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Between The Hammer And The Anvil: Hammerfest 2022


Written by: omne metallum
Published: 20.02.2022




Welcome to Birmingham


I was excited to once again attend Hammerfest (A.K.A. HRH Metal) after a Covid-enforced absence last year. Held annually (unless a pandemic takes place) in the city that bore heavy metal, the festival (under its various guises) is in its fifth edition. Kicking off the year in style, Birmingham’s O2 Academy was the site for this two-day metal festival. Taking advantage of the venue’s three interconnected indoor stages, Hammerfest played host to a mixture of the UK’s underground names and veterans of the circuit.



What could have been


Located in the heart of Birmingham, the festival is well located for attendees, with ample surrounding hotels and amenities to keep people occupied and well supplied, giving the festival a casual air about it. Alas, Covid would still linger like an unwanted spectre over proceedings, forcing the withdrawal of several bands originally slated to appear across the weekend; chief among them were Birmingham’s own Napalm Death, Eurovision veterans Lordi and Sweden’s Unleashed. Although their presence was sorely missed, Hammerfest still offered the first chance for live music for me in many a month.

While HRH events have long had a reputation for poor communication and line-up alterations, this year’s edition was perhaps the most disorganised. With running orders being changed regularly and bands dropping out over the weekend, my plans had several last-minute changes alongside flying blind and seeing bands on a whim.

Two quick side notes: firstly, apologises for the poor photo quality, my phone camera has all the quality of a potato (also, ran out of battery before Memoriam took to the stage too, while my camera was apprantly drunk while taking photos of Incinery, blurry eyed and incomprehensible). Secondly, I’ve included Bandcamp links to the artists in question; always good to spread the word.




Saturday


While Saturday’s line-up wasn’t particularly strong for me, there was enough to keep me occupied, mixed in with a few bands I was eager to see, chief among them Helgrind, who have managed to elude me until now, and a Blaze BayleyIron Maiden 25th anniversary set”. Plus, I had time to nip to the local pubs in between the live music.

Alas, Son Of Boar were an early casualty for me; due to issues with accommodation, I missed their set on the second stage. Luckily for me, they appear to be a band with a busy schedule ahead of them this year, so our paths may cross once more.

Enquire Within 15:00-15:40, Main Stage



squint hard and you'll see a band


Arriving at the venue expecting Helgrind to be taking to the stage, I was to get my first exposure to the running order changing at the last minute. As a result, Enquire Within had the honour of opening the main stage and kicking off the festival for me. The band’s enthusiasm and effort were noticeable; however, it did not overcome what was average groove metal and a set hampered by sound issues. Much of the set consisting of drums and vocals drowning out the bass and guitars before things took a turn for the worse when, just after “Berserker” had finished, one of the guitar amps failed, resulting in the band improvising to fill 10 minutes of lost time. It was a good effort, though one that didn’t overcome the odds that were unfairly stacked against the band.



Helgrind 16:00-16:50, Main Stage



Well worth a listen to


I had long been looking forward to catching Helgrind, and Hammerfest was finally the time our paths met after previous instances befalling either the band cancelling their appearance or me being unable to attend said shows. A veteran of the UK thrash scene, the band combine Tom Araya-style vocals with Sodom- and Kreator-inspired thrash, which made for one hell of a compelling show. Running through a deep discography, the band tore through the likes of “Massacre The Suffering” and “Back From Hell” with an ease and precision that was rewarded with an audience that was continually growing in number throughout as the band roared on. Ending on a one-two of the instrumental section of Motörhead’s “Overkill” and The Ramones “Blitzkrieg Bop”, the band set an early high bar others would have to struggle to match.



Blaze Bayley 18:30-19:30, Main Stage



About to rip through this Dave Murray solo, but first let me scratch my nose for luck


Luckily enough, the following performance (after a short pub break) not only matched the high bar but raised it to an even higher level. After watching Blaze perform, I can only hope to grow old like him: being extremely humble, funny and, most importantly, enjoyable. Performing a special “25th anniversary Iron Maiden” set (which he was due to perform at last year’s event before it got postponed, it being 25 years since he joined Maiden), Blaze easily had the biggest crowd of the weekend, as well as the highest expectations. Though I may not be a big fan of his stint in the group (as my write-up for Virtual XI hints at), I’ve long held the belief that the issue was not Blaze, but too much filler and not enough killer(s). With today’s set, a cherry-picked greatest hits (….and “The Angel And The Gambler”), affirming this belief, Blaze took to the stage and had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout, with the crowd responding to every gesture and demand to sing or cheer with enthusiasm. Hearing rare gems like “Sign Of The Cross”, “The Clansman” and “Man On The Edge” played with such quality and passion elevated each track beyond mere footnotes in Iron Maiden’s discography and bolstered the argument that these lesser known hits should be a bit more known. Backed by the Blaze Bayley band (A.K.A. Absolva), each song was played with a precision, power and passion that allowed each song to breathe more than they were able to on their respective studio outings. Easily joint contender for band of the weekend.



Conan 19:50-20:50, Main Stage



Arnie was too busy to appear on stage


Alas, there were no enemies fleeing before me, with the only women lamenting were those who had been just come back quite a bit poorer from the bar. As beer and tiredness had rendered me somewhat inert, I chose to stay at mainstage and listen to a band that had a movie named after them* rather than attempt the walk to third stage to see Ashen Crown. My inertia was broken when the crushing and shattering doom of Conan caused the floor beneath my tired feet to shake. While I’m far from a doom aficionado, I know my (Candlem)ass from my elbow; Conan were doing everything right, but tiredness stopped me from getting into the groove and experiencing the show. I appeared to not be the only one, with the crowd slowly ebbing away as the set went on; following the high energy and upbeat set by Blaze Bayley with a slow and crushingly heavy set was perhaps a poor choice in hindsight. Those who remained, however, were treated to a set encompassing the band’s hits, from “Volt Thrower” to “Hawk As A Weapon”, the two moments where I clicked with the band and I floated along with each hypnotic, overdriven note.

*Schwarzenegger is a massive fan of the doom genre surely



Raging Speedhorn 21:10-22:20, Main Stage



Time to get extreme


Continuing the theme of being too tired to move, rabble rousers Raging Speedhorn were up next, as I could not muster the energy to go and see Barbarian Hermit on the third stage. Slightly delayed owing to drum issues, when the band took to the stage they were very insistent on making sure everyone knew their name, which must've been the case by the sixth time of bellowing their name with an intensity normally reserved for stubbing one’s toe on a coffee table, at which point Ramping Spleenhurt kicked off a chaotic set that deafened and threatened in near-equal measure. If ECW did music, then Raging Speedhorn would be the resulting creation (Sandman on vocals and Raven on guitar, obviously) as the band played at full volume, diving regularly into the crowd and constantly inciting the audience to mosh and drink (rewarded by perhaps the messiest and certainly the biggest circle pit of the weekend). Hitting hard with a set consisting of songs old and new, the band made the most impact with the sludgy “Spitfire” and adrenaline-soaked “Fuck The Voodooman” before peaking with perhaps the band’s best known track, “Thumper”. While walking the fine line between anarchy and controlled chaos, the band’s performance did become somewhat stale in parts, with the high energy and volume being a trick that outstayed its welcome.



Memoriam 22:55-00:25, Main Stage

It was then that Saturday’s replacement headliners Memoriam took to the stage. A band whose popularity doesn’t reflect their underappreciated quality, Memoriam indulged those in attendance to a set crammed full of quality old school death metal. Tearing through the likes of “Onwards Into Battle”, “Shellshock” and “As Bridges Burn”, Memoriam managed to get a sizeable chunk of the audience to shake off their beer-induced tiredness and pay attention (though, given the volume, you’d be hard pressed not to). Although some in the audience were keen to remind those in the band that they were indeed once in a band called Bolt Thrower, they took in their stride and seemed that bit more determined to make those persons think of the present instead of the past. When a band can rip through songs like “This War Is Won” and “War Rages On” (sensing a theme here), you know that so long as everything is audible (which it was), you are nigh-on guaranteed a good time.






Sunday


After sleeping off the beer and tiredness, I was ready for a second day of live music and revelry. I noticed that Lullaby For A Unicorn had replaced Venom Inc. (originally the promoted replacements for Unleashed), who had pulled out the day before the festival had begun, and were to be opening the mainstage. Deciding to make lemonade from these lemons, I left the pub early to go and see what kind of music sends a unicorn to slumber.

Lullaby For A Unicorn 13:40-14:40, Main Stage



What? A Wild Unicorn Appers?


I found out what kind of music sends a unicorn to sleep: bad music does. A band with no real identity, half committing to the unicorn theme and some unfunny humour (a Steven Seagull song was the highlight, to underline that element), led to a performance by a group who, at the very least, were enjoying themselves, even if the sparse audience in attendance were not. Ending twenty minutes early (though in the band’s defence, they were a last-minute addition) it left me with plenty of time to ponder the great existential questions of our time, namely being, why did I choose this over more time at the pub?



It was after this performance that I found out the running times had changed yet again, with the frustrating news that Church Of The Cosmic Skull had been forced to pull out owing to Covid. The only upside to this was that I now could see Bangover and Incinery, who were initially clashing with other bands. The biggest blunder of the weekend, however, occurred at this time, with the confusion over running order reaching its apex. The festival’s official app had the correct times, but the venue had printed and put up running orders that were two days out of date (with Venom Inc. down as appearing) while some stewards were handing out another set of running times that were out of date as of the morning, leading to some bands playing to small crowds initially as people filtered in, or people waiting for a band to turn up, and then leaving in quick order after realizing it was a different band than the ones they had anticipated.

Wolfbastard 15:00-15:40, Second Stage



Inglorious Bastards


How on Earth this band had managed to evade me before this weekend I’ll never know; seeing them on a whim, I was blown away by this trio of Mancunian blackened D-beat punks, and came away eager to get my ears around their albums. Any fans of Hellripper and Midnight will likely find another band to get their fix from. Being the perfect remedy to what had been a poor start of the day for me, the band launched into their set and never let up; a relentless frenzy of fuzz and mayhem in neat three-minute packages was just the pick-me-up I needed. Running through a set consisting of tracks new and old, I was introduced to songs such as “Sick In The Bath”, “Graveyard Slag” and “Can’t Escape The Grave”, which rapidly became tracks I’ve had on repeat since. Easily the surprise of the weekend, and testament to seeing different/unknown bands when at a festival: you could easily find yourself a new favourite band.



Incursion 16:00-16:40, Third Stage

As if, to undermine my previous point almost immediately, I decided to venture to the third stage as I had yet to stick my head in there this weekend and gave Incursion a go on a whim. With a sound that bounced off the walls in a distorted mess, the band’s djent-influenced music was an audible blur that, at best, camouflaged what was some fairly disinteresting music. Though I gave them a fair shake, I left early and ventured off for an early dinner.



Bangover 18:15-19:10, Second Stage



Head Bang(ov)er, Face, Rip


Now anyone who knows me, knows that I am an unabashed thrashaholic, so the opportunity to see Bangover again was one I dived right into. The band were in fine form, aided by a crunchy sound that made riff-heavy tracks such as “Beer Death Experience” slam harder than the circle pits they conjured up, with the audience duly following along to “Crop Circle Pit”. Taking the route of ‘less talk, more music’, Bangover ripped through their set with speed and precision, packing in as much as they could before fellow thrashers Incinery took to the main stage and split the audience, thanks to a brief overlap in sets. Fun and fast, Bangover got the final stretch of the festival off to a great start.



Incinery 19:00-20:00, Main Stage

One of the few upsides to all the changes in the running order was that I was now able to see Incinery again, having originally been the losing band in a set of harsh clashes. My first time seeing the band on a stage this size, Incinery took it in their stride and made it their own; the likes of “Hollowed Earth” and “Behind The Lies” did not feel small or out of place on a large stage. Playing to a growing audience as they filtered through once Bangover had finished, the band had a respectable showing for much of their set. The only downside of the set came when Incinery pulled out “Ellison”; a meandering mid-tempo number on record, it fared no better live and proved to be a lull I hoped would be over as soon as possible. Luckily, they picked up the pieces afterwards and ended the set on a high, with heavy-hitter “The Madman’s Tale” ensuring the set was evenly paced with quality tracks.



Green Lung 20:30-21:30, Main Stage



Breathe in Deeply


And so, it came time for my final band of the weekend; the group behind my joint favourite album of 2021 in Black Harvest, Green Lung were the perfect band to cap off a weekend of live music for me. Those of the audience who stuck it out this long (and there were quite a few) were treated to a band on top form and a new album that only added quality tracks and not filler (as is often the case when bands play new material), while also mixing in a healthy dose of older songs. Finally being able to hear “Old Gods” and “Graveyard Sun” live were the highlights of the set for me, two tracks that made 2021 a bearable dumpster fire of a year; indeed, their live incantations were just as good as I expected, with the riff-heavy stoner of the former contrasting perfectly with the mournful harmonies of the latter. A band I cannot recommend highly enough, I hope to catch them live again in due course.






And with that, my weekend drew to a close as the final notes of “Let The Devil In” dissipated into the air. I wasn’t the only one of this mind, with a sizeable amount of people also heading to the exit, leaving HRH regulars Red Rum to rue their misfortune of being tasked with following a set like that. While the weekend was poorly organised, it was ultimately an enjoyable time thanks to the bands (and beers) that made the hassle worth it. The city where metal was born lived up to its reputation and was home once more to a weekend of metal and entertainment.



The Future


With next year’s line-up being released before the weekend was out, it gives would-be attendees nearly a full year to acquaint themselves with the line-up (and plenty of time for it to alter as well) and find the funds to attend.






Written on 20.02.2022 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.


Comments

Comments: 2   Visited by: 43 users
23.02.2022 - 12:55
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Glad you had some fun
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Do you think if the heart keeps on shrinking
One day there will be no heart at all?
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23.02.2022 - 13:13
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Cool to read, I like your idea pit BC under each band, I know our Transylvanian user does ina reviews, its cool.
It is nice to read something about live music seems soon all starts to happen again, I hope so

PS what beer did you drunk and how many?
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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