Festival Report
Hammer Open Air 2011
HAMMER OPEN AIR METAL FESTIVAL Ilmaristen Metsäpirtti, Lieto July 15-16, 2011

Although the continuation of the festival wasn’t set in stone despite last year’s successful debut, this summer fortunately saw the return of darkness and evil in the form of the second annual Hammer Open Air Metal Festival, and again it was time for Lieto to transform into a deadly playground of junkies, Devil worshippers, dumpster-dwelling nazis and other scumfuc outlaws of the worst kind for two long days.

It was delighting to see how the festival organizers had learned from the downsides of their first year, and not only moved the festival from early June to mid July to avoid overlapping with Sauna Open Air (and more importantly, Enslain’s US invasion 2011), but also made the whole event K-18 to get rid of the frustrating queues to drinking areas, and the momentary sobrification of attendees wanting to watch the bands more closely. Of course some under-aged metalheads were also bound to be frustrated for missing an exceptional opportunity like this, and I feel for them, but at the same time I see this as a definite improvement when it comes to my own festival experience.

This year we started heading towards our country’s Southwestern metropolitan area in good time on Thursday, but instead of hitting the pre-party in Turku and seeing  Primordial warming themselves up [not sexually ~ed] for their following day’s festival appearance in a club environment, our journey lead us to the neighboring town of Raisio, the origin of the Kold Kvlt behind the event.  While the place indeed seemed uneventful enough to motivate some bored youngsters to start arranging kick-ass shows, none were taking place there that night, and we had to settle for healthy activities like staring into an open grave, or hitting our heads against the ceiling.  After some sleep and a lot more waiting, we got a ride to Lieto the next day, and luckily arrived to the place of skulls just in time to witness the opening act.

FRIDAY

Maveth @ Hammer Open Air

Dark and heavy death metal contaminated the air, as Finland’s Maveth started hammering out the first tunes of the festival.  Their old school US-style sound doesn’t exactly come out by chance, as primus motor Christbutcher originates from the other side of the Atlantic, and put together the band after his relocation to Varkaus.  When it comes to their stage presence, Maveth certainly have more going on than your average (new) band, with their bloodstained appearance and two big inverted crosses decorating the stage, but somehow I felt the live interpretation of the songs themselves didn’t quite match the level of power the band are able to deliver on record.  It might have been the sound, or the somewhat unfavorably bright outdoor setting that set me off a bit, but the band played an adequate set of quality nonetheless, icing the cake with “Of Serpent and Shadow.”

Caught in the Between @ Hammer Open Air

The inside stage was warmed up by Caught in the Between, and judging by the sparse amount of audience present, I wasn’t the only one who felt they were quite out-of-place at Hammer with their mishmash of styles that they’ve chosen to call “horse metal.”  While the clean-sung down-tempo track in the beginning of the set was tempting me to get out of the room immediately, the following cover of Paradise Lost’s “Eternal” was much better, and showed that vocalist Ode’s growl is far above his cleaner output.  Despite the lack of attendance, most of the band performed with a respectable amount of energy and enthusiasm, and the drummer’s horse mask was notably classy.  However, when the song material is just so far from my taste, even a good live feeling can’t save much, and although “Chaos in Capitals” came musically closer to the energy Caught in the Between are able to display on stage, it was time to move on to refreshments and socializing.

Gospel of the Horns @ Hammer Open Air

Having cancelled their appearance at last year’s Black Mass Ritual Fest, this time Gospel of the Horns had actually made it all the way from down under, and as we hadn’t been around to witness them at the other Hammer pre-party at Helsinki’s DOM the night before, this was the first must-see of the day.  These Aussies had more than a handful of bitingly catchy thrash riffs in their pockets, and performed with an ugly and grim no-bullshit attitude, resulting in a set that was easy to enjoy outside on a summer afternoon with a beer in your hand, even without much familiarity with their song material.  I’m not that fond of the vocalist’s output, though, which just seems to be lacking the power and energy that the rest of the music manifests, but it’s definitely decent enough not to sink the whole ship.

The festival heads seem to have a fondness for Noktu’s endeavors, as after last year’s not-that-praised Mortifera @ Hammer Open AirCelestia appearance, this year Mortifera was flown over to offer us some more French hard-to-get-into black metal.  Mortifera’s stage act was way more down-to-earth, though, with the band members appearing in casual outfits with no corpse paint whatsoever, and performing in a restrained manner.  Noktu at least had some passion in his performance, and his sharp and anguished screams complimented the moderate-tempo and melancholic tunes well.  The overall sound did have something to it, and in a club atmosphere without the summer sun peaking through the doorway, this would’ve probably been a more compelling experience.  Another rare treat for the fans with no doubt, though.

Primordial @ Hammer Open Air

Friday’s co-headliner Primordial attracted so many people to watch them that when trying to go past the mixing booth to get closer, I was cut off by the security guys who had determined that there were already enough people in front of the stage, and more would become a security risk.  Well, the last time anything similar happened to me was at Wacken 2008, but that time it was retarded German Maiden fans, and I was trying to get away from the stage… Luckily some people had to go relieve their thirst or their bladder at some point, allowing me to take a closer look at the Irishmen.

Primordial @ Hammer Open Air

The rest of the band weren’t passive dummies either, but the blood and paint-covered A.A. Nemtheanga pretty much stole the show [as always ~ed] with his dramatic expressions and gestures, which didn’t seem at all corny or pretentious, but completely honest and even necessary, being an essential part of what makes him one of the most impressive stage persons I’ve had the pleasure to witness.  He’s also able to channel the power and emotion of the songs with such a heartfelt vigor that even someone who doesn’t mostly know them, like the undersigned, can just get totally taken in, while the fans are driven into an even more ecstatic state.  Primordial made use of the whole 75 minutes they had been granted, with most of the set showcasing the two newest albums, which suited me fine, since Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand was at least somewhat familiar, and the live rendition of “Bloodied Yet Unbowed” was particularly spine-chilling.

Alghazanth @ Hammer Open Air

Despite their quite convincing recording achievements, especially in recent years, Alghazanth have never struck me as much of a live band, not only due to the symphonic and quite complex nature of their music, but also because of the recently ex-vocalist Goat Tormentor’s unexciting way of performing.  However, now that guitarist Thasmorg has taken over the vocal duties at least for the moment, providing the band with a more charismatic front figure, it felt as if new life had been breathed into the group as a whole, and they appeared as more of a compact unit.  This time the sound also seemed to be on their side more than usual, as despite the intricacy of the material, the entirety didn’t get messy or lose its power, and “Moving Mountains,” for instance, reached the same grandiose atmosphere as on record.

Inquisition @ Hammer Open Air

After Alghazanth, the audience was given a longer drinking break, since Inquisition’s playing time was delayed quite a bit, which wasn’t that surprising after all, considering their plane hadn’t even arrived in Helsinki until the early afternoon.  This naturally ate into the length of the set, although I’m not sure if the band would’ve even had enough rehearsed material to span their whole 75-minute slot, and since they were one of the most anticipated acts of the festival, some were bound to be disappointed by the shortness of the set.  However, the performance itself was in no way half-assed, but instead a good demonstration of how less can be more, as it didn’t feel like the primitive vocals-guitar-drums setting of the duo was really lacking anything, and this also kept the sound simple, displaying every element in an appropriate way.  Anyway, the conditions weren’t that ideal, and Inquisition were another example of an act that would’ve worked way better in an intense club environment instead of broad daylight – and I don’t mean the more-than-half-empty Gloria where they played in Helsinki in 2008.

Baptism @ Hammer Open Air

I’m not that apeshit over Baptism’s recorded material, but on stage the group execute their hymns in an exceptionally strong manner, with much thanks to the grim charisma of the cloaked mainman Lord Sargofagian and blood-drenched guitarist Spellgoth.  Along with Satanic Warmaster, they were clearly the most important domestic act of the event for a lot of Finns who have learned to know their force, and certainly a rare spectacle for the foreign visitors as well.  More specialty to the show was provided by additional stage personnel during “Morbid Wings of Sathanas,” as after Baptism’s kettle-drumming and blood-baptizing assistance during Enochian Crescent’s 15th anniversary show at last year’s Hammer, this time around crescentian comrades Wrath and Victor suitably returned the favor by providing guest vocals.  For me, however, “Azazelin tähti,” the band’s only Finnish piece so far, was the crowning moment of the set.

Absu @ Hammer Open Air

Concluding this festive Friday in the darkening summer eve of Lieto were Texas’ (and 1/3 Philly’s) Absu, who had finally made their way to Finland for the first time in their over 20-year career.  With chief Proscriptor’s drumset placed unusually front and center, the band appeared as a tight unit, and despite the three-piece line-up, the sound didn’t seem lacking.  The frontman’s vocal delivery was following the same thrashy yet sort of goblin-like style heard on the records, spiced with some of those high maniacal screams, and backed up by bassist Ezezu’s powerful roar, which I actually found more to my liking.  It might’ve been easy for some to find Proscriptor’s obscure headband, or his snarled far-out speeches on esoteric concepts amusing, but when looking deeper than the superficial, these were important parts of his sincere and truly original vision.  In terms of song choices, Absu also had something special in store for us, as they performed The Sun of Tiphareth in its entirety, without forgetting straightforward live classics like the thrashing “Highland Tyrant Attack” or the shiver-giving “Never Blow out the Eastern Candle.”  Although newer material also had its place in the set, I would’ve liked to hear some more from their self-titled ‘09 effort, but all in all Absu met the high expectations I had for them as a headliner, proving that even after the line-up changes of recent years the conviction remains and their flame is burning bright as ever.

Jex Thoth @ Klubi: Hammer Open Air afterparty

Whereas the music of Friday’s afterparty headliner Jex Thoth didn’t really appeal to me any more than their singer’s hairy armpits, I was glad to make it to Turku in time to see Garden of Worm at Klubi without having to miss any Absu.  Having followed the musical journey of these Kangasala doomsters since the all-too-familiar sounding debut demo, it has been a pleasure seeing them discover their own personal sound and add fresh progressive touches without losing connection with their traditional roots.  Their stage act is quite minimalistic and unentertaining, but it didn’t feel like a drawback, as the atmosphere they were able to create merely with the music flowing from the speakers was of such strength and depth.

Having whined about how much more some of the festival acts could’ve been able to deliver at a club gig, Garden of Worm @ Klubi: Hammer Open Air afterpartyGarden of Worm actually seemed like a band that would’ve been particularly at home on the outside stage in the warm sunshine, performing tunes like “Summer’s Isle” and “Keskikesän hautasaatto” that just breathe a compelling aura of summer mystique.  They would’ve also nicely balanced the otherwise very black metallic festival day, but I suppose Jex Thoth and Garden of Worm were quite a suitable pair for the aftershow, both having somewhat of a similar organic approach to their music, and surely not all of the audience at Klubi were also festival attendees.

SATURDAY

Stormheit @ Hammer Open Air

After a hasty hobo-like brunch of dried out and expired meat pies and the realization that Stormheit would be on soon, we rushed to the Turku bus station from our lodgings, and thanks to the smooth and handy festival bus arrangements, didn’t miss a bit of these Pirkanmaa patriots.  Their folkish heathen metal was a pleasant start for the day, and although the players occasionally seemed a bit rusty at this early hour, the atmosphere on stage felt casual and easy-going, at least when Mr. Stormheit wasn’t telling how the next-in-line Swedish junkies backstage with their “Fuck Finland” shirts should be kicked into the mire…  As was my impression from their live debut warming up Nokturnal Mortum, the rest of the live line-up appear merely as formal players, while the charismatic mainman is the only one actually putting up a performance, but considering he initially started as a solo act, is still the sole composer, and uses the same name as the band, that doesn’t seem so weird.  Due to the lengthiness of the tracks, the 40-minute slot wasn’t able to accomodate many songs, but selected pieces from Chronicon Finlandiae, along with the only older English song “Snake and Thunder” that closed the set, offered plenty of thunderous warrior spirit and national romantic longing to adequately kick off this festival Saturday.

Morbid Insulter @ Hammer Open Air

Climbing onto the stage inside were the aforementioned Swedes by the name of Morbid Insulter, who I was quite looking forward to, as their studio material had left a positive impression with its storming black/thrash filth and vicious melodies.  If they aren’t on the same level of Hell with their obviously influential countrymen Nifelheim on record, on stage they weren’t even in the same dimension, since no amount of blood, spikes and other apparel is going to keep me in the room for more than a few songs if what comes from the speakers just sounds pointlessly messy and plain weak.  I don’t think I was the only one unimpressed with Morbid Insulter’s first (and probably last) Finnish show, but reportedly they did leave a somewhat special impression on the festival organizers, security people, police and hotel personnel with their tumultuous and unfriendly behavior…  Well, isn’t black metal about things like negativity, chaos and destruction after all? Still, I can’t say I oppose Stormheit’s suggestion.

Totalselfhatred @ Hammer Open Air

I’ve never been fond of Totalselfhatred’s moniker, but their melancholic black metal carries much more heartfelt emotion than the masses of average suicide-whiners plaguing the scene, and the band is seemingly able to channel that live in an unfavorable daylight setting as well.  Despite the quite introverted and reserved feeling on stage, the powerful tunes spoke for themselves, and managed to avoid pitfalls of boredom effectively.  With all of the three guitar players contributing vocals as well, and even drummer I. [yes, that’s actually his artist name ~E.] being equipped with a hands-free mic, not all elements stuck out from the wall of sound ideally well, but the sonic outcome was decent enough to maintain my interest even through the less familiar Apocalypse in Your Heart material.  The strongest moments were experienced during cuts off the debut, though, with the piercing “Ruoska” and the crushingly desolate yet beautiful title track marking the highlights for me.  Finally, an honorable mention to vocalist-guitarist J.’s unusual wardrobe choice – you don’t see Disclose shirts that often in these circles!

Morbus Chron @ Hammer Open Air

Swedish Morbus Chron were an interesting young – yet oldschool – death metal name that I wanted to check out, and although I expected them to surpass their countrymen that had previously brawled on the inside stage, I had very little idea what I was in for.  This filth-stained quartet launched such an insanely intense storm of hair-raising death metal possession that I could only submit and headbang along in amazed frenzy to a set consisting mostly of tunes I had never heard before.  Their album was yet to be released at the time, but at least I was familiar with the material from their 7”, as well as the deathly cover choice “Zombie Ritual” that they mangled through with the same horrific conviction as their own aural abominations.  Despite being steadily rooted in the traditions of the genre and far from originality, Morbus Chron have managed to create punky death metal ugliness that sounds comfortably rotten yet somehow stimulatingly fresh, without forgetting a twist of dark humor that the majority of newer “total death to all” preaching bands seem to lack.  Definitely one of the most notable highlights of the festival, and of my entire festival summer!

Merrimack @ Hammer Open Air

Although I enjoy Merrimack’s recorded output, even despite some disturbingly noticeable musical hints towards a few other so-called “religious black metal” acts, my live encounter with the band while they were warming up for Marduk in the States a few years back was disappointing.  I especially recall vocalist Terrorizt [yez, he spellz it with a z ~ed] not sounding nearly as strong as on their albums, so after hearing about Merrimack’s vocalist change, my expectations towards their Hammer appearance went up a bit.  However, new front man Vestal didn’t impress me any more than his predecessor, and as the overall performance of the band felt unconvincing, the solid song material wasn’t able to save much.  I can’t say I have much hope for getting into Merrimack live in the future either, but at least I’ll give their upcoming releases a chance, since these Frenchmen surely have some more gilded nuggets to offer in the guitar department.

Isole @ Hammer Open Air

Visiting Finland already for their third time in only two years was Gävle’s Isole, who, despite having recently reunited with their bassist Henrik after his half a year or so away from the fold, had to perform as a three-piece, as the commander of the low-end strings had fallen suddenly ill at the last minute.  Although Henrik is a notable part of Isole with his occasional rougher vocal output and lively stage presence, gladly the rest of the band hadn’t wimped out, but played with vocalist Bryntse handling the bass instead, and Crister acting as the sole guitar hero.  This little setback didn’t seem to slow them down, as from the desolate opening riff of “By Blood” until the last note, the band put up a show that was filled with melancholy and desolation, yet uplifting in its persistent energy, and the audience reaction seemed more excited than at any of their earlier Finnish occurrences.  A rarer piece originating from the band’s early Forlorn days, “The Beyond”, had also made its way to the set, giving the gig a unique touch when it comes to song selections as well.

Satanic Warmaster @ Hammer Open Air

Satanic Warmaster was the last, and, judging by the amount of spectators, the most awaited domestic act of this year’s Hammer for many.  Although the man has spawned lots of undeniably good quality black metal under the moniker, some elements in his musical expression just evade my taste, and prevent the material from fully kicking in.  However, in a live situation the songs have usually impressed me more, and this early evening show in Lieto’s forested surroundings was no exception.  Unlike at Black Curse Over Hellsinki some years ago, this time the members weren’t sporting a surprisingly down-to-earth heavy metal look, but had gone for a much more traditional black metal approach.  Apart from original compositions, two covers were also in the repertoire, namely Venom’s "Black Metal" and Manowar’s "Fighting the World", which saw Stormheit’s main man march to the stage for some guest vocal action.  Whereas the first one was an obvious choice delivered atypically well, the latter was quite an unusual one, and created a peculiar contrast coming from a band with corpse paint instead of denim vests.  Not to say that playing Manowar is ever a bad thing, though…

In Solitude @ Hammer Open Air

Age wasn’t the only difference between Morbus Chron and their fellow countrymen Interment, as the sound of these veterans was more of the typical Stockholm kind, and despite having nothing really wrong with it, it didn’t manage to keep my interest for long.  Therefore, the next stop was at another Swedish fountain of youth, In Solitude, where dark and traditional heavy metal is the name of the game.  The band seems to have gained a bit of a name for themselves lately, having been signed to Metal Blade and playing events like Maryland Deathfest these days, which is quite a difference from my first encounter with them at Metal Warning last fall…  However, the increasing recognition is no wonder, since this kind of stuff seems to be currently on the rise, and In Solitude have potential that manifests in good songwriting and entertaining gigs.  As is typical for Swedes, the band knows how to act on stage, and while the players’ engagement is of the more moderate sort, vocalist Hornper is quite a character with his gaudy fox garment that is sure to induce some what-the-heck reactions in the crowd.  Ridiculous or not, at least it didn’t seem to hound his vocal performance, so to say.

Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult @ Hammer Open Air

The inside stage’s last band Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult hadn’t struck me as anything special several years ago while warming up for Gallhammer, and neither did they this time, as their raw and fast black metal was decent yet forgettable, lacking the catchiness or merciless crush that could lift it above mediocrity on my charts.  Vocalist Onielar possesses quite an impressive voice, though, as her scraping screams sound hateful and agonized instead of deteriorating into averagely weak chick vocals.  However, that just isn’t enough, when the compositions don’t stick out.

Interestingly enough, Saturday’s last act and the festival headliner was another long-running Finland first-timer with a drummer-vocalist, as KRK had managed to get the reunited Autopsy to play one of their five 2011 shows at Hammer Open Air.  Seeing these sleazy death metal legends hit the stage was truly the crowning moment of the event for many of us, as was obvious from the masses of fist-pounding and headbanging fiends, and the quite massive expectations were met with merciless mangling by the foursome, old and ugly just like their tunes.  Despite having released a solid mini-album Autopsy @ Hammer Open Airand a full-length after their return, the band mostly stuck to their classic material, with the debut Severed Survival getting the most representation in the set.  This was more than fine with me, but some listeners seemed to be disappointed by the lack of “In the Grip of Winter”, which apparently is Autopsy’s “Stairway to Heaven” and would’ve suited the summery occasion just great…  A good song for sure, but “Ridden with Disease” gave me all the fulfillment I needed, as there’s nothing that quite beats the tingling that hearing Chris Reifert scream “bones collapse from advanced decay” gives me.  All in all, Autopsy gave a convincing show of strength to the sold out crowd, proving that they have aged well like a mummified corpse, and remain relevant to this day.  Welcome back!

Angel Witch @ Klubi: Hammer Open Air afterparty

Despite having just witnessed such a “be all and end all” performance, there was still another after party show to attend at Klubi.  The original headliner was supposed to be Blaze Bayley, but after his cancellation, a more than satisfactory replacement had been found in Angel Witch, who had already given a strong display of the uplifting power of heavy metal at last year’s Jalometalli.  As they managed to get me excited that time, even after Triptykon’s crushing show, I figured I might as well see if they would be able to pull off the same post-Autopsy.

Devastracktor @ Klubi: Hammer Open Air afterparty

I didn’t have much knowledge of, or expectations towards, the warm-up act, but upon our arrival, new local thrash force Devastracktor were doing a good job at kicking poser ass with their furious old school tunes.  Especially the frontman impressed – and not only with his white boy ‘fro, but also with vocals that were clear and traditional, yet managing to sound punishingly powerful, with of course a few high screams thrown in appropriately as well.  By the time the NWOBHM stallions hit the stage, intoxication had reached such high levels that I completely missed the fact that the dude playing guitar on stage was Bill Steer, and quite soon a member of the staff decided I was overly Hammered, and kindly escorted me into the Open Air.

Looking back at this year’s Hammer, it was among my very best festival experiences so far, whether we measure it by the amount of fine performances, smoothness of transportational and other practical arrangements, or just by what a great time we had.  As mentioned, removal of the all-ages stamp effectively solved the drinking area problems, and the reasonable beverage prices and handy pantti system already known from last year deserve a thumbs-up again.  On top of that, the narikka arrangements were very friendly for those who preferred to quench their thirst outside the area instead, as after paying the basic fee of a couple euros when leaving your drinks, all future visits were free.  And when the hell does that ever happen?

Another smart decision was placing a grill outside the area, where campers could roast their sausages, without having to start a fire of their own and burn the whole place down.  The festival food for sale was reportedly of quite poor quality, but I can’t comment on that first-hand, as we handled our nutrition exclusively in liquid form.  Some negative comments concerning the security practices were heard afterwards as well, and although I didn’t have any clashes with overly eager bouncers, it was quite amazing to see somebody being told how they can’t bring an empty plastic soda bottle to the area to re-fill it with water, as the bottle had originally contained something else…  Come again?

Hammer Open Air 2011

Although there was no heat or constant sunshine, the weather was much more comfortable than the previous year, and Metsäpirtti’s natural surroundings provided a pleasant and suitable setting for the gathering.  For one reason or another, this was apparently the last time the event was to be held at the location, and possible future hammerings will have to take place somewhere else.  It seems like the organizers didn’t want to commit right away to putting up another summer festival the following year, so here’s to hoping that they’ll find the strength and inspiration for a third round, and that the Hammer will strike again.

~ Ossi Turpeinen with photos and editorial comments by Lady Enslain


Photo Slideshow : Hammer Open Air Metal Festival - 2011
Photo Slideshow : Hammer Open Air Metal Festival - 2010

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