It’s Friday morning and I’m raring to go, very much looking forward to the eclectic mix of metal, doom, sludge, and thrash on offer here today at Hammerfest XI. I head down early so I don’t miss anything and spend some time looking round the wares at the merch stalls. Plenty of choice with almost every band conceivable covered somewhere within the clothing and patch/badge stalls, not to mention the huge selection of CDs and vinyl on offer. I resist the urge to spend lots of cash and wander off to Stage 2. It’s 12:45 and the first band of the day is due on in 10 minutes…
Kicking off the first full day of music is Battallions, a four-piece sludge metal band from Hull, with dirty riffs and hard gravelly vocals a perfect opener. There are plenty of heads banging among the reasonably large crowd that has turned up so early in the day. Next on Stage 2 is Desert Storm, a 5-piece band from Oxford, they step onstage and unleash a torrent of deep, sludgy metal on the audience carrying on perfectly from the previous band.
I had to drag myself away and across to the first act on Stage 1, Absolva, a melodic heavy metal band from Manchester. With traditional metal riffs and blazing melodies, they leap around the stage enjoying themselves as much the crowd. King Creature are a hard rock band from Cornwall, who have opened for such legends as Motörhead follow on Stage 1. Kicking out a high octane set as the crowd grows with more people arriving this afternoon.
Over to stage 2 and zhOra are continuing the sludge fest with their progressive style. Hailing from Ireland this 4-piece seem to have the crowd bouncing. Boss Keloid from Wigan were up next, with massive riffs and larger than life vocals, interspersed with psychedelic keyboards. They blew me and the audience away, and one of my bands of the day for sure.
Back on the main Stage 1, Fire Red Empress are rocking the socks of the crowd. This group from Birmingham are continuing the hard rock feel, with Jennifer Diehl’s vocals kicking out some Muse-like harmonies. Pythia continues the rock fest on Stage 1 as they kick things up a notch with some ear shattering symphonic metal and Sophie Dorman’s impressive vocal range. The crowd is now in full flow and the room is packed out for this London based band.
Ten Ton Slug are kicking off on Stage 2, this Irish based sludge band harness doom laden heavy riffs and slam them into the audience, which is now pretty much filling the room and mostly a sea of hair and headbanging. Gévaudan follow next with their own brand of doom-laden, soul crushing riffs and mournful vocals. With hair flying they keep the momentum going and the crowd jumping, while delivering a unique doom sound.
I manage to grab a drink and something to eat between bands, it’s now 6.30 and Cellar Darling are kicking off on Stage 1. All the way from Switzerland this progressive folk rock band mix guitar, atmospheric vocals and a hurdy-gurdy to give an altogether different style of rock to what we’ve had up to now. Darkane kick things a notch though as they take over Stage 1 next. This Swedish quintet combine melodic death and technical thrash to stirring effect, whipping the already boisterous audience into a moshing frenzy.
Back to Stage 2 and Arkham Witch are regaling us with some old school heavy metal and tales of mighty Barbarians and evil superstitions. They deliver a bluesy, doom-tinged metal that has the floor of the second room bouncing, and the crowd cheering. Keeping things in the air are Master Charger from Nottingham they bring a crushing doom-laden sludge fest that seems impossible to come from just 3 people.
It’s now 9pm and a band I’ve been looking forward to, up next on Stage 1 Arizona thrash metal veterans Flotsam and Jetsam. Picking songs that span throughout the band’s long career fired the crowd up and it wasn’t long before heads banged and a mosh pit fired up. The band are not exactly spring chickens and yet the performance this evening is handed out as though the band had just formed. It was definitely a set for the fans and this packed room loved it.
At the same time on Stage 2, Midland thrash metal band Reign of Fury are kicking up a storm with their own blend of powerful, technical, melody driven metal. Shrapnel from Norwich continued the to keep the pace up as they took over the stage and delivered an impressive show to the still reasonably filled room, it’s been a long day and people are starting to wander off.
Back to Stage 1 for the final act of the night there, a long time thrash metal band out of New Jersey performing since 1980. Don’t let the longevity fool you, they’ve been around a long time for a reason. Overkill simply does thrash metal and does thrash metal well, if not better than most. Still kicking and screeching, lead singer Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is electric on vocals, with D.D. Verni on bass, Dave Linsk on lead guitar, Derek Tailer on rhythm guitar and Jason Bittner on drums these guys rumble and crush the sounds as Blitz screeches out that classic thrash metal vocal style that he does so well. A fitting finale to the second night on the main stage.
Finishing the thrash line up on Stage 2 are Lifer, from South Wales. These guys played hard and loud and drew quite a crowd back into the room for what is technically the last official band of the night. There are two more bands to go but only for VIPs, as midnight hits and the HRH VIP Pirate Party kicks off on Stage 2.
Ward XVI have escaped from Whittingham Asylum in Preston and are treating us to their theatrical avant-garde rock show. With blood, guts and electric chairs complimenting the distinctive storytelling and a firm favourite of mine from today. Wrapping up the party and the day’s events is North West pirate metal band, Iron Seawolf. With rousing seafaring anthems combining catchy heavy metal hooks and violin led rocked up folk tunes, they cast toy swords into the still quite large audience for 1am as they bring a fitting end to day 2.
Photos by Drew Scott Photographic