn (7) who brought their technical style of melodic death metal to a large and enthusiastic crowd. Their playing was phenomenal with some extremely tasty guitar solos. Their music is very reminiscent of Scar Symmetry with touches of the Gothenburg melodic death metal sound and influences from thrash.

Although well played the songs were generally quite forgettable and as such their set was enjoyable but not particularly memorable. Next up were Venom Inc. (7) who were one of the most anticipated bands of the weekend for me. Having seen the Cronos fronted Venom at Bloodstock last summer I was eager to see how this version of the band featuring Abaddon, Mantas and Demolition Man would fare. The band played a great set chock full of classic Venom tunes such as Don't Burn The Witch, Warhead and the legendary Black Metal but seemed to lack a lot of energy. Tony 'Demolition Man' Dolan is a very competent frontman but lacks the stage presence of Cronos. It was an enjoyable set and the classics went down a storm with the crowd but the show just seemed to be lacking something.

Headliners and final band of the evening were LA heavy metal titans Armored Saint (9) who played a straight up masterclass in fist pumping, anthemic heavy metal. The band played a fantastic set with songs from latest album Win Hands Down sitting very comfortably alongside classics such as March Of The Saint, Aftermath, Reign Of Fire and Can U Deliver. The band were on absolute top form with frontman John Bush putting in an especially passionate and enthusiastic performance. A triumphant show and great way to bring things to a close on the first night.

Day 2: Friday

After a rather heavy cider and rum fuelled Thursday evening my head was a bit on the fuzzy side on Friday morning but nothing a strong coffee, hot shower and a nice mixed grill from The Mash And Barrel pub wouldn't sort out. Two stages were running on the Friday and kicking things off on the second stage in The Boardwalk venue were Desert Storm (9). These stoner metallers always play a great set and this was no exception. A great sound showcased the bands sludge/stoner sound with dense crushing riffs, plenty of groove and bags of rock and roll swagger. The band put on a commanding performance with frontman Matt Ryan dominating with his ferocious roaring vocals. An outstanding set from one of the best up and coming bands in the UK right now.

Next band on my schedule were the crushing Bast who unfortunately had to cancel last minute and so after an extended period of drinking and socialising the next band I made it to was the mighty Grand Magus (10). If there's one band flying the flag for true heavy metal in 2017 then it's Grand Magus who played to an absolutely packed out main stage. Kicking things off with I, The Jury the band played an absolutely phenomenal set with an absolutely crystal clear sound. Horns were raised and voices sang along to triumphant metal anthems such as Varangian, Steel Versus Steel, Iron Will and Like The Oar Strikes The Water. We were even treated to premiere performances of Crowned In Iron (Forged In Steel) and Freja's Choice from last years stunning Sword Songs album. The best was left for last though and the band parted with the truly anthemic Hammer Of The North which had everyone in the room singing along at the top of their voices. People were still singing along in the arena hours after the band had finished. Easily the best performance of the weekend.

Next up were Swedish power metal titans HammerFall (8). Following that Grand Magus set was not going to be an easy task but HammerFall rose to the challenge with an absolutely cracking set. (This despite the airline they came in on losing their gear meaning they had to rely on Magus and Napalm Death for guitars etc - Ed) Opening with Hector's Hymn from last years Built To Last album the band then proceeded to perform a greatest hits set with songs such as Riders Of The Storm, Blood Bound. Any Means Necessary, Renegade, Last Man Standing and Let The Hammer Fall. A loud and enthusiastic crowd sang the songs back at the band just as loud as they were playing them. A great set of sing-along power metal.

After two sets of anthemic metal it was time for things to get violent and nasty and one band who can deliver both aplenty are grindcore legends Napalm Death (9). The band started fantastically blasting out songs full of anger and vitrol at a crowd with an equally destructive appetite but suddenly the set was cut off due to an audience member becoming injured. The stage and venue had to be evacuated as paramedics attended. Fortunately after a bit of a wait the crowd were allowed back into the venue and the band picked up from where they left off with tracks from latest album Apex Predator - Easy Meat such as Smash A Single Digit and Dear Slum Landlord smashing the audience into oblivion along with well established classics such as When All Is Said And Done, Scum, Deceiver, From Enslavement To Obliteration and Suffer The Children. We were even treated to a trio of cover versions from The Offender's Face Down In The Dirt, Hirax's Hate, Fear And Power to band set staple Dead Kennedy's Nazi Punks Fuck Off. One notable absence was bassist Shane Embury who is currently touring with Brujeria so ex-Nasum bassist Jesper Liverod was standing in. Thankfully this didn't detract from what was a fantastic set from these Brummie legends.

Final band of the evening for me were Teutonic thrash legends Destruction (7). Running late due to the earlier audience injury during Napalm Death the German thrashers found themselves playing to a slightly sparse audience. The band were also suffering with a poor sound mix with Mike's guitars particularly affected. Destruction being the pros they are were determined not to let these obstacles overcome them and the band ploughed onward opening with the title track of last years Under Attack album and then proceeding to bring out a plethora of thrashing classics from their back catalogue such as Curse The Gods, Mad Butcher and Nailed To The Cross. They even brought out ex-Evile guitarist Ol Drake for a crushing finale of Thrash Till Death and Bestial Invasion. Unfortunately the sound issues did affect the show and brought a slightly disappointing conclusion to the second night of the festival.

Day 3: Saturday

With a long drive ahead of me on Sunday, Friday night was the last opportunity for me to really party hard which I very much did but unfortunately I overdid it as well resulting in an absolute stinker of a hangover which saw me bed bound for all of Saturday morning. I finally managed to crawl out of my pit around lunchtime. Plenty of strong coffee and painkillers were thrown down my neck plus another visit to The Mash And Barrel where I forced a plateful of hot food down my neck. Despite still feeling utterly awful I braved my way to the arena and managed to catch the majority of Power Quest (6). Playing to a fair crowd Power Quest played a set of over the top cheesy metal tunes such as Temple Of Fire and Edge Of Time which garnered a good response from the audience. The band put in a decent performance but after the greatness of the performances from the previous evening still resonating this just felt slightly underwhelming.

There wasn't much I wanted to see on the main stage this day so I decided to focus on the second stage which was host to a day of black metal bands. It was also a day of discovery for me as many of these bands I was completely unaware of before this weekend. After a little hair of the dog I was starting to feel more human just in time for Old Corpse Road (8) to hit the stage. A fantastic performance mixed different styles and sounds of black metal together from the violent and savage to folky and atmospheric to the overly dramatic. Three vocalists provided three different vocal styles such as dramatic spoken word, black metal shrieks and guttural death metal growls. Despite there being so much going on the band held it all together with a masterful performance.

I popped back over to the main stage to catch a little bit of Lagerstein (3) and wished I hadn't bothered. Lagerstein perform songs about drinking and pirates but unlike contemporaries such as Korpiklaani and Alestorm this band completely lacks any memorable songs plus their performance was dreadful. An absolutely awful sound mix buried most of the instruments apart from the drums and the terrible vocals by frontman Captain Gregaaarrr. The one thing the band did have going for them was the level of audience involvement as members of the band were amongst the crowd at points and also got the crowd to sit down for a campfire song. Despite my misgivings the band played to a packed out stage and everyone apart from me seemed to be enjoying immensely so maybe I'm just becoming a miserable old fart (Aren't we all? - Ed).

Anyway it was back over to the second stage for more black metal this time provided by Cirith Gorgor (7) who were a bit more a straight for the jugular style of black metal band similar to Marduk or 1349. The set was hampered slightly by a bit of a muddy sound but the band forged on regardless performing a cacophony of violent black metal with songs such as Total Annihilation and Into The Nameless Void which was eaten up by the respectable crowd watching.

My most eagerly anticipated band of the day were next up - the mighty Kampfar (9) who did not disappoint. With this being their very first time in Wales (and also their first time performing in a holiday camp) the band went all out. Their devastating mix of razor sharp blackened riffage and dark folk melodies went down a storm with the sizeable audience watching and songs such as Troll, Død Og Trolldom, Tornekratt and an absolutely devastating Mylder showing how good black metal can be when it's done right.

Next up were surprise of the weekend and highlight of the day the absolutely amazing Ereb Altor (9). Having virtually no knowledge of this band I was absolutely floored by this performance. A very Bathory inspired mix of old school black metal and rousing viking anthems with tons of heart and emotion especially in the absolutely stunning clean vocals employed by the band which brought goosebumps to my flesh. Highlights of the set was the absolutely beautiful By Honour and a stunning cover of Bathory's Twilight Of The Gods.

Unfortunately only a sparse audience were watching what was one of the best bands of the weekend. After a food and drink break I returned in time to catch Finsterforst (7) who were another band I was unfamiliar with. Performing a blackened folk metal style quite reminiscent of Moonsorrow their set was enjoyable but a little repetitive with the majority of the songs being of a mid paced nature with a few flurries of blastbeats here and there. Following the amazing sets of Kampfar and Ereb Altor, Finsterforst were enjoyable but a little bit underwhelming.

It was back over to the main stage for my final band of the evening reunited UK death metallers Cancer (8). Since reuniting the band haven't released any new material so this was a set of pure old school death metal carnage. Despite playing to a fairly sparse audience the band gave it their all and played a relentless set featuring old school classics such as Into The Acid, Tasteless Incest and To The Gory End. A fitting way to bring another successful day to an end.

HRH United got the 2017 festival season off to a cracking start with some fantastic sets by some well known bands and also a brilliant introduction to some previously unknown bands. The positives definitely outweighed the negatives with the top bands of the weekend being Armored Saint, Grand Magus, Napalm Death, Kampfar and Ereb Altor. There was only one terrible band I watched all weekend and that was the dreadful Lagerstein. A fun filled weekend with great company, great music and lots of lovely rum. Roll on the next festival.

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