Hell Over Hammaburg immediately established itself as a very strong festival already from its first year, with a very nice and balanced line up between legends and upcoming bands covering a sound range from traditional to black metal. Having been there a couple of times already, this year’s line up was tempting enough to make me spend another weekend in the main port of Germany.
The festival is being held in an old market space that has been transformed into a big concert hall with two stages, one that holds up to 1000 people or more and one about 250. The main hall is just excellent, its ratio between width and length is ideal, and there are steps to the side that give an amphitheatric feeling, but the most important is that you can see perfectly from almost every corner of it and the mosh pit is 10 steps away from the bar, which is very practical. The smaller stage is a different story, getting packed before bands actually start and difficult to enter, but the one wall that is between that and the main bar of the festival is of glass, so you can see everything, even if you can’t be inside. Apart from that, merch stands, some food and lots of beer was completing the scenery.
Friday 9th of March
On that day only the main stage was open, so it was easy to find a spot and stay there for the most part of the day, just going to fill up the beer glasses every now and then. Gevurah from Canada were the first to go on stage and delivered a fierce set with their ritualistic black metal vibes from their 2016 record “Hallelujah!”. The sound was huge, but with a bit of echo, mostly due to the venue not filled with people yet, although that was becoming better towards the end of their set. They left great impressions and they should be even better in a smaller stage. Dead Kosmonaut that followed are comprised by veterans of the extreme Scandinavian scene playing in bands like Unleashed, Nifelheim and Griftegard. Their common interest seemed to be Iron Maiden since there was a British Lion tour, a Final Frontier tour and a buckle belt with the band’s logo at the same time on stage. And they also finished with a cover of “Killers”, so there you go. Their own material is kind of doomy heavy metal, with a lot of Maiden references, I would say they are actually great in that sector. The larger than life reputation of some of the members helped in driving the audience to cheering, clapping and in general having fun, which is what they came to the festival for, so good job Dead Kosmonaut.
Ultha is by now a very well known band in Germany, they came out of the ashes of Planks and play a style of black metal that is very similar to Ash Borer I would say. I ‘ve seen them too many times the past few years and depending on the context and the sound, I enjoy them more or less. This time they were my sacrificial band for a proper meal, but I am sure they played in their standards.
Savage Master were next in line and they managed to gather the biggest audience for the night. Many people were ready to shout “With whips and chains” and be under the control of the Amazon Stacey Peak. They were better than I expected, I like the music, wasn’t sure about the vocals, but all in all they were energetic, with a proper stage performance and they played a couple of new songs that were fast paced and ballsy. I am sure they made many new fans that night.
And then was time for our rendezvous with history. Brian Tatler came up and started setting up and playing his guitar and that was enough to be in awe. Diamond Head are as crucial for the development of heavy metal, through Metallica mostly, as alcohol is for a proper party. Having released a decent record two years ago, they came to play a few songs out of that and many classics. They opened with “Borrowed Time” which was already a blast from the past, but how about “Lightning To The Nations”, “Helpless”, “The Prince”, “Sucking My Love”? That was a heavy metal party and the band seemed to enjoy it as well. Tatler is still a giant of a guitar player and the rest of the band was helping him to shine, although their stage presence wasn’t exactly fitting. Of course they finished with “Am I Evil?” which is one of our music’s biggest hymns. Too bad this band never became as big as they should, but I am sure Tatler’s autobiography that they were selling there says all about it.
Last band for the night and headliners of the whole festival were the unique Master’s Hammer, the Rotting Christ of Czech Republic I would say. Amazing set up, brilliant performance, spooky and uncanny, yet very warm and uplifting. Don’t expect any titles, the songs that they played from their first two records “Ritual” and “Jilemnicky Okultista” were killers though. Not that the new album “Fascinator” is any less good. They didn’t just reunite to play songs from 30 years ago, their new material is as qualitative as their back catalogue and there was no gap in their performance. “This is a song about keeping order in cemeteries…”, with lines like these how you can’t just love that band? After an hour of a magical black metal journey with great sound and lights as well, the first night of the festival was over.
Second day always starts later than the first day, since it follows the first night, simple as that. We were effective though, walked through the most interesting streets of Hamburg, ate fish and drank sangria in a Portuguese place, checked Rote Flora, the famous squat, went to a very expensive, but very informed vinyl shop, passed by St. Paul stadium while the team was playing and heard the chanting fans and still we were just on time to see Maggot Heart in the small stage, as The Wizzards were already over in the big one. The small stage had a not so capable sound guy as it seemed, since there were problems all throughout the day, but thankfully not very serious ones. Anyway, the band was full on and the crowd went along. Besides the four great “City Girls” songs, the video clip song and the Pere Ubu cover, the band played three new ones from their upcoming album that were greeted with excitement. Big things are ahead for them, that is for sure.
Then it was time for a blast from my own past. Having known some of their members since high school years and having seen them in the most underground places in Athens, watching Universe 217 keeping a big stage in Northern Europe on their feet, cheering and asking for more, was a very sentimental moment. Even though they are a bit of an outsider, since they don’t have ties with the traditional metal or the hip black metal scene, they still managed to captivate the audience that was filling up the big stage. There are no words to describe Tania’s performance, the girl dies and gets reborn every time she sings, so easy, so unpretentiously, so natural. “Harm”, “Mouth”, “Undone”, “Swallow” and the closing “Never” are the ones I recognized. Congratulations to them, from squats and beaches, to Van Records and Hell Over Hammamburg, hope the best is yet to come for Universe 217.
By watching Maggot Heart and Universe 217, I missed Spell and The Fog that were playing in the other venues. Same happened with Old Mother Hell, this new German doom band, but the last minute addition of E-Force performing Voivod, instead of Degial that were asked to accompany Watain for a tour in the USA, was tempting. It’s actually Eric Forest presenting songs from “Phobos” and “Negatron”, the two unpopular records he did with Voivod when Snake and Blackie were away. Cool idea, the worst banner I have ever seen in my life, Lemmy style set up of the mic and totally outsider Voivod song. It was very interesting, not something to go crazy for, but if you are a Voivod fan it’s great, you don’t get to listen to those songs live anymore.
Then it was time to eat again and the walk to find something decent around was not so short, so most of Solstice, the great Irish epic doom band was missed unfortunately and the rock and roll party of Travellin’ Jack made the small stage so full that I could just watch them from outside. The big dilemma of the day was Venenum in the big stage or Visigoth in the small one. After catching 10 minutes of the first, assuring that it’s great but not much greater than the three times I saw them the last year, I went to find a nice spot for the Americans. Visigoth’s show was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Even though they didn’t play anything extraordinary out of their normal setlist, people were going nuts for their epic heavy metal. Hands in the air, people screaming the lyrics, air guitar and lots of sweat is how I can describe it. Deservedly so, since the band is full of passion and energy and they just released an excellent album called “Conqueror’s Oath”. It was a complete takeover of Hamburg, amazing show.
After that, I only had 20 minutes to watch Atlantean Kodex before I had to catch the last bus home, although after Visigoth it wasn’t an easy task focusing in a slower paced music. Of course the Germans know what they are doing, long epic compositions with well crafted guitar work and a lot of passion. They have their followers, they were also having new material in their luggage, so the main stage was full for the headliners of the day. The two and a half songs I witnessed were played masterfully, but still there was enough music echoing in our ears and on the way out I saw more people telling me that after all that it’s hard to appreciate the last band. Well, I think Atlantean Kodex finished this festival with style and a filled up main stage agreed with that.
Hell Over Hammaburg has always good bands to offer, it’s a very easy festival to go to, it’s indoors, it’s fun and it should be on everybody’s list for a Spring break out to Northern Europe accompanied with the sounds of steel.