Review by By Sheri Bicheno for Metal Planet Music
It’s Saturday and I’m absolutely bouncing to get back into the live reviewing seat, something I haven’t knuckled down since just before the Pandemic… so with a sufficient brekki in me and armed with my trusty notes, I jump on the 30 min train journey and hit Birmingham, crossing under the ever familiar roundabout to get to the o2 Academy just a short blustery walk from the train station.
As I walk up the steps, I’m met with the glorious sight of several groups of metalheads; including quite a few familiar faces, in their groups chattering outside the venue and in the designated smoking areas.
Walking past them with a strange sense of what seems like excited nostalgia (having been to a few previous Hammerfest’s in Brum) and eagerness to get this year started how we’ve been missing the past couple of years now.
This year’s Hammerfest edition has an eclectic Metal genre lined up after the many chopping and changing it’s gone through. Overall, usually when they put a large event on, they are fun and there is PLENTY of choice to switch between bands if one doesn’t take your fancy.
Boasting three stages, if of course you can find your way through the labyrinth of this venue, all three stages are occupied all day so you are never without somewhere to go to go and watch someone play.
After obtaining my pass, I walked straight into the main stage and had to catch the unmissable Master Charger. I’ve had the pleasure of working with and seeing these guys a couple of times before at other events and whenever I’ve seen them live, they always ALWAYS present the opportunity to explore new depths.
More so after their recent release of their full length album ‘Origin of the Lugubrious’, the evolution of these guys over the last four years is very apparent.
As the Nottingham Stoner Doom trio boom through the main hall, they immediately draw you in through a vortex of deep and grinding riffs, taking tracks from their range of releases over the years. A combination of heavy, melodic soundwaves engulfs the place with the vocals as ever lacing additional depth to their live performance. Never disappointed.
Fully submerged in my first dose of Doom of the day and armed with a new friend I’d made in the ladies loo, I headed over to Stage 2 where I’d only discovered that day that London Black Metallers Tableau Mort were about to start. I didn’t need to think twice to be honest.
I’d only ever seen Tableau Mort once many moons ago… despite being presented with the opportunity to catch their live shows in London several times, something always came up and I could never make it but I’ve always kept my eyes and ears out for these phenomenal bunch of dudes.
As an avid lover of Melodic Black Metal… queue my excitement…
Enter… the hypnotic, soothing vibes and chants that emanate from the stage into the frankly, impressive crowd… and then AN UTTERLY FILTHY growl from James meets the crowd and blends in with the ambience of low and heavy Bass tones and grinding riffs.
That blast beating and utter power coming from George on the drums is quite something to behold… Tableau Mort…despite it still being early… around 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, they are absolutely mashing the potato out of that stage.
And I am here for it. My new friend, plus many others around me are going absolutely mental and we’re loving the creation of such melodic, heavy hitting and atmospheric vibes that blasts through your soul. The place is shaking and getting lost in this is really quite cosmic. Holy chants and beautiful winding guitar solos bring this experience to a gentle halt.
Utterly a band that you need to experience.
It’s now time for some good ol fashioned UK Rock and quite frankly, Absolva are never ones to disappoint. These guys have recently released new album ‘Fire In The Sky’ which was heavily featured amongst their set today. As always, the vibe from Absolva is fun, warm and a great contrast amongst their extreme genre peers of the day.
Infectious 80’s style hard rock, forged with power and grooves and a wealth of experience, this show was always going to keep the crowd on their toes. I have to admit that since seeing these guys on Saturday, i’ve had “Refuse To Die” on loop for an inexplicable amount of time… and i’m not even sorry.
Next up, I absolutely cannot recommend The Heretic Order enough. If you love your pagan, ghoulish cult and horror vibes, with a swift kick of Mercyful Fate and Ozzy Osbourne then look no further.
I have been following these guys for years and it’s been killer to watch them grow and evolve into the powerhouse they are right now. As ever, the ambience and pure force of theatrical energy ooze from these guys.
Blistering slabs of solos and chugging riffs keep any audience of The Heretic Order firmly gazing into their midst. Doomy influences laced with vicious thrash infused paces throughout their set and generally the visual performance from these guys are top form. Lord Ragnar has long been one of the most talented guitarists i’ve seen in many years of his music career and tonight is no exception.
Sporting twin guitars in many of his performances and with a wealth of technique on welding it, amongst gnarly vocals entwining with the talent of Count Marcel’s strings and full throttle dooming Bass and haunting drums that chills you right to the core.
Watch ‘Evil Rising’ here and see for yourself:
All Hail The Order!
Heading to the main stage, the room was of course absolutely brimful of bodies for the steadfast vibe that Blaze Bailey creates in any event I’ve seen this band at. You can appreciate the history of music behind this artist of course and to see that history right in front of you is quite marveling.
Blaze Bailey is fun. Pure fun. It goes without saying that if you’re into the Maiden listening, the nostalgia is gonna hit you in the face like a wrecking ball and that makes all the more for a better experience.
Blaze’s stage demeanor is that of a total gentleman. Interaction, down to earth, humble story telling and creating a positive place within that hall… just the vibe that fills the place coming from Blaze and his band is infectious.
Performing a special “25th Anniversary Iron Maiden” set, we were treated to rare live gems such as ‘The Clansmen’ and ‘ Man On The Edge’ which for those aforementioned nostalgia fans, was a treat to watch. The pure passion, ballad fuelled rock thriving during this set with gliding riffs and smooth melodies.
Then Blaze addresses the crowd and looking around, the absolute unity in the hall right then was almost staggering.
“I don’t think the end of humanity is coming from global warming. I think it’s coming from greedy, corrupt politicians.
And for what seems like after the longest of times, I think everyone felt exactly those words in that hall that moment.
My next endeavor was to go and see a band on Stage 2 that I have been hearing about from corner to corner of the Midlands recently and MY GODS… Internal Conflict are ones you should absolutely be paying attention to right now.
I cannot wait to see the future plans this band have panned out. This is easily one of the best bands of the day for me.
This feeling radiating from this set is very real. With the concept of some of the tracks addressing the challenges of todays society, it’s hard not to be sucked into what these guys are doing.
Please let’s be clear. I absolutely LOVE Conan. They always bring with them the absolute destruction of the universe on stage and not always in the way you’d expect.
To be honest, this is why I adore Doom and Sludge genres, it can still be heavy as boulders but with the tempo as low and bassy as possible, the slow, hard, heavy, sludging through mud feeling that you had as a kid when you were stuck in the river with the tide out.
Chuga chuga chuga, that riff in the haze of blue that fills the stage. I am glued to this spot. Immersive as always. Witchcraft be brewing.
For the penultimate of the evening, I got myself ready to be launched into an assault on the senses that the mighty Raging Speedhorn always bestow. These guys are tirelessly working their craft, from gig to gig, their name is literally everywhere at the moment and for good cause… I’ve never been to a Raging Speedhorn gig that I’ve left feeling “meh”.
The sheer ferociousness these guys deliver is astounding. Don’t trifle with them, they know how to party. Their presence on stage is pure aggression and fire. Fast as f* ear hammering thrash elements and then 1.2.3 BASH!!
Frank is a non stop force on vocals “SPITFIYYAAAAAAA” Arghhh… the whole room is going mental.
“We’re at a rock concert. It’s no time to be cool. Put your hands in the air.” And just like that, everybody does.
Rock, thrash and elements of hardcore are these guys forte and somehow, they entwin cosmic, hard, slow vibes into their sound and vocals.
“It’s almost Valentines Day. Move forward, everyone hug eachother.” D’awwww. <3
Ramping up to get to the front for the headliner of the evening, to a lot of people’s surprise instead of Napalm Death, they were last minute replaced by one of the most prestigious and eminent Old School Death Metal bands that Birmingham’s infamous metal scene has to offer today.
Memoriam have been holding strong and have been well and truly in sight throughout the pandemic and now through the ‘aftermath’, from releasing their most recent album ‘To The End’ via Reaper Entertainment Records in 2021 to storming a string of stages since the UK re-opened it’s gig doors… and more!
No Memoriam gig leaves me, or anyone around me, feeling any less than in a state of wonderment.
That’s apparent this time round with the bloke standing next to me screaming his head off at every single track on this set.
Looking around, it’s pretty crammed down here and then the guys step out on stage and an instant swell of warmth towards the crowd, towards each other and the intro of Sirens fill the air.
I have to note that Waddy, one of the crew member’s of the band, comes out to greet the crowd in a long blonde wig and this is the start of what makes a fun vibe from these guys. They’re here to have a good time.
We’re first lashed with ‘Undefeated’ – an apt start from Memoriam. The sheer velocity of emotion and striking tones that forges it’s way from the stage pull their crowd in and everyone is going nuts around me.
With a set that stretches through much of Memoriam’s past albums, we’re treated to ‘Austerity Kills’, ‘War Rages On’, ‘This War Is Won’ and other such older Memoriam favourites, some of which we wouldn’t necessarily see in their recent shows… and as ever, no track is the same as any other.
Each offering is unique and with the newest addition of Spike T. Smith on the drums, the older tracks are delivered with unrelenting force and a new kind of depth welded into the roots.
‘Onwards Into Battle’, taken from the new album, has always been a crowd pleaser since it’s release. Karl Willett’s vocals are still absolutely sonic in deliverance and power. The vibe he gives from the stage is humble, honest and the emotions behind his lyrics are raw and full of stories and documents of history, chaos and devastation.
He does this best for a reason.
Aside from the fact that Scott Fairfax is one of my favourite British guitarists, his ability to turn some of his HEAVY AS riffs and melodies into a powerful and sometimes stunning backbone of any track he’s involved in – into gold, is something that should not go unnoticed.
He and Frank Healy conjure the best duo when it comes to strings. Frank offers the glue to a beautifully deeper tone in Memoriam that underlines the huge chords and riffs, delivering a crushing agenda to their live performances.
I come away from today’s Hammerfest on a high of music and amongst seeing some familiar friendly faces every so often, it’s plunged me back into the feeling of pre-pandemic immersion and despite the goosechase of understanding which bands didn’t make it to Hammerfest and were replaced, Hammerfest as always, is a fun and fulfilling event. Much needed during the aftermath of being away from live music for so long.
Photography by Pete Key for MPM
Photography for Memoriam by Simon Dunkerley