Pontins Holiday Village, Prestatyn, Wales
24th-25th April 2009
All pics and review by HannTu
Wales. Sheep, craggy mountains and rolling valleys, and unpronounceable place names with seemingly no vowels whatsoever. Metal? Nah, you’re pulling my leg.
Well, Hard Rock Hell appears to be well-established as a big festival to look out for in the UK, probably on par with the Damnation Festival and steadily gaining ground on Bloodstock Open Air as one of the better festivals in Europe, never mind in the UK. And now, as if that weren’t enough, the guys behind Hard Rock Hell in collaboration with Metal Hammer decide to welcome the summer festival season with even more metal. Thus, Hammerfest. Simple as that really.
The only problem was that the Pontins Resort in North Wales was hell to get to. Driving up the motorway in Friday traffic meant an eight hour journey that should have taken only four hours. Arriving knackered and already late, added with a few admin problems regarding our accommodation, I missed a load of bands that I absolutely wanted to see, including The Rotted, Mutant, Evile and especially HammerFall. I also only caught the very tail end of Paradise Lost, which was very annoying.
I headed over the second stage for SpeedTheory, who play an energetic brand of melodic death metal. The Brummies are led by an impressively afro-ed Wes Davies who leads the growling and riffing. There’s an edge of progressiveness to the band who jump in and out of soft and heavy passages. Good stuff and they seemed to have quite a few fans in the audience.
Vengeance Is Mine
Opeth are confirmed regulars on the touring circuit, and this will be the fourth time I’ve seen them in just under a year. But there was also a ‘first’ for me, as this was the first time that I’ve actually finished one of their sets all the way from beginning to end! Part of this was to do with the fact that the main stage in Hammerfest provides fans with the opportunity to sit down in proper seats at the back of the venue! With the weight taken off my feet and a cold beer in hand, Opeth suddenly seemed very much more bearable.
Mikael Akerfeldt is just as reserved on stage as he’s always been, moving even less than an arthritic three-footed tortoise. But the polymath in him is fascinating and worthy of respect, as he sings, growls and plays intensely complicated riffs with dead precision.
His sense of humour is impeccable though, and he made a joke about one of their fans falling over when trying to headbang to their music, a gentle dig at the people who criticise them for being pretentiously indulgent and overly technical. Asking the audience what they thought of his “perfect ass” was asking for trouble though…
Three songs from 2008’s WATERSHED album made an appearance as Opeth entranced and bewitched the crowd. As for me, Opeth was my second and last band of the first day of Hammerfest, although Kiuas, Power Quest and Annotations of an Autopsy were due to make their appearances shortly on the two stages. I simply could not keep my eyes open any longer. The threadbare but incredibly comfortable apartments at Pontins Resort beckoned, with clean toilets, running water and sleeping arrangements that didn’t involve a zip.
Ghost of Perdition
Waylander kicked off the second day that was wet and windy to begin with, but later magnificently hot and drunken. The Irish folk metal band appeared on the second stage daubed in blue face paint and looked set to kick arse, but did not get off to an auspicious start. Gareth Briggs seemed to be playing with a broken string on his guitar, and about ten minutes into their set, they had prolonged sound problems. As Skindred were warming up on the main stage, I regretfully left the Clan Waylander to check them out.
Skindred undoubtedly put on the very best performance all weekend. The band from Newport, South Wales, are an incarnation of a previous band called Dub War, and they draw on influences of nu-metal, reggae, punk and drum’n’bass to give us an intense performance that was as much hard-hitting as it was fun.
Frontman Benji Webbe peppers his speeches between songs with homegrown homilies like “As my dear old mum used to say…YOU CUNT!” But at the same time, there is a very real and furious political slant to Skindred’s music that seethes and bubbles under the surface, a genuine despair at people’s inability to live together and tolerate and embrace differences.
Don’t doubt the power of music though. I thought reggae metal would be the last thing I’d be interested in, but Skindred blew all competition out of the water. The drum’n’bass underpinning the entire rhythm section was fatally infectious, while Benji’s reggae-style roars added both urgency and a paradoxical yet undeniable sense of cool. When you see a thousand metalheads raving to a drum’n’bass beat, exhorted to greater heights by a dreadlocked black man with coolness running through his veins, you know you’ve seen it all. Don’t miss a chance to see Skindred live, it’s an experience you will never forget.
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