This year saw the very first HRH United show and although it didn’t go without a few teething problems, overall it was a great weekend and great fun as always!
If this was your first HRH festival, you will not have missed the stilt-walkers, the fire-eaters nor the glossy little program book you used to get. You may not have been overly bothered about the trek up and down the hill, but for some of the Hammerfest veterans, these things were noticeable and more of a problem for some than others.
In previous years ‘Hammerfest‘ was the event, with bands split across 2 stages (since the move to Hafan Y Mor in 2013), ‘Stage 1’ being the big ass room with Burger King and the chippy at the back, and ‘Stage 2’ the smaller (warmer) room with Papa Johns pizza and merch stalls. This year however, Hammerfest was a stage within the ‘HRH United’ event in the new third stage in Bonga Wonga, at the back of the Mash n Barrel. Bigger than previous years acoustic stage setup, the stage itself looked about the size of stage 2, but the room itself was much bigger and in a tiered layout like stage 1.
HRH AOR (in its 3rd year) claimed the pizza & merch stage (stage 2) on Thursday, then the big ass stage (stage 1) for Friday and Saturday. The other HRH brand genres happened on the Friday and Saturday on stage 2: pizza & merch. On Friday we had the Doom stage kicking off at 1pm, becoming the Sleaze stage from 6pm. On Saturday it was Stoner from 12pm, becoming Thrash from 6pm. See, Hammerfest did not keep ‘changing stages’ as I occasionally heard people grumbling about – t’was perfectly simple!?
All this walking up and down hills to catch different bands was a wee bit tiring. My goal was to cover as much of the festival as possible and experience as many bands as my eyes and ears would allow. In reality, I saw less bands this year than any previous year!
Yes it was pretty wet when we first arrived, like waders needed to get near the chalets at the bottom end of the park! But then it is Wales, in March – it does rain! Being my first gig of the year I couldn’t wait to get seeing some bands so we head off into stage 3 for the first of the Hammerfest bands and Highlight #1 of the weekend: INCINERY. We had a little wait (I was as patient as I could be under the circumstances) whilst this new stage was set up. About half hour later than planned, the thrash monsters took to the stage to a decent sized appreciative crowd and started the weekend with a bang! My first time seeing INCINERY and won’t be my last.
Armed with my trusty Clashfinder plan I mapped my weekends route around the stages. Aiming to catch the second half of FAHRAN‘s set I power-walked up the hill to find where the Hammerfest bands were running about half hour behind on day 1, the AOR bands were about 20 minutes ahead due to a band having to pull out. A combination of which meant I missed FAHRAN and so all plans went out the window for the evening! They get an honorary mention in my highlights because I heard they were great!
The Hammer-festivities didn’t start until 3pm on either day so there was plenty of time to venture up the hill and over the bridge to check out some Doom and AOR on the Friday first. Opening the Doom, pizza & merch stage at 1pm was GURT, a band recommended to us a while back. The band was great and I really enjoyed their set despite the technical difficulties midway through. Growth entertained the crowd for what must have felt like a lifetime whilst this was sorted. We also caught a bit of DYSTERIA for some “Anti-humanity Hardcore” which was not what I was expecting from the Doom stage at all! Massively entertaining and a little bit frightening, what more could you ask for?
Previous years Hammerfest line-ups were 50-60 bands across 2 or 3 stages, and with this year having 24, I guess it’s fair to say Hammerfest itself has halved in size. I’m lucky as I appreciate pretty much all styles of rock & metal so there was still more than enough bands to keep me entertained all weekend. That said I only watched 1 band on the AOR stage all weekend… but wow what a band!
Highlight #2: PSYCHO KISS opened with the haunting intro of Bloodbath At The Disco and went on to play a few more tracks from that album which served as a reminder to listen to it more often! The band were possibly nervous to start with, though not in the ‘uncomfortable to watch’ way, and after 2 or 3 tracks were well settled in. The band was tight and gave a flawless performance and as for Helen… well I don’t know if she realises just how talented she is!! Following a comment that they’re going to do a slower track as she’s ‘not fit’ – a voice from the crowd shouts ‘well you look FIT from here!’ (well done Jay, so proud). They had a decent sized crowd but could have easily played a later slot and wow-ed even more people. If you missed them I feel sad for you, don’t miss them next time! (please book them next time).
Let’s mention clashes. No one escaped a major clash of their favourite bands all weekend, because there were just so many great bands on the line-up. I think everyone got caught out by Hell vs Evil Scarecrow on Saturday night and you could hear discussions all around the site all weekend about who was going where. The other main clash for me was Angel Witch vs Falling Red vs The Poodles (who were never really on my radar but were recommended to me many many times over the weekend)
So ANGEL WITCH… has to be said, great crowd, great atmosphere – everyone seems to know “you’re an angel witch” and it felt like everyone was just waiting for that track. However, I couldn’t wait for that… Highlight #3: FALLING RED were over the hill and far away and I really wanted to be there to show support and solidarity and check out Stevie Pearce filling the boots of Jayde Starr who parted ways with the band in December. Well I don’t think the guys would mind me saying he had a little bit of a mare but it was all handled with great humour and anyway after so much breakage, eventually there’s nothing left to break – just play on. Always a pleasure to watch and I was pleased to see a good turn out for them.
There was a big build up going on back down in Hammer-wonga. It seems everyone was really excited to see my Highlight #4: XENTRIX on the bill – good choice there HRH, keep up the good work! Playing new, old and even older stuff, you couldn’t help but get drawn in by the atmosphere and whether you were a fan of XENTRIX before or not, if you were in that room you couldn’t help but be a fan!
At this time of night on the Friday, there were bands going on up on the Sleaze stage that I desperately wanted to check out. I want to say how amazing HEARTBREAK REMEDY were but they, like many others over the weekend, fell victim to my lazyitus. Other casualties of my bone-idleness were HARDCORE SUPERSTAR, STOP STOP and SISTER. (Genuinely though, I was shattered!)
However, a silver lining, for missing STOP STOP meant I caught Highlight #5: HIRAX‘s first ever UK show. Not a band I was familiar with at all, luckily they have a great sense of humour as a member of the team (need I say who?!) decided to ask front man Katon W. De Pena if he was ‘the guy from Different Strokes’ before they went on stage. A gripping performance, and although the lights went off during the set, they battled on like pro’s. Another band that if you missed them, your Hammerfest was not as good as mine!
So onto Saturday, and much drinking, moshing, partying and squeezing into impossibly small cupboards had already happened and Jay had insulted every friend he’d managed to meet up with by not recognising them! There’s an impressively long list of people that Jay doesn’t know what they look like!
At 3pm it was time to catch Highlight #6: OAF opening the Hammerfest stage. Thoroughly entertaining as always and with a livelier, heckling crowd than with the 12pm start OAF usually has. Known as the Hammerfest House Band, OAF amazed the crowds with brand new offerings such as Disgusted By Your Genitalia as well as the old classics like Fuck Off Seagull, which was again featuring Matt/Dr Hell from Evil Scarecrow (the “friend” part of “Oaf & Friends”)
ORANGE GOBLIN is a band that I definitely need to listen to more often. I felt that I would have enjoyed their set a whole lot more if I’d been more familiar with the tracks. Still, they cement their position as one of the best bands in the UK at them moment and there were plenty of people there who were obviously big fans of the band.
Following on from them was the band I’d been looking forward to seeing the most, Highlight #7: CANDLEMASS. Beautiful epic metal at it’s very finest. Before they started, I had planned to watch CANDLEMASS until THE HERETIC ORDER were due to start on the Thrash stage, however I COULD NOT LEAVE. Saving my favourite track, Solitude, till the very end meant I was going nowhere. Even the lack of toilet facilities didn’t get me out of there until it was over!
Fortunately, Highlight #8: THE HERETIC ORDER, had barely started their first track when we arrived. I set a personal best time of shifting myself up the hill for this band and so glad I did. Fronted by Breed77’s guitarist Danny Felice, THE HERETIC ORDER put on a brilliant show. This is a relatively new band, but having already played Bloodstock and now HRH United, you CAN believe the hype!
The weekend was drawing to a close and it was time for the big Evil Scarecrow vs Hell dilemma. Well, there was no way I was missing Highlight #9: EVIL SCARECROW! And so thought A LOT of other people – Stage 2 was bursting at the seams! Dr Hell had no issues commanding the crowd, they knew what to do and so the perfect square for Robototron was achieved with ease. Everyone’s claws were out for Crabulon, although when you’re right at the front of stage, scuttling left and right took a great deal of effort, co-ordination and balance! I was sad that there was no room in the set for Vampyre Trousers, The Book Of Doom, Blacken The Everything (or did I just miss these in the excitement?), but we did get Galacticus, Crabulon and Space Dementia from the new album so all good. The set seemed way too short, and would have felt that way if they’d been playing for 2 hours or more. This one act cemented the ‘Hammerfest was brilliant’ feeling… or HRH United, whatever.
At times the festival seemed plagued with power cuts, lighting issues, toilet issues and other technical mishaps though nothing so traumatic to make me have to think for a second about visiting next year. Well, actually, being told you have to go over the hill and far away for he nearest toilet was quite traumatic – especially when you had no idea the toilets 10 feet away were not in use until you really need to use them!
The festival is in its adolescence; it’s growing and going through changes and not all proportionately. Yes, growing pains I think is a fair diagnosis. Some people may not like the young adult that develops, though more probably will.
Go back 5 years and HRH festivals were very much about the social aspect. You would meet up with and bump into the same faces all weekend and form really strong friendships. This year really felt bigger, more spread out. I didn’t see / couldn’t find the same people all weekend, and also didn’t really get to know anyone outside of existing friendship circles. It is however all part of growing up!