It’s fair to say that The Blackwood Gathering is not your average UK metal festival. Forget mainstream metal for the masses, dodgy burger vans and over priced watered down beer. This is how a music festival should be….
The Blackwood Gathering is set in the Lake District, specifically in a remote wooded area on a hillside overlooking Lake Windermere giving the perfect atmosphere to showcase extreme metal from both home and abroad. The event is held in a moderately sized wooden structure (imagine a big shed!) which incorporates the bar and merch areas, as well as the stage. When the crowd gathers, the side of the building is retracted, meaning the gathered hordes can watch from outside the building, under the stars, amongst the trees next to the fire pit.
The bar serves cheap, locally brewed ales as well as ciders, and there are a couple of distros ready to empty your wallet, not to mention some top quality black metal.
Roots Entwined’ had the honour of opening the festival and did a storming job. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with them prior to the festival, except that they have members of ‘Mountain’s Crave’ and ‘A Forest of Stars’ amongst their ranks. The band had a pristine sound and their melancholic black metal attracted a decent sized crowd. Apparently this was a rare outing for ‘Roots Entwined’ which is a real shame as this was a very impressive opening to the festival, and I would like to catch this band again.
Having sampled a pint of (very tasty!) locally brewed “Gnat’s Piss” ale, I found a spot for Welsh one man project ‘Deheubarth’. Mastermind Myrggh was joined by a drummer and bassist for this live outing, and together they were suitably battering and got heads moving amongst the gathered throng at the front. Variations in pace and vocal style amidst the throws of raw despair kept things interesting and although there were one or two technical issues, their set flew by and went down well.
Basingstoke’s finest Black Metal Export ‘Reign of Erebus’ took to the stage to a long intro tape and a deluge of dry ice, which set the scene for the sonic assault to follow which was appreciated by those paying homage at the front. As the set progressed the intensity and aggression did not let up and tracks such as ‘Prelude to Genocide’ and ‘Funeral of the Nazarene’ kept up the momentum, before things were brought to a close with ‘Stormwinds of Lucifer’.
‘Thornland’, an acoustic duo, took the baton next and performed a short set outside, in front of the fire pit outside, including a cover of classic Bathory track ‘Man of Iron’, which a few in the crowd seemed to recognise and sang along.
It fell to the mighty Fen to bring the day to a close with their ambient black metal. Opening track ‘Hands of Dust’ from 2013’s ‘Dustwalker’ opus got things going nicely and although the crowd was noticeably smaller than earlier in the day, those who had remained were treated to a lesson in majesty and magnificence. Atmospheric interludes between aggressive but melodic outpourings were the order of the day. The Watcher states “We are gathered here beneath the shadows of Scafell” before Fen offer the audience a treat in the form of new song ‘Gathering the Stones’ giving it its UK airing . All too soon the last song was being announced and dedicated, to Steve, the mastermind and driving force behind the Blackwood Gathering, before launching into ‘The Gales Scream of Loss’, ending the first day of this unique experience.
Day two began with masked London black metal trio Deitus who, took to a stage adorned with a skull and candles after a long intro tape, and drew the hordes in from the late summer sunshine with opening track ‘Lightbearer’. We were then treated to ‘Todestrieb’ and ‘Manifest’ also from the debut ‘Acta Non Verba’, as well as ‘Highest Power’, one of its bonus tracks. Their brand of aggressive black metal certainly cleared a few hangovers!
I was really looking forward to ‘Necrosadistic Goat Torture’, and I was not disappointed as they raised the bar with their blackened death/thrash. Opening with ‘The Day All Gods Die’, it was clear that this should have been something special, but instead the set was plagued with technical problems which led to an extended break before ‘Final Aeon’ and then more technical issues which resulted in a premature finish. The band were clearly frustrated by this, as were those watching, as it was clear the ‘Necrosadistic Goat Torture’ have real potential. As a footnote they were not at full strength due to some personal problems but have vowed to return better than ever in the near future.
Next up were Heathen Deity a band who have been around since 1998, but had been on an extended hiatus and the Blackwood gathering was to be their rebirth. Two inverted crosses illuminated by candles were placed on the stage before a twin guitar, corpse painted attack was unleashed. Vocalist Dagon was a particularly uncompromising, intimidating figure on stage while spitting forth his venomous bile during opening track ‘The Flames of the Gathering Darkness’. He took a few moments, to welcome us to their “Rebirth” and said that they had been away from the scene for too long, before resuming the ceremonials. Their old school black metal was appreciated by a packed crowd, but there wasn’t much movement down the front, much to the disgust of Dagon who scolded the crowd saying “Call yourself black metallers? You’re pathetic! Only death is real!”, before launching into a stunning cover of Mayhem’s ‘Deathcrush’, which only a pitiful number of people seemed to recognise. The crowd were asked whether any of them considered themselves to be “Anti-Christian” before being pummeled with ‘Gut the Church’, which included Dagon throwing his inverted cross into the throng. Heathen Deity are resurrected, and I left very impressed!
Pale Mist were given a tough act to follow, but they stepped up to the mark with an aggressive display of no nonsense, in your face black metal. The vocalist appeared completely unhinged during the set, rampaging around the stage, his bone necklace drawing the eyes. My personal highlight of the set was ‘Swimming Through the Sea of Worms’.
I had been waiting a long time for the opportunity to see Swiss black metallers Wacht and this was the perfect opportunity on a rare outing on these shores. Before the set it appeared there had been some technical issues, especially with the vocals, but they pressed on regardless, taking to the stage to an intro tape leading into ‘Hellvetic Frost’ cover ‘Black Metal Uber Alles’. All of the band were wearing masks except for the vocalist and it was apparent from the outset that this is a devastating band with huge potential, but they were plagued with sounds problems, with the vocals initially sounding like inhumane guttural roars (and not in a good way!) with frequent cut outs, hisses and crackles, much to the obvious frustration of the band. Despite the sound issues, those down the front persisted and gave the band the adulation they deserve.
Unfortunately, at the height of the bands frustrations trying to battle technical issues, a large illuminated balloon was thrown at the clearly livid singer who grabbed the balloon and burst it immediately. It sounds petty to mention that, but unfortunately there was a minority within the crowd who persisted in behaving childishly throughout the festival, being completely disrespectful to the bands, and other people in the crowd, and didn’t seem to actually be interested in any music.
The infamous legendary moonpond ritual followed, including setting alight an inverted cross in the woodland.
It was finally time for Horna to take to the stage for an appropriate culmination to the gathering, delivering black metal exactly as it’s supposed to be. This was dirty, aggressive, confrontational…..perfect! In between the unholy incantations, we were told that Black metal is not just music, but is “The work of the Lord”, before more satanic blastings followed. The band looked the part and Spellgoth was completely captivating whether he was swinging a pentagram or or rasping into the microphone. Their set flew by and after what seemed like only a few minutes the band were leaving the stage. I was pleased to have finally had the chance to see Horna, who are one of my favourite black metal bands, and they cemented that with this immense performance.
The Blackwood Gathering is a unique festival experience, in a perfect setting, and it is going from strength to strength. Bring on next year……
Review and photos Andy Pountney