“I’ll tell you now and I’ll tell you briefly, I don’t ever want to go to Keighley”……says the John Cooper Clarke poem ‘Burnley’, referring to the West Yorkshire town which was ranked 40 in the book “Crap Towns: The 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK”.

Perhaps a little harsh, and this certainly was not the case for discerning metal heads last Saturday, who descended upon the West Riding of Yorkshire for Manor Fest, an all dayer raising funds for Sue Ryders Manorlands Hospice.

I arrived just as opening band, Arkham Witch, were taking to the stage getting things going with their doom infused brand of heavy metal. The Keighley based 5 piece were upbeat on stage and got the crowd warmed up nicely, and by the time the last track ‘Viking Pirates of Doom’ was being belted out, the small crowd who had arrived early were banging their heads in unison.

A brief interlude gave me the opportunity to explore the venue, check out the merch and the charity metal tombola, before returning to my spot for Bradford’s Gods of Hellfire, whose heavy metal steamrolled its way over the Manor Fest faithful. I understand this was their debut gig as a four piece, welcoming Hamish Glencross to the fold. He is, of course, better known as a guitarist (his impressive CV includes My Dying Bride and Vallenfyre), but he took up position behind the drums for Gods of Hellfire. Their pulsating grooves, interspersed with good natured crowd banter went down well and inspired a few to make their way to the barrier, while I grabbed a beer and let the doomy riffs rumble through me.

Unfortunately Rotting Repugnancy disappeared from the bill a couple of days before the event, which was a real shame as I’ve never had the chance to catch them live before, but it gave me the opportunity for another live encounter with Asomvel and their Motörhead inspired metal. As the band took to the stage, a friend commented “He’s even got the ace of spades running down his trousers”, referring the detail on the frontman’s trousers (which I actually think were diamonds rather than spades)! While the Motörhead influence is obvious, Asomvel are much more than a clone band and have their own strong identity, which was obvious on tracks such as ‘Steamroller’ and ‘The Nightmare Ain’t Over’, before the inevitable ‘Full Moon Dog’ brought a triumphant set to a close.

Having been first introduced to London’s Isarnos at last year’s Warhorns festival, and having been very impressed by their brand of folk metal, I was really looking forward to their set. Space was at a premium as 7 band members crammed onto the stage, complete with a hurdy gurdy and violin, before unleashing their buoyant tunes, juxtaposing harsh male vocals with clean female vocals to great effect. Portions of the crowd were soon jigging next to others who were head banging and that perfectly summarises the band’s sound with an impeccable mixture of metal and melody. ‘Sirona’ was a personal highlight and I was soon reminded why I had been so impressed at Warhorns. These have the potential to go far……

Wayne Jackson was the driving force behind Manor Fest and did an awesome job, not only delivering a great festival but also in raising money for a really deserving cause. As well as running around making sure everything went smoothly, he somehow also found the time for a small matter of fronting Valafar, the next band on the bill, whose pummelling death metal brought a step up in intensity to Victoria Hall. This Bradford five piece have been making real waves in the metal underground with their impressive live performances, and based upon today’s performance this growing reputation is fully deserved with tracks such as ‘The Deviant’ laying waste to an ever growing crowd.

The tragic demise of Boltthrower drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns in 2015 sent shock waves through the extreme metal community, and left a gaping hole in many people’s lives, not least his family and friends. Such was the impact of the loss on his bandmates, that Boltthrower decided to call it a day ending one off the most revered death metal bands in the world.

Rising from the ashes of this sad loss, is Memoriam, fronted by Karl Willets (Boltthrower), with Andy Whale (ex-Boltthrower), Frank Healy (Benediction, Sacrilege) and Scott Fairfax (Benediction) providing the necessary sonic onslaught. Their debut full length ‘For the Fallen’ has received some mixed reviews, but to my ears it is the natural progression for these musicians and is one of the standout death metal albums of the year so far. I was really looking forward to seeing them live, and I was hoping for a cheeky Boltthrower track or two.

Karl’s dulcet tones were instantly recognisable, as Memoriam took to the stage and wasted no time discharging heavyweights such as ‘Memoriam’ whose chugging riffs threatened the foundations of Victoria Hall. The band looked to be in a good mood, and there was jovial banter between the songs taking time out to say hello to individual members of the crowd who they recognised, not least a 9 year old girl called Jessica who was in the front row.

‘Drone Strike’ from ‘The Hellfire Demos II’ was introduced next, with a promise that this would be on the next album. Although clearly “old school” death metal, this is current for the 21st century not least with its lyrics which are brought to life with the knowledge that this stuff is real and relevant.

‘Resistance’ took us back to the debut full length with its shredding solo, before we were transported back in time for a Boltthrower duo of ‘Spearhead’ and ‘Powder Burns’. This was apparently the last time these tracks will ever be played live, but we were thankfully reassured that other Boltthrower tracks will be aired. Things were brought to a close with ‘Flatline’, and then an inspired use of the closing music from the last episode of ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ as their outro. This was an incredibly powerful performance and it is fair to say the phoenix has well and truly risen.

And so it fell to Grand Magus to bring things to a close. The crowd had noticeably swelled in readiness for the Swedish anthems, and they were not let down as opening track ‘I, The Jury’ led into ‘Varangian’. It was at that point that it hit me how good a sound the venue had, and that it is a shame it isn’t used for more gigs.

‘On Hooves of Gold’ kept the momentum going, before they announced that this was their first time in Keighley, and they found themselves surprised to be here! So were we! Crowd participation was demanded for ‘Steel versus Steel’ as the set really gathered momentum until things were brought to a close with ‘Hammer of the North’.

It is fair to say that Manor Fest was a huge success and everyone who made the journey, will be telling John Cooper Clarke that he is wrong, and there is a good reason to go to Keighley at least once a year.

Review and Photos Andy Pountney