Hammer Open Air Metal Festival – Mannin navetta, Lieto – Friday, July 19, 2013
After one day and night of catching our breath and brains, it was time for another Friday pre-noon departure from EHS (Etelä-Haagan Shell for the uninitiated), with the sacrificially all-weekend sober Antti behind the wheel, and his turbo-drinking sidekick Juho occupying the map-reader’s spot. Watching the latter finish three cans of Karhu before we even made it to the highway sure gave a timely wake-up call to our thirst as well, and so the two-and-a-half-hour ride turned out to be smooth satanic sailing in the sea of brew, with just one brief shopping stop, where we happened to run into the Cataleptic caravan.
Having reached our destination well before the first band, there was still some time for malty sips and moronic sössöting on the grass in front of Asemankulma, the abandoned storefront across the street from where the action was to be. Soon enough, the festival commenced with fierce domestic thrash metal – just like last year – this time courtesy of the extraordinarily excellently named Jumalation from the capital area. Having already demonstrated their firepower with decimating results in more intimate club arenas, this mid-day outdoor encounter with them wasn’t nearly as fatal, but kicked off the weekend in an approvable manner nonetheless. Vocalist Taurus’ sharp screams contained a fair deal of explosive fury, and his stage performance was equally evil-spirited, even if him headbanging with a ponytail looked somewhat tame. The rest of this elderly group didn’t exhibit as much youthful energy, but the mere song material was enough bone-breaking and neck-snapping, excelling in both mid-tempo crushing like “Rebellion” and speed-headed mania à la “The Ghost of the Crucified.” A cover of Agent Steel’s “Bleed for the Godz” was also included, visibly delighting a couple of diehards who had woken up early enough for old school.
Playing already at two, legendary Lappeenranta plaguebearers Horna were the first serious draw of the day. As current vocalist Spellgoth had other festival audiences to entertain with Turmion Kätilöt, classic croaker Nazgul von Armageddon – nowadays known better for his contributions as Satanic Warmaster – had been summoned to grab the banana instead. Having seen this line-up already jubilating Horna’s 15th anniversary a few years back at Black Flames of Blasphemy, and not preferring the earliest era of the band anyway, I wasn’t quite as excited as a whole lot of other hellraisers seemed to be when the former frontman proclaimed “I’m back, bitches!” Their cold, primarily fast and typically Nordic black metal from the late 90’s kept me in its claws decently, but the most captivating moments can be credited to the cruelly catchy mid-tempo crucifying of “Sinulle mätänevä Jehova,” spewing forth such all-encompassing, desecrating disgust. The brutally straightforward blasphemy of “Black Metal Sodomy” was another highlight, although the first attempt ended unceremoniously in the failure of the drum equipment.
Appearing a bit more at home in the sunlit setting of the early afternoon than the previously heard black metal grimness, Cataleptic’s comfortably slow-paced death/doom continued showcasing the multitude of quality extreme metal acts in Finland. Vocalist-guitarist Sami’s emphatically yelled, almost hardcore-reminiscent roars – fittingly emphasizing the personal nature of the subject matter – displayed a heartfelt charge of emotion, rarely detectable in his peers, who often seem to be going more for the lower-than-thou kind of approach. The hypnotic riffs were also strong enough to carry the lengthy songs on their wings, with “Reckoning” and “Secluded Path” leaving particularly deep traces in my frontal lobe by conveying a touching coalescence of tragedy and triumph.
Originating from the vibrant black metal circles of Jyväskylä and its surrounding areas, as well as representing a sound heard less often in the Finnish scene, Funerary Bell have been one of the more interesting newcomers of recent years. Them covering Mortuary Drape on their MCD was no coincidence, as the Italian masters’ eccentricity wasn’t only present in the band’s simply striking mid-tempo malignance, but also in their peculiar presence. The robes they were sporting were the least of it, as the vocalist was performing persistently with a beer glued to his hand, shaking and spilling it all over the stage while fist-pumping frenetically. Indeed, he was quite the character, either being crapulously confused about their location at first – as he was doing some of his speeches in English, unless my ears fooled me – or then just politely recognizing the few foreign spectators. Considering the fact that this was only the second public appearance of Funerary Bell, I suppose a certain amount of awkwardness was understandable, but at least musically, this lot has something very interesting brewing in their barrels.
Replacing the Swedish Karnarium who had split up after being added to the bill, their fellow countrymen Kill were the festival’s first foreign fare, but fell way behind the preceding domestic names, failing to grip on any level. Their fast black metal had never convinced me much on record, but I figured some on-stage fury could provide the needed boost and take it to the next level. Unfortunately this didn’t end up being the case, with the mildly corpsepainted crew performing passionlessly, and as their tunes shone neither with teeth-bared intensity nor with killer riffs and memorable meathooks, a few-song glimpse at the trio was more than enough. I didn’t mind finally having some proper time to greet all the friendly faces around, but man, a band carrying a moniker this striking should fucking KILL. These guys didn’t.
Up next were Quorthon’s German disciples Morrigan, who managed to create an impressively complete soundscape for their atmospheric black metal, considering that the band was a mere duo. However, for a novice with barely any previous acquaintance with their albums, the mostly mid-tempo material and minimalistic live performance didn’t offer much to go on. As the gig was also (dis)graced with some of the rainiest moments of the day, shortly retreating under the roofed areas in the back was an easy choice. This actually brings me to a notable improvement from last year, as the field-like terrain of the festival grounds had now gotten a reasonable layer of gravel spread on top, preventing the rain from turning it into a mucky battle arena for mud-wrestling. My thoughtlessly light shoe choice surely thanked.
Although recently released Ritual Death Metal had perhaps been Deathchain’s strongest work in eight years, I barely had enthusiasm left for a name as ordinary and often-seen as them, especially when placed among a line-up this strong. The subsequent Stormheit had more draw for me, though, as I hadn’t seen them hit the stage since their gig at Hammer two years earlier. Not that there had been any new output since, but the powerful hymns of Chronicon Finlandiae are always an enjoyment to hear live. There was a fresh figure to be found behind the drumkit, as the Goatmoon frontman was handling the hammers this time, displaying more of a straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll style than what I had gotten used to seeing from A.O. A surprising cover song was also heard, as the band introduced to us their rendition of Ramones’ “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”
Having presented another strong opus in their third full-length Lux Infera some months before, and featuring again a new vocalist in their fold, Sacrilegious Impalement were among my top targets for the day. Unlike his more mobile predecessors, Wrathprayer was quite a static stage person, but his voice lived up to his name, interpreting both songs old and new with poisonous malice. Luckily, though, the rest of the group – including ex-drummer Asassin filling in on second guitar – was performing more actively. As the quality of the song material stayed high all the way through as well, Sacrilegious Impalement were responsible for Friday’s finest moments thus far.
Gorgoroth reinforced with Hoest from Taake was certainly among Friday’s most awaited acts, but having never been too much into the former, and even less into the latter, this wasn’t the case for me. Still, I tried getting into it, but was surprised how entirely unexcited I felt. A lot of the audience seemed to feel the opposite, though, with an unusually rough moshpit breaking out, as experienced first-leg by a friend of ours, who was “enjoying” his first Hammer weekend. Being a frequent sight at hardcore gigs, he was already plenty acquainted with potentially hazardous audience activity – from repeatedly stagediving at a Terror show to flipping out to Madball – but this time his guardian angel of death must’ve been someplace else, as only a while after entering the area, our unlucky comrade fell and broke his leg in the Gorgoroth pit. Hospitalization and crutches later, he wasn’t exactly in the festival mood anymore, and returned home empty-handed and broken-legged. Not the ideal way to lose your Hammer virginity, perhaps?
Dead Congregation had already previously proved their potency when encountered in the flesh, and didn’t disappoint this time either. Although these Greeks impressed with their technical competence, and their fast US-style death metal is like an overwhelming wave of heaviness and brutality, the suffocating darkness of their sound also conceals more serpentine structures. The union of these elements effectively kept boredom at bay for the whole set, not loosening its grasp until the last chords disappeared into the evening air.
The day had snuck past us, and it was already time for the headliner of Friday’s dirty dozen. I suppose the fact that metalheads are a particularly thirsty species had snuck past the barkeepers, since they hadn’t prepared their stock with enough beer and other drinks with low alcohol content, and the audience had to settle for watching Candlemass while sipping wine. I’d say it went quite a bit better with Sweden’s epic doom masters’ show than it would’ve with most of the other bands in the festival roster, though…
A significant line-up change had occurred in the band’s ranks since the last time I had seen them, as Mats Levén had stepped in to fill Robert Lowe’s boots. Although I had adored Robert’s vocal work on record, he hadn’t always been at his best on stage, so I approached the alteration with carefully positive expectations, despite not being familiar with any of Mats’ other contributions. However, I was thoroughly pleased by the ones he presented in the summer night of Lieto, as he interpreted three vocalists worth of Candlemass history.
The honorably career-concluding Psalms for the Dead received a fair amount of exposure, from the commanding opener “Prophet” to the creeping “Waterwitch,” but my hopes for the overly British narration of “Black as Time” – that quite frankly annoys the shit out of me – having been left out of the live version went unfortunately down the drain. However, I was stoked that this time their repertoire included one of my very favorite Candlemass hymns “Darkness in Paradise,” which was the most spine-chilling gem of the set. Other magnificent 80’s classics like “At the Gallows End” and “Crystal Ball” didn’t fall far behind either, and while the night was being wrapped up with “Solitude,” we already started slowly strolling towards the bus to avoid having to stand in line for the next one.
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Feature continued from previous: Hammer 2013, pre-party: Double dose of Down Under delirium
Feature continues: Hammer 2013, Saturday: HORRIFIED