Hammer Open Air Metal Festival – Mannin navetta, Lieto – Saturday, July 20, 2013
Having ended the night relatively early by heading straight to our place of lodging at Heavy Metal Henriksson’s suburban pad, our Saturday morning wasn’t filled with hangover horror, although a devious feline dweller of the lair was doing his best to terrorize the slumbering houseguests with his claws. After having a bit of Venom and beer for breakfast, we attempted to make our way out of the hood to the Turku market square where the Hammer busses were departing from. A little bit of confused wandering, waiting and a sandwich later, we managed to hop on the second Lieto-bound bus of the day, which got us to the festival area just in time for the first band.
Archgoat were initially supposed to open Saturday’s ceremonies, but after having to cancel less than two weeks before the event, a suitable replacement had been found in another Finnish horde whose roots of evil go deep, Azazel. Being consistently inebriated but otherwise a bit unpredictable, frontman and only remaining founding member Lord Satanachia has developed quite a legendary reputation for himself, but at least this time everything seemed to go according to plan, with him concentrating on what he does best – spitting out his blasphemous vocal sleaze and drinking beer. The band’s raw and straightforward old-school black metal – spanning from their ’93 demo tape Crucify the Jesus Christ Again to the recent full-length Jesus Perversions – was an enjoyable start to the day in its genuine, simplistic ugliness. Drummer Idimmu was the only one with visible enthusiasm in his performance, though, attacking the kit with the kind of frenzy you don’t see too often.
A younger yet much more productive domestic group Blood Red Fog – featuring some familiar faces from Friday’s Funerary Bell – continued darkening the day with their more introverted and melancholic take on the style. Although the drumming was often quite fast, the guitars kept the vibe hypnotic, drifting far from Azazel’s catchy christraping. Knowing the songs beforehand, or just being able to close your eyes and become immersed in the black desolation, might’ve made for an absorbing experience, but I at least couldn’t get much out of Blood Red Fog on this early afternoon. Not that their kind of black metal is usually my chalice of blood anyway, but a shadier setting would’ve probably been more favorable.
As more of the Hammer-hearted patrons started making their way to festival ground zero, we encountered a lot of people we had ran into the previous night, and were puzzled to discover that our friend’s leg hadn’t been Friday’s only victim. Distasteful talk and action had also resulted in a brow scarred by a flying chair, and a hand broken by punching a fellow man in the face [sorry, the story doesn’t tell what happened to the face]. They always tend to say that metal festivals are the least violent and disruptive, but it didn’t seem like that statement had applied to this Hammer Open Air so far…
Another Swedish death metal band who had retreated from the bill were Miasmal, being now replaced with German Venenum. [Swedish band cancels, really?] Having proven their power both on record and stage, Miasmal would’ve been a very welcome addition to the hammering fold, but Venenum were another up and coming death squad worthy of recognition with their darker and more original sound. Although their tie to the late Excoriate was already a hint of quality, Venenum’s wanderings in the labyrinths of unearthly mysteries reeked of a quite different aura than the ripping rabidity of Excoriate. This complexity made the barely familiar songs a bit harder to chew, but every once in a while, a possessedly gripping riff would kick in, making sure to maintain your attention. The quartet’s performance was a combination of hypnosis and headbanging, with the lead guitarist conjuring out his parts with notable passion and intensity.
Having already attended both of Abhorrence’s previous reunion gigs this summer, they weren’t an eye-popping exclusivity here, but merely a must-see killer. After the big Tuska arena, the smaller one of the two Hammer stages seemed much more fitting and natural for this legendary lot. Otherwise, the show didn’t differ much from the preceding ones, but at least guitarist Kalle seemed to have started discovering his boogie, now appearing more confident and lively than the first time around. Unfortunately some technical problems caused enough delay that towards the end, the band decided to skip over the terrific “Disintegration of Flesh” right to “Vulgar Necrolatry”… I suppose Mr. Koivusaari’s schedule didn’t have room for much fucking around either, as he had to soon head back to the capital to warm up for some NWOBHM band at the Olympic Stadium.
Wolf, In Solitude, Portrait – each year in Lieto has had its share of traditional heavy metal from Sweden, and this time, Ram had the honor of carrying on the torch. In the vein of their fellow countrymen, the band had no shortage of blazing energy or photogenic showmanship, and this combined with the catchy song material made them yet another act you just didn’t want to walk away from. Singer Oscar appealed to the patriotic spirit in the audience’s hearts by bringing out a big Finnish flag and waving it during one of the songs – the Winter War hymn “Suomussalmi (The Few of Iron),” I assume. Skyforger also displayed a convincing amount of ardor – with the bass player being a particularly entertaining and fiery figure – but the pagan metal of these Latvians didn’t appeal to me nearly as much musically. Their folkier approach did provide some more refreshing variety to the day, though.
Italian metal legends Bulldozer had already visited Tuska two years prior, but were much more at home at this kind of intimate underground gathering. Their thrashing, sordid tunes are ideal live material, and the band were seemingly having a blast bashing them out to such a dedicated audience. Frontman AC Wild is an especially charming character, not only in his emphatic vocal execution and stage gestures, but also in his speeches, where he would provide amusing reminiscences from along their long career, from going to see porn star Cicciolina to getting crushingly bad reviews from “respected” metal media. The rest of the line-up performed with striking spirit as well, apart from the keyboard player, who had this time taken off his hood, and looked like a confused kid instead of an awkward little ghoul. Not that this funny little detail (or dude) ruined the show by any means, but maybe put the hood back on next time? It was also quite peculiar having a bunch of Finnish metal maniacs cheering in choir for football team A.C. Milan in the beginning of “The Derby.” Milan!
Repulsion had been on the top of my must-see-this-band-live list for a few years already, and I figured most likely I would have to catch them on one of their rare appearances in the States or in continental Europe. Therefore, when the news of their addition to Hammer reached me on a Florida beach on a sunny December afternoon, it shook my very being to its grinding core, and filled me with sheer exhilaration. Not only were they one of the founding fathers of the genre, but their debut album Horrified is still one of the most ripping albums ever made, and as it was also the only one the band ever did, their legacy hasn’t been diminished with inferior subsequent releases. Enough reasons to obsess over them, yes?
So, my expectations were extremely high, as I hadn’t stopped to think whether Repulsion were just lazily revisiting the revolutionary musical adventures of their youth, or actually still breathing pus, gore and decomposing flesh. Nor had I sought for any second-hand information about their other recent appearances, be it live videos or gig reviews. But as their twitching hour started drawing near, slight thoughts of doubt started making their way into my mind. Could this band possibly replicate the explosive vehemence of their recorded material? Could they in any way live up to the fantasy I had built in my brain?
Well, as “The Stench of Burning Death” crept into my nostrils and eardrums, there was no room for hesitation, as berserk non-stop headbanging ensued for the next thirty minutes or so. Merciless riffs (and those fucking insane short solos!) that occupy the vague slimy space between death, thrash and hardcore punk churned all flesh to mush and bones to ashes while Scott Carlson’s disgusted and demented vocals spat on our grave. The whole trio were pretty planted in their spots for the set, but each of them worked their craft intensely, giving justice to the ferocity of the songs.
While all of the songs were pretty darn rapid – and rabid – the relentless grinding was balanced with plenty of thrashing mid-tempo moments, with tracks like “Festering Boils” exploring this territory more prominently. “Helga (Lost Her Head)” was the only non-Horrified Repulsion track heard, but they also included the cover “Death Dealer,” tributing their Canadian comrades Slaughter. If catchy classics like “Slaughter of the Innocent” and “Radiation Sickness” didn’t already get you convinced, the end of the set made sure that the only way you’d leave Lieto would be in a bodybag. The band wrapped it up with utterly maniacal mangling, following the Horrified track list with the unholy union of the decapitating “Black Breath,” the singalong ripper “Maggots in Your Coffin,” and the title track “Horrified,” which didn’t leave much more to say than FUCK!
While some of us were still trying to get our splattered remains together after Repulsion’s sonic razorblade tornado, Japanese avant-garde weirdos Sigh continued stirring Saturday’s stew, which by now started feeling overwhelmingly thick with interesting, exclusive and plain awesome acts. The band’s previous visit to Finland a few years back had been intervened by sickness, and ended up being just a shorter display of early material and Venom covers instead of the more experimental madness of their later days that most must’ve been looking forward to. This time they were back in full force, though, with Yasuyuki of Abigail, Barbatos and other sleaze patrols also having smuggled his way to the fest as their live bassist, presumably unable to resist the coinciding call of Bulldozer and Venom, and respectably sporting a Kuolema shirt. Domo arigato, viinaa ja aineita!
Vocalist Mirai and his lady Dr. Mikannibal made sure there was no shortage of stage action with their rituals of blood and fire, and the latter was undeniably one of the most fascinating characters of the day with her intense presence and impressively deep throatings. Although “Corpsecry – Angelfall” already offered some gripping familiarity in the beginning of the set, my post-repulsed state of mind just wasn’t ideal for receiving this kind of visual and audial spectacle of oriental oddity, no matter how well it was executed. Re-match at a club gig, eh?
Funnily enough, both Bulldozer and Hell’s previous time in Finland had been Tuska 2011, where they were occupying tragically overlapping slots. While this arrangement had shown upsetting lack of understanding and taste from whoever had planned the schedules back then, it was delightful to see Hammer show ‘em how, having grabbed both of these great acts into their roster. As two years before I had been forced to walk away from the NWOBHM demigods after three songs – already feeling stupefied by their stage shape – I was thrilled to get the chance to enjoy the whole shebang.
“On Earth as It Is in Hell” awoke the furious volcano, and “Let Battle Commence” continued raining brimstone down on us so intensely that placing these two speedy killers right in the beginning seemed almost too much. However, descending into the depths with more subtly sinister songs like “Blasphemy and the Master” evened the scales nicely. Even though the band’s compositions are already of high quality, and their stage apparel stunning, their greatest asset is vocalist David Bower, who just might be the best stage performer and frontman I have ever seen. He doesn’t only sing and interpret the songs with captivating excellence, he lives them – jaw-droppingly so – and his interaction with the audience is admirable. Leave me in Hell!
Although Repulsion and Hell had already taken the cake, devoured it, shat it out, and smeared it on my sorry face, I somehow found the concentration to watch Secrets of the Moon. The last time I had seen them more than five years prior hadn’t left much of an impression, but when conducting some pre-Hammer research, their latest output Seven Bells had struck out very convincingly. This was also where the emphasis of the setlist was, with only the few most recent albums being covered, but still, I was surprised to find the latest’s title track and opener omitted. Several of the other lengthy numbers were not familiar at all, and the German quartet didn’t bother with much entertaining gimmickry, but the plain musical expression kept me in its grasp effectively, shining with the same ominous glare and malicious pulse that has invigorated black metal in the last decade in the form of such acts as Deathspell Omega. This was most embodied in the closing statement “The Three Beggars,” carrying ravishing fulfillment and devotion on its wings.
In three years, the little fair called Hammer Open Air had graduated from Apollyon to Cronos, with the organizers KRK now being able to realize their dream of having Venom headline the festival. Beyond their personal gratification, the show was special in featuring fire and explosions in a way that hadn’t been seen since the 80’s. The song picks were also leaning more towards the classics than when we had seen the Newcastle lords in Sweden the previous summer, but the medley-like construction of the set disappointed at times, as a song changed into another right in the middle of fanatical frenzy. Venom was still an excellent way to end the festival, and put a period to a mind-blowing overdose of prime heavy metal. After bussing to Turku, a brief bar visit still followed, including an unexpectedly glorious run-in with Scott Carlson and co. crowning the weekend.
* * *
* * *
Feature continued from previous: Hammer 2013, Friday: Please let me die in Lieto