This gig marked the end of an era, having been announced as the farewell show for Sheffield’s own Northern Oak, purveyors of English Folk Metal since 2006. The evening promised to be an emotional affair for the band and fans alike and as such I approached the gig with a degree of trepidation, both looking forward to what promised to be a great show, but also knowing that it would be the last time I would see a band which I looked upon as an old friend, having encountered them numerous times and never been let down by their stellar music or lively performances.
Opening proceedings were the majestic Old Corpse Road. Sadly I misjudged my journey time and so by the time I arrived for my 15th dalliance with Darlington’s finest, their epic black metal was in full flow conjuring up images of barren, windswept landscapes (at least in my head!). As ever their performance was effortless, sublime and commanding, seamlessly merging more traditional black metal vocals with Gregorian chants and rousing melody, with musicianship and stage presence of the highest order.
All too soon, the final track was being dedicated to Northern Oak as we were reminded it was their “leaving do or splitting up do”, and right on cue, Martin Collins, Northern Oak’s vocalist, made his way front and centre in the crowd to lap up the mighty closing opus, ‘The Old Corpse Road’, complete with a cover of Northern Oak’s very own ‘The Madness of the Feral Moon’ as a modified intro.
Following a brief trip to the merch area and bar, I found a spot as Eibon la Furies took to the stage and proceeded to give the impressively full room a masterclass in avant-garde black metal. Right from the outset the imposing figure of Lord Blackwood dominated the stage as the knowledgeable and appreciative crowd hung on every word. After the opening salvo, there was brief respite to reminisce about the Great Exhibition Tour where Eibon la Furies had also shared a stage with Old Corpse Road and Northern Oak (in 2011 if I recall correctly), and then a mosh pit was demanded (to no avail!) before launching into the catchy ‘Horse of the Invisible’. This was followed by ‘I am Whitechapel’ and the fantastic ‘Who Watches the Watchers’ which brought things to a close. Sadly there was not enough time for personal favourite ‘The Devil is an Englishman’, but nevertheless this was a flawless performance and one which I thoroughly enjoyed.
And so, it was time for Northern Oak, to bring their “folk metal and fine attire” (as they described themselves on the night) to the stage for the final time. This was visibly an emotional time for the band but this only added to the sense of occasion as they opened proceedings with ‘Sun Behind the Hill’ and ‘Sun God’s Wrath’. ‘Marston Moor’ was the first representative from the latest release ‘Of Roots and Flesh’, as the set continued to take us on a journey spanning the whole of the Northern Oak back catalogue. It was obvious that the band were enjoying themselves, and also that we were witnessing something special. There was a change of flute before ‘Arbor Low’ and ‘The Madness of the Feral Moon’ closed the main portion of the set. A brief speech from founding guitarist Chris Mole was followed by a raffle to give away a signed guitar to one lucky punter.
‘The Dark of Midsummer’ opened the encore before ‘Maiden’ and ‘In These Hills’ brought things to a close in what seemed like the blink of an eye. It is a real shame that Northern Oak are having to call it a day, as they are a band in their prime. Nevertheless, they have left a legacy behind them, and will have made an impression on all those with whom they have crossed paths.
This was a special night with outstanding performances from three absolute gems of the English underground. A fitting goodbye to Northern Oak – Thanks for the music and memories!
Review and photos Andy Pountney