HRH United - Pwllheli, Hafan y Mor Holiday Park - 10th - 12th March 2016 Print E-mail
Written by Rich Hobson   
Wednesday, 06 April 2016 03:40

It’s a good time to love live music, and it’s a very good time to love festivals in particular. Just taking a cursory look at the UK Festival Calendar in 2016 it seems like every city, town and field in the country has at least one festival at some point during the year. And, though some people suggest this could cause something of a quality crisis for the festival circuit as a whole, it also means there’s plenty to see and do all year round – great for those of us who get the February blues waiting for the touring season to start.

 

Hammerfest lineup

 

Thus it is that for the third time we set off to the Uber Rockin’ homestead of Wales for some mountainous metal fun courtesy of the Metal Hammer affiliated Hammerfest. Now in its eighth year, Hammerfest (and its conjoined twin HRH AOR, now combined into HRH United) has had its fair share of great bands old and new pass through its entirely unique setting, pulling together some pretty impressive line-ups in its time. This year’s headliners Cradle of Filth and Exodus are more than enough of a draw to attract me and mine, so off we set for some metal weirdness in the Welsh mountains - or at least, that was the plan. As is, we end up delayed somewhat by the accelerated death of our Gigmobile (RIP) and by the time we arrive in Pwllheli the bands are well underway, and we’re foodless and beer-less, so we opt to miss out on The Quireboys and the like in favour of stocking up for the weekend. There’s always tomorrow, eh?

 

FRIDAY

 

Friday is the fated day, and the main selling point for us (Cradle of Filth in a Haven Holiday camp? Surely not!) seems to be similar for most other festival attendees, with a sea of black tees giving way to a decidedly Cradle-heavy bias. Slipping on our hallowed wristbands (which allow access to nearly all the stages including HRH Stoner, HRH Doom and HRH Sleaze), we head over to see fellow Midlanders Stone Broken kick the weekend off. A cursory listen on YouTube when the full line-up had been announced gave us the idea that this lot were of an alt-rock fare that could fit in with the likes of Staind, Puddle of Mudd et al but what we hadn’t anticipated was how very… Nickelback the band sound live.

 

Stone Broken

 

Bunking as we are with a bloke in an Aborted shirt and another in Cattle Decapitation gear, it’s pretty apparent that this isn’t the metal-heavy start to the weekend they were expecting. Oops. Still, we stick around long enough to get a decent portion of the band’s set, and though its most definitely derivative of the likes of Nickelback and (shudder) latter-day Black Stone Cherry, there’s plenty of commercial appeal and it’s not hard to see why the band have built a decent fanbase back home. That being said however, they should probably dispense with the Kroegerisms if they want to stand strong on their own two feet. Ducking out before the band can finish, my gigging partners are so scarred by their All American Radio Alt. Rock experience that they scarper for the hills (or rather, the coast), only allowing themselves to be lured back many hours later with the promise of accordion heavy Battle Metal to re-boost the spirits, thus meaning we miss much of the rest of Friday’s musical offerings.

 

It feels like an age has passed since Turisas last graced our shores, and it turns out that one more or less has, with a quick consultation of my monolithic Gig Calendar showing that the last time I saw the band was back in 2008 when the band supported Dragonforce (with their last outing on UK soil around a year or two afterward). The first folk metal band I ever heard (and the beginnings of a large love affair over the years) back on a Metal Hammer ‘Battle Metal’ compilation in 2005, Turisas hold a very special place in my heart, and it’s pleasing to see that by the sheer number of war-paint clad metalheads wandering outside the venue they also hold a very special place in the hearts of the British Metal community at large.

 

Turisas

 

The perfect antidote to derivative, imagination-less music clogging up the arteries of the music industry (or, All American Not-So-Alternative “Rock”), Turisas hammer through a set list rife with party-heavy vibes and massive tunes. The ‘Battle Metal’ album material is noticeably light, but then with 12 years distance between it and the Turisas of 2016, it’s no surprise that the band would rather dive headlong into more recent material that better shows off their growth over time. That being said, the roar for the genre’s rallying cry ‘Battle Metal’ and Boney M. cover ‘Rasputin’ are enormous, and Turisas find the crowd in fine fettle to receive a massive dosage of epic.

 

In a world where Nightwish can headline Wembley Arena, one can only hope for the same heights for Turisas, with the added tantalising possibility of hearing the band with a full orchestra (as seen with Metallica, Paradise Lost etc. etc.) giving us fans high hopes for the future, hopes which are mirrored in vocalist Mathias Nygard’s cryptic announcement that the band have “something big in the works”. Those crazy Finns, eh?

 

And then, it’s time for the big bad boys from down South themselves, Cradle Of Filth. Those of a certain age (i.e. mine) will remember Cradle as the first truly “edgy” band their mates would get into when joining the rock scene, with the black metal inspired corpse paint and nail-varnish of Dani Filth creating a sea of identikit mini-goths who looked to shock their parents and prove just how edgy they could be with a “Jesus Is A Cunt” tee and a mid-pubescent death growl. The gateway band for many an extreme metal fan, and a band that comes across as more of a cultural phenomenon than a rock ‘n’ roll act, it’s hard to look at Cradle and not feel a massive sense of nostalgia, coupled with the realization that even without all the theatricality and controversy, the band really could belt out a tune.

 

A little under 10 years since I last saw the band (April 27th 2007, if you’re that interested), the question “do the band (and, crucially, ringmaster Dani Filth) still have it?” is pretty redundant, considering I saw Dani’s “other” band Devilment in the same venue not 12 months ago, and therefore already know that the answer is most definitely “yes”. That being said, a few years back I remember flicking on Scuzz and seeing Mr. Filth sans any kind of Cradle makeup, and having a brief worry that the band had dropped their theatrical bent; coming out tonight in full make-up and costume, with a horror-movie prop nightstand, I see that my fear was entirely unfounded, and that they still own the crown of being one of the most theatrical acts on the rock ‘n’ roll circuit.

 

Cradle of Filth

 

The band lunge straight in for their opening number ‘Heaven Torn Asunder’, which is more ‘Haven Torn Asunder’ as the crowd go completely wild for the band, setting the atmosphere to electric right from the off. Always one of the most extreme voices in metal, Dani has a shriek that few can match, and even fewer (if any) can top, and tonight Dani howls like he’s suffering from the worst case of gonorrhoea you’ve ever heard. The band, for their part, dispense with any commercial bent their songs may once have held with relentless pounding drums and crushing riffs showing off a band very much kings (and queen) of their genre. Throw in the goth-heavy vocals of the (appropriately named) Lindsay Schoolcraft, and the songs take on an almost Lovecraftian edge, sounding closer to an invocation of the beings of the nether than the standard death metal fare that you’re likely to find elsewhere.

 

Songs from across the Cradle canon fly thick and fast, stretching as far back as debut ‘The Principal Of Evil Made Flesh’ right the way through to last year’s ‘Hammer of The Witches’ with ‘Blackest Magick in Practice’, the latter of which adds a thrash metal flavour that stands at odds with the band’s usual black metal-esque style. The music of ‘Thornography’ is notable for its absence, but this is made up for in the sheer scope of the set. Ever the ring-master, Dani is able to get the crowd hanging on his every word and jeer, perfectly whipping up a cauldron brew of excitement and energy that few bands could ever hope to tap into.

 

Sparks literally start to fly when the band add a couple of metal-grinding performers during the set, and the moment when Dani bathes himself in the flying sparks creates the sense that with Cradle you are treated to less a simple metal gig, and more a Sounds and Visual Spectacular display. Add to this already-winning-formula exceptional classics like ‘Her Ghost in the Fog’, ‘Gilded Cunt’ and the inescapable ‘Nymphetamine’ (itself a genre defining song akin to ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Reigning Blood’), and you get the recipe for why Cradle have gone from strength to strength over the years, never losing any of the magic(k) that has helped endear them to the music world at large. Proof that you don’t need niggling things like “commerciality” or repetitive choruses to conquer the airwaves, Cradle Of Filth are a band still very much legendary in their own right, perfectly at home in the Metal world, and (by extension) absolutely at home at events like Hammerfest which bring together the faithful.

 

When the band are dragged back in to darkness for the final time this evening, we decide to retreat in order to try and grab a spot at the after-party to see the brilliant Red Rum, our triumphant returning heroes from Hammerfest VII. It is then, with some considerable disappointment, a damned shame that we are turned away at the door (lacking the proper passes, foolish mortals as we are). Oh well, there’s always next time…

 

SATURDAY

 

Contrary to the high hopes of the previous evening, no amount of devilish invocation is enough to usher away the perennial grey-clouds of Wales in March, so we get up Saturday morning to a light drizzle – perfect to wash away the fuzzy head of the night before and go do some local sightseeing before the first band of the day, the mighty Oaf. The freedom afforded to HRH United is one of the larger attractions of the festival - if you don’t want to watch a band you can go grab some food at one of the on-site eateries, or otherwise cook up your own dinner and not spend a mini-fortune at a place that’s the digestive equivalent of M6 congestion during rush hour.

 

So it is that we bugger off in the wee hours of the morning to go do some sightseeing up the road, arriving back at the site half hour before Oaf start assaulting the ailing hungover masses. If Dani Filth and Cradle Of Filth are an antidote to generic identikit acts then Dom Lawson and Oaf are an antidote to Cradle’s overly theatrical approach to metal, taking on an unassuming, self-depreciative humour which just makes you love the band even more. Be it belching down the microphone, or otherwise chatting to the crowd between songs, Dom is a natural entertainer, with a hideous snarl to boot, howling his way through the likes of ‘Wanking With A Fist Full of Shit’, ‘Yes Sir, I Can Tina Turner’ and ‘We Know Why You’re Rubbish At Darts’.

 

Oaf final

 

Much of the material played is from the band’s second album (which I reviewed way back in 2013) ‘Birth School Oaf Death’, which has fortuitously been released on CD in the not-too-distant past. In addition to this however, the band also play a couple of tunes from their upcoming, as yet undated-and-untitled third release, the brilliant ‘Scott Walker’s Crisps’ and the even better sing-along ‘Disgusted By Your Genetalia’ (a song so catchy I can no longer get dressed in front of my partner). With the sense of humour they possess, its unsurprising that Oaf have managed to amass something of a strong cult following at Hammerfest, so much so that there is a pretty sizeable crowd in for their short-but-sweet set, a crowd which massively dissipates when they leave.

 

A mainstay of Hammerfest for years now, appearing every year without fail, Oaf always prove to be a highlight of the weekend for yours truly, and this year is no exception. As Hammerfest is one of the only guaranteed gigs outside of London or Brighton each year, Oaf are one of the more elusive acts to follow, but one very much worth pursuing. Cut abruptly short due to running over, the band’s swansong is the bird-themed anthem ‘Fuck off Seagull’, a track which has proved to be something of a breakout success, giving off the sense that Oaf should be offered a headlining set to better disseminate their drum and bass guitar heavy filth, with great tunes like ‘Eggbound’, ‘No Tickets Left For The Time Machine’ and ‘I Can’t Read’ left sadly unaired.

 

Still, all is not lost, and a quick chat with Mr. Lawson later on reveals that he will be assaulting our ears again in the near future with the third instalment in the Ginger Wildheart Mutation project, leaving some hope that this isn’t the only time we’ll see Mr. Lawson onstage this year. As previously mentioned, the crowd numbers drop for Stoneghost, which is a shame as the band come out all cylinders firing. Heavily versed in the back-catalogue of one Mr. Anselmo, Stoneghost bridge the gaps between Down and Pantera with groove-heavy riffs demanding some spirited headbanging.

 

Stoneghost

 

With only one album under their belt at present, the band’s set is heavy in material from last year’s ‘New Age Of Old Ways’, thick in riffs, grooves and swamp laden heaviness. Brute force is the order of the day for Stoneghost’s set, hitting hard and fast to keep the pressure up throughout their set. It’s a shame then that the crowd seem largely static, as you get the impression that given the right amount of energy back from the audience, the band would be flying on lightning, as opposed to settling for locomotive steady strength. That being said, Jason Smith does everything he can to participate with the crowd, and there is a definite sense that once the band has managed to put a bit more material under their belt they will have audiences jumping at their every word. As is right now though, the band will have to settle for being a solid act with plenty of promise, a band worth keeping an eye out for.

 

Retiring back to our home for the weekend, we opt to miss the next couple of acts in favour of eating and having a beer back at the caravan, meaning that by the time we get back over to the arena it’s time for quite possibly the oddest band of the weekend, Trollfest. From the Finnish folk metal of Turisas yesterday, to today’s “WTF Metal” courtesy of Norwegian folksters Trollfest. It’s no big secret that I’m a huge fan of saxophone in genres other than jazz (see also: Dog Fashion Disco, Lenny Kravitz), so a folk metal band with sax was always going to warrant a closer inspection, and Trollfest are a band that require not just inspection, but a full psychiatric evaluation.

 

Hitting musical grounds as diverse as black metal, folk and polka, Trollfest are one of the oddest bands to fall under the Folk Metal banner so far. With shrieking vocals, war chants and thrash-metal-gone-party rhythms, the band are an aural marvel and something that has to be heard to be believed. The lab coats adorned by some members of the band aren’t entirely out of place, considering the band’s batshit experimentation ethics, which are played almost totally straight with an acknowledgment of the pure lunacy that reminds me of Evil Scarecrow. Similar to Evil Scarecrow’s set last year at Hammerfest, there seems to be a diehard contingent ready with dance-moves for every song the band play, and there is no shortage of amusement when the band launch into a stylized cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Womanizer’.

 

Odd as they are, Trollfest fit in perfectly with the somewhat anarchic nature of Hammerfest’s acts, and their successful showmanship certainly does nothing to diminish their appeal. Weeks on from their show, I doubt I’ll ever be able to quantify Trollfest, so in all the bemusement I felt after they left the stage I completely missed the fact that Evile were setting up, giving the illusion that they went on immediately after Trollfest played their last note.

 

Another band of my formative years, Evile were lauded as the new bright hope in thrash metal, only to have fate cruelly piss on them repeatedly at every turn to blight their ascension to thrash royalty. The Evile of 2016 is a very different machine to the one I last saw supporting Megadeth in February 2008, having tragically lost their bassist Mike Alexander a year later, then splitting with lead guitarist Ol Drake in 2013. The band playing in 2016 are a band tempered by the challenges they have faced, and there is a sense of resolute progression as they blast through a set of songs new and old.

 

‘Enter The Grave’ material is decidedly light in tonight’s set list, though in many ways it is commendable that the band opt to play more recent material, as they really are a very different band now. As opposed to the very Slayer-ish bent that categorized ‘ETG’, the band are now much more rooted in Metallica territories, injecting more melody into their songs which means that when they do go all out the crowd really feels the full brunt of the thrashing they get. When the band do pull out the likes of ‘Thrasher’ the songs feel slightly subdued from their punkish origins, most likely due to the change of pace in later material. Nonetheless, Evile are able to continue to smash through any barrier set before them, and even if they have had some hurdles to jump, the influence that they had on the thrash metal revival in the UK is readily apparent in subsequent acts like Reign Of Fury and Eradikator.

 

Exodus

 

Speaking of bands who could have been king, Exodus are a band often mentioned when talking about the “big four of thrash”, and indeed who should actually qualify, with a canon every bit as heavy as Slayer, as musically accomplished as Megadeth and with as many massive tunes as any early Metallica release. Sans Gary Holt for this tour (who is not-quite-ironically playing with Slayer at the moment), Exodus go for the atmospheric build of ‘Black 13’ to arrive onstage, building to the musical equivalent of a rocket going off in the spine. Steve Souza sounds perfectly venomous as the band jump around their back catalogue with the likes of ‘Blood In, Blood Out’ from the album of the same name, and ‘Children of A Worthless God’ from ‘The Atrocity Exhibition: Exhibit A’.

 

Tickets for HRH United III are on sale now via http://www.hrhunited.com/tickets.html