It’s Easter Sunday and some thieving sod has gone and stolen an hour off us with the clocks going forward. Somehow people are here for the start of day 3 though and kicking it all off at 3PM are Landskap a little bit of a super-group allowing members of Serpentcult, Fen, Pantheist, Dead Existence etc to do something a little different from their day jobs. They meander on with a Doorsy sort of vibe before drums get heavy and pace more urgent. Singer Jake comes on as they hit their stride and delivers a bit of a Danzig sounding croon far more harmonious than in any other band he has ferociously hollered for. It’s all very fragrant and allows anyone with a hangover to take the edge off things and ease the way into the day. We literally get ourselves ‘back in that hole’ courtesy of ‘South Of No North’ from album number II and it sounds like it should be played in a desert biker bar, with the vocals having a whisky drenched bite and the melodic guitars and hefty bass sound getting motors running. It’s smooth and very well oiled. Only 3 songs, the last from a forthcoming album is heartfelt, emotive and full of classic sounding guitar work. A good start.
Always impressive French band Mourning Dawn are loudly roaring on the main stage. Mood is emphasised by red stark lights casting a glare on the otherwise blue cold stage, instrumentation is both invigorating and depressive, powerful and rich. They don’t have much time to impress but instantly prove enthralling as they throw us into the labyrinthine depths of their hoary songs, bristling with intricacy all the way. Forget standing near the speakers it is deafening but backing off a little proves the sound is crystalline and spot on again as the tumult drives away. For a moment I thought we were going to finally have a band that were just going to play the one song, they certainly threatened to do just that, there are no breaks as they keep things going from one heaving movement to the next, wrapping themselves around us like a funeral shroud. Building up to a frenzied finale they pause but are going to cram another one in. The throaty, gnarly vocals and faultless playing compel staying, watching and weathering the storm.
What’s happened with Scottish band Falloch? There’s slight confusion at first as they have a keyboard player and singer standing at stage front who was definitely not present last time we saw them. Apparently it is Spaniard Amaya López-Carromero of Maud The Moth and she seems to have taken the band in even more of a ‘gazey’ direction than before adding a real 4AD vibe about things. It’s unfortunately not really as tuneful as one would hope for and also the drumming is kicking in too hard to allow the more subtle parts of their songs to get through. Male vocals join in on the second number and they seem even more out of tune and the overall effect is honestly falling very much on the wrong side of comfort. The group have tried various different things in the past but this time around they simply were not gelling for me, so I took a rain check on the rest of the set.
Looking at today’s line up the one real mystery are Hung On Horns and with a name like that I was kind of expecting something a bit on the blackened side. Not so in the slightest this UK based power trio are rocking it out old style, spread out on the stage in The Dome. They have a bit of a groove ala Clutch as well as something more contemporary to their sound that reminds of everything from Will Haven, Mastodon, Unsane and beyond when they really hit things at their hardest. They plow their instruments formidably but the crowd are unmoving on the whole, clean vocals are forceful but not particularly to my tastes. It’s a good slot for the band to get and something a bit different from everything else this weekend; apparently they are still to release debut album Slaves. Musically I have to say it’s a sound heard too many times before and while they play well they are not going to be finding many throwing the horns at them here.
Doomed from Devon, The Wounded Kings are no strangers to these parts and always put on a good show, today is no exception. The band changed tack for a while drafting Sharie Neyland in as vocalist on a couple of albums but had original singer George Birch rejoin them back in 2014. He is busy twitching and jigging around the stage as they all fire out the thick riffs and get into a bit of a stoner stomp, with plenty of fuzz drenching the sound. The loud bass tones jangle any change about in our pockets and although vocals are a bit lost at first they rise and command as the guitar work twists and turns about. Solos flail and scorch and it’s difficult not to go into spasms ourselves. They too have a new album on the way apparently and we get a track from it. Vocals go on the dark folk side of things before the ballast of the musicians drops in taking us off momentarily. It’s a bit of a slow-burner, a song of shadows and sunrise both lyrically and in mood. The band seemed to be going through a bit of a Nick Cave / King Dude sort of phase with this one and this makes it all the more powerful when they put the pedal to the floor and hammer away at the drums. This was just what was needed to perk us up.
Shifting up to Yorkshire next it is the turn of Darkher. Seriously impressing with Prophecy release ‘The Kingdom Field’ and downstairs here when the supported Ahab. Today they are up on the main stage and are absolutely captivating. You don’t know quite what to watch, standing by guitarist Martin T Wissenberg it allows you to see just how intense his playing is but a void away on the other side of the stage bathed in blue with green light casting a spell on her face Jayn H Wissenberg’s voice and playing completely demands attention. Her bass tones are dark, delirious and delicious and the drumming at the back steadily keeps up the beat. We are nearly as moved to weep ‘Ghost Tears’ to their harmonies, the sound is gorgeous and the performance absolutely magnetic. This is an act whose name may not have spread as far as the likes of others such as say Chelsea Wolfe but you can be certain that when it does this trio have the scope to go just as far. Between songs you could hear a pin drop, nobody is even daring to breathe as they tune up, as they play again people sway caught in the grip and enchanted by the siren call of the vocals. These get complete centre stage over a gentle guitar strum on ‘Hollow Veil’ and sound so natural and perfect they take our breath away. One of the performances of the weekend without a doubt, twas a thing of beauty.
Pantheist prove captivating in different ways with singer Kostas roaring out from behind his keyboard, centre of the stage whilst 2 guitarists and bass player layer out a meaty sound which has energy flying off and into the audience. Elements of funeral, classic and death doom are all married away in quite a unique style as the atmosphere goes between light and a threatening darkness. It’s storm laden and epic and played perfectly, the drums slowly stomp away and kick up the dust clouds on second number which like all of them are brand new from a forthcoming release tonight. In case you were wondering I am later told titles are ‘Control And Fire,’ ‘Behind The Door’ and ‘End Of The World’ which all are mighty enough in name alone. There is an eccentric mid-section on this second one taking us back to ancient civilisations by sudden barking vocals and an ethnic feel before it slams into a mighty conclusion. There’s blackened swaggers, dictatorial vocals, a beefy death grunt and it’s all too much for one audience member sitting on the floor in front of the stage head down, not drunk just simply overpowered
We are dragged into violent red light for Coltsblood who take us off ‘Beneath Black Skies.’ Another trio playing on this large stage, dug in but with plenty of atmosphere and a mighty sound meaning they are not swamped by it all. Feedback is deafening at first even testing the limits of this PA and as the band burst into a bruising swagger they obliterate everything from the feet up right to the eardrums and beyond; it’s the musical equivalent of being caught in a bomb blast. Toning it down into gravid doom dementia the everlasting riffs and horror contaminates along with hideous vocal screams. I decide a cider is needed. I am told later by bassist Jem that they play the short number ‘Blood’ for the very first time here as they are normally too drunk to attempt it. By now that’s exactly the way I need to be to survive last number ‘Abyss Of Aching Insanity’ Ouch!
Two Finns, a Swede and a Brit next as Easter Sunday service is being held by Lord Vicar. There has not been too much in the way of ‘traditional doom’ during the festivals and this rare UK appearance was always going to be popular. They end up chilling and energising us in equal measures as singer Chritus (also of the excellent Goatess) twists around the stage, drums crunch and harmonious croons fill the air. Plenty of devotes have massed to hear their call and lyrically songs like ‘Down The Nails’ are incredibly apt for anyone feeling in a holy mood as well as being full of pain and misery. As they move onto ‘Sinking City’ the band prove to be a real crowd pleaser, actually the first act of the whole weekend to spur the audience into having something resembling a half decent boogie. The vibe is care-free and everyone seems to embrace it and let their hair down. It’s impossible not to join in and the levels are just right, for once even standing next to the speaker allows the warmth to spread through without being totally deafened. Worship continues with ‘Born Of A Jackal’ the hefty bottom end booming out and the vocals fragrantly narrating an age old biblical tale. Hopefully the aforementioned Goatess may well follow them over to these shores at some point.
I had played the new Sinistro album Semente just once prior to today and really likes what I heard but there was also a buzz going around about a Belgium dark ambient project Treha Sektori playing over at Aces And Eights and I found myself over there. The artist himself is standing over a sound-bank and a few people are actually sitting cross legged in front of it on the floor as we cram in the small space. He picks up a guitar as sound washes over us, it’s all very moody, dark, atmospheric and intimate. The audience are totally silent as the narcotic sounds slowly ebb through us. It’s highly reminiscent of the Cold Meat Industry artists such as Raison d’etre and both minimalistic but engrossing. Vocals are almost incidentally whispered in the background although I might even have been hearing things as the music ritualistically embraces like a mantra. We stand like statues not daring to even move. Electronic drums must be hidden behind the bank and are suddenly hit but at the end of the day there is not much happening and as another band will have already started over the road it’s time to leave this chapel of rest. Apparently after I did there were some technical issues and equipment got hit! With hindsight, especially after what everyone was saying about them I should have watched Sinistro. At least they are going to get a cracking album review here.
Talk about a change of pace, the gentle fluttering is forgotten by Black Moth who are beating their wings furiously over in the Boston Arms. These ladies and gents are certainly rock and rolling and songs such as ‘Tumbleweave’ are just what is needed to pick the energy up. Groovy stoner -doom beats and a garage rock feel has had this lot wowing all sorts of audiences recently and they even toured with the unexpected likes of The Sisters Of Mercy. Singer Harriet Bevan informs us that next number ‘Blackbirds Fall’ is one that they did an official video for, watching it now the frenzied stomp seemed a lot heavier live and vocals even moved into a bit of a riot grrrl pitch as they bounce us around in a totally entertaining fashion. As the drums roll in on a later number I thought they were going to deliver a cover of Holiday In Cambodia, no and perhaps I was deafened by now but it started off just like it. This was the second time I had seen the group after Damnation Festival in 2014 and they are definitely worth exploring more. Interestingly enough doom-pickers they were also along with Lord Vicar and Landskap the 3rd band to play here with an ex Centurions Ghost member in their ranks today. Unlikely but it would be great to have them back here next year!
Back on the main stage Swallow The Sun are getting a lot of attention, normally one would have expected them to have been a headline worthy act especially as they have recently delivered the whopping three disc album Songs Of The North via Century Media. Alas it is an album I have regrettably had time to delve through in entirety just the once and have yet to grow accustomed to its songs so naturally there was much of what they played on this all too short set that I didn’t recognise (possibly Ten Silver Bullets and Rooms And Shadows were first). The sound is magnificent though and with five members spread across the front of the stage there’s plenty going on to watch. Wearing his trademark hat bearded singer Mikka hogs the centre of the stage roaring and growling into the microphone as the others batter away at their instruments. Recognition finally arrives on the 3rd number as we are led into ‘These Woods Breathe Evil’ a firm favourite from 2009 album New Moon. From lush guitar work we batter in to the burgeoning romp with barking vocals with plenty of anger and force behind them. The song deliriously twists and turns but at least it has left a trail of gingerbread that I have followed before and unlike the first couple of numbers I don’t feel quite so lost. It has as we are reminded been a few years since the band were last here and arms are held aloft both on and off the stage. Unfortunately the set seems to fly past and is over far too quickly, I vow to pick up the new album and get to grips with it before they come back again, hopefully soon.
Knowing that I am seeing 40 Watt Sun later in the week supporting My Dying Bride and not being the biggest fan of their emotive melancholia I sit their set out, talking to people instead as we anticipate the long overdue return of Norse Avant-wierdists In The Woods. Unless you had seen them in 1997 in the UK supporting Katatonia in Bradford or London (which I had) the chances are this was going to be your first time as the band split up back in 2000. Now with some key members back in the band along with some new blood, the group are playing again and have a new album on the way. With a core of musicians who went on to form Green Carnation as well as past and present players in Carpathian Forest, Atrox and Manes obviously this promises well. That was until I realised who the new vocalist was and heard about their performance at Blastfest. Tired of music Jan Kenneth Transeth was not up for getting back in the band and for some reason they looked to the UK for a new singer and drafted in James Foggerty aka Mr Fog from Ewigkeit and Jaldaboath. To say this came as a surprise is an understatement and my dislike for these bands did not endear me to things. Tonight they are quick to dip back into that legendary first album ‘HEart of the Ages.’ Musically it took a while to get acclimatised to and I think the band having not played tracks for so long would have needed a lot of work to get them sounding up to muster but Mr Fog’s vocals left them stripped of the biting black rasps and cold atmospheres of the originals making this all far more overbearing and ‘rock star’ sounding than it was ever meant to be. Put bluntly the vocals simply did not do the songs the justice they deserved.
This divides the audience with some going mad at the front and others grimly clutching pints wondering just what was happening. For every polite comment saying “yes but it is good hearing these classic songs again” with a look of not really believing what they were saying others were totally bewildered. Foggerty seems full of himself too and comes out with stage banter about listening to these songs originally after “smoking a bit too much” and being blown away by them. Yep so did many of us but we would never have dreamed of going and turning such a fondly remembered legacy into such a dogs dinner. At least with new songs like ‘Pure’ the problem with comparing to the past was not there and one could just look on this as a work of a new band if it made them feel better, which is just what I did even if I found it bordering on the pub rock side of things rather than the frostbitten strange majesty I had hoped for. ‘299 796 km/s’ from Omnio was another older track aired and fared a bit better with the band getting into it and seemingly more at ease but the set was heavy on numbers from the first album and by the time they started on ‘Divinity Of Wisdom’ I had had enough and scarpered fully intending to hit up the off license tonight! Can’t win them all perhaps the band will get better in time, maybe they will decide to draft in further singers such as Byron from Bal Sagoth or even Mr Martin Walkyier but for me some things are best left buried very deep In The Woods!
That aside, what a great three days and the organisation was spot on with the event being run like clockwork. Thanks to everyone involved and here’s to next year, one can only wonder how they are going to top this and who is going to end up playing.
(Review and photos © Pete Woods)