There’s a lot of tired and hungover people lumbering around this morning as Hammerfest’s attendees wander to the arenas to open up the first full day of the festival’s ninth instalment. Despite the alcohol induced hindrance, there’s a sizeable swathe of metalheads making their way to the second stage to see something very exciting indeed.
Desert Storm open up proceedings inexpert fashion. With the stoner feel of Kyuss, swinging groove of Clutch, and the booming low end of Blood Mountain-era Mastodon, the Oxford born 5 piece are exactly what HRH needs to wake everyone up.
The band are spearheaded by a powerful and charismatic front man, but his charisma only shows through between songs. During songs, he’s very static as a performer, which does work to some extent, but the energy of the rest of the band does show him up. Seemingly influenced by Scott Kelly and Jens Kidman, he is undeniably a force of nature, and does roar his heart out.
The highlight of their set is the titanic ‘Enslaved in the Icy Tundra’, which showcases the stars of the band; the rhythm section. Grinding, distorted bass that doesn’t lose intricacy of playing in the thick fuzz over the top of percussion that could be attributed to Brann Dailor in terms of skill levels, it’s borderline jaw dropping. By the end of the set, it feels like internal organs have been rupture thanks to the glorious low end of their mix, and they are a definite must see.
The best thing about a festival like Hammerfest is the eclecticism of the line-up. No band encapsulates this better than Boss Kelloid.
They play an angular form of grimy stoner metal, filled with seismic, thunderous drum and bass alongside riffs the size of Jupiter. They throw in elements of prog, as well as almost operatic vocal runs. Crikey, this is something special.
The absolute star of the show is vocalist Alex Hurst: When a lot of vocalists get aggressive in delivery, they sacrifice melody, but this man has such control of his voice that his character and ability cannot be dampened by growling. Gurning, snaking his way around the stage, he’s like a hulking cross between Meshuggah and Axl Rose, and it is every bit as absurdly brilliant as it sounds.
The absolute best thing about Boss Kelloid, and their greatest plaudit, is that there is no easily discernible point of reference for their work: They are a band that can genuinely, and without hyperbole, be labelled unique.
Your heart *has* to go out to Gévaudan. They play a storming set of doom metal with a healthy dose of death metal growling in the mix, but sadly are clashing with Grand Magus, so have an aggravatingly small crowd.
Their crushing swagger is enough to level a small block of flats, and is all accentuated by the virtuosity of guitarist, Bruce Hamilton. He is able to achieve that most desirable of qualities in a guitarist; his solos serve the song rather than serving as a self-aggrandising statement of egotistical skill. Brilliant stuff.
Lastly, and most importantly, attention has to be turned to vocalist, Alex Pirmohamed. Able to transition with impressive fluidity between clean singing, Rob Halford levels of screaming, death growls and the odd pig squeal for good measure, he does a stellar job of breathing intensity into the band’s music. The only point of critique in his performance is that occasionally in the cleanly sung passages, his voice has a tendency to crack, but it is a minor detail that can be easily overlooked.
It’s getting late in the day, but thrash-metallers Virus, aren’t going to let fatigue stop their set.
Playing modernised thrash on the Slayer end of the spectrum, they stomp and tremolo pick their way through a technically impressive set-list. They label themselves as old-school thrash, but they are certainly closer to contemporaries like Havok as opposed to being blinded by nostalgic Big 4 worship – often a detriment to many new bands in the speedy sub-genre.
‘Wargasm’ is every bit as excellent as the title would suggest, and by far the high point of their performance. Sadly, as is often the case with thrash metal, by the end of the band’s showcase, it’s all getting a bit samey.
Legendary is a word that is banded about in such a cavalier manner that it often loses its impact. When you have one of those rare bands that transcends their medium, the word holds all the gravity that it deserves. Such is the majesty of Napalm Death.
Gracing the stage as the title track of their latest album, Apex Predator – Easy Meat, blasts through the PA, the crowd is going utterly nuts. It’s shortly after this that tragedy strikes.
Unfortunately, by the end of their second song, word is sent out that someone has been seriously injured. They tell the crowd that they are going to leave the stage so that the medics can rectify the situation, and this receives a rapturous applause. That says it all: Metal, even at its most extreme, is all about respect and humanity, not meat-headed violence as many outsiders would have you believe. Every audience member is honestly concerned for the injured man, and graciously clear the arena so that the HRH staff can do their job.
When Napalm Death do return to the stage and continue their set, it is with a sombre and respectful tone, but does not dampen anyone’s spirits. As front man Mark ‘Barney’ Greenway declares, the injured fan ‘is at the forefront of everyone’s mind’, and only serves to highlight the band’s socially conscious communal ideology. The man is a glorious dichotomy: During songs, he is a rabid, unchained beast, but in between their sonic assault, he is an eloquent and fiercely intelligent orator.
Their set is utterly flawless and serves as a retrospective of an impeccable 30-year. We’re treated to ‘Scum, From Enslavement to Obliteration’, ‘The Code is Red… Long Live the Code’ and ‘How the Years Condemn’, as well as fan favourite, the infamously short, ‘You Suffer’. Every other act of the weekend is going to have a nigh impossible and seriously unenviable task of following that.