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Hammer of Doom VIII

I had already made up my mind last year to visit the Hammer of Doom festival in Würzburg, which has distinguished itself in recent years by repeatedly having a strong line-up. However, due to being placed on emergency duty on that very weekend, I was forced to defer this premiere to 2013. What can I say; the festival was worth every penny! Not a single weak act was present, although of course we are discussing a festival which is quite…niche. As in previous years, this year the Friday was summed up by a particular motto: in the last two years it has been “Epic Metal Night”.

This year the Friday was dominated by the “retro rock” tag. Classic hard rockers Scorpion Child were given the honor to open proceedings. There was understandably not a huge amount going on in front of the stage, given the metal market attached to the stage had distracted the attention of a few vinyl collectors. That said, the Texans did their program justice, and after all it was the end of their tour as warm-up for Orchid and Blues Pills.

Blues Pills came across as the most dependable band of the day, and possibly also the best band of the festival. Without hyperbole, the interplay between the extremely attractive singer Elin and the 18-year-old guitar wizard Dorian Sorriaux could be called masterly. The voice that came out of such a dainty figure was mind-boggling, somehow combining the rasp of Janis Joplin with the powerful volume of Adele. Song titles like Devil Man, Little Sun and Astraplane were honored with collective headnods, both smiling and with eyes closed.

I’d heard little to nothing of Ashbury beforehand. The lads (or perhaps almost middle-aged men) have two albums out, one of which way back in 1983! They strongly echoed Jethro Tull, not just due to singer Rob Davis’ voice but also concerning the folky-prog aspect. Ashbury were certainly not unknown to the audience, seeing as some were singing along to the lyrics. Very melodic 70s AOR-rock, and nicely done in my opinion, but not coming close to Ian Anderson and co.

Before the final band went on there already felt like half again the number of people as there were for Blues Pills or Ashbury. Orchid took to the stage with “Heretic”, and tore a hole through their audience from the first note. Next up was the title track of their spring-released sophomore Mouths Of Madness. Sound-wise everything was great, although I found it a shame that Theo Mindell remained static behind the microphone, and the pauses between songs were baffling. However, their appearance, as it should do, exuded pure Black Sabbath flair. The riffs of the Californians were sublime without a doubt, and although there were some songs that blurred together, it didn’t matter one bit to the audience. They danced the night away with Orchid, and Theo thanked them many times for coming out and supporting them. In the run-up to the event, it was reported that they would play some never-before-performed tracks on this penultimate date of the tour. As far as I recall, those were “Masters Of It All” and “Down Into The Earth”. In any case, in almost 90 minutes it was almost over, and Theo distributed the leftover drinks from the stage. As an encore they pulled out “Wizard Of War” and “Saviour Of The Blind”, which turned the hall on its head, at least as far as doom metal goes.

The Saturday began with a decent hangover, [der nur für mich musizieren], so after a late breakfast and chatting with various metalheads who were en route to the Posthalle, I made my way to the metal market. Wheel started…and won me over within the space of the first two songs. The four doomsters from Dortmund put on a fantastic show, with highly emotion-filled tracks such as “The Mills Of God”, “Icarus” and “Lillith”, that were reminiscent at times of Solitude Aeternus. Certainly the voice was quite high-pitched and unique, and if only for this reason, the music of Wheel may not be for everyone.

Below were from Sweden and can surely pose, for what it’s worth. Really! If there were a prize for successful acting, those five would have reaped multiple awards. The tunes were also not bad, a little close to Candlemass but less doom and more on the power metal flip-side. Next year Below’s début album will emerge, and you have a right to be excited. For guys who are only only their first demo, it seems they fed themselves from the self-confidence jar with the big spoon. Finally, at the end of the set they whipped out an impressive cover of Black Sabbath’s “Headless Cross”, which you don’t hear every day.

Age of Taurus rock the Posthalle quite nicely, too, yet I have no idea into which genre to put them. They mix St. Vitus and Trouble as well as Epik Doom as well as Post rock elements. Their bombastic live sound is a trademark and also this Zack Wylde Lookalike who can be spotted on the left side of the stage at the six-stringer. Very entertaining.

After an almost cheeky quick changeover period, which allowed time to pee and smoke, it was back into the Hall with Altar Of Oblivion from Denmark. I haven’t known the band all that long, but I was soon reminded of their traditional doom sound, which also often taps at the door of power metal. It turned out rather differently though, although I would not go so far as to say the performance was crap. The band were very capable of thrilling the audience instrumentally, but the voice of Mik Mentor soured everything: he couldn’t carry a tune on a single song. The songs, which sounded really promising, were rendered nearly inaudible by the man’s warbling voice. Such a shame.

Beelzefuzz – the name as such seems creepy, but they turn out a very entertaining combo with a unique singer, who is basically the only person responsible for any kind of stage show. They are the surprise of the day – they seem a bit lost on the HOD stage, especially due to the lack of stage acting, but the easy-going music of this trio from Maryland captures you immediately, you simply have to like them. Beelzefuzz released their debut album this year, and songs like Reborn, Hypnotize and All that Feeling Returns are quite appealing – I will keep an eye on those guys.

After such a minimalistic performance Year of the Goat go the full monty. The stage seems too small, besides the Mellotron there are 4 guitarists on stage. One of them sings, but he counts as 2, in terms of space. Moreover, the band offers 2 background singers in monk outfits who occupy the right side of the stage and never even move during the whole set. The title track of their last album starts the set and shows the doom audience the power of Retro rock. Which is remarkable, the string section creates an almost hypnotic tensity that simply wins you over. The setlist is equally remarkable: Spirits of Fire, Circle of Serpents, Voice of the Dragon and Of Darkness – a great gig that confirms the high standard of this festival and is well received by the audience.

Finally, I can see Procession live. Although it is difficult to live up to the level of the Year of the Goat show, it seems an easy task for those exile-Chileans. They star this epic doom mass with Conjurer from the latest album – and the doomsters in front of the stage sing along every single note, the stage light dimmed to dark red – what an extraordinary atmosphere! This will be the only hour at HOD that seems to go by in a wink. Felipe Kutzbach tells the audience jokingly that they sold their souls and dicks for the To Reap the Heavens apart album – and now it was worth it. The title track of this album introduces the second part of the show – well, difficult to describe, you should have been part of it. I can only watch in awe because of this gloomy enercy that Procession release on stage and still play cheerfully at the same time – this is a unique experience. Like a Plague upon the Earth from the The Cult of Disease EP and Death and Judgement plus Chants of the Nameless from the Destroyers of the Faith album follow. Brilliant, fantastic gig, I bought everything still available of Procession Vinyl later and got it signed by Felipe.

The charisma of Jessica Thoth, who named Jex Thoth, is very special. No chants for this band before the show. Nothing! Silence. As if in veneration, and also later between songs you could hear a needle drop. The enthusiastic cheering will be postponed to the end of the Jex Thoth show. When you get a whiff of incense sticks from the stage, you realize that the front woman is getting herself into the mood and then she floats on stage clad in clouds of patchouli and sandalwood, inspiring the audience with her specific psychedelic gestures. The setlist including The Places you walk, To bury, Into a sleep, Separated at Birth and more etheric temptations turns out a real treat, and in combination with the mentioned gestures the aura of this show seems from another world. What always strikes me at those shows is the fact that the front lady hardly ever shows her pretty face, by the way. After the rather ho-hum gig at Keller Club Stuttgart 6 months ago this one puts Jex Thoth to the real winners of Hammer of Doom 2013.

A relaxed audience is kept waiting for the HOD 2013 headliner in a slightly longer than usual change over break. Yet you notice even before While Heaven wept enter the stage that the crowd thins out a bit, it seems some saw Jex Thoth as the real headliner. Well, they should miss a lot. While Heaven wept  impress with a natural virtuosity and a maximum of emotions during their 2h set which should move some people in the audience to tears. Many dive so deeply into the WHW music that they seem to be totally spaced-out. The only downer here is the fact that some moments felt over-stretched and not-getting-to-the-point, and also the brilliant Thus with a kiss I die is played for the last time this night, as guitarist and founding member Tom Phillips announces – what a pity. the setlist is full of goosebump-inducing material, like Sorrorw of the Angels, Vast Oceans Lachrymose, The Furthest Shore, Of Empires Forlorn, Soulsadness and the final Vessel, which is, just like many songs before, sung along passionately by the audience.

One thing is for sure, the Hammer of Doom festival will be a must-go on my calendar. A small but fantastic festival focusing on a particular style, which unites the audience “as one” even more. The prices for food and beverages were rather low, but lower prices could have been possible (e.g. 3,20 € for 0,4l Pils, 4,50 € – 6,00 € for a Cocktail, 2,50 € for a Hot Dog, 3,00 €).

Björn Schmiterlöw, transl. M.A. Brandt, K.Weber

photos: Björn Schmiterlöw
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Björn Schmiterlöw - - - Reports, reviews, photos - - - Favorite genres? - - - Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Doom Metal, Death Metal, Punk, Hardrock - - - Favorite bands: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Slayer, Anthrax, In Flames, Kreator, Exodus, Candlemass, Carcass, Reverend Bizarre, Ahab, Orne, Down, Grand Magus, Atlantean Kodex