HRH United was a curious mix of phenomenal metal performances, ageing rockers, and boozed up fans

Hammerfest 2016 review

published: Fri 18th Mar 2016

Teenage Casket Company

Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th March 2016
Haven, Pwllheli, Gwynedd, LL53 6HX, Wales MAP
£120 for a three day pass, accommodation sold out
daily capacity: 6500
last updated: Fri 18th Mar 2016

After two days of pleasant weather, the final day of HRH United opened to rain showers, and was overcast throughout the day. But, with the likes of Exodus and Evile to take to the Hammerfest stage, spirits remained high, and plenty of day tickets arrived on-site to see the show.

The music started at 1PM for the second consecutive day on the third stage, although those anxious for their Hammerfest or AOR fix would have to wait two hours more. This meant that power pop band Teenage Casket Company - playing under the sleaze banner for reasons unexplained - drew a surprising crowd for their highly hammy set. It was entertaining, but as with most of the early bands throughout the week, you wouldn't expect them to eclipse bigger heights.

Wildside Riot followed as borne entertainers, and retained a good crowd despite the beginning of proceedings elsewhere. Hammerfest opened with Oaf, whose jokes and banter with the familiar crowd was far better than the duo's music. AOR attendees fared better with The Radio Sun, a melodic Australian band influenced by 80s rock heroes such as Def Leppard and Bon Jovi. They were one of the better bands of the day.

The AOR stage undoubtedly attracted some strong names, but also featured bands that brandished a tired, outdated rock sound. Neither Talon, nor Newman were inspired, although the audience didn't noticeably thin during their sets.

Into the evening the third stage become HRH Stoner, beginning with Mage, and featuring bands including Servers, and No Consequence. The crowds were reasonable, but the real main events were occurring elsewhere.

Trollfest: Hammerfest 8 - HRH United 016

As with Turisas the day before, Hammerfest secured something of a coup in booking balkan metal heroes Trollfest for the early evening slot. A massive crowd packed in to see the seven-piece band play through their party set of metal, including their interesting - to put it mildly - cover of Toxic by Britney Spears. Wearing white coats and medical accessories - at least at first - they were quite a sight and for the sheer uniqueness of their act managed to be by far the best band of the day.

Trollfest left popular thrash metal band Evile with much to live up to, and they just about managed to deliver. Leaders in their genre since their acclaimed debut Enter the Grave, and former tour-mates with giants such as Megadeth, they're understandably another band that helped to sell the event.

Overlapping with Evile's site was rock legends Quiet Riot, who entertained the AOR stage as one of the biggest names of the weekend. Although the band's original vocalist died in 2007, they've kept going with new frontman Jizzy Pearl, and the crowd liked what they saw. Iconic hit Cum On Feel the Noize was one of the few rock songs casual fans might have known all weekend, and went down a storm.

Clever scheduling meant that it was possible to catch a good chunk of Quiet Riot before Exodus appeared for their much-anticipated headline Hammerfest set. Formed in 1979, the Americans are genuine legends of thrash metal, and still in-demand performers today. Their line-up has changed greatly over the years - Metallica's Kirk Hammett in fact was an original member - and vocalist Steve Souza is not the original vocalist.

Exodus: Hammerfest 8 - HRH United 016

But, evolutions in line-up aside, Exodus capped off Hammerfest VIII in style, playing to a hectic crowd. They saluted Slayer early on, and their extended set was solid value for money for both the day ticket and the weekend audience. While Turisas were a huge draw for the Friday, Exodus undoubtedly rivalled them for the Saturday.

The AOR stage closed with a mammoth performance from Gilby Clarke, the former rhythm guitarist of Guns N' Roses and veteran of many bands and musical projects. His set at HRH United drew from this background, playing entertaining renditions of hits including Knockin' On Heaven's Door, as well as material from his many solo albums. Although his performance wasn't perfect, it was glossy enough to be worthy of closing the show on a stage that had both its hits and its misses.

Gilby Clarke: Hammerfest 8 - HRH United 016

The bands continued late into the night for those looking to prolong their weekend, with the third stage rebranded - again - to HRH Young Blood. Three bands appeared, including Seething Akira - who clashed with Exodus and Gilby Clarke and thus scarcely stood a chance of a big crowd - as well as Cypher16 and, for something slightly different, The Qemists.

Cypher16 are a metal band to watch, with an album recently released. On a weekend featuring few young bands, they were one of the stand outs. But The Qemists were the most eye-catching late night performers, as a drum and bass collective at a rock and metal festival are bound to be.

Hammerfest - and now HRH United - is known for throwing in a curve ball to close to show, with a band that's bound to break the base between those looking for pure metal and those looking to have fun. The Qemists were just that, and so while the smaller third stage seemed busy, many clearly didn't bother to stay to see them. But it would be, ultimately, their loss, as The Qemists kept the party going and helped HRH United go out with a bang despite taking to the stage especially late.

The Qemists: Hammerfest 8 - HRH United 016

HRH United was a curious mix of phenomenal metal performances, ageing rockers, and well boozed up music fans, taking place on a holiday park that - when you managed to get there - was a fantastic home for such an event. A choice description of the Hammerfest side of the festival as "Hammeredfest" remained, at the end of the weekend, an accurate depiction of the event.

The AOR stage was more adult-oriented, featuring older bands that anyone born later than the 1980s would be unlikely to care about. This meant little crossover between the Hammerfest and AOR stages, and so - while combining the two meant more choice - in practice it was a choice few would be likely to want. The events are set to be detached again next year, and this seems to be for the best.

The atmosphere at HRH United is a good one, and there was little trouble on-site. While lots of alcohol is undoubtedly consumed, nobody behaves loutishly, and while this isn't an especially family friendly event it's not a lad's holiday away either. The amenities are plentiful and well-priced, making Hammerfest and HRH AOR good value for anyone looking for an alternative to the camping and muddy fields festival experience.

The music itself at HRH United was a mixed bag. Hammerfest fared best, with Turisas, Trollfest and Exodus the weekend's undoubted standouts. Sound problems did plague the set of Fleshgod Apocalypse, and some performances were less exciting than others, but for true metal aficionados it's a festival to strongly consider.

On the downside, HRH United was at times quite disorganised, lacking some of the obvious comforts you might expect at bigger events. Despite the loud stages you couldn't easily acquire earplugs, for example, and the limited shuttle bus services to and from the site are a pain if you rely on public transport. There was also very little to do beyond the music and eateries, whereas bigger festivals have more going on.

If you love metal and alcohol, Hammerfest is a strong alternative to camping festivals, and is reasonably priced for what you get. But, if you're a casual fan of the genre, you're better-placed looking elsewhere. AOR, meanwhile, is an intriguing weekender for mature rock fans looking to watch bands with the comforts of apartment accommodation.

review by: Katy Blackwood

photos by: Katy Blackwood

Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th March 2016
Haven, Pwllheli, Gwynedd, LL53 6HX, Wales MAP
£120 for a three day pass, accommodation sold out
daily capacity: 6500
last updated: Fri 18th Mar 2016

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