Monday, 12 February 2018

Live Review: Hammer Of Doom XII @ Posthalle, Wurzburg

With a strong line-up boasting acts such as Lucifer's Friend, Warning, Time Lord and Cirith Ungol, we made our way to Wurzburg for the 12th edition of Hammer Of Doom.



Friday

Greece’s The Temple are a fantastic choice to start things off. It’s straightforward, traditional doom which pays its respects to the godfathers of the genre, some of whom will be on stage later this weekend. Front man Father Alex’s clear and melodic vocals are a real highlight. (LD)

Next up we’re taken in a slightly different direction by Italy’s Witchwood. Armed with the vintage melodies of both the organ and the flute, they bring a distinctly 70s vibe to the stage. It’s an early indication of the amazing amount of diversity on offer at this festival with almost all fringes of the doom scene represented in some form. The band swing easily from heavy riffing and jam‐like guitar solos to flute and organ interludes. There’s a lot going on but they manage to pull it all together creating a beautiful amalgamation of slightly spacey prog and hard hitting rock n roll. (LD)

Witchwood

Witchwood


After a quick beer break, the hall fills up with hundreds of bodies, all waiting in anticipation for Procession to begin. The smoke that has already filled the stage is starting to pour over the front rows as the echoing vocals of ‘The Warning’ call out. With synchronised head banging and a powerful drum sound backing everything up, the band come off as a unified machine of brute force. It’s a Doom Decimation heavy set, allowing most of us to get a first live taste of the newly released record. It stands up to the more well known material and there’s no less of a reaction from the fans who are lapping up every second of the show. ‘To Reap Heavens Apart’ is absolutely crushing, sending people into a frenzy, screaming along to those epic choruses. Despite the slow pace, the end of this set comes around far too fast but at least we’re treated to a long goodbye. The mournful tones of ‘Chants Of The Nameless’ are absolutely hypnotising. The relentlessness of the rhythm section paired with the raw power of the vocals and the beauty of the solo guitar work make for a totally entrancing experience and Procession leave the stage to a whole hall screaming for them almost as loudly as they played for us. (LD)

Procession

Procession
Lucifer’s Friend has been one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend. Having only played a handful of European shows since the 80s, there’s plenty of people here who are waiting for their first live experience of the band. Things start off a little spooky with the stage plunged into a dark blue haze but within moments, the groovy duo of Hesslein’s guitar and Wichmann’s keyboards have kicked in. Opening with new recording ‘Pray’, released as a bonus on 2015’s Awakening, seems like a statement that the band are not simply a 70s throwback but a fully alive and functioning outfit.

Over the course of the next twelve songs, they drive that point home repeatedly. John Lawton appears absolutely in his element, the power in his voice coming through on every track from 2016’s ‘Demolition Man’ and 1981’s ‘Fire And Rain’ to the iconic ‘In the Time Of Job…’ and ‘Keep Goin’’ from the bands’ self titled 1970 release. Particularly on this early material, original members Peter Hesslein and Dieter Horns really strut their stuff and are totally in their element. Being most familiar with their ‘70s output, I’m pleasantly surprised by the ‘80s tracks which I haven’t heard before.

There’s so much power coming from everyone on stage, ‘Hey Driver’ sounds huge with Horns and Fellenberg thundering away on bass and drums. All five on stage look like they’re having a fantastic time dancing to the funky sounds of their early material, taking in several of the band’s catalogue; Mind Exploding, Where the Groupies Killed The Blues, I’m Just A Rock ‘n’ Roll Singer and Banquet. John Lawton says it best himself, “We’re just some old people having fun!” The fun is infectious and has spread throughout the entire hall by the time Lucifer’s Friend have to leave us Flying High…. (LD)

Lucifer's Friend

*Born Again- Heavy Metal Soundhouse Highlight: Warning*

There couldn’t be a better band than Warning to finish a long day at a festival like this. It’s a total contrast in atmosphere after Lucifer’s Friend but nevertheless, it fits. Watching From A Distance is, without a doubt, one of the greatest doom releases of all time and it seems clear that this performance is about to do it complete justice. From the first note of the eponymous track, the sound is almost incomprehensibly huge. The wall of sound which Walker, Taylor, Hatfield and Prestige create makes it feel as though we are experiencing this album all around us, filling the entire room, rather than simply listening to it. Walker’s vocals, as well as the rest of the bands performance are perfect. The beautiful agony in his recorded vocal performance loses none of its power and emotion when translated to the stage.

Somehow, it’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and listened to Watching From A Distance, to the point where it’s even become a little unfamiliar but as soon as Warning start their set, it comes flooding back and I find myself, along with so many others, singing along to every word. It feels like the comfort of an old friend. There’s a profound atmosphere in the air as the band make their way through the rest of the album, almost everyone watching seems to be quietly taking everything in, in all its magnificent detail. As the last notes of ‘Echoes’ wind up, I’m sure I’m not the only one who leaves for the day with chills running down my spine. (LD)

Warning


Saturday

It's an early start for Wurzburgs' own Cranial, one of the two acts brought in to round up the festivals line-up and replace Pilgrim. Their prolonged deep and doomy modern post-apocalyptic sounds thunder through the hall, having the effect of either sending revellers into a dizzy spin or violently waking them up with their deafening fuzzy guitar tones. New tracks from their 2017 album Dark Towers/Bright Lights echo against each dark dank surface. (MG)

Bringing back the more traditional sounds of modern doom is Below, flying the flag for the 'epic' kind. Hailing from Sweden, it's clear to see that their vocalist Zeb is inspired by the multi-tonal bellows of King Diamond and Messiah. The somber dual guitars of 'Hours Of Darkness' particularly stand out, as they seamlessly blend into a single wailing guitar solo, showing off that, all so famous, Swedish art of 'perfectionism' as the vocals kick in. (MG)

After a 12 year gap between debut album Sun Meditation and their 2016 release Heavy Burden, Naevus take to the Hammer Of Doom stage with ease, sending out heavy stoner vibes tinged with groovy solos and licks. Despite frontman Uwe Groebels' mellow vocals, he's able to interlock and compete with the powerful instruments behind him, whilst showing off his ability to 'solo' soulfully in the vocal interludes. (MG)

Crippled Black Phoenix take to the stage as a collective of musicians; guitars and keys galore. Headed up by frontman Justin Greaves, it's a slow burning set of songs, with each reaching a deadly psychedelic inducing climax. Flittering breaks of light relief sometimes break through the melancholic layers of melodic doom, as the deep vocals of Greaves are harmonised with equally morose feminine vocals of Helen Stanley. (MG)

Bringing a double dose of horror and gothic is The Vision Bleak; with a name like that, what else can we expect. Maybe something a little different for the festival, but it's sure to be that their strain of 'doom' metal has it's admirers amongst fans of traditional writers of all things macabre, Edgar Alan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. (MG)

It seems fitting that ‘The Doomfather’ himself will be gracing the Hammer Of Doom stage albeit with his new project The Doomsday Kingdom rather than with Candlemass. The early heavy metal styled doom goes down well with Niklas StÃ¥lvind’s distinctive vocals giving things an interesting dimension. That Candlemass sound, so familiar to any doom fan, is definitely present but there’s something different added in the tone and style of guitarist Marcus Jidell. As well as a couple of tracks from their self-released 2016 demo, Never Machine, the band manages to showcase half of their self titled release before having to give way to the next of the doom titans in attendance today. (LD)

And now it's time for one of the more familiar bands to grace the Hammer Of Doom stage: Count Raven. The Swedish three-piece seem delighted to be here after seven years away from Germany. As frontman/guitarist Dan Fondelius tells us, “It's good to be back”. There's no nonsense as they pile straight into 'The Poltergeist', giving us something to get stuck into and bang our heads to. Much of the setlist consists of their third album High On Infinity and their latest full length output Mammons War, with the exception of 'Wolfmoon' and a brand new track, 'The Nephilims'. As a band that formed in the late 80s, they have garnered a well deserved following for themselves, which is very much evident tonight. (MG)

Count Raven

Count Raven

*Born Again- Heavy Metal Soundhouse Highligh: Time Lord*

It's the penultimate band of the festival, one we've been waiting for all night. Having heard that Alan Jones would be resurrecting Pagan Altar under the guise of Time Lord, a wave of excitement had swept across the group's loyal fans, leading to the feverish anticipation we are experiencing this evening.

Following the tragic death of Pagan Altar frontman Terry Jones in 2015, it had been respectfully understood that the chapter was now closed for the group in terms of live performances. After all, how on earth could they continue without the charismatic Terry Jones, whose unique voice in many ways came to define Pagan Altar?

Two years later, Terry's son and band mate Alan Jones set out to complete what he and his father had started on, the album The Room Of Shadows, which was subsequently release in August 2017 with the help of former drummer Andy Green and former bassist Diccon Harper. The critically acclaimed album stands as a fitting testimony to the talent and vision of Terry Jones.

A live line-up was completed with vocalist Brendan Radigan (Magic Circle) and second guitarist Andres Arango (Cauchemar) ready to bring Time Lord to life.

You can feel the suspense in the air as the stage is set up awaiting the band's arrival. The lights dim and the familiar hymn from title track 'Pagan Altar' plays out, entrancing the crowd with its hypnotic, mystic vibes. Andy Green counts us in and guitar maestro Alan Jones embarks on an intricate signature solo; his distinctive style holds our attention emphatically. It's a bittersweet emotion that sets in as I wait for Brendan Radigan to deliver the first lines: “Dawning of a brand new day, Lighting up the way, With something new to say, From beyond the stars”. It has to be said that he's a singer in a league of his own, with a powerful set of lungs delivering the lyrics immaculately. He doesn't try to emulate Terry; rather, he takes on the role and makes it his own, giving the songs the respect they deserve. It was never going to be the same as when I'd seen Pagan Altar many times in the past with Terry, but it's as good as it can possibly be.

Radigan uses the time in between songs to introduce the songs to us, we get everything from 'Black Mass' (Judgement Of The Dead) to 'Cry Of The Banshee' (Mythical & Magical), showing off the exemplary back catalogue of material. They are remarkably tight for a band who have played only once before with this line-up, and the musicianship is of a uniformly high standard. It is wonderful to see Alan Jones smiling on stage as the crowd chants and whoops with joy as each song ends, waiting to hear more mastery.

Halfway through the set, 'Dance Of The Vampires' (from the latest album The Room Of Shadows) is played to an enthusiastic response. We can only hope that in the future more tracks from this masterpiece will be played live. This is followed by more from Judgement Of The Dead, Lords Of Hypocrisy and Mythical & Magical, including 'Daemoni Na Noiche' ('Demons Of The Night') which gives way to a stunning set of solos from Alan at the end. Time Lord end the set with the mighty 'March Of The Dead' and 'The Witches Pathway', leaving us still craving more. It always felt like a privilege being able to watch Pagan Altar live, and I would now attest to a similar feeling, having just seen Time Lord.  (MG)

Time Lord
A third festival appearance in Germany, and the hype is definitely not dying down for California's Cirith Ungol. Here at Born Again we had already witnessed their first show in Europe at the esteemed Keep It True festival back in April, so we know how good this is going to be.

To keep fans on their toes, there has already been the promise of a two hour long set (which is to be filmed live for CD/DVD release), but also King Of The Dead, the bands second album is to be played in its entirety. This is sweet music to the ears of any Cirith Ungol fan, so it's no surprise that Posthalle is at full capacity. One only has to look around at the number of Cirith shirts on display to know that they're a prominent factor in the impressive turnout.

The band take their places in between a pair of kneeling skeleton figures to rowdy cheers, and through the smoke filled blue haze the first notes of 'I'm Alive' blare out; I feel goosebumps hearing just hearing the intro to this incredibly heavy tune. Tim Baker, an imposing figure, remains calm and collected on stage as the crowd in front of him go mental. His chilling shriek is sharp enough to cut through glass - you either love it or loathe it, but it's very much an essential element of the Cirith cocktail. His vocals have retained their clarity and power throughout the years.

Guitarists Greg Lindstrom and Jim Barraza churn out the riffs and solos against the thunderous drumming of Robert Garven as they power through their discography. Night Demon's Jarvis Leatherby is most definitely at home with this trailblazing band, striking out powerful bass grooves to tracks from Frost And Fire, King Of The Dead, One Foot In Hell and Paradise Lost.

This is very much a retrospective of their career, and each album cover is projected at the back of the stage as tracks from each album is played. With J.S. Bach's 'Toccata In D Minor', a fitting tribute is made towards previous guitarist Jerry Fogle, who sadly died in 1998, and images of him are proudly shown on the screen behind the band. They cap off the set with a vigorous rendition of King Of The Dead's 'Death Of The Sun'. Cirith Ungol are very much 'Alive'.  (MG)



All reviews by Louise Dornan & Michelle G
Photography: Michelle G

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