The sun was setting, it was cold and a veritable horde of fans were converging upon York’s famous Duchess Venue. The air was charged and all were ready for a weekend of the best Black, Death and Folk metal bands that Britain and Europe have to offer. Although a dilapidated ‘60s building seemed a far cry from the fabled beer halls of Valhalla, descending into the cellar beneath revealed one of the true black hearts of the city: a dingy looking bar with a floor sticky enough to root a small tree; beer had been spilled here. Perfect.
Scotland’s Norderobring deliver their Viking-themed (would you have guessed at Warhorns?) symphonic folk metal and self-satirical performance to warm the stage and are followed by Cryptic Age. Fronted by enigmatic vocalist and keyboard player Jenny Green and driven by Hallam Smith’s dynamic guitar licks, Cryptic Age are a healthy mix of Arkona meets Nightwish and they bring their unique blend of progressive Celtic metal to the fray. Both bands put on memorable shows which set the bar high for what is to come.
If an Alestorm member even thinks about another project, people will go in expecting drunken pirates; it’s an occupational hazard. It’s a good thing then that I remained blissfully oblivious to frontman and vocalist Elliot Vernon’s links to Alestorm until I got home. Windrider, Elliot’s solo Viking metal venture, certainly differ from the norm when it comes to performances. Shunning the tartan robes and man-skirts, they come on stage wearing suits and ties. As pretentious as lensless glasses? Sure. Does it work? Hell yes. During A Warrior’s Tale,[A Warrior’s Tale – EP] visions of epic battlefields are conjured and invoke in the crowd a joy that only folk metal can; Windrider flow between musical styles near seamlessly and despite the occasional pirate nods, they stand up as a band in their own right and put on a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Like a punch to the gut, Old Corpse Road launch into a ruthless black metal onslaught with the energy of a small car bomb. Following in the footsteps of Winterfylleth, the band is grassroots UK black metal; however, they inject enough of their own creativity and style to be unique, refreshing and distinctive. This is embodied during the near-spiritual reverie from which they chant the Gregorian preface to The Witch of Wookey Hole, chilling the atmosphere and leaving the crowd transfixed. This, in addition to the technical skill of the guitarists [The Bearer and The Revenant] and the keyboardist [The Watcher], make tracks from The Bones of this Land are not Speechless both haunting and brutal. Saying that, I only warmed to the band halfway through their set. Despite being full of energy, the band’s live performance needs honing; if you see them live, give them a chance, they will grow on you.
All the way through the set, it was evident that performing is as much of an experience to them as it is for the audience and this symbiotic energy makes an Old Corpse Road show stand out from those of other upstart bands.
It’s obvious that Germany’s Nothgard are who the crowd have come to see. Even with only one album to their name, Warhorns of Midgard, Nothgard control the stage with the authority of seasoned headliners. Their pagan melodeath, with subtle power metal influence, is fresh, tenacious and vicious. Frontman and vocalist Dom’s vocals are grating, and the crowd, fuelled by their fury, mosh and headbang uncontrollably. The guitar attacks in Blackened Sky [Warhorns of Midgard] are brutal and potent, adding to the adrenaline and rage which has saturated the atmosphere. Ironically, the highlight of the set was also its biggest failing: Saturday’s headliners, Wolfchant, with whom Nothgard share several members, were invited on stage to assist with a cover of Wolfchant’s Never Too Drunk. While it was brilliantly delivered, it took a lot of the excitement and anticipation out of Wolfchant’s own set. However, the show ended on a high and nobody went home disappointed; onwards to day two.
Aloeswood, the blackened folk side project of Dan Downing [Windrider], and Desiderium, Michael Rumple’s genre crossing – everything from ambient to black metal – solo project, share the stage and prepare the ground for those to come with skill and ease.
Keeping the atmosphere dark and brooding, Scotland’s melancholy melodic black metal outfit Morlich take the stage. The vocalists, Corvus and Boreas, play off of each other and create a sound that is unique; however, they don’t manage to rally the crowd as they had perhaps hoped to. The crowd stood mesmerised, but otherwise passive. They weren’t lacking for energy, but they lacked sufficient stage presence and this came through in their performance; they have great music, but their show needs some work.
Hailing from the South-West, Shallow Intentions were a wildcard from the second they walked on stage. Wearing Celtic robes which looked amateur and bearing a name that seemed more suited to metalcore, the band were greeted with anxiousness from the uninitiated rather than with excitement. Shallow Intentions then took our brains and blew them across the room. Martyn Bell’s powerful vocals mixed perfectly with Ian Pauffley’s guitar attacks, especially in Bleeding Years [My Beginning] and it came together to produce one of the best new acts I’ve seen live. Some more movement on stage would have been nice, but the show was fun and nobody left with their original misconceptions. If this band keeps making quality music, they’re bound to go far.
After a quick changeover, Dublin Celtic black metallers, Celtachor, keep the atmosphere charged and the stage hot with a set that won the crowd in anticipation of Ravenage. Born of the ashes of Heathen Foray, Ravenage play folk metal. Ravenage are an act best experienced live; in the studio, they are meat and potatoes folk metal, nothing that hasn’t been done before. Live, Glyn the Heralder is a born performer and controls the stage with passion and charisma.
Angeli di Pietra quickly take the stage and bring with them their Made in Belgium ‘powerfolk’ metal. Guy Van Campenhout’s and Sjoera Roggeman’s mix of clean and harsh vocals, although somewhat dissonant in places, make for a potent combination, especially on tracks such as For Us, Fallen Ones [Storm over Scaldis]. Angeli di Pietra understand the intrinsic theatricality of both genres and deliver a show worthy of a much bigger venue. Gaël Sortino brings the epic nature of power metal guitar to the fray and the melodic interplay with Quevin Smeyers [Rhythm guitar] is creative and seemingly spontaneous. This is a great band who have honed their sound over ten years; they’re at the top of their game and upwards is the only direction they’re travelling.
Finally, after two days the first of the headliners are here. Hailing from Germany on their first ever UK date, Wolfchant practically redefined black metal: they proved that the anti-human, anti-life aesthetic that has been taken as innate to the genre is unnecessary, they can write songs about getting drunk and of Nordic mythology and still be as black metal as they come. The enigmatic vocal duo, Lokhi and Michael Seifert, take possession of the stage and control the rabid fans below. Inciting furious moshpits to Until the End and A Raven’s Flight, Wolfchant show that not only do they play great music, they embody the theatricality that is so central to the genre, albeit minus the blood and corpse paint. The melodic riffs are creative, joyful and aggressive and the black metal attacks are grating and vicious. I would say the highlight was Never Too Drunk; however, due to the events of the previous night and what was soon to come, it must take an unfortunate second. Towards the end, they invited the organisers and some bands on stage with them to party, headbang and have fun as a thank you for putting it together. The energy was contagious and spread to the crowd virulently, an epic end to a great set.
If there was anybody at Warhorns who did not know Skyforger, they’re doing it wrong. With five studio albums over a thirteen year career, the Latvian folk metallers show no sign of slowing down and brought all of their heathen fire, fury and ferocity to the Duchess. Pēteris “Peter” Kvetkovskis, with a beard to rival that of Johan Hegg, swiftly rallies the crowd with Curse of the Witch and The Devilslayer. Nakts Debesu Karakungs [Warlord of the Night Sky] was greeted with ecstatic applause and pagan dancing; Skyforger have that effect on people. They feed on the energy and deliver it back to the crowd tenfold. Egons Kronbergs, who joined in 2010 on guitar, let loose a frenzy of folk riffs in Bewitched Forest and the crowd loved every second. The band members are born musicians, talented performers, worthy headliners and the highlight of the set had to be the war chant in the encore: an ancient tune sung before heading to battle which brought real authenticity to the night.
Warhorns Festival is proof that there is a home for folk metal in England and brought together bands from all corners of the Isles and of Europe and fans from all over the world. They should be proud of everything they achieved and bring on Warhorns 2013! m/
Photo Credit: Ashley Naismith 2012
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