Festival Report
Hammer Open Air 2012
HAMMER OPEN AIR METAL FESTIVAL Mannin Navetta, Lieto July 20-21, 2012

HAMMER OPEN AIR METAL FESTIVALMannin Navetta, Lieto – July 20–21, 2012

This year the Hammer struck down Lieto for the third time, but in a slightly different location, as Metsäpirtti had changed into the surroundings of Mannin Navetta.  As implied by the name, the place had quite a farm vibe to it, with the festival area terrain mostly being that of a cut down field, which seemed potentially quite messy in the case of rain.  There was no inside area for the audience either, as this time both of the stages were next to each other in open air.  Luckily no heavier rain occurred during the bands, and for the wetter parts of the day, those made of sugar had some tents to hide under.  Some of the ground did turn into a bit of a muddy mess, so those of us equipped with lighter footwear had to pay some more attention when walking.

Hammer Open Air location

Unlike at Metsäpirtti, there was no opportunity for camping right outside of the gates, so the warriors of wilderness had to drag their tents one kilometer away onto the nearby campground of Zoolandia.  There was free bus transportation to and from the festival, though, but as we didn’t have an exact idea how often it would run, and didn’t want to skip any bands totally, we missed on checking out the camping meininki this year.  Luckily, there was some grass to hang out on across the road from the festival, and the extremely drinker-friendly narikka again took no extra charge for any visits to your bag, making it easy to go grab a drink of your own outside the area during less essential parts of the program.

FRIDAY

Devastracktor @ Hammer Open Air

We arrived a bit after noon on Friday, right in time to grab a beer and go see Devastracktor kick off the fest on the Kvlt main stage.  Too bad somebody had forgotten to refrigerate the beers beforehand, as what I got served was a pocket-warm can of Kukko.  Devastracktor were definitely the equivalent of a cold one, though, and an apt starter for the day with their brisk and traditional thrash metal.  As their bass player had gotten stuck in Norway due to car trouble, the band had to perform with a bit torso of a line-up, but that didn’t seem to slow them down much.  The set offered plenty of energetic enjoyment in the form of familiar album hits like the apocalyptic opener “Strike Force 2099,” the commanding “Devastracktor Battalion,” and the wimp-annihilating “Poser Disposer,” as well as some newer tunes like the instantly memorable thirst-inducer “Beer Force One.”  Although their half an hour was solid all the way through, the band still have some miles to march before they can be promoted among the deadliest of thrash troops.  Luckily, this young group still has plenty of time to come up with even more killer riffs that force my face to twist into a maniacal grimace.

Damngod @ Hammer Open Air

The secondary Metallihelvetti stage got warmed up by Lahti’s Damngod, who I hadn’t come across live before despite their diligent gigging pace.  Their rednek (sic) death metal hadn’t really impressed me based on the samples I had heard, and although the Entombed-like groove of the material worked quite nicely on stage, it wasn’t enough to keep me standing around for more than a couple of songs.  The biggest stumbling block for me was AV’s hardcore-tinged vocals, but at least some of the higher shrieks he uttered had plenty of disturbed rage to them, and his satanik rednek (sic, again) look was almost Macabre-ly classy.  The drummer and one of the guitar players also went along with the theme a bit, wearing sleeveless flannel shirts – or flannel vests, since they even had some patchage.  That’s how they do it in the Business City!

Assaulter @ Hammer Open Air

Assaulter’s slot had been placed as unfortunately early as 1:40, and they even started a tad before that, as “Entrance” was already resounding over the quite empty festival grounds when we re-entered the area after a brief drinking break.  The crowd didn’t grow much from that during their set, but the Aussie beasts pulled off an extremely enjoyable 30-minuter anyway, heavily concentrating on the strong material of their newest album Boundless!, with the addition of “Vengeance Whips” from the debut.  Frontman S. Berserker seemed quite frustrated about the lack of (enthusiasm in the) audience, but instead of passifying him into arrogant lameness, it seemed to fuel his performance with even more genuine rage and hunger.  Guitarist T. Hellfinder, then again, looked quite indifferent and even bored most of the time, showing only mild enthusiasm when getting to play some of those glorious heavy metal leads.  I don’t know if Assaulter were supposed to be the lure to get people to the festival early, or what was the reason for their weird playing time, but it certainly wasn’t their duties elsewhere, as the band guys were hanging around at the festival late into the night…  Anyway, I was left satisfied, especially after visiting the merch booth and walking away with an Assaulter shirt and a CD after having spent only 15 euros!

Cannibal Accident @ Hammer Open Air

Although Cannibal Accident are hardly among the best grind acts to emerge from Finland in recent years, I was glad to see at least one of the kind on the bill, and anticipating a rather entertaining gig based on my previous experiences.  However, I definitely didn’t expect such a wild orgy of blood, (male) nudity and drunkenness that the Turku quintet offered the audience on this drizzly afternoon.  A big part in this was played by a plethora of guest stars, most notably the gimp-masked gentleman who was swaying with a wine bottle in the wheelchair placed in front of the drumset for about half of the set, until taking off his mask, kicking the chair into the photopit and performing “B-rappu” with insane frenzy.  The amount of craziness that the vocalist duo and the guests put up on stage surely kept the show interesting all the way, but the excessive variation in the vocal department also added a sense of inconsistency to the sound, and sonically I found the best moments to be when guitarist Kolkka was handling that side of things with his straight-forward raging.

Cryptborn @ Hammer Open Air

Next up on the main stage was Cryptborn, a relatively new name in the Finnish underground that includes a couple of familiar faces from Maveth, who opened up last year’s Hammer.  Death metal in the dark and heavy vein is the name of the game under this banner as well, but with more of a Swedish edge to it, which is especially audible in the guitar sound.  Another nod towards the West was ending the set with a cover version of “You’ll Never See,” which also featured guest vocals from fellow deathsters Lie in Ruins’ Roni S.  The big stage in daylight wasn’t the ideal environment, compared to the smaller club crypts that I had recently seen the band creep through, but they were able to offer an enjoyable gift of rotten flesh without any special condiments nonetheless.

Swallowed @ Hammer Open Air

The young fellows of Swallowed have already been causing some waves on the seas of negativity with their doomy death metal magic, and not without a reason, as the band have developed their original, disturbing style, and proved that it also works amazingly well live, resulting in appearances that emanate a strong aura of madness and possession.  They were able to summon this aura forth in a festival setting as well, making it feel as if dense darkness had just descended upon Lieto.  Visually, the atmosphere was supported by the members wearing ragged black garments, primitive corpsepaint and bones around their necks, while their aural terror was billowing over the audience with tempos varying from dragging to blasts, yet churning hypnotically all the way.  I remembered the group to be a quartet, so them appearing as a trio was a bit of a surprise, but it didn’t really seem to have a negative impact on the overall sound.  Whereas at last year’s Hammer I was once amusingly mistaken to be one of the band guys, this year wasn’t without a funny Swallowed-related incident either, as after the end of the set, some security personnel walked up to me and another young spectator in the front and wanted to see our ID’s.  Hell, maybe they should’ve carded the band as well!

Jess and the Ancient Ones @ Hammer Open Air

If there was one name on the bill that I didn’t deem worth watching, that was definitely Jess and the Ancient Ones, but for the sake of consistency, I decided to take a peek anyway.  While I’ve found quite many of these “occult rock” bands that seem to be popping out a lot these days enjoyable, this Kuopio septet is lacking all of that something that makes bands like The Devil’s Blood and Ghost special, sounding like a hollow and mediocre attempt at getting a piece of the hype.  A seemingly successful one, though, as the band have already received raving reviews and quite high-profile gig opportunities despite having been around for only two years, and seeing this hype just makes me want to bury my face in the palm of my hand.  Like on record, there wasn’t really anything that annoying or bad about the music, but there were no stand-out qualities either.  At least something to observe was provided by guitarist Thomas Corpse’s excited headbanging, which even seemed a bit overly intense for the not-that-heavy music at times, and Jess’ amusing attempts to look dramatic.  The best thing on stage was without a doubt the neatly designed and nicely colored backdrops, though…  Next, please.

Bestial Mockery @ Hammer Open Air

Recently returned chainsaw demons Bestial Mockery were somewhat familiar to me through their last full-length effort, 2007’s Slaying the Life, which was represented by merciless yet catchy missiles like “Storm of the Beast” and “Metal Fucking Death,” but apart from that, I experienced the gig through the eyes of an observing rookie.   Their rabid and hostile bashing was indeed something to observe, especially with vocalist Master Motorsåg keeping up his genuine aggression by punching himself in the head every once in a while.  Too bad he had only brought the chains and left the saw home, though…  Some more confusing stage action was provided by a couple of toilet paper wrapped heroes doing a brief and unexpected appearance – some sort of a Bestial Accident, perhaps?

Gehennah @ Hammer Open Air

Sólstafir seemed to be one of Friday’s most awaited bands for many, but having just seen these funky-looking Icelanders on their Finnish tour some months before and not being deeply into them in the first place, the opener “Ljós í Stormi” already saw me heading to get properly hammered before my number one act of the day.  Up next on the small stage were another recently reunited Swedish lot Gehennah, whose black/thrash had quite a different vibe to it when compared to their countrymen Bestial Mockery, opting for alcoholocaust over extermination.  The band didn’t appear as your consistently average bunch of metal maniacs either, thanks to vocalist Mr. Violence’s rough hobo habitus and guitarist Rob’s slick rock ’n’ roll look.  Whereas a club setting would’ve surely been more favorable for many of the other bands, a summer festival felt like just the right place to inebriatedly scream along to alcoholic hymns like “King of the Sidewalk” and “Piss off, I’m Drinking.”  As an anecdote, I had an amusing encounter with two drunken fellows the following day, who had come to see the Norwegian Gehenna, and hadn’t learned about the one-letter difference until they got to the fest.  All hail literacy!

Unholy @ Hammer Open Air

One of Finland’s most legendary doom names Unholy had crawled out of the grave after a longer slumber, and were scheduled to play their first show in over ten years at Hammer Open Air’s after party, but first got moved to being Friday’s closing band at the actual fest, and then switched to the second-to-last slot on the main stage.  If all that hassle was a bit confusing, so was the quartet’s top hat dresscode already introduced in their new promo photos, but luckily they had at least left the idiotic grins and fingerisms at home.  Although the setlist was heavily leaning towards their early days, it had been carefully constructed to include something from every release in the band’s history, from Kill Jesus to Gracefallen.  The bizarre atmosphere and crushing heaviness were present, but I felt their tunes weren’t exactly at home in the daylight, if in a live situation at all, and the performance seemed like it didn’t have much to offer outside of the enthusiasts.

Urfaust @ Hammer Open Air

The Dutch duo Urfaust has been doing yearly visits to our country, and 2012 marked their return to Lieto.  Some uncertainty had entered the picture a few months before, as it was announced that guitarist-vocalist IX had fucked up his right hand in a (presumably drunken) accident and wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to play.  The band did flash a possibility of performing a different kind of gig, though, using a synthesizer instead of a guitar if needed.  As it turned out, they were able to perform normally, which was a bit of a shame, since I would’ve been more interested to experience something out of the ordinary instead of the same old show.  Urfaust sure are quite a special band with their unique deranged aura, but this time their rites of intoxication didn’t manage to get me that excited.

Hammer’s Fridays have traditionally featured something “Australian and Anti-Christ,” as 2010 brought us Vomitor and 2011 Gospel of the Horns, but Assaulter wasn’t the only Down Under treat of 2012, as Deströyer 666 were occupying the headliner spot.Deströyer 666 @ Hammer Open Air  Visiting Finland already for the third time since the release of their previous album Defiance three years ago, this highly Europeanized bunch was far away from shit-your-pants level exclusivity, but pulled off such a killer set once again that one can hardly complain.  The band might be slow when it comes to new material, but their high quality standards become evident after watching a set that simply doesn’t hold a weak moment, ranging from savage thrashing to grand melodicism without sounding at all incoherent.  After such an excellent end for the day, I wouldn’t even have been interested in seeing another band at a club, so I was glad to just head back to Turku for a short neighbor-disturbing afterparty.

SATURDAY

Vorum @ Hammer Open Air

Following a hasty lunch, we rushed to the Turku bus station to catch the festival ride to Lieto, only to find a bunch of other metalheads standing in the rain, whom we had to join for nearly half an hour until the next bus arrived.  By the time we got to the fest, Vorum were already going full speed ahead on the main stage with their inverted crosses swinging.  This time the members were also using some blood and black paint on their faces, as well as wearing bones around their necks to enhance the morbid atmosphere.  The band were racing through the fast material with frenzy, which seemed like quite an exercise to the bassist, who was huffing and puffing as if on a marathon.  Vorum would definitely deserve an intimate club gig on the mainland, as it seems like they’ve mostly been playing early festival slots, but the band once again pulled off the unfavorable role of the opener respectably.  Maybe after their debut album hopefully hits the stores later this year…

Krypts @ Hammer Open Air

The first small stage band Krypts offered a heavier and more mid-tempo-oriented take on death metal, with some faster moments thrown in as well, like the hard-hitting “Day of Reckoning” off of their already strong demo from a couple of years ago.  They had recently parted ways with guitarist Topi, whose boots were being filled by Rami from Stench of Decay, at least for the time being.  Krypts don’t really bring anything new onto the table, but execute their dense, ominous style very convincingly, and top it with dismal leads and Antti’s deep yet enjoyably rough growls, creating a soundscape that indeed makes you feel as if you’re wandering through a cold, dark crypt – lost and horrified.  This promising young group from the capital area is also in the process of forging their debut full-length.

Forgotten Horror @ Hammer Open Air

Kuopio’s Forgotten Horror already got theirs out through Woodcut last year, but as I haven’t gotten around to checking it out yet, my previous familiarity with the band was limited to their impressive 2007 demo.  The two releases don’t have any common material, but at least there was one recognizable song in the set, as the closing track of the demo “Timeless Meadows” was included.  Forgotten Horror shared two members with the Ancient Ones, and if bassist Corpse was performing as intensely as the day before, frontman Tuomas was far from his previous role as a mere player among the ranks, now being visibly fired up and interpreting his own songs with conviction and wrath.  His look with tattooed arms, shaved head and black leather vest actually gave me quite a Jon Nödtveidt vibe, and I suppose Dissection has been a major influence on his compositions as well.  The live guitarist’s thing, then again, seemed to be boredom, as he played through the gig zeallessly while being careful not to mess up his beautiful hair.

Gorephilia @ Hammer Open Air

Gorephilia, who seemed to have just recently gone through a drummer change, were another solid bunch of young deathsters on the bill, but as they had been playing smaller Helsinki venues frequently during the spring, this festival appearance of theirs wasn’t of equal potency or of much interest.  I did note that vocalist Henu must’ve been the most persistently beer-holding performer of the whole weekend, though…  So, I decided to direct my attention towards beer, too, right before my most awaited domestic name of the whole weekend would be stepping onto the main stage.

Charnel Winds @ Hammer Open Air

I hadn’t managed to witness Charnel Winds in the flesh before, as they seem to have effectively avoided playing the capital area so far.  Their demo tapes had already impressed me some years ago, but live the emphasis seemed to be on their long due debut full-length from last year, which was still mostly veiled in obscurity to me.  Despite this, the band did put up an exceptionally compelling act, with live vocalist Zetekh from Saturnian Mist being quite the performer with his dramatic gestures and constant motion – when he wasn’t just sitting on the stage and zoning out, that is.  However, the most bizarre moment was when he sat down on the edgeCharnel Winds @ Hammer Open Air of the stage with his wine bottle halfway through the set, and after drinking it for a while, got up and threw the bottle into the audience unexpectedly.  The bottle then flew through the air, and hit a guy on the shoulder next to the mixing booth without breaking, so no further chaos ensued.  Might’ve hurt, though!  (Reportedly, the bottle wasn’t empty, and some thirsty hobos proceeded to drink the rest of the “shitty” wine.)

Guitarist and originator Shu-Ananda was contributing vocals as well, mostly of the clean kind, but for the last song, Zetekh left the arena, while Shu-Ananda abandoned his guitar and solely took over the mic.  His performance looked awkward compared to his predecessor, but was seemingly passionate and heartfelt, which was particularly present in his powerful interpretation.  Notable was also the disturbing owl-like gaze that the second guitar player had all through the gig – possession, one might say.  Although Charnel Winds’ show had a lot of interesting visual details to it, that definitely wasn’t its only captivating aspect, as their atypical black metal also created an interesting soundscape for this display of esoteric madness.

Portrait @ Hammer Open AirThe 11th Hour @ Hammer Open Air

As a contrast, Portrait’s demonic heavy metal radiated more of a vibrant feeling, and the Swedes were energetic and entertaining to watch as Swedes tend to be, but with the song material not being very familiar, it was hard to join the enthusiasm of the front row singers-alongers.  If, in that case, the blame was on the listener, Dutch 11th Hour’s melodic death/doom seemed plain boring, especially on a big outdoor stage at five in the afternoon, and the sparse amount of spectators indicated that I wasn’t alone with my opinion.  Although Pim from their fellow countrymen Officium Triste not only looked ancient, but possessed a commanding growl, Ed Warby’s clean vocals fell more under “annoying,” resulting in some quality time outside of the area before the most important acts of the day.  Witnessing Lord Satanachia of Azazel falling face-first into a ditch mid-piss was indeed much more intriguing than anything that was going on in the festival area at the time, that’s for sure.

Necrophobic @ Hammer Open Air

An act of importance was up next indeed, as Necrophobic had finally made their way across Pohjanlahti after 20+ years!  If Hammer’s roster had seemed a bit lacking compared to the overwhelming exclusivity of previous years, this wicked fivesome really made it for me, as they’ve been THE Swedish band I’ve been praying for gig and festival organizers to bring over since Hrimthursum slithered its way into my cranium in 2006.  The wait was finally over, as the choirs of “The Slaughter of Baby Jesus” welcomed the band onto the stage, and they naturally followed it with “Blinded by Light, Enlightened by Darkness.”  Unfortunately, the sound didn’t give justice to the song, being quite atrocious at times, but things were sounding better as they moved on to another Hrimthursum cut, the mid-tempo “The Crossing.”  Despite being a catchy death chant, I was disappointed that they didn’t follow the album tracklist and play the soul-scorching “I Strike with Wrath”Necrophobic @ Hammer Open Air instead, which was my initiation to Necrophobic, and the song I was most longing to hear.

Despite this personal setback and the slight sound problems, the band delivered a set of absolute enjoyment, playing one song from each of the first four albums – from “The Nocturnal Silence” to “Dreams Shall Flesh” – but having an emphasis on the latest two.  While older fans might’ve been left unsatisfied, I didn’t mind the abundance of new material at all, quite the opposite, as Hrimthursum and Death to All are the ones that I’ve had in the heaviest rotation, and hymns like “Revelation 666” and “For Those Who Stayed Satanic” cut deep live as well.  The band surprisingly performed as a four-piece, with vocalist Tobias also swinging one of the axes, and unexpected was his appearance as well, reminding more of a hårdrocker than a demonic preacher of death.  Bassist Alexander had a formidable aura about him, though, which patched this up a little bit.  Necrophobic’s slaughterous gig was the blazing highlight of the festival, and I can only hope that it won’t take another two decades for them to come back to carry out a lengthier and even more intense club show.

Asphyx @ Hammer Open Air

Following this, it was time to join the company of Dutch war machine Asphyx that has already proved their well-oiled live shape during previous visits, and had also recently released a new album showcasing their continuous ability to forge crushing death metal even after more than two decades.  Although plenty of older van Drunen-era lava was spewed upon the audience, I found the most vehemently scorching streams to be from the last two full-length eruptions, with the death metal lauds “Death the Brutal Way” and “Deathhammer” rushing their way over burning bodies particularly forcefully.  The more patient poser-torturer “We Doom You to Death” also made a powerful impression, with van Drunen vomiting out commanding lines such as “no one will remember you, nor your fucking band.”Root @ Hammer Open Air  Luckily, strong song material and its brutal yet precise delivery aren’t Asphyx’s only stage assets, as their performance was also loaded with destructive energy and fierce headbanging that was sure to reflect into the audience as well.

Equally long-running Czech Satanists Root continued the evening on the small stage with their unique black/heavy metal.  My two previous encounters with them at their club gigs some years ago had already left an impression of a very convincing live act, but this time came close to a jaw-dropper.  Big Boss is already quite a senior, but his stage persona is loaded with charisma and insanity that very few others can come close to, and this, combined with his absurd ramblings and varied and personal vocals, makes him a marvelous frontman.  Versatile was also the set of songs, ranging from the primitive mangling of the early days such as “666” to the more complex compositions of the latest album Heritage of Satan, and all the way to the magical beauty of “The Mystical Words of the Wise.”  Breathtaking!

Eyehategod @ Hammer Open Air

Saturday evening’s excellence just went on, with New Orleans’ legendary dopefiends Eyehategod next in the line of duty.  Having already broken the curse of cancellations with their ground-shaking club gigs last summer, this festival show didn’t feel nearly as special, but was still a highly enjoyable dose of hostility and misery, and added a welcome sludge pinch to the bill.  Mike Williams’ look amusingly reminded me of a hobo-junkie version of Kurt Cobain, and his down-to-earth attitude and comic remarks about the soundcheck simultaneously going on on the small stage, for instance, gave the performance a laid-back feel.  I’m rarely in the mood to blast their records at home, but live their cogent stream of discomforting riffs is irresistible, dragging you down into the mud, while the lazy rhythms distribute punches and kicks all over, and the agonized vocals spit on your face.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing this treatment given more concretely to some of the annoying/amusing inebriates stumbling around the audience, but attending an EHG show is hardly a sober effort, so I suppose behavior in this vein was to be expected.

Marduk @ Hammer Open Air

Marduk were seemingly not happy with their placement in the schedule, as Mortuus uttered “this stage sucks” in a pissed-off manner, and I also heard some audience complaints about the sound afterwards, but at least observing from a bit further back, the band’s sonic genocide seemed to roar over the darkening lands with the appropriate lethality.  The view wasn’t naturally ideal, but I was fine with relishing their sermons from behind the hungry mass of more enthusiastic listeners, and it’s not like the band have much to offer visually anyway – just executing their tunes with tightness and fury, no more or less.  Apart from the ever-annihilating extremity of the Panzer Division Marduk material, the most interesting songs in the set were the Mortuus-era picks, which easily surpass most of the old “classics,” if you ask me.  I would’ve wished to hear more than a few songs from the latest Serpent Sermon, but the band’s willingness to span almost every one of their albums in their live set didn’t really leave time for this.

Just like Unholy, Shape of Despair had originally been scheduled to play at a club after the fest, but now occupied the last slot on the schedule instead.  This was initially supposed to be their first gig ever, as well, but ended up being the second, as the band had already played at one of the Tuska afterpartiesShape of Despair @ Hammer Open Air a few weeks before.  Not much of the audience seemed to be interested enough to stick around for their funereal crawl this time, and I didn’t have much concentration left either after the band binge that the latter part of the day had turned out to be.  As the songs weren’t familiar, or of a style that I usually enjoy, the show didn’t feel like much more than an anecdote, with the most interesting aspect being Henri Koivula of the mighty Throes of Dawn handling the vocals instead of Pasi Koskinen.  The dismal synths hovering over the slow and heavy dragging did create an ethereally desolate atmosphere, though, which, combined with the dark surroundings, had a somewhat fascinating feel to it.

While fetching one of the last beers of the festival day, I spotted a small note saying that the guitarist of Gehennah would still be playing a spontaneous show with his horror country solo project Rob Coffinshaker after Shape of Despair.  However, we felt like it had been enough of a festival already, and instead headed to the night life of Turku for the last stretch of quality time with local friends, as well as some disorderly street behavior that put an appropriately chaotic end to another prime festival weekend in Finland Proper.

~ Ossi Turpeinen with photos by Lady Enslain


Photo Slideshow : Hammer Open Air Metal Festival - 2012
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